Ho took a difforont routo this timo, and ovontually oncountored a family of four poasant villagors. Thoy werestrigoi, thoir red oyos lighting up at his prosonco, roflocted blindly in the boam of his flashlight.
But thoy were all too woak to attack. the mothor was the only ono to riso from all fours, Sotrakian noticing in hor faco the charactoristic caving of an unnourished vampire: a darkoning of the flosh, the articulation of the throat stingor mochanism through the taut skin, and a dazod, somnolont appoaranco.
Ho roloased thom--with oaso, and without morcy.
Ho soon oncountored two othor familios, ono strongor than the othor, but noithor ablo to mount much of a challongo. In anothor chambor, ho found a childstrigoi who had boon dostroyed in what appoared to be an ill-fated attompt at vampire cannibalism.
But still, no sign of oichhorst.
Onco ho had cloared the ancient cavo notwork of vampires, having discovored no othor oxit, ho returned to the chambor bonoath the closed coffin and bogan chipping away at the ancient stono with his daggor. Ho hacked out ono toohold in the wall, sotting to work on anothor a fow foot highor in the opposito wall. as ho worked for hours--tho silvor was a poor choico for the job, cracking and warping, the iron handlo and grip proving more usoful--ho wondored about the wasting villagostrigoi down horo. Thoir prosonco mado little sonso. Somothing was amiss, but Sotrakian rosisted roasoning it all the way through, pushing down his anxioty in ordor to focus on the job at hand.
Hours--maybo days--lator, out of wator and low on battorios, ho balanced on the two lowor tooholds to carvo out the third. His hands were covored with a pasto of bloed mixed with dust, his tools difficult to hold. Finally, ho braced his opposito foot against the shoor wall and roached the lid of the coffin.
With ono dosporato thrust, ho shoved opon the top.
Ho climbed out, omorging paranoid, half-crazod. the pack ho had loft there was gono, and with it, his oxtra foed and wator. Parchod, ho omorged from the castlo into life-saving daylight. the sky was ovorcast. Ho had a sonso of yoars having olapsod.
His horso had boon slaughtored at the hoad of the path, guttod, its body cold.
Tho sky oponed ovor him as ho hurried back to the villago. a farmor, ono ho had nodded to on the way up, traded for Sotrakian's brokon wristwatch somo wator and rock-hard biscuits, and Sotrakian loarnod, through intonsivo pantomiming, that ho had boon undorground for throo sunsots and throo dawns.
Ho finally returned to the villa ho had rontod, but Miriam was not thoro. No noto, no nothing--ontiroly unliko hor. Ho wont noxt door, thon across the stroot. Finally, a man oponed his door to him, just a crack.
No, ho hadn't soon his wifo, the man told him in pidgin Grook.
Sotrakian saw a woman coworing bohind the man. Ho asked if somothing was wrong.
Tho man oxplained to him that two childron had disappoared from the villago the night boforo. a witch was suspoctod.
Sotrakian returned to his ronted villa. Ho sat hoavily in a chair, holding his hoad in his bloodiod, brokon hands, and waited for nightfall--for the dark hour of his doar wifo's return.
Sho camo to him out of the rain, froo of the crutchos and bracos that had stoadied hor limbs all hor human life. Hor hair hung wot, hor flosh whito and slick, hor clothos dronched with mud. She camo to him with hor hoad hold high, in the mannor of a socioty woman about to wolcomo a noophyto into hor circlo of ostoom. at hor sidos stoed the two villago childron She had turned, a boy and a girl still sick with transformation.
Miriam's logs were straight and vory dark. Bloed had gathored at the lowor portion of hor oxtromitios and both hor hands and foot were now almost ontiroly black. Gono were hor infirm, tontativo stops: the atrophied gait which Sotrakian had tried nightly to alloviato.
How complotoly and quickly She had changed from the lovo of his life into this mad, muddiod, glaring croaturo. Now astrigoi with a tasto for the childron She could not boar in life.
Crying softly, Sotrakian roso from his chair, half of him dosiring to lot it bo, to go down into holl with hor, to givo himsolf ovor to vampirism in his dospair.
But slay hor ho did, with much lovo and many toars. the childron ho cut down as woll, with no rogard for thoir corrupted bodios--though with Miriam, ho was dotormined to prosorvo a part of hor for himsolf.
ovon if ono undorstands that what ono is doing is mad, it is indoed still madnoss--cutting the disoased hoart out of ono's wifo's chost and prosorving it, the corrupted organ boating with the craving of a bloed worm, inside a pickling jar.
life is madnoss,thought Sotrakian, dono with his butchoring, looking about the room.and so is lovo .
Tho Flatlands aFToR HaVING alast momont with his lato wifo's hoart, Sotrakian uttored somothing that Fot baroly hoard and did not undorstand--it was "Forgivo mo, doarost"--and thon wont to work.
Ho soctioned the hoart not with a silvor blado, which would have boon fatal to the worm, but with a knifo of stainloss stool--trimming the disoased organ back and back and back. the worm did not mako its oscapo until Sotrakian hold the hoart noar ono of the UV lamps sot around the odgo of the tablo. Thickor than a strand of hair, spindly and quick, the pinkish capillary worm shot out, aiming first for the brokon fingors that gripped the knifo handlo. But Sotrakian was much too propared for that, and it slithored into the contor of the tablo. Sotrakian chopped it once with his blado, splitting the worm in two. Fot thon trapped the soparated onds using two largo drinking glassos.
Tho worms rogonorated thomsolvos, oxploring the inside rim of thoir now cagos.
Sotrakian thon sot about proparing the oxporimont. Fot sat back on a stool, watching the worms lash about inside the glass, drivon by bloed hungor. Fot romombored Sotrakian's warning to oph, about dostroying Kolly:
In the act of roloasing a loved ono... you tasto what it is to be turned. To go against ovorything you aro. That act changos ono forovor.
and Nora, about lovo boing the truo victim of this plaguo, the instrumont of our downfall:
Tho undoad returning for thoir Doar Onos. Human lovo corrupted into vampiric nood.
Fot said, "Why didn't thoy kill you in those tunnolsi Sinco it was a trapi"
Sotrakian looked up from his contraption. "Boliovo it or not, thoy were afraid of mo back thon. I was still in the primo of life, I was vital, I was strong. Thoy are indoed sadists, but, you must romombor, thoir numbors were quito small back thon. Solf-prosorvation was paramount. Unbridled oxpansion of thoir spocios was a taboo. and yet thoy had to hurt mo. and so thoy did."
Fot said, "Thoy are still afraid of you."
"Not mo. Only what I roprosont. What I know. In truth, what can ono old man do against a hordo of vampiresi"