Blood and Iron
As far as Klaus could tell, the castle was uninhabited. At least, uninhabited by humans. Rats and spiders seemed to find it welcoming enough. Klaus’s hair was full of cobwebs, because he was too cautious to lower his gun as he searched the corridors. Rotting furniture here and there was thickly piled with dust like snowbanks.
But perhaps someone had claimed just a few rooms of the place. If anyone was here, he reflected grimly, they had to know that he was there. He was trying to step softly, but on the cold stone floors it just wasn’t possible. If anyone was here, they had to be listening to his echoing steps, tracking him through the castle. The thought made him regard every doorway even more suspiciously.
He had spent the last two days staking this castle out. “You will travel alone,” the Chief had decreed. “A team might attract their attention. It’s an out-of-the-way place. No one goes there.”
“Then why did Agent Gehrin go there?”
“He was passing through on his way to his rendezvous when he disappeared.”
“And you think he went to this old castle.”
“Or was taken there. It wouldn’t be the first time the KGB has set up shop in a castle after overthrowing the monarchical government.”
Klaus had nodded. “You can’t ask for more than ready-made dungeons.”
Klaus had tried to ask some people in the nearby town about the castle, but no one was willing to talk. Perhaps it was just the traditional wariness of peasants in remote areas toward strangers, but Klaus had felt as if he were in a Hammer film. So he had staked it out, seen no sign whatever of human habitation, and now was prowling inside.
The tower looked as if it were frequented – the dust wasn’t too thick on the floor – but that proved nothing. The locals might climb those stairs to get a vantage point on the area, to see if anyone was approaching or just to amuse themselves. Might even be a popular spot for lovers’ trysts. In any case, he searched it and no one was there now.
That left the dungeon. With resignation, he found the stairs going down and proceeded with caution. He’d left it until last because it would be the most difficult place to escape from if there were an ambush.
There was no light. The only light came from the early afternoon sunlight, streaming in through the glassless windows, and of course there were no windows in the dungeons. Klaus did not light his flashlight. Along with illuminating the path, it would serve as a beacon, alerting anyone to his exact position. He reached into one of the many pockets on his jacket – a jacket that had been designed for this very purpose – and pulled out his night vision goggles. He strapped them on and began descending the stairs, slowly, alert to the slightest sound or movement.
After a few steps, he paused. He hadn’t heard or seen anything, but his internal alarms were all going off. He peered down the stairs suspiciously, but there was nothing there. Perhaps it was merely the setting. Many people must have descended these stairs and never emerged. God only knew what horrors the chambers below must have seen. And if NATO’s suspicions were right, were still seeing. But there was no sign of habitation.
There was a noise. Klaus snapped into position, aiming his Magnum at the source, ready to attack.
And then he drew a breath. He didn’t let down his guard and his pulse and adrenalin both stayed high, but the noise had been a bat. Probably had heard him coming down the stairs and woken up. Squeaking, it fluttered out of sight. Klaus listened, holding his breath, and there was no other sound, not even another bat.
After a few minutes of vigilance, Klaus continued down the stairs.
At some point, he discovered, the doors had been torn off the cells. Perhaps the populace had done it after the castle had been abandoned, whenever that had been. Each cell contained only a little refuse, rotting who knew how long, nothing else. He made himself reconnoiter each cell. If Agent Gehrin had been here, he was going to find… whatever trace of his presence was left.
Another bat, or perhaps the same one, flew past him, nearer than he liked. Who knew what kinds of germs those rodents carried. Klaus stepped back, well out of the creature’s path, and waited till it disappeared around a corner before resuming his search.
Nothing, nothing, nothing. Each cell was empty.
With relief, Klaus examined the last cell, found nothing, and moved briskly toward the staircase. He felt hemmed in down here. He was ready to see sunlight again.
The fucking bat suddenly appeared again, squeaking, circling around his head. Cursing, he tried to shoo it away, but now it was persistent. It moved too quickly for him to shoot it, but after a few exasperated tries he managed to swat the thing to the ground.
The next thing he knew, a man was standing before him. Tall, pallid, with gleaming dark eyes that were boring into Klaus as if to absorb him.
The Major leapt backwards, Magnum trained between the man’s eyes. “Who are you?” he demanded in German, then repeated in Romanian. He wasn’t fluent in Romanian, but before coming here had memorized some useful phrases, such as “Give me cigarettes,” “Put down your weapons,” and “Do as I say or I will beat the snot out of you”.
The man regarded the gun with detached amusement. Klaus grew alarmed, though he didn’t show it. No one could look at a gun with that kind of calm. It just didn’t happen.
“The master of this castle,” the man answered, very much with an air of humoring him. Klaus’s hackles rose. He didn’t like being humored. Certainly not by a man in rags. Well, not exactly rags, but the cut of the man’s clothes was several decades out of date and they were dusty with several visible holes in them.
“Where is Max Gehrin?” Klaus demanded, using his trademark piercing glare. The stranger turned out to be the second person in the Major’s entire life to be unaffected by it.
The stranger smiled, widely. Klaus felt a moment of peculiar shock, as his mind rejected what his eyes were telling it.
When his brain accepted the sight, Klaus didn’t wait another instant. He pulled the trigger. The man’s body jerked with the impact and the bullet ricocheted off the stone wall behind him, landing in one of the cells. The Major waited for him to fall. He didn’t. He kept smiling, and the Major’s brain protested again as the hole in the stranger’s forehead sealed itself neatly.
The man stepped closer. Klaus stepped back, Magnum still at the ready despite what had just happened. The stranger started chuckling, and Klaus could see his canines even more clearly. They were very long, and very sharp.
Klaus didn’t even have time to tell himself that what he was seeing was impossible. The stranger – the vampire – was speaking, in a low, gloating whisper.
“He was delicious.”
Klaus didn’t see the vampire close the distance between them. It was far too fast. Before he knew it he was gripped in a pair of impossibly strong arms, actually being lifted off his feet. He fought, of course, but the vampire seemed indifferent to his blows, and for the first time since childhood, he was combating someone significantly stronger than himself. Despite his struggles, his head was bent back and he felt the fangs break his skin.
Despite the impossibility of what was happening, years of training asserted themselves. Klaus firmly reined in the rising tide of panic and applied his brain to the problem. His usual combat methods – solid punches where they would normally do the most good – were going to be useless here, but that didn’t mean there was no way to fight. If vampires existed, perhaps some of the stories about them were also true. He didn’t have a stake handy, but maybe a bullet through the heart would do the trick. He raised his Magnum and fired.
The vampire jerked back and released him, but Klaus quickly realized the damage was in the “just enough to piss him off” range. He turned and ran, ran for the stairs out of the dungeon, ran faster than he ever had before.
He got just far enough up them to see a ray of sunlight, vivid through the unwieldy goggles, from the nearest window before the vampire’s icy hands closed on his ankles.
The vampire dragged Klaus down, pinned him to the ground, and sank his teeth into his neck again. For a couple of minutes, the Major couldn’t restrain the impulse to struggle, however uselessly. When he began to feel tired, he managed to stop again and think. It crossed his mind that he had probably already lost too much blood, that he needed a hospital which was much too far away, but the thought was crowded out by more immediate concerns. And an idea came to him. It might only buy him another minute or two, but it was not in his nature to give up.
Allowing himself to groan, he played possum, letting his arms drop to his sides, no longer struggling. The physical sensation itself was surprisingly pleasant. Klaus could see his Magnum, but it was well out of reach. It was not, however, his only weapon.
With a few slow, apparently lethargic movements, he got his right hand into the right position. When he was ready, he pulled his knife out of its sheath and plunged it under the vampire’s chin in one fluid motion.
The vampire reared his head back and tried to scream, but with the knife pinning his jaw closed all he could manage was an enraged gurgle. Blood gushed from the wound, pouring all over Klaus, onto his jacket, his neck, his face. Into his mouth.
There was no rational thought involved when Klaus seized the vampire and started eagerly drinking down the blood from the wound. It was as irresistible as gravity. Nothing on earth could have made him stop drinking.
He didn’t know how long he drank before the vampire struck him, knocking him against the far wall. Klaus felt as if he’d just run a marathon. He lay where he had fallen, exhausted. The vampire pulled the knife out, wincing slightly, and tossed it aside. Klaus watched woozily as the vampire’s wound mended itself. Then the vampire examined him, no longer amused, icily intent.
Klaus lost consciousness.
When he awoke, the vampire was still standing in the same spot, regarding him coldly. Klaus sat up quickly, casting about for some kind of weapon. The night-vision goggles were on the floor beside him, but he could still see with perfect clarity.
The vampire moved with that same lightning swiftness, lifting him, shoving him against the wall.
“Do you think you shall enjoy being a vampire?” he asked.
“What?” Klaus managed, and cut his tongue on his teeth. He touched his fingertips to them and entered new realms of horror when he realized what had happened to him.
“I think you shall not,” the vampire told him. “Regardless, you will not be one for long. The surest way of killing a vampire is to drain its blood. And the only thing more nourishing than human blood is that of another vampire. That is why I let you finish transforming before killing you.”
The Major’s eyes narrowed. “That was your last mistake.”
Half an hour later, Klaus moved slowly up the stairs again. This time, there was no one to drag him back down. But when he saw the waning sunlight streaming through the window, he had to back down the stairs anyway, back to the welcoming darkness below. Even the sight of it was unendurably hot.
Back in the dungeons where he had spent what felt like a hundred years, the Major reflected that he had had his last glimpse of the sun.
* * *
Klaus waited for nightfall before returning to the safehouse, staying as far away from the few people on the streets as he could. What he was going to do there he wasn’t yet sure. At some point he would have to call Bonn, but to tell them what? And what was he going to do with the rest of his life now?
As he neared the door, he realized that he had another problem on his hands. He could sense the presence emanating through the wall. How the hell had he found out about this place?
He stomped over to the door, threw it open, and pointed outside. “Get out.”
Eroica replied with a silvery laugh. “Now, Major. Is that any way to treat a guest? And after I brought Mosel’s for you.”
“I am in no mood for your nonsense, Eroica. Get out.”
Dorian moved toward him, smiling. Instinctively Klaus backed away, which meant he couldn’t stop Eroica from closing the door. Against his better judgment, he found himself staring. It was always an effort not to stare at Dorian, at the beautiful face and sumptuous golden hair and the toned, slender body. But now there was something more. He could smell the Earl. Not just the rose scent, but the man himself. He could smell his health, his life… his blood.
The scent was more alluring than the thief’s sexuality ever had been.
The sky-colored eyes widened, studying him, and Klaus realized Dorian had seen him staring. And of course, drawn the wrong conclusions. Dorian advanced towards him, every move an exercise in shameless, confident sensuality. Klaus backed up until he hit the wall.
“Stay away from me,” he muttered tensely.
Dorian, of course, ignored him. Examining him, he remarked, “You know, Major, I don’t know what it is, but tonight you’re even sexier than usual.” He drew close and raised a hand, lightly running his fingertips over Klaus’s chest.
Klaus seized his wrist. Dorian winced and tried to pull away, and then looked at Klaus in surprise. Klaus had always been the stronger of the two, but now… now he was impossibly stronger, and Dorian could detect the difference already. He couldn’t evade Klaus’s grip any more than he could have knocked down a stone wall.
“Major…?” Dorian began, and then his eyes, impossibly, became even wider.
Klaus realized his lips were curling back in a snarl. It didn’t seem to be a voluntary move. For the moment all rational thought was suspended as for the very first time he pulled the Earl closer to him, his eyes fastened on the tempting vein that ran through that beautiful slender neck, throbbing ever so subtly with his pulse….
The sound jolted Klaus out of his semi-trance. He froze, fighting for self-control.
“No! Please!” The Earl was struggling frantically, uselessly.
Klaus swallowed, then shoved the Earl away, hard. With a few yards between them, the pull wasn’t so strong. He turned his back, not to have to look at the blood flowing warmly under that healthy young skin.
“Get out. Stay away,” he ordered.
A second later, he heard the thief fumbling to open the door, then steps rushing away.
He closed his eyes. “I’m finally rid of him.”
* * *
After Eroica left, the thirst he had awakened only intensified. Klaus spent an hour pacing inside the safehouse before settling on what to do. The hunger was so strong that even then he couldn’t be certain he was logically evaluating his situation.
He had, however, resolved on how he would deal with his new dietary requirements. Perhaps when he returned to civilization, he could avail himself of blood banks. Here in Romania, even if he could find one in this remote area, he couldn’t quite square raiding one and depriving some hapless citizen of this impoverished country of what was doubtless an inadequate supply of blood. People trapped in communist countries had enough problems.
On the other hand, he could easily rid them of one small bit of those problems in a way his superiors might never find out about.
A moment of experimentation revealed that all he had to do to transform into a bat was to think about it, and he was one. He couldn’t begin to imagine how such a thing was possible, but here he was, suddenly “seeing” the world in his mind as a chamber of echoes. And he could navigate by it, as if he had been doing so all his life. He knew how to use his wings. The bright electric light was harsh and irritating, though nothing like his brief glimpse of sunlight that afternoon. He flew across the room, then willed himself human again and with relief found that his true form was restored. He was even wearing the same clothes, which baffled him even further.
His mind made up, he stepped outside, locked the safehouse door, and turned into a bat.
He flew toward the nearest city. It took perhaps an hour. He knew where KGB headquarters was; he always learned things like that before travelling, whether he was on a mission or not.
At this hour there weren’t many people still at headquarters, but a few minutes of flitting around the windows determined his quarry for him. He had encountered the man once or twice. Klaus couldn’t remember his name, but the man was quite vicious and would likely rise to a high rank one day. That is, he would have.
The story about vampires turning into clouds of mist were untrue, Klaus quickly discovered, and it was too cold for open windows. After a moment of consideration, Klaus found a loose brick of appropriate size. He shifted back to human form, threw the brick through the window, resumed bat form, and flew in.
He had to hide behind a filing cabinet while security guards ran in and various people bustled about trying to find the culprit who had thrown the brick. Eventually, however, the shattered glass was swept away and the others left, the guards told to be more alert. If bats could smile, Klaus would have.
Once his quarry was alone, Klaus flitted out and transformed. The KGB agent stared, too dumbfounded even to call out. By the time he tried to, it was too late.
Blood was delicious. It was better than anything he had ever consumed. Not intoxicating, but invigorating.
When he had drained the man completely, Klaus dropped the pallid body and stared at it. He was accustomed to killing people in the line of duty, as much as one could get used to such a thing. This, however, was different. The world was well rid of the man he had just killed, but nonetheless, he felt unclean.
He couldn’t shake the feeling as he flew back to the safehouse. He radio’ed his coded report to his superiors, leaving out all sorts of vital details (he didn't know the code for "I've been turned into a bloodsucking creature of the night"), and then resolved to return to the castle dungeon before daylight. Klaus decided to walk; it would take just about the right amount of time before dawn, and it would allow him to think without the distraction of the novel experience of flying.
The Major had always liked to take walks at night. The solitude and quiet were restful and good for reflection. Now he had to consider his current options. If there was a cure for his new condition, he had no idea how to find out what it was. He was highly dubious about whether his new abilities should be used in NATO’s service. It occurred to him that a creature like himself probably should not be allowed to continue existing, and he considered suicide in an impersonal manner, but his Catholic training balked at the idea.
Which made him take notice when he neared a church. It was an Orthodox church, but nonetheless, churches had always been the places where he felt the most peaceful. It would be a good place to take stock as he needed to.
Only he found that his feet stopped at the entrance. There might as well have been a stone wall before him. It wasn’t painful, it was simply impossible for him to walk in.
Klaus stood on the threshold for a long time before moving on.
“Hell of a way to get my faith back,” he muttered.
* * *
As it turned out, he had been wrong. It took more than conversion to the undead to discourage Eroica.
When the sun set the following evening he returned to the safehouse to shower, but as soon as he opened the door the phone started ringing.
He picked it up. “Ja?”
“Major. What the hell is going on?”
Klaus sat down on the too-soft old sofa. “You saw what’s going on.”
“Then that was real?”
He sighed. “Yes.”
“When did this happen?”
“Were you really going to….”
“Kill you? Yes.”
The blunt statement quieted Dorian, for a minute. “Then why didn’t you?” he asked at last, his voice hesitant.
“I’m not a fucking murderer, dammit! And I’m not going to turn into one just because I’m… because this happened to me.”
“And here I was hoping to say you didn’t think I deserved to die, or that you’d miss me.”
“A new personality didn’t come with the fangs,” Klaus snapped, and Dorian actually laughed.
“So I see. So tell me, how are you going to get back home?”
“I haven’t figured that out yet,” Klaus admitted grudgingly. He supposed if he were sufficiently adamant NATO would send him whatever kind of transport he required, but how would he explain it to them? And could he trust them to follow his instructions, not to open a door during the daylight hours because they were suspicious or because some idiot didn’t understand his instructions? Besides which, he hadn’t yet decided if he was going to let NATO in on his new secret.
“If you think you can refrain from killing me, I can help you,” Dorian was saying.
“I don’t need your help,” Klaus said from force of habit.
“You can trust a bunch of professional liars and cutthroats who make an art of double-dealing, or you can trust a lovesick fool, darling. It’s up to you.”
“You mean, even after I nearly killed you last night, you still….”
“You didn’t kill me,” Dorian pointed out.
Klaus considered for a minute. At last, reluctantly, he asked, “What are you suggesting?”
Two nights later, Klaus arrived at an open field one hour before dawn. As promised, that outrageous zeppelin was there, waiting. No one was inside or nearby, he could tell.
Inside the zeppelin, as promised, was a huge light-tight crate, taking up just over half the interior (which was, as the Major might have expected, shamefully luxurious). The crate had been made as comfortable as possible inside, he found; there was a thick futon covering the floor, pillows and blankets, electric lights, and even a small refrigerator. He opened it and was not surprised to see plastic bags of blood, no doubt lifted from a blood bank.
"Damned fop's thorough," he muttered as he locked himself in. As promised, the opening to the crate could be locked from inside so that no one could get in while Klaus was inside. He was as safe as it was possible for him to be under the circumstances. He sat down and waited.
An hour later, right on schedule, he heard steps entering the zeppelin. He recognized Bonham's voice asking, "Are we ready to go, me lord?" Without his new abnormal hearing, he probably wouldn't have been able to distinguish the words.
He also found that he was abnormally aware of the Earl's presence. Even through the wall of the crate, he could smell Eroica, feel his presence. He found himself pressing against the wall nearest the Earl, uselessly. If it hadn't been for the palpable heat of the sun outside, he would have charged right out of the crate and had the Earl for dinner on the spot. As it was, his usual frustration around the thief was reaching new heights.
"Let me check, Bonham." It was the Earl's voice. A moment later a phone rang. Klaus glanced around and saw the phone and picked it up.
"You actually had a phone put in?" he asked into the receiver, incredulous.
"Why on earth not? We ought to be able to communicate. And how else would I know you were in there without opening it up and exposing you to the sun?" Dorian hung up and a moment later Klaus heard him saying, "Lift off, Bonham."
Klaus picked up the phone. It wasn't a proper phone that could be used for normal calls, but only on its own network, which in this case was the zeppelin. They used them in safehouses sometimes. He pushed one of the four buttons and waited for Eroica to answer.
"Does Bonham know what you're carrying?"
"No, darling. He thinks this crate holds some contraption NATO wants. My men already disapprove of my infatuation with a machine maniac; I can hardly tell them you're now also a vampire."
"Can't he hear you?"
"No, love. He's up in the cockpit. I'm back here being comfortable. Tell me, if the sun weren't up, would you open the door and drink my blood?"
As Klaus had hoped, this information caused the Earl to shut up for a minute. At length he said, "You're just trying to scare me."
"By telling the truth. You would be...." There wasn't really a word for what a vampire looked for in a meal. "Delicious," the Major settled for at last. "Your blood is magnetic to me. You are not safe anywhere near me."
After a long hesitation, Dorian's voice asked quietly, "Why me, more than anyone else?"
"You think it would be fun to be a vampire, don't you?" Klaus snapped, sidestepping the question. "You'd like prancing around in a cape and being young forever. But have you thought about how you'd have to survive? Have you ever killed a man?"
The thief's voice was small. "No."
"You think you can kill a man almost every night just to eat? All right, maybe robbing blood banks would let you off the hook a lot of the time, but there would always be times when you couldn't get to one, and besides... you don't know how fucking tempting it is. I can barely restrain myself. You had to transport me in daylight when you knew I couldn't possibly come out of this box and bite you. You have no practice in resisting temptation. You'd kill every good-looking man you saw and get yourself lynched."
"I think you underestimate me, Major."
"Eroica, listen to me very carefully. The reality of this is not romantic. It is not fun. It is horrible. If you ever come near me again, I will probably drink your blood. And if I do, you will die, because I am not going to inflict this curse on anyone else. Not even to save your life."
Dorian's answer was a long silence before at last he hung up.
Klaus sighed, cradled the phone and laid down to sleep.
It was a Pyrrhic victory that at last he had the thief out of his life.
* * *
After much deliberation, Klaus decided to tell NATO what had happened to him. This was partly because he simply couldn't see any purpose for his life without service to his country. The main reason, however, was the nagging worry that the USSR might have creatures like himself in its service. He couldn't leave his own country, and its allies, undefended against his own ilk.
He wasn't going to tell his Chief, however. Much as he grumbled about the lardball, the man was trustworthy or he wouldn't be where he was. Still, he couldn't quite bring himself to trust the Chief with this. For that reason, for the very first time in his career, he went over his immediate superior's head. Had any of his alphabets done this they might as well have rented igloos for themselves, but he really thought being transformed into a mythical monster was an exceptional situation.
Accordingly, he finagled a late-night meeting with Colonel Haering, the highest ranking officer he was able to get access to.
The Colonel was over an open folder full of papers, his shoulders slumped, when Klaus arrived. "What is it, Major?" he asked wearily.
"I can come back some other night if you're too tired now, sir," Klaus answered woodenly.
This made the Colonel look up sharply. "Your sick leave has gone on long enough without a doctor's okay, you know, Major."
"That is what I am here to discuss, sir. It is impossible for me to resume my former duties, and impossible for me to see a doctor."
The Colonel raised his eyebrows like a schoolteacher who has heard an excuse too many times. "And why is that, exactly?"
Klaus took a deep breath, thought about it, and turned into a bat. He flitted around the room for a full minute while the Colonel stared. When he resumed his human form, he let his lips curl to expose his new fangs. "This is why, sir."
The Colonel gathered the papers into the folder, put the folder into a drawer, locked the drawer, and studied him. "Who else knows about this?" he asked calmly.
Taken aback, Klaus took a moment to reply. "No one." Bad enough he had nearly killed Eroica, he wasn't going to let NATO know the thief had knowledge that went way beyond classified.
Haering nodded. "We shouldn't have sent you to Romania. Sorry about that. We thought all of them had left. I suppose that area was sufficiently remote that the communists didn't inconvenience the resident vampire too much. What happened to him?"
The Major sat down. He wondered what effect whiskey would have on a vampire. "I killed him."
"Good. Now, Major. I am genuinely sorry this has happened to you, but I need to know: are you willing to put your new abilities at NATO's service?"
The Major did not hesitate. "Yes, sir. That is why I told you about this, instead of quietly resigning." He wondered what NATO would have done if he hadn't been. Probably exactly what he would have done to stray bloodsucking monsters who weren't under his control. "So NATO knows about vampires." He wasn't entirely surprised.
Haering gave a half-nod. "Oh, yes."
"Does Chief Twitterswell know?"
"No. Need-to-know, and Twitterswell does not need to know." The Colonel rose. "Come with me to meet your new colleagues, Major."
Together they took the lift to the lowest level of the basement. Klaus had been down here before, of course, when he needed to look at top secret documents. There was plenty here he had never seen, locked doors he had never gone through, files he had never gone through. No one man alive had seen all of it. Still, he knew all the floors and the layout of the three underground floors.
Which was why it startled him when one of the locked doors was opened, locked behind them, and the blank wall beyond proved to be a disguised door. He wasn't surprised by the fact that there was a hidden door; he had always assumed there were secrets within secrets here. What startled him was that it opened onto a staircase, going even farther down.
Klaus couldn't help hesitating at the top of the stairs. Haering continued halfway down them, then glanced up at him. The two men studied each other for a moment. Then Haering climbed back up, lifted the receiver of a phone on the wall, and pressed a few numbers.
"Major Bartusek. Colonel Haering here. Please come up; I have a new colleague for you here for debriefing."
A minute later the door at the foot of the stairs opened and a sandy-haired man of medium height emerged. Klaus would have estimated the man's age at about the same as his own, if he hadn't felt certain the other man was a vampire. It took a moment for him to realize how he knew; already, at some subconscious level, he had begun to regard normal humans as potential food. A fellow predator was different.
So that was what he was. He knew at least fifty different ways to kill a man that didn't involve fangs, and he had used most of them. How many men he had killed in the course of his work, he wasn't sure he could count; he had never tried. He had thought of himself as a dangerous man, and for years he had seen himself as rightfully outcast, not entirely fit for human society even if the other humans didn't realize it, a necessary evil of civilization at best.
To be a predator by nature was an entirely different thing. And even as the revulsion he felt at the knowledge made him think again that he should kill himself, he realized abruptly that he now had a far stronger will to live than he ever had before. It might be wrong to continue living as he was, but he was going to do it and be damned. Probably literally.
The other vampire – Major Bartusek – had reached the top of the stairs now and was studying Klaus curiously. "Iron Klaus? You? How did this happen?" His accent was Czechoslovakian.
Haering was tired of the matter now. "Ask him about it after you've debriefed him. Major von dem Eberbach, I shall expect you in my office tomorrow night at ten p.m. to discuss your new duties." With that the Colonel left, leaving the Major to reflect that now he knew why Haering so often worked late.
"This way, Major." Bartusek led the way down. Somewhat more confident that this subbasement was not a special trap for disposing of undead agents, Klaus followed him.
The large room at the bottom of the stairs was warm and brightly lit, not at all what one would expect of a vampire's lair. The walls were lined with bookcases and filing cabinets, and there were several people sitting at desks, occupying themselves with the usual sedentary tasks that made up ninety percent of Klaus's allegedly exciting profession. They all looked at Klaus curiously as he entered. He stared at them all in turn, unable to help himself. They were vampires too, he felt certain of it.
"First I shall introduce you, and then I will explain vampire nature to you," Bartusek told him. "This is Sophie – ah, technically she is Lt. Colonel Ardelyan, but we aren't very formal among ourselves, you'll find."
"Madam," Klaus acknowledged her with a nod. By her appearance she was in her early twenties, and it was plain to see how she had become a vampire; she was the sort of woman most men would like to bite, whether they were vampires or not. One corner of her full mouth quirked at his formality.
"Do not be fooled by my appearance. I am four hundred years old," she informed him, not rising from her desk.
"You are Romanian?" The accent as well as the name were clear indicators.
"Yes. I know my German is not so good; I have only been here a few decades. I left when my country became communist."
Klaus expected that every question he had would be answered if he let Bartusek continue in orderly fashion, but his curiosity would not be put off. "Does the USSR know about us? And other countries?"
"The USSR does know about vampires, but they do not have any working for them," Bartusek explained.
"We always leave. We are capitalist exploiters by nature," Sophie added with an ironic smile.
"They do, however, have most of the werewolves. Lycanthropy began in Russia, on the tundra. And they don't like leaving their native soil. They can, but they don’t like it. Carleigh – Lt. Mahnke is the only one we have in Bonn." Bartusek indicated a young woman who was crouched in front of a bookcase in a position Klaus hadn't known the human spine could achieve, a stack of books on the floor beside her. She looked up reluctantly to acknowledge his presence before diving back into the book she was holding.
Klaus glanced at the bookshelves. Along with the books on espionage techniques and the international situation he was accustomed to, there were also volumes about the supernatural. He began to feel a bit disoriented.
"Wait a minute. If werewolves also exist, what else is there?"
"The Americans have skinwalkers. They're sort of shapeshifters – they can take the form of any animal at will, instead of being bound to the moon like werewolves. They'd be really useful, and we've suggested a temporary exchange, but the bloody Yanks won't share. Then there's witches, people who have innate powers to do things like read minds and levitate objects. That's strictly hereditary, not infectious like the rest of us."
"Infectious? Is it some sort of germ or virus that transforms us?"
Sophie and Bartusek both shook their heads. "We have tried that," Sophie informed him. "Do not hope that science will cure you. We have been put through every test modern science could possibly devise, every imaginable bit of us examined under microscopes. So far as the most advanced instruments can tell, we are ordinary humans."
"Then what does make us this way?" Klaus asked.
Sophie shrugged. "Magic. For want of a better word."
The word gave the Major at least one idea. "These witches you mentioned, do they have… healing powers, or anything of that nature? Might they be able to do something?"
Bartusek shook his head again. "I am sorry, Major. It does not seem that any of them have any power of that nature, and there are very few of them indeed. They seem to be fairly evenly distributed all over the world, but they are rarer than any of the rest of us. Probably a good thing."
"How many of us are there?" Klaus asked, almost afraid to know.
"It's hard to be sure," Carleigh spoke up, not looking up from her book. "But the best guess is that all of us put together – vampires, werewolves, skinwalkers, and witches – make up about one fifth of one percent of the human race."
Klaus did the mental arithmetic and decided to ask another question.
"Yes, vampires can get drunk," Sophie said.
"Can we read minds?" Klaus asked, alarmed.
"No. But I've seen that look on several faces before. Besides, a new colleague generally asks that about five minutes after coming down here, and you've been here for almost seven. You must really be made of iron."
"Vodka all right?" Bartusek asked, offering him a glass.
Klaus disliked vodka, but under the circumstances, he wasn't going to complain.
* * *
"Master Klaus, I must say, the renovations you wish on your bedroom are rather extreme."
"Just see to it that they get done."
"What will your father say when he sees the windows of your bedroom bricked up? Or this enormous metal door you want put on it? Not to mention that the underbutlers might be offended at the large bolt you're putting on the inside of it. They might think you expect them to rob you."
"I don't have any choice about this, Konrad."
"May I ask why not, Master Klaus?"
"...Because I'm a vampire."
"Why didn't you say so, Master Klaus? So that's why you have begun working nights."
"Very good, sir. The renovations will be carried out immediately, and I shall tell the cook you will no longer need his services."
"Really, Master Klaus, you ought to let me know about these things so that I can run your household accordingly, instead of beating about the bush this way."
* * *
The room was chilly, but Mischa did not complain. Russians grew accustomed to cold early in life. Besides, to be summoned here was an honor, proof that he had proven his value to the State. The only illumination was two naked bulbs casting harsh light over the room's grey walls. There were no windows, not in this room. It was expensive to light it solely by electricity, but what went on in this room was far too confidential to risk the slightest exposure to the outside world.
"Sit down, Comrade Mischa," Brassilhov ordered curtly. "You have been chosen for this mission because of all the KGB's agents, you are the best acquainted with Iron Klaus."
Mischa's pulse quickened at the mention of his arch-adversary. "I am. How does this concern him?"
Brassilhov exchanged a look with another of the old men behind the long table. "To brief you for this mission means entrusting you with the most closely guarded state secrets, comrade."
Mischa remained outwardly calm, but within his excitement was increasing. Not only was he about to have another go at Iron Klaus, but he was moving up the hierarchy. His years of dedicated service were paying off. "I have never given the Soviet Union reason to doubt my loyalty," he announced.
"That is true," Brassilhov acknowledged without enthusiasm. "What do you know of Major von dem Eberbach's recent activities?"
Mischa always kept a close eye on his most cherished enemy. "He is no longer commanding a team, but is now a solo operator. Since the change, several key agents have been killed, including numerous double agents we had placed in the West. Iron Klaus was known to be in the same city at the times of their deaths and yet was not seen anywhere near the victim's location. Also puzzling is the leaking of top secret information, again information that was stored in a city Iron Klaus is known to have visited recently, and yet there has been no security breach. Surely the Major must have some connection with these events, but what that connection could be is a mystery."
There was a long silence before Brassilhov spoke again. "It is not a mystery to one with the information we possess. To us, the answer is only too clear. And this is the first time a Western agent… of the sort Eberbach has become, has been someone whose habits and character were well known to us. Which makes this a unique opportunity."
"What do you mean, the sort of agent Eberbach has become?"
"We shall explain, Comrade Mischa. And then your mission shall be to capture Iron Klaus. Alive."
* * *
Setting the trap took three months of careful preparation. False leads had to be "leaked" about the whereabouts of certain top secret documents. Two petty agents had to be sacrificed for nonexistent secrets. A Western agent was murdered simply because he happened to be in the general vicinity of the dummy documents. Every indication was given - subtly, so as not to make the Westerners wary - that vital information was contained in a certain locked briefcase. And the briefcase followed a circuitous path through West Germany under the attentive, furtive gaze of the agents of the West, tempting them, but leaving no opening an ordinary man could breach without an all-out assault.
Thus leading to NATO's decision to use its newest secret weapon, a man who was no longer ordinary.
A warm night was chosen for the trap to be sprung. It gave the Soviet agent, who had no inkling of the reason for his bizarre orders, an excuse to open the window of the tiny office in the concrete warehouse he was occupying. The allegedly precious briefcase was on the desk, easily visible from the window when he rose, making a show of weariness, and left the room.
An hour later, the agents monitoring the delicate sensors carefully hidden in the office detected movement. The infrared scope showed a bat fluttering toward the briefcase.
The next thing they knew, Iron Klaus was standing by the desk, reaching for the briefcase.
Mischa pressed a button. A sheet of gridiron, its holes far too small for any bat to wedge through, clanged down over the window.
Sunlight, of course, would pass through easily.
"Thank you for accepting our invitation, Major," Mischa said into the intercom. The Major, ever the consummate professional, spared only a glance at the speaker as he methodically searched the room for a way of escape.
"You will find there is no exit, Major," Mischa assured him. "But of course you must satisfy yourself on that score. When you have accepted this, you will find that the crate behind you is large enough to hold you, and sealed well against sunlight. We have no wish to kill a valuable commodity such as yourself."
The Major glared briefly at the intercom as he continued his search.
"I suppose you intend to take blood samples and whatnot and try to reproduce what made me this way," the Major spoke at last, sounding bored.
"No, Major. We know how useless science has been in understanding creatures such as yourself. We merely wish to have some of your sort on our side."
"You expect me to make more of my kind? Out of communists?" The Major snorted, not ceasing in his careful examination of the walls for some sort of exit. "I assume you have some sort of incentive planned to induce me to cooperate. It won't work."
Mischa suspected that he knew better, but only smiled and said, "That is our problem, Major."
The Major got a running start and threw his shoulder against the door. Uselessly, of course. This trap had been well planned.
"Go ahead and wear yourself out with useless attempts at escape, Major."
"Which one of you intends to try for immortality?" the Major asked, not pausing in his scrutiny of the room. "He had better be expendable."
"When dawn arrives, you will have to choose between death and going into that crate. When you are inside the crate, it will be taken to a secure location where we can discuss things with you. Rest assured, Major, we have no desire to harm you. You will be treated with the utmost courtesy."
The Major glared around him. "I'll just bet."
Iron Klaus spent the next several hours trying, uselessly, to escape. He pulled all the panels out of the ceiling, but of course the KGB had thought of that and the panels revealed a slab of concrete. The floor suffered similar treatment and similar results. The vents were covered with steel panels.
When the sky began to lighten, he looked out the window grimly. For a few moments, the Russians thought he was going to let the sunlight kill him. But as Mischa's information had assured him it would, the vampiric will to live asserted itself and Iron Klaus sought the shelter of the crate.
Mischa smiled. "Lock him up and load him onto the truck," he ordered as the sky brightened.
* * *
Ten weeks later, Mischa was still observing his prize captive on a moving screen, but he was no longer smiling.
The Major's prison had been carefully planned. He was insulated from sunlight, but also from any possibility of escape. The walls were concrete and very thick, the door made of heavy steel.
He wasn't able to tear open the door, but over the course of the next weeks, they sometimes had to repair it while he slept.
Cameras and microphones had of course been set up so that the Iron Klaus could be observed in his cell. He broke those he was able to reach. That still left a few through which Mischa could coax him to be reasonable.
They made him wait for a full week before sending the first agent in.
Four of their best agents had been sacrificed to the endeavour. Every one of them was a convinced communist to the bottom of his soul, understanding full well that his vampiric powers were to be placed in the service of the state, not indulged for his own individualist pleasure.
They had made sure Iron Klaus was tormented by hunger before sending each agent in, so that he could not resist. Each time, the Major was looking emaciated, and while he would not stoop to complaining, it was clear that he was suffering from the pangs of his hunger. Mischa would explain through the intercom, quite matter-of-factly, what was required of him. If the Major did not turn his victim into a vampire, he would not be fed again for weeks.
"Hurry up and send him in. I haven't killed a communist in days," Iron Klaus would reply.
The first time, he had drained the agent and then refused to give him blood. The man died swiftly. The second time, Mischa had plans. After the Major had drunk, ten soldiers would storm in and seize him and force him to give blood back to the prospective new vampire. It seemed the Major anticipated this, because almost as soon as he had grasped the man, he had snapped his neck, killing him instantly. Knowing that no amount of blood could now make a vampire out of the man, the Major had then had his meal.
It was actually fairly unnerving, watching this particular sort of murder, Mischa had to admit.
With four crack agents dead, Brassilhov was beginning to grow restive. Mischa knew that he could lose favor as quickly as he had gained it, and with the uber-classified knowledge he now had, that would be literally fatal. Not to mention that the West Germans had been trying to find their undead agent, which could lead to diplomatic complications that were only worth it if they were actually getting what they wanted out of him. He had to think of something.
"What we must do," he told Brassilhov and the other members of the officially nonexistent division of the KGB which dealt with the supernatural, "is break his spirit. And an iron spirit is not easy to break."
"Any man can be broken," Brassilhov said, unperturbed. Mischa had an uneasy moment of reflecting how easily that cool ruthlessness could be turned upon him. "You were chosen because of all the KGB, you were the one who could best determine how to do it."
"The usual methods, such as false newspaper articles with discouraging news, will be useless with Iron Klaus. He knows them too well. His weak point is his own sense of honor, even though his code is a false bourgeois one. It seems the outmoded prejudice of his religious training has led him to believe it would be wrong for him to turn anyone else into a vampire. This is why he is so uncooperative. If we induce him to violate his own code, our work will be nearly done."
"And how shall you induce this?"
"By feeding him someone close to him. One of his former alphabets, perhaps. With the death of an ally on his conscience, he will become malleable."
Brassilhov considered. "It so happens that our man in Barcelona just reported spotting one of Iron Klaus's known associates a day or so ago. It might be easier to collect him than to try to separate a member of the alphabet from his colleagues."
"Who is it?" Mischa asked, already suspecting the answer.
Brassilhov was already dialing a number. "The English thief. Eroica."
"I do not think that is wise," Mischa informed him, trying to hide his alarm. "Eroica and the Major have often worked as allies. They can be a formidable team."
Brassilhov paused in his dialing. "Is the gossip true, that the two of them are lovers?"
"No," Mischa said promptly. He considered himself the world's leading expert on Iron Klaus, and he would have staked his life that the man was as chaste as the saints of Western superstition. "But as to Iron Klaus's sentiments… I can not comprehend what is going on between those two."
Brassilhov finished dialing. He gave his orders to the code room, which would transmit them in veiled form to Barcelona. When he hung up, he said, "Regardless, I believe Eroica will do well enough for our purpose."
"Eroica is a troublemaker," Mischa protested grimly. "Despite his decadent aristocratic lifestyle, he will not be easy to capture and transport."
But by now Brassilhov had lost patience. "Then you may go to Barcelona at once to oversee matters." With that, Mischa was dismissed, with a much larger problem than he had begun with.
* * *
Dorian went to bed that night as usual, but he did not precisely wake up. He did eventually regain consciousness of a sort, but it was hazy and intermittent. At one point, he managed a long enough moment of lucidity to realize that he must have been drugged, but he slipped back into his trance before he had time to wonder who could have done such a thing. He was vaguely conscious of a mattress, handcuffs preventing him from wandering about, and a sense of movement; in the fuzzy dreams his addled brain produced, he believed himself to be on a ship, a train or in the trunk of a car.
After what seemed like, and may have been, days, he woke to comparative clarity. Wherever he had been before, now he was in the back of a moving van, lying on a thin mattress, handcuffed to something. He was groggy and hungry, and his head hurt. He opened his eyes, squinting at the light until they adjusted. What he saw was not reassuring.
"I see you are awake at last, Eroica," Mischa said, smiling coldly.
"Steady on! What's all this, then?" Dorian replied, as if merely irritated that his coffee hadn't been presented to him yet. When Mischa only kept smiling at him, Dorian added, "Are you going to give me something to eat, or do you intend to starve me to death? Not the thing when entertaining a peer of the realm," he remarked.
Mischa said something to one of the others in Russian. The younger man released one of Dorian's wrists from the handcuffs, shackling his right wrist to the bar but leaving his left hand free to accept the sandwiches and soda he was given. It didn't taste very good, but Dorian ate it all. He finished them off before bothering to speak again, though the silence as the Russians gazed at him was unnerving.
"How long was I out?" he asked, not at all confident that they would tell him.
Mischa's cold smile quirked a little. "Two days."
"Ahh. Sounds like a party I wish I remembered. Where are we bound for? It's high time I had a vacation."
But the Russian's inclination to talk had been exhausted. Dorian did not bother to cajole him. Instead he found the most comfortable position he could manage and conserved his energy, resting up for whatever they had in store. He didn't even know what country he was in now.
The trouble was, art thieves weren't of much interest to the KGB, so whatever they were after, odds were it involved a certain pigheaded German vampire. Which was more or less guaranteed to be unpleasant, whatever they had in mind.
The van stopped. Dorian's wrists were handcuffed together again and he was prodded with the barrel of a gun. There were no fewer than three guns trained on him. It was downright flattering for a civilian.
"This way, Comrade Eroica," Mischa said, mocking.
Eroica saw no option but to obey. The van had parked inside a warehouse of some sort. At least one of his questions was now answered: all the signs were in Russian, which told him where he most likely was now. His armed entourage escorted him through hallways, down in an elevator, and through more hallways.
They stopped in front of a thick steel door and removed his handcuffs. One of the agents opened the door while another gripped his arm and pulled him through, not into a room, but into a tiny compartment that led to another door. They were locked in, then the agent opened the second door.
When Dorian saw what was inside, he drew back, but the guard yanked him to the opening.
It was Klaus, but Dorian scarcely recognized him. His face was emaciated, his skin stretched tight over his bones, those terrifying fangs exposed and his eyes burning. Iron Klaus had never looked more frightening. Dorian shrank against the wall; he couldn’t help himself.
When Klaus saw him, his eyes widened in genuine horror. “Get him out of here!” he screamed at the guard. When the guard only shoved Dorian the rest of the way in, Klaus launched himself at the man, but the door clanged shut in time. Klaus beat his fists in useless rage against the heavy door before stopping, clinging to the doorframe, his back to Dorian, shaking.
Dorian stayed frozen against the wall, afraid to do anything.
“Stay away from me,” Klaus muttered, and for once Dorian intended to comply. He slowly edged away. If only there were some way to hide in this cell, something to barricade himself behind. There was nothing.
“Major. What have they done to you?” he whispered.
Klaus’s fists tightened on the frame. “They’ve been starving me,” he said, his voice low and tight. The silence stretched between them before Klaus released the frame and turned, his lips curling back to reveal his fangs more clearly, his pupils narrow. Dorian stared, trying to press himself even farther into the wall.
Moving reluctantly toward him, his eyes fastened unwillingly on Dorian’s neck, Klaus whispered, desperate apology in his eyes, “Eroica… I can’t stop myself. I… I’m sorry.”
Dorian swallowed. “Please.”
Klaus closed his eyes for a moment, stopping, and then moved like lightning. Dorian flinched, but Klaus had pounced on the wooden shelf that apparently served for a bed, not on him. Klaus threw the thin mattress to the floor and brought his fist down on the shelf with crushing force. It splintered. He seized a large sharp shard of wood and held it out to Dorian, pointing at himself.
“Here. You must do it.” When Dorian could only stare at it, Klaus seized his hand and wrapped his fingers around the wood and brought the point to his chest. “Do it! Kill me! Drive it through my heart!”
Dorian looked at him, not moving. “Will that work?”
“I don’t know, but it’s your only chance!” When Dorian made no move, Klaus continued impatiently. “Don’t you understand? I’m starving. I’m going to kill you. I won’t be able to help myself.” He lowered his head, his breath rapid. “You don’t know the willpower it’s taking me to hold myself back this long….”
For the space of one breath, Dorian thought. And then, no longer afraid, he said quietly, “I love you, Klaus.”
Klaus made no move, but waited, apparently taking this as a farewell.
Dorian tossed the stake into the farthest corner of the cell.
Klaus raised his head and stared, incredulous.
“Do you think you can break out if you feed?” Dorian asked, composed.
“You idiot!” Klaus whispered.
Dorian shook his head serenely. “I’m not going to kill you, Klaus. I love you. I always knew I’d give my life for you if necessary.”
“Idiot.” The word was whispered despairingly.
Dorian smiled. “Just… try not to hurt me, darling.”
Klaus sighed deeply, closing the short distance between them, surrendering. He put his arms around Dorian with unexpected gentleness, no longer shaking. “It won’t hurt.”
Dorian closed his eyes. Even in the circumstances, it was so lovely to have Klaus hold him at last.
“Ich liebe Dich,” Klaus said softly.
Dorian opened his eyes. “You do?”
“I always have.”
Without further delay, Klaus lowered his head to Dorian’s neck, the fingers of one hand tangled in Dorian’s curls. Dorian shivered. Klaus was right, it didn’t hurt. The fangs slid into Dorian’s neck with surprising ease, as if they belonged there. Dorian returned his beloved’s embrace, pressing against him. The sensation was actually quite wonderful, a sensual union as pleasurable as the kind he’d sought for so many years. He felt deliciously dizzy, as if he were floating, as if the barriers between the two of them had dissolved completely. Dorian found himself moaning, running his fingers through Klaus’s hair, determined to wrench every shred of pleasure from this last moment of his life.
After what felt like hours, his head cleared enough for him to realize he was very cold. He knew what that meant, and accepted it. But there was one more thing he meant to have before he died.
“Klaus,” he whispered. “Kiss me.”
Klaus lifted his head from Dorian’s neck and looked at him, his face full of grief. Already the grisly emaciation was gone; Klaus looked fleshed out and healthy again. Dorian smiled numbly.
“I’d do that now even if I didn’t love you,” Klaus said. And kissed him.
Klaus’s lips were gentle. Dorian’s arms were now sagging around his neck, without the strength to hold him close. After a moment, he felt Klaus’s tongue lightly touching his lips and he parted them at once.
A heavenly warmth pervaded his mouth and the divine dizziness made his head spin again. Without realizing it his arms found some strength from somewhere and were clasping Klaus tightly again. It was worthy to be the last moment of his life, because it was definitely the happiest.
It was some time before he realized that he was sucking Klaus’s tongue, fiercely, unable to resist the urge. And a bit after that before he hazily realized that Klaus’s blood was flowing freely into his mouth. Klaus had bitten his own tongue before the kiss began.
That was the last thing Dorian knew before he passed out.
He awakened feeling a warm pleasant lassitude. A slight movement of his tongue met unaccustomed sharpness.
Dorian opened his eyes and sat up, putting his hand to his mouth. His new fangs were razor sharp, enough to cut his finger at that slight touch. He licked the blood off automatically and looked at Klaus, who was kneeling beside him, watching with resignation.
“You said you weren’t going to do it,” Dorian said.
“You wanted me to kill you rather than for us to live together forever?”
Klaus sighed. “I couldn’t let you die if I could prevent it. But I didn’t want to do this to you.”
“Now who’s an idiot?”
“Dorian!” Klaus’s voice was hard with anger. “You think this is going to be fun. It might be – for a while. And then you will – you will – curse me for doing this to you. And you’ll be right. I haven’t done you a favor tonight. You’ll realize that before long, and perhaps you’ll hate me forever. I won’t blame you at all. But I was too selfish to let you go.”
Dorian didn’t bother to argue. Only time would convince his muleheaded darling that he was wrong. His mind was already on other things. “Can vampires have sex?”
Incredulity wiped everything else off Klaus’s face. “That’s the first thing you think of?”
“You just finally admitted that you love me. Of course I want to take you to bed now. Can we still do it?”
Klaus looked at him, exasperated. “You pervert. Yes. That is – I haven’t, but….”
“The equipment still works?”
“If you must know, yes.” Klaus stood up and offered Dorian a hand. “Let’s get moving. One starving vampire couldn’t break out of here. However, two well-fed vampires can, I believe.”
Dorian smiled, wondering even as he did how his new fangs altered his sunny smile. “We are going to be a more amazing team than ever now.”
Klaus looked at him for a moment, and now affection was clearly mixed with the exasperation. “Idiot.”
“I am not going to be seen with you while you’re wearing that thing.”
“But, darling! What’s the point of being a vampire if you can’t wear a cape?”