April, 1863 and relating to the Fall of 1837
On that bitter note, Worthington paused to pour himself another cup of tea, and then he stood up. He saw in Bernice’s eyes the same realization that had come upon him when he first heard those words from his master’s lips. He nodded as he spoke. “Elias confided in me later that the Count of St. Germain had worked for Pierre de Lancre in the days when the witch hunter was judge of Bordeaux, in the first decades of the 1600’s. St. Germain was instrumental in the discovery and capture of Jean Grenier, the thirteen year old werewolf of Gascony.”
“How old is your master, Fernando, really?” Bernice’s eyes were firm.
Worthington shrugged forehead and shoulders. “He seldom talks about his youth. But with his fantastic memory, his voracious appetite for books and information, when he cites facts about a period of history, it is impossible to tell whether he relates someone else’s words or his own experience.” Worthington saw such an answer would not satisfy the doctor. “I have come to suspect, as you, that there has only been one Comte de Saint Germain.”
“The story of the young man, during the inquisition, if that was not an ancestor…” Bernice found her mind straining at the thought. The emotions elicited by the vision that had confirmed that story returned again and set her heart in turmoil.
“It would place his youth in the mid 1500’s.” Worthington leaned on the fireplace. “I know little of that first century of his life. But it seems that by the 1600’s he had accepted as his avocation hunting down the practitioners of the blood-lust, and had started to formulate his theories about their roles in the rise and fall of the governments of Europe.
“That was the time of the first publications of the Fama Fraternitatis Rosae Crucis. As Elias relates it, San Germán recognized them as one more piece of the puzzle. Their works declared the existence of a secret brotherhood of alchemists and sages who were preparing to transform the intellectual landscape of Europe, from its arts and sciences to its religious and political systems. Such a promise, at a time when wars of politics and religion ravaged the continent, made a sensation. But underneath their mysticism, underneath the façade of ushering in the age of a new Messiah, Santiago saw the simple age old temptation of power to the chosen few, the adepts. From that time on he started following the trails of the secret societies.
“De Lancre too saw through the façade. His gathered information showed a relationship between the witches’ religion, alchemy as the art of poisons, and their sexual orgies as a return of the ancient mystery religions. In the midst of a Europe caught in ever more senseless superstitions, the master must have seen in de Lancre a kindred spirit rising up to challenge the nonsense.
“At first he also envied him his clarity of vision, his self-assurance, how he lived in a world of stark black and white, where the boundaries between good and evil were sharply defined. That did not last long. His clarity of vision turned out to be an all too human obsession. Santiago must have realized that if he worked with the man much longer he would one day come under his scrutiny. Some careless deed would one day reveal that he himself was not an ordinary man, and in that day he certainly would have ended on the Frenchman’s stake.”
Worthington paused and marveled for a moment at the extent of this aside. But he decided there had been a purpose for that digression, it was the reason for which he had come to see the doctor this night. He needed her to understand this man he called master.
“He has made reference before to his ability to see the fey.” Bernice commented. “What does he mean by that?”
“It is not just the fey. As he describes it, if he steadies his gaze upon anyone, within a few seconds he can see an aura, a glow fringing their faces and hands. In unusual cases he can feel it at a distance. He has always interpreted it as an echo of the soul within, and the gifts it possesses. The fey, he says, have no soul, at least not like man does. The auras he has seen on them are in that respect more like the life-glow of animals.
“Lady Masveh appears to be the exception. He has commented that her aura has been changing since he first met her. It is not human but with time it seems to be mimicking or approaching a human state. He has only seen that, once before. Elias might have a clue to that puzzle.”
Doctor Bernice nodded slowly and then with a motion of her hand she bid him to continue with the story.
“Lady Masveh protested the master’s accusation and he returned to his tale. By analyzing the path taken by Diderici and the places he had chosen to rest, he guessed at how far his quarry would travel the next day. That night Santiago redoubled his pace. Circling wide to the south and then heading west, he intersected the original route in the early afternoon, barely a kilometer from a lonely farmhouse, and just as a thunderstorm driven by the northwind swept down upon that forest with its full strength.
“The overcast sky and the sheets of rain turned the fields and forest into a blur of grays and blacks; but with increasing frequency the twilight gave way to the dazzling brilliance of lightning. He could feel the electricity in the air. Crouching to perfect stillness during the lightning and slipping through the undergrowth in the intervening grayness he scoured the countryside, until he saw his quarry, clumsily negotiating a swollen brook. While there was daylight in the sky, even veiled in storm, it appeared that the master had the upper hand.
“He fell upon him as the man again entered the forest. The master was counting on the close packing of the trees to neutralize the advantage of the leaps he had seen Diderici perform. On both counts he had been right. Something in the daylight or even the storm seemed to confuse the man; and his instinct to flee by leaping away sent him crashing into the trunk of an ancient pine. But that blow did not vanquish him. The man shook his head as he drifted down to the ground like a falling leaf. The pain seemed to have revived his senses, for he recognized his assailant.
“‘De Soray, that is what Alswanger called you, isn’t it?’ Diderici drew a stiletto from his belt. ‘Or do you prefer San German?’ Diderici drew back, away from the master’s reach, grimaced at the brightness of a lightning strike, and in the blinding darkness that followed it he disappeared.
“Santiago was not relying on sight to win this combat. Had he been, he would have been dead the next instant. For it was not the sudden darkness after the flash that hid Diderici from sight, he knew the fey are never where you see them. Instinct and the rustle of moving garments sent Santiago spinning down to the ground. The stiletto sliced through empty air where his back had been a moment before. Santiago’s legs completed their circuit and swept the man’s feet off the ground. The next flash of lightning made the stiletto impossible to miss. With one hand he grasped that hand, with the other he struck at the man’s elbow, snapping the joint in one blow.
“Diderici stumbled to the ground clutching the dangling left arm, cursing in pain. Then the lightning played tricks on the master’s eyes, or so he thought, for a new arm seemed to take its place; like a fog it flowed out of his shoulder, wrapping the injured limb in a tenuous light and then suffusing into it. Diderici stretched his renewed strength before him for Santiago to see and fear; and then he jumped at him. The fist that struck him was hard and cold as stone.
“They rolled across the ground to the edge of the trees. The next blow missed his face, for twin lightning strikes made the man cringe at the last second. Santiago seized that opportunity. His silver-edged knife sliced across Diderici’s neck, parting flesh, drawing blood, but glancing off what felt like metal or stone.
“Diderici fell to his knees, coughing blood, holding his throat, but still alive. Again a shimmering fog seemed to ooze out of his body and spread over the wound, and in seconds he was on his feet again, laughing. A shrill whistle from Santiago’s lips was answered by a neigh just beyond the trees. He ran to his horse, giving up the advantage of the trees for a weapon of iron. Diderici cleared the ten yards in one leap. Santiago intercepted him in mid air with an iron pike.
“It was again like striking stone. The impact would have shorn a man in half. Diderici fell on the other side of the horse, clothes and midsection torn, yet still alive. But this time he hesitated as he stumbled to his feet, said something to himself, shook his head as in an argument, and then stood again intact. At Santiago’s next thrust he seemed to dissolve in the grayness.
“The master snatched a heavy bundle out of the horse’s saddle. Slapping the animal on the rump he gave it a command. The great stallion jumped away neighing loudly. It turned around, reared itself up and struck at the air. The iron of its hooves crashed as if on stone. Something fell to the ground and Santiago unwound the bundle, twenty feet worth of a studded anchor chain. A renewed sequence of lightning strikes lit up the field and revealed in ghostly light the outline of a man as it crouched to avoid the horse’s kicks. Santiago swung the chain like a long mace and then drove it just a foot above the ground. It struck the invisible man and continued with that motion to wrap itself around him like a metal snake.
“Entangled by the chain Diderici toppled over. Santiago leaped on him, pinning his body down with his legs, and with a shout he drove the iron pike through the man, into the ground. The sound that came out of the man was indescribable. Several voices shrieked from within the frothing glow that rushed out of him. One voice uttered a savage roar and something came flying out to strike Santiago in the chest. As he stumbled back he saw what had felt like a rock, fall to the ground writhing. It was a body, dark and hairy, like a monkey and it was dissolving away as a slug on a pile of salt.
“A second one was flung at him, this one already half-consumed as if eaten by acid. And then Diderici burst the chain around him. With his right hand he drew the iron pike out of his chest and cast it aside. Standing up, impossibly alive, left arm dangling uselessly, throat and chest and belly bleeding, he spat, ‘You will pay.’ No more words could cross that throat and yet an overwhelming cry of hunger seemed to rumble from the very ground on which he stood. With the cry came an image, the lone farmhouse he had passed. And Diderici suddenly disappeared.
“Santiago was thrown forward, the blow to his eardrums proving that the man had not become invisible; he had simply ceased to exist there. That was the secret of the undetectable murderer: the man could transport himself through space. The cost was that unquenchable hunger. The meaning of that glimpsed image became clear. He knew where Diderici would reappear. Mounting on his horse and spurring it to a full gallop Santiago knew he could reach the farmhouse within minutes.
“As he approached, he saw light inside and bodies moving about casting wild shadows against the windows. The storm was still scourging the countryside but through the shifting darkness of the sky he could see that the moon was rising over the horizon. Santiago started to doubt he could defeat this foe but he had to try while the man was weakened.
“He broke down the barred door, iron chain wrapped around his shoulder and weapons in hand. The ghastly sight on the dirt floor had become familiar over the decades. But this time it was a man, not a wolf, that was bent over the half-eaten body of a woman. Two other women were cringing against the back wall of the room. He discharged rifle and two pistols into the man. Seeing Diderici’s instinctive reaction to cover his face, he swung the iron pike at his head. And as its point struck the side of his skull the ground-shaking roar filled the house.
“‘Run away, take the horse, save yourselves,’ he shouted at the women. They dashed for the door behind him as Diderici braced himself against the wall. Santiago raised the pike again and then he noticed the markings on the floor, crisscrossed in patterns he had seen before, scribed in charcoal and blood. He turned just in time to see one of the women drive a knife into his side. They were witches, not victims.
“The pike shattered that one’s skull. But the other ran out into the darkness. And Diderici leaped onto Santiago’s chest. His eyes became flaming orbs as he coughed a phosphorescent cloud into his face, stealing the master’s breath. Caught in the sickening vertigo of a punctured lung and the poison of the gas, Santiago somehow managed to wrap both his hands around the man’s neck and push away the blinding eyes. ‘Where do you want to die?’ He heard those words inside his head.
“The master’s breath failed and a sudden flash of darkness took over his senses. In that moment of certain death the image of the one place he yearned for flashed through his mind. And he understood that as he had seen into the man’s mind, Diderici had just looked into his and revealed his intention. He could not let him do that. The anger that welled up within him cut through the choking darkness and gave him the strength to throw the monster out the door into the rain and the relentless lightning.
“He had one weapon still, the remainder of the chain coiled over his shoulder. He swung its full length above his head and brought its end down onto Diderici’s neck. Again like a metal serpent it coiled around its target. But this time he did not seek to bind him. This time he grabbed the other end, shackle and swivel, and feeling the electricity on every hair of his body he threw it upwards as far as he could.
“Lightning struck that length of metal twice. The blasts toppled the horse and covered the ground in a shower of molten metal. By the time the rumbling subsided and Santiago staggered to his feet, all that was left of Diderici were the charred remains of his clothes and his skin.
“The master paused his story abruptly and peered into the eyes of Lady Masveh. A change had come over her face, over her eyes, a change she could barely hide. ‘That thing was more than man, more than fey,’ he told her, ‘that thing, or something like it is back.’
“The dark woman rose without saying a word, deeply disturbed. She glanced at Elias and me. We felt there was more to the story than what had been told. We could see in her eyes that somehow she knew what it was; and we knew that, if fey could cry, tears would have clouded the shining darkness of her eyes. Lady Masveh disappeared into the night.”