“Do Sphinx run?”
“Not after I smite them !” He leers at me, as men might an Aleppo temple whore. “Mechanical worlds supervene on our will.”
Shocked. “Are you a god?” Truly I smell fetid breath. That part of beyond.
“God of the South wind. Ribalds hear me roar!”
Ancient plays the fool, though a powerful one. Who released him? Yet in-the-small beauty harks … directly below men and women of grace people fresco-lined streets. Lovers spoon. Children tumble rollers. Public baths steam and polities orate. Long nose dory ply waterways over-arched by redwood bridges and nursed by tasseled merchants promising the kilns fresh bread, hot spiced ale and wares of seventh heaven. I have seen such images.
“You didn’t expect a graveyard , did you Cibias ? Ahh I detect the blush. Would a fuming sulfur mine or boiling tar-pit have eased your Gymnaste? How Artyphon beguiles and bewitches … hehehe … fear much from me , but not that wild stretching. Many the night I have hung from your window and watched … watched while you mate; she bites like a lynx, but twitches uncontrolled like a snow-hare when you fuck her!" Ancients voice carries a bloody gurgle. "Cybelles raw tit … had I ripped Artyphons throat before I snatched you would smiles be our umbrella? Don’t know that word, Cibias so solly, but the slant eastern traders do. You need to travel more. BWAHHH HAB .” And the ancient laughed.
"Jealous of human love, undead?" That snaps his face about! My head is clearing, if any head clears in the sight of vampires. Weapon words come easy. “King Minos will find no pleasure in your theft.”
A judges whine. "You who crated and barreled the Pharaohs fist, Amum have reason to complain?"
"Amum murdered a Hyrkon sea Captain." How much to admit to this toothy fellow ... "We act under the Kings orders. King Minos of Hyrkon. By whose authority do you transport and confine me?"
“My authority over you? BWAHHH HAB.” And he drops me.
"Eat ash ...!".... falling ...
"Gravity sucks, Cibias ..." Undead voice fades away as I tumble ...
“This …” a loud bang on clods of lumber , a loose stack breaking my fall. Legs crumbled hitting the 6-th story roof of a star-mapping tower. "Cybelle..." I shout, expecting ruined death-by-shatter! Yet not! Those ceder beams cushion my strike . . . turn powder clouds yet rough like ironwood facets cushion strikes of a war-mace. Knee flexes yet ankle screams. “Aurghe ...”
“Come now Cibias you fell less than your height. Two strides … you’re a tall one for the age.” Shadows from the heavy wool hood dance across my face. “But, grant we can view much from this six floor balcony. Do you recognize?”
Face down and stretching everyway I manage ..., "voice, where is your shadow?"
"Shadow? Ha hahaha ... such a kidder for a fallen Hyrkon. Does light cast its own?"
"Did you send the pestilent crow who brought me?"
"Fine words from a confidant of Didikas. His prudent business style would see your mouth soaped."
Confused ... I kneel, fumble for balance, regrasp a hold and ... swing the heavy tapered yew pole at imaginary knees below the hooded face. This! Ancient Crete sky-towers supported nine-stone , eight-stride protractors with these three-stride levers.
“Nice try admiral,” snarks the vampire skipping above my swing.
Somewhere in the distance cheers rise from a bullring. I know this from the lilting echo an imagine much being part of it. Shaft clings to my palms. Changing my wrists weight also changes the shafts motion. “Eat oak Darkling.” Shaft’s now a spear and I judge a heart-thrust just below his white neck. The wooden point tucks a wool tuft and gathers air beyond.
Breathless … “Bold blast, but boisterous bevels butter blunt. Me? I’m not just any Darkling, as you so generously acclaim me. Not at all a free-loading fang! For I have ridden the tides of red-death longer and more successful than any vampire in my employ. Give me a break, Charlie !”
“I am no Charlie, of whatever race that may be.”
“Time is funny for vampires. Some of your blood kin will know Charlie. In the future. For now we have more important things to discuss ...”
“Such as your life ...” I raise the oak stave in defense.
“If wishes were fishes … if you only knew.” The vampire drops his hooded cloak revealing a handsome, grinning leather tanned Damascus patrician. Mouth closed he might have passed for a long-lost Italiot trading uncle. Royal - - leather-stripe silk short-robe and velvet vest: diamond ear-stud - - a royal, but not royal. Block-wood sandals wool padded. I observe as un-vampire a Darkling may they might be. He says, “Can’t we just be friends? I want to make you an offer you won’t refuse. ”
I lowered the shaft. “Alrek claimed a Darkling offered trading a silver ice-cycle for an orange. He took it … covered the ice surface in orange sap and stabbed the vampire through her heart. Had fucked her first so she was affectionately weak-kneed, waiting to be bent over a wine-couch, but he'd enough of her ivory knickers and killed her dead right there!”
“Funny, my sister murdered her full blooded Baleric Isle lover. For months she drained his seed, hoping for a child, but her hunger overcame. Ferocious yes, but women as a sex do not make the most prudent, single-minded vampire. I am Bill. ”
“And I see ... you are. King of vampires? Bill? Bill ! Who was your pal, the one that brought me here?”
“Kasalougastabuelisofildbaster. You wanted to know.”
"An ancient Hittite name ..." I had to notice. We have been transported from the roof to a very nice byway cafe. A live table orchard, silver spoons, redwood, walnut and olive inlay tables ... their Palestine carpenters sold them dear as Tyrian purple. Which color added to the pastel-tinted awning shade. Green Isle linen and Damask plates ... two Knossos amphora ringed in red bulls and satyrs. Too nice I think ... and mutter ... “Are you from a darkling future?”
“Future? I think little of the future. Most creatures live boring lives, sleepy lives with only a few crisp moments." Bill holds a Theban almond-glass to the sun, noting the sparkle before snatching a nut. His lips smack hungry ... "Besides, it’s your future, palsy we’re here to discuss not mine.” Bill covers his mouth, lowers his voice and chews cucumber sticks as a troop of children filter by.
“Trust me, it's endearing. What’s your soul worth?”
“Soul? My tutor claimed that’s an Islanders concept. Body and soul as if a storm separates wind and rain.”
“I have seen them separated like onionskin.”
“Not in a storm.”
“Damme your eyes, being a cherry not an onion . The others warned me, saying you would tangle words, until I bit my own neck. Feckin-A hurts, that.” Bill lurches up from our table to snatch a passing fig. Servers smile and baring shoulders curtsey a promise. Women … Bill eyes their pale chiton till passing a bamboo curtain. Roughly … “Did you see that Cibias, they can’t keep their paws off even the undead!” He drops back into his Egyptian-style seat. “The female vampires plead virginity even when they’re getting off. You can penetrate them - - let noone tell you otherwise. They burn like wax candles, but scratch? They scratch and claw like ocelots and Satan help your manhood daring to ride-the-tillar into snow-and-rain ! Enjoy their bodies, take one bite of real pleasure and they will bleed you for days. ”
“Not so different from live females .. I mean human females .. I mean … but, we’re skipping stones here. You speak of an offer. What offer can you make to exceed releasing me to my ship, sailor comrades and Zorast lover ?
His face sours ... offended. “Skipping stones? Release? I can’t remember using the word … and I have a great memory … why Balaam even admitted so.”
I started an apricot, having finished charcoaled tuna. Excellent! “Balaam?”
“Bedouin. Raised donkeys. A real prick for selling the braying, toothless older ones. You can imagine how I complained.”
“You were traveling?”
“Even … transformed I was still a merchant, venturing, earning, planning then .. so long ago …have you ever visited Crustia? Lovely water-world built on stilts and the shaggy mammoths herds are endearing. I had a woman there, hair dark as the back side of … well you wouldn’t know, would you. Anyway it’s north-west of the Caspian Sea.”
Quickly, for I have traded that Caspian lowland. “Pretty much swamp now, except for the Sea of Azov. Very deep, where the sturgeon swim! I’ll come close visiting Artyphons home. How long …?” My words catch tumbling thoughts. For I am thinking this is not the expected exchange between human and vampire. Assuming at start that we are very different. Bill did say he had been *transformed* ! Not me. How hard can it be to try an upbeat voice meme. “When were you transformed.”
“Mark well, Cibias tis your transformation not mine that’s on the table.” He looks about, as if pastel bricks happened yesterday. “I was, but a young adventure among icy crags.” A faraway aspect takes him to looks at his arm. “Skin white and supple as a mink. Not now of-course … even daring Helios vampires age so slowly.” Such a lost puppy face on such a ruthless killer. “So tell me,” he options , “might you want all this, I mean the bling?”
“Bling? All what?”
“Knossos, Crete at height of your palace culture. Money. Power. Slant firecrackers. Get the palace-fav bull-leaping gal with best legs. You would be king, a Minos!”
“But, I’m a Cibias not a Minos.”
“You were one week away from an honest name." Bills rocks back on his chair and plucked some grapes; a story offers and he's not shy. "Wonder ... do you Cibias how you missed the Hyrkon throne? Even the gods would pity you fates cold mien. Listen! Your mother - - a wind-bred seafarers daughter and lusty at fifteen had fucked the brains out of young Minos as only virgin teens can do and beguiled, he would have given his Kingdom or given HER his kingdom for another night of revel. She knew her own sails and spared neither linen nor hemp! Island-hopping, they dared traders offshore threats threading every golden seam in the western Sea.
"But ... but the marriage rite ...!" I knew the raw ancient custom of those blue-water tribes. My voice quivers ...
"Young love defied it," shouts Bill, his fangs gaping in the pleasure of wrath. "You come of rich blood, Cibias ! Young Minos had rented Cybelles temple atop Mt Susksi and hired a temple priestess to perform the marriage rite. Jason and his crew had come over from the Dardanelles to act as best man; cocksman he, yet agreed to pass on fucking-the-first-night-wife as prize. Instead he would take the temple priestess for a week."
"Savage custom indeed; I protected Artyphon. Only the husband is fit to groom his orchard."
"Tut tut," Bill chimed. "Why now must Minos must bribe Hyrkon coupling? Well as matters arise, this temple priestess needed little help. A red-haired ripling from Syracuse, and tutored by lubricious Utican Druids she could pluck bleeding eyes from stone."
“This story rings false as pears in a Median peat ferment. I have met Jason , and he snatched every available piece-of-ass over the age of nine, virgin or whore or grandmother. He would have granted no favor to young King Minos.”
“So much you know of sailors tales. Yet better he had. Twas a Baleric Isle to which the couple had fled-in-lust and happenstance would place a roving band of Mycenii at their dockside. The fool Mycenni would have no peace. Hatchet-handed they broke gates and marched up the temple road. Minos left his pleasure couch to challenge them, and with Jasons longbows drove them into the sea.”
“Left to weep lonely on a widows couch. You a bastard nine months later.
"My father !"
Bill glumly pinched a grape. "Minos favored the moment even then. He burned a lamb, and pouring victory amphorae immediately sailed against Zakinthos aboard Jasons birheme.”
Bill appeared so certain, I hated to continue challenging. Instead … “Do I get the bull-jumping wench before or after her jump?”
Snarking vampire laughter. “Did I say fav or what ? Until a babe succeeds she is no palace fav. Cretians were bitchy about success, especially the older wealthy women looking to anoint their replacements. You’ll get a prime one. Of-course after a woman has kids her tits go; can’t help ya there. Trust me, names change going backward in time and going over the bull.”
“How do you do that?”
“Well that’s another item, like vanishing. I could tell you , but I’d then need to bite you. Ready for that.”
“Like Stork eggs need a water snake.”
“Does that mean no? I only get three times to offer. Then it’s force or ...”
Wish he closed his mouth. “Lets talk more.”
All fangs and frown. That’s Bill. We lounge at the table, scratching polished redwood with our bronze knives and trading history, none recent since moving from the rooftop to this pleasant street-side. Bills face darkened at mention of our lost Damask factor, but he advises patience I have not. Table-wandering lutists mellow the hour , and silver pinned serving wenches find an iced sorbet of melon. In summer too. Love the ginger. “Look here Bill, ancient Crete lore is all my love, and their sailors have my eternal salute, but Queen Mary of Genoa offers caution. She says we all better move west before the tides of history do the moving.”
“It’s true, Minoans first moved west, then east and east some more , then west again. Always looking for the low rent.”
“Since the volcano fire Hyrkon is our best deal. And it’s westing, though Carthage makes us nervous.”
“Dear Mary, yes ... ". Bills face turned ernest, but thought better of it. Cynic. "I saw her in Egypt, studying at a maths shrine. The chief Karnak priest was smitten, hustling her ass from water lily to croc-skin handbag, but she never gave him a dime. Never got the Pyth …. rule of right-squares derived correctly. *Close enough for Genoa goat-farmers* she would say and dribble parts of 90-degrees all over the papyrus. Not the brightest candle to shed wax at Karnak.”
“Maybe she know people better than she knows maths.”
“She also stuck a tube in the royal bull … I mean the godbull Phaphos. Something about a better seed-line that the priests never understood. Just that Ras godly bull got fucked by a tube. Though cosseted, Mary-of-Genoa snatched two serving maids and ran for Libya after that stunt. A practical people hers - - take fatty Genoese sausage as a prime - - Mary exchanged wisdom for farm and craft, producing food. Her return to Genoa was anything, but empty-handed.”
“That explains, perhaps why the Carian warlord was so taken by her. Carians mostly eat desert chickens because they can’t keep auroche alive on thorn-bushes.”
“Well Okey some women surprise you. But, maybe I know better women than that black hair Zoraster bitch you’ve taken-to-couch. You like adventure? Twin sisters, both Green-Isle priestess of Brigit will light your fire. As they forge both lanterns and bronze nails they have sailed hulls into the northern mists and returned with tails of red men and purpose grapes. You might chuff them up and nail both.”
“Of-course. How else to bear the icy seas?”
“So I would need to be ...”
“Transformed?” He rumbles a low laugh. “Hot blood is over-rated. What sailor burns his mast during a long voyage. But those Priestess babes … their ivory thighs and dimpled ass will keep the fires churning.”
“And in time … children after my blood?”
“NO! No hot blood palsy let’s get that clear. Something in the veins may look red …” Red faced, Bill fangs out and our two wine-serves run screaming into the adjoining Gymnasium. Rumbling.
“Now you've done it. And winebowls still hold their chill. ” Bill looks over my shoulder and scowls.
I whorl about. A raft of very undead young women pour out from the Gymnasia each woman sporting a different honed weapon: spikes, cleats, iron-tipped staves, bronze chains , razored dirks … and all have sprouted two small white wings, a pair of horns and small smoking golden bowls. Ardbenna ?! Quicky now, tis bite, fight or light-out for the roadway leading into sand, if ever I can convince Bill to release me.
Bill uncoils from his chair, unwinds from beneath a wing long ivory claws, rips a menacing growl and crouches. "Pity the sweets! If you thought the ancient ripped up the hoplites, then just wait for ..."
"Only one word, Bill!" I've pushed away from the table. "They mean business! I think golden-bowls hold white wine, horseradish pesto and ... and garlic!" Indeed ancient culinary Crete proudly dashed with the woman gymnasts. One whiff by Bill, and we took to heels , pulled along by a winged serpent Bill had conjured from a sewer ditch. Indeed we are lucky to escape.
"Agreed are we, that not all ancient Crete is friendly to vampires?" Bill grunts and dispenses the serpent into a pair of democratical beggars hounding a merchant. We continue along the rocky path, enjoying a music separating inner and outer chaos. Reaching a clear view of Knossos temple took hard hoofing all morning. Bill doesn’t want to fly.
“Such symmetry," he announces, viewing rows of stone columns. "You like maths?”
“Any sailor will tell you without calculation noone may sail beyond the sight of land.”
“Then let’s go to Thebes.”
“We are here. Thebes is weeks away on camel.”
“Not now.” Shimmering air, dashing Nile water … dizzy a second … Bill spins like a bean and the crumbling walls of Thebes ancient monuments surround us. So do a ring of desert asps and cobras. “Being undead has its advantages. Even your friends will like it.”
Bills wisdom leaves me cold. “Till I bite them. Hard to stop that eh?”
Bill wades into the vipers slashing heads and bodies and fangs. He return breathless a cobra-head hanging from his mouth. “You get tired of rabbits and goats, though a few religious vampires have continued that vegetarian diet for decades. Nobody can stand their carping. And fish don’t help their cold too.”
“Were fish ever vampires?”
He spits out the reeking cobra-head and wipes his face on shirtsleave. “You need a biology Darkling to answer that. Our deep history is .. shady shall we say. Those hoodlings born of the southron sea claim an octopus-like creature was our firstborn ... though born-of-whom they will not say." Bill puzzles on that scrap for a bit ..."Northlings claim were were born of a malicious cod; a bit of icy self-hatred I would claim ..." I shrug when Bill looks over for my take ..."Yet most of us claim this blazing desert as home-of-homes and you know how taken with Sheol flame-and-fire are desert people. Must be the flaming salt-ponds that birthed us from below yet ... yet who wants Satan as their unblooded great-grandfather?”
Bills face bares a moody grin. Bare-breasted priestess have provide Ra-chairs and a table. The beer tastes warm and fuzzy ... toasted perch swim in olive oil ... “Sooo ... I guess vampires fear evil.”
Bill croons. “Evil ones . . . werewolfs say give us a bad name.” He waves at heat mirages rising behind a palm and a pack of desert-dogs run yipping .
“You believe they exist?”
“Who knows? In that dark cold Nordic clime ambushed by ever-tall pines anything might grow up from the ice-bogs.” Bill looks sad. “Back to maths. Think variables. What’s it worth to solve N-1 equations in N+1 unknowns?”
I can feel wind blow over a frosted quarterdeck as my Lieutenants puzzle through a hard measure of cross-currents, gust and destination. “Angles help.”
“Angles are variables.”
“What if the angle is constant?”
“Then that drops an equation from the brew. You have a trivial X = X.”
“What if the Cretan lied and the angle isn’t constant, but you think it is.”
“Then X != X.”
“But, what number does not equal itself? See? Math has limits even for vampires.”
Bills face corrupts in pain and through his lips gone silver HALLOOZ echo into the palms . Creation trembles ... from shimmering heat mirage they appear ... legions of vampires march before us, an army of blood-leters scribing maths, ruling kingdoms and traveling uncharted sea. A naked black-skin van heft bronze hatchets and dart hefty-thews left-and-right. Behind them rows of hooded tin-torqed templars drag scrawled chalkboards while others their human victims, like talis of doom. A taller unit wear silver masks Another klad shout paeons, whorl leathered slings and blaze blue-eyed denying the red.
"We are Ra-cus hear us roar," bellows Bill leaping to a crouch."
"Them ?" I snap toward the masks.
"All female Jews, and all transformed by the same fouled Rabbi at Karnak. Very entitled to skin protection, and aloe is so hard to obtain. Three Jewish farmers own the monopoly and pay off the harvesting guilds. Can you imagine the chaos wrought by angry female Jewish vampires? So our Theban jewelers made them masks. Come with removable emeralds for date-night!"
"I cannot believe what you say ..." Well ... I cannot believe some ... yet the legions all march in their way bloodless and unmoved. None show the scars of their ventures and none pair to a mate. Are there actually so many damned souls? Of all powerful men they are most sad. “Artyphon says Jews turn to dust when they die. Do the silver-faced creatures smell dusty? Well no it's no joke ! Can I smell the Belisama luffing into a Levanter?”
The marching legions vanish. Bill sniffs untroubled. “Smell? Vampires are pretty good with garlic, but ...”
“What about the sting of a sheet whipping across the fall-line. You know leap ahead, fal ...”
“Enough please!” Fangs again. Pathetic! Bill stutters. “Except fa fa for a wooden arrow to the heart, vampires aren’t bi bi big on feelings. Of-course we hate light, but don’t feel it.”
“Can’t feel sunlight?”
“Don’t get sentimental.”
“How about a lovers touch?”
“It’s all in the bite!”
“An enemies war-cry?”
“You saw what happened to the troop of spearmen attacking you.”
“They were a chimera .. a ghost … a mirage. Every sea captains has such visions and knows them for Poseidons damned lies. He raped his own daughters ya know. Evil comes his way and doesn’t need a vampire to blame.”
“If I bite you now you’ll blame me.”
"After this cautious chat you demand haste?"
"Didikas provides our vampire klan with all the traders prudence we need. Silver in, diamonds and glass out! Everything needed. As Hyrkon must give way to Carthage, so living matter must fade, must transform to the undead. That's us palsy!"
So it's come to this. I stand slowly to face the Undead. “You may give hickeys to Hera, but bites are no fright to me." I raise my face lips opened. "Not with this clove of garlic I have tucked into my jaw." Like a plug of black-tar hash, but fresher. A present from Tar-of-Avelon whose dealt before with the undead and got away with all his blood. I grin. "Solly to be a killjoy. ”
Angry. "True, you snort when you swallow, but how can you speak normal with a full mouth?"
"Rhetoric class ... every Hyrkon boy practices chewing pebbles and shouting against the sea ... practice for the time when he starts talking to girls."
Bills ivory infested jaws are locked-apart in hate and frustration. “A small garlic clove; just a small piece and I will vomit it out - - then ...”
“Small? A large bulb of Dniper garlic. Bulgar druids swear by it ! Fermented into paste, chewed into shape and ...” Reaching into my sleeve I remove a small hashpipe loaded with ... garlic fragrant clouds billow into Bills face. “Eat well and die young!”
Bill the vampire swallows, bites down on his own hand and howls. “I’ll see werewolves after you. I’ll sic doves of death on your flock of geese. I’ll … what a world what a whorl ...”
Bill's decaying. “I’ll catch the next bird home, if you’ve one to spare. Egypt calls; work to do.”
So the vampire dims. “I will follow you.” Bill flakes away, becoming smoke. Yet his vengeance has company. Above me wings tear at the air and jaws snap.
"I ought to have dropped you into a boiling oil perch-fry! Dammerung!" With a curse the ancient one flings himself down from the roof to seize me. But, I meet his dive with an flaming oak-shaft - - mid-flight - - tearing away his vampire heart and shriving head from neck. Talons transluce, falling apart burning. Sand swallows them. My bones tremble.
Nuits evening calls a mans quiet vigilance when Horaes day has measured his strength. Tis a yawning quiet contained not by the end of the universe where Mars and Procyon rumble against silver-clad Titans. “Do you hear Cybelle I am lost!”
Lost, my hornpipe snits a reel. Lost, I move freely. What vapors move me what wings? Windblown wary eyes falcon borne scout the return trip, up the valley of tears between Crete and Egypt … or Thebes and Heraclitus through the fractured, colored kaleidescope of my fears. My skin remains cold; I pray Cybelle for warmth of Our Sea. Fields and caves and marsh and river, the gods own River throws me back up to the stream of sighs whose currents form a real life. Gift me even the dregs of tainted life. A voice rings true. “Cybelle answer!”
Along the valley a phalanx of spearman meet me half-way. Bloodless, they run for the purple Nile sunset, dashing up a river of clouds ; current defeats them, current and the sky-crocs angry jaws. They bleed, but I dive through locking Helios gate behind me. I munch on a sugared date. Eyes clear vision a gale-swept deck, ears tune tinny clash of sword-blades, unsteady life tears at the fabric surrounding me and as fates thread rips I am released.