Kinsmen of the Dragon
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by Stanley Mullen
Category: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Description: Science Against Sorcery from Another Dimension! From Hugo Award nominee Stanley Mullen comes this classic novel of dimensional warfare. Annwyn, the underworld of Celtic myth lies side-by-side with Earth on another plane. When Franchard, the Black Archdruid, servant of the Demon God, Ytal, discovers the portal to our world, he plots to conquer both worlds by spreading his dark cult on Earth. Fueled by real miracles worked by blackest sorcery, Franchard's Dragon cult soon has recruits by the thousands all over the world. Only a handful of brave souls are aware of the danger--painter Eric Joyce, fearless Ruth Hollings, playboy Roger Grant, and their leader, Sir. Rodney Dering--and they must struggle against Franchard's magic and the cult's power. Out-fought at every turn, their only hope lies in a desperate expedition through the sea gate that connects Earth with Annwyn. Once there, they find a strange world of science and sorcery, long fallen from its height, but still powerful beyond conception. Harried by shadows that slay, the group fights its way from the Black Tower, center of Franchard's power, to the grotto of the Lizard People, to Caer Sidi, home of the Red Archdruid. What they learn from the Red Archdruid gives them clues to defeating Franchard's Dragon cult. But their only hope is the woman Darla, the woman Eric Joyce loves. Darla, who sometimes seems all purity, sometimes all evil, who seems to exist as three women, one a siren who lures men to their deaths in the seas of Annwyn, and who has already betrayed Eric Joyce twice! Back on Earth, they find a holocaust, with Franchard almost in complete control. Now nothing can save the two worlds but the legendary White Archdruid, who has not been seen for over ten thousand years--and may only be a legend. Chapters include: Trail of the Wizard, Votaries of Ys, In the Dark Chapel, City of the Sorcerers, Darla of the Sea-Green Eyes, The Circled Stones, Vor and the Onyx Key, The Seven Sisters of Light, The Face of Ytal, The Place of Thunders, The Sacred Isle, and others. Published only once in a limited hardcover edition that sells for over $200 today, here is one of science-fantasy's rarest masterpieces, in an inexpensive eBook edition. (Mullen's Moonworm's Dance & Other SF Stories, which contains his Hugo nominee novelette, "Space to Swing a Cat," is also available from Renaissance E Books.)
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner, 2005
eBookwise Release Date: May 2005
7 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [389 KB]
Reading time: 251-351 min.
SIR RODNEY DERING was stubby, plump, red-cheeked, shorter than average. He looked ridiculously like one of those too-too English characters drawn by Phiz or Cruikshank for the old illustrated editions of Dickens. A mane of fine white hair radiated around a heavy-jowled face; a wispy white mustache clung perilously to his upper lip, bobbing up and down as he talked. He was England's leading physicist; no one knew more about nuclear physics than he did.
I mistook him for the butler when he let me in and ushered me into a comfortable study which doubled as library and laboratory. I seated myself on the desk.
"I'd like to see Sir Rodney Dering."
"I am Sir Rodney. From your pictures, you're Eric Joyce--" He sat down in a huge leather chair. "You should have come at once when your uncle wrote. He needed you desperately. Didn't you get the letter?"
"I ignored it. I'd have come if he had said he needed me. It was just a peremptory summons to come to London, no explanations."
A strained silence grew between us. I broke it.
"Uncle Jacob was well enough the last I heard. What happened?"
"The immediate cause of death was exposure to hard radiations. He died ... unpleasantly."
"I'm surprised. My uncle was always careful. He never had accidents."
"This was not an accident. He was murdered. I don't know exactly how, but I know that he was. At the moment I'm more interested in why.
"You're the sole heir, but there's a condition. You'll have to make your home in England."
"I don't want any money from him, and I don't like England. The climate is foul, the people are unfriendly, and I hate the things that England stands for."
Sir Rodney laughed. "There speaks your Irish father. What you say is true of any country but one's own." He paused for a moment. "I'd like to argue the point with you over a bottle of Irish whiskey, sometime, but I have more important things to talk about right now. There's a job to be done, a nasty one, and I was hoping you'd take over a share of it with me. You would be just the man," he added somewhat wistfully.
"What are you selling?" I asked bluntly.
He leaned forward toward me.
"Let me be frank with you. You're bitter. You think that your life has jumped the rails somewhere, and you're trying hard to find someone you can blame for it. That's human, but it's not sense. I can suggest something better: find something that's worth doing, and do it. Am I boring you?"
"No. Go on. You have something in mind. What's your proposition?"
"It's very simple. I have some difficult and dangerous work that needs doing. I need a private trouble-shooter who won't hesitate to bite in the clinches. You're just the man for it.
"The people we're after are tough and mean and dangerous. They won't stop at anything, and we can't count on the police to help us. We may have to cut corners on the law ourselves. There are unusual risks and high adventure; we'll probably both have our throats cut sooner or later. If the idea doesn't appeal to you, I'll shut up now and look around for another man."
"All right," I stopped him. "You're sportsman enough to show me the bait on the hook and taunt me with it. You can put the hook away. I'll bite. Talk straight and put it in plain English."
"I want you to find a man called Franchard. Find him and pin his ears back hard. Have you ever heard of him?"
"Not till you mentioned his name. Who is he?"
I sat and listened while Sir Rodney talked. He told me a little of the man called Franchard (nobody knew very much) and a great deal about the eerie and sinister group of modern scientific wizards who called themselves Kinsmen of the Dragon. They dealt in blackmail, extortion and murder; a number of prominent scientists and statesmen had been killed in the same way my uncle had. Others were mysteriously missing. There were vague hints of a vast network of secret cults, composed mostly of drug-addicts and peculiarly fanatic devil-worshippers--all with Franchard at their head, and all working grimly at the business of undermining what we have left of civilization.
"What does Franchard look like?"
Sir Rodney opened a file-cabinet and handed me a picture.
"I've never seen him. The Paris police sent this one--it's supposed to be Franchard."
It was not a picture from which much could be learned about a man. The likeness was poor; the quality of the picture not at all clear. A tall man, dark, with lean, wolfish features, eyes with an intensity about them which gripped and held attention. The costume did not help, obscuring bodily details as it did. The figure was robed in black, the loose folds belted with disks of beaten silver. The face was smooth-shaven, a twist of cynical humor about the mouth, smug, offensively self-confident.
Sir Rodney talked most of the night. In the end he convinced me. He produced a large handkerchief and wiped sweat from his forehead.
"You're a fraud, Eric Joyce--but you had me worried for a moment. Now about that Irish whiskey..."
"What do I do first?"
"I want you to see some people on the Continent; I have a list. Also, you're to look up some material for me at the Bibliotheque Nationale on the pre-Celtic worship of the Dark Flame. I'm glad you're staying for the floor show, Eric. It should be ... interesting." * * * * CHAPTER 1 TRAIL OF THE WIZARD
TROUBLE was waiting for me when I got back to London.
The train had crawled to a stop in a swirl of vapors. The carriage door was flung open and a guard said, "This is Fenchurch Station, sir."
I stood with my bag on the bleak platform.
Outside, the sun was struggling feebly with the fog. A clock somewhere boomed out the hour with solemn brazen strokes. My watch had stopped. I had forgotten to wind it. I wrestled the bag toward a line of waiting cabs and found myself obsequiously shoved into one by an expert. Giving Sir Rodney's address in North West London, I settled back on the seat to enjoy the ride across town as we swung out from the curb.
A huge red-painted lorry rumbled past. My eyes followed it. A large black, high-powered sedan moved into line behind us. My interest in the London scene evaporated.
I rapped on the window, but even as he turned, I realized that the cabby was one of Franchard's people. I choked on the order I was about to give; instead I said evenly, "There's a quid if you hurry." The man nodded without turning completely.
I turned to watch the car behind. We threaded traffic and went round corners, but the black sedan was still with us. It was no coincidence. They were following.
I had wanted to get them on my trail, but I was succeeding almost too well; the job was too neat, too well-planned. Our pals would not have gone to so much trouble unless they had meant business, and I was afraid they might be playing for keeps. As my cab slowed for the next corner, I got the door open and leaped for the sidewalk. The cabby did not know I was gone till his door slammed shut. Instead of stopping, he stepped hard on the gas. I ran.
The other car speeded up and went by with a smooth roar. My ankle turned painfully, and I lurched to one side. It was all that saved me. An ugly, blunt-snouted automatic jutted from the window. I dodged into a sheltering doorway, snatching at my gun. There was a low muffled report, like a stuttering backfire as a chain of slugs whicked at the crumbly brick wall. Bullets ricocheted down the street, and showering brick dust powdered my face.
The car droned power, shot on down the street with tires screeching. A shaft of vagrant sunlight grazed two faces in the car. Franchard and the girl.
I stood alone on the sidewalk, watching the cars disappear. London seemed very big, bleak and empty. For the first time, I remembered my abandoned bag. Fortunately there was nothing important in it.
The fog was turning into a nasty drizzle. Street lights were a series of vague yellow blotches, and the wet pavements glittered like polished glass. I started off on foot, still shaking with excitement, and perhaps something else. The encounter had unnerved me. Franchard, yes--I had expected something in that quarter. But the woman puzzled and disturbed me. Where did she fit in?
At last another cab came by. I hailed it, then stared long at the good-natured frog-like face of the driver while I debated.
"Do I know you?" I asked. "Your face seems vaguely familiar."
The face twisted into a weird grimace. "It's that kind of face, Guv'nor. Remember Guy Fawkes Day." He gave a hearty laugh. "Better get in," he said in Cockney accents. "I used to drive for Sir Rodney. He got worried about you being late, and sent me to the station. I thought you'd already left."
Gratefully, I climbed in.
The gears meshed harshly, and London became a swirling fogland outside the windows.
I tried to organize my thoughts.
First, the girl, Darla.
What was she doing in this murderous affair? The rest of the pieces fit perfectly, as far as we had them, but somehow she seemed out of place. There were women in those vile cults of Franchard's, lots of them, but they were all of a different type. Neurotic. Off-beat characters. She was not like that. Perhaps she was Franchard's mistress. The thought sat uncomfortably on me; I tried to discard it, but after all, what did I really know about her? Nothing. Nothing solid. I had talked with her a few minutes, and not very satisfactorily at that.
My mind was still taking dips. It had been in Paris, after a very discouraging day. I was brooding over a whiskey sour in a cocktail lounge. I toyed with my drink and scowled.
"Feeling bad?" someone had asked.
I looked up. It was a girl. But such a girl. She wore her softly golden-red hair in some archaic fashion, looped round with woven cords of gold. Her dress was long, one of those loosely flowing things of shimmering green, simple but expensively cut, designed to cling revealingly to the sinuous curves of a well-made body. I took a second look.
It was her face that got me: sensuous lips, finely molded features, impudent sea-green eyes which sparkled with emerald fire like the sun-drenched shallows close inshore--all neatly blended into an effect both classic and exotic. It went together well, even the red coral bracelet on her left arm, the square, metallic-scaled bag, the chain of gold beaten into flat disks round her neck, everything checked and served its purpose.
She was well-turned-out, convincingly, but somehow too exotic.
I am no stranger to such unconventional encounters, but somehow this one was too well staged. The girl was lovely, breathtakingly lovely, but there was a coldly alien quality about her which repulsed me, even while her sweetly barbaric beauty bowled me over. Coldly alien may be too strong, but there was condescension there, a distant, chilling lack of human warmth that irritated me. So might a goddess of the old days have appeared on Earth in mortal guise. One felt the chill brutality of marble statuary where you looked for flesh and human sympathy.
"Do I know you?" I asked rudely.
"You should," she said. "I'm Darla." She smiled, almost shyly. "You're Eric Joyce, aren't you? I--I know the name, but I can't seem to connect it with anything important."
I laughed harshly. "I'm in the same boat myself, sister. Sit down and I'll buy you a drink. We can talk about me."
"That's all I want to do," she replied, melting down into the chair opposite. "I'll have Orange Curacao--it reminds me of home."
"Farther than that." She laughed, and the sound held little trickles of ice.
I lighted my last two cigarettes, one for her, then on sudden impulse picked up the empty package and held the match under it. She frowned as the paper smoldered and caught and bright ribbons of flame ran up around it. The ashes crumbled. I scraped them together with my fingertips and awkwardly fumbled them into the tray.
"Untidy man," she purred.
Sometimes female glamour annoys me. It did now.
"What d'you expect on a pick-up?" I snapped brutally.
The green eyes flickered. The sunlit depths became crystals of ice. Slowly the blood drained from her face and without a word she stood up and left.
I drank her Orange Curacao, but did not enjoy it. There was an odd feeling of having missed the train. I was depressed, and could not get her out of my mind.
That was the last I had seen of her until the momentary flash I got as the black sedan sped past me into the fog.
I was still upset when the frog-faced driver pulled up in front of Sir Rodney's.
It was a four-story brick place with an imposingly dismal facade, cornices of ornamental terra-cotta, vaguely Georgian I think, with white-painted door and a terrifying gorgon of brass for a knocker. The house was unbelievably narrow, squeezed in between other buildings.
I rang a bell, avoiding contact with the fearsome monster of brass, and Sir Rodney let me in himself.
Inside was a compressed kind of hallway, from which a massive. stairway disappeared upward into a hollow, echoing vault of infinity. A door opened from the hallway into the study, where a cheerful fire was burning in the grate.
"I'm relieved to see you, Eric," Sir Rodney said quietly. "Your supper's waiting."
As I ate, we talked.
Sir Rodney had been reading Murray's Witch Cult In Western Europe, but had laid it aside to answer my ring.
"These people were amateurs compared to Franchard," he said as he restored the book to its proper shelf. "Now tell me how you made out."
I told him.
"Good show, Eric. They're on your trail then?"
"Very much so," I commented dryly. "Lucky Franchard's a lousy shot."
"Unfortunately he has other weapons besides guns at his disposal. I'm glad you're safely back. I confess I had begun to worry when you were so late. The fog, suppose?"
I nodded. "The ship was delayed getting in."
"You think he's behind the fog, too? That's rather thick, isn't it? Don't start dodging shadows."
A curious expression flicked across his face. "We may all be doing that before we're through with this. About the fog. I know he's behind it. I even know how he does it. What worries me is why. What is he up to? What can he gain by an artificial blackout?"
I grunted. "That's your department. Maybe he's just experimenting, trying his gadgets out, getting them warmed up for the big show. You do the brain-jobs; I'll stick to the footwork."
Sir Rodney laughed. "Probably you're right. It could be just a trial show. Now tell me about the girl."
Sir Rodney was hard to fool. He had sensed that I was skimping a little on that end of the story. I told him how much she set me on my ear and that I could not get her out of my mind.
He poured me a third cup of coffee, and mused aloud. "Probably one of Franchard's mistresses. Maybe the Paris police could tell us."
I squirmed. It sounded worse when Sir Rodney said it.
"They don't seem to know much," I countered. "Thorough, very thorough. Who he seems to be, what he does, where he goes, the people he associates with, where his money comes from--yes, quite a dossier. But no mention of a girl like this. And when they try to backtrack on him, no dice. At a certain point, the trail vanishes completely."
"Mystery man, eh?"
"A pretty slimy one, too, I hear. If you ask me, I think he crawled out of the woodwork."
I gave him the rest of my report. I had gone first to Brittany, but there the leads were cold. Dead ends. Nobody could tell me anything about the people. Then Brussels and on to Liepre. The people were there, but cagey about talking. In Paris, I had gone first to the Bibliotheque National to look up some out of the way works on Myungu, Ytal, and the pre-Celtic worship of the Dark Flame. I saw two men Sir Rodney knew and learned a little, but not much we did not already know. Then the third man I was supposed to see in Paris.
I saw him, but someone had been there first. Probably Franchard. The man was in the morgue, and I shudder when I think of the way he died.
Leaving the morgue, I went to see the fourth man, a wizened little Norman named de Jourmont.
"What did he tell you?" asked Sir Rodney.
"I learned the most from him. The others were afraid to talk. But not de Jourmont. There is a man I could have liked. He was white with fear, but said what he had to say."
"He would," Sir Rodney commented. "I wish you could have known him before his nerve cracked."
As we talked, my mind went back to that grim cell-like room in the nursing home at Varennes, and the wreck of a man I had talked with there. I had just come from the morgue, to which poor Malkon's concierge had referred me, and the picture of that horror was still strong in me. I had asked de Jourmont what he knew of Franchard. He paled, but answered.
"Franchard, Franchard." He repeated the name several times as if it were a litany of some sort. "He is not a man. He is a monster out of the darkness of the past, a fit companion for Gilles de Rais. He is all evil, a man of passion and ambition, full of cruel humor and warped hatreds, a connoisseur of beauty and of the ultimate ugliness--
"In the first place, M'sieur, have you ever heard of the Kinsmen of the Dragon? You have, eh? Not many people know that name. But what do you know of them? Not much, I am sure. They are an association (to use the term) of sorcerers--evil men, wizards banded together for purposes more evil than the witch cults or diabolists of old. The society of wizards is as old as time; this particular cult goes back into the mists and dimness of the Celtic dawn. I was born in Normandy, but my nurse was a Breton woman of the fisher-folk. The nursery tales of my childhood have many dark pages filled with that ancient mystery. As a man, I made my life-work the study of the Celtic and pre-Celtic memorials of France. I went deep, too deep; now it seems that the dark shadows of dolmens or cromlechs have obscured my soul.
"Yes, I know something of the wizards, particularly of the man you call Franchard. He is not a man of your country, nor of mine. Sometimes I am not sure that he is a man at all, but perhaps a reflection or projection of that element we all personify under different names as the Dark One. Of his birth or origin, I can tell you nothing. He appeared suddenly ten years ago, a professional mystic and clairvoyant, and I will not be lying when I say he has strange powers. Gradually he took the lead among certain groups who like to dabble in the pursuit of secret and forbidden knowledge. He went about the Continent and to the British Isles, organizing his beastly cults, claiming to have access to lost rituals and mysteries known only by name to people who have studied such matters. At the time, I was interested in the cult of Myungu, an old and half-forgotten vampire godling, and Franchard came to my attention as an authority upon his worship. I went to see him, and we talked. I thought the man was mad, but he showed me ... things."
De Jourmont had shuddered. For moments he did not speak, and his mind wandered. Then he gathered himself and continued.
"The Kinsmen of the Dragon is the master-cult, the inner circle. There are others, such as the Votaries of Ys, composed of the idiot fringe of neurotic people and drug addicts, which are used mainly as recruiting services for the kind of people who will be useful to the master-minds of the parent group. Something I know of their mysteries-but beyond, ever beyond, lies a vast and awful gulf of horror into which I have not dared to look. They have access to something. What it is, I prefer not to know. Childish and absurd as some of their practices may seem to an outsider, behind it all is the fiend-brain of Franchard. Where it all leads, I do not pretend to know, but if you value your life and your sanity, try not to learn too much. It is my belief that at this very moment, the existence of England, perhaps even of all Europe, is threatened by these wizards and their weird cults."
De Jourmont would say no more. "I have already said too much," he snapped shortly.
The doors of memory clanged shut. My vision of the little man in his ragged dressing gown faded, and I was back in Sir Rodney's home near Edgeware Road.
"What else did you find out? Anything of interest?"
"Not too much. Probably nothing you don't know. All general. Franchard has new cults springing up here and there about the Continent. Several in Ireland. Two or three right here in London. It has become quite fashionable among the neurotic dowagers to belong to one of the groups, that one de Jourmont mentioned, the Votaries of Ys. I don't know much about it. Nobody seemed to, but we might be able to get at some of them. Not nice people, on the whole. Dopes and dupes and the usual crumby assortment of fading virgins, but they don't know what they're getting into."
Sir Rodney nodded. I did not know it at the time, but he had already thought of that line of operation. He had hired a private detective agency to learn the names of some members of this not-too-secret outer circle. The agency would have means at its disposal not quite in my line, but even they had not learned too much in the time they had. That very morning, a messenger had brought to Sir Rodney a list of three names they had turned up finally, one woman and two men. Sir Rodney told me about it later that evening, when I finished my account of the Parisian investigation.
He was brusque and to the point. Leaning back in his chair so far that I feared he would fall over backward, he clasped hands across his stomach, half closed his eyes and went over the facts we had gained to date.
"It doesn't seem to amount to much," he decided; "you might even say Franchard has taken all the honors and we have wasted our time retracing our steps. On the other hand, you are still alive, which is an unquestioned advantage; the agency has turned up three names for us, which may lead to nothing at all, and your snooping about seems to have succeeded in its main object, that of drawing their fire."
"Check," I said, with a wry grin. "We have quite literally succeeded in drawing their fire. Lucky for me that my footwork was bad. Frankly, all this mumbo-jumbo stuff is just words to me, but Franchard at least seems to talk my language."
"It's not like Franchard to be unworkman-like. He had a sitting shot, too. I'm wondering if that shot was not just intended as a warning."
"Look, I know when the boys are playing for keeps. That one had my name all over it. He tried to hang one on me, but Lady Luck happened to be in my corner. That's that. Round One. I don't mind being on the receiving end for a while, not if I'm getting somewhere sizing up the other guy. I don't mind running my feet off playing errand-boy, and even the sacrificial goat act is stimulating. But what I want to know is when I can go in and start hitting back; you're calling the plays. What do we do next?"
Sir Rodney grinned. "I've been giving it some thought," he admitted. "I suppose you're pretty tired?"
"Not too tired. I dozed off awhile as the ship crawled up the river. What's on your mind?"
"We have work to do," he said crisply. "I suppose it could wait till morning, but tonight would be better. You can freshen up a bit, if you like, while I get the car out. I put the luggage you sent over from Paris in the same room you had before."
"Give me fifteen minutes," I told him. The mirror over the fireplace told me I needed a shave. Upstairs, the bags and trunks had been opened and the clothes hung up. The suit I had on looked as if I had slept in it, so I changed hurriedly, shaved, made myself as pretty as possible in the time allowed, and dashed downstairs just as Sir Rodney pulled up to the curb.
"Want to drive?" he asked as I climbed in.
"No thanks; you'd better. I haven't driven since I left New York. Can't get used to everybody driving on the wrong side of the street; it still worries me. Where're we off to?"
"The hospital," he said.