Author:Brian Lumley

It seemed that the Earth and the Vampire World had been cut of from each other for eternity - humanity was now safe from the depradations of the Wampyr. But this assumption has led to complacency, and while the monsters seem to have been vanquished, Harry Keogh - the World's saviour - is also dead. Only E-Branch - a motley collection of psychics and spies - remains as a safeguard. This safety is brutally shattered when three ancient Lords gatecrash our world and seek to build a new dominion. Their deadly recruits soon run into the hundreds, and E-Branch soon seem to be chasing a lost cause - chasing fire after fire but never managing to strike at the heart of the evil. It quickly becomes apparent that the fate of this new war is in the hands of one raw and broken man who has been 'chosen' to be the new NECROSCOPE. But he has his own agenda of revenge...

In Xanadu, Jethro Manchester had built a pleasure dome, in fact the Pleasure Dome Casino. But that was some time ago, and since then Manchester's fortunes had changed. Now both the casino and the mountain resort of Xanadu belonged to another, to Aristotle Milan, and the new resident-owner's needs required that he make certain alterations.The casino was a great dome of glass and chrome. It was a three-storey affair  -  or four-storey, if one included a smaller dome, which sat like a bubble or a raised blister on top of the main structure  -  that lorded its location at Xanadu's hub, on a false plateau in a high, dog-leg fold of the Australian Macpherson Range of mountains.

Now it was night, but still the work on Mr Milan's alterations continued. He wanted the work completed to his specifications before he reopened Xanadu to the public in just a few days' time. And in his private accommodation in the high bubble dome, Milan himself supervised the last of the work; or if not supervised, at least he was there to see it finished to his satisfaction. But Milan's presence  -  or more specifically the annoyance that accompanied it  -  wasn't to Derek Hinch's liking.

Hinch was a painter and decorator, but at times like this he tended to think of himself more as a steeplejack. Inside the bubble it wasn't so bad ... there wasn't very far to fall if he made the VTTT classic mistake of stepping back a few paces to admire his work! But outside, some fifty or sixty feet off the ground: that had been nerve-racking, and thank God he was done with it now.But black? Painting perfectly good windows black, both inside and out? It didn't make a lot of sense to Derek Hinch. And as for Mr Milan: he didn't make much sense either! The guy must be some kind of eccentric, a nut case, albeit a very rich, powerful one. The way he prowled through the glitzy false opulence of this place, apparently lost in some indefinable distance, in space and time; though mainly (Hinch suspected) lost in a world of his own, the extravagance of his thoughts.And his music ... his bloody terrible, interminable music! There was a gleaming antique jukebox at one end of a small, gently curving, mahogany-topped bar on the perimeter of the bubble, and when Milan was taking it easy he would sit there in an armchair with a drink, just listening to the music ... the same damn tunes or songs, or just, well, music, over and over again. And it was driving Hinch nuts, too!Not that Hinch didn't care for the stuff; he liked  -  or he used to like, and he would have continued to like  -  all of this stuff just fine ... if he hadn't been obliged to listen to each piece at least thirty or forty times in the space of just seven nights. So thank God he was almost finished here!But nights! Why in hell couldn't this work be done in daylight hours? And why in hell couldn't Milan sleep nights  -  like any other mad millionaire? And why in double-damned Ml did he have to play his bloody music like this!?What was it that was playing now? Damn, the tunes had kind of run together in Hindi's head; he had heard them so often, he knew what was coming next! Mr rich-foreign-handsome-bloody-bastard Milan kept playing them in sequence, in some kind of order of preference. But it was the order of disorder, totally out of order, to Hinch's way of thinking.

Oh, yes  -  now he remembered  -  Zorba's Dance, that was it! All bouzoukis, fast drumbeats, and Anthony bloody Quinn dancing on a beach! A Greek thing that was almost as much an antique as the machine that played it. One of those tunes that never dies, one which as far as Hinch was concerned could die any time it fucking well liked! And of course as the tune ended, Hinch knew the next item in the circular, never-ending repertoire. And here it came yet again:'Sunshine, you may find my window but you won't find me ...' Some kind of blues with a Country and Western flavour, and lyrics too deep for Hinch to understand ... pleasing to listen to, even soothing, in a way... if you hadn't heard it half a dozen times already this very night! Some old black guy, singing his heart out about misery. But to Hinch's mind the only misery lay in having to listen to it over and over again.'So, you don't care for my music, Mr Hinch?' The voice was deep yet oiled; it seemed to rumble, or purr, yet was in no way cat-like. On the other hand, Milan's movements were cat-like as he came from the bar with a drink in his long-fingered hand, to gaze out on the night through an open window.

But if it wasn't painted black, (Hinch thought), there'd \>e no need to open the fucking thing! Not that there's anything to see out there. While out loud he said, 'Er, did I say something about your music? I have a habit of talking to myself while I'm working. It doesn't mean anything.' Oh yes it fucking does! It means that I'm pissed to death with you, and your bloody music, and with bloody Kanadu, and all of this bloody black paint!

He looked down on Milan from a height of some twelve feet, from a wheeled scaffolding tower where he had just put the finishing touches to the last pane of a high window. And that was it: the entire interior surface, every square foot of hundreds of square feet of glass, varnished for adhesion, painted black, and finally layered with polyurethane lacquer for durability. A double-dyed bastard of a job!'Perhaps I don't pay you enough?' said Milan, as Hinch put down his roller, wiped his hands, came clambering down from on high.'The money's fine,' the bad-tempered Hinch said. He stoodsix feet tall, but still had to lift his head a fraction to look up at his employer. 'And I'd like it now, for I'm all done.''Then if the payment is fine,' said Milan, 'it can only be that I was right and it's the music. Or perhaps it's me? Do you find my presence unsettling?'While he was speaking, Hinch had checked him out  -  again. For Aristotle Milan was the kind of man you looked at twice. At a guess he'd be maybe forty, forty-five years old. Difficult to be more specific than that, because his looks were sort of timeless. He was probably sixty but topped-up with expensive monkey hormones or some such. Something was running through his veins, keeping him young, for sure. Spoiled, rich bastard!But foreign? Even without the name to give him away, there could be no mistaking that: Italian with a touch of Greek  -  but in any case a mongrel, in Hinch's eyes. Milan's hair was black as night; worn long, it swept back from a high, broad forehead, and its shining ringlets curled on his shoulders. And handsome: he had the kind of Mediterranean looks that seemed to appeal to a lot of women. Hinch would guess that his bedroom crawled with all kinds of young, good-looking, dirty women.His ears were fleshy  -  what could be seen of them  -  but he wore his sideboards thick and lacquered back to cover the upper extremities. Something odd about his nose, too: a flatfish look to it, as if Nature had pushed it back a little too far, and his nostrils were too large and flaring. And then those arcing eyebrows over deep-sunken, jet-black eyes ... those eyes that were Milan's most startling feature. Jet-black, and yet Hinch couldn't be certain. Catch them at the right angle, they'd sometimes gleam a golden, feral yellow. And despite the nose, still those eyes loaned Milan the looks of a bird of prey.

But handsome? Maybe Hinch was all wrong about that. It was simply the attraction of Milan's odd  -  his strange or foreign, his almost alien  -  features, that was all. And as for Mediterranean: well, that didn't seem quite right either, not with the cold pallor of his flesh, and the blood red of his lips. He was something of a weird one, this Milan, for sure. Something of an enigma. An unknown or unspecified quantity.

'Payment when the job is done,' Milan spoke again, the rumble lower than ever. 'Which it isn't, not quite, not yet.''What?' Hinch stared hard at him, tried to look hard, too  -  difficult with a man as sure of himself as Milan. Or as sure of his filthy money! But Hinch reckoned that for all his lousy millions, still Milan would be a cinch in a fight. Hinch was a powerful, brutal fighter, the victor of a dozen rough-house brawls. And Milan  -  he had the hands of a pianist, fingers like a girl! Hw^/Hinch would bet his life that Milan had never felt a bunch of knuckles bouncing off that ugly nose of his. And the thought never occurred to him that he had already bet his life.Cocking his head a little on one side, Milan looked at him curiously, sighed and said, 'First it's my music, and then it's because you've had to work late into the night, and now ... now it's personal, to the point that you insult me and even measure your physical strength against mine, like an opponent... as if you could ever be an opponent. Or is it all just jealousy?'And suddenly it sank into Hinch's less than enormous brain that while he'd thought all of these things, he hadn't actually voiced any of them  -  not even about the music! Was he that easy to read?But he was tired of all this, and so, changing the subject he said, 'What's that about the job not being finished? I mean, you wouldn't be trying to avoid paying me - would you?' And the threat in his words, the way he growled them, was obvious.'Not at all,' Milan told him. 'Payment is most certainly, very definitely due. And you shall have it. But out there  -  on the outside of the dome, just a little to the left of this open window here  -  there's a spot you missed. And I suffer from this affliction: I can't deal with too much sunlight. My eyes and my skin are vulnerable. And so, you see, while sunshine may find my window, it must never find me. The work must be finished, to my satisfaction. That was our contract, Mr Hinch.'God damn this weird bastard! Hinch thought, as he paced to the window, leaned out (but carefully,) and looked to the left. But: 'God?' said Milan, from close behind. 'Your god, Mr Hinch? Well, if there is such a Being - and if his sphere of influence is as extensive as you suppose - I think you may safely assume that he "damned" me a very long time ago.''Eh?' said Hinch, looking back into the dome, surprised by and wondering at the sudden change in Milan's tone of voice. Milan moved or flowed closer; his slim fingers were strong where they came down on Hindi's hand, trapping it on the window sill. And leaning closer still, with his face just inches away, he smiled and hissed, 'You don't much care for heights, do you, Mr Hinch? In fact you care for them even less than you care for me, or for my music.''What the bloody ... ?' Hinch looked into eyes that were no longer black or feral but uniformly red, flaring like lamps.''Bloody?' the other repeated him, his voice a phlegmy gurgle now, full of lust, and his breath a hot, coppery stench in Hindi's face. 'Ah, yesssss! But not your blood, not this time, Mr Hinch. Your blood is unworthy. You are unworthy!''Jesus Christ!' Hinch gasped, choked, tried to draw away -and failed.'Call on who or whatever you like.' Milan continued to pin him to the window ledge, and moved his free hand to the back of Hinch's thick neck. 'No one and nothing can help you now.''You're a fucking madman!' Hinch jerked and wriggled, but he couldn't pull free. The other's strength was unbelievable.'And you ... you are nothing!' Milan told him, continuing to smile, or at least doing something with his face.

Hinch saw it, but didn't believe it: the way Milan's lips curled back and away from his elongating jaws, the teeth curving up through his splitting gums, his ridged, convoluted nose flattening back, while his nostrils gaped and sniffed. And the red blood dripping from the corner of his mouth.

Then Milan freed Hinch's hand in order to clench his fist andhit him in his ribs - such a blow that Hinch, burly as he was, was lifted from his feet. At the same time, Milan hoisted him by the scruff of the neck and tilted him forward; concerted movements designed to topple him into space.And as the shrieking Hinch flipped out into the night, so the Thing that looked like a man released him.Hinch fell, but only for a moment. Then his shriek became a gasp as he came down on his belly and cracked ribs across the safety rail of a painter's platform slung between twin gantries. From above, seven or eight feet to the open window, Hinch heard Milan's cursing. And struggling to his feet inside the platform he looked up - to see that hideous, livid face looking down on him!Then, moving like liquid lightning, Milan was up onto the window ledge, and light as a feather came leaping to the bouncing, rocking platform. His intentions were unmistakable, and as he landed Hinch went to kick him in the groin. Milan caught his foot, twisted it until the ankle broke, then reached out with a long arm to grab the other's throat. And without pause, lifting Hinch bodily into the air, he thrust him out beyond the rim of the safety rail  -  and let him fall.As Hinch fell  -  grasping at thin air and failing to catch it  -  he was aware that Milan was speaking to him one last time. But whether it was a physical voice he heard, a chuckling whisper in his head, or simply something imagined, he couldn't have said. And he certainly didn't have time to worry about it.

Paid in fully the crazed voice whispered. For your insults if not for your work. So be it!

And below, crashing down head first, Hinch was dead before the pain had time to register. Like an egg dropped on the floor, the contents of his skull splattered at first. But the grey was soon drowned in a thick, night-dark pool that formed around his shattered head.While up above, that terrible face continued to smile down on him... for a little while, until Aristotle Milan's features melted back into a more acceptable form, and he gave a careless shrug, and grunted again, 'So be it!'Then he returned to listening to his music, and no other's thoughts to disturb him now, in the solitude of a strange place in a strange land ...An 'unfortunate accident,' was how local newspapers would later report the matter. They also reported Milan's generous offer to pay all of the funeral expenses, and his very generous donation to Derek Hindi's widow ...