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THORN

Fred Saberhagen

Credits

Copyright © 1980 by Fred Saberhagen

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Paper edition first published by ACE Book

E-editions published by:

JSS Literary Productions

PO Box 11243

Albuquerque, NM 87192

www.fredsaberhagen.com

JSS Literary Productions electronic edition:

ISBN-13: 978-0-9796257-5-6

ISBN-10: 0-9796257-5-0

Saberhagen’s Dracula Series

In the order they were written

Each novel is independent

and

may be read out-of-order

1. The Dracula Tape

2 The Holmes-Dracula File

3 An Old Friend Of The Family

4 Thorn

5 Dominion

6 A Matter Of Taste

7 A Question Of Time

8 Séance For A Vampire

9 A Sharpness On The Neck

10 A Coldness In The Blood

Prologue

      The runaway fled gracefully through the smooth white tunnel, her small bare feet moving with quick darting strides. Her slight, girlish body, completely naked, was splashed by a quickly shifting disco spectrum of fantastic light that followed her from the room she fled. Music, loud rock music, followed too, throbbing with the light. Like the light, it lost its violence only partially and slowly as it increased its distance from its origin.

      As if the music had caught up with her in midstride, the girl’s graceful run changed abruptly, halfway through the tunnel, into a dance, but a dance that still carried her rapidly forward into the large, white room at the tunnel’s end.

      It was a long room, like something out of a museum almost, and the windowless white walls were angled and rectangular. The white carpet was immaculate and thick. On the walls hung many paintings, drawings, prints, and all of them were hard to see in the bewildering, reflected disco rainbow that came through the tunnel to provide the only illumination. There were carvings hanging on the walls too, and statues large and small stood everywhere. The girl’s dance moved her in and out among them, as if she might be looking for another way out. But the tunnel was the only entrance, and the only exit visible.

      The girl’s dance was a performance meant for no one but herself. Her face was a lovely mask, utterly unlined, looking very young, and looking too calm to be a dancer’s face. Around it, long brown hair swung wild and dark, dirty and uncared for. Her dark eyelids were half closed, the full lips parted levelly over white, slightly uneven teeth. The skin of her body was childishly smooth, and gleamed lightly in the strange changing light, as if she might be sweating despite the coolness of the air. Her feet were tiny and arched, grained here and there with dirt, and she set them precisely and silently down in the thick whiteness of the floor.

      The driving music had less and less to do with the dance as it continued. Its movement shifted to a slower rhythm, becoming almost courtly. Then halfway through a pirouette the girl’s eyes opened wide. Her balance, perfect through all the movements before this one, abruptly broke, and she went down on one knee on the rich ivory carpet, stunned into awkwardness by something she had seen.

      She stared with wide eyes for a long moment into the dimness straight ahead. Then, bare shoulders heaving with a great sighing breath, she slowly turned her head. Hardly did she dare to try to see again what she had seen a moment earlier.

      It hung there on the wall, amid the hundred other paintings. Conflicting emotions struggled in the girl’s face; and then presently her face became tranquil again, but on a different level. She was gazing outward now, away from self. She stayed crouching there on one knee, almost exactly as she had fallen, becoming almost as motionless as one of the surrounding statues. Now even her breathing appeared to stop.

      “There you are.” The voice of the approaching man was slurred and gleeful, and it contained hostility. The light coming through the curious white tunnel was modulated by his approaching shadow. He moved into the girl’s range of vision now, but she ignored him completely. He was as naked as she was, and looked to be a few years older. Perhaps he was twenty-two or twenty-three. Reddish hair with a tendency to curl fell damply to his muscular and freckled shoulders. He was only a few inches taller than the girl. And he was breathing heavily, as if he too might just have finished a dance or some other physical exertion.

      The girl was still down on one knee. She had regained grace in her pose, but otherwise had not moved since turning her head to look back over one shoulder. She had not yet taken her eyes from the sight that had made her fall.

      The young man followed her gaze for a moment. Nothing but a row of old paintings, mostly in wood frames, hanging on the white wall and, like everything else in the room, hard to see in the odd pulsing light. He was not really interested; he was used to being around people who stared at nothing. He walked toward the girl until he was standing close beside her, but still she gave no sign of being aware of him at all. Not even when he buried the fingers of one strong hand in her wild hair and tugged.

      “Hey,” he said, trying to turn her face toward his body. As he spoke the music in the other room cut off abruptly. Still the mad light continued to pulsate through the tunnel.

      Abruptly the girl thrust out one slender arm in a graceful shove. The young man, who had no dancer’s balance, went staggering back. He reeled helplessly into a towering marble statue, which rocked on its base and settled back. Mumbling something, the man tried to recover, clawed at a wall, then sat down on the white carpet with a soft thud.

      Again the multicolored light wavered with approaching shadows. Another naked man was coming from the far room. The

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