Major George Stoker - an Irish doctor and army officer, on assignment to the Red Crescent military hospital at Shipka, Bulgaria
Armin Vambery - a Hungarian linguist and author, an expert on the Near East and Central Asia and a trusted friend of the Turkish authorities
Archibald Forbes - a British journalist and seeker of truth
Andrew Crosse - a British geologist hoping to extend his knowledge of the little-known Bulgarian geological corpus
The Road to the Devil
|Major George Stoker MD|
The group takes a train from Constantinople to the village of Hermanli where they rendezvous with bashi bazouk Turkish light cavalry led by Demir Akinji. The Turks have with them a prisoner who knows the way to the cave where a massacre is said to have taken place. A hard ride takes them on to Jeni Zagra, during which Vambery suffers horribly keeping up with the Turks and has to be treated for saddle sores by Stoker. The Irishman forms a dim view of the Turks whom he reckons are not to be trusted in a stand up fight.
At Jeni Zagra Vambery and Stoker speak with the prisoner, Kerem Amanoglu; in exchange for food he tells them he is a deserter from the Turkish army. His unit was ambushed and almost wiped out by Bulgarian rebels south of Tirnova a few months previously. He sought refuge in a cave in the mountains where he saw the bodies of men slain by the Bulgarians, six in total. He fled in terror and was later captured by the Turkish army and charged with desertion.
Over dinner Akinji advises the foreigners to take the Shipka pass road, as he fears the shorter route over the rugged Hainkoi pass may lead them into contact with Bulgarian rebels. He says these Bulgarians are evil, cursed men, beyond the gaze of God. When they are slain, he claims, their flesh burns from their bones. He calls them the Dragon Brothers. Forbes says he thinks the Turkish soldier is exaggerating and at the very least has no experience of such things. Stoker posts sentries at the inn they are staying at, but it is an uneventful night.
The next day the British decide to take Akinji's advice and ride to Shipka. It is a hard ride but they cope with it better than the previous day. At Shipka they find a large Turkish encampment. Stoker reports in at the military hospital and Vambery speaks with refugees fleeing south through the pass. They tell him that many peasants are fleeing from Tirnova south through the Hankoi pass or seeking refuge at the estate of the local Turkish aristocrat, Ekim Dal, which lies south of Tirnova. The characters manage to acquire weapons from the Turks - Stoker equips himself with two revolvers while Crosse arms himself with a Peabody-Martini and makes some flares. Sadly nobody trusts Vambery with a gun.
The next day the travelers head south to Tirnova, which they reach in a day. Here they hear the sound of the Russian guns pounding the Turkish fortresses on the Danube. There is a small unit of surly Turkish soldiers occupying a fort. Vambery notices that there are few Muslims left in the town, and that they are mainly Circassians, not Turks (exiled from Russia 15 years earlier). Many seem to be packing up and getting ready to leave.
Staying at the local hostelry, called the House of Mustafa, Vambery chats with some of the Circassians who are still there. They tell him local landholder Ekim Dal has disappeared during the recent Bulgarian revolt along with some of his men. Vambery also learns Dal was at loggerheads with his wife who now remains at the family estate in Arbanasi, as she had not borne him a child. The locals have heard of the cave that Amanoglu visited - it is called the Devil's Cave and is thought to be cursed.
The Devil's Cave
The next day Amanoglu leads the group, accompanied by their Turkish escorts, into the foothills south of Tirnova, where he shows them to the entrance of the Devil's Cave, called by the locals Iblis Magara. Crosse goes in first and Stoker insists on bringing along Amanoglu, who is still manacled. The Turkish soldiers prudently elect to stay outside. Crosse notes the stalactites and stalagmites around the cave mouth that seem to form the teeth of a huge mouth, and the fact that there seems to have been some seismic activity in the cave recently. He also notes some odd circular red marble rings in the floor. There are no signs of any bodies.
Several tunnels lead off from the cave, from one of which there is something of a breeze blowing. Vambery finds some wooden beads in a shallow depression which he correctly identifies as Muslim prayer beads while Crosse uncovers a battered and bloodstained copy of the Koran, which he gives to Vambery. The Hungarian smells a strong odour of fresh blood but cannot find its source.
One of the tunnels leading off to the south east is investigated - only to find it ends at a sharp 18 metre drop to a narrower passage below, from which the breeze is coming. Vambery hears footsteps coming from the main cave behind them, but when our stalwarts retrace their steps they find nobody.
Baffled, the explorers head down a second tunnel which leads upwards into another cave. Here Stoker and Crosse find a sinkhole which they establish drops 25 metres to water below. Crosse drops a rock down into the water to calculate the depth of the drop accurately. Vambery and Forbes are bringing up the rear, but are intent on the others, and do not hear the creatures sneaking up behind them.
With swift steps, the undead are upon them...
Next: The Attack of the Damned!