Author: The-MarmaladeCat1 PM
Vorador, a story of his life reflected in flames, and the faith he never had.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Tragedy/Angst - Words: 10,334 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 6 - Published: 07-29-06 - Status: Complete - id: 3074312
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N:- Vorador is hard to write. This story spans his entire life from when he was human all the way up to when Moe's mob kills him off. So yes, there are spoilers for all the games. There's a fair bit of Janos in this too because you can't have one without the other in my opinion. Let me know what you think?
It begins when he's fourteen, though at the time he doesn't realise the significance.
He sees her face reflected in the burnished surface of the shield his father made, leaning up against the forge wall, and he doesn't turn around because the curve of the metal makes her hair look like fire and his eyes cannot look away. He's so busy watching the way her ringlets seem to meld into the bronze at the edges that he forgets to listen to his father's voice and so he completely misses the name of the young man he is being introduced to.
It's only when his father cuffs him around the side of the head that he begins to pay attention again. The young man, a seraphi, and his winged father are both watching him and when he looks into the eyes of the other he realises he's been asked a question. He has to ask for it to be repeated before he can answer it. He tells them his name is Vorador and the seraphi youth nods solemnly and the small bow he makes causes his wings to lift above his shoulders in an elegant bob. He doesn't understand the importance of the other youth's name even when his father gives him The Look, but he nods his head dutifully and watches his father escort the two seraphi visitors into the main house.
When he looks back again the bronze is empty and she is gone.
Four years later and Vorador knows, understands, believes.
Amanda knows too, but she doesn't understand and she certainly doesn't believe. Vorador loves her anyway. He'll listen to her talk about home and family and settling down and moving away from this cursed war but it's then that he stops listening because Vorador understands the war and the need for it and that wherever they go the war will be there too.
So he nods and smiles and holds his beloved wife close with her ideas and her needs and her beautiful red hair like fire. But he doesn't listen. He loves her, but he doesn't listen to her. This war with the Hylden will not simply disappear if they ignore it, and it's just like Janos says: "Us or them, Vorador. By God's grace it's going to be us."
Janos talks of other things too. Of souls and fates and destinies. Vorador doesn't really understand all of it, but he doesn't need to. He has faith in his master, just as his own father had faith in Janos' father, just as it's been back through the three and a half long centuries that Vorador's family has been sworn to the service of House Audron. It's the way things are and more than that, it's the wisdom and knowledge of the seraphi and their awesome, humbling strength of magic that no human sorcerer can match.
Vorador has faith in Janos. Amanda doesn't. But that's okay too because Vorador has enough faith for the both of them.
Vorador takes his duties as blacksmith very seriously. His blades are in constant demand and the quality of his work brings great prestige to the House of Audron. He works tirelessly at his forge, a swordsmith of finest renown and Janos is delighted to have a manservant so gifted. Amanda rolls her eyes at them both talking war and weapons and politics and demands that they all take time out to relax.
Vorador is mortified that she would speak to Janos in such a way but the seraphi just laughs and agrees, even going so far as to suggest they all take a trip up to the meadows on the mountainside and picnic for a day. Amanda is thrilled, and even Vorador is pleased at the prospect, and they make their plans for an outing.
The event itself takes them far up the mountainside to a sunny clearing of grass beside one of the tumbling mountain streams. Vorador and Janos perch on the rocks and pretend to fish, whilst Amanda and Allysia Audron, Janos' sister, laugh and paddle in the shallows.
They play games in the long grass and dine on the lunch that Amanda has packed for them, confidant in the knowledge that neither of the men would be able to catch any fish for their dinner. Stick to your magic and your smithing, Allysia laughs, you're much better at that, the both of you!
In the evening they lie out on the mountainside and watch the sun set and when the conversation turns back to the war with the Hylden, Amanda bites her tongue. They have managed to keep off the topic for an entire day now and she supposes that she will have to be satisfied with that. She listens in silence to the three of them discuss tactics and her thoughts are her own.
They have one blinding, terrible argument about it all in the forge one evening whilst Vorador is busy with a new sword. It makes it worse because Janos is there too discussing how long it will take for Vorador to complete the next batch of weapons for the regiments. Amanda accuses him of loving the war more than he loves her and then she calls the war a pointless battle of deluded fools chasing each other in circles and trampling the innocent beneath their feet as they go. Janos' wings stiffen at her words and the disapproval on his face is readily apparent. He turns abruptly to leave, but Amanda blocks his way and will not allow him to pass.
The seraphi, confounded, is forced to stand and listen to her until she gets around to calling him a murderous fiend, no better than the Hylden at which point he takes a step towards her, furious, and suddenly finds himself faced with an equally furious Vorador who tells him to get the hell away from his wife or suffer the consequences.
There is a stretched moment of tense and silent disbelief before Janos bows stiffly to them both and politely excuses himself.
Amanda and Vorador go on arguing well into the night until they are both too exhausted to argue anymore and they go to bed and fall asleep together because at the end of it all they still love each other.
After that Janos doesn't come down to the forge anymore and Amanda no longer goes up to the Citadel with her husband. There is an uneasy truce between the two of them which leaves Vorador, uncomfortable and unhappy, existing somewhere in the middle of it all.
She leaves him without a word and the first he knows of it is when he comes in from the forge and finds all the lights still unlit and the house sitting in darkness. The first thing he does is panic. Visions of Hylden captors and ransoms tumble through his mind and he races back up the hill to the Citadel where he pounds on the door to Janos' apartments until Janos appears, bleary-eyed to let him in.
Janos sits him down, firm hands on shaking shoulders and makes him go through the situation carefully, logically and slowly. When he's got the full story, he takes them both back down to the human town and goes to speak to the mistress weaver for whom Amanda works, sending Vorador to search his house for further clues.
It doesn't take the Seraphi long to discover her location and her reasons. He returns at once to the forge where he finds Vorador sat at his kitchen table with a note in his hands.
"I didn't see it earlier," the man admits shamefacedly. Janos dismisses the half-apology with a wave of one hand and seats himself carefully at the table. He watches his manservant's face and wonders how much he should say.
"She's gone to her mother's in the next town. Says it's safer there. I don't know what she's talking about, she's safe here with me. I can protect her. The regiments are here too, there's nowhere safer, Janos."
Janos watches the human carefully, gauging and waiting. He understands Amanda's reasoning. The Citadel and the regiments may be here, but because of that, they draw the greater proportion of the Hylden's wrath. He laces his fingers together and remains silent.
"I can't believe she'd do this! How long exactly does she think she's going to go for? You know she doesn't say, she just says 'I'm going to my mother's for a time, where it's safe. I need to be safe now.' What is this, Janos? Why now?"
"She needs to protect her child. You're going to be a father."
Vorador stares at him in silence for a very long time.
"That is what she told the mistress weaver. I do not know why she did not put it in the note too."
Janos is not sure, but Vorador insists and in the end the seraphi relents. He flies them both through the night, Vorador clasped firmly around the waist, along the road that leads to the next town. It's a fair distance and Amanda must have set off early for it is well past midnight before they catch up with the coach, its lanterns burning balefully in the darkness.
It's an effort to catch the driver's attention, and so Janos uses a light spell to announce their presence to the man, almost getting them both shot when they are immediately mistaken for attacking Hylden. Finally, they convince the two coach guards to put away their crossbows and the coach comes to a slow halt. Vorador is out of Janos' arms the moment their feet touch the earth and racing towards the coach calling Amanda's name. The sudden movement means that the seraphi has to jump forward, hands raised in a placatory gesture to convince the guards that they're not some strange bandit duo bent on pillaging the coach and its contents. Liberally flashing the crest of the Citadel and his house heraldry seems to calm the guards though their eyes still keep careful watch on the pair of them.
Janos waits quietly with the driver whilst Vorador attempts to argue with his wife without anyone overhearing them. He studies Amanda's face in the light of the lanterns and notes the way her hair catches the light and looks more golden than it really is. He sighs and turns away. He has never understood what Vorador sees in her.
The argument does not seem to go badly, but at the end Vorador is left standing alone in the road watching as the coach pulls away. Janos gives him a minute before moving to stand at his shoulder.
"She's going to her mother's for a week. She'll be back after that. Then we can talk some more. She said she needs time to think."
Janos reaches out his hands, "Come. Let us return home."
"No. Thank you. I'll walk."
And this time it is Janos left standing alone in the road as Vorador turns and walks away. Shaking his head, the seraphi takes to the skies and, unseen far above, shadows his friend all the way back to town.
Amanda returns a week later and life returns to normal. Janos discreetly doesn't ask Vorador what is going to happen next, but Vorador tells him anyway. Amanda is staying but she'll go home in a few months when it's starting to get awkward for her to move around, and the baby will be born at her mother's. After that they will just have to see.
Janos is pleased for Vorador because the decision and his impending fatherhood seems to light a fire up inside the young human. These days he's even more full of pride, if that's even possible for him, and there is a lightness to his movements that speaks plainly of his happiness.
Janos watches him dote on Amanda and is happy for them both.
He wonders if, when the baby is born, whether Amanda will at least bring it up to the main temple and allow him to bless it for them both. He would like to do that for them, for Vorador, for the child, but he does not know if she will allow it.
Wondering, he remains silent and prays to his god for direction.
Vorador could not be happier.
For him, there can be no better life. His wife is with him, he will soon be a father, and his swords are in the hands of God's warriors. Vorador is not a particularly religious man, but still, he says a small prayer of thanks as he holds his wife in his arms and thinks of the future.
Six months pass and the time is drawing near. Amanda packs up her bags and laughs when Vorador refuses to let her load them into the coach herself. He steps in beside her, lifting her into the carriage and follows her inside as she shakes her head at his fussing.
Janos closes the door behind them and leans in through the open window. His face betrays his awkwardness, but the sincerity of his expression cannot be doubted. Vorador regards him questioningly, but it is to Amanda that Janos looks.
"Should you…decide that the human town is not…safe…it is without a doubt that the very safest place is the Citadel itself. Eight centuries and it has never been breached, Amanda. There is…a place for you there. After the child is born. Should you want it."
Amanda regards him coolly, and then smiles. It is a small smile, more in the eyes than around the lips, but it is genuine. She reaches out a hand and places it over the seraphi's thick fingers, her own delicate against his.
"Thank you. I will take that into consideration."
She looks directly into his eyes and the truce is drawn. Janos breathes a sigh of relief and waves to the coach when it departs, stirring up a cloud of summer dust as it takes to the main road.
He flies directly to the temple and says a prayer of thanks, lighting incense before the altar, and stays there meditating until well into the night.
Vorador leaves his wife at dusk, kissing her and whispering promises of his swift return. He leans out of the coach window as it departs and waves to her as she stands surrounded by her family at the coach house. The light of the setting sun picks out the fire in her hair making it seem to him as though she is crowned with a glowing halo and he cannot help but laugh merrily at the imagery.
Leaning back in the seat he closes his eyes and listens to the rattling of the coach and the dusty thunder of the horses' hooves. The air is pleasant and warm, midsummer at her best and they make good time along the road home. There is so much hope for the future now and there is only a week until he will be free again to come and visit her.
He smiles as he thinks of the letter he has slipped into her bag and imagines the smile she will have on her lips as she reads it.
He is asleep at the time, lulled into dreaming by the motion of the carriage, and so he does not see the silent forms ghosting across the sky above them.
The guards are gambling, concentrating on keeping their dice in place on the juddering carriage roof, and so they don't see them either.
The carriage clatters on its way and the dusk gives way to true night.
It takes them six hours to reach home and as they are rounding the last corner of the mountain that will bring the town and the Citadel into sight, one of the guards leans down over the roof and calls out.
"Look out yonder, sir. The regiments are flying out. Must be an attack."
Vorador leans out of the window and blinks upwards. The night is clear and the stars are shining in beautiful heavenly patchwork and against them he can see the seraphi regiments, light orbs hanging from their belts as they fly. They sweep across the sky in tight clusters and he watches them round the hillside, lights flicking out as they head south.
Above him the guards wave and cheer and Vorador's fingers tighten on the window frame, nails digging into the wood. There is only one place of note in that direction.
"Home, sir?" the driver calls.
"No. To the Citadel. Now! Hurry!"
The last of the regiments are flying out as he makes it to the armoury. He races through the crowds of milling bystanders and everywhere he hears the name of her hometown on people's lips.
…attack attack attack, the Hylden are out there!
Janos is heading out of the main map room and Vorador is running so fast he almost knocks him over. The seraphi grabs him by the upper arms to steady them both and Vorador mirrors the gesture, face stricken.
"I'm going, they need a caster," Janos says, the words already spilling out of him before Vorador can draw breath to speak. "I'll do everything I can. I have to go!"
And then he is gone.
Vorador stares down the hall after him as warriors and servants rush by on either side. And then he turns, carefully, as though his muscles pain him, and makes his way steadily through the arching corridors.
He goes directly to the temple. It is silent when he arrives and the only other person is an elderly seraphi priestess. She looks up as he enters and her eyes are soft and sad. He picks up three sticks of incense from the tray by the door and goes directly to the altar where he kneels down and lights them in the nearest candle. After a while the old priestess comes over and kneels at his side, offering him silent support with her presence.
And there, for the first time in his life, Vorador truly, honestly, prays.
The priestess looks up when the shadow fills the doorway, but in truth it is the whisper of death she scents that gives him away. Silently she rises to her feet and ghosts away into the back chapels.
Vorador is praying, his words a soft whisper that echoes sibilantly amongst the alcoves. His voice is scratchy and dry because it has been six hours now and he has not stopped once. Maybe it is the weight of the other's shadow falling across him, or maybe it is the scent of blood, so out of place in a temple, that makes him turn his head.
Janos stands and sways in the aisle. His armour is scratched and dented and there are bloody rends in his flesh. He holds a sword crafted by Vorador's own hand; old blood has dried on the blade but new blood, Janos' blood, trickles down it in unsteady rivulets.
Vorador rises to his feet, almost stumbles when his muscles cramp, and takes an unsteady step forward.
"I'm sorry," Janos rasps.
There is silence and then Vorador takes a step forward and another, staggering, and Janos reaches forward to catch him. Weakened by blood loss, the weight of the man is too much for him and they fall to their knees together, Janos' greaves clanging against the stone flags.
They hold each other tightly and Vorador weeps against the seraphi's neck, sobs harsh and snarling with rage and grief. His tears mingle with the blood on Janos' armour making it streak, and where the seraphi holds him the blood soaks through his travelling clothes and stains them beyond repair. Softly, softly, Janos lifts his wings and draws them tight around the both of them.
As Vorador weeps, Janos prays and does not stop until he faints from blood loss and Vorador, terrified, half-drags, half-carries him to an infirmary. He stays there with him long after the healers have cast their magics, and sometimes he weeps and sometimes he prays and sometimes he just begs Janos not to die. It's foolish really because the healers have told him that Janos is in no danger, but Vorador cannot face the thought of losing anyone else this night.
So he sits and he waits and he wonders what there is left now for him to live for.
It would be a natural thing for Vorador to spend more of it working in the forge. But being in the forge reminds him of Amanda and everywhere he turns she is not there and the only thing he can hear is the lack of her voice. And besides, he has more boys now, and some of the older men too, all working for him to make weapons and mend the seraphi's armour when they stumble back bruised and broken from battle. And when he's not out buying metals and supplies for that he's with Janos, acting as his squire and his manservant.
The war is intensifying, and Janos prays a lot more these days. Prays when he's resting, prays when he's in the library scratching spells into vellum for the warriors to take out with them, prays every time he leaves for a battle and Vorador is sure he prays as he fights though of course he's never been there to see it himself.
Sometimes Vorador prays with him, though he never feels quite comfortable with it. It's like talking to thin air, or to himself. And he can never quite shake off the feeling that he sounds like a fool. But it doesn't matter because he still believes in this crazy war. Believes now more than ever before, because now there's blood been spilt and the fight is personal. Because Vorador sleeps alone at night now and his house is dark and empty no matter how many lanterns he lights.
Janos' eyes are full of fire and fervour these days and the whisper amongst the ranks is that the Circle has come up with a terrible, ground-breaking plan. Something awful and magnificent that will end the war forever. Vorador doesn't know what it is because he's not a sorcerer, he's a blacksmith, but he sees the passion in Janos' eyes and the terrible hope too. He see the agitation amongst the most powerful of the seraphi sorcerers and reads the alarm in the increasingly vicious attacks of the Hylden.
And as time passes Vorador spends more and more of the day at Janos' side, training beside him with sword and lance and increasingly less time overseeing his forge. There are others to do that work now and these days someone needs to be around just to make sure that Janos remembers to eat.
These days Janos is an important person and when he's not praying he's talking about Destiny. Vorador doesn't understand much of it, but he has faith in Janos and Janos has faith in his god and that's good enough for the both of them.
They're alone in Janos' study, dozing before the fire when the older seraphi turns to him and says, "Vorador, is everything quite all right?"
Startled, Vorador begins to stutter something gruff in reply that makes no sense even to his ears, when there is a sudden, frantic pounding on the door. Janos rises swiftly to answer it and the moment is gone.
It will be a long time before he thinks to ask again.
"It will be the weapon that strikes the killing blow. Seals their fate. Wins us this war."
"I cannot, I…cannot. You do not understand. Every time I go back there I see her, hear her. And she's not there. She's gone and it's like dying, Janos. I cannot, I should never have…"
"Do it for her."
"You bastard, do not speak to me of her like this!"
"The sword will be the weapon of our victory. It will wipe them from the land and seal them away forever. For all the blood that has been spilt, all the lives, all the pain, the suffering, Vorador. For all the things that they have broken…"
"Just think on it."
When the Hylden attack they bring madness with them. Slavering creatures that scream in seven different tongues at once and whose touch melts flesh. The seraphi call them demons and it's not at first apparent who they're referring to, the Hylden or their summoned pets.
They hit the gates of the citadel at midnight, a screaming wave of insanity that shatters the first of the magical barriers and sends metaphysical cracks skittering across the surface of the second and third.
Deep inside the Citadel the Seraphi Circle pauses in its collective enchanting, looks up from the weaving of their spells and frowns. Tying off the ends of their castings, tamping down the threads of unfinished magic, they hold their spellweaving with locking cantrips and make their way to the walls to fight.
Far up in the towers, Vorador watches from a window and thinks that the explosion of spells is one of the most beautiful things he has ever seen. Later that night, when the demons have been banished and the Hylden have retreated once more, he goes to locate Janos. He finds him on the walls still cradling a broken body in his arms and knows from the string of beads around one wrist that it is Allysia Audron.
He listens in silence as Janos screams at the skies, cursing the name of the Hylden race, swearing terrible vengeance upon them and wonders why he never thought to do the same. Eventually someone comes and gently pulls the broken body of the woman that was his sister from the seraphi's arms. Vorador helps them prise Janos' fingers from the dead woman's shoulders and hauls him to his feet, pulling him away and inside, taking him back to his own rooms.
Once there he sits the other man down and pulls off his dented armour, cleans the weeping wounds with cloth and alcohol and winces for him when Janos doesn't even flinch. He binds the worst and wipes the blood from the pale blue flesh carefully, cleaning away the traces of the battle and ignoring the tears that still fall. Finally, he pushes the seraphi across the room and onto the bed, helping him fold his wings into place much as he would have a child of the winged race.
And then, because Janos still has hold of his wrist, he pulls up a chair and seats himself at the seraphi's bedside. He watches the man shuddering in the blankets as shock and the after-effects of overcasting start to kick in; reads the panic that shortens the seraphi's breath and leaves him gasping. And so he does the only thing he can think of to comfort his friend. He prays, out loud and with as much sincerity as he can muster. And when Janos' breathing slows and the fear leaves his golden eyes, Vorador forgets that he's ever felt foolish doing so.
"The sword, who will wield it?"
It's a cold, blustery day and Vorador stands at the foot of the completed Pillars and feels like he should be kneeling in supplication to them. They reach up into the Heavens, higher up than his human eyes can see and it makes him dizzy when he tilts his head back and tries anyway.
"Which one's yours?" he says to Janos, stood at his side, and frowns when the seraphi laughs. "…What?"
He remembers very clearly the day that he hands the sword over to Janos. He does not realise the significance of it at the time, but he reads the solemnity in Janos' posture and the awful darkness that looks a lot like horror in the seraphi's eyes as he allows the light from the forge to play along the blade. Turning the sword and resting it across his forearm he offers it to his master. Janos hesitates, seeming almost to shudder as he grips the hilt of the curving blade and Vorador suddenly wonders what it is that he has set in motion by agreeing to create this weapon.
"Janos…" he whispers, "What is it?"
The seraphi's gaze flicks up to meet his and he draws a deep, steadying breath before replying.
"It's perfect, Vorador. I…thank you. You cannot comprehend what you have done for us with this. We are forever in your debt."
He bows low to the human, wings lifting and spreading with the movement. And then, wrapping the sword in the deep indigo cloth that Vorador took from Amanda's long untouched supply, he turns and leaves.
Vorador watches him go, wide-eyed, and wonders exactly what it is that he has really done.
They scream as though they are burning, as though the blood is boiling within their veins, as though they have been shown hell and cannot close their eyes.
He has never heard anything so inhuman in all his life. He runs, along with all the others, rushing to the seraphi's sides and pulling at their hands to stop them from tearing their own flesh.
He can still see the last of the Hylden clinging desperately to their place in this world, their faces contorted with rage and terror, but their voices are silent, stolen away by the magics that the Seraphi Circle have woven. Bizarrely it seems to Vorador that some of them are laughing.
All is panic, all is confusion. The spell around the pillars explodes into completion with a blinding flash of light that shines in all the colours of the spectrum and some which he never even knew existed. The seraphi woman at his feet is moaning, her fingers threaded through her hair as she rocks herself. When the snap of light fades he looks up and towards the Circle in time to see the three Guardians stationed on the ground stagger and begin to fall.
The air is thick and heavy with magic, enough that even a non-sorcerer such as he can feel it crawling across his skin. All around there is madness and the sound of wailing. Pushing himself to his feet he begins to run, threading his way between crumpled figures, heading for the base of the Pillars.
He finds Janos at the base of the Pillar of Balance, his back to the stone, sitting as though he has slid down the column's surface when his legs gave out. There is a thin trickle of blood running from his nostril and across his lap he holds the Reaver. It seems to Vorador that the sword is whining, emitting an eerie high-pitched humming that resonates in time with the spells in the air.
Janos' eyes are blank and unfocussed, but he holds the Reaver fiercely and no matter how he tries, Vorador cannot make him loosen his grip on the thing. Cursing beneath his breath he gives up and hefting the unresponsive seraphi over his shoulders, drags him away from the Pillars and the madness of the winged ones.
The sword scrapes across the stone where Janos allows it to drag along the ground and the noise sets Vorador's teeth on edge so that he hurries to reach the grass. But once there, even amidst the noise and the panic and the screaming of the wounded, he can still hear it crying.
It's a sound that will haunt him for centuries to come.
Vorador doesn't know quite when he changed from being Janos' manservant into his apprentice, but it was somewhere between the forging of the Reaver and that long, dark night of horror when the world went mad and the only thing they could do was remain sane when others did not.
He and his dark-winged mentor walk amongst the afflicted and the tormented and some they help back to their homes and some they pray for and some they simply sit with and say nothing at all.
The aftermath of the Hylden's banishment is madness. At least, that is the way it seems to Vorador. A hideous pall of gloom hangs over the Citadel and all those associated with it, and walking the corridors as an untouched human feels almost sacrilegious as though he somehow mocks their pain with his normalcy.
The seraphi are sick but no-one seems to know of what. They wander, listless and mournful and it is pitiful to watch them. Vorador hurries through the corridors and does not meet their eyes. Each day brings with it a worsening of their strange ailments, each passing night reveals a new twist. It is whispered darkly, that there are some who no longer venture from their rooms during the day, complaining of pain and blindness in the sunlight.
He is glad when he makes it back to his own rooms and once there, he locks the door behind him and huddles silently in the backroom nursing a bottle of wine that glimmers blood red in the candlelight.
It is midsummer at dusk when the Tvorsky brothers return, blood-stained and weeping, their eyes full of terrible knowledge. They carry with them the body of a deer, dragging it behind them as they alight on the steps of the Citadel and cast it at the feet of the priests ascending for evening mass.
Vorador stands in the shadows beneath a column and listens to their heartbroken raving. He watches the priestesses try to comfort the youths, but they will not be silenced and they appeal to everyone within earshot and beyond, their voices ragged and harsh, heralding their awful tidings.
He turns away and closes his eyes as the priests descend upon the youths and does not remain to watch them drag them away.
It takes him all night to find Janos. The seraphi has hidden himself away as though he knows his protégé will be searching for him. Vorador has questions, so many questions that no-one else will answer, that no-one else has time to answer. Clouding his every thought is the deep and terrible foreboding of what the Tvorsky brothers' revelation will mean for the seraphi society and his place within it.
Blood. A blood curse. A hideous, perverse affliction that cannot be true. Too cruel, too far-fetched, too wrong…
He makes a circuit of the Citadel and it takes him two hours. He checks the Temple first and retreats unnerved from the masses of worshippers, their eyes dark and fearful and glinting at the corners with hysteria. There is the scent of something dark and dangerous there, ugly, and he glances around but briefly before slipping out again. Then on through corridors echoing with dread, across the courtyard and past the south chapel – he still remembers praying there for her – through the library filled with scholars in their muted burgundy robes and tall hats, their voices soft and low and cut through with tension; up the west sloped balcony – what use have the winged for stairs? – and out into the Sky Garden where the wind whistles endlessly. Janos is nowhere and despairing, Vorador runs a hand along the vine-entwined railings and turns to one last place. It would be tragic to find him there, but he knows of no other place to look.
Allysia Audron's rooms are set in the western tier, white painted and smelling of the sky; but when Vorador sets foot within the corridor leading to their rear entrance the smell of something lower is in the air. The backdoor to her chambers is open and two young seraphi are crouched there, playing a game with sticks and brightly coloured beads. He stands mute, unable to comprehend their presence until a tall woman, her hair pulled back in a ratty bundle, appears behind them. Her eyes are dark and there is something not right in them that he cannot quite identify. She stares at him and feeling her stillness the children's gaze flicker towards him too. The look in those eyes is enough to make his flesh crawl and he takes a step backwards.
Of course he should have known. The Hylden attack brought a flood of pilgrims and refugees to the Citadel, all seeking God's guidance and the blessing of the priests to rid them of their fears and their peculiar unholy ailments. There is no chance that Allysia's rooms would have stood empty in these troubled times. Harsh, but necessary.
Bowing, his eyes never leaving their shadowed forms, Vorador backs away down the corridor and leaves. His footsteps echo too loudly in the silence and the skin between his shoulder blades creeps until he has left Allysia's old chambers and the eyes of their new inhabitants far behind.
He takes the long route down the hill from the Citadel, riding his old tat-eared roan through the forest, shadowing the ridge that overlooks the valley below. And it is here amongst the dark-trunked trees amassed like worshippers in some great and fey cathedral, half-dreaming, he comes across his mentor. He has to squint against the glare of the setting sun for the seraphi stands outlined against the sky at the very edge of the ridge.
Leaving the roan to crop the grass at the forest edge, he wanders slowly up the rise towards his master, one hand raised to protect his eyes from the glare. His boots whisper through the long grass, loud enough to allow the seraphi to hear him and leave if he chooses. Janos does not move, though he must know his protégé is there and Vorador pauses an uncertain ten paces away waiting for acknowledgement.
A mountain breeze tumbles around them, lifting the flaps of Vorador's collar and flustering the fine feathers of the seraphi's upper wings. It lifts the hem of Janos' priestly robes and sets them fluttering out into the void beyond, streamers of pale gold and white that glitter with golden thread. The seraphi is wearing the formal robes of the war cleric, the crusader order of Saint Agnas, and it strikes Vorador as out of place, as though Janos intends to attend mass and recite the scripture, not stand in solitary contemplation at the edge of the world.
"My Lord…" he tries and fails. The breeze switches its direction like a bird, skimming past his cheeks to fill his nose with the scent of temple incense from Janos' robes. The fragrance of dedication and faith brings with it the dead-eyed venom of eyes in sky-white corridors and he blinks, unbalanced. In that instance Janos turns his head and the eyes that regard Vorador over one shoulder are dark and bleak.
His mentor's gaze is haunted, and Vorador wonders if the Tvorsky brothers are still weeping. When he speaks he's not sure who he's talking about, but he knows it to be the truth. "They need you."
Janos' eyes widen a fraction and his lips part in soundless reply. They lock eyes, the two of them, human and seraphi, and the world waits around them. They hesitate, and it seems as though something great and ageless pauses with them, awaiting a decision. And then a sad smile touches Janos' lips, shattering the moment as though it never was, and the world starts to move again.
Vorador steps up close behind the other, stopping a single pace back, and looks out over the vista below. It spreads out majestic and beautiful, the river that winds its way through the valley touched with fire from the setting sun, as though a river of gold flows through the land.
"We are cursed, Vorador. They have struck us down at the very last and we were blind to their deceit."
Vorador frowns uncomfortably and his hand fusses with the cuff of one sleeve as he listens. Janos' hands are folded in his robes and he stares straight ahead into the burn of the sun without blinking.
"God has turned his eyes from us. He has abandoned his people in their failing and their folly. He is full of wrath and despairing of his children. We have failed him and our failing has brought about our fall. We are fallen, Vorador, from his glory and his grace."
Vorador turns his head and looks sideways at his master. There is a terrible resignation in the other's voice, and a calmness that is frightening.
"He has fallen silent. His voice is no longer heard in the Temple and no more does he speak with his priests. He has turned away from us…and we are damned."
The revelation is a worrying one. As a human, Vorador has never heard the voice of the seraphi god, though he knows full well that the seraphi priests claim to speak to him each day and hear his voice in their heads. He knows too that Janos himself has heard the words of his god speaking directly to him, or believes he has. Vorador has never been sure. In the quiet, hidden parts of his mind he has always wondered if maybe, drunk on faith and worship, the seraphi are not simply attributing to god the voices of their own desires. But to hear Janos speak with such dread certainty of their ceasing is almost more terrible than listening to him claim their existence in the first place.
"What now then?" he asks slowly. Janos closes his eyes and bows his head. He seems lost in thought or simply too reluctant to answer and Vorador shifts uncomfortably, the pall of gloom that hangs over the Citadel still pressing at the back of his mind.
"It seems to me," Vorador begins, answering his own question, "that there are two choices here. You either give up, or you don't. The Hylden have struck a terrible blow, but they are the ones locked away in hell, not us-"
"Are they truly, Vorador? What is this world without the glory of our god if not hell? In his absence there is nothing but the void. Eternal damnation. A bitter existence, soulless and without the touch of god. Our spirits will wither and be damned without his keeping."
Vorador pauses, then, "I don't believe that."
The breeze passes between them and for a moment the human feels the yawning chasm of incomprehension and misunderstanding that lies between them. He frowns and then continues softly. "My Lord, my friend. Janos. I may be but a blacksmith who has never heard the voice of your god, not even in his dreams. But I have lived in this world almost as long as you, and been with you nearly as long. I have seen many things in my life and lost as many more. Some so dear to me that to carry on after their loss seemed like a sin of the highest magnitude. I have wept tears of pure blood over the loss of my love and I have stared despair in the face and fallen to my knees before it. But…I am still here."
He pauses for breath before continuing slowly, deliberately. "The Hylden have laid down their challenge to you. But it is a dying one, a futile one. They failed and this is their last, fading blow. You may either choose to fall beneath it anyway, or catch the blade as it falls and prevent it from finding your heart. It may cut your hands, but it will not kill you. You will carry on, and be strong, and they will still be dead. You must choose."
Somewhere during Vorador's speech, Janos has turned his eyes to the other man to listen. When the other falls silent there is pain and something else the human cannot read in the seraphi's eyes, but there is something brighter there too. Softly, gently, the seraphi reaches up with one hand and clasps the back of Vorador's head, drawing the man's forehead down towards him.
"Truly, my friend, god has blessed me with you," Janos whispers.
And as Vorador bends his head to receive Janos' kiss of blessing upon his forehead, the breeze slips between them and lifts the folds of the seraphi's robes away to reveal the golden ceremonial dagger that he holds hidden in his other hand. Vorador's eyes widen as he sees the blade and a cold fire threads its ways through his veins as Janos pauses before turning quickly away, deftly slipping the dagger away beneath the folds of his robes as though it were never even there.
Vorador looks up at his friend dismayed, and watches him walk slowly away along the ridge. The seraphi pauses some distance away and turns to look back over his shoulder.
"Were you returning to the forge?" he asks quietly. Vorador draws himself up and shakes his head slowly. "No, my Lord," he replies. "I think I will accompany you back to the Citadel and rest in my rooms there. It would seem to be for the best."
Janos gives him a strange, sad smile before nodding and spreading his wings to the wind. With a slight bend of his knees he leaps into the air, catching the breeze with powerful upstrokes and rises majestic into the last of the fading sunlight. Vorador watches him ascend to circle above, his wings and hooves tipped with fire from the sunset, before making his way thoughtfully back to his horse. He mounts up and rides back to the Citadel with his friend following slowly far above in the gathering dark.
Mirrial Dvosky lies in a spreading pool of her own blood, one cold hand still clasping her dagger, her cheek pressed to the silent chest of her husband. They lie in the centre of the their chambers as though posing for some ghoulish painting, and the mingled blood from their self-inflicted wounds creeps from their flesh and seeps into the hem of Mirrial's Guardian robes.
They are found some time after dusk and together they are but the beginning.
The day is bright and crisp and Vorador is standing on the balcony looking down at the courtyard below. There are two humans there, a man and a woman, heads bent close together in conversation. The man reaches out a hand and places it on the woman's arm and she in turn rests her head upon his shoulder and draws him close.
They look tired, bedraggled, worn around the edges and barely able to keep a semblance of a collected bearing. The Guardian robes that they both wear do not sit well on their shoulders, even tailored as they are to fit the slender lines of the human form. Vorador shakes his head slowly and narrows his eyes. Beside him he hears Janos sigh, long and heartfelt.
"They are not capable," the seraphi says, and Vorador finds that he can do nothing but agree.
It is so many things, and all of them pass unspoken as his eyes meet Janos'. In the light of the lanterns that ring the Council Chamber of the Citadel, those eyes seem to reflect burnished gold like finely wrought jewellery. He can read endurance there, and compassion. Darkness tempered with purpose. He would label it humanity but his master has never been human.
Around them he can hear the presence of the rest of the Seraphi Council as they shift uneasily. The scrape of flight feathers and the rustle of robes; someone coughs nervously. There are no humans here tonight, save for Vorador. The human Guardians have not been invited to this very special meeting.
Deep in the pit of his stomach and shaking his limbs with its threading, acidic touch, Vorador is afraid. He wonders if they can smell it.
He wants to tell Janos to stop this now, tell him that he's changed his mind, can't go through with it. A hundred and one reasons that they should postpone or reconsider. The look in the seraphi's eyes puts them all to shame. Not one of his paltry excuses could possibly stand up to the desperate need there.
Janos sees it anyway.
Someone protests, softly. But Janos is important these days, Vorador is not entirely sure how important exactly, but the Council members hesitate only briefly before obeying him. As they file out slowly, it feels as though they take the last of the warmth in the room with them.
They are left alone in a chamber filled with the crackle of the torches and the keening of the wind around the tower. Against this backdrop Vorador's breathing scrapes, harsh and loud. He can feel himself trembling with the fear that comes to all mortals faced with the greatest of unknowns: Death.
Vorador is not a believer, but he has faith. When Janos steps forward, slow and careful so as not to spook him, Vorador concentrates on the humanity he sees in his master's eyes. He allows Janos near to him, even though his body is shaking so badly he is having to clench his jaw to keep his teeth from chattering. Fingernails digging into his palms he looks up into Janos' golden eyes and sees fire.
The seraphi reaches for him and somehow Vorador does not flinch. When Janos pulls him close, and those great shadowy wings lift up and around them both, he does not say anything. And when he feels the bite of his master's teeth in the soft flesh of his throat, just above the artery, he does not pull away.
It's the greatest act of faith that he's ever made.
Unlife is like swimming underwater, cool and unreal. A shadowed world where all the sounds echo strangely and the light falls in all the wrong ways. He sees patterns now where before he saw only chaos; can follow the flight of a night bird and know where its course will take it before it even lifts itself from its perch. He hears things on the wind now, voices and words and snatches of song, but when he turns his head there is nothing there.
Janos watches him, eyes hooded and dark. There is a tension between them now, a pressure that exerts itself between Vorador's shoulder blades and makes him want to kneel in submission before his sire. It's strange and primal and like nothing he has ever felt before. It will be many centuries before he becomes enough of a master vampire in his own right to not feel cowed by the presence of his sire, and by that time he will have forgotten what it was like to ever not have felt that way.
In all, they are pleased. The rite of turning has been enough of a success that the Council believes it the solution to the problem of the human Guardians. Their frailty will be transformed and their new strength will serve to bolster the Pillars and hold them fast for centuries to come.
Vorador hears and agrees and silently thanks the Heavens that he will never be tied to their fate.
He never likes Moebius, right from the start. He feels he could like the pale-skinned, dark-haired man at the side of the spindly Time Guardian if he did not display such a strange fondness for the other human. As it is, Vorador disapproves of them both and says as much to his sire. Janos merely laughs, especially so when Vorador expresses his utter disgust over the two of them changing their names to better reflect their status as Guardians. What kind of self-important name is Mortanius, after all?
A name fitting for one chosen to guard the land from the taint of the Hylden, Janos replies sternly. Vorador is silent after that, scowling and sullen.
"You mark my words," he says to his sire. "Those two are bad news. They're the kind of type Amanda would have called trouble…"
Janos laughs and tells him he's overreacting. But Vorador shakes his head and will not be swayed. He looks over the rest of the human Guardians and they return his gaze with flat, unfriendly eyes. They see their fate in him and he knows they hate him for it, fear him even.
Vorador keeps his opinions to himself after that, but in the privacy of his own thoughts he remains disapproving. But his sire sees no evil in them, and has great plans of how they may, in light of Vorador's successful turning, be brought over to true service. Something Vorador doesn't believe any of them to be worthy of.
Amanda would not have liked this new Circle, he thinks to himself. She would have called them all ungrateful and washed her hands of the lot of them. She never was one to suffer fools gladly.
It's funny really, because he's thinking of her when he kills them too.
Even with the chamber filled with their light, there are not enough candles here to match the number of years it has been. Vorador sits in silence and listens to the storm in the far distance. Each time the thunder rolls he feels it reverberate through the ground and up through the soles of his feet. There are terrible creatures out there in the storm and the night, haunting the shadows, and not all of them have blood curse. Some of them are simply cursed.
The heat from so many candles is overwhelming, enough to make him leave the crypt door ajar to allow in the night breezes. But for all the uncomfortable warmth, he will not remove a single one of them. Each one is needed to keep the shadows and the darkness out. He could not bear it were his sire to be alone here in the dark.
He used to light a candle for each of the Sarafan that he slew in Janos' name, but it has been so long now and there have been so many that he no longer follows the ritual. Instead he simply brings a new candle with him each time he visits and adds it to the collection, or replaces another that has burnt away. It's a constant job and as he rearranges them he talks to his sire, because the words do just as much to keep the darkness away as the lights of the flames.
Tonight he has come to tell Janos of his newest wife. She is beautiful, as they all are, and he'd believed so strongly that this time, she would have been the one. Janos' silence is answer enough. It is the only answer he ever receives from the body lying in repose on the bier. It is all he ever expects.
She told him her name, but he doesn't remember it. Already she has been consigned to wander the halls with the rest of his women, and keep the visitors away. He sighs as he relates the tale to his sire. That's one hundred and eighty-five now, he says. One hundred and eighty-five and still none of them are worth anything but a night or two.
In fact, it is closer to two hundred, but he has lost count now. Two hundred pale women and none of them have ever been as beautiful or as clever or as perfect as she was. All of them have blue eyes and dark, dark hair that doesn't catch the light like flames because he couldn't bear that. And the rare ones with green eyes and flowing red-gold hair are the ones that he does not simply lose interest with. Those ones he snaps the necks of and throws their bodies to the swamp.
He doesn't quite know what it is that he's looking for, and if he sees her face in any of them he doesn't quite realise it. Instead he goes on searching and goes on failing and some nights he's glad that his master cannot answer back anymore because these days he's not certain he wants to hear it anyway.
They come to him, angry and young and ancient all at once, and each one of them unbearably ignorant of their fate.
Kain is everything that Vorador was not, everything he could have been once and chose not to be. Vorador can see it in the magics that twist and coalesce around this young one that here is another of those ones with a Destiny. Jealousy flares in him for all the chances he has wasted and all the times that he has been proved wrong and worse, proved right. He sends the arrogant, gifted, fated brat away from him, but he cannot resist meddling one last time. And as he tosses the boy his ring, the metal catches the candlelight and ignites a fire deep within the gold that makes him curse.
It is in stark contrast to the reaction the ragged spectre of the Champion provokes in him. Vorador looks upon the shattered form of the creature sent to be their saviour and the magics he senses on the creature whisper dark upon the wind. He regards the blade dripping fire and magic and witchcraft onto the floor of his mansion and he laughs. Truly laughs, like he has not done for centuries.
When the boy asks him of Fate he wants to strike him dead on the spot for his ignorance. Bitter and despairing, he can sense the darkness creeping back across the land. A thicker darkness than the simple shadows of the night, one that clutches at his soul and threatens to choke him with its grasp.
There are so many, many things he wants to tell the boy, this Raziel, but all of them die in his throat and taste of ashes. He wants to reassure him, tell him to believe and be strong, but Vorador has seen too much down the ages to hide behind such illusions anymore. The boy looks to him for guidance, begging for understanding and for there to be one other soul in the world to have faith that everything will turn out all right in the end. That there will be a resolution for them all.
But Vorador has nothing to say to him, no words of comfort for one who has, like him, suffered so very greatly. He doesn't tell him to have faith. Doesn't tell him that he has faith, because Vorador doesn't think that you can still call resignation "faith".
He sends them both on their way and almost, but not quite, manages not to care.
It ends centuries later, and he is so old now that the significance has long ago lost its impact on him. All he sees now is that he is alone. Here, at the very end, just as it started, so too shall it be finished.
Fate has not been kind to the vampire Vorador. All that he ever cared for has been taken from him by force or by destiny. He is old now, and tired and there is nothing left for him in this world anymore. He has never had any faith in gods or in prophecy, and he does not stop to consider if things would have been different had he ever believed. Instead he looks out over the crowds of angry humans, their faces contorted in rage and ignorance, and he returns their hatred with sincere and frank disinterest.
Nothing in this world has ever truly belonged to him, for if it had, it would never have been so easily taken from him. Beside him Moebius raises his hand to the guillotine and Vorador's eyes are filled with the flames of the mob's torches, so many that they makes his eyes blur and tear with their smoke. Through the veil of tears that the smoke incites the flames look as golden as Amanda's hair and he almost has time to smile before the blade falls.
Fate has ever been a harsh master to him, and faith has never softened the blows. He dies, and when he opens his eyes again, he doesn't see her face and isn't surprised at all.