Ansu held up Havoc to the light, turning it around in his grip as he studied the weapon. He pressed his thumb-talon against the edge to test it and grunted, partly in pain and partly in satisfaction as theblade bit into his skin without much effort. He drew the axe up and peered closely at it, his reflection concave in the shining metal. He was not really looking at himself but rather sensing the traces of the elements used in the forging of the weapon.

"A variation on the Serioli design, common metals but augmented with elemental earth." He commented, coming to the right conclusion without Vorador having to explain. Then he held the weapon out at the end of his arm and swung it back and forth, each time with increasing force and speed. "Double bladed and balanced to allow for maximum impact on each swing." He added, nodding in approval. He paused to send the axe spinning up into the air and then nimbly caught it again on its descent. Then he looked over at Havoc's sister axe, Malice, which was still in Vorador's grasp, and he frowned.

"But with both hands occupied, this leaves no opportunity for a defensive manoeuvre or magic of any kind." He added in eventual critique. "These are purely offensive weapons." He swung his arm up and tossed the axe at the other Vampire. Vorador caught it swiftly out of the air and lifted it up to match Malice in his other hand, the two axes held perfectly balanced in his grasp.

Marrow, his favoured sword, was still in its place at his side but he had quickly improvised a strap across his torso to hold the two axes as well. While Kain might be content to only carry the Reaver, Vorador knew that one could never have an unnecessary surplus of useful tools. Havoc and Malice were powerful weapons he was familiar with and such items were worth their weight in gold.

The two Vampires were standing in an open courtyard that was formed by a circle of battlements outside the fortress. From this vantage point, Nosgoth's uninhabited western range of mountains was visible. Somewhere amongst those peaks the original Serioli stronghold had once stood, reduced to rubble centuries ago during the Human uprising against the Ancient Vampire dominion. Perhaps the Serioli liked this new fortress as it reminded them of their own time and had a familiar, albeit far less picturesque, panorama.

"Offence is the best defence." Vorador remarked firmly and with conviction. He relaxed his stance so that the two axes hung at the ready by his sides. "Never wait for your enemy to come to you. Strike him down hard and fast."

Ansu tilted his head to one side and managed an amused smile at the statement.

"Sound advice coming from a novice." He said with a partly condescending tone of voice. Vorador gave him a flat, unfriendly look.

"I was a novice eons ago, Ansu." He said, reminded of the many hours as a human youth and then as a fledgling Vampire he had spent in training sessions, learning from Ansu as his master the combat techniques employed by both the Serioli and the mainstream Vampire army. Perversely, Vorador had actually enjoyed these sessions during his youth, as they had been the most exciting and engaging activity. He looked back on them now, with a matured outlook, and cringed. It had been Ajatar who had taught him how to harness and control the elements, but it had been Ansu who had taught him how to fight.

He fixed his former trainer with a steely gaze. "By now my skill has vastly outstripped yours." He added, just to put him on notice of the fact.

Ansu snorted derisively and folded his arms over his well-developed chest, a supercilious expression on his face.

"Perhaps." He said loftily, half-condescendingly but with an edge of humour. "But let us not forgot you spent several centuries in slumber. Your body will be somewhat stiff and your skills dulled."

Vorador grunted. He fervently wished that news of that now rather embarrassing mental slip of his had not filtered back to the Serioli. It was the height of mortification to have his teachers and trainers perceive him as weak for any reason. And also Ansu's statement was not without merit. He had indeed been quite weakened from his long slumber when he had first been reawakened by the interference of the blue skeleton.

Much strength, agility and endurance had returned to him but quite a lot of his magical and telekinetic skills had dimmed. They would probably return in time, over the next century or two, but for the moment he was reduced to mere physical prowess.

"My skills were enough to handle the leader of the House of War." He said with some petulance that even coming out of his mouth he did not like. He shut his lips tightly over that statement, ashamed of himself for sounding like some errant schoolboy making excuses for his calculus not being up to scratch.

Laughing at his former student's clear discomfort, Ansu unfolded his arms and then reached for the massive curving axe at his side.

"Let us see which is superior." He ventured, almost casually. "You and your axes..." He drew the huge weapon and its cruel edge gleamed, even in the faint sunlight. "...or me and mine?"

Vorador watched him for a moment and then sank into the traditional Serioli fighting stance; his back straight, legs apart and arms tense, one forward and one back. He held the handle of each axe very loosely, his wrists relaxed and able to swing in any direction at a moment's notice. Marrow was still at his side as well, ready for use if the axes' superiority proved false.

Ansu's own war axe was a large, two-handed weapon with a curving edge that ended in a serrated point. It was meant for hacking through flesh and bone, ripping and tearing through any material it came into contact with. It was more of a surgeon's tool gotten out of hand than a weapon with any finesse.

Vorador began to sidestep, keeping his front facing Ansu as the Ancient Vampire moved as well, the two of them circling one another around the axis of the courtyard. Ansu was wearing a confident smile, seemingly smug in the memory of his superiority over the student Vorador had once been eons ago. For him, not that much time had passed. For Vorador, it had been countless centuries since those dimly remembered days. Much had changed.

Ansu rushed forward to begin their contest, his axe held low and drawn back for a swinging chop at the mid-section. Vorador watched him approach, sliding his left foot back in anticipation. When the Ancient Vampire was close enough he swung his heavy axe around in an arch.

Vorador sidestepped out of range of the swing, the blade passing mere inches from him and then pivoted back swiftly, lashing out with Malice. The smaller yet faster weapon came down and glanced off the larger one. A shower of glowing sparks from metal colliding with metal showered the ground between them.

Vorador darted in close as Ansu's axe was deflected wide and out of the way, his body beginning to spin with the two axes whirling around in twin deadly paths. The axes were meant to be used this way for when both of them were employed, their weight and momentum enabled the user to spin like a swirling wind, cutting down anything in their path.

Ansu was not foolish enough to attempt to meet those spinning blades head-on, so instead he ducked low, flattening his wings against his body and sliding under the spin of the axes. He lashed out with his leg and knocked Vorador's feet out from under him. Vorador stumbled only for a moment, coming out of the deadly spin and dancing backwards out of reach as Ansu swung his own axe up, trying to take advantage of the moment.

Vorador frowned, seeing the flaw in the intended use of the axes. That spinning technique was useful only when fighting large groups of enemies, when surrounded by adversaries. When fighting an opponent one-on-one, it left the user open to being tripped up. He mentally berated himself for not anticipating that weakness when he had forged the axes in the first place.

Ansu laughed heartily at seeing the annoyed expression on Vorador's face and took a few steps back, widening the distance between them. He had always been sporting that way and gave his former trainee a moment to cover his confusion.

Vorador flipped Havoc in his hand and began to reconsider his approach. He supposed he could discard one of the axes or draw the more familiar Marrow, but he did not wish to do so. He had purposely given himself the handicap of an unfamiliar weapon in order to test himself and to train his body and mind in the efficient use of the axes.

Ansu's two-handed axe, while it took a bigger chunk out of its target, was heavy and cumbersome. It took real force in order to swing and during that swing Ansu was putting all his effort into it. In that brief time he was open to attack.

His mind began calculating ways and means to use that to his advantage as the two of them began circling one another again, the three axes held at the ready.

Vorador made his move, darting swiftly to the left and then sliding back to the right as Ansu began to shift his weight to face him from the former direction. With this momentary advantage, the Vampire brought Malice up sharply and its blade connected harshly against Ansu's axe, causing it to bounce upwards and away. With his swing counteracted, Ansu was left open with his arms wide up out of the way of his chest still holding the handle of his own weapon.

Vorador made his lunge and brought Havoc across, attempting to mark his opponent across the midsection. But Ansu's wings snapped open and he back-winged out of reach, moving with startling speed despite his bulk. With a flash he spun back in a tight spiral and lashed out with a foot, connecting sharply with Vorador's chest. The blow was stunning and Vorador gasped out in surprise as all the wind was driven out of his lungs. He staggered back, almost dropping the axes from his grip and then collapsed down to one knee. Ansu had certainly not employed that move against him as a student. That had been fast and accurate, slamming through his defences before he had even seen it coming.

Irritated now with his own stupidity, he realised the depths of the blunder he had made. Of course Ansu would be stronger than he remembered him being. He had been little more than an inexperienced student before, so of course Ansu had not displayed his full abilities to him.

The Ancient Vampire placed the end of his axe on the ground and crossed his arms over the hilt, looking down at him with a raised eyebrow.

"Come Vorador, you have had over three thousand years to practise while I skipped them over." He remarked, shaking his head in disapproval. "You ought to be capable of more than that."

Vorador glared up at him with a decidedly unfriendly expression and hoisted himself back up to his feet, breathing deeply to settle himself. Perhaps Ansu was right and his skills had dulled more than he had expected. Regardless, he was not going to make the same mistake twice. He hefted Havoc and Malice up as he re-adopted the fighting stance. Nodding in approval, Ansu did the same.

There was a pause and then the two of them flew at each other at the same time, charging simultaneously to meet one another. Vorador swung Havoc up but Ansu blocked the attack and then dodged to the side to avoid a downward lunge from Malice.

Vorador took the opportunity and slammed his shoulder into his former trainer, knocking him backwards a step. Leaving him no time to recover, he darted in close and then swung the axes around as fast as he could bring them.

Ansu swung backwards, ducking under the twin axe blades and then arched his back in one great effort to bring his own weapon around in a circle directly at Vorador's head. The Vampire leaned back sharply, the edge of the cruelly curved axe blade passing just over the tip of his nose. As it soared over him, he brought his body up in one fluid motion and kicked Ansu's arms with both feet in the wrists. The sudden intense acrobatics clearly startled Ansu and he snapped his wings open instinctively, spreading them out wide. In the darkness of the shadow they cast, Vorador leapt forward and struck Malice to one side, knocking Ansu's axe out of the way before leaping at the Ancient Vampire himself, slamming his knee into Ansu's stomach.

Ansu heaved and gasped at the blow but did not fall, pushing away with one hand to try and gain some fighting room and retaliate. He beat his wings hard several times, trying to fly backwards but Vorador had been waiting for that very movement. Ansu was too distracted now to keep his attention focused.

Vorador then purposely stepped on his opponent's foot, keeping him pinned to one spot just long enough for the tip of Havoc to draw a line across his exposed chest. Thick red blood oozed from the minor cut as the axe cleaved past. The injury was pathetically shallow, a superficial cut that a Vampire could heal within a few moments but it was still a very satisfying marking.

Ansu grunted and then slapped Vorador away from him with one wing, backing off and raising his hand to his chest. He looked down at the blood with a partly surprised expression on his face as though he did not quite believe he was seeing it. The original Ancient Vampires did not have the accelerated healing abilities of their human-born descendants, so cuts to them were more serious. Ansu considered the blood on his hand for a long silent moment, his face grim.

Then his face changed to become jovial and he began to laugh, a good-natured chortle that Vorador could not help but grin back at. Ansu was very rarely disconcerted about anything, unless it had to do with a military matter. He had lost that attitude during the Human uprising but it had resurged when he and the other Serioli had come forward to this time.

"Yes, yes, much better." He said with real satisfaction. "You drew first blood." He wiped his hand clean on the side of his trousers and then drew a talon across the small injury. There was a brief flicker as he used a small invocation of the water element to heal the mark. In a moment his cobalt skin was unmarked. He patted his chest to make sure of this and then heaved his large battleaxe up over one shoulder. "But let's keep at this a little bit longer, shall we?" He invited.

The two of them continued their contest and Vorador quickly confirmed his suspicion that Ansu had been holding back, at least at first, and then bit by bit was employing his skill as his estimation of Vorador's own abilities grew. Axe blades clashed over and over again and the two of them lost track of time as they sparred, testing one another in this contest.

Vorador was quick to learn and adapt techniques to better suit both himself and the weapons he employed, learning from experience quickly. Ansu observed this even as they duelled and his grin was one of happy approval.

Then for a moment, the two of them broke apart to recover their breath. Vorador was pleased to see Ansu was breathing hard and his skin was shining with a coat of sweat. Although he himself was somewhat winded too.

The Ancient Vampire cleared his throat and then leaned up, relaxing his muscles out of their tense battle stance.

"So, Ajatar tells me the 'Unspoken' have the bones of some terrible monster." He remarked casually to make conversation during their respite. Despite the debonair way in which he made the statement, there was a very slight edge to it that spoke volumes of his disapproval of the presence of both Tiamatu and the Seer.

"The Hylden, Ansu." Vorador corrected him with a firm tone, letting his arms hang by his sides with Havoc and Malice held at the ends of their hilts. "I think we should drop that 'Unspoken' nonsense right now."

As much as he was loath to admit it, Kain had been right about that at least. Declaring the entire Hylden species to be 'Unspoken' had simply let knowledge of any potential threat they posed be forgotten. That had been a stupid decision and Ba'al Zebur, the first Balance Guardian who had issued the edict, ought to have known better.

"And the dead creature is an entity the likes of which I have never seen before." He continued on to divert Ansu as his face darkened. "Its bones resonate with elemental power."

Distracted by this mystery, Ansu seemed to forget about the Hylden ladies for the moment as he folded his wings behind himself firmly and rested both hands on the hilt of his massive axe. He had a half-amused yet contemplative look on his face.

"Any theories?" He asked, almost jokingly. Vorador snorted and took a moment to flex one stiff shoulder, forcing the tensed muscle to relax.

"Only that I cannot understand how such a species could once have existed with neither the Hylden nor the Vampires being aware of it." He remarked in reply and, now that he had gotten his wind back, flipped the two axes up in his hands to stand ready.

Seeing him ready to fight again, Ansu nodded and picked up his own axe, adopting the fighting stance himself.

"Perhaps we simply forgot." The Ancient Vampire ventured and began to sidestep to the right, keeping his opponent facing him at all times. Vorador frowned as he did the same, Havoc held out before him with Malice drawn back past his shoulder.

"That thought is indubitably disheartening." He said, wondering how two mighty civilisations, with cultures outstripping the entire mundane norm, could simply forget about creatures as powerful as the resonance from that skeleton had suggested.

"No one is perfect." Ansu replied jovially and then darted forward, flapping his great wings once to give himself an extra boost of speed. Vorador back-stepped to avoid the slicing edge of his axe and then retaliated, swinging at his exposed flank with Malice. Ansu turned sharply in response, letting go of his axe with one hand and using that freed limb to knock Malice off course with a sharp blow from his wrist. The axe sailed over the top of his head, missing his skull by inches.

Vorador struck at him again with Havoc this time, aiming the weapon at the Ancient Vampire's legs. Ansu seemed to anticipate that and brought one foot up sharply. When Havoc came near enough, his talons came down on the blade of the axe and sent it crashing into the floor, raising up sparks. With no weapon to defend himself, Vorador looked up to see the massive golden war axe being raised high above his opponent's head, ready to come down right on top of him.

There was a brief moment before it came down when time itself seemed to slow to a crawl. To save himself, Vorador gave a quick leap and, twisting acrobatically in mid-air, landed both feet directly into Ansu's midsection.

The Ancient Vampire let out a startled grunt and staggered backwards several feet. He stumbled off balance and then fell, landing in an undignified manner onto his backside. The blow had been directly to his stomach and not only did it force all the air out of his lungs in one gust, but it actually forced him to drop his axe. The big golden weapon spun out of his slack grip and clattered across the stones a short distance away.

Vorador steadied himself on his own feet and looked over at Ansu, who was obviously the loser in this duel. The Ancient Vampire had a hand to his stomach and was struggling to regain his breath, his eyes slightly unfocused.

Then, after a moment, a wide, irrepressible grin spread across his face and he looked up at his former pupil with some pride in his eyes.

"Excellent!" He congratulated Vorador in ringing tones. "It seems you were correct in your boast after all."

Vorador smiled faintly in return and put Havoc and Malice into their places on his back, crisscrossed in an 'X' shape against one another.

"Kain boasts. I merely state facts." He said without a trace of irony. Ansu chortled and hoisted himself back up to his feet. He winced slightly and then shrugged it away, turning to look out from the battlements to the distant horizon. In the ever-prevailing gloom caused by the smog, it was difficult to tell whether it was sunrise or sunset. It was a continuous twilight that allowed onlya few bare patches of actual sky to show.

"Lord Kain needs to return." The Ancient Vampire said after a moment, turning to collect his axe from the floor. "We need blood in order to survive, as ever. This future world is barren and there are few creatures left to sustain us. "

Vorador nodded in grim agreement. The Cabal had been able to survive by carefully cultivating their human livestock and actually entering into an agreement with them. The humans would provide the Cabal with blood willingly and the Cabal would protect them from the aggression of the other feral Vampires, especially the Rahabim who could swim to reach their shores.

"Unless something is done, this world will die and take us with it." Ansu added.

"I fear it may already be too late." Vorador replied with a frown. The Ancient Vampire hoisted his axe up from the floor and began examining its edge for any nicks it had acquired during the duel. One of the first rules in the Order was to maintain your own weapon.

"The Serioli remain strong under Ajatar-Cadre's leadership." He said with a confidence that Vorador found somewhat strange, given the situation. "I will not abandon hope, old friend." The Ancient Vampire turned to face him. "Not just yet."

Vorador raised an eyebrow at him, flexing and rubbing his wrists to relieve the strain in them from the contest.

"And you have so much confidence in Ajatar that you would trust her to lead you through an apocalypse?" He asked. Ansu straightened in response to this question, his back stiffening with pride and his wings half spreading to give himself a dramatic appearance. He had a distant, faraway look, as if he were reliving past memories of glory.

"I would follow Ajatar into the sun, if she asked it of me." He said with conviction, nodding firmly once in his confidence. There was a significant amount of deep respect in his voice and he radiated a certain dignity, a courtliness that came with being a Serioli. They were the Heretic Army and stood proud and distinguished, a culture set apart.

"I am surprised the two of you are not life mates, you hold so much regard for one another." Vorador ventured, mostly as a joke, and watched as the smile instantly faded off his old trainer's face. It was a momentary flash of disappointment and regret which was quickly covered up. Ansu tried to look dismissive of the statement but the drooping wings behind him betrayed his inner feelings despite this effort.

"Ajatar values my opinions but she has never taken me to her bed." He said in a firm voice that seemed to be forced as neutral as possible. "Nor any other male."

Vorador raised both eyebrows at this and seeing his questioning expression, Ansu flushed and turned away to face the battlements. He kept his eyes on the horizon. The silence between them dragged on for a few moments.

"She has other tastes." He added then and after that refused to say a word more, leaving Vorador to grope his way towards a conclusion on his own.

Suddenly there was the rapid sound of running feet, echoing from the open entrance to the fortress interior. Turning, Vorador looked back to see another of the Serioli spiriting towards as them as fast as he could go. After a moment, Vorador recognised him. Kralek, a relatively young warrior who often used a spear as his chosen weapon. He had no weapon now and was running as fast as he could, a startled expression distorting his face.

"Warrior Ansu!" He was calling, running out into the courtyard and occasionally beating his wings to make himself faster now thathe had room to spread them. He came right up to them both and stopped, trying to recover his breath and blurt something out.

"Kralek, what is amiss?" Ansu asked. Kralek tried to speak but for a moment he was tongue-tied by his gasps for air. Clearly he had been running for some time and hadn't stopped for a moment.

"The Grandmaster demands you come, quickly!" He managed to say after a moment to gather his wits and breath. He gestured with an arm back the way he had come urgently, pointing a talon. "Audron's chambers have been sealed off!"

"What?!" Vorador demanded, turning to face him completely with eyes bulging in dismayed and angry alarm.

"What happened?!" Ansu asked Kralek, intently and with some urgency.

"The Hylden ladies are in there!" Kralek burst out, still gesturing with one talon. "They cast some sort of spell, translocated all the guards outside!" His expression was distraught and panicked. "We can't get back in!"

Vorador was moving before he even summoned the thoughts necessary for it, running back into the entrance of the fortress as fast as he could go.

-0-

"What sort of fool had I been? Had the Seer betrayed me? Did she intend some harm to Janos? But why?"

-0-

Even as he ran, fear coursing through him, the obvious answer to that question smacked him directly in the face.

-0-

"Of course! She had always hated Janos! Had she done all this simply to give herself the opportunity to kill him herself? If she had orchestrated all this simply for vindication then I would teach her the true meaning of the word!"

-0-

Anger, a boiling rage, was a living thing within him, along with a bitter self-recrimination for being so blind. Had all her words of prophecy, destiny and promised reward been little more than a farce so that she could finally have her revenge on Janos Audron? The anxiety and fury drove him on and he ran through the hallways of Kain's fortress without stopping.

Churning through his mind was the startling and icy cold possibility that all of that supposed political shuffling in Avernus had been little more than an elaborate charade in order to convince him of the Seer's worthiness. Perhaps the Hylden were as deranged and vengeful as they had ever been and they had simply become more subtle about it? The situation had been completely ripe for deception and betrayal and he ought to have known it. All other thought was quickly pushed aside by his anxiety and he had only one concern: Janos' wellbeing.

By the time he reached the doorway leading to the chamber where Janos had been placed, a large number of Serioli warriors had gathered just outside the entrance. Most of them were armed with sword, spears and axes. Apep was with them although he had his back to him and didn't notice Vorador arrive. Ajatar herself was there and was staring up at the doorway. It was sealed shut, the door locked and a shimmering obstacle blocked their way to even that. It was a pulsing green wall, translucent and rippling with strange, alien symbols that appeared and faded seemingly at random. When Ansu, with Kralek right behind him, arrived they made a loud clattering noise and Ajatar turned to face them all. Her expression was grim and strangely disappointed, her wings behind her twitching with the feathers rustling loudly in her agitation.

"It's a Glyph barrier, a portable one." She said with a grim nod of her head towards the green obstruction, stating the painfully obvious. "We can't get through and it's preventing anyone from just translocating inside."

Vorador turned his head and focused, trying to confirm this for himself. He didn't expect her to be wrong but he wanted to be certain. A brief push with his mental senses confirmed the impervious static field that was keeping anyone with the ability from simply transferring their physical presence past the obstacle.

Apep began swearing in the ancient tongue, so fast and furiously that Vorador understood only one word in six. He was in a provoked vengeful rage.

"Damn lying, Hylden bitches!" He eventually spat in the modern language. "We ought to have filled them with arrows the moment we saw them!" The grim expressions and angry mutterings among the other Serioli was a clear indication that his sentiments were shared. At this moment Vorador was almost in total agreement, himself.

Quickly his mind began to puzzle out the predicament.

"Is there another way into that chamber?" He asked urgently. Ajatar glanced up at him sharply and then narrowed her eyes in sudden intense thought.

"Yes!" She replied quickly, glancing up. She began gesturing to her right, indicating, he perceived, the outer edge of the fortress itself. "Adjacent to the room is a storage space. There is a door to a balcony parapet from there, leading outside!"

Vorador frowned at that. Such a way inside was perfect for him and that was the problem. The Seer had gone to all this trouble to keep them out and then left a back door open? This suddenly raised all sorts of questions, but Vorador was not in a mood to ponder them right now. Whether it was an insidious trap or just some joke, all that mattered to him now was getting inside and protecting his sire.

"Stay here. I will try to dispel the barrier from the inside." He told his old mentor and then raised his hands, cupping his talons around a central point. There was a pulsing glow and he promptly vanished into the haze of a translocation spell.

He did not need to go far. The spell merely transported him directly outside, to a rocky ledge that projected out over the long drop from the cliff wall to the distant ground, which was barely visible from this height.

The outside of the fortress was all jagged rock and stone, riddled with blackened creepers and an unwholesome-looking moss. A low-hanging, thick and large black cloud, mostly filled with a choking smoke, was passing around the mountain, shrouding everything beyond a few feet in a dark, near toxic haze.

Vorador paused to look around quickly to get his bearings. He had a rough idea of where had had translocated himself and it ought to have been near the outside of Janos' bedchamber. The cloud, however, kept him from seeing the supposed balcony he needed to reach from his present position. He was just going to have to climb towards it and hope for the best. There were ledges of varying sizes stretching across the cliff.

Briefly he considered changing his form to that of a raven and then flying about, but the winds across this sheer cliff-face were too strong and fast for that. No bird worth his feathers took off into these sorts of winds.

Instead, Vorador held the image of the wolf in his mind and then willed himself into it. His body flowed and oozed into the new shape and quickly he was on four feet. While not an avid climber, the wolf did have a superb ability to jump and Vorador employed that skill to leap across the distances between the ledges. His hindquarters did scrabble for an undignified moment when he misjudged the distance once, though.

The stamina of the wolf also helped, enabling him to clear distances over and over without losing energy. That was serendipitous as when he made one large leap and landed on a new ledge, the rock beneath his paws began to break and come apart from the impact. Acting instinctively he ran across the crumbling perch and launched himself again at the next one, just in time as the rocks clattered down the side of the cliff. The action had been so immediate and without thought that his landing on the next ledge was less than perfect.

Padding about, he turned to observe again from his new position. Peering through the black gloom with the better eyesight of the wolf, Vorador could see the balcony that Ajatar had described and it was indeed in the right place to be connected with Janos' chamber. It was a wide, smooth stone platform with Kain's imperial symbol engraved into it. A pair of large double doors was closed across the entrance to the inside.

He paused to watch that door for a long moment and, sure enough, there was no sign of a Glyph ward here. Just what sort of game was being played here?

His wolf form leapt across several more ledges, trying to get close enough to reach the balcony but the ledges themselves were getting thinner and thinner and were made from looser stone. The last three to clear were mere perches and seemed as if they were held together mostly by half-dead creepers. Growling to himself, he looked back and forth between the balcony and his current position, estimating the distance he needed to clear. It was at least thirty feet, far too much for a wolf to clear in one bound. He turned his head and sniffed at the air. The winds were still fierce but he was sure he could clear a mere thirty feet in his bird form, regardless of the air currents.

Quickly he shifted back into his normal form. He could not go from one alternate form to another instantly. He always had to return to his original shape first.

The moment he did so and somewhat ironically, a sudden and alarmed flock of black birds burst out of a series of hidden crevices just above his head. Cawing loudly they began flapping around, seven of them all at once trying to force him away from their nests. Vorador batted one away contemptuously with the back of his hand andthen glared up at the others.

"Go away." He told them in a flat voice. He had spent some time training his own birds, who had come to him in the depths of the Black Forest. He knew how to command their kind. The flock back-winged as one at the ultimatum and then flapped off quickly, as if they were unruly children told off by a parent.

Now undisturbed Vorador adopted their feathered form and spread his own wings. A big gust of wind did come up to try and hamper him on the short flight but it only lifted him up high over the edge of the balcony. In mid-air he changed back into his ordinary form and dropped down, dead centre on the imperial sigil.

He wasted no time and went to the doors. To his puzzlement, they were not locked and he pulled them open with ease and stepped inside. Not even a locked door?

The interior of the adjacent room was round and filled with metal shelves that might once have held any number of books or other items, with a far doorway leading directly into the main chamber which he recognised even from across the room. Leaning against that doorway, her head turned to look into the main chamber, was the Seer.

"Ah, so you got in." She said in her musically accented voice, without turning around to look directly at him. Vorador's expression went dangerously flat and he began across the chamber towards her, his hand moving towards the hilt of Marrow at his side. As if she sensed this, the Hylden woman turned her head to look at him and the look on her face was intensely disapproving.

"Stay your blades, Vorador. All is well here." She told him with some contempt in her voice. Vorador stopped a short distance away but his hand did not move away from the hilt of his sword.

"All is well?" He repeated slowly and with thinly veiled anger. She looked him squarely in the eye, defying his vehemence with a cold steel of her own. Vorador took another step towards her, keeping his expression neutral despite the anger he felt. "Damkina, if you have done anything to Janos–" He began but the Seer grunted and waved him off with a flick of one hand.

"You are not Kain, Vorador. Your threats lack that certain edge of imminent mindless violence that he commands." She told him bluntly and without much concern for his angry presence. He glared at her, allowing some of his irritation show.

"Tell that to six members of the Circle of Nine." He told her ominously, reminding her that when necessary he could be capable of quite unspeakable acts of violence. She looked at him levelly and then smiled, chuckling to herself as she folded her arms over her chest.

"Sadly, Janos is unharmed." She told him and gestured her head towards the room beyond. "He was administered the cure to his ailments very shortly after we arrived."

Vorador's left eyebrow shot up at this statement and his angry stance relaxed without him realising it, his hand dropping away from Marrow's hilt.

"But she said the alterations to the process would take days." He said as his brow wrinkled into a frown.

"She lied, Vorador." The Seer told him with a faint knowing smile. Then she turned and walked into the main room, beckoning him to follow. "If you seek someone with ulterior motives, I suggest you speak with Tiamatu."

She stepped aside for him and watched him intently, with a faint smile as he swiftly stepped into the room. His eyes instantly went to Janos and were met with the sight of his sire, lying there in the bed and left as he had been. In fact, he was breathing more steadily and there were visible signs of life. Quickly, though, Vorador's attention was turned away from him and to the far side of the chamber.

The barred door glowed green from the barrier that kept out the Serioli, flickering with the strange alien energies that erected such unearthly obstacles. From this side of the barrier Vorador could see that it was being projected and maintained by a strange device which he recognised as having been a part of the instruments Tiamatu had brought with her. This was the final proof that she had been waiting to try this from the beginning.

Scowling with renewed irritation he half turned, then paused and stared at the cringing figure huddled against the far wall.

Tiamatu was on her hands and knees, her body slippery with a thick sheen of sweat and other strange liquids. They were dripping from her, ruptures opening along her skin to ooze out the liquid that began to pool around her. She lay there trembling violently and as he began to approach, she heaved forward and vomited up noisily a mixture of bile, blood and stinking half-digested food. Vorador took an involuntary step backwards.

The Seer simply watched all this happen dispassionately and with reserve, keeping herself out of the way and a mere observer, not going to the aid of her kinswoman at all.

"What is this?" Vorador demanded harshly, wrinkling his nose at the smell coming not just from the excretions. Tiamtu herself seemed to be radiating a powerful acrid stench. She paused to clear her lips of the disgusting vomit with the back of her hand.

"The...induced gestational period...I believe." She replied and her voice was faint, barely above a whisper and very hoarse. Her inflections seemed to rise and fall at random, as if she had no control over it. "Mildly unpleasant...to say the least."

Vorador's frown deepened into a scowl.

"Gestation?" He asked questioningly. With a grunt of pain and effort, Tiamatu raised herself up onto her knees. She was struggling for breath and her eyes were unfocused.

"My body... is in a state of accelerated growth." She explained after a moment to gather her wits and breath. Slowly she raised both arms up in front of herself. They trembled visibly. "The enzyme and catalyst I extracted from the blood samples I obtained from you and your sire...have provided me...with the missing element."

Suddenly she let out a loud cry of pain and clutched at her sides, doubling over onto her belly. She continually screamed and her spine itself seemed to ripple under her very skin. Vorador watched with a sort of sick fascination as the two jutting bony spurs that protruded out from her shoulder-blades twitched back and forth, the skin over them beginning to stretch and even tear.

"You told me you needed that blood to affect his treatment." He said accusingly, ignoring her discomfort with ease. Tiamatu took several hard breaths to steady herself after this attack although tears of pain were running openly down her cheeks.

"A little falsehood on my part, I'm afraid." She admitted and almost seemed to laugh despite herself, albeit hysterically. With some effort she gestured towards the bed where Janos still lay. "The treatment has already been administered; I did that as soon as I got here. He will...awaken very shortly."

His attention diverted, Vorador took another long look at his sire. This time instead of just surveying him with his eyes, he pushed out his senses and began focusing on the Ancient Vampire's body with his mind.

-0-

"I could sense my sire stirring. He was on the verge of consciousness, rising out of his cage of nightmares."

-0-

Janos was actually beginning to wake up. He was twisting around in the bed, taking in sharp, shuddering breaths and twitching as if he were finally beginning to fight off the twisted phantoms of his tortured mind. His eyelids were beginning to flutter and Vorador could sense that he could hear them, even if distantly.

A surge of relief swept through him to see his sire so close to being restored. It would not be long now, perhaps mere minutes, before Janos would be himself once more.

"I ...needed the blood of you both...for quite another reason entirely." Tiamatu chuckled and then hissed, clenching her teeth against a spasm of pain up along her spine. Vorador turned back to face her and he quickly let the relief he felt not be shown on his face.

"What have you done?" He asked flatly. Tiamatu paused to take some more breaths before she answered.

"I was Marduk's apprentice." She said and despite her pain there was confident pride in her voice, as much as Vorador had heard Ansu use for being a Serioli under Ajatar's command. "He was the best of our House, giving all our kind hope by showing them how we can elevate ourselves...force the evolution and glory we were so long denied."

There was another spasm, this one stronger then the first two and Tiamatu collapsed back to her hands and knees. She screamed in pain, the noise cut off by another splattering of blood and worse that forced itself out her mouth in a vomiting belch. Once the affect had passed, the Hylden woman strained as if she were going to faint.

"But he...he could not make the process seamless... it left him weak and feeble on the ground even if strong in the air." She continued instead, as if glad to focus her mind on something during this strange and disgusting process. "I could not simply re-use his original formula... I had to discover what element had been missing to ensure body strength cohesion."

Then the Hylden woman actually managed to chuckle again, her chest heaving painfully in the effort.

"And of course with the greatest irony, the element required was in Vampire blood... especially in the original winged species and their nearest kin." Her chuckling became almost neurotic and as she looked up there was a wild sort of expectant joy in her gaze. "The information necessary for the development of strong powered flight resided most fully in them. Applied to the formula it should fill in the gap in the wonderful equation." Her breath was coming faster and faster. She was almost hyperventilating. "I am... mere moments away from seeing... if my theory is correct."

Vorador's expression remained flatly disapproving.

"If not, you have permanently disfigured yourself." He told her without much sympathy for her self-inflicted pain. Tiamatu gave him a glare, full of pride and determination.

"My Maestro took the risk." She said and in her voice was the stubborn perseverance of youthful conviction. "I can do no less."

The Seer smiled at this and
let out a short chuckle of her own, almost a girlish giggle.

"But let us have an audience to this event, however it might turn out." She said and gestured one hand imperiously at the device maintaining the Glyph ward. There was a short fizzle and the machine went silent. A moment later, the barrier vanished.