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Praise for the Dark Ages Clan Novel Series

“[Dark Ages: Nosferatu is] very mature, very intelligent, and it expectsand rewards the same in its reader. This is the sort of good, solid tone thatcan make a reader a better writer. Fleming takes pains to demonstratethat this is not just another vampire novel, this is a Dark Ages novel, anddoes so without lecturing us. There are few who can do something likethat.”—Michael G. Williams,

“There are quite a few twists and turns and a level of thoughtfulness thattake this above the average vampire adventure. Dark Ages: Assamite isan imaginative and gripping winner.—Jim Brock, Baryon Magazine

“Dark Ages: Cappadocian is, more than anything else, that wonderfulcombination of fascinating and fun. You'll be amazed at how well theseemingly disparate ends tie together, you'll meet beautifully createdcharacters who all make sense (considering their individual positions andneeds), and you'll love the story Andrew Bates has brought alive with histalent and humor. Cappadocian is topflight vampire literature and… Ican't wait for the next installment to come out.”—Laurie Edwards, Culture Dose

“Veteran author David Niall Wilson, who has been wowing me for yearswith his tales of dark fantasy, …delivers [in Dark Ages: Lasombra] aheart-stopping tale of adventure and intrigue in this particularly vividinstallment of the epic Dark Ages Clan Novel series. Don't miss it!”—J. L. Comeau, Creature Feature

“[Dark Ages: Ravnos] was a seductive horror novel that I could not helpbut find attractive. The author, Sarah Roark, managed to make the maincharacter, Zoë, innocent and lethal at the same time. It is a feat not easilyaccomplished. …Excellent!”—Detra Fitch, Huntress Book Reviews

“The atmosphere is thick and tense as the story begins, coiled like a cagedanimal ready to spring. […] In Ravnos, Sarah Roark blends passion, faithand intrigue into an intoxicating brew any reader would greedily drinkdown. This book caught my interest from the first page and never let go.The level of detail given even minor characters was truly impressive, themore so for being accomplished in just a few lines.”—Johann Lionheart, Dimensions

Dark Ages and Vampire Fiction from White Wolf

The Dark Ages Clan Novel Series

Dark Ages: Nosferatu by Gherbod FlemingDark Ages: Assamite by Stefan PetruchaDark Ages: Cappadocian by Andrew BatesDark Ages: Setite by Kathleen RyanDark Ages: Lasombra by David Niall WilsonDark Ages: Ravnos by Sarah RoarkDark Ages: Malkavian by Ellen Porter KileyDark Ages: Brujah by Myranda KalisDark Ages: Toreador by Janet TrautvetterDark Ages: Gangrel by Tim WaggonerDark Ages: Tremere by Sarah RoarkDark Ages: Ventrue by Matthew McFarlandDark Ages: Tzimisce by Myranda Kalis

Other Dark Ages Fiction

Dark Tyrants by Justin Achilli & Robert Hatch (editors)The Erciyes Fragments by C. S. FriedmanTo Sift Through Bitter Ashes by David Niall WilsonTo Speak in Lifeless Tongues by David Niall WilsonTo Dream of Dreamers Lost by David Niall Wilson

The Clan Novel Saga

A comprehensive, chronological collection of the fourteen-volume best-selling Clan Novel Series. Includes all-new material.Volume 1: The Fall of Atlanta — foreword by Stewart Wieck;new material by Philippe BoulleVolume 2: The Eye of Gehenna — foreword by Eric Griffin;new material by Stefan PetruchaVolume 3: Bloody September — foreword by Anna Branscome;new material by Lucien SoulbanVolume 4: End Games — foreword by Gherbod Fleming; newmaterial by Janet Trautvetter

For all these titles and more, visit

Myranda Kalis

AD 1232Thirteenth of the Dark Ages Clan Novels

Cover art by John Bolton. Graphic design by Mike Chaney.Art direction by Richard Thomas. Editing by MatthewMcFarland. Copyediting by Ana Balka.© 2004 White Wolf, Inc. All rights reserved.No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in anyform or by any means, electronic or mechanical—includingphotocopy, recording, Internet posting, electronic bulletinboard—or any other information storage and retrieval system,except for the purpose of reviews, without permission fromthe publisher.White Wolf is committed to reducing waste in publishing.For this reason, we do not permit our covers to be “stripped”for returns, but instead require that the whole book bereturned, allowing us to resell it.All persons, places, and organizations in this book—exceptthose clearly in the public domain—are fictitious, and anyresemblance that may seem to exist to actual persons, places,or organizations living, dead, or defunct is purely coinciden-tal. The mention of or reference to any companies orproducts in these pages is not a challenge to the trademarksor copyrights concerned.White Wolf, World of Darkness and Vampire are registeredtrademarks of White Wolf Publishing, Inc. Dark AgesToreador, Dark Ages Vampire, Dark Ages Nosferatu, DarkAges Assamite, Dark Ages Cappadocian, Dark Ages Setite,Dark Ages Lasombra, Dark Ages Ravnos, Dark AgesMalkavian, Dark Ages Brujah, Dark Ages Gangrel, DarkAges Tremere, Dark Ages Ventrue, Dark Ages Tzimisce, ToSift Through Bitter Ashes, To Speak in Lifeless Tongues, ToDream of Dreamers Lost, Dark Tyrants, The Erciyes Frag-ments, Clan Novel Saga, The Fall of Atlanta, The Eye ofGehenna, Bloody September, End Games and DemonLucifer’s Shadow are trademarks of White Wolf Publishing,Inc. All rights reserved.

ISBN 1-58846-852-6First Edition: August 2004Printed in Canada

White Wolf Publishing1554 Litton DriveStone Mountain, GA

What Has Come Before

It is the year 1232, and decades of warfare andintrigue continue among the living and the dead.The Teutonic Knights and Sword-Brothers haveembarked on campaigns to conquer and convertpagan Prussia and Livonia, spreading the crusad-ing zeal into new lands. Bloodshed has, as always,followed in its wake. In the shadowy courts of theundead, the situation is no better. Lord Jürgen ofMagdeburg, called the Swordbearer, has followedthese knightly orders into the east with his ownvampiric warriors, the Order of the Black Cross,bent on taking new territory and feasting on theblood of those he bests in battle.

During this conquest, Jürgen seized control of amonastery of the Obertus Order, an order ofmonks transplanted from Byzantium in the wakeof that city’s destruction almost three decadesago. In it, Jürgen discovered a surprising secret,and has sent that secret, along with his diplomatand consor t Rosamund d ’ I s l ington, to theTzimisce ambassador Myca Vykos.

As Jürgen continues his quest to conquer the eastand Rosamund approach Vykos’ stronghold inBrasov with her lord’s message, Vykos himselffinds himself entrenched in the centuries-old warand blood-feuds within his own clan….

7Myranda Kalis


Sredetz, c. 1210

In the house of the Archbishop of Nod, asingle light burned.

A shielded candle-lantern sat on the cornerof a long writing table, covered with neat piles ofcorrespondence sealed in wax and ribbon, a stackof ledgers, four personal journals, and a woodenbox with a complicated lock. The Archbishopwould soon be departing the seat of his power fora journey of indeterminate duration, and he wasputting his affairs in order accordingly. Most ofthe letters were addressed to various prominentmembers of the Crimson Curia throughoutChristendom and the Levant, and would leave fortheir destinations on the morrow in the saddle-bags of his couriers. The ledgers contained thefinancial arrangements he had made, to be ex-ecuted in his absence by his seneschal, a record ofthe precise amounts of monies to be spent and howhis material estate was to be dispersed.

The journals were his own most privatewritings, his ruminations on his existence andits most important facets, its most formativeevents. Each was deceptively slender; he hadlong ago effaced himself of the ego needed towrite of himself at embarrassing length. Thelast lines had been written in those books yearsbefore. He would never open them again, hav-ing said all that he wished to say. Soon, they

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would go into the box and the box’s lock wouldbe set, to be opened only after he was gone.

The silence in the Archbishop’s study wasbroken only by the sound of a freshly sharp-ened quill on parchment, as he wrote one lastletter. In the servants ’ quarters downstairs,an Obertus revenant waited to carry it to itsdestination in the south, a small nunnery inwhich the eldest and wisest of his survivingchilder found shelter.

My beloved daughter, dearest of the comfortsleft to me in this world, I give greetings to you.

By the time this letter reaches your hand, Iwill have already departed Sredetz for the jour-ney of which I spoke in my last missive to you. Iam resolved in the course that I have chosen,and I write you this last time to thank you forthe many years of companionship and wise coun-sel you have generously granted to me. Thestrength of your faith has sustained my own soul,during the darkest hours of my existence. Yourcalm words have soothed my heart and soul inthe hours when I felt that no balm of comfortwould ever ease my pain again. Were it not forthe duty that I owe to my own dead, I wouldcome to see you again, and lay a father’s kiss onyour brow, and wish you peace and joy in allthe long years left to you.

Would that I might witness what you will be-come, and what you might accomplish, at yourside.

But the fallen call to me softly, with voicesthat I cannot deny, and I must bring an endingto both their suffering and to my own.

I remain, and I shall always remain, yoursire and your friend.

9Myranda Kalis

He gave the letter no signature. Instead,he dripped a medallion of deep red wax at thebottom of the page, and sealed it with theimprint of his house, his true house, not thesignet of the Archbishopric of Nod. He tiedthe letter closed with a length of blue ribbonshot through with gold, his daughter’s favor-ite colors, for they reminded her of the skyshe had long ago forsaken.

Then, he blew out the light.

Part One

Dragon’s Blood

Sângele apã nu se face.(Blood is not water.)—Romanian proverb

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Chapter One

Just outside Brasov,Winter 1232

The last snow of the winter was falling as thecolumn made its way up the steep, circuitous road lead-ing to the monastery. It departed Brasov late in theday—too late, strictly speaking, for absolute safetybeneath the threatening sky—but nonetheless madegood time on the frozen roads. When the last of theday’s wan light failed, they lit torches and lanternsfilled with fat tallow candles and continued on, al-beit more slowly. They also released the diplomattraveling with them from her daylight conveyance andset her a-horse in the middle of their formation, pro-tected on all sides yet in a position to display herimportance to their mission. They refrained, however,from raising her standard into the stiffening wind. Hermount’s barding, deep green silk marked with a many-petaled white rose, had to suffice on that score. Apair of senior officers, also traveling protected fromthe light of the sun, emerged as well and took theirplaces near the head of the column.

From their vantage point atop the hill on whichthe monastery stood, the monks watched thecolumn’s progress and prepared. A message had ar-rived some days earlier, indicating the presence ofthe visitors and politely craving permission to ap-proach concerning a matter of some urgency. Aftera suitable interval passed, that permission was for-mally and politely granted. The monks made ready,preparing pallets and sleeping spaces, and makingcertain adequate supplies were laid in to feed the

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guests and their mounts. By the time the columnreached the top of the hill and came to themonastery’s high, heavy doors, all was in readiness.As the column made its way into the monasterycourtyard, dragging a heavy sledge loaded down witha wooden casket, those doors opened, and the supe-rior came forth. In his gnarled hands he carried afriendship cup of blood, hot from the vein and steam-ing slightly in the chilly air. A half-dozen novicesfollowed him out into the snowy courtyard and fil-tered among the armed and armored knights,assisting in dismounting, accepting reins and mur-muring quietly to cold and disgruntled horses.

The ambassador dismounted with the aid of thecolumn’s commander and, after a fractional hesita-tion, handed her reins to the novice who offeredhis assistance. She lifted the hem of her heavy win-ter skirts and swept forward, her carriage regal,bending her spine only to offer the elderly superiorthe courtesy he was due. He responded with equalgravity, bowing carefully from the shoulders, andextending to her the greeting-cup. When he spoke,his voice was unexpectedly stentorian, showing al-most no sign of his physical age. “Welcome, friendsand brothers, most honored sister, to the house ofGod. Welcome, in the name of my Lord Vykos, whostands ready to greet you. Welcome, and be safeand sheltered within our walls.”

Rosamund d’Islington rose and accepted thecup, taking the sip that courtesy required. “Weaccept Lord Vykos’ gracious hospitality in the nameof our lord and prince, Jürgen of Magdeburg, andin our own. I am Lady Rosamund d’Islington,Ambassador of the Rose, and my companions areSir Gilbrecht and Sir Landric, of the Order of theBlack Cross.” Each of the knights, in turn, acceptedthe cup and drank of it, both being well schooled

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enough to hide any distaste or distrust they mightharbor for the gesture. A brown-robed novice ac-cepted the cup and, bowing quickly to his superior,carried it inside quickly. “We seek counsel withLord Vykos on a matter of some urgency, and notinconsiderable mystery.”

One elegant hand, gloved in fur-lined leather,gestured down at the sledge and its burden. Theold monk nodded gravely. “I am Father Aron.Come, my lady, and my brothers, my Lord Vykosawaits you.”

***It had been a long journey and Rosamund was

already deeply, deeply tired. Traveling rough acrosshalf the east in the dead of winter was most assur-edly not how she had hoped to begin the year, muchless undertaking that journey with the intent oftreading deep into the lands of the Voivodate. Thelaboriously negotiated truce between Jürgen ofMagdeburg and Vladimir Rustovitch held—tenu-ously, at times, given some of the provocationsflung back and forth across the Obertus territoriesthat lay between them—and Rosamund did notparticularly relish the task of putting its elasticityto a serious test despite the love, and the duty, shebore her lord. She did not, even to herself, admitto fearing the task she was assigned. To do so wasbeneath her dignity as an ambassador of her clan,and a woman raised to rule. She was more than alittle frightened, however, as she followed FatherAron through the halls of his monastery. She en-deavored not to let it show in her posture orexpression, and kept her emotions rigidly con-trolled, lest someone with keener eyes than mostnotice her discomfiture.

Even in the west, tales circulated of Tzimiscesavagery, the brutality of their rule and the horrors

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that they wrought with their unnatural magics.Rosamund, as a youngster newly come to the blood,had listened to those tales the way mortal girls lis-tened to their grandmothers ’ ghost stories,half-afraid and half-laughing, in every way certainthat those tales were as exaggerated as the lais in abook of romances. She knew the truth now, and ifthe truth was more complex than the frightful talesof wandering storytellers, there was still enoughhorror in the reality to justify caution.

Rosamund refused to admit to fear, even in-side the walls of the dragon’s den – though she wasforced to admit that this particular dragon seemedfar more civilized than most. They had met oncein Magdeburg, she and Myca Vykos. The impres-sions that she retained of that brief encounter wereof a man whose graceful use of language nearlymatched the diplomats of her own clan, whose in-telligence and grasp of subtle political nuance gavea certain lie to the tales of simple-minded Tzimiscebarbarity. Rosamund hoped profoundly that thoseimpressions were true, for what she needed to dealwith now was a politician and a diplomat, not awarlord.

Father Aron opened one of the doors branch-ing off the main corridor, revealing a staircasedescending in a slow, gentle curve. Rosamund liftedthe hem of her kirtle and followed, summoning tomind, for the thousandth time since leaving home,everything she knew about Tzimisce greeting pro-tocols. The sum total of this knowledge, sherealized early on, was something less than satisfy-ing and reassuring, but repetition of what she didknow lent steadiness to her nerves. She also cher-ished a fleeting hope that a Tzimisce diplomatwould be fractionally more tolerant of the lapsesof ignorant foreigners than a Tzimisce warlord

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looking for an excuse to separate an ignorantforeigner’s head from her shoulders.

The staircase terminated in a wider, shortercorridor at the end of which lay a highly vaulteddoorway, lacking a door, but guarded by two tow-ering figures swathed in heavy robes. They boreno obvious weapons or, beyond their great height,any obvious sign of deformity—both stood a headand more taller than her knightly escorts. At thedoorway, Father Aron paused and nodded politelyto them both. They returned the gesture, and per-mitted him to pass. Rosamund followed the priest’slead, offering each figure a suitable curtsey, and herescorts both bowed. They were motioned throughwithout further ceremony. Rosamund half expectedto be led to an antechamber where she would berequired to wait an interminable length of timeuntil her host saw fit to allow her into his exaltedpresence. It was the sort of tactic used extensivelyby the western princes whose means of establish-ing dominance she was most familiar with, and shesuspected that some things held true everywhere.

It was therefore with considerable surprise thatRosamund found herself stepping into a small butluxuriously appointed receiving chamber, confront-ing Father Aron ’s bent back as he knelt insupplication before a low-backed wooden chair andthe man occupying it. Myca Vykos was much asshe remembered him, which came as a bit of a sur-prise, given the Tzimisce tendency to alter theirforms at whim—she could not recall anotherTzimisce of her acquaintance, though there wereprecious few of those, who was entirely the sameevery time they appeared at court. The flesh-shap-ing arts of the Fiends could be used in mannerssubtle and grotesque. It was Rosamund’s experiencethat grotesque seemed to predominate among many

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in the clan, and the possibility that some short-tempered barbarian might choose to warp and twisther own flesh for some imagined offense neverfailed to fill her with dread. It was oddly comfort-ing to set eyes on a man who seemed to changehimself so little.

Even seated, he seemed tall, though not so tallas her Lord Jürgen.He was slender and well formed,his black hair loose, unadorned, and trailing overone shoulder. His features were sharp and fine, ifsaturnine. His dark eyes set deep beneath slightlyarched brows, the shape of his mouth suggestinghe spent little time smiling. His hands, ringed ingold, rested on the carven arms of his chair, long-fingered, slender, and completely devoid of nervousgestures. Rosamund dropped her eyes before thosehands, and the elegant clothing he wore, drew herin more deeply than she wished.

Next to that chair knelt the brown-robed nov-ice, still holding the friendship-cup she had drunkfrom, and who now offered that cup to the objectof Father Aron’s veneration. It was accepted, andMyca Vykos rose in a swirl of heavy Byzantinerobes, drawing her forward into the room with alanguidly regal gesture of greeting. “My LadyRosamund, my Lord Gilbrecht, my Lord Landric, Ioffer you welcome in the name of my sire, in thename of the house in which dwells the blood ofmy making, and in my own name as lord and pro-tector of this place. Come among my people asfriend and guest, and know that within my wallsyou shall receive all honor, peace, and safety. Iswear this, in the holy names of Earth and Sky,and by the Waters of Life and Death.”

And, so saying, he raised the cup to his lipsand drained it. Rosamund, recognizing a ritual cuewhen she saw one, offered her deepest court pre-

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sentation curtsey. After a moment’s hesitation, hercompanions offered their honors, as well. LordVykos, she noticed, actually acknowledged thosegestures with a formal, ceremonial inclination ofhis head, before gesturing them to rise. Father Aronand the cupbearer both rose as well and took theopportunity to excuse themselves, returning theway they had all come.

“My Lady Rosamund,” Lord Vykos stepped for-ward to claim her hand and kiss it quite properly,“no amount of graceless flattery on my part couldtruly encompass my pleasure at seeing you again.Our conversations in Magdeburg remain one of thefinest memories I possess of that time. That youhave traveled so far while winter still lay on theland, however, suggests much to me concerning theurgency of your mission—and the chill in yourhands suggests much about the lack of comfort onthe road. I suggest,” his dark eyes flicked back togather up the two knights, whose expressionsRosamund could clearly imagine during this littlespeech, “that we repair to more pleasant quarters,where we may take our comfort and break our fast.”

“What a delightful suggestion,” Rosamund feltdiplomatic honey coating her tongue again, andher feet on decidedly more solid ground. “SirGilbrecht and Sir Landric are— “

“Entirely welcome to join us, I assure you.”Lord Vykos bowed from the neck. “The needs ofyour men are being tended to above. I doubt thematter requires the oversight of these illustriousgentlemen. Though if you prefer…?”

Rosamund half-turned; Sir Gilbrecht and SirLandric exchanged a speaking glance. Neitherknight, she knew, was particularly comfortableentrusting the welfare of their men to Tzimiscehospitality, and with good reason. In another sea-

19Myranda Kalis

son, the truce might be a thing of smoke and his-tory, with fire and bloodshed taking the place ofrelative peace. Rosamund privately hoped it wouldnot be so, for entirely selfish reasons. She andJürgen had already been separated for quite longenough, and a lengthy campaign against an en-trenched, intractable Tzimisce enemy would simplyadd to the distance between them. She also knewthat her escorts harbored no such hesitancy, andin all likelihood regarded their presence here asthe perfect opportunity to engage in a bit of espio-nage by way of diplomacy—in such ways were warswon and lost. By such ways were Tzimisce lordsoffering hospitality also insulted beneath their ownroofs and Rosamund hoped that her escorts wereadroit enough to realize that without an actual lec-ture from her.

Sir Gilbrecht, the senior of the two knights,bowed stiffly after a long moment and spoke. “Mylord, my brother and I are pleased to accept yourgracious hospitality.”

Rosamund was pleased. He managed to get theentire sentence out as though he weren’t holdinga dead fish in his mouth, and the somewhat painedgrimace that followed Lord Vykos politely choseto ignore.

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Chapter Two

“We are entertaining no other Cainite gueststhis season, my lady, or else I would have had alarger dining chamber opened and aired.” LordVykos informed her, as he guided them down agently curving side corridor that, unless her senseswere entirely deceiving her, actually slanted deeperbeneath the hill. “It is my hope that you will notconsider this setting untoward in its intimacy. Thehalls can be cold and damp in the winter, and Iordered this chamber specially warmed. My advi-sor warned me last evening that the weather waslikely to turn, and it might even snow. I see thathe was correct.”

“Indeed,” Rosamund agreed, allowing a certainamount of rue to color her words. “While thereare many natural things of beauty here in the East,my Lord, I find that one can rapidly grow weary ofthe sight of snow falling, particularly when it be-gins falling in October and does not cease fallinguntil April.”

They spoke, of course, Latin, the one languagethat Rosamund was certain they had in common.Her many months assisting Jovirdas, her lord’s ren-egade Tzimisce vassal, improving his literacy andpenmanship had taught her some small amount ofhis native tongue, though she in no way felt her-self conversationally fluent. Likewise, she wasuncertain if Lord Vykos spoke French and sherather doubted that he spoke English. She knewthat he spoke German well enough to not insultJürgen with his efforts, but if the choice came downbetween Latin and German, well, Latin won, eachand every time.

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“The winters have been unusually harsh oflate.” The statement was bland, but something init caught Rosamund’s ear, and she gave her host acovert look out of the corner of her eyes. “Suchthings come and go, of course, but that does notprevent one from wishing for the warm breath ofspring—or from wishing that the spring mightnever end.”

There was some subtle double entendrecouched in that statement, Rosamund was certainof it. She would have to interrogate Jovirdas aboutTzimisce customs regarding the seasons when shereturned to Kybartai. For now, however, she sim-ply temporized. “Or even for the crisp autumnnights by the fire, with the floor scattered in col-orful leaves…”

“Even so.” They came to the end of the corri-dor, a tall square door draped in a long woolenhanging, which he graciously lifted to allow thementry. A warm breath of air rushed out to meetthem. “Come, my lady, my lords. Your rest awaits.”

Rosamund stepped inside, and understood im-mediately Lord Vykos’ remark about untowardintimacy. The room was small and roughly semi-circular, and its shape focused attention into itscenter, where sat a low wooden table, a profusionof colorful cushions, and a young god. Rosamundrecognized him immediately—the companion thatLord Vykos had brought with him years beforewhen negotiating the cessation of hostilities be-tween Jürgen and Rustovitch—and struggled torecall his name in an effort to avoid falling intohis beauty. He did not make it easy, rising from hisnest of cushions and furs, unashamedly naked butfor the heavy length of his red-golden hair and afew tasteful pieces of jewelry, beaten gold set withred amber from the north. The firelight gilt his

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flawless skin and revealed the depth of color in hishair as he bowed politely and greeted her by name.“Lady Rosamund.”

Rosamund could feel her aura flushing. “MyLord Ilias,” she managed, after a moment of awk-ward silence, and offered a courtesy of her own. “Itis… quite excellent to see you again.”

He laughed, the sound holding a genuine mirthuntainted by any trace of mockery, and he crossedthe room to claim his kiss, ignoring her hand com-pletely in favor of kissing her once on each cheek.Rosamund closed her eyes and sent a brief butheartfelt prayer to the Virgin to lend her strength.“You cannot fool me, cousin. You entirely forgotabout me, and I can hardly fault you for it. Much…excitement surrounded our last meeting, after all.Come, those robes you wear might as well be ice,and we’ve guest-robes for you warming in the nextroom. By the Mother, your hands are half-frozen!”

He caught her thoroughly chilled hand in hiswarmed one and led her into the room, a smallvoice of caution in the back of her mind—whichsounded suspiciously like Jürgen—reminding herurgently that a Tzimisce’s most terrible weapon wasoften his hands. It was not, however, a very loudvoice and easily ignored against the chatter of herguide and the opulence of her surroundings. Thefloor, what little she could see of it, appeared to becut stone beneath its covering of cushions and furs.The walls were likewise stone hung with panels offabric, alternating between deep, rich jewel tonesand the patterned fabrics that reminded her of LordVykos’ Byzantine origins. Only where a large fire-place, burning a merry blaze, pierced it was the darkstone of the walls clearly visible, and there the fluewas carved into a kind of relief, what seemed to be

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two figures twining in a decidedly erotic fashion.Rosamund couldn’t decide if she was amused orappalled by that, or entirely what to make of ei-ther her host or his companion. Jürgen was almostentirely indifferent to such things as cold or rela-tive comfort, and rarely bothered with the time orthe expense of warming himself unnecessarily, usu-ally only choosing to do so when interacting withthe mortal brethren of the Black Cross who wereignorant of their lord’s true nature. The preserva-tion of ignorance did not appear to be a motivehere. Comfort? It crossed her mind that theTzimisce adhered often to pagan faiths that en-shrined sensuality and self-indulgence as virtues.

“My Lady Rosamund!” Sir Gilbrecht’s voicewas quite strangled, cutting across Ilias’ cheerfulbanter and ringing off the walls like the lingeringsound of a slap. “Are you certain this is… appro-priate?”

In fact, Rosamund was not at all certain of theproprieties involved, but had no idea how to com-municate that information to Sir Gilbrecht withoutlooking an absolute fool. Lord Vykos’ companionsaved her both the effort and the embarrassment.He turned and swept a single glance over theknight, replying, coolly, “My lord, you are a guestin the house of stapân Myca Vykos, childe ofSymeon of Byzantium, childe of Gesu, childe ofthe Dracon, first prince of the blood, most-belovedof the Eldest. You, your brother, and my LadyRosamund have traveled far in a harsh season tovisit us. Do you suggest that we show you honorless than we would our own kin, who had under-taken such a journey and sheltered within ourwalls?”

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Sir Gilbrecht’s mouth tightened and, for a mo-ment, Rosamund actively feared that he was aboutto say something abysmally foolish. He was savedfrom that fate himself by the timely interventionof Sir Landric, who stepped firmly on his foot andhissed something at him in a colloquial Germanicdialect, so quickly and so slurred with accent thateven she couldn’t catch it completely. Sir Gilbrechtglanced over his shoulder at their host, who hadentered quietly at his back, and sketched a stiff,ungraceful bow. “My… apologies. I meant no of-fense.”

“And no offense is taken,” Lord Vykos ac-cepted the apology, smoothly, for what it was and,Rosamund guessed, what it was not. “Your ways arenot ours, and some confusion is, regrettably, in-evitable. My advisor, Ilias cel Frumos, merelywishes to do Lady Rosamund the honor she de-serves. I trust this is acceptable?”

“It is,” Rosamund replied firmly, before eitherof the two knights could respond, “completely ac-ceptable. Lead on, my lord.”

“Of course.” They crossed the room to the leftof the enormous fireplace, and Lord Ilias lifted oneof the profusion of hangings to reveal a small an-techamber, lit by an oil lamp bracketed to the wall.Its furnishings were simple, a wooden bench, awooden chest, and a small table on which stoodan earthenware basin and a steaming earthenwarepitcher, along with a selection of cloths. Againstthe wall closest to the fireplace a number of woodenpegs held what appeared to be several lengths ofcloth. A young woman clad in a simple tunic roseand offered a shallow bow by way of greeting;Rosamund guessed her to be a body-servant. Sherecalled Jovirdas’ commentary on and instructions

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for dealing with such creatures, the sum of whichindicated they should be regarded and treated al-most as furniture. Most of them were, in Jovirdas’estimation, likely to be young revenants—the he-reditary ghouls bred by some Tzimiscefamilies—being taught some lesson concerning thenature of humility and service. Rarely were theymerely human.

“Guest-garments. Refresh yourself as you will,my lady, and place your clothing in the chest. Itwill be cleaned and returned to you before you de-part.”

Lord Ilias let the hanging fall at her back and,beyond it, she heard him addressing her knightlyescorts in a German so flawless it could hardly failto provoke them. Rosamund could not help butsmile, somewhat wryly, as she shed her cold-starched kirtle with the aid of the servant andwaited as she poured a basin of warmed water. Shewished, not for the first time on this journey, thatit was her brother Josselin traveling with her andnot two knights of the Black Cross for, while theywere reliable in a fight, they lacked polish other-wise, and were far too naked in their distrust ofTzimisce notions regarding hospitality, despite ev-erything they knew about how seriously such thingswere regarded by their hosts. Josselin she couldhave trusted to take this entire situation in strideand, in all likelihood, enjoy himself enormously.Josselin, unfortunately, remained in France at thecommand of their sire, Queen Isouda, andRosamund was forced to make do with what shehad.

The girl silently sponged Rosamund’s neck,breasts, arms, and back, then patted her dry care-fully. The water was lightly perfumed, and the

26 Tzimisce

ambassador thought she caught the scent of a sweetspring flower clinging to her skin. Linden blossom,she realized after a moment, and recalled a rhymeshe had heard the girls singing even in Magdeburg,about linden blossoms and their power to summonthe love of one’s heart. She rather doubted she wouldstep through the curtain to find Jürgen waiting forher, but the romantic fancy of it made her smileanyway. The girl took the first of the “guest-gar-ments” down from its peg and dropped it overRosamund’s head, aiding her in finding the arms anddraping it correctly. She nearly purred in pleasureas the cream-white silk— or linen so fine it felt likesilk—ankle-length tunic settled against her bodywith its tightly fitted sleeves and a woven-in deco-ration of leaves and vines at neck, hem, and wrists.A second, looser garment went over top, also silkbut in a deep, flattering shade of green, heavily deco-rated at the throat and its trailing sleeves, thick goldthread stiffening the fabric and holding a small for-tune in amber and pearls. A girdle of carved plaques,solid gold and bound together with lengths of finegolden chain, went around her waist and slippers ofsilk embroidered in more gold and tiny seed pearlswent onto her feet.

I believe there are some Tzimisce customs that Iwill suggest my Lord Jürgen adopt at once, Rosamundthought, running a finger over the embroidery grac-ing her breast, stepping out into the dining roomat the servant’s motion, holding aside the hang-ing. To her amusement, she emerged to find SirGilbrecht and Sir Landric similarly clad, havingbeen separated from their cross-marked surcotes,if not their weapons, sitting uncomfortably cross-legged in a nest of cushions and black bear-furs onone side of the small table. Lord Vykos sat at the

27Myranda Kalis

head of the table, entirely at his ease, his legstucked neatly beneath him on one large, flat cush-ion, apparently unconcerned, conversing quietlywith the knights and receiving minimal responsesto his gambits. Lord Ilias reclined at the oppositeend of the table, still adorned in his many finepieces of jewelry but covering the finest of themin a long, loose, sleeveless tunic, dark red in colorand nearly as heavily decorated as Rosamund’s own.The maidservant guided Rosamund to the table,where she was seated in a nest of silk-covered cush-ions and her lap covered in a warmed fur of brindledermine; the servant then bowed to her lord, re-ceived a quiet word of instruction from him, andexcused herself, leaving through the same door bywhich they’d entered.

“The refreshments will be with us presently,”Lord Vykos informed them. “I trust that all is tomy Lady’s satisfaction thus far?”

“Entirely, my Lord. You are almost too gra-cious.” Rosamund assured him, arranging her legsin such a way that the layers of her clothing con-cealed all but the tips of her slippers from view.“We were, I admit, expecting a much cooler re-ception given the…nature of the events thatcaused us to travel here.”

Lord Vykos held up a hand in a dismissive ges-ture. “A guest is to be treated with all honor, andwelcomed freely whether he is a much-loved kins-man or a dire foe. It is one of the oldest customs ofthe clan, which we, at least, hold dear even to thisnight.”

“At least?” Rosamund inquired delicately, run-ning her hands through the furs to warm the jointsof her fingers.

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“What stapân Vykos means, my lady, is thatyou chose your route well.” Ilias’ tone was tinged,again, with a certain amusement. “You managedto skirt quite nicely through the territories of thosewho continue to honor the old ways of the clan.Ioan Brancoveanu may have no love of your LordJürgen, but he holds his own honor too dear todefile it by mistreating a traveler who walks hisborders bearing a flag of truce. Had you beenbrought before him, he would have hosted you thethree days and three nights hospitality required ofhim, and escorted you unmolested to his border.You did, however, come rather close to crossinginto territories that might have greeted you in asomewhat less than civilized fashion. You are for-tunate to have avoided that fate.”

“And it is equally fortunate that we do nothave to explain to Lord Jürgen what became of youin such an eventuality.” Lord Vykos added, in atone so neutral as to be expressionless. “I suggest,my lady, that you not leave your return route tothe sort of fortune you enjoyed traveling to us. If itis not offensive to you, I will have a detachment ofmy own guide you back to friendly territories whenyou depart.”

Rosamund realized that she had her handsclenched in the furs draped across her lap, andforced her fingers to relax. “It was my understand-ing, Lord Vykos, that you are a vassal to the voivodeof voivodes, Vladimir Rustovitch, and that it wasby his authority that you secured the peace betweenmy Lord Jürgen and the Voivodate. Is that not so?Would that agreement not protect an emissary, nomatter whose territory she might travel through?”

Lord Vykos gazed at her for so long, his face socarefully empty of response, that for a moment she

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was certain she had mortally offended him. Whenhe spoke, his voice was likewise flawlessly expres-sionless, the mask of diplomacy fitting even overhis words. “That perception, my Lady Rosamund,is entirely incorrect. I am in no way a vassal toVladimir Rustovitch. He does not command me,nor do I bend knee to him. I serve my sire, Symeon,the head of the Obertus Order, and I serve the in-terests of my line. I acknowledge no other master.”A smile so faint as to be little more than imagina-tion touched the corners of his mouth. “VladimirRustovitch has enough lickspittles among his ownlineage to salve his wounded pride. And as to theVoivodate? Lord Jürgen made his agreement withRustovitch and myself—I did not, at any point,claim to speak for any of the other elders who holdterritory in this region. Even Rustovitch does notclaim to speak for more than himself and his clos-est blood-kin, no matter what titles he chooses togild himself with.”

“I see.” In truth, Rosamund was beginning tosee, and what she perceived she did not like at all.“Do you mean to say that— “

A soft chime sounded from outside the room, andthe door-hanging lifted, admitting a double handfulof comely youths, male and female, none apparentlyolder than sixteen and all clad in the most minimalof coverings. They arranged themselves in a loosesemi-circle around the table and waited silently. Outof the corner of her eye, Rosamund caught a glint ofcolor as Ilias shifted, and sat up. “Oh, good. Conver-sation is always so much better with dinner. Do younot agree, Lady Rosamund?”

“At court occasions in the west, that is, indeed,how we prefer to dine.” Rosamund replied, with asmuch serenity as she could muster, her mind racingas she considered, and reconsidered, the situation.

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“Excellent. Since it is too late for me to sug-gest no politics at table, I will instead suggest noreligion.” Lord Ilias, Rosamund realized, was theonly Cainite she had ever met whose default ex-pression actually seemed to be a smile.

“I believe we all find that suggestion agree-able.” Lord Vykos interjected, dryly, with anotherbow from the neck to the two knights. “It is thecustom among my people that guests receive firstrights to sustenance. Choose as you will.”

Both knights glanced at Rosamund and she, re-alizing their deference in this matter was whollyappropriate, examined the offerings. While they wereall somewhat young, none appeared to be fearful, andnone showed any obvious signs of maltreatment ordeformation. In fact, they had the definite look ofbeing well fed and freshly scrubbed and, in severalcases, almost excited. Impulsively, Rosamund choseone of those, a well-favored young man with crispbrown curls and smoke-gray eyes, who in no way re-sembled or reminded her of her lord. He slippedbeneath her fur with a slightly crooked smile and abow from the neck, though he did not speak. SirGilbrecht curtly motioned to a tall frost-blonde boy,who joined him with extraordinary grace and dignity,and Sir Landric selected a plump girl whose black hairand smooth brown skin suggested a foreign origin.Lord Ilias chose a small, slender, dark-haired boy, ap-parently a favorite of some standing, for he quite boldlylaid himself across his patron’s lap. Ilias laid a handon his hip and murmured something to him that madehim smile. Lord Vykos also appeared to prefer blondes,as his selection was a girl with sun-golden curls whosat herself very carefully at his side, neither touchinghim nor making any effort to do so. The remainderbowed politely and filed out without comment.

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“A blessing, I think, is in order.” Lord Ilias sug-gested genially, tracing a pattern on the white fleshof his companion with the tip of one finger. “Wegive thanks to all the gods who care to listen forthe presence of our guests, their safe journey andjoyful stay, and for the service of those who offerthemselves for our sustenance, in the name of Earthand Sky, and the Waters of Life and Death.”

A heartbeat passed, then, making the best ofit, Sir Landric uttered, “Amen.” Rosamund and SirGilbrecht echoed him an instant later. Rosamund’scompanion proved to be both enthusiastic andhelpful, silently offering her a variety of areas fromwhich she might feed, though she required him toleave his tunic on. She drank lightly, once fromhis throat and thereafter sipped from the veins inhis wrist, being careful not to take too much. Hisblood was beguilingly sweet and unusually strong.His warmth pressed against her beneath the furswas almost as pleasant as tasting him. A momentpassed in which no conversation passed as every-one sampled the fare. Sir Gilbrecht bit deeply andwithout ceremony into the wrist of his ice-coloredcompanion, who closed his eyes as though endur-ing stoically rather than experiencing the pleasureof the Kiss. Sir Landric’s pretty brown girl giggled,the first sound to escape any of their companions.Lord Ilias’ boy quivered and moaned softly, hischeeks flushed rosy, visibly aroused and pleasuredbefore fang pierced flesh. Rosamund had no ideahow Ilias accomplished it, since he did nothing butkeep a hand resting lightly on the boy’s shoulder.Lord Vykos’ companion offered a wrist with an airof ceremony and, just as formally, he drank lightlyof her, let her take her hand back, and did not touchher again.

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“I trust our humble offering suits?” Lord Vykosasked, pitching the question to the table in gen-eral and receiving a chorus of quiet affirmatives inreply. “Excellent.”

“The only thing we seem to be lacking is ap-propriate dinner music,” Lord Ilias observed, in atone of one musing aloud. “If I recall correctly, LadyRosamund, your honorable brother, Sir Josselin,has quite a lovely voice.”

“That he does.” Rosamund admitted, think-ing, Would that he were here.

“Would that he were here,” Lord Ilias echoed,and Rosamund had to physically suppress a start ofsurprise. “I had hoped to see him again under civi-lized circumstances.” And, so saying, he finally tookhis companion, bending to suckle gently at theboy’s throat. Sir Gilbrecht’s companion’s eyeslocked on them and refused to let go until LordIlias leaned back again, licking a rich red drop fromthe corner of his lips. “And I heard, just recently,a song that would suit his voice perfectly.”

Rosamund cast a quick, quelling glance at herknightly escorts and replied, evenly, “You may yetmeet him under civilized circumstances, my lord.No one knows what the future may bring.”

“You are, indeed, a diplomat, cousin.” Lord Iliastwined his fingers in his companion’s hair andstroked gently. “But even you must admit that thefuture is unlikely to be scattered with rose petalsand filled with song. Especially given your missionto us, which I doubt was motivated by any happycircumstance.”

“I admit, the cause of my mission is not en-tirely… pleasant… but that does not mean the endresults must be destructive. I seek, in fact, to avoida breach in the good will that exists between the

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Obertus Order and my Lord Jürgen.” Which was,she thought, one of the finest bits of extempora-neous deceit she had ever managed. “My LordVykos, if it pleases you…”

He made a slight gesture of assent. “Say on.”“The cause that brings me here is simply this:

my Lord Jürgen, operating under information froma source he deemed reliable, was forced to assailthe walls of an Obertus monastery in Ezerelis.” LordVykos’ posture stiffened, subtly but unmistakably,and Lord Ilias sat up fully. Across from her, SirGilbrecht looked grimly pleased at that reaction,and Sir Landric kept his own face as still as pos-sible. “Intelligence had come to him that thismonastery had been suborned in service to thevoivode of voivodes, and was passing information onthe movement of my lord’s men in the area, thusplacing them at great risk. My Lord Jürgen deter-mined to remove this threat and, lacking the timenecessary to contact my Lord Vykos, raided themonastery and took it.”

“I see.” Those two words held a world of knowl-edge, indeed. Rosamund could nearly see thethoughts running behind the Tzimisce’s eyes andshe wished she dared look at his colors.

“My Lord Jürgen wished to give the ObertusOrder as a whole no insult, nor do it any harm, buthe had no choice other than to act.” The look thatLord Vykos gave her in response to that was ut-terly opaque; Lord Ilias’ mouth was set in the wryestof smiles, as though the disaster he’d been expect-ing had finally struck, and now he could relax.“And, in truth, he found something quite inter-esting at the monastery itself.”

“Proof of rampant Obertus perfidy, justifyinghis action, perhaps?” Lord Ilias asked and earnedhimself a glare from Sir Gilbrecht.

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“Hold your tongue,” the knight growled, onlybarely managing not to add a string of descriptiveepithets, Rosamund was quite sure.

“Sir Gilbrecht.” Rosamund layered equal partssteel and reproof into her tone. “Lord Ilias is oneof our hosts. If we expect the laws of hospitality tobe honored, it is best that we not breach the lawsof comity, do you not think?”

Sir Gilbrecht tendered a relatively gracelessapology, which Lord Ilias accepted with the slight-est inclination of his head. Rosamund continued.“What my Lord Jürgen found was a high-rankingCainite heretic who had, evidently, suborned themonastery and its residents to his service.” Shepaused to allow that time to sink in. Out of thecorner of her eye, she caught Lord Ilias casting LordVykos a genuinely startled look, before he disci-plined his face. Lord Vykos himself inclined a singleinquiring eyebrow, for him a dramatic display ofsurprise. “In fact, the Heretic was none other thanthe Archbishop of Nod himself, Nikita of Sredetz.”

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Chapter Three

Myca Vykos read the letter Jürgen ofMagdeburg sent along with his envoy for perhapsthe fifth time, as though another repetition couldextract more sense from it. He was, frankly, per-plexed by the entire situation—the sudden arrivalof Rosamund d’Islington with the torpid body ofNikita of Sredetz literally in tow, the delicatelyworded half-accusation he held in his hand, vis-à-vis the presence of a known Cainite heretic in amonastery belonging to the Obertus Order. It tookall his self-control not to grind his fangs as he con-sidered it. He could almost picture, could, in fact,feel, the satisfaction with which Jürgen had droppedthis problem in his lap. That satisfaction was ren-dered doubly obnoxious by the fact that thegrasping self-righteous bastard had the unadulter-ated gall to squat in the very monastery he hadseized on the thinnest possible pretext, sendingforth letters and envoys like a prince in truth andnot the minion of a creature even more avariciousthan himself; namely, his sire Hardestadt. Thestrength of the sudden antipathy was breathtakingand, for an instant, Myca allowed himself to savorit, enjoying the sensation of hot, perfect loathingchurning beneath his breastbone and the desire ofhis Beast to smite the arrogant little warlord andremind him of his place.

Perhaps later, he promised, and the Beast sub-sided into a quiet contemplation of the havoc itmight be permitted to wreak. Jürgen of Magdeburg’senvoy was defended by traditions far older thanthe present conflict but Myca had no doubt thathis sire, Symeon, would be at least as displeased by

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this current turn of events as he was. And Symeonwas a past master of the sort of protracted personaland political vengeances that would make evenHardestadt, who dared name himself monarch, yieldrather than continue suffering them.

The door thudded quite deliberately against itsstops, drawing him from his contemplation of themissive laid out on his writing table. Ilias smiledfaintly and shrugged out of the tunic he’d donnedin deference to their guests’ modesty. “I somehowfeel, my flower, that Lady Rosamund’s bodyguardsdo not like me very much.”

“They are Teutons, Ilias. They have no taste.Pay them the same heed you would an ill-manneredlout of our own blood.” He refolded the letter andset it aside for the moment. “Our guests are settled?The accommodations are to their liking?”

“Our guests are settled. Lady Rosamund, atleast, accepted the bed-servant warming her sheetsin the spirit that the gesture intended.” Ilias rolledhis eyes heavenward, in a silent plea for strengthand tolerance in the face of stiff-necked vampiresof few redeeming qualities. “I suspect our knightlyfriends were offended that we didn’t strip the guestquarters to bare walls and floors, and provide themwith a rock for a pillow.”

“I have never claimed to understand the ma-nias of the desperately righteous.” Myca extendeda hand and Ilias took it, allowing himself to bedrawn close against the side of his lover, bendingto claim the kiss he had denied himself all evening.When they broke apart, Myca took up the letterand handed it over. “Here. I crave your thoughtson this matter.”

With great ceremony, Ilias seated himself onthe comfortably padded bench and leaned a bitcloser to the candle lamp to examine the missive,

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reading it once through quickly, then going backover it again, more closely. After a long momentof consideration, he looked up and remarked, con-versationally, “I think it quite obvious that LordJürgen has sold his soul.”

Myca felt the corners of his mouth twitchingand sternly told them to behave. “Dare I ask whatbrings you to that conclusion?”

“Only a man gifted with the most diabolicalfortune could break a treaty on a pretext this thin,and still find a provocation like Nikita of Sredetzto justify his actions. Therefore, his soul can nolonger be his own. It is the only logical explana-tion.” Ilias refolded the letter and placed it in theopen correspondence chest, shaking his head.“That, and I marvel anew at the rampant ignoranceof the Ventrue. You, Rustovitch’s vassal? The manhas spent the better part of the last twenty years atwar with the illustrious voivode of voivodes. Onemight think he would learn something from that.”

“I fear that Lord Jürgen’s logic has alwaysbeen rather susceptible to the sway of self-inter-est.” Myca replied, dryly. “And while I cannotspeak with authority concerning the dispositionof his soul, I think you are fundamentally cor-rect. Lord Jürgen felt himself unduly constrainedby the strictures of the treaty he and his honoragreed to uphold, and so found an excuse in hisown mind to justify breaking it. It is either dia-bolical good fortune on his part, or malignantpoor fortune on ours, that put Nikita of Sredetzthere for him to find. What, precisely, the Arch-bishop of Nod was doing in our territory is a…separate and distinct consideration.”

“Your sire will no doubt be thoroughly dis-pleased.”

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“No doubt. I shall write him tomorrow, after Ihave interrogated Lady Rosamund more fully. MayI rely on you, my heart, to entertain our other guestswhile she and I speak privily?”

Ilias smiled, his cat-smile of greatly anticipatedpleasure. There were, Myca knew, few things Iliasenjoyed more than tormenting the sanctimoniousminions of the Black Cross. “I am quite certain thatI can provide some appropriate activity to whileaway the long winter hours. And, speaking of ap-propriate activities…”

“Yes?”“Nico and Sergiusz are keeping the bed warm

for us. I, for one, would like to end this evening ina much more pleasing fashion than it began.” Heoffered a hand, and a smile of invitation.

Myca accepted both, with a small smile of hisown. “Lead on, oh my teacher.”

***Myca Vykos knew this was a dream. He had never

walked the streets of Constantinople by day.The dark waters of the Marmora shimmered in an

endlessly shifting pattern of golden radiance, rushingpast the Blachernai sea walls, beating against the marblebreakwaters, throwing gilt spray and churning up giltfoam. Beneath his long-fingered hands and his silk-slippered feet, the stones of the sea wall were warm yetwith the captured heat of a high summer day. Theyshone, as well, pale marble veined with gently pulsat-ing golden light. He looked about, and found theBlachernai palace garden spread around him, everyplant and every fountain, every graveled path and ex-quisitely placed statue, burning from inside with a fierceand holy light that should have wounded him, but didnot, that should have reduced him to ash, but left himwhole.

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He walked, each stride consuming miles. Hepassed harbors filled with ships and bustling with theirpassengers and crews, he passed quiet piers where fish-ermen dragged ashore their catches. He passedmonuments to imperial glory that had endured sincethe fall of Rome and the humblest tenements in thepoorest corners of the city and the houses that belongedonly to God. He passed through the marketplaces greatand small, and he walked the length of the Mese, fromone end of the city to the other. He saw everythingthere was to see of it—everything sacred, everythingprofane.

And all of it was perfect. It burned from within,so perfect was the city and all who dwelt in it. Its lightshone through the skin of stone and the skin of flesh—imperishable, eternal. He knew it for absolute truthwhen he came before the great walls of the HagiaSophia, and saw its dome shining with the light of therising sun, filling the arch of the heavens with the city’sglory.

He wept then, and fell to his knees, and boweddown in homage that he would offer to nothing and noone else.

***Myca came back to himself slowly, warned by

the heaviness in his limbs and the sluggishness ofhis thoughts that the sun was not yet below thehorizon. The bedchamber was wholly dark, thenight lamp no doubt extinguished hours before bythe bed-servants. All around him, darkness pressedin, thick and damp with winter chill. His cheekswere wet, and his skull swam with equal parts un-easiness and exhaustion. He felt as though he hadnot slept at all. It took all his concentration to raisehis free hand and wipe away the tears. His loverslept pressed against him beneath the bed-furs,

40 Tzimisce

head pillowed on his shoulder, golden-red curlsspread across his chest and throat. His hand foundthose curls and tangled itself in them; despite theinner disquiet that woke him, he found himselfsoothed by their softness, the gentle scent of lin-den blossom that rose at his touch.

Ilias stirred slightly in response, curling closer,his face tilting up though his eyes still refused toopen. After a moment’s effort, he managed to formwords. “Myca? Is something wrong?”

For a moment, Myca seriously considered ly-ing, and lulling Ilias back to sleep with a kiss, butsuch a thing was unworthy of the bond betweenthem. Ilias knew, with perfect certainty, whensomeone he loved was in pain, and when he him-self was being deceived. “I dreamed again. It isnothing. Truly.”

A ripple of tension ran through Ilias’ body,shaking away his lethargy; he lifted his head andwhispered, “Do you remember what you dreamed?”

“No.” He paused, reconsidered, answeredagain. “No, that is not wholly true. I remember thatthere was...light. A great light, terrible and glori-ous. Not the sun. It was not a death-dream. It was…something else.”

“Something you feared?” Another whisper.“Yes.” Until Myca spoke the word aloud, he

had not realized it was true.“My flower.” Ilias caught the hand tangled in

his hair, and brought it to his lips. “Sometimesdreams are only dreams. Here and now, you havenothing to fear.”

It was an attempt to distract and soothe him,and Myca knew it without the need for thought.Within himself, he was unsettled enough to do asIlias wished, and let himself be comforted. A line

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of cool kisses crept up his arm and across the flatplanes of his chest; a small, strong hand strokedhis ribs gently, coaxed him to shift himself over, tolay on his side. It took a moment of effort, for day-light lethargy was only just leaving him, but onceit was managed, he found it wholly pleasant to liewith his face pressed against a mixture of silkenpillows and impossibly soft furs, while Ilias kissedevery inch of his body between throat and navel.Ilias, Myca thought, was exceedingly fond of hisnavel and paid it generous attention with lips andtongue and jewelry when given permission. Iliasknew precisely where and how to touch him toarouse first the ghost of pleasure and then its real-ity. Ilias knew how to turn mere pleasure intoblinding, soul-consuming ecstasy, a union of bloodand spirit, flesh and mind.

This evening, pleasure was enough, comfortwas enough. Soft kisses, gentle caresses, the deli-cate pressure of fangs behind lips and the sweetpain as they pierced his skin, then Ilias holdinghim as he sobbed quietly in reaction. Gentle wordsof endearment that he did not quite hear. Silenceas they lay tangled together, furs and silks and na-ked skin blending.

Myca had absolutely no desire to move andIlias’ arms wrapped around him, Ilias’ legs cuppinghis own, further discouraged him. “I should...”

“Should what?” Ilias pressed the last of thespace from between their bodies. The warmth thathe was so fond of had bled away some hours be-fore, but tonight it hardly seemed to matter to him.Tonight there were better things than borrowedheat to make him feel less like a corpse on waking.

“Rise. We have guests. I should at least pre-tend to care about their welfare.” Inwardly headmitted that seemed a distant concern.

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“Nnn. Teutons. Invaders.” Ilias perked upslightly. “Let the servants take care of them. Thatis why we have servants, after all.”

“We have servants to take care of us, my heart.”Myca began the protracted process of extractinghimself from both Ilias’ embrace and the bed-cov-ers.

Promptly, a quiet scratch sounded at the doorand two of those servants entered, one bearing alit lamp and towels, the other carrying a basin andwarmed wash-water. They laid their offerings outon the low table, retrieved clothing from thepresses for both of their masters, and silently ex-cused themselves, graceful, elegant, and swift intheir competence. Myca completed the process ofescaping and made use of the water while Ilias con-tinued lounging in the nest of cushions, furs, andmingled earths that constituted their bed. “I amalmost jealous.”

“Jealous?” The servants had chosen well. Thetunica and hose they brought out were a deep andflattering shade of Tyrian purple bordered in thicklypearled golden embroidery, and the dalmatic itselfwas of purple and golden silk brocade. He suspectedstrongly that he would have Lady Rosamund’s un-divided attention.

“Yes, jealous. You are going to spend theevening entombed in the convivial company of theLady Rosamund, while I will be preventing herbodyguards from making floor plans of the haven.”Ilias sat up and stretched, and Myca paused to en-joy the sight. “Perhaps I should demand some formof recompense for my sacrifice.”

“Perhaps you shall receive recompense, withor without a demand.” Myca crossed the room, bentand kissed him quickly. “Have a care, my heart. I

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know you enjoy taunting them, but I suspect ourknightly guests will endure such games poorly, andI mistrust their ability to control themselves in theface of… provocation.”

“You and I are of one mind in this, I assureyou,” Ilias replied, wryly. “I think I will wear red.And confine my taunts to the game-table.”

“Good.” Myca turned to go.“I have also decided what I desire for my re-

ward, since I am to have one.” The laziness in Ilias’tone was both tease and warning.

Myca paused at the door and glanced back overhis shoulder. The cat-smile was still in place, andhe was very much reminded of a great golden catpreparing to toy with its dinner. “And what mightthat be, my teacher?”

“Ah. An excellent choice of words.” An indo-lent, fangs-baring smile. “A rite, I think. A girlresides in the larder, who I have been keeping forsuch an occasion. I selected her for her hair, whichis a most unusual shade of red, and her age. Herfamily had one too many daughters.” A pause, then,softly, “The Lady Rosamund is quite a lovely crea-ture, do you not think?”

Myca closed his eyes for a moment, and con-templated the possibilities.

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Chapter Four

“I was not, of course, present when my LordJürgen raided the monastery and only visited it wellafter the fact,” Lady Rosamund informed him asthey descended the staircase that led to the lowestlevels of the monastery, beneath even the storagerooms and the windowless sleeping chambers of theresident Cainites. “From what I saw, there was verylittle damage though my lord’s men were… a bitless than wholly respectful, I must admit.”

“Conquerors are generally not respectful of theconquered.” Myca replied, offering no reassuranceand, in truth, feeling no need to make that offer.

Lady Rosamund was, for a moment, visibly un-comfortable before her diplomatic mask reasserteditself. “I would hardly define my Lord Jürgen as— “

“My Lady Rosamund, with all due respect, yourLord Jürgen has offended against the Obertus Or-der, the house of my blood, and the honor of myselfand my sire. He has seized our territory on the thin-nest pretext and murdered our chattels. Hebreached a treaty that he swore upon his own honorto uphold, for no logical reason that I can perceivebeyond the satisfaction of his own relentless am-bition.” They came to the bottom of the stair, andhe brought out a heavy iron ring of keys, one ofwhich fit the lock of the door they faced. It swungopen with a screeching complaint of rusty hinges.“Your Lord Jürgen has much to answer for, but it isnot to me that he will answer. My lord sire Symeonwill no doubt take a great interest in these events,for it is his honor as the ultimate guarantor of thetreaty that Lord Jürgen chooses to defame, and hedoes not endure such insults kindly.”

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“Do you deny, then, that the Obertus Orderhad aught to do with the knowledge displayed bythe kunigaikstis Geidas?” Lady Rosamund asked,with deliberate formality. He had no doubt thather temper was roused.

“That claim is, indeed, denied and, moreover,you have presented no evidence of its truth, LadyRosamund.” And, so saying, he stepped across thethreshold and went about lighting the handful oflamps and candles that provided the illuminationfor Nikita’s prison.

“Nikita…”“Nikita is not a member of the Obertus Order.

Nor, to my knowledge, does he serve VladimirRustovitch. The voivode of voivodes may be noChristian, but he is most assuredly no Heretic, ei-ther.” A pause. “And Lord Jürgen was not huntingHeretics when he saw fit to violate the Obertusdemesne.”

The room was originally constructed as an ad-junct to Myca’s own private study, a storage roomfor the overflowing contents of his library, perfectlysquare and lined in bookshelves, several of whichwere as-yet empty. The small worktable was pushedback against one of them and the heavy woodencasket Nikita traveled in occupied the center ofthe room. Lady Rosamund stepped inside andlooked curiously about; the three servants they hadbrought with them for protection, appropriatechaperonage, and heavy lifting entered behind her.They were all Obertus brothers, tonsured and sim-ply clad in brown wool robes, and each was quitecapable of protecting himself and the LadyRosamund against most normal dangers. One ofthem carried an iron pole to open the casket, andthe others carried a selection of stakes, most of

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them carefully carved of rowan, the wood deeplyincised with pictorial symbols that Myca himselfdid not know how to decode. Ilias had made themearlier in the winter during an apparent fit of con-structive boredom; Myca sensed the power investedin them, could not define its providence person-ally, but trusted the wisdom of their creator.

Myca motioned to the monk carrying the pry-bar. “Open it.”

“My Lord Vykos, I do not think it entirely wiseto free the… Archbishop.” Lady Rosamund usedthe term with considerable distaste.

“I have no intention of freeing him. I wish tolook on him and I wish you to confirm that he has,in fact, been delivered and received unharmed.”Myca opened a drawer set in the edge of the tableand extracted a half-filled workbook, flipping to ablank page. A handful of decent quills and a tinyblown-glass bottle of ink came out, as well. “DidLord Jürgen locate any of the Archbishop’s personaleffects?”

“Yes.” Lady Rosamund crossed the room andstood, somewhat uneasily, at his side as the monkswent to work with the pry-bar. “He was, evidently,carrying a small correspondence chest, and a some-what larger box with a rather complicated lock.No one managed to puzzle it out, and my lordthought it unwise to break it open. I brought themboth in my own baggage.”

“I will, of course, wish to see them.” The ironspikes used to hold the casket’s lid in place begangiving with a screech that put his teeth on edge.

“If you wish, we can retrieve them now.” Some-thing in Lady Rosamund’s tone suggested she wouldbe glad to rid herself of those particular artifacts.Myca nodded, and one of the monks hurried out

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to accomplish that task. “My Lord Jürgen madecertain to review the Archbishop’s documents be-fore we departed. It is his personal opinion, I know,that they will be of little use. Unless a very subtleand well-hidden cipher is involved, most of it wasof relatively mundane nature, and much of it wasalso unfinished.”

“No journal?” Myca inked his quill and begantaking notes in his fine, careful hand.

“None that was found. No clothing, either,oddly enough—no vestments of office or anythingof the sort.” He cast a glance at her, and found herexpression distant with recollection. “It is very odd.He dressed plainly when he passed throughChartres, more plainly than the Bishop St. Lys, atleast, but he wore a cassock, and a ring. It is pass-ing strange that he would travel without thesymbols of his office.”

“Unless he was making some attempt at se-crecy, but, even so, you are correct. The ring, atleast, he should have kept in his possession, evenif he traveled otherwise incognito.” Myca notedthat point. “Could you describe the ring?”

Lady Rosamund shook her head. “I never sawit closely enough to make out details, but it was aheavy gold signet, and large. It took up most ofthe last knuckle on his ring-finger, and his handswere long.”

“I should hate to imagine what you would no-tice if you were observing for detail, ambassador.”He made a quick sketch and, as he finished, thelast of the nails came free and the casket lid cameoff. “Come, my lady… let us see.”

The Obertus brothers backed away, crossingthemselves and murmuring quietly to each otherin Greek. Myca offered Lady Rosamund his handto clasp, if she wished, an honor she declined, and

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they stepped closer to view their prisoner. Nikitaof Sredetz, Myca reflected distantly, had clearly notgone down without a fight. The Archbishop of Nodwas not a tall man, but every inch of his body wasrigid with tension, his hands hooked into rendingclaws, his face twisted in a rictus of emotion. Acascade of dark hair wound beneath his head. Therobes he “wore” were wholly organic, the productof his own blood, flesh, and bone, and Myca rec-ognized the work of a master flesh-sculptor in theelegant functionality of their lines despite the rentsand tears of the violence done him. “My LadyRosamund, is this the same man you saw inChartres?”

“It appears so, yes. But appearances, as we bothknow well, can be deceptive.” She hesitated frac-tionally, then drew closer, her expression becomingsomewhat abstracted as she studied him closely. “Ithought he might be wearing the ring, if it was notamong his possessions, though my lord made nomention of it.”

Myca let his own vision expand and refine, ex-amining Nikita’s physical shell closely, the shapeof the bones in his face and his hands, the tensionof the skin across his cheeks, brow, and throat. “Hehas been shaped but… the markings are very fine,almost invisible. I do not think he alters his formvery often, or his flesh would show more obvioussigns. Perhaps he chooses not to confuse his con-gregation on a nightly basis.”

“Perhaps.” The ambassador echoed. “My LordVykos, if there is nothing more you desire of me Ifear I am finding this quite unsettling.”

“No, my lady, I have no further questions of you,for now.” He caught her hand and kissed it, properly,and bowed low to her, as well. “Brother Milos andBrother Antol will escort you to the oriel.”

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She curtseyed deeply, and departed, one monkleading and one monk following, with the perfectobedience to which they had been bred. Myca him-self remained, alone and thoughtful, contemplatingthe man lying helpless before him. He did not, infact, have any intention whatsoever of settingNikita free, despite Lady Rosamund’s fears to thecontrary. Honoring the ties of blood kinship was awonderful idea in theory but, in practice, it wassubstantially more convenient simply to keep theman as he was until some decision was made aboutwhat to do with him. Word had come to him fromnearly all points west and east where he had col-leagues and correspondents that the Cainite Heresyhad fallen on hard times since the final destruc-tion of Narses and Nikita’s assumption of theArchbishopric of Nod. Heretical temples lootedand burnt, heretical congregations put to thesword, heretical officials stumbling fatally in theirefforts to win the hearts and minds of their fellowCainites. The Archbishop of Nod himself appar-ently felt the situation dire enough to risk travelingfrom one end of Europe to the other in order toshow his support for his struggling faith.

“When did you leave Sredetz, Nikita?” Mycamurmured aloud, noting the question in his book,beneath a swiftly detailed sketch of the man’stwisted face. “What induced you to leave the verybosom of your little nest of serpents? What is to begained from keeping you safe?”

He refined his vision still further, pushing hissight past the bounds of the purely physical, untilthe concrete objects of the room became flat andlifeless, and only the torpid body of Nikita retainedany reality, that reality defined by his soul. He wasdeeply withdrawn into himself, the essence of hisbeing concentrated into a tiny, egg-shaped pool of

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radiance, shining faintly from deep within. His halowas so pale and weak, so devoid of emotion, thatMyca nearly thought he imagined its existence. Heabsently laid aside his notebook and came closer,gaze drifting from Nikita’s contorted face down thelength of his body—and it was real. TheArchbishop’s halo was there, just impossibly faint,and deeply scarred in black. Relief welled up in-side him, for some reason he could not adequatelyname, even to himself and, almost involuntarily,entirely impulsively, he rested his hand on theArchbishop of Nod’s pale brow.

Nikita’s hair was soft beneath his fingertips andthe skin beneath his palm had the cool dryness ofone who had spent freely of his strength without achance to replenish himself. As Myca stood con-templating this, something leapt between them, aspark, a shock that sent itself all the way up hisarm, and, in the instant, he knew precisely whathe should do. He ran his hand over Nikita’s faceand throat, across his chest and the length of hisbody to his pale, unclad feet. When he finished, ashudder passed through him, nearly as strong as thesudden burst of understanding that possessed him,and he jerked his hand away, startled and disturbed.His grip on his sight shattered and his vision dis-solved into normal realms of sensory perception.

Nikita’s face, when he looked, was still andpeaceful, emptied of its welter of emotions, and hisbody was eased of its painful tension, his handslying open and empty at his sides. He looked asthough he slept nestled in the earth of his owngrave, beyond pain or fear, wholly at rest in bodyand spirit. Myca slowly backed away, his fingersworking into his palms, feeling, for a moment, asthough his hands belonged to someone else, the

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blood still stirring in his veins with the echo ofwhat had passed between them. A silent commun-ion.

He turned, and fled.***

The oriel room was not really an oriel, butthe residents of the monastery haven called itthat for the touch of the exotic the term lent. Itwas not part of a tower, nor did it extend any-where above ground. It was, however, perfectlyround and the product of the architectural ge-nius of the engineer-monk who designed theprivate dining chamber, and who had a passionfor oddly shaped rooms. It consisted of two sto-ries, the main floor and an upper gallery thatconnected to both the guest chambers and theprivate suites of the monastery’s Cainite resi-dents by means of a single corridor. The mainfloor was lit by lamps burning gently perfumedoil and warmed by strategically placed braziers,and its walls were draped in panels of heavy fab-ric that fell from the edge of the deeply vaultedroof to the floor. A gaming table and chairs oc-cupied the center of the room, while large, flatfloor pillows occupied the periphery for specta-tors and idle conversation. The second floorgallery doubled as a stage for the monastery’sresident musicians.

Nicolaus, Ilias knew, would be completely use-less for any task more arduous than lounging aboutand looking pretty given his exertions of the pre-vious evening, and so that was the task he wasgiven. Bathed and oiled, painted and perfumed,clad in red silk and gold, he was the very picture ofbeautiful indolence among the cushions of themusicians’ loft where he sat, coaxing a sweet tune

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from a long wooden flute. His lover, fair silverSergiusz, sat with him, a harp imported from thewest in his lap, teasing accompaniment from itsstrings. They were both, Ilias admitted to himself,pale from the evening before but musical enter-tainment was well within their capabilities, andthey rose skillfully to the challenge. He was quitepleased with both of them, and showed his plea-sure by granting them both an extra taste of him.It put the bloom back in their cheeks. The orielitself was constantly attended by four of the come-liest youths in the monastery’s service, two maleand two female, all of whom had also been freshlybathed and scented, were flawless in their com-portment and excellent in their service, and understrict orders to give the masters’ guests anythingthey required.

It was obvious from the start of the eveningthat Sir Gilbrecht had no particular interest inactually enjoying any of the many pleasures—or,for that matter, basically pleasant services—avail-able to him. He lingered in the oriel only longenough to play a single round of draughts with SirLandric, eye the servants with naked distaste, andrequest, somewhat brusquely, that he be permittedto speak with his mortal lieutenant. Ilias grantedthat request, but required a brace of Obertus broth-ers to accompany him at all times, a stipulationthat irritated the man’s already choleric tempera-ment even further. Ilias failed to care, having littlelove of Teutons in general and even less for mostof the minions of the Black Cross. Sir Landric, athis superior’s gesture, remained behind and provedto be much more congenial company out from un-der the eye of Sir Gilbrecht, curious and talkative,while discussing nothing of substance. Ilias re-

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turned that favor, thinking it all to the best. Theyplayed two quick games of draughts, Sir Landricbesting him soundly both times, and Ilias had justsuggested backgammon when Lady Rosamund en-tered in the company of her Obertus escorts.

Ilias noticed at once that Lady Rosamund ap-peared a bit unsettled, which, considering thatshe’d just been subjected to Myca at his no-doubtless than diplomatic best, was not entirely surpris-ing. He recalled also that the lady had apronounced poor reaction to ugliness of any sort,and he didn’t doubt that Nikita of Sredetz was notthe most pleasant thing to look upon. He surren-dered his seat at the table to her and begged herpardon, on the grounds of minor matters of a do-mestic nature requiring his attention. As ithappened, there were, and he ended up instruct-ing the brothers sent to retrieve the Archbishop’sbelongings from Lady Rosamund’s baggage to placethe two boxes in the main study, dispatching twomore brothers to monitor the activities of SirGilbrecht and his men, and almost going down-stairs to check on Myca.

He restrained that last impulse, knowing that,should his lover require him, he could make thatneed known silently and efficiently through theblood they shared between them. He almost whis-pered a question through that bond, but checkedthat impulse, as well; whatever he was doing, Mycawas clearly, fully engaged in it, and disturbing himunnecessarily when he was absorbed was one of thesurest ways to put him out of sorts. Ilias sensed still-ness and concentration emanating from below,Myca’s intellect very much at work, and decidedto leave him alone. He would come upstairs whenhis initial rush of curiosity quenched itself.

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Lady Rosamund, he had been told, was sup-posed to be very good at backgammon, which wasmore than could be said for Myca.

The night wore on. Lady Rosamund proved tobe as skilled at tables as she was in diplomacy. Iliaswas privately glad that they weren’t playing formore than boasting rights, as she bested himslightly more than half the time. As the nightpassed, her unease gradually left her, as well, andonce or twice he thought he coaxed a real smileand a genuine laugh from her. It was difficult totell, for her charming manner was the most per-fect of her many masks. He observed her closely,but kept his hands to himself. It would be easier tosculpt her likeness into the flesh of another if hehad liberty to touch her, to sample the texture ofher skin and the shape of her bones, but he ratherthought Sir Landric and the lady herself would re-spond rather poorly to such an act on his part. Asdawn approached, Sir Landric made quiet noisesabout returning to their chambers and Ilias, exer-cising his rights as host, escorted them back, thensought out Sir Gilbrecht and saw him safely to hischamber, as well.

Myca was no longer downstairs. Ilias realizedthat at once, as he disengaged himself fromthoughts of guests and entertainments and futurepleasures in the dark. Myca was no longer down-stairs, and he was no longer coolly centered, tightlyintellectually focused; a disquiet close to fear vi-brated in the bond between them, and Ilias nearlyran through the corridors, suddenly disturbed, aswell. He found his lover sitting in the study at hiswriting desk, the room dark but for the gutteringstump of a single candle, staring blankly. His el-egant, patrician face was empty of expression and

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the way he sat, half-slumped in his chair, sent ajolt of fear up Ilias’ throat. He crossed the room inthree strides, and caught one of Myca’s limp handsin is own. That elicited a response. He felt, deepinside himself, Myca’s instinctive urge to pull awayfrom the contact, and his deliberate refusal to doso. Ilias released his grip, and instead laid his handnext to Myca’s own, close enough to take if hewished.

“My flower,” Ilias kept his voice low and sooth-ing, “Myca. What troubles you?”

Myca’s head lifted slightly. In the uncertainlight, his dark eyes were emotionless, reflectionless,yielding no clues to the direction of his thoughtsor what he was feeling in those few places Iliascould not touch. “I… have had a rather unsettlingexperience. No—I do not wish to speak of it yet.”

Ilias held his tongue and nodded silently.“Can you…” Myca stopped, moistened his lips

with the tip of his tongue, and continued. “I knowthat it is within your power to cast protections ona place, to ward it against harm. Can you bind aplace, as well? Close it against entry.”

“Yes. Or, rather, I do not think it beyond me.”“Then I wish you to do this for me. I wish the

downstairs study barred against intrusion. I wantno one to enter there without my express permis-sion. Not even you.” He clasped Ilias’ handsuddenly, his grip bone-crushingly fierce.

Ilias inhaled through his teeth, and whispered.“It shall be done, my flower.”

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Chapter Five

Ilias spent the next three nights preparing, se-cluded in his own sanctum, making himself a purevessel for the magic he planned to work. He sleptalone and fasted. He bathed nightly in water inwhich a selection of astringent herbs had steeped,and forced himself to breathe in the aromaticsmoke his censers spilled into the cool air. He kneltbefore his small carved-bone altar and meditateddeeply, summoning peace and serenity, contemplat-ing the tools he would need to accomplish whathis lover asked of him. On the second night of hisvigil, he began grinding salt and dried herbs to-gether, mixed with a handful of earth taken fromthe monastery garden and nine drops of his blood.He left the mixture in its earthenware bowl on thealtar over the day to continue strengthening, andthat day dreamed strange dreams in which a mightytower of stone and glass rose from the crest of thehill on which the monastery sat, shining by bothnight and day. On the third night, he rose and,before he engaged in any of his rituals of cleans-ing, he went to his lover and begged a small bonecup of his blood, which was given without com-ment or objection. They did not touch, thoughthey each wished to do so, and Ilias returned to hislabors, his cleansing, and his lonely bed.

On the fourth night, Ilias rose feeling that hestill lacked something to make the spell complete,but uncertain what that thing was. He sent a noteto Myca, requesting that the halls between hissanctum and the lower study be cleared that hemight travel between the rooms undisturbed, in thehope that Nikita himself might hold some answerto that uncertainty. He received a prompt reply, a

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note indicating that this would be done, and a smallleather pouch containing, Myca said, a sample ofNikita’s grave-earth.

It was what he needed, and Ilias knew it atonce.

***Nikita looked as though he were sleeping, his

face still and every inch of his body utterly relaxed,by all visible indications utterly at peace. Giventhe violence that Ilias imagined attending his cap-ture, the witch-priest found that apparentlypeaceful repose odd and disturbing, and avoidedlooking at Nikita whenever possible. In truth, hehad not much time to waste on idle curiosity: theritual would consume time as well as strength, andthe length of the night waned.

A fat beeswax candle burned in each quarterof the room, incised with symbols of elementalcorrespondence, their bases marked with a drop ofhis blood, the very action of their burning formingthe first layer of the invocation. In the silver cen-ser that once belonged to his sire a selection ofincenses beloved of the spirits smoldered, fillingthe room with the sweet-bitter scents of amber andmyrrh, hazing the high ceiling in a pall of fragrantsmoke. Ilias himself wore gold and amber, braidedinto his hair, set in two cuff bracelets and a heavynecklace that hung nearly to his navel, metal andstones worked into a pattern that was itself a subtleinvitation to the little spirits and greater gods ofEarth and Sky. He was otherwise naked, cleansedin salt water, bare areas of skin painted in a mix-ture of myrrh oil and his own blood.

He used that same mixture to mark Nikita ofSredetz as one of the objects of his spell. The Arch-bishop of Nod was utterly helpless. Ilias knew thatintellectually, and yet he could not deny the fear

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he felt in the man’s presence—the visceral, instinc-tive fear of laying hands on a thing that coulddestroy him at will. His own fear roused a hiss ofterror from his Beast, which was many things, in-cluding a good deal more craven than the man whoowned it. He felt that blind terror clawing at thedark places of his soul and reached out to clasp it,admitted it for what it was—the knowledge that,somehow, Nikita of Sredetz was a thing to fear evenimmobile and incapable of defending himself. Heknew it for truth, but did not permit that knowl-edge to stay his hand or turn him aside and hisBeast, recognizing the acceptance of its wisdom,subsided, watchfully subdued but not quiescent.

Ilias touched the tip of one finger, moistenedin blood and oil, to Nikita’s brow, drawing a sigilthat his sire had taught him before her destruc-tion, a word encapsulated in a single sign, to drawthe notice of gods and spirits. It was a language nolonger spoken by any mortal tongue, his sire hadtaught him, a language older than that of the Ro-mans and Greeks, handed down through their lineand, possibly, only the other koldun lineages. It wasproperly used for only a few purposes—written orspoken entreaties to the Eldest or its bogatyr-childer, invocation, propitiation, thanks, or praiseto gods and spirits. Tonight, Ilias invoked. He re-quested the attention of the ethereal beings ofEarth to Nikita of Sredetz, to himself, and to theroom in which he stood, for the purpose his willdefined. His deft fingers traced sigils on Nikita’sbrow, eyelids, throat, hands, feet, begging a bind-ing of the Earth upon him, to hold him in his place,even should he, through some agency, manage torise. He spelled out a similar request in blood andoil on the floor, in a tight circle around the casket,

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then laid in place a fine circle of the mingled salt,earths, and blood that he had prepared earlier. Asecond circle went around this one, and then athird. All the while, he incanted softly in thetongue of spirits, singing praise and offering peti-tion, his voice sweetly seductive.

Ilias could feel his request being answered. Theattention of the earth-spirits, deep-rooted andstrong but sluggish yet from winter’s grip, turnedto focus upon him, hear his words, sample the of-ferings he held up for their delectation. Theyfavored the perfume of amber and myrrh, scentsderived of tree-sap and earth-life, and the rich tasteof salt and blood spilled in their honor. The stonesof the floor rippled slightly as the earth beneaththem stirred, the spirits stretching up stony fingersand rocky tongues to taste of the essences providedand consider his request. Dimly, around the sensa-tions that assailed him, the caress of spirit handsand the slow, deep sound of spirit voices, he real-ized that the whole of the monastery was tremblinggently in response to his call. It seemed a touchexcessive, and he altered his incantation slightly,to weave in a question…

And received an answer. A numbingly intensesensation washed over him and through him—age,incredible age, married to a vast expanse of sorrowand regret, a grief as infinite as the sky and as deepas the roots of the earth. Ilias swayed and fell tohis hands and knees as the sensation filled him,tears washing his face and a sob locking in his chest,choking off his voice and his invocation. He foundhis lips forming a word, two words, but he lackedthe air to give them sound.

Fortunately, no more words were needed ofhim.

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Blood and oil, salt, earth, and blood, sank intothe stones of the floor, leaving behind traces thatgleamed with the light of the magic that formedthem. He felt his strength drawn from him in asingle great rush as the spirits accepted the bar-gain—to bind Nikita of Sredetz and ward his placeof rest against all comers but the magnat of the land,its rightful ruler, and to endure until such a timeas the bonds were dismissed. Earth was always ame-nable to such arrangements, for it was earth’spurpose to endure, and the offerings he made wererich and sweet. Ilias let his forehead slump to thefloor and he whispered a word of thanksgiving tothe stones of the floor, remaining in his posture ofdeeply submissive honor until he felt strong enoughto move. His face was stiff with tears, his soul stillquivering with the pain he had experienced, andhis body felt as though it were a statue cast of solidlead. His Beast was roused, and lashed hungrilyinside him, woken by the sudden drain on hisstrength.

And the stairs were many and high.Setting his feet on them, leaning hard against

the wall to support himself, Ilias promised his Beastthe first thing they met on the way up. Fortunately,the first thing they met was an Obertus brother,and not a guest.

***Ilias found Myca in the oriel room with Lady

Rosamund, Sir Gilbrecht, and Sir Landric, evi-dently doing his duty as host. He came to the doorstill naked and bloody, his chin and hands coatedwith the remnants of his meal, mentally exhaustedfrom his efforts if full again. Sir Gilbrecht, unfor-tunately, saw him first and leapt to his feet with anemphatically Christian exclamation of shock and

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disgust, reaching for the sword he was not permit-ted to wear. Ilias found he had neither theinclination nor the lingering tolerance necessarynot to smirk at him in response. “Myca.”

Myca sat with his back to the door, oppositeLady Rosamund who, after a single, startled glancekept her eyes modestly averted. He rose slowly, withthe perfect elegance of carriage and bearing thatIlias found so attractive, and motioned SirGilbrecht to sit. “Please, my lord… do not bealarmed. My companion will do you no harm.”

“Alarmed?” Sir Gilbrecht yelped, the affrontso obvious it was almost comical. “I’m not alarmedby that filthy heathen — “

Myca turned sharply, and the Teuton’s voicechoked off just as quickly. Distantly, Ilias felt Myca’scool fury sweeping the room and washing off thewalls, silencing Sir Gilbrecht as effectively as a slap.He smiled tiredly, but gratefully, at his lover. “Myca,I fear that Brother Istvan is somewhat indisposed.”

Myca’s dark eyes swept over him in a single,assessing glance, then he turned fully to LadyRosamund and bowed deeply to her. “My lady, Ifear that I must leave you, for a moment, to yourown devices. If there is anything that you requirein my absence, ask it of the servants. There willalso be brothers outside to attend your needs andsee to your safety. Please excuse me.”

He did not remain to accept Lady Rosamund’spolite murmur in response, but turned, Ilias by theelbow and guided him out into the hall. Silk-cladarms closed around him and swept him from thefloor, carrying him with the ease of an adult heftinga sickly child, and Ilias let his head fall against hislover’s shoulder, his eyes drift closed and wearinessto claim him for a time. He came back to himself

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as he was laid on a length of silk and a mass of furs,a cushion beneath his head, as gentle hands re-moved his necklace and bracelets, took theornaments from his hair. He lacked the ambitionto force his eyes open or move in any way, and pas-sively submitted to the care he was being given. Acloth dipped in warm water scented with bath herbswashed the blood from his face and hands, and theremnants of the oil from his skin. A warmed towelblotted away the water. Then those wonderful, glo-rious, gentle hands poured a stream of lightlydampened earth down the center of his chest andbegan massaging it in, stroking slowly and deeply,spreading it across his chest and belly, down hisarms and over his thighs. He moaned softly in plea-sure and found, for the first time, the will to openhis eyes as the strength of his own earth suffusedhim, restoring him in a way that even blood couldnot.

Myca leaned over him, naked to the waist, hairbound back in a loose knot, his hands coated ingrave earth and an expression of undisguised con-cern on his face. “Ilias?”

“I am here, my flower.” Ilias pushed himself upon his elbows, and from there into a boneless sit-ting position, half-slumped over his own legs. Mycastroked a muddy hand down his spine. “Did thewhole monastery shake, or was that just me?”

“We felt a tremor, yes. But it did not last forvery long.” Both hands now, working loamy earthinto the muscles of his back, and Ilias felt immenselybetter, all at once. “It seemed different for you?”

“Yes. Much stronger. It shook everything in therealms of spirit, I felt for quite some distance. Itshould not have done that.” He lifted his headslowly. “And I felt very odd in Nikita’s presence,

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and the impressions I received while I was work-ing were stranger still.”

Myca’s hands went still against his back, andthrough that contact Ilias felt a sharpening of thetension inside him. “Odd?”

“Yes. I feared him, completely, immediately. Itwas all I could do to work in his presence. Andduring the spell…” Ilias paused to consider boththe memory of it and his words. “I felt a sensationof great sorrow, a terrible pain, the beginning ofwhich I could not see, nor its ending. I could nottell if it came from Nikita himself, or the spirits ofhis earth. It might have been both.”

Myca’s hands restarted their soothing motion,but his tension persisted. “When I was alone withhim I felt impelled to lay my hands on him. Thedesire was not my own, and I cannot explain wherethe need to do so came from, or why I obeyed it.”He fell silent. Ilias turned his face to watch hislover’s expression as he worked, and found it alarm-ingly empty. “He appeared to be in pain when hearrived. The Ventrue was not gentle with him.When I lifted my hands away, he was as you sawhim, as though he had been soothed and comforted,somehow.”

“Who is he, Myca?” Ilias whispered, unnerved.“Who is Nikita of Sredetz that he can commandsuch power, even helpless?”

“I do not know.” Softly. “But I will find out.”

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Chapter Six

“Stapân Vykos.” Father Aron bowed as deeplyas his arthritic joints would allow. “A man has cometo the gates, and craves an audience with you.”

Myca lifted his eyes from the letter he was read-ing for the half-hundredth time. “Tell me of him.Is it a messenger from Jürgen of Magdeburg, seek-ing after his missing ambassador?”

“No, my stapân, it is not. He is dressed roughly,in the garments of a knight-pilgrim, and he claimsto be a traveler,” the old monk hesitated slightly,“from Constantinople. He gives his name as Mala-chite.”

“Malachite.” Through a heroic application ofwillpower, Myca managed to keep his tone cooland level. “By all means, Father, show our illustri-ous guest to the small receiving chamber, and makecertain that he is offered any refreshment he re-quires. I shall join him presently.”

Father Aron bowed again and departed asswiftly as his legs could carry him. For a long mo-ment, Myca sat at his writing desk, unmoving, histhoughts winding around themselves as he consid-ered what this development meant. Malachite, theRock of Constantinople. It strained credulity toascribe his appearance, so soon after the arrival ofNikita of Sredetz, to mere coincidence. Malachite,when last Myca had spoken with him, was on aquest, chasing the tattered remnants of the Dreamto which he had dedicated his unlife, seeking thelast survivor of its founders, Myca’s own not so dis-tant ancestor, the Dracon. When they met inMagdeburg, Malachite had enjoyed little successin his effort thus far, having traveled from

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Constantinople to Erciyes, seeking the wisdom ofthe ancient Cappadocian oracle who dwelt thereand receiving ultimately little guidance from thateffort. From the holy mountain temples of Erciyeshe traveled much of the world, seeking some clueor sign that would lead him further and, evidently,coming across that clue in Paris. Malachite hadadmitted, somewhat tersely, that he felt there wasa connection of some kind between the Draconand the heretical Archbishop of Nod, an assertionthat Myca himself was not immediately preparedto credit without significantly more evidence thanMalachite had been able to provide.

Michael the Patriarch, the first founder of theDream, had possessed an absolute detestation ofthe Cainite Heresy and all that it stood for. Mycacould not imagine much sympathy for it lying hid-den in Michael’s last surviving lover. He was,however, at an impasse in his own investigations,and as Lady Rosamund had indicated, the papersin Nikita’s possession at the time of his captureconsisted entirely of mundane correspondence. Ifthere was a hint contained within it of Nikita’splans or intentions, he was deeply loath to admitit was too well hidden for him to puzzle out. Noteven a lingering sense of the man’s mood as hewrote remained clinging to the paper. The corre-spondence, the chest it traveled in, and the cleverlylocked box containing Nikita’s grave-earth had allbeen cleansed, somehow, of any personal impres-sions belonging to the man himself. A patina ofother emotions clung to it—Jürgen ’s,Rosamund’s—but Nikita’s own were sponged awayso completely not even the faintest echoes re-mained. Ilias had suggested interrogating the spiritsof Nikita’s earth, but Myca was not wholly com-

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fortable taking that approach. The witch-priestremained somewhat weakened from the effort ittook to bind Nikita and ward his place of rest andadmitted, somewhat reluctantly, that there wassome risk involved in the course he proposed. Mycadid not outright reject the possibility, but neitherdid he give Ilias his consent, preferring to reservethat option should more mundane researches fail.

Unfortunately, they had. And then came Mala-chite.

Myca rose, put his clothing in order, and wentforth to meet the Rock of Constantinople, to seewhat might be learned from his sudden, unan-nounced arrival.

***Malachite’s travels had clearly not treated him

kindly. His body, already twisted by the curse ofhis blood, seemed to stoop far more than Myca re-membered. Newly arrived in Constantinople, hehad found Malachite intimidating, the vastly com-petent and unswervingly loyal supporter of Michaelthe Patriarch, in his own way as much an incarna-tion of the Dream and its principles as any of itsfounders. Now, almost in spite of himself, he felt aprofound sympathy, an upwelling of mingled com-passion and repulsion as the Rock ofConstantinople bowed to him, the edges of hisroad-worn clothing swirling with the motion. Herewas the man who clung to the remnants of theDream, who refused to admit that the Dream wasdead, who struggled still to breathe life back intoit, no matter the effort.

Admirable. Cleanly, utterly admirable. Andstill so very pathetic. Myca gestured a servant for-ward, to bring his guest a chair. “Malachite, pleasesit. You have no doubt traveled far.”

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“I have. And I thank you for your hospitality.”Malachite, his gravelly voice tinged in gratitude,sat in the chair, leaning back against the cushionswith a muffled crackling of bones and sinews. Hewas masked by the illusions his clan often used todisguise their ugliness, and the face he chose towear was that of a man in his middle years, craggyand worn around the edges, but still strong for allof the hardships written on his flesh. Myca madeno attempt to see beyond that face.

Myca settled himself, as well, and motionedthe servants outside the door. For a moment, heand Malachite merely regarded one anothersteadily, with no words passing between them. Fi-nally, pure hospitality brought words to Myca’s lips.“Dare I ask what induced you to make the journeyhere to Brasov?”

“Nikita.” Malachite replied, so bluntly that,for an instant, Myca was at a complete loss for howto respond. “I know that he is here. I learned thatmuch in Magdeburg, when I returned there fromthe north. I wish to speak with him.”

“I fear, my lord, that I cannot, at this time,answer your request.” Myca managed, after a mo-ment of silent consideration.

Malachite fixed him with an unblinking dark-eyed stare, the sort of look that Myca had seenprovoke hysterical confessions of wrongdoing fromhalf the shiftless younger childer inConstantinople. “Are you saying that you do nothave him, Lord Vykos?”

“No. I am saying that he is in no condition tospeak with anyone, and that is how I prefer him toremain for the time being.” Myca replied, evenly.“Jürgen of Magdeburg did not treat the Archbishopvery gently.”

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“Ah. But you could wake him, if you wished.”There was no question in the Rock’s tone.

“Perhaps.” In a tone that clearly stated, But Iwill not.

“I see.”“Myca, I see we have another guest.” Ilias’

clear, quiet voice drew their attention; he stoodframed in the doorway, clad in his long wine-redtunic and a shapelessly loose pair of trousers in thesame hue, offering a serenely pleasant smile ofgreeting. “Father Aron just informed me.”

Myca made a mental note to have a word withFather Aron and rose, gesturing for Ilias to jointhem. “For tonight and the morrow, at least. Mylord Malachite has traveled a considerable distancealready, and has many more roads yet to walk be-fore his journey is done.”

Ilias caught the hint, almost visibly toyed withit, and decided not to take it. “Ah, the famous Rockof Constantinople, of whom Myca has told me somuch. Surely you will be staying for longer than anight and a day? What tales you must have to tell!”

Myca made a mental note to have a word withIlias, as well, and turned to face Malachite, whowas regarding the colorful apparition that had ap-peared before him with clear bemusement. “Mylord Malachite, I have the honor of introducingyou to Ilias cel Frumos, koldun and priest, and thefirst of my advisors.”

“Ilias the Fair. Your name suits you, koldun.”Malachite rose, with some effort, and offered ashort, but polite, bow of greeting. “I would, ofcourse, accept whatever hospitality this house of-fers, with gratitude. I am, as my Lord Vykos hasmentioned, long on the road and weary from mytoils.”

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“Excellent. I shall have a guest apartment pre-pared at once.” Ilias smiled his lazy cat smile andMyca felt, quite distinctly, his lover’s amusementthrough the bond they shared. “A houseful of guestsfor the first time all winter, my stapân Vykos. Weare, indeed, fortunate.”

“Indeed,” Myca echoed, though he failed toappreciate how Ilias could consider this develop-ment a good one. “My lord Malachite, we will, ofcourse, extend to you three nights and three days,and all safety and welcome within our walls.”

Malachite bowed low and rose with the ghostof a smile lurking at the corners of his mouth. “Mylord is too gracious.”

***Malachite’s arrival put edges on the tension

that had begun building in the monastery over thefour nights of Ilias’ seclusion and the subsequent,fruitless investigation of Nikita’s correspondence.Sir Gilbrecht was positively champing at the bit.Now that it was obvious that the roads were clearenough to travel, and their duty as he felt it wasdone, he saw no reason to linger. Lady Rosamundwas better bred and more thoroughly diplomaticin every respect, but even she was beginning toshow signs of restiveness and a desire to be goneback to the arms of her lord. Only Sir Landric, ofthe original trio of visitors, seemed at all inclinedto delay leaving and his opinion was solicited byno one but Ilias, who suggested quietly that theboy might be worth cultivating as a friendly, or atleast not entirely hostile, ear in Jürgen’s court.Myca accepted that possibility while keeping inmind he had Jürgen’s ambassador—and, if rumorwere true, his would-be consort—in hand, and that

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he ought to deliver her to his sire to answer per-sonally for the actions of her lord.

Myca wrote his sire, Symeon, nightly and, eachnight, put the letter away unfinished, uncertain ofhow much he wished to say. It was urgent thatSymeon be informed of Jürgen’s incursion intoObertus territory, that it might be dealt with swiftly,but Myca was deeply, almost instinctively, unwill-ing to commit words concerning Nikita of Sredetzto parchment. He told himself he did not yet knowenough about Nikita’s mysterious presence or howhe suborned an Obertus monastery to his serviceto comment intelligently on it, and did not wishto lead his sire astray with poor advice, or errone-ous suppositions. He had no evidence. He hadnothing he could yet tell Symeon of a conclusivenature. Malachite’s assertions were equally unsup-ported, and quite possibly the ravings of acrumbling and deluded mind. Myca wished, morethan anything, to have the opportunity to fully andcompletely investigate the mystery of Nikita, inhis own time, and make a decision only when hiscuriosity was satisfied, all his questions answered.He felt also this would almost certainly cease to bean option once he informed his sire of Nikita’s ac-tivities and continued existence.

Symeon also detested the Cainite Heresy, andwould likely seize any opportunity to damage itfurther. Myca did not spare two thoughts for theCainite Heresy, in general, but found Nikita to bean intriguing, frustrating puzzle.

On the second night after Malachite’s arrival,Myca sat in his study attempting, yet again, to writethe sort of letter that would inform Symeon ad-equately without telling him too much, too soon.It was slow going, especially with the periodic traf-

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fic of servants delivering fresh supplies of parch-ment and ink, replenishing the supply of charcoalfor the braziers, engaging in the sort of homely tasksthat he otherwise found completely ignorable butwhich tonight grated on his last nerve. After twohours’ effort, he realized, with disgust, that he hadmore crossed-out lines than he did coherentthoughts, and threw down his quill in annoyance,splattering the page with ink. He rose and walkedthe lower halls of the monastery, receiving gesturesof homage from servants and Obertus brotherswhose existence he barely acknowledged, restlessand severely out of sorts. His path took him, even-tually, to the oriel, where he found Ilias and, to hisirritation, Malachite passing what appeared to bequite a friendly evening together. As he entered,they were engaged in a game of draughts, or rather,Malachite was engaged in utterly massacring Iliasat draughts, while Ilias wheedled stories of his trav-els out of the Rock of Constantinople. NeitherLady Rosamund nor her valiant knight defenderswere anywhere in evidence.

“No, do not let me interrupt you.” Myca wavedIlias and Malachite back down, as they made readyto rise in greeting. “I fear that I have done all thethinking I care to do tonight. If you do not object,I will watch.”

One of Ilias’ brows flicked towards his hair-line at that statement, but he offered nocounterargument, gesturing instead for Myca tojoin them at the table. He selected a chair and sankinto it, observing the havoc that Malachite hadwrought on Ilias’ game pieces, smiling wryly.

“Not a word,” Ilias remarked, in an undertone,and made his next move.

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“None whatsoever,” Myca agreed, feeling justbad-tempered enough to offer no reassurance.

“And you play next.” Ilias continued, in aslightly exasperated tone as Malachite took anopening, and removed yet another of his piecesfrom the board.

“If you insist,” Myca replied, his temper be-ginning to migrate in the direction of mildlyamused.

Malachite actually chuckled. For an instant,Myca was struck by the complete unreality of themoment. An elder Byzantine Nosferatu of solidlyChristian temperament, a former exile returnedhome at last, and a pagan Tzimisce witch-priest,sitting comfortably around the table, playing agame that did not involve the manipulation ofhuman pawns. It brought a faint smile to his lipsto contemplate it, and for a moment he felt almostwarm towards Malachite, despite their differencesin opinion, and obsession. Much that was worthyof respect still dwelt in the old Nosferatu. Mycaadmitted, very much to himself, that he did respectMalachite for all that he had been, and could yetbe, and silently hoped he would free himself fromthe chains of his past and find a new way to con-tinue on. Beneath the surface of the table, Ilias’free hand found his own, and clasped it gently, hislover eternally sensitive to the flow and texture ofhis moods.

The relative peace of the moment was brokenby a soft clap on the door, followed by the entranceof Father Aron, who looked as though he’d beenrousted from his bed rather peremptorily. “Mystapân Vykos… I crave forgiveness for my inter-ruption, but a matter of some urgency has come tomy attention.”

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Myca exchanged a glance with Ilias. “Do notapologize for matters of importance, Father. Whathas passed?”

“A messenger arrived from the north, some fewminutes ago, my stapân Vykos. He is in the refec-tory now, being refreshed, for he was weary fromthe road and unfit to be seen.” Father Aron hobbledforward, a heavy leather document case beadedwith moisture in one gnarled hand. “He says thathe has come from the court of Oradea.”

Myca rose, and Father Aron placed the casein his outstretched hand. Within was a singleparchment, folded and sealed with the arms of hissire, Symeon of Constantinople. Myca broke theseal without ceremony and scanned the brief mes-sage. After a moment of silent contemplation, herefolded it, and replaced it in the case. “FatherAron, have this placed in my study, at once.”

The old man accepted the case and retreated.Myca turned to sweep a glance over his compan-ions. Ilias, as usual, was not troubling to concealhis curiosity. Malachite’s illusory face was com-pletely, professionally devoid of expression.

“My sire,” Myca said softly, “My lord sire,Symeon of Constantinople, summons me to courtin Oradea. It seems he has a task which he wishesme to perform.”

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Chapter Seven

It was at times like this that Myca Vykos trulyappreciated the existence of well-trained servantsand silently obedient Obertus brothers. The prepa-rations for a journey involving five vampires, adozen knights of the Black Cross, and suitabletransportation for all was the sort of logisticalnightmare that he was entirely glad to leave insomeone else’s hands. He privately wondered howAndreas Aegyptus, the most famous transporter ofCainite passengers he knew of, managed it year inand year out, as it was consuming the attention ofmost of the senior servants and monks just tohandle it once. Fortunately, they were also risingto the challenge, providing fodder for the horsesand food for the mortal attendants who would ac-company their masters, acquiring sufficientlight-proofed vehicles, and assembling all the otheroddments that a party on the road for some lengthof time might require. Even the knights of theBlack Cross willingly offered their aid and exper-tise, grateful to be finally escaping the severelyoppressive atmosphere of the not-entirely-Chris-tian east.

Myca invited Lady Rosamund to accompanyhim to Oradea, on the very edge of the Great Plain,over which she could travel with ease throughfriendly territories back to her lord. LadyRosamund, after taking counsel with Sir Gilbrecht,accepted that offer, and the course was laid outaccordingly. Their route crossed the Olt River be-low Sibiu, skirting the territories of both IoanBrancoveanu and the Prince of Sibiu. Theyplanned to cross the Mures River at Alba Iulia,

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where they could replenish their supplies in rela-tive safety, as the local stapân was an ally of theObertus, very much to the annoyance of NovaArpad, the Ventrue prince of neighboring Medias.The final leg to Oradea was a long one but, thank-fully, descended out of the high country into therolling hills and lowland forests that bordered theGreat Plain.

Myca kept to himself the opinion that, onceLady Rosamund was actually in Oradea, Symeonwas unlikely to permit her to depart again untilsome restitution was extracted from the hide ofJürgen of Magdeburg. The results of his silencewould no doubt be educational for all concernedand perhaps succeed in teaching Jürgen, once andfor all, that some things were outside his grasp andalways would be. Unsurprisingly, Malachite alsoinvited himself along on the journey and, after aday and night of severe inner struggle, Myca ac-quiesced to the Rock of Constantinople’s desire.There was not, after all, anything he could effec-tively do to forbid or prevent it, short of stakingthe man and shoving him in a neglected storageroom somewhere for a year or ten, and that wasthe sort of breach in hospitality that Ilias wouldnever condone. Malachite could follow their routeor make his own with minimal effort. It was muchbetter to have the man where an eye could be kepton him at all times, and they would arrive inOradea together. Myca was still not certain howmuch he wished to tell Symeon concerning Nikitaof Sredetz, but he was entirely certain he didn’twant Malachite giving his sire that news in hisplace.

In public, and to his guests, Myca presentedhis most pleasant face, approving travel plans andthe choices of the men responsible for organizing

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the expedition, telling Lady Rosamund and theknights of the sights they could expect to see alongtheir intended route. Malachite added his own re-marks, having traveled the region extensivelyhimself, and between them they managed to painta coherent portrait of the terrain they would travelthrough, and the people they were likely to meet.Their route included stopovers at three Obertusmonasteries and passed through the territories of ahalf-dozen Cainite lords of consequence. Mycawrote to them all, announcing his intent to travelthrough their domains without lingering unneces-sarily, requesting what hospitality they mightchoose to offer and the unfettered use of the roadspassing through their lands. It was a formal nicetyrarely observed any longer, Ilias had told him once,but it would likely make a good impression on thoselords who kept faith with such gestures and wouldhardly damage his reputation with those who didnot.

In private, to Ilias, he did not bother to con-ceal his irritation.

***“I dislike the timing of this summons.” Myca

paced the length of his study, a windowless roomfully wide as it was long, lined in the bookcasesthat contained the documents and artifacts thathe personally preserved from the Library of theForgotten in Constantinople. It was a very satisfy-ing room to pace in, with a fireplace to keep themountain damp from the books, and a minimumof furnishings, creating a relatively warm and openspace in which to work out tension. Myca pacedwhen he thought, which Ilias found quite helpfulwhen reading his lover’s occasionally opaquemoods.

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Ilias sat cross-legged on one of the few piecesof furniture, a backless padded bench next to thewriting desk, and watched silently, waiting for hiscompanion’s train of thought to come to its nextutterance. After a moment, it did.

“It is almost too coincidental, given all theother factors at work.” Myca returned the way he’dcome, the pearl-encrusted hems of his dalmaticswaying gracefully with the motion. “‘A matter ofdiplomatic importance,’ he said. Jürgen? There arenights when I believe that man was put in creationsolely to vex me. The Tremere? Unlikely. Some-thing else? The last Symeon wrote to me, he wasplaying peacemaker with Noriz’ little brood ofmonstrosities… Could that be it? Ilias, my corre-spondence chest.”

Ilias already had the little lacquered woodenbox open and extracted Symeon’s most recent let-ters, which had arrived late in the previous summer.Myca accepted the bundle and began pagingthrough it, scanning the closely written lines.“Lukasz and Rachlav. He was entertaining envoysfrom them last autumn. Do you know anything ofeither of them?”

“Childer of Noriz, both of them.” Ilias re-marked as Myca paced back past him, rubbing hischin thoughtfully. “Lukasz, I do not know person-ally. Rachlav the Unquenchable I have… met. Hisname suits him.” He cast a glance over his shoul-der at Myca, who had come to a complete halt.“He and his sire have a startling number of simi-larities in temperament, including the inability tohear the word ‘no.’”

Myca came back to his side and lingered si-lently for a moment, running a caressing handthrough Ilias’ hair. “You served him?”

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“For a time. He desired the honor that wouldaccrue to him, hosting a koldun in his domains.That he believed his tastes matched mine wasmerely an added advantage, in his mind.” Ilias’ tonewas coolly impassive. “Our desires were not as com-plimentary as he wished.”

Myca raised a handful of red-golden curls tohis lips, and said nothing, not knowing what tosay. After a moment, Ilias continued. “I departedhis domains after a year and a night, as was myright, and he chose not to pursue me. In that, atleast, he was wise.” He shook his head slightly,pulling his hair tight in his lover’s grip. “Rachlavis a favorite of his sire, inasmuch as Noriz actuallyhas favorites, though it has not done him muchgood. He has been at war with his brother Lukaszsince before my Embrace. There is some sordidlittle humiliation at the heart of it, somethingabout a mortal favored by them both, and quite abit of bloodshed and mutual provocation since.They detest each other thoroughly, of that I haveno doubt.”

“But apparently they detest the Tremere more.”Myca laid the most recent of his sire’s letters inIlias’ hands. “And are of the mutual opinion thatnot enough is being done on that front.”

Ilias shrugged slightly. “The impression I receivedwhile I was at Rachlav’s court was that Noriz himselffound their little quarrel amusing, and had no inten-tion of doing anything to halt it. Noriz favorsbloodshed as an entertainment, so long as the bloodbeing spilt is not his own.” A thoughtful pause. “Ofcourse, if he wishes to regain the respect of the clan,and the honor he believes should be his, he is goingto have to crack the whip on that revolting brood hehas spawned over the centuries. It is all well and good

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to talk a fight against the Tremere—but that is nodifferent from what Rustovitch has been doing for thelast handful of years. Otherwise he will never reclaimwhat he lost.”

“Reclaim…?” Myca asked, an appalling revela-tion stealing over him. “Wait. Are you suggesting tome that Noriz was once considered voivode of voivodes?”

Ilias laughed out loud at the naked horror inMyca’s voice. “Once, a very long time ago, Noriz,Damek, the eldest childe of the bogatyr Ruthven,and Valeska, the priestess of Veles, were consid-ered first among equals. And, for a time, the clanprospered after the fall of Rome and beneath theirleadership. But Damek Ruthven turned to schol-arly pursuits, Noriz fell to decadence anddissipation, and Valeska turned her back on thedepravity he helped foster, passing her mantle to aveela shield maiden when the time came. Noriz wascontent to subsist on the honor owed him as anelder prince of the blood and tales of his past glo-ries—and discovered the hard way that past gloriesavailed him little in the face of a new foe.”

Myca shook his head. “It is almost beyond be-lief, but it does make sense, if Noriz truly cherishessome ambition of humbling Vladimir Rustovitch,to let my sire make peace between his childer. Thatway, if the effort fails, he can wash his hands of it,and if it succeeds, he can claim some reflection ofthe credit.” He resumed pacing as he thought. “Thegods, I hope Symeon does not expect me to travelall over the mountains, making diplomatic soundsat the behest of Noriz. It would likely kill me.”

“I doubt it would kill you, my flower, but I can-not claim it would be very pleasant.” Ilias smiledwryly. “If you wish, I will accompany you, shouldit come to that.”

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“No.” Myca addressed that answer to the farwall and its case of delicate papyrus scrolls stand-ing against it. “No… I wish you to stay here.”

“Myca,” Ilias said softly, “you cannot keep yoursire and me from meeting forever. The world is notlarge enough for it.”

“I know. But I am also not in a hurry to rushthe arrival of that night,” Myca admitted frankly,turning around and pacing back toward the bench.“My motives are not entirely altruistic in this mat-ter, my heart. I do not trust Malachite, and I donot wish to leave Nikita’s body unattended, evenwarded as it is. It… I feel that would be the wrongthing to do. I wish you to remain, and make cer-tain that Nikita continues to rest peacefully.”

“This is not beyond my powers,” Ilias assuredhim, with a hint of wry humor. “Given that I doubthe will rise on his own any time soon. Do you wishme to do anything else, in the absence of our sovery pious guests?”

Myca hesitated. “If your strength is recovered,and you feel the risk not too great, I would notobject to your plan to discover what you may fromthe spirits of Nikita’s grave-earth. But I do not wishyou to risk yourself unnecessarily.”

“My flower, I assure you, I never risk myself un-necessarily.” Ilias caught his companion’s hand, andbrought it to his lips. “Some risks are necessary,after all, and worth the price one pays for them.”

“Yes,” Myca agreed quietly. “Some are.”

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Chapter Eight

Oradea, like most of the towns along the edgeof the Great Plain, made its living through trade.The city lay along the banks of the Crisul Repede,the river responsible for much of its prosperity, atthe junction of the Great Plain and the low hillsextending down from the high range of theApuseni Mountains. Its location was fortuitous inall ways for the people who dwelt there and themerchants who traveled to do business there. Itsmarketplaces were bustling even into the night,and in its streets a dozen languages collided as folkcame together from points all over the East, toconverse, to trade, to drink and share tales.

Symeon’s haven lay a short distance outside ofthe town proper, perched atop a thickly woodedhill and reached by means of a steep, unpaved roadthat horses and pack animals traversed far moreeasily than even the lightest sledge or cart. By day,the party waited in the city itself. They took lodg-ings in a traveler’s hostel run by the sort ofprofessionally uncurious landlord who thrived onthe business provided by night travelers. Window-less rooms were available upon request, andadjoining chambers for body-servants. LadyRosamund, of course, slept by herself, on the fin-est bed in the establishment. Myca, Sir Gilbrecht,Sir Landric, and Malachite shared the chambernext door. When they rose in the evening, themortal members of the party had already preparedfor the last leg of the journey, procuring extra horsesand pack animals, and shifting the majority of thebaggage over in the hours before sunset. For anextra fee, and the knowledge that the lord of the

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house on the hill would reward him well for hisservices again, the landlord agreed to store theirsledges and the carts. They departed Oradea anhour after sundown, outriders with torches andpole-mounted lanterns lighting the road, a letterhaving preceded them during the day via the bestrider among the Obertus brothers. They did notpause to repair their hunger, in the knowledge thatSymeon would greet them well, and provide fortheir needs before the night was done.

Despite the foul dampness that dogged themthe whole of their journey, the road leading toSymeon’s house was, while muddy, not an actualbog. He had, in Myca’s opinion, made clear andthoughtful use of Obertus engineering expertise,improving the road’s drainage and, in some places,raising its level considerably above the surround-ing plain. The area was prone to flooding as thestreams that fed into the Crisul Repede rose in thespring with snowmelt and rain. Those streams werehigh now, and the night was full of the sound ofrippling water as they rode. In the distance, lightsoccasionally came into view through the trees—torches, Myca thought—showing the way up thehill. As they came closer, his supposition was borneout. Stone pylons bearing torches heavily soakedin pitch stood at regular intervals, hissing and pop-ping in the light rainfall.

As they reached the top of the hill, the steep-ness of the road leveled off and the forest thinned.Symeon’s house loomed out of the darkness, a Byz-antine villa that appeared as though it had beenlifted whole from Constantinople and placed onthe hill by some giant hand. Symeon was preparedfor their arrival. As the party clattered over thecobblestone courtyard, a dozen house-servantsemerged and, with the sort of quiet competence

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Symeon favored, began assisting the travelers. Bag-gage was unlashed and carried inside, horses ledaway to the stables for appointments with dry blan-kets and warmed grain. After a brief consultationbetween Sir Gilbrecht and Lady Rosamund all butthree of the mortal complement of Black Crossknights were led away to the guest quarters thathad been prepared for them.

Myca dismounted for himself and handed hisreins to the stable-boy who came to collect them,patting his great-hearted mount on the nose inpassing. The most senior of the servants at hand, aman Myca recognized as the mortal seneschal, ap-proached him and bowed deeply, speaking in Latinfor the edification of the westerners. “My stapânVykos, my lord stapânitor Symeon gives you his fondgreetings and welcomes you home with all honorand felicitation. He asks that you and our illustri-ous guests, the Lady Rosamund d’Islington and mylord Sir Gilbrecht and my lord Sir Landric, as wellas my Lord Malachite, forgive that he is not presentto greet you. My lord stapânitor Symeon is detainedby diplomatic affairs of a highly sensitive nature,from which he cannot yet separate himself. He asksthat you accept his hospitality, in his stead, andquarters have been prepared for all, as well as com-forts to ease the weariness of the road. Please, comewith me.”

***Lady Rosamund, her knights, and Malachite

were accorded quarters in a guest-wing of the villathat had not yet been finished the last time Mycawas in residence. They were not alone in it, Mycacould not help but notice as he passed by. The door-ways leading to the upper gallery staircases wereguarded by two small mountains, giant Cainites intheir zulo war-shapes, armed with weapons shaped

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of solid bone longer than Rosamund was tall. Sherecoiled at the sight of them, and Myca couldhardly blame her. They had not been chosen fortheir comeliness to anything but Tzimisce eyes.The first was night-black, its skin rippling with apattern of scales that caught the light of the torchesand glistened as though wet, its vaguely reptilianmaw set with such a multitude of tiny, sharp teethits mouth could not close all the way. Its eyes werea flat yellow and slitted like a snake’s, and neverseemed to waver from the object of its attention.It seemed to find Lady Rosamund quite magnetic.The second was salt-white and parchment yellow,its brittle-looking skin pierced by bony extrusionsacross the backs of its many-fingered hands, thelengths of its arms, the crest of its skull-faced head.Its shoulders, legs, and chest were massive withcorded muscle, and it looked strong enough toswing the maul it held with mountain-shatteringforce. A moment of uncomfortable silence passed,as the seneschal unlocked the doors leading to thelower level guest chambers, during which no onespoke but everyone’s thoughts were clearly in evi-dence. Myca got the distinct impression that boththe zulo guardsmen found the reaction they pro-voked very amusing, indeed.

Myca was escorted to his own apartments,which were kept for his visits, and as a silent invi-tation should he ever wish to dwell in Oradeapermanently. The rooms had been cleaned recentlyand thoroughly. No trace of dust remained on anysurface, the bed and bed clothing were both freshwith the scent of herbs, and a hint of lemon oilstill hung in the air. When he checked, he foundthe wooden base of his bed filled with freshlyturned soil, his own grave-earth, a generous sup-

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ply of which Symeon always kept to hand. Awooden bath lined in linen waited for him in thenext room, still steaming hot, next to the fire crack-ling in the grate. Myca thankfully shed his soppingand muddied traveling garb, and sank into the wa-ter for a long, soporific soak. He lowered himselfuntil the point of his chin touched the water andclosed his eyes as the warm, wet heat began chas-ing the chill from his flesh, inhaling the sharp scentof the steam, rich with bath-herbs.

Lavender was Symeon’s favorite bath-scent. Itwas traditional, conservative, entirely Roman.Much of his house reflected those values, from itsrambling size and structure, to its magnificent Byz-antine architecture, to the mosaics on the floor andthe furniture and fabrics used in its decoration.Normally, Myca did not find this jarring at all, forhe had dwelt in Byzantium for decades, and foundits glories beautiful, as well. Tonight, however, hefound that it robbed him of the peace he shouldhave felt at what was, after all, a homecoming. Hefound himself violently, wrenchingly homesick fora place that was not Oradea. He ached for the sightof steep snowcapped mountains against the moon-washed sky, silent forests of evergreen on thehillsides, wide-spreading oak in the valleys, themisty plunge of waterfalls down sheer rock facesand mossy streams flowing through the narrowplaces in the mountains. He longed even more fora slender, strong body against his own in the bath,a body to twine with beneath the linen sheets andfur coverlets of his bed. It occurred to him, with asharp pang, that he had not been this far apart fromIlias for more years than he could easily count. Hewondered, with an even sharper inner pain, whathis lover was doing tonight, and whom he was do-

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ing it with. He did not, he informed himself andthe small, insidious voice in his soul that he knewto be his Beast, doubt Ilias’ faith; he was not jeal-ous, for no such petty emotions existed in the bondbetween them. He was, however, lonely, and heno longer knew how to deal with his loneliness aseasily as he once had.

He opened his eyes and found that soft-footedservants had come and gone while he warmed him-self. Thick, warmed towels sat on the bench nextto the bath, and clothing hung warming next tothe fireplace. Simple clothing, of silk and richlycolored, but lacking the elaborate decorative flour-ishes of garments made for public scrutiny. Mycasurmised that Symeon would not call him, or theguests, into open counsel any longer tonight. Hedressed himself and stepped into his bed chamber—and there, to his surprise, he found his sire waiting,seated in a low-backed chair next to his readingtable, the candle-lamp lit, reading from a slender,leather-bound folio. Myca paused, and caught hisbreath, struck, as always, by the patrician beautyof the Cainite who had chosen him, the fine bonesof his face, the dark eyes, the spill of raven’s winghair, neatly confined in an enameled ornament,the elegant carriage of his body, even in relaxation.For many years, he had almost feared to look uponhis sire with sensual eyes, to view him as a sensualbeing, but now he felt no such inhibition. A curlof desire wound its way through his belly and hewondered what it might be like to feel Symeon’shands on him, rough with longing, and Symeon’smouth against his skin, desperate with want. Heknew that his soul was colored vividly with thatfantasy when Symeon looked up and his thin-lipped mouth relaxed in a smile of pleasure andgreeting. “My childe.”

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“My lord sire.” Myca remembered his mannersand bowed deeply, heartily glad he could no longerblush.

“Such formality.” Symeon sounded faintlyamused. “Come... sit. You have traveled far to an-swer my summons and brought me a gift of greatworth, as well. I am very pleased with you, Myca.”

The praise warmed him more than the bath,and he rose from his bow smiling slightly, takingthe chair across from Symeon’s own. “It pleases methat I was of service to you, my lord. I wish onlythat I might have accomplished more.”

“You will, I do not doubt, have the opportu-nity to act on that sentiment before all is said anddone in these matters,” Symeon assured him, darkeyes playing over him thoughtfully. “You are verydrawn, Myca. Have you dined yet?”

“No, not yet. My lord— “ Symeon paused inmid-reach for the brass bell, hidden on the otherside of the lamp, that he might use to summon aservant. “There is a matter that I did not feel itsafe to commit to parchment, which impactsclosely on this situation. If I may...?”

“You may not. Not tonight. I do not wish tospeak of politics and stratagems and incidents withyou tonight.” He lifted the bell and rang it oncewith a languid flick of his wrist. “It has been toolong since I last saw you, my childe, and tonight Iwish only the pleasure of your company. I trust youdo not object?”

Myca realized he was surprised by that senti-ment, coming from his sire, and experienced amomentary tangle of emotions in response. “No,my lord, I do not object. It has, indeed, been a verylong time since… we simply sat and spoke.”

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“Then that is what we shall do. There will betime enough for politics tomorrow night.”

***Golden light. Golden light was all that he could

see. Radiance filled his world, blinded him to all otherperceptions. It was magnificent, glorious—he felt him-self bathed in a wonder that was truly divine.

From out of that divine light, the voice of an angelspoke to him, ringing with the clarity of a silver bell,sweeter than the finest music. “Beautiful. I had…almost forgotten how beautiful you are.”

He heard the words and knew that they were true.He was divine himself, or touched by divinity, beauti-ful enough to make angels weep. He felt it, deep withinhimself—perfection, soul and flesh in flawless union,finding its expression in the smoothly muscled symme-try of his limbs, the elegance of his features, the silkenexpanse of pale skin and night-dark hair. Luminoushands, glowing with the pure soul-light of their owner,touched him gently, running fingers through the ex-travagant length of his hair, caressing his thigh with aknowing touch. He shuddered with a joy that penetratedto the core of his being and he ached to be one with theglorious being gracing his flesh with its hands.

A whisper, in that clear and sweet voice. “I knew,my love, that you would return to me in the end…”

***Myca woke in the cool blue twilight, curled

around himself and shaking with a terror he couldgive no name to. He knew that he had dreamtagain, and something in that dream filled him witha fear, with a horror, so deep his mind refused tohold the memory of it, and even his Beast coweredaway from the knowledge. For a long, miserablemoment as the weight of sleep faded from his limbs,he longed silently for Ilias and for Symeon, for

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someone whose presence would lend him even aninstant’s comfort. Then, almost miraculously, itcame to him, faint with distance but strong andwarm despite that limitation, the gentle brush ofhis lover’s presence over his soul. He closed his eyesagainst the rush of grateful, relieved tears, and sim-ply drew strength from the sensation, the feelingthat, no matter how much distance lay betweenthem, Ilias was and would always be at his side.

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Chapter Nine

“Myca,” Symeon’s tone was regally distant, thevoice of a prince speaking to one of his courtiers,“tell me of Nikita of Sredetz.”

Myca restrained the urge to swear. He stoodwith his sire in the antechamber behind the villa’smain receiving hall where, if the sounds makingtheir way beneath the door were any indication, anumber of guests awaited their attention. Symeonwas clad in the deepest hue of imperial purple, sodark it verged on black, bordered in white and clothof gold and all of the most impressive accouter-ments of his station, the heavily decorated ritualgarments of Byzantium. The weight of the goldalone would have bowed the shoulders of a lesserman, but his sire stood perfectly straight, radiatingcalm strength and ineffable patience, waiting forhis answer.

Malachite, Myca realized with a silent, coolfury. Malachite must have taken the opportunity,the night before or earlier this evening, to tellSymeon of Nikita’s presence in Obertus territory,and how he came to be in Myca’s own hands. Theurge to twist the miserable leprous dog’s head offwas sudden and fierce. It took all of Myca’s con-centration to force his fangs back and to speakcalmly in response. “My lord sire, Nikita of Sredetzwas the matter I did not wish to commit to parch-ment, which I mentioned last night.”

“Ah. I should have listened to you, then, forthis is a matter of some significance. Forgive theselfishness of an old Cainite, my childe.” Symeonshifted the drape of his garment into a more com-fortable position over his left arm, and gestured forMyca to continue.

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Myca thought rapidly and condensed histhoughts in a quick sketch of the situation. “Jürgenof Magdeburg captured Nikita of Sredetz at theObertus monastery he assaulted. He appears quitewilling to use Nikita’s presence there as his justifi-cation after the fact for the attack. TheSwordbearer was not hunting heretics when he vio-lated our territory, but was operating under theassumption that the monastery was somehow inleague with, or suborned by, Vladimir Rustovitchor his agents. How he came to this conclusion isnot entirely clear—comments that the LadyRosamund has made to me suggest that some provo-cation Jürgen encountered while in the territoryof the late kunigaikstis Geidas may have led him tothat belief. He produced no proof of that allega-tion, nor was Lady Rosamund able to provide anadequate justification of it, nor any connectionbetween Nikita of Sredetz and Rustovitch.”

Symeon nodded fractionally. “And the illus-trious Archbishop of Nod himself?”

“Restrained, my lord sire. I thought it unwiseto wake him.” Myca hesitated fractionally. “Thereis something very odd about him, even sleeping.”

Symeon looked at him sharply. “What do youmean?”

“It is not something I can describe logically,my lord.” Myca admitted, with some difficulty.“He—I believe that he is more than he seems.”

His sire regarded him steadily for a moment,then nodded again. “Malachite believed that much,as well.”

“Malachite told me, when we met inMagdeburg, that he believed there was some con-nection between Nikita of Sredetz and ourancestor, the Dracon. I am not certain that I amprepared to credit that, my lord sire. It seems un-

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likely on its face.” Myca was privately grateful hemanaged to speak Malachite’s name politely. “ButI believe the matter requires more investigationbefore it may be disposed.”

“We shall discuss this in more detail, later.”The door of the antechamber swung open

without even the most peremptory of knocks anda woman whom Myca had not seen before entered.She was extraordinarily tall for a woman, within ahair or two of Symeon’s height, and Myca was im-mediately struck by her severe plainness, herperfect posture, and the icy hue of her eyes. Shebowed, deeply, first to Symeon and then to him-self, holding the gestures at the perfect depth andfor the perfect length of time, and when she rose,she kept her brilliant eyes on the floor at Symeon’sfeet. “My lord stapânitor, court is assembled, andthe westerners await your judgment.”

“Thank you, Eudokhia.” Symeon smiled grimly,and strode past her, Myca trailing a respectful threepaces behind.

Most of the central portion of the villa wasgiven over to rooms of a public nature—receivingchambers, Symeon’s office in which he receivedpetitioners, the long second-floor solar overlook-ing the inner courtyard and garden, a number ofsmaller rooms used for meetings and conversationsof a more intimate kind. The room they enteredwas the largest and most lavish of the public re-ceiving chambers, a fine example of Byzantinearchitectural beauty and excess, all green marblefloors and gilt mosaic walls, sculptured friezes andcolumns whose capitals were clearly the productof a demented sculptor’s wildest imaginings. Mycafelt a momentary, minor twinge of pity for LadyRosamund, who was standing in the middle of the

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room flanked by her knightly companions, her eyesfixed on the most innocuous feature in the room,the mirror-polished floor at her feet. There wasvirtually nothing else safe for her to look at forany length of time. Sir Gilbrecht, his Toreadornature almost wholly suppressed by the general un-pleasantness of his personality, was dealing withthe problem by glaring around the room at the as-sembled Tzimisce courtiers and their notinconsiderable entourages, clearly wishing for hissword. Sir Landric, on the other hand, was makingno effort to hide his appreciation of his surround-ings, or much of his curiosity.

On each side of the room, clustered in front ofthe green marble support columns for the high, fres-coed roof, the Tzimisce court had assembled, nearlyringing the three westerners. The envoys of Lukaszand Rachlav, Myca realized without surprise, sur-veyed them with a critical eye. Both were male, orat least male seeming. One was almost inhumanlytall and slender, bone white in the coloration ofskin, hair, and, most disturbingly, eyes, clad in whatappeared to be hundreds of yards of translucentwhite silk that pooled on the floor around him andwhich his entourage was very careful to avoid tread-ing on. Nothing about the way his clothing hungon him suggested femininity, nor the way he car-ried himself, as though he were a statue carved ofivory, easier to break than cause to bend. His en-tourage showed their allegiance through ornamentscarved of bone, tunics or belts of the same palefabric as their lord’s extraordinary robe. By con-trast, the other side of the hall was a riot of color,rich garments and ornaments chosen with only themost minimal guidance of taste or restraint. It wasdifficult to pick out the envoy from among thebright flock of his entourage, but Myca eventually

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decided it had to be the stocky one clad in a con-fection of wine red silk and cloth of gold,embellished with a long coat of heavy black furand square hands bearing more rings than he’d everseen on one person before. His hair and beard werea deep shade of auburn and well tended, and be-neath his thick brows, Myca caught a glimpse ofeyes glittering red and hungry. Both entourageswere equally bloated in size, a round dozen each,only a few of whom seemed to be other vampires,the majority being revenant lickspittles of onehouse or the other.

As they emerged into the room, the heraldwaiting on the opposite side of the door announcedthem in his deep voice, carrying the length of theroom without effort. “Attend the presence of lordstapânitor Symeon Gesudin syn Draconov! Attendthe presence of stapân Myca Vykos syn Draconov!Attend the voice of the first prince of the blood!”

Eudokhia, Myca noticed, was not announced,but joined them on the green marble dais to whichthey repaired, Symeon taking his seat with the re-gal grace of a true prince, and Myca taking aposition standing at his right hand. Eudokhiacrossed to the left, and stood behind both Symeonand Myca, her eyes modestly downcast though theiron in her spine did not ease a fraction.

“I give you greetings this night, my honoredguests, the kin of my own blood and travelers whohave come from afar.” Symeon’s voice reached ev-ery corner of the room, and provoked a politemurmur in response. Myca attended closely, watch-ing reactions. “My Lady Rosamund of Islington,Sir Gilbrecht and Sir Landric of the Black Cross,approach.”

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By western standards of presentation, Mycaknew, this was somewhat irregular. By Tzimiscestandards of presentation, it was extremely irregu-lar, and set the entourages of both ambassadorsbuzzing quietly among themselves. Normally therewould be a good half-hour of letting any westernvisitors adequately abase themselves before aTzimisce ruler would even start speaking of impor-tant matters. Neither envoy deigned to comment,though Myca sensed a sharpening in their atten-tion as Lady Rosamund and her armored shadowsapproached the dais to a respectful distance andoffered their courtesies. Symeon accepted the ges-tures with a stately inclination of his head, andwaved them up. Lady Rosamund was far too prac-ticed a courtier herself to display confusion and soher face was a lovely mask when she rose from hercurtsey. Both Sir Gilbrecht and Sir Landric hungback two paces and closed ranks behind her, asthough guarding her back.

“My Lady Rosamund of Islington, I have readboth the letters of your own hand and taken coun-sel with my ambassador on the matter of LordJürgen of Magdeburg’s unlawful intrusions into thelands of the Obertus Order.” That statement,blandly delivered, silenced the entire hall. “And Ihave found Lord Jürgen’s explanation of the mat-ter… most severely wanting. I confess myselfdisappointed, Lady Rosamund, by your lord’s ob-vious and unsupportable cupidity in this matter,the seizure of my lands and the murder of my chat-tels, resting upon no basis of fact for which youhave chosen to offer evidence.”

Sir Gilbrecht bristled, and nearly opened hismouth, only to be literally stepped on by Sir Landric,who put his foot on his superior’s instep and pressed

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sharply. He fell silent, but his hands remained balledat his sides, clearly longing to hurl himself at anyonewho dared defame the man he had chosen to follow.Lady Rosamund composed herself more quickly in thewake of this blunt statement, and spoke gently. “Mylord Symeon— “

“My lord prince,” Lady Eudokhia coolly correctedher, to Rosamund’s very visible consternation.

“My lord prince,” Lady Rosamund began again, alittle strain showing in her voice, “my Lord Jürgenfeels that he has proceeded in good faith with theObertus Order— “

“No, my Lady Rosamund,” Symeon interruptedher bluntly, “Your Lord Jürgen has proceeded with therapaciousness of a jackal to seize my territory, alleg-ing a breach of treaty for which he cares to offer noproof. Good faith, my Lady Rosamund? When LordJürgen and Vladimir Rustovitch were on the verge oftransforming this entire region into an abattoir withtheir ambitions, I took the risk of coming betweenthem, to warn them of the danger they both facedshould they continue with their reckless folly, and gavethem both a means of withdrawing with their domainsand their precious honor intact. I guarantee the treatythat Lord Jürgen has so casually broken in the nameof his own unquenchable lust for dominion, and it isto me that he will answer for his actions. Lord Jürgenmay call himself an honorable warrior and a walkeron the road of all true rulers, my Lady Rosamund, buthas a great deal to learn concerning the conduct ofkings.”

Symeon’s words rang off the walls; he hadn’t evenraised his voice. One slender hand rose from the armof his throne, the purple gems in his rings catchingthe light as he gestured Eudokhia forward, holding anelaborately ribboned and sealed document, which shepresented to Lady Rosamund without comment. Lady

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Rosamund was, herself, pale and speechless, almostvisibly fighting the urge to kneel as the force ofSymeon’s personality swirled around her, bright andfierce in his own anger as an offended prince amongprinces.

“I demand restitution.” Symeon’s tone was cooland hard, and no one in the room failed to notice thesteel in it. “Lord Jürgen will remove himself from myterritory immediately. He will make recompense for themurder of my chattels and the property he has seizedand abused for his own sustenance and that of hisminions, preferably in kind as no amount of blood-money would be sufficient to replace the minds andhands your lord’s brutality stole from me. To ensurethat the ever so honorable Lord Jürgen executes thesedemands with appropriate haste, one of you will re-main here in Oradea as the guarantor of your lord’sgood faith. You will have the remainder of this eveningto determine which of you will stay, and which of youwill go. If you cannot decide, I will choose for you.”His gaze lingered pointedly on Lady Rosamund. “Youare dismissed.”

“My lord prince,” Lady Rosamund recovered her-self enough to protest, “my Lord Jürgen will not acceptdemands. There must be some degree of negotiation—”

“I do not negotiate with oath breakers, LadyRosamund.” Symeon replied, flatly. “You are dismissed.”

***The next evening, Lady Rosamund informed

Symeon that Sir Landric had honorably volunteeredto remain hostage in Oradea. The night after that,she, Sir Gilbrecht, and the full complement of theirknights departed, escorted to the border of Obertusterritory by a detachment of Symeon’s personal guard.No one was particularly sorry to see them go.

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Chapter Ten

“It seems that we have two difficulties—twounrelated difficulties—before us just now, mychilde.” Symeon, like Myca, paced when hethought. They were in his study, and the door wasbarred and guarded against interruptions, thoughthey were not alone. Lady Eudokhia sat silent inone corner, hands folded on her lap, listening totheir discourse. After several nights of association,Myca still did not know how to take her, how toread her, or what to make of her. She appeared tobe Symeon’s advisor on matters of clan etiquetteand culture, but he kept her near to hand evenwhen such matters were not a topic of conversa-tion. Quiet inquiries among the resident courtiersindicated that she was a war-prize, the victim ofTzimisce dynastic struggles in the dominions to thenorth and east, the last survivor of her line givento Symeon as gift and slave by her family’s con-queror. Her demeanor appeared to bear out thattruth.

Myca nodded slightly in response. “The diplo-matic matter you summoned me to attended and…Nikita of Sredetz.”

“Even so.” Symeon irritably tugged open theheavy wooden shutters blocking the view of thegarden, admitting a breath of cool, rain-scentedair and the sound of yet another shower. “The dip-lomatic matter will, I fear, not wait another seasonfor resolution.”

“Lukasz and Rachlav have agreed to a truce?”Myca asked, trying not to sound too clever andschooling his expression to perfect neutrality as hissire turned to face him.

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Symeon surveyed that lack of expression andnodded. “More than simply a truce. They have allbut agreed to cooperate on a mutual goal beyondthe lofty aim of not randomly slaughtering eachother’s chattel and childer any longer. I admit,when they came to me, I thought the truce alonewould be an uphill battle against the impossible.It seems that I, too, can be pleasantly surprised.”He reclaimed his chair behind the wide expanseof his writing table, heavy dark wood polished to ahigh sheen with beeswax and lemon oil. From oneof its many drawers he drew out a thick sheaf ofparchment, as of yet unsigned and unsealed, whichhe handed across to Myca, who reviewed it silently.

“The wording is very precise.” Myca glanced aquestion at his sire.

“Precision was insisted upon.” Symeon tosseda faintly amused glance at Lady Eudokhia, who ig-nored it. “They are, after all, agreeing to let bygonesbe bygones. It seemed only sensible to innumerateprecisely what they were letting fall by the way-side and why, in exhaustive detail. The matter lacksbut one thing to bring the issue to successful reso-lution.”

Myca glanced up from an eye-wateringly un-pleasant paragraph detailing Lukasz’s specific intentto forgive his brother for a colorful series of rav-ishments and beheadings stretching acrossapproximately two centuries. “And that one thingwould be…?”

“Ioan Brancoveanu, childe of Lukasz, childeof Noriz. Ioan had just cause, a century ago, to de-clare his own intent to separate Rachlav from hishead and made a very dedicated attempt at col-lecting on that vendetta. Rachlav escaped by theskin of his teeth, and by virtue of hiding behindhis sire’s skirts. Ioan never declared his honor sat-

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isfied, and has not rescinded his intent to murderhis uncle. He has simply moved on to matters ofgreater importance.” Symeon laced his fingers to-gether. “Rachlav has indicated to me, through hisenvoy, that he requires a declaration on the partof Ioan Brancoveanu that his honor is satisfied bythe blood that has already been shed between thefamilies and will pursue the matter no further, inorder for the provisions of the truce to be whollysatisfactory. Lukasz has indicated that this demandis acceptable to him. Ioan himself has not yet beenconsulted.”

“And you wish me to… consult with him onthis topic?” Myca asked, neutrally.

“Yes. You may use whatever resources you re-quire on the journey and in the process. You mayoffer Ioan whatever reassurances he requires, in myname, to sweeten the prospect. But his acceptanceis essential, and his refusal is not an option thatmay be seriously entertained.” Symeon’s tone waslikewise neutral, but Myca knew a command whenhe heard one.

“It will be done.” Myca replied, quietly. “AndNikita of Sredetz?”

“I can see that the Archbishop of Nod has cap-tured your imagination.” Dryly. “Very well. Fornow, Nikita of Sredetz may keep his head. And Itrust that you will keep your grasp on yours.”

Myca bowed from the neck. “Of course, mysire.” When he looked up, Symeon’s expression hadsoftened an almost imperceptible fraction.

“You have done well for me, these many years,Myca. I am more proud of you and your accom-plishments than I find it easy to express.” Symeonglanced away from him, turning to look throughthe shutters at the night-darkened garden beyond.

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“You have done your duty and more for me with-out fear, without compulsion, for my ambitions andyour own. And you have done me the great honorof not pretending toward ingenuousness or a lackof personal ambition. I found, and continue to find,your honesty very refreshing.”

Myca felt a pang and forced his face to remainstill, pushing down a surge of guilt and dismay thatalmost moved his tongue to speak of Ilias.

“I think it is time that I permitted you a touchmore freedom than I have in the past, to pursuesuch interests as you have developed, independentof my own.” Symeon turned his dark gaze back onMyca, and smiled slightly. “Complete this missionfor me, my childe. Ensnare Ioan Brancoveanu in aweb of diplomacy from which he cannot escape,and end the blood feud between Lukasz andRachlav. When this is done, you have my permis-sion to investigate the matter of Nikita of Sredetzuntil you are fully content. Only when you are sat-isfied will I act, and I will do so in accord withyour recommendation. Do we have an agreement?”

Myca bowed again, more deeply, from theshoulders and fought down a triumphant smile.“Yes, my lord. This thing will be done, as you wishit.”

“Good. Now, come. We will dine together inthe solar and tomorrow, you will begin your mis-sion.”

***The rain stopped some time after midnight,

and Symeon of Constantinople repaired to hissmall garden to walk and to think. In the wing ofthe villa given over the private quarters of the fam-ily, his childe was making ready to depart, selectingthe members of the staff who would accompany

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him, setting the packing of his baggage in motion,and, no doubt, writing letters. Myca had a ritualthat he observed faithfully at the beginning of ev-ery enterprise, and tonight he was doubtlessly doingso with the intent of starting and finishing quickly.A certain fondness warmed Symeon’s heart—hecould not truthfully call the emotion “love,” forthe last of everything he truly loved had crumbledto ash in Constantinople—but it was a tender sen-timent nonetheless. Myca reminded him very muchof himself at that age, at times, and that realiza-tion never failed to stir nostalgia for a time beforepain, before betrayal and fire and death.

A shadow materialized before him, beneathone of the pitch-soaked torches that lit the gardenpath, tall and lean and straight, clad in a heavywoolen cloak that failed to disguise his deformity.Malachite bowed, deeply, carefully, and straight-ened. “May I walk with you, my lord?”

“I shall always welcome your company, my LordMalachite, and your wisdom.” Symeon offered apolite bow of his own, and together the two vam-pires continued their perambulation in silence forseveral moments.

Malachite broke it, with his quiet strong voice,as they passed the bright-lit wing of the villa thathoused the family quarters. “Your childe, my lord,young Myca… I fear for him. I fear that he hasfallen into… bad company.”

“You are referring,” Symeon replied dryly, “tohis plaything, the so-called koldun, Ilias celFrumos.”

Malachite hesitated fractionally, then nodded.“He claims the heathen as his advisor.”

“And I am certain that the heathen does, infact, advise him. I am not ignorant of the littlekoldun’s presence in my territory, Malachite, or his

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service in my childe’s bed. Myca is not the onlyone with eyes and hands in many places.” A faintsmile touched the corners of Symeon’s mouth. “Ido not, however, fear his influence. Myca belongsto me, and always has, and the freedoms I allowhim make him placid in the jesses. He flies whereI will, and does as I wish.”

“For now,” Malachite murmured, the contra-diction in his tone mild.

“Forever.” Symeon plucked a green bud off abush in passing, rolling it between his fingertips.“For now, I am content to let Myca keep his play-thing. It ultimately does no harm, and may evendo some good. The koldun lineages are few, anylonger, and sheltering a koldun within one’s courtis a mark of some honor among the clan. In thisway is this creature useful to me, as well. So longas he continues to be useful, and Myca continuesto do his duty as he should, there need be no quar-rel between us.”

Malachite nodded silently. If he had any otherthoughts, or any other objections, he kept them tohimself.

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Michael came to me at a time when I was simul-taneously weary and restless, discontent and unsettledin my existence and as without peace as it was possiblefor me to be. I had, in truth, been restless and withoutpeace for many dozens of years, if not centuries; de-cades passed in which I thought myself content in myloneliness, in the absence of companionship, living theascetic life of the mind. I might even have been con-tent, for solitude is not abhorrent to me when solitudeis what I truly desire. It is not, however, always whatI desire.

One would almost have to have been there to ap-preciate the impact that Michael had upon me whenwe first met. It was like watching the sunrise over thesea and not being burned when he came into my pres-ence that first night on Cyprus. Rarely had I metanyone his equal—his equal in beauty, his equal inwit, his equal in passion. We were not lovers, not atfirst, though it was not for want of desire between us.I had been alone for so long, alone and wretched in myloneliness, in my self-imposed exile, in my desire totouch nothing and let nothing touch me, that it took agreat deal of time and effort to coax me out of myselfagain. Michael was not insistent, nor demanding, norover-eager. He was patient and gentle, and at first hegave me only what I needed—a friend, a compassion-ate ear, and a voice of wise counsel. He seduced firstmy mind and my heart. Then he claimed my body andmy soul. Laying in his arms, making love to him, waslike being touched by love itself, joining with some-thing greater than I could ever hope to be alone,becoming part of something vaster and more perma-nent than any act or work that I could myself conceive.

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It is odd, now that Michael is gone, that I canrecall so much that was good in him, and forget all elseas I choose. I loved him then, and I love him still, andI can remember the things that made me love him with-out pain, without shame, without feeling manipulated,misused, and betrayed. I loved him, even when heturned to Antonius solely to cause me pain. I lovedhim, even when I saw what he was becoming in hismadness, what he would do when that madness finallyconsumed him. I loved him even when he did not trulylove me any longer, for I could not help myself—hehad become a part of me, inextricable as my own flesh,my own bone. A part of me died when I turned awayfrom him, when I left him as much to save myself as tosave him. My presence could not save him, but I hopedagainst hope that my absence could. I knew that stay-ing would drag me down in madness along with him,and destroy everything that I tried to create.

I loved him, and I abandoned him to his destruc-tion. There are not enough words in all the world todefine how much I despise myself for that cowardice.

Part Two

Dragon’s Eyes

Odio et amo: quare id faciem, fortasse requiris.Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior. (I love and I

hate. You ask me why this is so; I do not know, but Ifeel it, and it torments me.)


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Chapter Eleven

Winter released its grip on the mountainsgrudgingly. Three weeks passed from Myca’s depar-ture before the weather warmed enough for rain tofall regularly, and the snowmelt to begin in ear-nest. The ground in the monastery garden beganthawing, and the trees in the monastery orchardgrew red with sap and began to bud. Ilias, witness-ing this from within the confines of a cloisterbelonging to a faith not his own, grew restless,wanting to be out among the trees, listening to thequickening rhythms of the earth. He remained atthe monastery only because the road was still toochancy to rely upon, being covered most of itslength in a revolting mixture of mud and rapidlydisintegrating slush, unfit for the feet of men orbeasts.

Three more weeks passed, and the worst of therains eased, though it remained windy. The monkstold Ilias that the forests on the lower slopes werefully in bud, a beautiful sight during the day, andhe silently envied them their ability to witness thatsight. Snow lingered now only on those heightsthat were always snowy, and the darkest, coolestparts of the valleys. Another week, and the roadwas almost dry enough to ride, consisting of onlythree inches of mud instead of ten. Ilias decided togive it another week, and put his servants to workgrinding salt and herbs, packing ritual implements,and acquiring equipment sufficient for the purposehe had in mind. Father Aron was somewhat be-mused by a few of the requests he received thatweek, but provided all the buckets and floor-scrub-bing implements they required.

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Ilias and his four most favored servants de-parted the monastery early one evening,descending the hill carefully, and made for atraveler’s hostel maintained by the Obertus broth-ers on the road that led to Brasov. The hostel,forewarned of their coming, had rooms preparedfor their daylight rest, which Ilias at least took ad-vantage of. The four mortals napped for a fewhours, accepted the meal that the Obertus broth-ers offered them, then rode off again along a trackthat the hostler-monks knew led into the denseforest to the west, rather than into the city itself.They departed carrying much of the baggage and asupply of their own food. They did not return asthe day grew late, making the brothers a bit fearfulfor their safety. When Ilias awoke at sunset, theybroached the matter to him and he, touched bytheir concern, informed the brothers that his ser-vants were in no danger. They had ridden aheadto prepare his house for him, which was only a shortdistance into the forest. Then he also departed,amused beyond the capacity for words.

Ilias was not at all alarmed by the failure of hisservants to return, for he realized there would be agreat deal of work to do at the sanctuary. The win-ter had been harsh, and detritus had no doubtaccumulated accordingly. He also knew that thosehe had chosen were up to the task, the most dedi-cated of his personal followers. He rode in theirtracks, lighting the way with a lantern on a longpole, following the route he had mapped out forthem and the way-markers he himself had placed.Here, a tree split by lightning, still standing de-spite the ferocity of the winter wind; there, a hugemossy boulder, almost precisely triangular, juttingout of the leaf-mould like a fang. The trees were,indeed, all in bud, their branches lashed by the

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blustery spring wind, last autumn’s damp leavesdrifting across the path. The forest thickened ashe approached the sanctuary itself, and the pathgrew narrower. He dismounted, and led his placidand well-trained mount the last stretch. Thoughthe thick-clustered trees, he caught a glimmer oflight from the candle-lamps outside the small struc-ture of the sanctum itself and heard the sound ofhorses whickering from the animal enclosure be-hind it.

The temple of Jarilo was not an elaborate struc-ture, but it was adequate for its purposes. Itssanctum was a low, round building of wood andstone, roofed in wooden tiles, lacking windows,containing little besides an open space of floor fora small congregation to sit and a low wooden altarfor offerings. For most of the year, Ilias left it un-tended, that those who wished to come and maketheir offerings and devotions in privacy could doso. During the months from planting to high sum-mer, he spent most of his nights there, acting inthe position for which his sire had Embraced him,the immortal witch-priest, servant to the god ofthe reborn earth, the bright beauties of spring. Therest of the sanctuary he let grow wild, a forestedexpanse of hidden glades and quick-runningstreams, with only one large assembly area, thewooden circle where the rites of high summer, thefeast of Kupala, were usually held.

From what he could see, his servants had donewell, gathering up the deadfall wood and stackingit beneath a heavy leather covering in the lee ofthe sanctum, and sweeping clean the stone walk-way leading up to the building. He took his horseto the animal enclosure, and there found Mikloson watch, tending the beasts and guarding againstpredators, for wolves prowled the woods. The boy

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leapt up to help him, and Ilias gave him the reinsand a cool-lipped kiss of thanks, which he blushedto accept.

“The cleansing goes well?” Ilias asked, glanc-ing about the enclosure. It, too, appeared sweptclean, the hay and oats fresh, the water troughswell filled.

“Very well, koldun. We finished the sanctumand the area around it first, as you asked. Therewasn’t as much damage as we feared—the roofdidn’t lose any tiles this year.” Miklos smiled, hisgray eyes alight with humor. “Nico complainedabout the dust, but he always does, and there werea great many offerings left. We saved them in thechest you gave us.”

“Excellent. The others are asleep?”“Yes, koldun.”“Then I’ll not wake them.” Ilias reached up

and removed a woolen cloak lined in fur from thepannier of his saddle. “Someone is going to replaceyou?”

“Yes, koldun. Sergiusz made Nico and Teopromise to take turns before we did anything else.”Again, his little grin lit his face, and Ilias pattedhis cheek gently.

“Good. I shall return before dawn. Do not for-get to sleep, Miklos.”

And, so saying, Ilias went to walk beneath thetrees of his own sanctuary, the place that was hisand his alone.

***That day, as he slept safe in the windowless

darkness of the sanctum, Ilias dreamed strangedreams. In his ears, a solemn voice spoke a lan-guage he did not know, softly but with greaturgency. In his mind’s eye, images flickered butrefused to come into focus, smears of color spread-

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ing across the inside of his thoughts, indistinct butprofoundly disturbing. He woke unsettled in hisnest of sleeping furs behind the altar, screened offagainst stray light passing through the seams of thedoor, and lay for a moment trying to convince hismind to yield up a single coherent thought. As hedid, a single image came to him: a tall figure, darkof hair and lithe of form, clad all in red silk, hishair trailing nearly to the floor, walking betweencolumns of blue marble, as though he were in adream, or dreams made flesh himself.

Ilias sat up slowly, and took several deep, de-liberate breaths to calm himself. He felt, for noreason that he could name, that he should knowwho that man was, should know him as he knewhis own blood and flesh, but could not see his face.It chilled him to the bone.

***It took four days and nights to prepare the sanc-

tuary to Ilias’ satisfaction. By day the four boyslabored physically, sweeping paths clean, gather-ing fallen wood, carting away last year’s ashes fromthe several fire pits scattered about the sanctuary.By night, Ilias offered a spiritual cleansing, scat-tering the paths with herbs and fragrant oils,renewing the circles of salt and blood that delin-eated the boundaries of the wooden circle, itscarven plinths cleansed with saltwater. Slowly, hefelt the presence of the spirits and the gods return-ing, waking after a long winter’s rest. The treesmurmured to each other in their own tongues and,out of the corner of his eyes, he caught the brightflicker of their souls and their attendant spirits asthe air warmed and the buds began to unfurl.

Ilias brought his tools with him, and by dayhad them placed in the clearing outside the wooden

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circle—a small altar carved from the heartwood ofa lightning-struck beech tree, a carved stone bowl,a wooden bucket of water drawn from a spring inthe sanctuary. When he rose that night, he bathedhimself in salted water and dressed in a long whitetunic and a circlet made of beaten gold in the shapeof flowers and vines. Sergiusz and Nicolaus, hav-ing slept much of the day, were awake andaccompanied him as he walked the path to thecircle, barefoot, carrying the symbols of his office,a human skull in one hand, and a sheaf of lastautumn’s wheat in the other. Sergiusz went first,carrying an iron candle-lamp in one hand and abag of salt and herbs in the other. Nico followedbehind, carrying four beeswax candles and the bagcontaining two handfuls of Nikita’s grave-earth.

Overhead, the sky was clear and star-strewn,and the moon was dark. Sergiusz’s lamp providedthe only light as they stepped into the clearing.He stood, a silver-gilt sentinel, as Ilias carried thealtar and the bowl into the circle of wooden plinthsand laid the skull and the wheat upon it. Nicolausgave him the candles, which he lit and placed onthe altar; the water, he poured into the bowl.Sergiusz gave him the salt, and Nicolaus gave himthe earth; he kissed them both in thanks and mur-mured, “Go back to the sanctum. I shall returnbefore dawn.”

They went. Ilias stepped across the lines ofblood and salt sanctifying the circle, and kneltbefore the altar, soaking his tunic and his legs indew. The salt, ground together with visionaryherbs, he used to trace a circle around the bowl,and lay a bit beneath his tongue. He left it thereto melt, savoring the bitterness, closing his eyesand feeling the power welling up within him. The

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words came to him easily, the invocations of waterand earth, calling upon the spirits to open widehis eyes, to show him what he needed to see. Withhis thumbnail, he slit open his wrist and drippednine drops of his own blood into the waters fillinghis vision-bowl. With that same hand, he reachedinto the bag of Nikita’s earth, and added to thewater nine pinches of that earth, dark and grainy,oddly textured against Ilias’ fingertips.

It did not begin immediately. The spirits ofwater were more mercurial than those of earth, cooland changeable, and even when one invoked themproperly and gave offerings to their taste, they of-ten desired more than one would be willing to pay.He felt the spirits contained within the bowl swirl-ing about the earth and the blood,considering—and then felt them accept.

The water churned, and shot upwards in asteaming, swirling column, coiling around itself andforming a perfect, shimmering sphere. Ilias raisedhis arms, weighted with the dragging, swirling hun-ger of the water, and thrust his hands into thesphere, letting the visions it would impart flow overhim and draw him down.

He sensed a vast distance, far greater than any-thing he had every felt before, a gulf of space andage that beggared his imagination. For an instant,he saw nothing but a great rushing darkness, thepassage of many miles, and then it came to him—

Mountains… high, snow-capped mountains,higher even than the mountains of the east, standingsentinel against the deep blue sky—

Wind, cold—the air was dry against his skin—Home. He felt it in his blood, in his flesh, in his

soul. This place, this high and stark and beautiful place,was Nikita’s home. There was no sea. There was not

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even much forest, the heights given over to scrub andstone and snow. There was nothing put mountains asfar as he could see, mountains and a great starry archof sky, the ancient bones of the earth exposed beneaththe eyes of heaven. He felt the age and the strength ofthe spirits of this land, their beauty and their cruelty,and their strangely absolute mutability. Fire was firebut intermingled with earth and air in a way that de-fied his ability to fully perceive it. The spirit of thisland itself seemed to have been shaped somehow,worked, blended together in a manner suited to a willnot its own. It was like nothing he had felt anywherein the east, and he had, in his time, traveled many ofthose lands and spoken with their spirits. He knelt,and ran his hand over the earth, cool and dark andfrozen, and tried to bespeak the spirits—

Chaos exploded before his eyes, within his mind,a howling maelstrom of pain and rage and grief thatclawed at the core of his own essence. He screamedand tried to pull himself back, hurl himself away—

And came back to himself, flat on his back,his skull swimming with pain and exhaustion, histhroat raw from screaming. There was no light butstarlight. The water had fallen, and doused thecandles. For a long moment, Ilias could do noth-ing but lay there in shock, watching explosions ofpainful color pass before his eyes as the aftermathof the vision faded slowly. He rose to his handsand knees, wearily, acknowledging to himself thatthe spirits were getting a bit too avaricious in theirdemands on his person, and perhaps he should beless tolerant in the future. He crawled to the edgeof the circle and pulled himself to his feet with theaid of a plinth, his knees weak and the muscles ofhis legs ropy from the drain on his blood and spirit.It took far longer than he liked to reach the sanc-

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tum, leaning on trees and crawling when he hadto, the sky growing gradually grayer as the dawnapproached.

Miklos and Teodor were waiting for him whenhe reached the door and helped him inside, remov-ing the crown from his tangled hair and themuddied tunic from his body. As they bundled himinto his nest of sleeping furs, the last thought thatcame to him before exhaustion claimed his mindwas that Nikita did not come from Sredetz.

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Chapter Twelve

Ilias’ party returned to the monastery twoweeks later, after he had officiated over the rites ofreturning spring, accepting the offerings of thosewho knelt to the priests of the Christ by day, butacknowledged that earth and night were full ofgods, as well. There, he found a letter waiting forhim from Myca, requesting that he join him inAlba Iulia as soon as could be arranged. Before thatweek was out, Ilias was on the road again with hismortal entourage and the six members of Symeon’spersonal guard who delivered the message in thefirst place. The guards were all szlachta, warrior-ghouls who concealed the modifications to theirflesh beneath armor and clothing, a fact for whichIlias was grateful. Symeon of Constantinople didnot waste any tender aesthetic sensibilities on themen he expected to die in his service.

***The Obertus house in Alba Iulia was not a re-

ligious establishment, but one like many othersclustered around the town’s market square, twomodest stories high with a cluster of storage build-ings behind it. The first floor was given over to agenuine business, owned and operated by a familylong in Myca’s service, who dealt in luxury goods,furs and spices and the fine amber and pigeon’sblood rubies of the east. The second was theObertus “embassy,” Myca’s offices and windowlesssleeping chamber, perpetually scented with the finespices residing in the first floor storage rooms. Ilias,who normally disliked most towns on general prin-ciples, found little to detest about Alba Iulia, smalland picturesque along the banks of the Mures.

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They arrived close to midnight, detained onlybriefly by the men of the town watch. They werepermitted passage after the captain of Symeon’sguardsmen showed the captain of the watch a let-ter affixed with an enormous waxen seal. It wasclear that not a one of them had the letters to readit, but the seal itself seemed to contain all the in-formation they needed. Ilias was, not for the firsttime, grateful for the efficiency with which Symeonof Constantinople bought or intimidated hislessers. Some few people were still about the mar-ket square, scattered with puddles from a recentrainfall, most of them the patrons of a tavern onthe corner, its doors and lower shutters thrownopen to let in the pleasant evening air. A lightburned in the ground floor study of the Obertushouse, and a sleepy servant answered their sum-mons at the door. Ilias, his attendants, and theirbaggage were ushered inside, while the guardsmenwent in search of a place to stable the mounts.

The servants slept in a small room off thekitchen, and pallets were already prepared for Ilias’servants, as were soup and cheese to repair theirhunger, and Ilias sent them off to dine and rest.The master of the house himself rose, wrapped ina rich brocade sleeping robe, to see Ilias upstairs,where Myca waited. A smile touched the koldun’smouth as he beheld his lover for the first time inmany weeks, completely oblivious to his arrival,hunched over a slanted desk on which was spreadhis leather-bound journal and a handful of looseparchment sheets, writing in the light of two low-burning candle lamps. Ilias bowed shallowly inthanks to the sleepy merchant, and crossed theroom on cat’s feet, resting his hands on Myca’sshoulders and murmuring, “I suppose if I must share

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you with any other lover, at least that lover is abook.”

Myca did not start or otherwise show theslightest trace of surprise. Instead, he straightenedin his low-backed chair and leaned his head againstIlias’ breast, inviting a caress, which Ilias was quitepleased to give. A low sound, almost a purr, es-caped Myca’s throat as Ilias stroked his hair, workedhis thumbs into the tense muscles of his lover’sneck, the taut, slender shoulders clad in silk. Theykissed in greeting, lingering over each other’s lips.When they broke apart, Myca murmured, with asoft smile, “You are entirely superior to a book, myheart.”

“I should hope so, if for no other reason thanthe fact that books lack hands.” Ilias found a sec-ond stool, backless and shorter in legs, and pulledit close. “I trust your business with your sire wentwell?”

“Very well, indeed.” The smile did not fade; infact, it grew a shade more satisfied, and Ilias in-clined a questioning brow in response. “My lordsire wishes me to ride south to the domain of IoanBrancoveanu, to summon the Hammer of theTremere to council in Oradea, and entreat him toadd his voice to the accord of peace and brother-hood being built between his sire and hisuncle-in-blood.”

“Well,” Ilias replied phlegmatically, not cer-tain how to respond. “That sounds like an exercisein futility, and a disaster waiting to happen.”

“Possibly both. In the time I was in Oradea, Idid not receive the impression that Lukasz andRachlav’s followers waste much brotherly amity oneach other, and I am not convinced that we cantrust even self-interest to keep them from reopen-ing hostilities at the first available opportunity.”

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None of this seemed to be bothering Myca in theslightest, which Ilias found faintly amusing. “How-ever, the intrinsic untrustworthiness of Lukasz andRachlav is not really my problem, nor will it be inthe future. I need only to inform Ioan that his siredesires him to give his approval to the alliance andconvince him that doing so is in his best interest,which, given that the man is not a fool, shouldnot require too much effort.”

“You have noticed that Ioan is not a fool,” Iliaspointed out, delicately.

“Yes. I have also noticed that he is boggeddown in his current position and has been for al-most a decade, and that any potential change inthat status quo can, for him, only be a good thing.Even if the alliance between Lukasz and Rachlavproves to be fleeting, Ioan may be able to reap somebenefit from it. After all, their forces could defectto his service, without damaging their own honorin the eyes of the clan.”

“Are you thinking out loud,” Ilias asked, “orpracticing your arguments on me?”

“Both.” Myca reached out and caught his hand,running a thumb along Ilias’ knuckles. “You madegood time. I was not expecting you for anotherweek, at least.”

“The rites were somewhat sparsely attendedthis year.” Ilias admitted. “I suspect that I’ll comeback to a number of offerings in the sanctuary. Theroads were disgusting after you left. Do not changethe subject.”

Myca pressed a kiss to his knuckles. “I am notchanging the subject. I do not intend to fail withIoan—for when I am finished with him, Symeonhis given me permission to investigate Nikita tomy own satisfaction.”

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Ilias’ eyebrows rose slightly in surprise. “Now,that is a surprise.”

“I agree, but Symeon seems genuinely con-cerned, and wishes to know how Nikita managedto suborn an Obertus monastery to his service. Ihave already written to the prince of Sredetz, re-questing permission to travel there as part of myinvestigation and begging whatever assistance hemay wish to provide.” Myca leaned forward in hischair, placing a stopper in his bottle of ink andclosing his journal. “By the time we are finishedwith Ioan, we may have even received a reply. Iwish you to accompany me, if you desire.”

“Of course. You could not, I will tell you now,successfully make me stay behind.” Ilias smiled,somewhat crookedly. “I did as you asked, and in-terrogated the spirits of Nikita’s earth. Or, to bemore precise, I attempted to interrogate them. Idid not receive much concrete information, but Ifeel quite strongly that Nikita does not come fromSredetz. When we go there, I will know for certainif that intuition is true or not.”

“I felt within myself, some time ago, that youwere very weary and… possibly injured?” Myca’stone was coolly neutral, a request for informationrather than an expression of concern. Ilias felt theanxiety underlying it, anyway, but answered thequestion instead.

“I was not injured. The pain was not my own,but Nikita’s—it invaded my being when I at-tempted to bespeak the spirits of his earth. It was,however, a rather tiring effort.” A pause. “Nikitais much stronger than he should be, Myca, andperhaps much older, for a man so little renownedwithin the clan.”

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Myca nodded fractionally. “I have thought asmuch myself. In any case, we will soon be free topursue the mystery of him, and, until then, yourmagics hold him well. Malachite will also be ac-companying us, at my sire’s request, though heremains in Oradea until my mission here is com-plete.”

“You trust him to do so?” Ilias asked.“I trust my sire to keep him in check.” Myca

replied, grimly. “And I trust Malachite to abide bythe will of the last surviving ruler of the Trinityfamilies of Byzantium.”

Ilias nodded. “You wish, I take it, for me toaccompany you to see Ioan, as well?”

“Yes. It is my understanding that he holds thekoldun lineages in high esteem and that he himselfhosts a koldun in his court, such as it is…” Mycatrailed off, his tone faintly questioning.

“I have heard that, as well. In fact, I have heardthat he harbors no less a koldun than the Shaperpriestess of the Mother herself, Danika Ruthven,childe of the eldest of the bogatyri kin-lines.” Iliassmoothed his tunic over his knees, somewhat ner-vously. “She attended at my Embrace, and neitherher power nor her wisdom can be overstated. Sheis certainly one to cultivate as an advocate, andwas a friend of my sire for many centuries.”

“Then I will leave the fearsome Lady Danikato your charms, my heart.” Myca rose, and dousedthe lower of the two candles. “Come. I will have abath drawn. You have traveled far, and I am verypleased to see you again.”

Ilias rose, and smiled, teasingly, at the eager-ness that underlay his lover’s brisk tone. “Oh, good.I was beginning to wonder if I would have to waitall night.”

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***Once Ilias arrived, the preparations for departure

were rapidly completed: There were a sufficient num-ber of horses , and a heavy cart in which the twoCainites would travel by day, protected if not whollycomfortable. Myca had already been in contact withIoan, requesting permission to travel into his domain,and Ioan’s stipulations in agreement to that requestwere several. They were not given permission to traveldirectly into his territory. They were to meet his en-voy at the edge of the lands he claimed, and travel onfrom there under that envoy’s guidance. They wouldalso depart from his domain under guard, and theywould not travel anywhere within his domain with-out an escort. He could not, he emphasized pointedly,entirely guarantee their safety while on the road, ashis domain consisted almost entirely of territory con-tested with varying degrees of pugnacity by theTremere. They were to come prepared to defend them-selves as necessary, but should limit their numberssensibly, the better to make speed. Myca ultimatelydecided to bring the entire complement of guards lentto him by his sire, and Ilias’ half-dozen attendants, aswell, reasoning that some would no doubt be sentback, anyway. They rode almost due south from AlbaIulia, and as they went the terrain grew steadilyrougher and higher in elevation. Despite the fact thatspring was well advanced, the nights continued coolenough that the warmth of fires and mortal atten-dants was a necessity, not a luxury—at least insofar asIlias was concerned. By day, the party traveled, Iliasand Myca together in their single light-proofed con-veyance, knowing that soon the road would run outand they would be traveling rough across country.

The party arrived at the meeting place Ioanhad stipulated at midday, setting up camp beside

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the crossroads and waiting patiently for night tocome. The forest had not been cleared back farfrom the edge of the road, though several smallclearings were clearly used by travelers forced tocamp rather than continue to their destinations.Ilias and Myca, cramped in their accommodations,rose as soon as the last sliver of sun passed behindthe mountains, found the majority of their servantsin a pleasing state of watchful preparedness, andsettled in to wait, as well. They did not have towait long.

Ioan Brancoveanu’s envoy heralded her own ar-rival with a lupine chorus. Pale-furred shapes emergedfrom the foliage at the edge of the wood, their eyescatching the light of cook-fires and low-burninglamps, their voices filling the night with a sound bothfearsome and oddly mournful. A nervous youngguardsman reached for his bow, only to be restrainedby an older, more experienced colleague. Myca, seatedon a low bench next to the cart in which he and Iliashad traveled, rose and closed the book he had beenreading with the aid of a candle. Ilias came instantlyto his side, standing back a pace, profoundly calm andwatchful. Deep inside himself, Myca felt the essenceof Ilias’ thought—that the envoy was among the packof wolves slowly ringing their camp, and was watch-ing to see how they would react. Myca noddedfractionally in agreement with that assessment, andlaid aside his book, letting his hands fall to his sidesand striding to the edge of the encampment wherethe guards now stood, watching tensely. He couldhardly blame them, with this impressive number ofwolves playing hide and seek with the camp’s fires.

He stopped just outside the perimeter of thecamp itself, beyond the ring of tents and the cart,but not inside the wood itself, and spoke clearly

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into the darkness beneath the trees. “I am MycaVykos, childe of Symeon, childe of Gesu, childe ofthe Dracon, childe of the Eldest. I come in thename of my sire and my house to seek speech withIoan Brancoveanu, childe of Lukasz, childe ofNoriz, childe of Djavakhi, childe of the Eldest. Icome in the name of peace, so I swear by Earthand Sky, and the Waters of Life and Death.”

“Do you?” The voice was soft, husky, whollyfeminine, and came from his left. “It was my un-derstanding that we were merely seeking a new wayto make war.”

Myca turned and bowed smoothly to thewoman who stood before him, rising after an ap-propriately respectful moment. “Perhaps we are, mylady, and perhaps we are not. I bring word to yourlord of peace among his own kin, at least, and ifthat leads to another sort of war,” Myca shruggedgracefully, “it is not my place to pass judgment.”

“Diplomats.” Her appearance indicated thewoman was a Gangrel, one of the feral Cainites whomade their homes in the wild places of the world. Shewas by no means hideous, Myca thought, but sheshowed her acquaintance with her own Beast quiteclearly. Her eyes caught the light and reflected it inpoints of gold, much like her lupine pets, and hertawny hair had more in common with an animal’spelt than anything else. She did not, however, appearto cherish any particular bias against clothing, andwore a long pale tunic, belted at the waist, and sturdyleather boots. “I am Lukina of the Veela, and my lordhas sent me to be your guide.”

***They departed the next night, considerably re-

duced in numbers and weight, at Lukina ’sinsistence. The cart they had always intended to

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send back, but with it went four of Ilias’ six atten-dants and half the bodyguards Symeon hadassigned. Packed inside it was the majority of theunnecessary clothing, bedding, and supplies of foodthey had carried with them from Alba Iulia. Lukinainformed them that the traveling and sleepingwould be rough, and anyone who could not keepup would be left behind. She only permitted themto take sufficient horses and two pack animals af-ter Myca urgently pointed out that he had nointention whatsoever of walking halfway across themountains, and there was no room for flexibilityin his position on that issue. Lukina snarled andmade a number of uncomplimentary remarks aboutthe dainty tenderness of the Tzimisce these nights,but ultimately relented.

They made decent enough time on the ascentthrough the lower slopes, where the roads werebetter and a number of villages huddled in thehighest valleys, eking out a living in the shadowof the peaks. Most of the people were shepherds orgoatherds, or foresters making their living on thechancier trades of trapping and hunting. Therewere few fields to be found, and what fields therewere grew only enough for subsistence, not tradeor taxes. Most of the folk had also been taught notto welcome chance-met travelers who arrived bynight, likely by harsh fortune. Unlike their low-land cousins, their hospitality was purchasable bysufficient weight in silver, but was generally notfree for the asking. Soon, even the modest com-forts of a lightless storage cellar for the day’s restwere a luxury as they climbed higher into themountains.

The roads became little better than goat trackswinding through the high, narrow passes, continu-

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ously swept by cool, dry winds. By day, they sleptin closely grouped camps, buried in the rocky earthbeneath canvas tarps and heavy furs, or in caveswhen such amenities were close enough to the trail.Broad-leafed trees vanished entirely, replaced bydark forests of fur and pine that swallowed the lightof their lamps and torches as they traveled by night.Lukina’s wolves dogged their tracks, keeping watchand, occasionally, sounding warning. Thingsmoved among the trees, their footfalls softened bythe carpet of fallen needles, avoiding the reach ofthe brightest firelight, their presences apparentonly with the infrequent glimpse of something hugeand misshapen slipping past the corner of the eye,or the lingering sense of malignance they left hang-ing in the air. When Myca questioned Lukina onthe issue, she informed him that not everythingstalking the mountains belonged to Ioan or theTremere. Some things darker still came to feed onthe remnants of the war, and it was best to avoidcrossing paths with such things. She spoke thosewords with the first hint of genuine fear he hadseen in her, and so he was inclined to give themcredit, for the woman was nothing if not hardminded and capable.

Myca had expected Ilias to fare somewhatpoorly on the journey, relatively soft as the last fewyears had been for him, but the koldun-priest ofJarilo rose to the challenge with ease. Myca had toremind himself, somewhat wryly, as he watched hisslender, seemingly delicate lover negotiating nar-row trails and the hardships of the road with perfectease, that not so long ago Ilias was a wanderer whotraveled from one end of the east almost to theother, rarely settling in one court for any length oftime. Even Lukina was grudgingly impressed with

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his stamina and his woodcraft and, more impor-tantly, his complete failure to whine about anyinconvenience, no matter how obnoxious. He was,however, more quiet than usual, nearly withdrawn,and Myca endeavored to remain as close to him aspossible, sensing some inner uneasiness. WhenLukina announced, five days into the mountains,that they were nearing the territory directly underIoan Brancoveanu’s rule, Ilias shivered slightly, andMyca saw it.

When they retired late that night to their shal-low pit-bed beneath the pines, Myca wrapped hisarms around his lover and drew him close. “Whattroubles you?”

Ilias was silent for a long time, winding theirfingers together and leaning his head back againstMyca’s chest. Amazingly, his hair still smelledfaintly of linden. Finally, he whispered, “I havenever been this close to a place where war has beenfought with magic. It feels…” Another shiver. “Itdoes not feel right.”

“No,” Myca replied, softly. “I do not imaginethat it does. Are you well, my heart? Can you con-tinue on?”

Ilias lifted one of Myca’s hands to his lips.Against his palm, he could feel his lover’s wansmile, then a cool, gentle kiss. “I am not well. CanI endure it? Yes. I will not send you to face Ioan byyourself, with only ghouls to defend and advise you.We shall come through this together, and we willbe the stronger for it.”

After that, they spoke no more of the matter,and if the blight of sorcerous war scourged Ilias’soul, he kept his pain to himself.

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Chapter Thirteen

Two nights later, they crossed the border intoIoan Brancoveanu’s domain. No physical barrierthat Myca could perceive marked the transition,but the change was palpable nonetheless. Lukinaand her wolves, all of whom had prevailed snap-pish and temperamental, perceptibly relaxed afraction, tension lessening as they re-entered theirhome range. The forest itself almost seemed lessunwelcoming, better suited to the passage of trav-elers. Darkness still lurked beneath the pines, butit was a natural darkness, cool spring night ratherthan the twisted remnants of baneful magics. Iliasbrightened up, as well, his discomfort lessening sodramatically that Myca remarked on it.

“Something protects this place, more power-fully than the route we took to make it here,” Iliasreplied, thoughtfully, as they bedded down for theday.

“Lady Danika’s work?” Ilias’ pain had mani-fested in such a way that, for the first time sinceMyca met him, he was completely disinclined tobe touched. Now, he was entirely content to beheld as they curled together on silken mats filledwith grave-earth.

“Possibly. She is very strong. I remember heras being very strong.” He rested his head beneathMyca’s chin. “But, even so, she is only one and shemust spend her strength wisely.”

Myca nodded wordlessly and drew his lovercloser, feeling, for the first time, the fragility thatlurked beneath his strength, and wondering if theconsequences were worth the power the kolduncalled their own. He himself had felt not a trace of

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discomfort traveling through the mountains, butrather had felt strangely exhilarated, as though hewere coming home for the first time in ages, al-most as powerfully as he had felt it when he firstset foot on the soil of his homeland after fleeingConstantinople. Beyond the mountains to thesouth lay Ceoris, where he had spent his mortalyouth. A small part of him still regarded it with anemotion similar to affection, though he had fewgood memories of the place itself, or the peoplewho dwelt there. It was, nonetheless, still a part ofhim, an admission he made without difficulty orguilt—Ceoris and the Tremere had in part madehim what he was, but they were not the whole ofhim, a truth that he had struggled with in silencefor many years. One night, he would possess in fullthe power they claimed, and he would do so on hisown terms. For now, he was content with theirplace in his past, and what he had become sincehe left them, however involuntarily.

Holding that contentment close, he closed hiseyes, and let sleep claim him.

***Myca woke to a chorus of howls, Lukina’s pack

singing with full-throated gusto, and he wonderedblearily if the moon was full tonight.

“Moon-rise will not be for hours yet.” Ilias re-plied aloud to the silent question. “The sun is onlyjust down.”

“So I feel.” It took a moment for Myca to workup the energy to push himself to his elbows, par-ticularly with Ilias draped across his chest yet.“What do you suppose it is?”

“I have no idea.” Ilias reached up and liftedthe tarpaulin covering their resting place a fewinches. “Alin?”

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A pair of hands slid under the edge of the tarpand lifted it, allowing the light from a candle-lampto fall over them, the younger of the two atten-dants Ilias had brought with him peering in. Mycanoticed that the boy was unusually pale and seemedmore nervous than usual; Ilias generally chose hisservants for their steady temperaments as much asfor their aesthetic appeal. “Master?”

“What is going on? The wolves...”Alin licked his lips and replied, as steadily as

he could, “We were joined during the day by a pa-trol from the voivode’s manse. They say theircaptain will be joining us shortly, to guide us therest of the way in.”

Myca and Ilias exchanged a glance as Alin,aided by the older, taller Isak rolled back the tarpand assisted them in rising, then rapidly beganbreaking down and packing away the tent thatstood over them, as well. The rest of the camp wasalready broken down, the men clearly prepared tomove at a moment’s notice, tending to their res-tive horses and making certain that all the baggagewas lashed down properly. Scattered among themwere a number of men (and some few women) notoriginally of their company, clad in light leatherarmor and what appeared to be reinforcements ofpale bone, armed with short, powerful bows, shortwasp-waisted swords, and, in several cases, single-edged hatchets. Lukina stood in the center of theclearing in which they’d camped, next to a low-burning fire, deep in conversation with a hulkingfigure that could only be loosely described as hu-man-seeming. It was at least seven feet tall—thetop of its spike-tipped helmet brushed the lowestbranches above their heads—armored and armed,its face covered in a mask of shaped bone, its eyes

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dark pools within the sockets of the mask. Mycaglided forward across the soft bed of pine needlesto join the group. Lukina nodded shortly to him ingreeting and the giant bowed low, dark hair braidedtogether with bone ornaments spilling over itsshoulders.

“Stapân Vykos, this is Vlastimir Vlaszy, lieu-tenant to my lord voivode Ioan Brancoveanu celMacelar,” Lukina introduced them, with a passableattempt at formality.

Very properly, the voivode’s giant lieutenantwaited until Vykos acknowledged his obeisance be-fore rising. “Stapân Vykos.” The voice that emergedfrom behind the twisted beast-face of the mask wasdeep and rich, cultured. “I give you greetings inthe name of my lord voivode, Ioan Brancoveanucel Macelar, and welcome you to his domain. Hewill be joining us presently.”

“The voivode is gracious. I did not expect himto greet us personally. I and my house are honored.”Myca bowed himself, shallowly, in response to this,and rose to find Ilias at his shoulder. “My advisor,Ilias cel Frumos, koldun-priest of Jarilo.”

All about them, the lupine chorus swelled, andabruptly ceased. Lukina raised her head and lis-tened tensely then announced, “He comes.”

A stir began at the edge of the camp, many ofthe new arrivals coming forth to give obeisance totheir commander as he joined them. Ioan was pre-ceded by two enormous warriors in their zuloshapes, mottled ghost gray and night black, almostinvisible in the near-total darkness but for thebright yellow sparks of their eyes. He was other-wise unattended and wore no other form. Myca wasstartled to realize that Ioan was actually shorterthan himself, standing only a finger or two taller

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than Ilias. The force of presence he exuded gavehim the illusion of much greater size as he joinedthem, quietly and without ceremony, at the fire-side, his giant lieutenant bowing to the ground andbeing waved up with barely a pause.

Myca was not entirely certain what he had ex-pected, but Ioan did not seem to fit the generalimage of the ravening Tzimisce warlord he hadconstructed over the years. Certainly, he was cladin armor, the same dark leathers and pale workedbone reinforcements, and certainly he was armed,the pommel of the weapon at his hip a snarlingdragon’s head of shaped bone. A bone mask thatfit so closely it seemed crafted in place gave hisface a vaguely reptilian image. The eyes behindthat mask were a shade of brown pale enough toseem amber-golden in the firelight and his paleblonde hair fell to his waist in a multitude of slen-der braids wound with bone beads and ornaments.A necklace hung to mid-chest, also strung withcarved and polished bone charms. He looked ap-propriately feral, but force of personality that rolledfrom him did not bespeak a creature of mindlessdestruction. Myca received the impression of greatcalm, a questing mind, curiosity tinged with inter-est.

Ilias and Myca bowed simultaneously and theirhost waved them up as quickly as he had his ser-vant. “No ceremony now, my lord stapân Vykos,my lord koldun Ilias cel Frumos. There will be timeenough for it later, and we must make speed to-night. I wish to reach the bastion before dawn. Itrust you are prepared to travel?”

Myca absorbed this lack of formality withbarely a blink. “Of course, my lord voivode.”

Ioan nodded sharply. “Then let us make haste.”***

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Ioan set a brisk pace for the last leg of the jour-ney, most of which they undertook on foot, leadingtheir horses single file up narrow trails. The bulkof the party he broke up into groups of twos andthrees, accompanied by one or two of his warriors,staggering their passage through some of the nar-rower areas and sending some by other routesentirely. Even so, they made excellent time up thelast steep series of switchbacks, reaching the edgeof the valley Ioan called his own with the sky onlybeginning to show signs of paling.

Looking down into the valley from the highridge above it, Myca was quietly impressed. The“bastion,” which his imagination had insistedwould be a fortress, actually resembled more of atown, smaller than Alba Iulia, and contained en-tirely within the bounds of what appeared to be alow earth-and-stone wall. Roughly semicircular, itsurrounded a terraced rise at the opposite edge ofthe valley, on which was constructed another se-ries of walls—a series of palisades, more accurately,of rammed earth and stone topped in sharpenedlogs. Myca concentrated briefly, drawing on all thelight available to him—starlight, moonlight, thelamps their party carried and the torches lit on thewalls in the town below—and tried to see moredetail as they descended the packed-earth road,leading their horses and following Ioan, who ledthe way.

“The rim of the valley is warded… by earthand fire, I think,” Ilias murmured as they walked,looking about curiously. They were passing throughan area of cultivation, vegetable plots for the mostpart. No large fields appeared immediately appar-ent, but Myca supposed they might always tradefor sufficient grain.

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Myca cast a glance about and, here and there,he caught sight of wooden plinths, carved and hungwith charms of carved bone, wood, and metal. “Theplinths are the wards? Or the anchors for themagic?”

“Yes. I saw some carved in the rocks along theroad, as well, and there were two small ones hid-den just off the road at the top of the rise.” Mycawatched his lover out of the corner of his eyes, andcaught him, more than once, gazing fixedly atsomething Myca himself could not perceive. “Ithink the defenses around the rim are supposed toprotect against fire. I did not see any signs of forestfire, but that does not mean that they were nevernearly burned out of this place.”

“The spirit-arts can accomplish that sort of de-fense?”

“If you entreat them properly, yes. Stone-spir-its are a bastion against even skyfire, correctlyinstructed. I am certain that’s a fire-break up there.And the plinths in the fields? Protection againstfoul weather and curses to blight the land, unless Imiss my guess.” Ilias rubbed his chin thoughtfully.“Well constructed, as well. But, then, I would ex-pect at least that much from Lady Danika. She didnot strike me as the sort to do things in half-mea-sures.”

They crossed the first of the walls, which was,as Myca had thought, constructed of a rammed-earth embankment four feet in height, topped in amortared stone wall that stood another three feetabove that. Beyond it, the town was silent anddarkened, sleeping, and they passed through it qui-etly. Occasionally, Ilias gestured silently atsomething that caught his eye—the beaten-metalcharms set into the rear of the wall, bits of carving

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on the lintels of doors—most of which seemed tohave some kind of sorcerous significance. At thebase of the terraces leading up to the far edge ofthe valley and the larger palisade, they were metby a collection of servants, who took the horsesand baggage in hand, and they proceeded the restof the way unencumbered.

Myca was beginning to suspect that Ioan hadarranged this entire event for his benefit, and sohe took copious mental notes, refusing to be in-timidated but admitting to himself that theHammer of the Tremere might not simply be allreputation. Skill was evident in the design andconstruction of this place and discipline was evenmore apparent among the men and women whooccupied it. The palisade was guarded and pa-trolled, mostly by mortals, szlachta and revenantsof martial disposition, Myca didn’t doubt, but hereand there he perceived the pale aura of a vampire,many of whom appeared to be prepared for imme-diate action, not simply command. The road woundup the side of the hill and, on each terrace, hecaught glimpses of motion that suggested focused,organized activity. He did not see any dwellingplaces, per se, and that surprised him somewhat,until they reached the uppermost tier of the for-tress.

Ioan’s manse was built into the mountain it-self, burrowed into the rise of the valley. From onhigh, Myca realized that the entire upper fortresswas likely underground, and possibly accommo-dated far more people, and far more vampires, thanhe originally suspected. The visible portion of themanse itself was a series of low, domelike struc-tures constructed of what appeared to be pressedearth and stone, rising out of the hill as though

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they had grown there instead of being built, with asmall courtyard between them and the uppermostpalisade. Torches flickered in the courtyard, and apair of oil lamps lit the main door to the manse.Here, Ioan paused, removed his mask, and turnedto face them. Myca was surprised: but for their dif-ferences in coloring, Ioan and Nikita of Sredetzcould have been kin, graced as they were with thesame sharpness of features, the same high cheek-bones and angular shape to their eyes.

The Hammer of the Tremere bowed low, in for-mal greeting, and rose with a flourish of his palehair. “I give you greetings, Myca Vykos synDraconov, childe of Symeon, childe of Gesu, childeof the Dracon, most beloved of the Eldest. I giveyou greetings, Ilias cel Frumos, koldun-priest ofJarilo, childe of Dorinta, daughter of the gods. Iwelcome you in the name of my sire, LukaszBrancoveanu, and the name of my house,”—thefaintest possible trace of irony colored his tone—“and in my own name. Be named friend andwelcome in my house, where no harm shall cometo you and all of your wants shall be met, to seekyour rest. This I swear by the holy names of Earthand Sky, and by the Waters of Life and Death.”

“I am Myca Vykos syn Draconov, and I cometo your house in the name of peace and friendship.”Myca bowed deeply and rose after a respectful in-terval. “Your hospitality, my lord voivode, is as ofthe gods.”

“I am Ilias cel Frumos, and I come to your housein the name of peace and friendship, and by thewill of the gods of Earth and Sky.” Ilias bowed aswell, and rose. “May their blessings never departyour house.”

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“I thank you, koldun, ambassador.” BeyondIoan’s shoulder, the door to the manse opened,spilling a shaft of golden light across the courtyard.“Let us retire before the sun finds us here.”

Myca could not help but notice as he passedthat the door was more than a foot thick, andopened and locked by what appeared to be a fiend-ish mechanism of gears operated by some meansbeyond his perception. Ilias, however, was simul-taneously startled and impressed, murmuring, “Youknow, there are some nights when all I can do isget them to do as I ask. Here? Shaped to will. Ishould probably be jealous.”

“Lady Danika,” Myca murmured in reply, “isindeed highly skilled, then.”

“Not just Lady Danika,” Ilias flicked a glanceat their host’s back, as he led them down the shorthall, which rapidly turned into a staircase descend-ing in a tight corkscrew. “Those charms he wearsare spirit-bindings. The long one in the middle,the one that looks like a tiny flute? It is the markof a master of the ways of air, and it has to be hisown work, or no spirit would accept the binding ofhis will. So are the wind-flutes on the palisadewalls.” Thoughtfully, “I did not know that he wasa koldun. He hides it well.”

“A tactical advantage, no doubt.”“No doubt.”It struck Myca, as they descended, that Ioan’s

haven was as strange inside as it was on the out. Itdid, indeed, appear as though it had grown out ofand under the mountain without any human in-terference whatsoever. The walls and stairs wereentirely of smooth, polished stone unmarked bychisel. There were no sharp angles, no angles atall, in truth—only domed ceilings and supports that

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looked as though they had grown from the ceilingto the floor, and vice versa. The hall at the end ofthe stair was wide, and branched off into numer-ous side corridors, their floors flattened andscattered with finely ground sand to keep them dry,their ceilings arched, lit at intervals by recessedlamps. Myca glanced a question at Ilias and foundhim looking around, rapt with wonder, and re-ceived all the answer he needed. This place hadbeen constructed with the aid of the spirits and itwas likely they that gave it its unique and vaguelydisturbing appearance. A female servant, dressedplainly in a long tunic and a hair-cloth, met themat the bottom of the stairs and bowed deeply, si-lently, in greeting.

Ioan nodded to her. “Please escort my lordstapân Vykos and my lord koldun Ilias to their cham-bers.” He turned to face them again, and offered ashallow bow of his own. “Your needs will be met;you need only make your requests to the attendantsawaiting you in your chambers. I ask that you for-give my abruptness. I have been in the field forfourteen nights and I must meet yet tonight withmy lieutenants before I may address any other busi-ness. I shall call for you, ambassador, tomorrowevening. Koldun, I am certain that Lady Danikawishes to renew her acquaintance with you. Fornow, I bid you good evening and wish you goodrest.”

And, so saying, he left them to find their cham-bers.

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Chapter Fourteen

“So,” Ioan Brancoveanu said quietly, lookingup from the stack of diplomatic correspondence hewas perusing, “my beloved sire and his idiot brotherare really going through the motions of makingpeace. I find myself not entirely surprised.”

Myca inclined a brow questioningly. “You sus-pected it already, my lord voivode?”

“I suspected that my grandsire’s current ambi-tions might drive them in that direction, whetherthey wished to go that way or not,” Ioan replied,and began refolding documents and replacing themin the diplomatic courier’s satchel they originallyarrived in.

“Your illustrious grandsire, Noriz, is not ac-tively involved in the negotiations, my lordvoivode,” Myca pointed out, with the faintest hintof wry amusement underlying his tone.

A snort. “Of course he isn’t. Noriz has spentcenturies cultivating a reputation for ravenous self-indulgence. He will not fritter that away on theoff-chance he might seem effectual for a change.”

Myca forced himself not to smile. “I had beenwarned, my lord, that you rarely mince words.What do you think of the peace proposal itself?”

“I think it has a snowball’s chance in a bonfireof succeeding, ambassador, given the proclivity forpetty treachery and personal sabotage present onboth sides of the issue. I do not, however, thinkmy opinion on that matter will be solicited by any-one but you, so I suggest you mark it well. This isgoing to end badly, and I predict it here and now.”He kept only one document, the personal letterthat Lukasz’ ambassador to the court of Oradea had

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sent along. “That does not mean that I will notsubmit to my sire’s request in this matter.”

Myca was silent for a moment as he digestedthat, sorting and discarding conversational gam-bits as he considered. Ioan watched him, a faintlyamused expression playing around the corners ofhis mouth.

“Surprised?” The Hammer of the Tremere fi-nally asked.

“Yes,” Myca admitted frankly. “I honestlythought you would require a significant amount ofeffort to convince.”

“Diplomats.” For an instant, he sounded verylike his veela shield-maiden. “I have no love formy sire’s idiot brother, ambassador, and, to be bru-tally frank, I have nearly as little regard for my sire.But it is beneath me to deliberately obstruct thisprocess, no matter how little I believe it can suc-ceed, when I might reap some benefit from it formy men and my allies. Does that satisfy you?”

“Partially. You do, of course, realize that theconsequences of this matter will likely fall on yourshoulders, whether it ends ill or well?” Mycawatched closely; Ioan did not cultivate as expres-sionless a face as some in his position did, thoughhe guarded his reactions well.

“I know it.” Resignation, more than anythingelse, colored his tone. Resignation, and the faint-est hint of bitterness. “Ambassador, I am not a fool,nor am I ignorant of matters taking place outsidemy domain, and outside the war. I know thatRustovitch is falling from grace, and that his alliesare turning away from him. I have already receivedcommunications from two of them. I know thatmy grandsire, after centuries of wallowing in hisown excesses, has suddenly rediscovered ambition.”

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A pause, a smile so edged in anger it was difficultto look on. “As much as I would like to see VladimirRustovitch humbled, I find the idea of Noriz ac-complishing that so completely repugnant thateven I can scarcely give it words. By that same to-ken, I cannot betray the blood that runs in myveins—Noriz is my grandsire, and Lukasz is my sire,and it was through them that I have become whatI am now. I owe them honor, and service, and, inmost things, obedience. I know what they want ofme. They want me to take this… peace accord andturn it into the alliance that will break the Tremere,once and for all.”

He rose, and paced. The room, which Mycasupposed must be this strange place’s version of acouncil chamber, was the largest he had seen inthe underground portions of the bastion, long androughly rectangular, though all the angles weresoftened into curves. The table occupied the ap-proximate center and was surrounded by acollection of padded chairs and benches. A low fireburned behind a grate at the far end, keeping theroom warm and dry despite the cool dampness be-low ground. Myca almost thought he could seegrooves worn into the hard-packed dirt of the floor,where Ioan had walked this route before.

Myca watched, letting his vision blur and slipacross the border between sight and vision, noticedthe pensive cast to Ioan’s colors. “You do not thinksuch a thing is possible.”

“No. You are not a fool either, ambassador, andI will do you the honor of not treating you likeone.” Ioan returned to his chair, but did not sit init. “The war, at least as my sire and Rachlav andNoriz, and possibly even Rustovitch conceive it,has already been lost. It has been lost for decades.

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We have no chance whatsoever of exterminatingthe Tremere root and branch. They are too manynow, and too entrenched, and if they are not be-loved of our western cousins, they have at leastmade diplomatic inroads that we cannot easilydevalue. Had we struck quickly, decisively, whenthey were weak and few and more vulnerable…perhaps then we could have destroyed them. Butnow? Now I think the best we can hope for is tomake the price for remaining in our territory higherthan they are willing to continue paying, and drivethem out of our domains. My sources have sug-gested to me that they show a marked predilectionfor licking the boots of the Ventrue and the Torea-dor. Let them continue doing so if it brings themjoy. We may yet be able to drive them to seek sanc-tuary in the west, and then we may close our rankson one front instead of a multitude.”

“Do you think such a thing can be accom-plished?” Myca asked quietly. “They have clung toCeoris—to the mountains of the south—in the faceof everything that has come at them thus far. Theyhave weathered both Vladimir Rustovitch and yourown most determined efforts, have they not?”

“Anything may be accomplished with suffi-cient resources and a sufficiently well-developedplan of action, ambassador. I’ve had little to do forthe last decade but attempt to husband those re-sources and think on that plan. I believe it can bedone—not in one stroke, perhaps, and certainlynot overnight, but it can be done. It is all in know-ing— “

He broke off and looked up sharply, his nos-trils flaring and his hand lifting to the necklace ofbone charms he wore at his throat. Myca half-rose,a question on his lips. Even as he did so, the cause

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of his host’s distraction became plain. A low, ulu-lating wail echoed down the corridors of thesubterranean bastion, beginning softly and risingto an almost agonizing pitch for sensitive Cainiteears—an alarm of some sort, Myca realized, evenas he clapped his hands over his ears to block outthe noise of it. Lukina brushed open the heavywoolen hanging separating the chamber from thehall and barked something at Ioan. Myca could notmake out individual words but caught the gist:something was coming. Behind her, he caughtglimpses of armed and armored figures hurryingthrough the halls. He sensed no panic but tasted ahint of fear in the air to go with a sudden jolt ofnearly electric tension. Ioan caught his eye and hegingerly removed his hands from his ears, foundthe alarm had dropped from its earsplitting pitchto a low and continuous moan of agitation.

“Wait here, ambassador.” The Hammer of theTremere ducked beneath Lukina’s arm, barking or-ders and demands for information to the men inthe hall as he went.

Lukina let the hanging fall. Myca waited whathe felt was an appropriate interval before peeringinto the hall and, upon determining the absenceof any hurrying soldiers or permanently stationeddoor-guards, stepped out himself, looking about.Apprehensive though he was, and unsettled by thedeep-throated moaning of the alarm, he was none-theless also curious, and that curiosity was easilystrong enough to overcome anything resemblingfear. He retraced his route through the twisting,narrow corridors, having memorized as much oftheir layout and several navigation marks the pre-vious evening, and reached the bottom of thecorkscrew stair a moment later. The bottom of the

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staircase was unguarded, which pleased him. Un-fortunately, despite the hint of fresh air that hefound on the staircase itself, the door at the topwas sealed and lacked anything resembling a handleor lever by which it might be opened by someonelacking command of the spirits of earth. He won-dered how the ghouls and lesser Cainites managedit but found no obvious clues and, frustrated, hewent back down, wondering if there was anotherway out.

“Myca!”He turned, and found Ilias hurrying towards

him down the corridor, visibly nervous and nottroubling to hide his agitation. Following closelybehind him was a tall, dark-haired woman in hermiddle years, her hair braided in a crown abovethe severe beauty of her face, clad in robes of rus-set wool and charms of bone and stone and twistedgold wire. From the girdle cinched about her waisthung three knives, beaten copper, iron, and whatlooked like stone or blackened bone. Her force ofpresence preceded her by the length of the corri-dor and Myca found himself bowing deeply to herbefore she had even come to a stop.

Ilias stepped into the circle of his arm, and hecould feel his lover suppressing the urge to tremble,fighting the panic rising from within him, nearlyovershadowing any other response. Myca rested hishand in the small of Ilias’ back and drew him close,murmuring, “Did you not teach me yourself, myheart, that it is not shameful to fear when fearfulthings are happening all around you?”

Ilias closed his eyes and nodded, some of thetension leaching out of the set of his shoulders. Amoment longer and he was capable of speech. “For-give me, Myca, my lady… I was, for a moment,very disturbed.”

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The lady nodded fractionally and Myca, hishand still firmly in place, offered a faint smile. Thecorner of Ilias’ mouth twitched wryly in response.“My lady, this is, I admit, not how I pictured thismeeting occurring. My Lady koldun DanikaRuthven, it pleases me to introduce you to my LordMyca Vykos syn Draconov. Lady Danika’s great-ness is such that my tongue is unworthy to tell it,and my Lord Myca’s wisdom is valued even by hisjudicious sire.”

Lady Danika’s striking face relaxed momen-tarily in a smile. For an instant, she seemed nearlyhuman and not the instrument of the gods. Mycacould not imagine her ever laughing, regardless.

“You flatter me, priest of Jarilo.” She turnedher pale eyes on Myca then; he felt her assessinghim, weighing him in a single glance, and whenshe was done he was thoroughly uncertain ofwhether she approved of what she saw. “Ambassa-dor, your fame has preceded you, as well. My lordvoivode has had much to say of you in the last sev-eral years.”

Myca chose to take that as a compliment, andbowed from the neck. “My lady flatters me, as well.I am naught but a servant of my sire and my house.”

“Of that I am quite certain.” Lady Danika re-plied, dryly. “You were with my lord voivode, wereyou not?”

“Yes. Lukina came and collected him severalminutes ago. I assume they went above ground.”Lady Danika, Myca noticed, had the face of an ex-perienced courtier, being almost as unreadable inher reactions as Symeon.

“I expected as much. Come with me. Quickly.We may be of some use above.” Lady Danikabrushed passed them and continued down the cor-

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ridor. Myca and Ilias exchanged a glance and hur-ried after her, not particularly eager to be lost orleft behind.

Lady Danika swept through a side door thatled almost directly to a short, downward-slantingstaircase, terminating in a roughly circular roominto which half a dozen corridors ended. She choseone and strode down it fearlessly, despite the lackof lamps to illuminate it and despite the unpleas-ant sounds emanating from the far end. Myca andIlias followed a few steps behind, with a bit moretrepidation, and shortly the three emerged into abroad corridor, wider than any they had thus farencountered, broad enough for a dozen men to walkabreast up it, slanting gradually upward in a sort oframp. Laboring to climb it were two enormousvozhd—creatures taller than a man on horseback,their flesh pallid and laced with thick blue veinswhere it peered through overlapping plates of bonygray armor—and their tenders. Each creature hadfour enormous, sinewy arms and a number ofsmaller, vestigial limbs, which they used to propelthemselves along at a man’s quick walking pace.The armor was pierced in places with heavy ironrings with thick chains attached, wrapped throughthe belts of the keepers, four to each vozhd, eachwarrior in zulo shape and carrying a long pike usedto prod the vozhd along, a bundle of javelins hungacross their backs. A half-dozen warriors came upthe ramp behind them, all in varying states of mid-transformation, limbs and skulls elongating, skinsdarkening and toughing into scale-like armor asthey assumed their zulo war-shapes.

“Spear-throwers,” Lady Danika explainedshortly at their questioning glances. “Somethingis approaching by air, likely gargoyles. The spiritsof air disapprove of something so earthy passing

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through their domain. That was the message we,the priest of Jarilo and I, heard when the generalalarm sounded.”

They waited until the vozhd completed theirclimb to the surface, the very face of the mountainrolling open with a horrendous echoing groan toallow them egress into the outer portions of thefortress, and then hurried out as well before thegap closed behind them. Outside, the sky was low,densely overcast, the moon little more than a sil-ver blur behind the clouds, the air was thick withthe scent of lightning strikes. A numinous blue-white radiance danced across the top of thepalisades, illuminating the figures of men movinginto position along the walkways, archers andspearmen, some of them in their bulkier, and physi-cally stronger, zulo shapes. Lady Danika led themto one side of the palisade, where a stairway ledupward to the walkways and observation platforms.On one of them stood Ioan, flanked at a respectfuldistance by Lukina and the small mountain thatwas Vlastimir Vlaszy.

Myca could easily see why his lieutenants kepttheir distance. Tiny blue-white arcs of lightningleapt from Ioan’s body every few moments, dancedalong the charms braided into his hair, the brace-lets around his wrists, answered by arcs flickeringaround a series of slender plinths placed at inter-vals along the palisades. With each arc, the scentof lightning intensified, until it made Myca’s eyeswater blood in response to the heaviness of the air.A savage wind was howling along the heights ofthe mountain, tearing new leaves from the trees,driving the clouds overhead into a tight, low-hang-ing circulation. In the distance, lightning arcedfrom cloud to cloud, illuminating a cluster of dark

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shapes flying below the clouds, thunder echoingdown the valleys and from peak to peak. Iliasclutched Myca’s hand so tightly the bones groundtogether, and a sound of mingled pain and fear es-caped his throat. Myca stole a glance and foundhis lover’s face etched with a painful mixture ofemotions, anger and hatred and a terrible grief.Myca closed his hand as best he could and offeredall the comfort he was able through the bond theyshared.

“My lord voivode.” Lady Danika had reachedthe Hammer of the Tremere and attracted his at-tention. He glanced over his shoulder at her,nodding curtly in greeting—then he caught sightof Myca and Ilias over his shoulder, and his pale,storm-lit blue eyes narrowed a fraction in visibleannoyance. The nimbus of unearthly radianceabout him brightened for a moment, a curl of light-ning licking out and leaving scorch marks on thepalisade and observation platform around him. Atremendous sense of gathering power filled the airbetween them and Myca took a half step back,pulling Ilias behind him protectively. Ilias’ handknotted in the back of his dalmatic and they stood,pressed close together, a safe distance away.

“My Lady Danika, I am glad that you couldjoin me so promptly.” He greeted her cordially, andinclined his head slightly to Myca and Ilias, as well.“Ambassador, koldun, this should be educationalfor you.” He gestured outward, pointing along theridge of the mountains opposite their position.Almost on cue, the lightning lit the sky again,outlining the misshapen forms of the approachinggargoyle pack, too quickly for Myca to count pre-cise numbers. An unpleasantly large number of thethings, however, a fact he took in during that swift

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glance. “A dozen, likely a harassment flight—wehave been expecting this much for weeks. SomeTremere weather-worker is manipulating the stormoutside our little valley to drive them toward uswith greater speed than they would otherwise beable to achieve. To get here, all they will have todo is glide on the storm-wind. They will lose thatadvantage when they cross the rim of the valley,where the winds become mine.”

A high, thin shriek echoed down the valley.In it, Myca thought he detected an almost humannote of frustration. A thin smile of satisfactioncurled Ioan’s mouth, and he turned to his enor-mous lieutenant. “Are the spear-throwers inposition?”

“Yes, my lord voivode.” Vlaszy replied.“Excellent. Make certain that they are pre-

pared to throw at my command.” Ioan laid hishands on the top of the palisade wall, and LadyDanika stepped forward, past Lukina, and restedher hand on his. “Lukina, if you would be so good,make certain that no harm comes to the ambassa-dor or the priest of Jarilo. I believe things are aboutto become rather… intense for them.”

The sense of gathering power rose higher yet,lifting the hair on the back of Myca’s neck andmaking Ilias shudder helplessly against his back, alow moan halfway between pleasure and anguishemerging from him. “Oh, Myca… if you could seeit… if you could feel it…”

Ilias edged around him to his side and clungto him, trembling, all the pain and hate and grieferased from his face, his expression one of tran-scendent ecstasy, his eyes shining brilliantheaven-blue in sympathetic reaction to the mag-ics being woven by Ioan and Danika. Myca could

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feel the intensity of Ilias’ reaction stirring his ownblood, rousing both his senses and his desire. Hishunger was suddenly sharp, his fangs lengtheningin his jaw swiftly enough that they scraped his owntongue, filling his mouth with the taste of his ownblood. A force that was nearly electric leapt be-tween the places their bodies touched. It was allMyca could do to control his sudden, violent needfor his lover, the urge to push him up against thepalisade wall and take him where they stood. Iliaswas not helping on that score. His hands were ev-erywhere, lips nuzzling Myca’s shoulder through hisclothing, his own fangs fully extended. Desperately,Myca pulled him close and held him tightly, shiv-ers of magic-born lust shaking them both.

An earsplitting crack of thunder shook theground beneath their feet, and the lightning rosearound them like a shimmering blue-white curtain,striking from the earth into the low-hanging sky.Shrieks sounded from above as white-hot boltsfound their targets, and a rain of dark ash fell acrossparts of the palisade wall. Archers fired almost di-rectly upward, and they did not fire blindly. Thesky above was filled with the rush of dark wings.Some of the creatures were massive, hugelymuscled, the damage they were capable of doingbrutally obvious. Others were long and slender,sinuous, cutting through the air to strike at thebastion’s defenders like knives flung by the wind.Myca threw himself flat on the walkway and tookIlias down with him, half-covering his lover’s bodywith his own as a hook-faced monstrosity slicedthrough the air where they had been standing,screeching as it went. An instant later, a hard-thrown javelin transfixed its misshapen skull, andLukina was crouched above them, watching it fall.

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“If you cannot fight,” she snarled in Myca’sface, “get below!”

Myca needed no further encouragement. Hescrambled to his knees and from there to his feet,crouched below the level of the palisade wall, pull-ing Ilias with him. They fled down the staircaseand found, at its base, an aperture piercing themountain face. Myca shoved Ilias in ahead of himand threw a glance over his shoulder. The cloudsabove the fortress were numinous with the radi-ance of the lightning traps. Against the glare,gargoyles dove and killed, struck and were struckdown, blood and ash showering from above. It wasthe most terrible thing he had seen since the deathof Constantinople, and the most freakishly exhila-rating. He turned and fled from the sight of it, hisblood still pulsing in his head and his veins, afirewith the power that had touched him and the de-sire that waited for him at the far end of the tunnel.

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Chapter Fifteen

From the journals of Myca Vykos:Six more attacks came and went before we de-

parted from Ioan’s bastion. Four of these came strictlyby air, gargoyles bearing fire as a weapon, and twocame from the ground, enormous wingless beasts thatbattered at the walls of the fortress and nearly broughtthem down in several places before being driven back.Each attack was repulsed, in most cases bloodily, byforce of arms and sorcery. In each case, Ioan dealtmore damage than his forces sustained, protected asthey were by the strength of their fortifications and thepreparedness ground into them by their commander.Ioan did not at any time, however, take the offensive,preferring to let the gargoyle legions of the Tremerebreak against him like the tide crashing against a greatrock. A few weeks past midsummer, we withdrew fromthe bastion, Ioan leaving the extremely capable LadyDanika in command of the situation, supported by hisleft hand, the revenant warrior Vlastimir Vlaszy. Wemoved more quickly departing than we did coming in,using routes whose existence I had not even suspectedwhile approaching, as speed was very much of the es-sence. A lull had come in the fighting, but such lullsrarely lasted long in the summer months when warcould be made almost freely, unhindered by uncoop-erative mountain weather. We made Alba Iulia in lessthan a week, traveling by day in lightproof convey-ance once we reached the lower hills.

When we paused briefly for supplies in Alba Iulia,I found a letter waiting for me from the Prince ofSredetz, Bela Rusenko, responding positively to myrequest to visit his court. Included was a brief discus-

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sion of the customs of his court—the rigorous formal-ity of the Tzimisce did not pertain there, as the princeis a Cappadocian and a follower of the ways of desire.Those customs he kept were few and in no way oner-ous to his visitors, given the richness of his domain.He did, however, also advise us not to travel overlandfrom Brasov to Sredetz, as there was strife among theBulgar Tzimisce who dwelt to the north of the city,and he could not guarantee our safety if we approachedthrough those domains. Our Bulgar cousins’ pugnac-ity was not unknown to Ilias and me. We had spentmany hours, safe within the lower halls of Ioan’s bas-tion, discussing our routes of travel should the Princeof Sredetz extend us welcome. We had already decided,if such permission came, that we would travel by seafrom the port of Constanta and sail to the Bulgar portof Varna, and travel overland to the capital from there.

I left Ilias in Alba Iulia with letters of credit and agenerous supply of silver by which to arrange our travelfrom Brasov to Constanta, and proceeded to Oradeawith Ioan and his retinue in tow. We arrived in thewaning nights of high summer. The first harvest of ripegrain was being brought in as we crossed through thefarmsteads bordering the Great Plain. Symeon, warnedof our coming, greeted us gladly and feted Ioan like aprince for a week, apparently very much to the Ham-mer of the Tremere’s bemusement. Before I departedOradea, both parties signed and witnessed the long-debated peace agreement between Lukasz and Rachlav,Symeon had sent forth a call to the allied houses andwarlords of the mountains to attend a gathering atOradea (I was told this request originated with Ioan,who seemed intent on making the most of this oppor-tunity that he could), and the trees highest on themountains had already begun to turn with the firstbreath of autumn. When I reached Alba Iulia, I foundthat Ilias had not been idle in my absence. Not only

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were our travel arrangements made, but our escort ofrevenant bodyguards courtesy of my sire were as-sembled, his own attendants had completed thearrangements necessary in Brasov, and we would bedeparting from Constanta in six weeks aboard a mer-chant vessel carrying goods south and whose captainhad agreed to take our entire entourage for an aston-ishingly good price. A letter also awaited me fromMalachite, informing me of his intent to meet us inBrasov, having errands of his own to pursue prior toour departure. We did not manage to miss him, as hewas very well informed of our movements. Fortunately,the autumn remained dry enough that we made goodtime reaching Brasov, traveling by both barge alongthe navigable waterways and by the unpaved trade-roads. From there, we reached Constanta with wholenights to spare.

Ilias was, of course, enormously excited and com-pletely intent on regarding the whole affair as the finest ofadventures. He had never traveled on a large boat before,or across a body of water larger than a deep lake, andharassed nearly everyone he met, including myself, withquestions about the sea. In fact, he had never actuallyseen the sea before, either, and could sit for hours watch-ing the tide washing up on the moonlit shores aroundConstanta, completely rapt. He confessed to me that hethought the water spirits of lake and stream and river weremuch different from the spirits of the sea—even the river-spirits of the Danube and the Tisza, though they flood withgreat violence nearly every spring, were not so wild as thespirits of the open waves. I can only assume that he iscorrect in his assessment. Dwelling in the spirit-touchedfortress of Ioan Brancoveanu for most of the summer leftno sensitivity to their presence rubbed off on me, despiteIlias and Lady Danika both pointing out their workings tome. Perhaps it is a personal defect of some sort. If so, it isnot a defect I currently have the time or inclination to

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fully address. Malachite kept much to himself during thistime, his mood melancholic, and even Ilias could not drawhim out, though he made the attempt. I thought perhapsthat something he had learned on his “errand” had dis-turbed him in some way, but he refused to speak of it, andit was impossible to press him, as much as I wished to doso.

We sailed from Constanta with the dawn, Ilias and Iresting together in our cabin, inside a thoroughly light-proofed chest-bed lined in heavy felt, with six inches ofour grave-earth beneath us. We both took great pains toinsure an adequate supply traveled with us, some poundslining our sleeping chest and several more kept in oiledleather sacks, sewn shut, among the other pieces of bag-gage. Malachite chose to sleep in a separate, smallercompartment, traveling only with a single body-servant totend to his needs, a man who had evidently been with himsince his time in Ile de France. He persisted withdrawnand curt for the duration of the voyage, speaking to meonly when it was unavoidable. I cannot say I found thisdecision on his part to be wholly disagreeable, as I foundmyself still entertaining the desire to twist his head off onoccasion. The bodyguard slept on deck, with most of theship’s crew. Ilias’ attendants shared the cabin with us, pre-tending with great verisimilitude to be the sons of a richboyar traveling to Sredetz to winter with relatives. Mostof them, having the hearty constitutions of revenants andghouls, adapted to life aboard ship with little difficulty,only minor bouts of sickness and then mostly during roughseas marring the voyage for them. Ilias, on the other hand,suffered almost instantly, and constantly, from the mo-ment we left port.

I personally did not think it possible for a Cainite tobecome seasick. Certainly, when I sailed fromConstantinople I experienced some discomfort, but it wasfleeting, and Symeon assured me that such discomfort was

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wholly natural and that he himself experienced it, as well.I felt it, as well, when we left Constanta, but it wentaway just as quickly. Ilias, on the other hand, felt it andkept feeling it, to the point that on some evenings (whenwe were at the furthest point from land in our journey, itseemed) he not only could not rise, he could not bringhimself to feed, either. We emptied half his remaining sup-ply of grave-earth over him, so that he might rest mostlyburied, and this gave him some relief from the sickness.He told me that he felt as though the waters themselveswere trying to rend the bond between himself and the earth-spirits, to drown him or cast him away, for water in manyways rejects the dead. As we drew closer to land, the ill-ness abated somewhat, and he was able to walk the deckswith me after dark, to admire the stars and the moon abovethe glass-smooth dark sea and to whisper to the wild spiritsof the air above the water. He apologized, more than once,for being a burden to me, and I had to hush that foolish-ness quite vigorously.

We made port in a little less than a month, the worstof the autumn storms holding off until after we arrived.The journey across the southern reaches of Bulgaria in theautumn rains was more pleasant than I thought it wouldbe, though rather slow going. We arrived in Sredetz threeweeks after we made shore.

***Sredetz reminded Myca of a smaller, humbler,

more thoroughly Slavic imitation of Constantinople,an opinion he kept firmly to himself. The localCainites, those that had survived through a half-dozenchanges of rulership and upheavals both great andsmall, were a proud and somewhat insular lot, as quickas a Tzimisce warlord looking for a reason to fightwhen it came to taking offense, capable of extractinginsult from even the blandest remarks when it suitedthem to do so. Myca learned this early on, and learned

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to tread and speak softly around those with the quick-est tempers. His Byzantine “origins” were notnecessarily a mark in his favor here, at least amongthose who carried grudges left over from their mortaldays, and lingering resentment against the “Byzan-tine yoke” hid in the oddest places. Ilias had morefortune when dealing with the local Cainites, havingan almost magical knack for loosening tongues andsoothing hard feelings. It did not hurt his position atall that a substantial number of the city’s residentsfollowed the same moral paths as he and his lover,and they ungrudgingly acknowledged Ilias as priestand teacher of the ways of desire, and, somewhat moregrudgingly, Myca as his apprentice on that way. Mala-chite dealt with the situation by making himselfinvisible, even to Myca and Ilias, who had difficultykeeping track of his activities on a night-to-night basis.He was, evidently, going out of his way to avoid con-tact with most of the high-blooded Cainite residentsof Sredetz, seeking converse with others of his ownkind, disappearing for whole weeks at a stretch, ap-parently traveling about the region as best he could.

Bela Rusenko, the prince, was a walker of thepaths of desire himself, but a particularly eccentricspecies thereof, a reclusive and unsocial scholar whorarely interacted with either the residents of his cityor the visitors that he periodically received. He heldcourt infrequently, accepted guests with little fanfare,and delegated the majority of the social tasks of hisposition to his childe, the Lord Ladislav. Ladislav fol-lowed the same moral codes as Rusenko, but unlikehis sire, was relatively gregarious and substantiallymore approachable. He conducted most of the night-to-night business of the domain with the aid of hischilde, the Lady Erika. Both proved themselves in-valuable to Myca during the early stages of the

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investigation in Sredetz, offering advice and assis-tance. Myca was certain he was incurring a massivedebt to both of them, but hardly cared. Neither hadbeen resident in Sredetz during Nikita’s brief reignthere as heretical bishop. Neither, for that matter, hadBela Rusenko himself. They did, however, know whoamong the current residents of the city and whoamong the locals in the countryside had been presentduring those years, and who might have reason toknow Nikita somewhat personally.

Ladislav also answered Myca’s request to take pos-session of Nikita’s haven, which, they discovered, hadsat empty but well tended since the Archbishop ofNod’s departure on his tour of the heretical domin-ions. Nikita had, apparently, left behind no ghoulsand no childer, which was itself unusual. MostTzimisce who wished to leave their personal domainssecure behind them made extensive use of both. Thecaretaker of Nikita’s house was a revenant, as werethe man’s wife and three sons, but they were also ei-ther appallingly ignorant of the power running in theirveins, or else deliberately tampered with in such away as to render them ignorant. Their loyalty to Nikitawas absolute, ground into them with such permanencethat even the harshest questioning could not diluteor break it. All five now dwelt in a room in the base-ment and provided most of the sustenance for theCainites of the household, being useless for anythingelse, as they would not speak of their previous masterand could not be trusted.

Nikita’s house lay in the oldest part of the city,the section once known as Serdica by the tribe thatoriginally dwelt there, and as Triaditsa by the Romans,where most of the wealthiest citizens still dwelt. Amock Roman villa of two stories with numerouspseudo-Byzantine architectural embellishments, it was

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more than sufficient for Myca’s purposes, and Ladislavwas quite willing to let him have uncontested use ofit. None of the locals wanted it, seeming to believethe place of ill aspect, considering the fates that hadbefallen its last two owners: the former Prince Basilio,driven into exile, and the Archbishop of Nod, appar-ently vanished off the face of the earth. Myca spentmost of the late autumn and early winter tearing theplace apart, while Ilias circulated among the locals,collecting gossip and engaging in subtle interrogations.Periodically, Malachite himself would appear at thevilla, bearing news and rumors culled from the gut-ters, and the results of his interrogations of the region’slow-blooded heretics. No new leader had arisen toreplace Nikita. There did not appear to be sufficientorganization intact, even here in the heartland of theCainite Heresy, for such a political act to occur. TheNosferatu, whose detestation of the Cainite Heresywas both personal and deeply ingrained, did not botherto hide his satisfaction with that development. Hedid not, however, have any more success than Mycaor Ilias in uncovering any details of Nikita’s origin.

The villa’s single large storage room was crammedto the rafters with what appeared to be the accumu-lated detritus of at least a century of heretical religiousendeavor. Nikita was, evidently, an obsessive collec-tor of potentially historically significant minutiae andnever threw anything away, no matter how ancient,virtually illegible, or patently insane it might be. Sixcrates contained decades of neatly temporally orga-nized correspondence alone, while another dozencontained documents of varying ages and degrees ofreligious and secular significance. Despite himself,Myca was impressed by the thoroughness and thesingle-minded intensity of the effort that had goneinto creating this edifice of unclean knowledge. He

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began ripping it apart, looking for some significantpersonal correspondence, some details by whichNikita himself would become known or by which hewould reveal himself. Ilias did the same among thecity’s residents, circulating among them with inimi-table charm and grace, working on even the moststandoffish to the most hostile. No small number ofthe Tzimisce dwelling within riding distance of thecity were bitter that they had failed to seize therulership of the city when the chance lay in theirhands.

During the long slide into the deepest parts ofthe winter, Myca learned more than he wanted toknow about the inner workings of the Cainite Her-esy, the petty grabs for power, the rancor anddivisiveness at its highest levels, and the almost uni-versal terror that many of its bishops and lesserfunctionaries held for the previous Archbishop ofNod, Narses of Venice. Narses’ fanatical loathing ofConstantinople and all that it stood for had helpedlead the Queen of Cities to its own destruction but,in the end, Narses’ hatred had consumed him, as well,and led to Nikita’s rise to power. Much of the corre-spondence he found dealt with the events immediatelypreceding Narses’ fall from grace with the CrimsonCuria and immediately following Nikita’s assumptionof the Archbishopric of Nod. There was nothing, ab-solutely nothing, that pertained to the time duringwhich Nikita successfully plotted and executed hiscoup against the demented Lasombra elder. Similarly,Ilias discovered much in the way of anecdote and gos-sip, but little in the way of hard information. Nikita,much like Bela Rusenko, had not been an overly so-cial individual, except when engaging in the rites ofhis faith. He could be a fiery and charismatic speakerwhen he chose to be, but he did not engage in mean-

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ingless social pleasantries, and apparently saw no needto do so. None of the current residents of the cityknew him well. In fact, he appeared to discourage anysuch effort. Even those who still maintained somedevotion to the heretical faith, few though they were,did not consider him so much a shepherd as a distantand unattainable ideal. When pushed, Ilias caught ahint of glassiness about many of the Archbishop’sformer followers, a vagueness that appeared amongthem so regularly as to be uniform. Ilias suspected theirmemories might have been tampered with, and saidas much to Myca as the year waned and no new leadsshowed themselves.

Nikita, even in his absence, guarded his secretswell.

***Myca laid down his pen and raised his eyes from

the parchment over which he labored, transcribingseveral pages of loose notes into permanent entries inhis personal journal. The candle was burning low inits holder, but he felt no inclination to change it andcontinue writing. He was seized, in spirit, with a greatwintry lassitude, the desire to curl in his earth-lined,fur-covered bed for the rest of the night and throughthe next day. Instead, with a monumental act of will,he rose from his comfortably cushioned writing chairand crossed the office to the high window slit, thumb-ing open the slats on the shutters and letting the cold,damp night air flow over him. It was, he thought,snowing again. The breeze tasted of ice and penetratedeven his thick, fur-lined winter garments. He tuckedhis hands into his sleeves and closed his eyes, lettingthe cold wrap around him.

A door opened, down on the first floor of Nikita’sspacious city haven, voices and footsteps echoing upto him; they did not motivate him to move, or to in-

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vestigate. He recognized Nicolaus, chattering excit-edly, and the lower, deeper voice of Sergiusz makingthe occasional reply. Ilias’ tread on the stairs was softand unmistakable. He opened his eyes as his loverentered with the most perfunctory of knocks, red-golden hair and thick dark furs still glistening withdroplets of half-melted snow.

“Your eyes are over-bright,” Ilias informed him,by way of greeting, and crossed the room to envelophim in a cool, evergreen-scented embrace.

Myca rested his head comfortably on the mar-ten-covered shoulder of Ilias’ winter cloak. “I shouldhave gone with you.”

“Yes, you should have. You would have enjoyedyourself.” There was no censure in Ilias’ tone. His handreached beneath the loose spill of Myca’s hair to reston the back of his neck, caressing gently. “LordLadislav hopes the investigation goes well.”

Myca allowed his lover’s skillful hands to do asthey willed. “Lord Ladislav is kind to say such things.”

A chuckle, directly beneath his ear. “I think LordLadislav was hoping to see more of you at theSaturnalia—he has inquired after you several times,since he saw you at the baths that night.”

Myca made a noncommittal noise in his throatand draped his arms around Ilias’ waist. “I was cov-ered in dust and looked like a drowned rat.”

“Perhaps he favors that look for the touch of theexotic it brings to the table.” Ilias was enjoying teas-ing him far too much. Myca made a mental note totake vengeance as seemed appropriate later. “He hasalso suggested, again, that we might write to the LordBasilio, who may be able to assist us in this matter. Ithink he just wants to make certain we stay throughthe summer. He asked if I would preside at the Aph-rodisiac, since we are certainly not going anywhereuntil the spring, at least.”

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Myca looked down into Ilias’ cold-whitened face,smiling impishly up at him. “We cannot refuse thathonor, then.”

“I was hoping that you would say that. We havenot attended a true Aphrodisiac since your first—Iwould like to see how the customs are kept here, wherethe court is mostly our own kind.” Ilias’ hand slidaround and caressed the curve of his throat. “And wehave shamefully neglected your spiritual needs sincethis affair started.” He cast a pale-eyed glance at thestacks of ledgers, parchment, and bound stacks of cor-respondence piled around what had been Nikita’swriting desk. “Come with me to the Saturnalia tomor-row night. I saved a sigillaria for you to wear, and noone will care that you missed the first night. You haveworked hard enough for now.”

“I almost think you are right.” Myca ruefully fol-lowed the direction of his glance around the room.“There is a decade’s worth of sorting alone, and aweek…”

“A week will not harm the investigation.” Iliasbent and kissed him with ice-cold lips. “Of course,I’m right. Say you will attend.”

“I will attend.” Myca surrendered, recognizing hisown lack of desire to fight. “I suppose you have anidea what sort of costume I will wear during the mas-querade.”

“Well, yes.” Ilias admitted shamelessly, his smilegrowing even more impish.

Myca inclined an eyebrow. “Should I be afraid ofthis idea?”

“We do not fear the unknown, my flower. Weembrace it and grow strong from the learning.”

“Very afraid, then.”Ilias laughed, and tugged Myca along with him


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Chapter Sixteen

Myca took Lord Ladislav’s advice, and wrote tothe former Prince of Sredetz, Basilio, in exile in Ibe-ria among his Lasombra kinsmen. He wrote threecopies of the letter and sent them out by three differ-ent routes, one by ship and two by land, hopeful thatat least one would reach its destination. Foul weathercontinued to fall on Sredetz, funneled down the val-ley in which it lay, keeping most of the city’s residentshaven-bound and searching for means of killing thetedium. Even Malachite returned from his restlesswanderings and took up residence in the room pro-vided for him. He asked for, and received, permissionto assist in reviewing Nikita’s documents and, as Mycawas thoroughly involved with the correspondence, hetook over the task of combing through the boxes ofheretical texts and polemics for any information ofworth. Myca addressed the problem of mind-crush-ing winter doldrums by burying himself in Nikita’spapers for whole nights at a stretch, struggling to ex-tract more information than the words alonecontained. Like the letters that had come to him fromLady Rosamund, most of the correspondence and sun-dry other documents had somehow been scrubbedclean of lingering psychic traces. Only the palestghosts of old recollections clung to them, attachedmostly to letters originating decades before thepresent, none of which seemed to feature Nikita him-self. This hinted at a disturbingly great degree ofwell-hidden power residing in the Archbishop of Nod,confirming the impression that both Myca and Iliashad received, but otherwise not adding anything newto their store of information.

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Nikita’s writings gave the impression of a manmade of equal parts sincere and deeply held faith andquietly burning ambition. Again, this was not a sur-prise to Myca, who doubted on principle that anyonelacking ambition would bother to claw his way to thetop of even a heretical religious hierarchy, no matterhow deeply faithful he might be. It also did not en-tirely surprise him that many members of the CrimsonCuria—the more truly devout members—had re-garded Narses of Venice as severely lacking in his faith,and had, evidently, been quietly working for somedecades prior even to the sack of Constantinople toplace Nikita on the Archbishop’s throne. Narses wasa bit too naked in his secular obsessions, it seemed,for even the only quasi-righteous Crimson Curia tocontinue overlooking those flaws forever. Nikita, onthe other hand, projected the correct blending ofgenuine devotion to the doctrines of the Cainite Her-esy and a finely honed awareness of the secularchallenges facing the Crimson Curia. Evident in boththe text and subtext of the letters was that many se-nior leaders of the Heresy held Nikita to be almostthe perfect priest-statesman and an ideal proponentfor their cause.

Myca wondered what had happened duringNikita’s tour of Europe—and the apparently disastrousseries of “lectures” in Paris—to rob Nikita of his elo-quence, his ability to sway the hearts and minds ofothers. He was certainly articulate in writing, and ifIlias’ information from Nikita’s former flock was true,the man could most certainly speak with convictionand skill. Myca found himself simultaneously frus-trated and intrigued by a mystery that grew moreobtuse with every clue he uncovered.

Myca also found himself being dragged outsidemore often than nearly any other Cainite in Sredetz,

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very much to his chagrin. Ilias was undaunted by theweather and was only kept inside by the fiercest windsand the deepest snows. Myca knew this insistence thatthey not hole up all winter like bears in a cave wasborn at least partially of pure contrariness, since Iliasdetested being cold almost more than anything elsein the world, and partially on genuine instinct. Nikita’searth had shown Ilias a vision of his homeland deepin the grip of winter, and Sredetz was now most assur-edly caught in the talons of some unpleasant deity offrost. On the nights that Myca spent puzzling overNikita’s correspondence, Ilias was often abroad in thecold, prowling the edges of the city and, in some cases,wandering the forests with one of his attendants (usu-ally Sergiusz, who withstood the cold better), a boneflute and a bag of blooded salt to tempt the spirits,and a heavy oiled leather tent to sleep in should theynot make it back before dawn. Occasionally Myca ac-companied him on these trips, if for no reason otherthan to reduce his anxiety for the safety of his lover,especially given Ilias’ propensity for wandering aboutbarefoot and semi-nude. After several weeks, Ilias feltsecure enough in his judgment to tell Myca that hefelt Sredetz was not truly Nikita’s homeland. The spir-its were too different from those clinging to theArchbishop of Nod’s grave-earth, the mountains werenot shaped correctly… the land itself was simplywrong.

Ilias sensed a darkness hiding in Sredetz that wasfar deeper than Nikita’s own and, despite delicatequestioning from Myca, on that topic he would speakno more.

***The winter wore on. Ilias, satisfied with his in-

vestigation and unwilling to provoke the spirits withany further impertinences on his own part, was more

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inclined to remain closer to home, if not strictly in-side. Nikita’s house was within walking distance ofthe old Roman baths, of which Ilias made regular use,as they were also a favored gathering place for winter-crazed sensualists itching for the arrival of spring. Mycaperiodically permitted Ilias to drag him along andendeavored to enjoy himself as best he could. He hadnever quite shed his lingering dislike of over-intimacywith strangers, but he could control it when the situ-ation warranted. In this fashion he came to know LordLadislav quite well, and concurred with Ilias’ assess-ment that he wished them to linger in Sredetz at leastthrough the summer. Ladislav radiated disciplined,focused desire. Myca could see it in him when theireyes met, or they lounged together in one of the largerthermal pools at the baths, and never ceased to findit both puzzling and flattering. It was generally onthose nights that he and Ilias went home and lovedeach other thoroughly until the sunrise. Holding hislover in his arms, hearing him cry out and beg formore, allowing Ilias to make him beg, made Myca feelslightly more real as an object of desire.

“Only you would be confused by the idea of some-one wanting you, Myca,” Ilias opined, not for the firsttime, as they lay tangled together in Nikita’s spaciousbed, pleasure still pulsing gently between them.

Myca rested his cheek against Ilias’ curls, spreadon the pillows beneath them. “I am not half as beau-tiful, or as desirable, as you, my heart. Were ILadislav…”

“Flatterer.” Myca felt, rather than saw, Ilias’ quick,bright smile. “If Ladislav wants a pretty golden crea-ture, he has his childe. You draw him with more thanyour flesh, my flower. He has, I think, looked on yourmind and soul, and he wants you for what he seesthere, as much as for your blood and your body.”

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Myca shivered. “Ilias…”“Myca.” A small, strong hand rested on the flat

planes of his belly, stroked a soothing circle. “I will bepresiding at the Aphrodisiac this year, here in this city…it will be my duty, and my honor, to initiate those whocome to me into the ways of desire, as I showed you theway. I know that you hold fear in your heart, yet, andthis is not a wrong thing, for you are growing past thosefears—the scars on your heart, the things that hauntyou. You cannot expect to shed those things overnight.Even I am sometimes frightened by the strength of myown desires—I am sometimes even frightened by thestrength of my love for you—but these fears and thesedesires are things we must face, must taste of and under-stand, make our own.”

“I… do. You know that I do.” With a convulsivemovement, Myca drew his lover closer against him, morefully into his arms. “I… do not know why I cannot say thewords, but I…”

“I know.” Gently. Cool lips pressed a kiss to thehollow of Myca’s throat. “You are not less than me,Myca. You are not less worthy of love, not less worthyof desire. In many ways, you are greater than I canhope to be, and it honors me to aid you in finding thegreatness within yourself, the person you can trulybe. I am honored… by your love.” Myca made a smallsound in the back of his throat, and even he did notknow if it was a sound of pain or joy. “This spring, youwill show who and what you can be, and find your joyon the paths of desire. I promise you, you have noth-ing to fear.”

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Chapter Seventeen

Spring reddened the trees with sap, and thenfrosted them green with emerging buds. The snowsmelted and raised streams flowing down the moun-tains, and the ground began to thaw at last.Malachite regarded the change of seasons withseeming indifference, now deeply enmeshed in theprocess of sorting and translating heretical religiousdocuments, combing through them for clues. It washe who discovered that the Crimson Curia firstknew Nikita through a polemic of his own writ-ing, in which he intelligently and passionatelyexpounded at length on several problematic issuesof doctrine. He had been a minor functionary inthe service to the bishop of Varna, and evidentlyhad the good fortune to exceed his superior in manyways. He was awarded a bishopric of his own, basedin Sredetz, and eventually eclipsed his former prel-ate in every way, climbing in subtle power andinfluence within the Cainite Heresy from thatpoint forward. Myca was ungrudgingly impressedwith Malachite’s discovery and managed to cor-roborate it from the text of various letters, whoseoblique references to Nikita’s allegedly humbleorigins within the Cainite Heresy now made con-siderably more sense. No new information,however, came to light about his actual origins.Letters of inquiry Myca had sent out in the fallslowly began to yield dividends now that springhad come. No Tzimisce lord or lineage within thearea of Bulgaria claimed Nikita as its scion, or evenits black sheep, a decidedly great surprise. It wasMyca’s experience that the only clan of high-blooded vampires more lineage obsessed than his

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own were the Ventrue, and even the Ventrueclaimed their disgraces. Nikita, given the staturehe had achieved within the Cainite Heresy, couldnot strictly be termed a disgrace or an embarrass-ment. Even if the man’s sire profoundly detestedhim, he would still be claimed, for the Tzimiscerarely disowned their childer outright.

Myca spent the nights leading up to the Aph-rodisiac writing a second series of delicateinterrogatives to the local Tzimisce lords whoseemed least likely to take mortal offense at thepresumption, waiting impatiently for one of hismessengers to return from Iberia, and disciplininghis nerves. And he was far more nervous than heliked. It had taken Ilias a great deal of concentratedeffort to bring him to the point where he couldtolerate casual physical contact without respond-ing with violence or flight. He had survived thefirst test of those efforts during his first—and, todate, his only—Aphrodisiac, the night he was for-mally initiated into the practice of his faith by hislover and mentor, the witch-priest. He had notbeen put to a serious test since then, as the oppor-tunities to do so had been few and far betweenamong the various diplomatic tasks his sire had senthim on. He was not entirely certain he was pre-pared for a serious test of himself now—a fact heconfided only to his journal, as he did not wish totrouble Ilias and could not imagine confiding inMalachite or any of the servants. A part of himquailed at the thought of walking into the gather-ing and finding himself surrounded by temptationsfor all of his senses, and another vampire who de-sired him. He was afraid of what would come ofthose temptations and those desires, and could notsay why.

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Ilias spent most of the nights leading up to theAphrodisiac at the ritual’s chosen site, making cer-tain all of the last minute details were arranged asthey should be, returning to the villa only to sleep.During those brief times together before sunrise andjust after sunset, he did his best to soothe Myca’sfears, to which he could not be ignorant; thestrength of the bond between them was too great.On the night before the Aphrodisiac officially be-gan, Ilias and his servants did not return home atall: all three were sheltering with Lord Ladislav forthe day, as they would need to be in place oncethe rite began. Myca slept poorly that day, neverfully falling into true rest, tossing and turning inthe comfort of his bed. He rose almost before thesun had fully set, limbs heavy with weariness,thoughts swimming with anxiety. He almost de-cided not to go, but found upon entering the studyand surveying masses of Nikita’s correspondenceand the journals containing months of effort, thathe had no taste for burying himself in work, ei-ther. In the downstairs room that Malachiteclaimed for his own, he knew the Rock ofConstantinople was hard at work. He could nearlyfeel the self-righteous disapproval radiatingthrough the floor. The Nosferatu had said noth-ing—he did not need to. His cool condemnationof Ilias was written in his behavior, the manner inwhich he ignored any attempts by the witch-priestto engage him in civil conversation, the brusque-ness that characterized their every necessaryinteraction. Ilias tolerated it, far better than Mycawould have, in his place. He knew that Malachite’ssilent condemnation would fall on him, as well,should he choose to go out tonight.

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Myca realized that he was making excuses tohimself, and quietly went back into his bedchamberto change his clothing and wash his face and hands.Outside, filtering through the window shutters inthe next room, he caught the hint of music andvoices. The mortals of Sredetz, much like theCainites, celebrated the coming of spring. Takingdown his cloak, he crept down the stairs and outthe door. On the muddy streets, a procession wasin progress, groups of mortals carrying torches andenclosed candle-lamps, singing and laughingamong themselves. Myca waited in his door for themajority of the procession to pass, then followed itdown the puddle-strewn road. These people, heknew, were wealthy residents of old Sredetz, return-ing home from the mortal celebrations that tookplace beneath the brilliance of the sun, in the fieldsand forests outside the city. The Cainite Aphrodi-siac celebration was taking place within the cityitself, among the cluster of bathhouses in the cen-ter of the old city and the buildings surroundingit, many of which were the havens of the city’swealthiest Cainites. The first and largest of thosebathhouses, the House of the Eagle, and its sur-rounding gardens were the center of theAphrodisiac celebration.

Myca found the path leading to the House ofthe Eagle well lit with enclosed lamps rather thantorches, the doors opened but guarded against en-try by the city’s mortal residents. The house’senormous proprietor ushered him in and gave himimmediately to the care of two young women, cladin undecorated white tunics, who guided him intoone of the private bath chambers, then obedientlyleft him alone. A white tunic, its design havingmore in common with the loose drape of a trulyRoman garment than any modern article of cloth-

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ing, was left for him, along with freshly warmedtowels. He shed his dalmatic and hose, and slippedinto the warm, scented waters of the bath. He tooka deep breath to sample the scent of the perfumedwater and realized, with a bit of bemusement, thatit was linden blossom, then dunked his head be-neath the water. He drew in a deep breath of water,letting the sweetness of the perfume permeate hisflesh from within as well as without, exhaled, androse to soak for a long moment. His stomach wasstill tied in knots of nervousness and near dismay,but the warmth of the water and the silence of thebuilding soothed him somewhat. He rose from thebath more at ease, and toweled himself dry, wrap-ping in the loose tunic, which hung to his ankles.In the hall, he found one of the servants waitingfor him, a young woman whose loose brown hairhung past her waist and voluptuous curves invitedcaressing hands, who bowed low to him and guidedhim through the bathhouse’s twisting halls to therear of the building. Here, rooms had been pre-pared and a rear porch opened onto the gardens,where musicians were playing and the celebrantswere milling about, socializing and celebrating withacts of passion and pleasure.

Soft moans and cries filled the night, a coun-terpoint to the low murmur of conversation andthe music. In secluded corners of the garden theCainites of Sredetz celebrated the return of spring,sporting among themselves and with mortals pro-vided for their amusement. Myca stepped down offthe porch and walked among the garden paths,searching for something to draw his attention andhis appetites, something that was not the linden-perfumed arms of his lover. It occurred to him, witha bit of surprise, that the emotions he felt were not

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wholly nervous any longer, but tinged with jeal-ousy. Somewhere in this garden of delights, Iliaswas doing his duty as Sinner and priest, and thatduty was to pleasure the new initiates to the waysof desire, to welcome them to the service of theirown wants. The idea of anyone else lying in thearms of his lover, enjoying the pleasures of his bodyand imagination, gnawed at him more than hewished to admit, roused the Beast within him. Hewalked to control his churning emotions, and todistract the monster in his breast with sights toentertain and entice it.

Those sights were many. In a wide, well-lit ex-panse of grass, to the music of flute and tambour,half a dozen young women were dancing for theappreciation of a small audience both human andCainite. Few of the young women wore more thanthe briefest of diaphanous scarves about their hipsand the occasional bit of jewelry or paint to en-hance their charms. Their brown skins glistenedwith perfumed oil and the nipples of their uncov-ered breasts were daubed with rouge. Their dancewas clearly an offering that the audience was meantto accept. In the darkened alcoves at the edges ofthe open space, Myca caught sight of couples andgroups engaged in a more primal dance, the airfilled with the tang of sweat and perfume, muskand blood. To his surprise, one of the dancers threwher scarf teasingly around his neck and tried todraw him away with her. Within him, his Beastgrowled and surged, roused by the sweet scent ofher, and he followed into the alcove she chose. Herbreasts were firm in his hands, her nipples spring-ing fully erect at the cool brush of his thumbs ashe smeared the rouge she wore there. Pressed closeagainst her, he could smell the use she had alreadybeen put to, reached down and found her moist

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yet with the lust of the lover she had just served.A slow caress of his fingers had her whimperingsoftly and grinding herself against him. Her pupilswere hugely enlarged and he tasted somethingsweet on her tongue when he kissed her, somethingvaguely familiar, and then the taste of her bloodwas overwhelming all else, hot and smoky with herown lust, her own pleasure. He drank deeply of herand left her in the alcove when he was done, half-senseless with ecstasy and blood-loss.

She had, in fact, consumed something famil-iar, the sweet aftertaste lying yet on his own tongueas its effects washed through his body. He felt allof his senses sharpening and refining, growing ex-quisitely more sensitive. Soon, even the soft fabricof his tunic was too rough to lay directly againsthis over-sensitive skin. He peeled it off and tossedit over a hewn marble bench where, he noticedwith some amusement, a number of other tunicsalready lay discarded. In the small clearing beyondit, a group of Cainites watched and talked amongthemselves as their servants had their pleasure ofa young woman, bound at the wrists, weeping andbegging, her hair shorn at a novice’s length andher pale thighs smeared with her virgin’s blood.Something about the sight struck him and heturned away, simultaneously aroused and revolted,hurrying away with the image of her tear-streakedface hanging before his eyes. It was washed awaysoon enough—pale arms beckoned him from dark-ened alcoves, half-familiar voices called his name,here and there he thought he caught sight of a facehe recognized. Ilias was not among them, but then,it was unlikely that he would be there. The initia-tion was a private event, a sensual communion,and Ilias would not likely consent to sharing such

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a sacred act for the titillation of others. He did notjoin any of them, but walked on, aroused withinhimself but unable to find the thing that wouldsatisfy him, senses burning with the need for sen-sual release. Eventually, he found an empty alcoveof his own, grassy and shrouded in vines and hedgesalready thick with leaves, and lay back in the grassto let himself enjoy the cool of the evening againsthis heated flesh.

Overhead, the sky was starry and the moon halffull, washing the sky with its silvery radiance, ashaft of cool light falling over him where he lay.Beneath him, the ground was cool and slightlydamp with dew. He though he could feel each in-dividual blade of grass where it touched his flesh,his skin was that sensitive. Here, at least, the nightwas almost wholly quiet, the music and conversa-tion of others muffled by distance and dense foliage.He allowed himself to enjoy it, closing his eyes andbreathing deeply of the peace. Gradually, he real-ized that he was not alone.

Myca opened his eyes, and found Lord Ladislavstanding in the entrance to the alcove, watchinghim silently. For a long moment, Myca said anddid nothing, and neither did Ladislav, both simplygazing at one another. In the moonlight, he seemedpale and perfect, the corpse-white skin of hisCappadocian heritage a blessing rather than acurse, the cool light smoothing away the linesaround his eyes, around his mouth. He still worehis tunic, Myca noted, and it was pristine, un-stained by another’s blood. His dark eyes burnedin their shadowed sockets with a hunger that Mycadid not need to see in order to perceive.

Slowly, Myca sat up.

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Ladislav stripped off his tunic, hung it word-lessly over the arch of the alcove’s entrance, andapproached, kneeling at Myca’s side. At some level,Myca was entirely aware that, were he alive yet,his blood would be thundering in his temples andhis breath would be echoing in his ears, his man-hood an aching hot weight between his thighs. Hewas that fully aroused now, in the way that only aCainite could be aroused, his senses sharpenedenough to see every detail of his companion’s ex-pression, to feel the naked want vibrating the airbetween them, to smell the blood beneath theirskin and taste the hunger heating it already. Hewanted to feel Ladislav’s hands on him, caressingpure sensation untainted by any human drives intohis flesh. He wanted to taste of Ladislav’s skin anddrive his fangs past its pale surface to draw out adraught of raw passion, desire in its purest form.

No words passed between them. Ladislavtangled his long, pale hands in Myca’s hair, andthe kiss bore them both to the ground, tonguesentwined, fangs unsheathed, drawing blood already.Pressed belly to belly they struggled, legs tanglingand arms twining, Ladislav succeeding in pinningdown one of Myca’s wrists. Myca stroked his freehand down Ladislav’s spine and found his skin tobe unusually soft, supple with oil, difficult to gainpurchase on. He dug in with his nails, raked themdown Ladislav’s spine, drew blood. Ladislav brokethe kiss with a groan of pleasure, his back archingbeneath that hand, inviting him to continue. Mycaworked his other arm free and touched every partof Ladislav’s body that he could reach, stoking thedesire between them higher. Blood from the fur-rows he raked down Ladislav’s back flowed overhis sides, across Myca’s belly and loins, salty-sweet

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and coppery in scent. A low sound escaped hiscompanion’s throat and it occurred to Myca thatLadislav might not be wholly accustomed to beingtouched in the way that Ilias had taught him, theway that made the flesh remember what it was tolive and lie in the arms of a lover. Ladislav shud-dered beneath his hands, shuddered as though hewere being wracked by bliss, and Myca continuedhis ministrations until, with a cry, his companioncaught his wrists and bore him down again.Ladislav’s knee parted his thighs. His hands grippedMyca’s hips, ungently. Then Ladislav was insidehim, and Myca could do nothing but moan andbeg himself. He threw back his head and cried out,his back arching. Ladislav’s mouth found his throat,and the ecstasy welled up from the places theirbodies joined to obliterate all else.

***Golden light enveloped and filled him with a plea-

sure such as he had never known before and fearedthat he might never know again. They moved together,sensually entwined, bodies refusing to be parted formore than a few seconds. He cried out softly as hislover took him even more deeply, his back archingagainst the bed of silk in which they lay, the tendons inhis neck drawing taut, eyes squeezing closed againsttears of perfect joy. Cool lips pressed a kiss to the hol-low of his throat and a sigh escaped his lips, his lover’sname…

***Myca woke suddenly, completely, sitting bolt

upright in the darkness of the room he had sleptin, head spinning with disorientation, fear andhorror clawing at the inside of his chest. For aninstant, panic ruled him unalloyed by any saneremotions, and it was all he could do not to fling

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himself from the bed and batter at the walls, shriek-ing and wailing. His Beast was fully awake and asfear-ridden as he. It fought against his every at-tempt to control it until he did as it wished, andclawed his way to the edge of the familiar, com-fortable bed, spilling himself to the wooden floor.Splinters gouged his palms and he lashed out un-thinkingly. His fist encountered the slender legsof a table and smashed one to kindling, sending itscontents to the floor with a crash of breaking glassand pottery. Deliberately, he slammed his openpalm down on a thick shard that fell nearly atophis hand. It pierced his skin and dug deeply intothe flesh beneath, pain and blood-scent lendinghim the focus necessary to beat back mindless fear.He sat on the floor, naked and shuddering in near-frenzied reaction, picking pieces of a broken potterybowl out of his hand and licking away his ownblood, strenuously trying to force his mind to func-tion.

His memory was blurred. The previous eveningwas little more than a hazy mass of dim images andsharply engraved sensations. Slowly, he remem-bered, remembered Ladislav and the alcove, andhow they had slaked their hungers until the starsbegan to fade before the sunrise. His flesh stillburned with the memory of lust and…

The dream.He remembered the dream. It shocked him, for

he rarely remembered the details of his dreams,only the pain and disquiet they left behind. Now…now he recalled it all. It was almost too real to bea dream, the strength of it, the way it lingered nowin his mind like a thing of beauty he had fearedlost forever. It felt, and it shook him to the core toadmit it, like a memory. The golden light in the

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shape of a glorious man, shining from within asthough lit by the sun’s own light, a light that filledevery inch of the city that was his dream and gracedall whom it touched. The caresses… the caressesand the ecstatic pleasure they brought, a pleasurethat was more than the satisfaction of base lust, arapture that claimed him in his entirety, mind,body, and soul, that made him tremble even nowwith the intensity of it. The words of love whis-pered between them, the name of the lover in hisdream still shaping his lips.


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Chapter Eighteen

Myca said nothing to Ilias of his dream, andthey spoke little of the night of the Aphrodisiacitself. Ilias kept the secrets entrusted to him well,and, in truth, Myca had no desire to pry. He andLord Ladislav saw each other regularly, the atmo-sphere between them no longer charged withunspoken desire but warmed instead by the memoryof what they had shared. Myca did not seekLadislav’s bed again, nor did Ladislav press the is-sue. Both were content in the knowledge that theycould if they wished to, and left it at that. Like-wise Ilias, if he sensed the secrecy laying in hislover’s thoughts, did not inquire or pry into itscause. Myca thought that his lover trusted himenough to let him speak in his own time, and heappreciated that more than words could say.

Ilias, in fact, seemed to be productively em-ploying himself ignoring Malachite’s generaldisapproval of the depraved existence he led, andspent most of the early summer attempting to drawthe Rock of Constantinople out and soften his at-titude. His charm was, evidently, up to the task.Malachite became much less disagreeable, brusquechanging to oddly gruff when dealing with thewitch-priest, their conversations taking on a morenatural cadence even in Myca’s ears. Ilias inducedMalachite to ask to review Nikita’s letters, now thathe had finished his perusal of Nikita’s library ofheretical literature. Nikita, Malachite reportedgrudgingly, was quite a prolific writer, literate andintelligent, his commentaries on the fine points ofheretical doctrine actually approaching the logi-cal. Myca gave Malachite access to Nikita’s letters

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and his own notes without argument. Reviewingthem would give Malachite something productiveto do, which was more than Myca could say forhimself. He was nearly at his temper’s end with lit-erary-minded heretics who never said anything ofconsequence about themselves, and waiting for aletter from Basilio to arrive. For his own part, hedistracted himself by entertaining diplomatic over-tures from various Bulgar Tzimisce. Most amountedto a hope that the Obertus Order and the Draco-nian Tzimisce would lend their influence to theeffort to oust Bela Rusenko from Sredetz and placea more appropriate ruler on his throne. Myca col-lected their requests, which he forwarded toSymeon with a letter outlining his progress to date,but otherwise made no promises.

In such ways did the bulk of the summer pass.No letter arrived from Basilio, and they foundthemselves entertaining the prospect of spendinganother fruitless winter in Sredetz, a possibilitynone of them particularly looked forward to, eachfor his own reasons.

“We should, I think, leave for home now, whilethe roads are still clear enough to travel and be-fore the worst of the autumn rains settle in,” Mycaannounced thoughtfully, one night as they sat to-gether in the villa’s small garden, enjoying thewarm breeze flowing down off the mountains.Nicolaus had bent his efforts to bringing the gar-den back to li fe, watering and weeding it,encouraging healthy new growth. The resultssweetly perfumed the air along with the beeswaxcandles lighting the small table where they sat. “Ihave already spoken of it to stapân Boleslaus andstapân Vladya—they have told me that they willallow us free passage through their domains and

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host us, as well, should we desire their hospitality.I can write my colleague Velya from their domains,and I am certain that he, too, would accommodateus in this.”

“You have given up hope of receiving wordfrom Basilio, then?” Malachite asked, his voicegrave.

“Nearly.” Myca cast a glance at Ilias, who waslooking fixedly out into the darkened garden be-yond their warm circle of light. “My heart?”

Ilias came back to himself with a start. “I heardyou speaking of Basilio…?”

“Yes.” Myca wondered at his lover’s distraction,but decided not to inquire of its cause in front ofMalachite. “What do you think?”

“I think Basilio can write us in Brasov as eas-ily as Sredetz, or we could write him again, if youwish.” Ilias replied, frankly. “It may not be worththe effort—he may be ash, or he may be in torpor,or any number of other things could prevent himfrom replying to your letters. He could have nointerest in helping us, for this place cannot butreturn painful memories to him. We have otheravenues we may explore to uncover Nikita’s lin-eage, which do not rely upon any information hemight provide, after all.”

“Other avenues…?” Malachite echoed, his ex-pression, as always, unreadable.

“Damek Ruthven.” Ilias answered with a nod,his eyes flicking suddenly off to one side, distracted.He said no more.

Myca filled in the rest for him. “DamekRuthven is one of the most renowned genealogistsand scholars of the history of our clan. If anyoneknows, or can discover, which branch of the lin-eages Nikita of Sredetz springs from, it would behe.”

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“Have you given any more thought to thetheory I proposed in that regard, my Lord Vykos?”Malachite asked, with an odd formality, his handstealing toward the breast of his tunic and with-drawing from its folds a small object wrapped in asilken cloth.

Myca stiffened. “No. Nothing we have uncov-ered thus far has given any evidence that Nikita isa descendant of the Dracon.”

“Nor has anything we found disproved thatpossibility,” Malachite countered, laying the ob-ject he had drawn forth on the table, and foldingopen its wrappings, revealing a small, cracked tile.Myca knew what it was, and glanced away, hishands curling into fists against his thighs, fightingagainst the sudden, violent urge to take the thingup and finish smashing it.

Ilias, on the other hand, rose to get a betterlook. “May I…?” At Malachite’s nod, he lifted thepainted tile out of its silken nest and examined itclosely in the candlelight. “This is his true face?The Dracon?”

“His true face? I do not know. It is the facethat I knew him by, and the face that I will recog-nize him by, should we ever meet again.”Malachite’s voice was soft, and slightly wistful. Ifhis face could show a true expression, Myca knewthat it would be reverent, and he had to force downa renewed surge of temper at that realization.

“It is not, however, Nikita’s face,” Myca inter-rupted coolly. “I shall write Damek Ruthven fromhere, and beg him to send any response to our housein Brasov. I suggest we give Basilio until the end ofthis month to reply and, in the meantime, we makeour preparations for departure. Are we agreed?”

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After a moment more of contemplating theicon, Ilias laid it back in its wrappings and noddedslightly in agreement. Malachite, perhaps recog-nizing himself outnumbered, nodded as well.

***Basilio’s letter arrived as they were finalizing

their travel preparations, in the travel-worn handsof the guardsman who originally carried Myca’sinquiry. Myca, breaking the seal with tremblingfingers, found it to be quite satisfyingly thick, giventhe amount of time it had taken to reach him. Init, Basilio admitted to knowing Nikita when he wasa minor priest in the service of the bishop of Varna,and even of being aware that Nikita was a Tzimisce.Nikita himself did not appear to make much of theissue, nor did he abide by most of the commonTzimisce naming customs. He did not give his lin-eage when introducing himself, nor did he claimthe identity of his sire, preferring to rely upon thepatronage of his superior to ease the way in socialsituations. Basilio recalled him as reserved, unlessa matter that particularly roused his passions wasan issue of discussion. In those cases, he would of-ten speak with great eloquence. All of thisconfirmed what they already knew, and Mycahanded those pages to the eagerly waiting Mala-chite and Ilias with slowly mounting impatience.If that was all Basilio could tell them, he was pre-pared to be extremely disappointed.

The opening paragraph of the last page, how-ever, considerably amended his feelings in thatregard.

“When I owned the villa in which Nikita dwelt,and in which you currently reside, there was one largeroom on the first floor given over to storage of variousitems, which Nikita clearly put to that use, as well.

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There is, however, a second, smaller storage space inthe upstairs office, which I personally used to storecorrespondence of a delicate or private nature. It isinset in the bottom of the cabinet-chest used to storewriting materials, which you described to me as yetbeing in the place I originally left it. The floor beneaththe cabinet-chest is false, though cunningly made toresemble the floor otherwise. The space beneath is largeenough to hold a small correspondence chest or, per-haps, several smaller items.”

There was more, but Myca hardly cared. Heshoved the last page of the letter into Ilias’ handsand hurried to the storage cabinet, long since di-vested of any writing materials, tearing open thedoor. An exclamation of mingled surprise and dis-may escaped Malachite as he knelt in front of it,feeling along the edges of the floor inside the chest,searching. His fingers came down on a slightlyraised segment, and he pressed down hard on it.The pressure-switch triggered, and the entire pieceof the false floor came loose from its moorings.Hands trembling with excitement, he pulled it outand laid it aside, feeling about in the space beneath,and encountered a small wooden box. He lifted itout with care, using its handles, and set it downon the floor before them. A series of three metalplates were inset on the lid, marked around theedge with symbols, and Myca whispered, “It is thesame sort of lock that Nikita used on the corre-spondence chest the knights found in themonastery.”

“Can you open it again?” Ilias asked, fetchinganother candle.

“Give me a moment.”Myca worked silently. The original lock was

as much a puzzle as anything else, predicated onthe ability to recognize a pattern, and this was no

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different. Within the hour, the tumblers clickedinto place and the cunning mechanism opened,revealing three small folios bound in leather, thepages of the finest and thinnest vellum. Each tooka book and, with a certain air of ceremony, openedit.

“I do not recognize the language.” Malachiteadmitted it first. “It… is not Greek.”

Myca struggled for a moment with his pride,then nodded shallowly in agreement. “Neither doI. Nor is the alphabet familiar—the letters are notGreek or Cyrillic. Nor Latin. Ilias?”

“It… almost reminds me of the tongue that mysire taught me to use…” Ilias paused and lookedup from his folio. “It almost resembles the spirit-tongue—the language used to evoke them in word,spoken and written. The letters are similar, see?”He pointed out a line on the page he had openedto. “I would swear that is the letter for ‘fire’… butit is not quite the same.”

“Is it the same hand,” Malachite asked sud-denly, “as the one that wrote Nikita’s letters andother documents?”

Nicolaus was hurriedly summoned and sentback downstairs to retrieve one of Nikita’s writingchests, and Myca’s, as well. A quick comparisonshowed them that the hand that wrote Nikita’s let-ters was different from the writer of these journals,and Myca compared the books against Basilio’s let-ter as well. There were no similarities.

“Though Basilio may have used a scribe,” Mycaadmitted.

“Yes, but he also said that he took all of theprivate documents he had stored there when hewent into exile.” Ilias pointed out, exchanging a

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glance with Malachite. “What reason would hehave to lie on that matter?”

A dozen reasons leapt immediately to mind,but Myca also found sufficient reason to reject themall. “These must belong to Nikita, then, and hedid not wish them to be found. He did not careabout the correspondence and the other documentsdownstairs. Had he, he would have left it carefullyguarded, or would have stored it elsewhere or de-stroyed it.”

“He probably expected to return.” Malachitepointed out.

“Perhaps.” Myca closed his book, and replacedit in the chest. Malachite and Ilias handed backtheirs, as well, and Myca closed the lid, spinningthe lock back into place. “Ilias, could Nikita be akoldun—a koldun like Ioan, who conceals his truepower for some advantage greater than the honorit would bring to his name?”

Ilias did not look at all startled by that ques-tion. “I thought that it might be so, but I had noproof, and could find none in any of my own in-vestigations. But since this place is not trulyNikita’s home, that proof would not lie here at all,particularly if he were trying to conceal the truthof himself. This place has no strong spirits boundto it, after all, and no signs of any great magic lin-gering around it.”

Myca nodded and rose, the chest held care-fully between his hands. “I think I wish to consultwith someone wiser than us all in that regard. Ibelieve that we shall, indeed, pay a call on myfriend Velya.”

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I did not hate Antonius as much as he hated me.I tell myself this every night when I wake and, for a

short time at least, I can make myself believe it, and the acheof his absence eases.

I did not want to kill Antonius. Had I thought for amoment that there could ever be peace between us, I wouldhave stayed my hand and persuaded Michael to mercy, aswell.

I tell myself this every morning before I sleep, but it doesme little good. Regret is a pernicious emotion. I almost envythose who can excise it from their hearts and suffer not fromthose things they must do to survive. And I know that it wassurvival—my own survival, the survival of my childer, thesurvival of all that I built in Constantinople—that was atstake when we chose to destroy Antonius. I know this, and itdoes not help. The knowledge that Antonius would have de-stroyed me, destroyed the Dream to deny me, had we notdestroyed him first is not a soothing balm upon my grief.

Odio et amo: quare id faciam, fortasse requiris. Nescio,sed fieri sentio et excrucior. A Roman poet whose workAntonius despised wrote those words. ‘I love and I hate. Youask me why this is so; I do not know, but I feel it, and ittorments me.’ The essence of the bond between us, though Iknow why I loved him and hated him. He was the incarna-tion of something that did not exist within myself—solidity,permanence, unyielding, unbending, the bedrock foundation,the strength of mountains. I was drawn to that strength. Iwanted to feel it, folded around me like guardian wings, heldbefore me like a shield between myself and the world, woundthrough me, protecting me from the weaknesses of my ownflesh and spirit. By that same token, he was also somethingthat I despised, not only solid but hard, uncompassionate,not only unyielding but unchanging, the enemy of change,

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who preferred stasis except when violent change served himbetter. Not only strong, but vicious in his strength, cruel whenhis protection was rejected, or not wanted. He would havesmothered me in his strength, had I surrendered completely tothe hold he had upon my soul. He would have remade me inhis own image, and I cannot even say that I would havefought him with all my strength. Change is, after all, mynature, my deepest failing, and to please him, to know thathe was pleased with me, I might very well have surrenderedall I am to his desire.

The history of Constantinople and of the Dream thatwe built together claims that we were lovers, we three, butthat is not wholly true. Michael was the center of gravityaround which both Antonius and I turned, the object of bothour affections, very much to his own delight. Michael lovedAntonius. They were lovers for centuries before my angeland I ever met, and the bonds between them were deep.Michael loved me, and to this night I do not know, even formy own peace, why he chose me. A part of me thinks that hedecided to love me solely to craft a balance to Antonius withinhis own being—order, of course, requiring chaos to be com-plete, and Michael always being exquisitely aware of theaesthetic pleasures to be found in such a union of polar oppo-sites. Antonius, I think, did not perceive the matter in quitethat light. I do not doubt his rage, the hurt and betrayal of aman who had found his happiness in the arms of a perfectlove, only to have that love offer himself to another. Antoniusnever forgave me for the part of Michael’s heart that I pos-sessed, no matter how small that part might have been, andhe was never the lover to me that others have romanticallythought him to be.

Except once.Once, and only once, did he touch me as a lover, and

that night is branded into my soul as though by fire. I knew,when Antonius unleashed his image-breakers, his Iconoclasts,on the Empire that it was not the icons, nor the power of the

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monasteries, nor the ancient tradition of the blood-cults thathe truly wished to break, but me. It was me that he wished tosee shattered at his feet, me whose bones he wished to feelbreak beneath his hands, me whose blood he wish to see flowand whose flesh he wished to see burnt to ash. Antonius neverloved me, but I knew then that his hatred of me had over-whelmed his love of Michael and his love of the Dream. Iknew… and I knew that if I did nothing, if I made no ges-ture, that he would destroy all he had helped build rather thansuffer me to live at peace within it.

For three nights, I went to his haven, and craved entry.For three nights, he refused to see me. On the fourth night, Idid not ask the permission of his guardians but walked pastthem, and commanded them to hold their places. I found himin his study, his very proper Roman study, screened off fromthe rest of his haven, its walls painted with a murals ofMichael—Michael as he showed himself in Rome, clad inrobes of white and gold, Michael as he showed himself inConstantinople, all gleaming golden flesh and snow-palewings. He was alone, and I closed the screen behind me, thatwe might speak privately. We did not speak. We argued. Icannot, in fact, remember a time when a conversation be-tween us did not devolve into an argument, and this was noexception. I do not remember the words we spoke to oneanother, but they were cruel, and most of them were true.

He struck me, harder than I have ever been struck be-fore, by anything or anyone, and in that I include my sire,who was not above physical violence when properly enraged.I fell back against the painted wall, stunned, my head reelingand the taste of my own blood filling my mouth. When myvision cleared, Antonius stood less than an arm’s length fromme. He looked appalled, possibly even with himself, and wasstaring at his hand, my blood smeared across his knuckles. Irecall being surprised that his hands were shaking so violently.His face was marble-white and his pale eyes were wild withemotion, his mouth held in a trembling line and the nostrils of

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his fine, sharp nose flaring. He lifted his hand to his lips, andlicked my blood away. I was transfixed, watching the tip ofhis tongue moving across his own skin. A tremor ran throughus both, and then he was on me, his hands striking me acrossthe face, battering me to my knees with his strength, bearingme to the floor. He crushed both my wrists and tore my hairforcing my head back. He licked the blood from my face,from my lips, ripped the silks from my body.

He took me there on the floor, and I wanted it, I wantedhim, I wanted him to claim me at last, by force if he needed itthat way, to give us both what we had desired, and deniedourselves, for so long. His eyes were hot with mingled lustand loathing, I could feel his raw and naked want, his hatredand his desire, in every touch. He pleasured me so completelythat I could have died that night and felt my existence com-plete; I surrendered myself to him utterly, let him pour himselfinside me and twist the whole of my being to suit his needs,gave all that I was capable of giving. At the height of it, at theinstant when our souls and flesh became molten and blendedwholly with one another, as the ecstasy of our union sangthrough us, I cried aloud my love for him, and knew that itwas true.

It did not matter.I did not hate Antonius as greatly as he hated me, and

Antonius did not love me, at all, before that night or after it,even as he held me sobbing in his arms, even as I understoodhow Michael felt when they lay together.

I love him. I will always love him. I loved him as hecrumbled to dust, and I will love him until the world itselffollows him into darkness. Perhaps, one night, I will followhim, will be permitted to follow him, and know peace fromthe grief that has lived in my heart, in the deepest places of mysoul, since the morning he met his death.

I should not have let it happen.

Part Three

Dragon’s Breath

“Omnia mutantur, nos et mutantur in illis.”(All things are subject to change, and we change them.)


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Chapter Nineteen

From the journals of Myca Vykos:The summer lingered long that year. Though the trees

slowly changed their colors and just as slowly fell, the rainsdid not, nor did the frosts come to chill us while we wereon the road. Looking back, I see that I noted the unusualweather in my journal, but gave it no other thought, forIlias did not seem overly disturbed by it, at least not at thestart. Drought is natural, after all, and we had had manyhard, wet autumns and winters of late; I think he wasgrateful not to travel soaked to the skin. We slowed mostwhen guesting with our Bulgar cousins, those who wishedto curry favor with my sire and me and achieve our aid intheir schemes. These Bulgars were evidently willing toswallow their distaste for Byzantines and insisted on theobservation of all the formalities, the giving of gifts as asign of good will between all parties, the blood-feasts ofgreeting and parting. If nothing else, we were fed well onthe blood of slaves purchased in the markets of Sredetzthat autumn as we made our way steadily northward.

We reached the border of Velya’s domain as the lastof the leaves fell. There we met the captain of his ghoul-protectors, a Bratovitch bred for at least a little intellect aswell as massive size, and a large contingent of guards toguide us to his house….

***Velya the Flayer greeted his guests in the dooryard

of his manse, which did not surprise Myca at all. Ontheir last meeting, Velya had clad himself also in thetraditions of the clan, playing the gracious and ur-bane host to the hilt and beyond. There was no reasonto doubt that, given the chance, he would not do soagain. Velya stood on the shallow stair leading to the

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door of his house as they rode into the dooryard, ac-companied by two contingents of guards and a stringof servants leading the baggage animals, surveyingthem with the sort of majestically paternal air thatonly he could produce properly, a faintly fond smileplaying about the corners of his perfect mouth. AndVelya was, indeed, perfect. He wore white, a longdalmatic that shimmered with subtle embroidery atneck and hems over equally snowy hose, his impec-cably groomed hair falling to his waist in silver ringlets,his face a mask of hawklike patrician elegance. Whenhe raised his hands in the traditional gesture of greet-ing, his long, sculptor’s hands glittered with fine silverrings.

“I give you greetings, my most honored guests,and welcome to my house. I give you welcome, mycousin Myca Vykos syn Draconov. I give you welcome,my old friend Ilias cel Frumos, beloved of the gods. Igive you welcome, my Lord Malachite, the Rock ofConstantinople.” He bowed, the torches sprinkledabout the dooryard scattering reflections from his palehair and the silver embroidery on his tunic. “Withinmy walls will you find safety and comfort for so longas you abide with me, this I swear by Earth and Sky,and the Waters of Life and Death. Come…” He rose,his face relaxing in a genial smile. “You have traveledfar and I see the weariness on you.”

Servants came and took their horses, the men ofthe guard being led away to their own quarters to takea meal and their rest. Myca dismounted slowly, andlast, as Ilias and Malachite gathered themselves be-hind him, waiting for him to make the ritual responseto Velya’s greeting. Myca was abruptly sick of tradi-tion and felt his Beast roil, angrily, hungry for bloodinstead of endless words. He made his most courtlybow to the oldest of his friends and colleagues among

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the clan and murmured softly, “I give you greetings,my cousin Velya, and accept your gracious hospital-ity, for which your house is well known.”

Velya stretched out a hand to him, which Mycaaccepted, allowing himself to be drawn up the steps.“Come—I was not speaking poetically when I see thatyou are all weary. A bath awaits you, and a meal. Wewill speak of what brought you to me later.”

***Velya’s house was neither Byzantine nor anything re-

sembling Roman in its construction. It was low to theground, one story tall, and did not rise above the lowestbranches of the surrounding trees, blending instead amongthem. Its largest rooms were round more than any othershape, its halls short, its walls and ceiling and floor care-fully shaped, sanded, and fitted wood. There was no paint,no stone except around the fireplaces, and no mosaic orother ostentatious ornamentation. Parts of the walls andmany of the ceiling support columns were carved in elabo-rate and fanciful designs, and many were hung with long,woven panels of woolen cloth to keep out the damp. Therewere no doors, only more fabric hangings, except in thelong rectangular bathhouse, to help keep in the heat.

Malachite, perhaps predictably, refused the use ofthe bath and sauna, instead asking to be escorted to hischamber to refresh himself privately. Nothing, how-ever, could have kept Ilias from the presence of hotwater and Myca allowed himself to be drawn alongwithout much struggle. The hot water refreshed him,Ilias tended to his needs rather than the bath servants,and the guest-garments that Velya provided weresmooth wine-colored silk embroidered in gold and gar-nets, a treat to his senses after months of wool and fur.The attendants guided them to the main hall whenthey were finished and there they found Velya andMalachite already seated in a nest of floor cushions

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and thickly woven rugs, making polite conversation.Myca was privately convinced that Velya could makepolite conversation with anyone, and was faintlyamused to see that theory borne out on the somewhatbemused-looking Rock of Constantinople. Malachitehad chosen to conceal his true face behind anotherillusion for the evening, a weathered, middle-aged man,and was responding to questions and idle banter withthe air of a man wondering what he’d gotten himselfinto. Myca entirely understood—Velya was almost dis-turbingly easy to talk to when he was exerting himselfto be social.

“Ah, there you are,” Velya rose to greet them,and motioned for them to choose the places they mostliked, “I was just telling Lord Malachite that, in yourabsence, your sire has become a man of much indus-try.”

“Oh?” Myca inclined a brow, and settled himself amida nest of riotously colorful pillows, Ilias sinking down be-side him and tugging a fur over his legs to keep the warmthof the bath. “It seemed that might be the case as we weredeparting, I will admit.”

Velya reseated himself, reclining comfortablyagainst a piece of furniture Myca initially took forwood in the soft lighting but realized, when it moanedsoftly, was actually a rather erotic sculpture involvingat least two ghouls. He resisted with all his might theurge to shoot a glance at Malachite.

“Yes. He has, evidently, been engaged on two dip-lomatic fronts—with Jürgen of Magdeburg and ourfriend Noriz’ vile little brood, if not Noriz himself. Ithas been most amusing to watch from a safe distance.”Velya’s eyes glittered with an emotion halfway be-tween amusement and malice. “The warlord appearsto be finding your sire not particularly easy to dealwith, now that he has obtained the aid of allies more

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useful than Vladimir Rustovitch. I do not expect thepact you spent so much blood on to survive anotheryear and while I grieve for the effort you put into it,the politics of the situation are shifting.”

“I thought they would,” Myca admitted, coolly.“Jürgen of Magdeburg is accustomed to dictatingterms, not being dictated to, and I doubt he thoughthe would see any consequences from his actions. Whatdoes Rustovitch do, while my sire is at work?”

“Still brooding in his tent, in an even fouler tem-per than he was before.” Velya laced his fingerstogether, his mouth set in the thinnest of smiles. “Ibelieve that even Radu—poor, faithful Radu—is get-ting weary of his everlasting sulk. It has, evidently,gotten worse of late, and we can blame your sire forthat, as well.”

“When we were leaving, Ioan Brancoveanu hadjust asked my sire to call together an assembly of thevoivodes, the leaders of the largest war-bands. I admitI did not think that Rustovitch would attend…?”Myca inclined a brow questioningly.

“If he did, no word of it reached me. Rumor sug-gests, however, that under pressure from theinestimable Radu, Rustovitch permitted those voivodesallied under him to attend as they willed and he wasmost displeased by the large number that so willed.”Velya did not sound entirely gleeful—his personaldignity was too great for that—but his tone made itclear that he thought this humiliation no less thanRustovitch’s just desserts. “Ioan Brancoveanu’s forceswere swelled quite profitably, and with allies moretrustworthy than his own kin.”

Ilias shifted slightly at Myca’s side, and he glanceddown at his lover, finding him, as he often was of late,abstracted in expression, gazing at a point in themiddle distance. Myca frowned and slipped an arm

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about him. Ilias came back to himself with a smallstart, and smiled reassuringly.

“Ioan is better placed than he was before then?”Ilias asked, proving that he hadn’t been entirely ab-sent during the conversation.

“Yes. Ceoris is encircled, and has been since latethis summer. He hopes to choke them into submis-sion over this winter, and he may just. The Tremerethemselves scorched their own earth closest to thefortress years ago, and unless they are replenishingtheir supplies from their heathen sorceries…”

“They may have such sources,” Myca opined,without elaboration.

“Perhaps. Or they may be trapped in their owntomb with half the voivodes in the east gathered aboutthem, feeding on their herds and reducing their outerworks to smoking rubble. Time will tell.”

“The gargoyles…” Malachite suggested quietly.“Neutralized, at least for the time being, I am told.

The winged ones, at least. Lady Danika has been, shallwe say, advancing certain aspects of the koldun’s artin intriguing directions of late. A cordon, of somekind, to contain the things, and hold them at a safedistance from the besieging forces.” Velya shruggedslightly, though Myca could sense the depth of hisinterest, and Ilias’ curiosity sharpening, as well. “Myinformation on that matter is not as complete as itcould be, though one of my grandchilder regularlywrites me from the camp where she resides.”

“Ilyana? I always knew she would make a war-rior,” Ilias asked, leaning forward slightly.

“The very same. She begged my permission torun off to war as soon as the chance came to her,”Velya looked and sounded half-bemused, half-regret-ful. “She trotted off to join two of her cousins with awar-band from Ruthenia. I made her promise to in-

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dulge my old man’s fancies and write me so I wouldknow she was not ashes in the wind.”

“Speaking of cousins, my friend,” Myca clearedhis throat slightly. “That is at least part of what bringsus to you tonight. If we may…?”

A soft chime sounded, from somewhere beyondthe hanging-covered doors, and a procession of ser-vants entered, bearing bloodletting tools and goblets.

“No, we may not.” Velya smiled faintly. “Nowthat I have you in my house, dear cousin, I am goingto force you to submit to my old man’s fancies, as well,and leave the business of what brought you here fortomorrow night. Tonight, we will dine, and tell oneanother stories, and remind ourselves that our exist-ences are not wholly made up of politics and war.”

Myca nodded shallowly, seeing no graceful wayto disagree.

***He lay still, unmoving, and in truth he was not cer-

tain that he was able to move. His body felt heavy, inert,almost as though there were a stake through his heart. Histhoughts felt strangely disconnected from it, and sensationcame to him as though from a great distance. He couldnot open his eyes. A part of him wanted to shriek andwrithe, but he was incapable of doing so, incapable evenof mustering all the emotional responses that would havegone into such a display. His mind was curiously empty ofcoherent chains of thought and he discovered in himself agreat difficulty when he tried to concentrate on any of themeandering fragments of ideas wandering through his skull.

He was cold. The air against his—bare?—skin heldan unpleasant damp chill. He lay flat on what felt like aslab of marble, spread with the thinnest of coverings, doingnothing to prevent the cold from invading his flesh. From agreat distance, he heard footsteps—two pairs? One? Hecould not tell—then a door opening and closing, a bolt slid-

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ing into place, iron grating on stone. Light spread across hiseyelids, staining his field of vision briefly crimson, as thelamp that was its source came to rest nearby. Quiet foot-falls—one pair, he could now tell. A hand, cool even to hiscontact-chilled flesh, rested on his brow and laid there for amoment. Once again, his body resisted any effort to openhis eyes, even as a second hand joined the first and beganstroking gently over the contours of his face.

Through the disconnection between his mind and hisbody, Myca felt himself beginning to change. His skin splitand his flesh parted, the bones beneath reshaping them-selves under the careful touch of his captor, who caressedthe shape he desired from Myca’s flesh with the precisionand skill of a master sculptor. Gradually, the slope of hisbrow changed, the shape of his eye-sockets and the widthof his nose, the angle of his cheekbones, the contour andsharpness of his jaw, even his teeth. There was, natu-rally, a great deal of pain, against which he could not evencry out. His throat refused to tense, his lungs refused todraw air.

It seemed to go on forever, Myca aware and power-less to resist his captor’s hands, the reshaping of his entireform. Inside himself, he wept and raged, his Beast whollyroused by the agony of his body as his bones and flesh andskin were stretched and twisted and reformed, by the an-guish of his helplessness in the face of such an absoluteviolation of body and self. No amount of Beast-rage orfiercely focused will made it stop, or affected the slightestreversal of the changes in his form. At the last, his captorlaced long hands through his hair and drew out its length,spilling it across his throat and breast, nearly to the knees,in a perfectly straight curtain, draping it over him like agarment.

The door opened again, and a single set of footstepsapproached. A voice he did not know spoke. “Is it done?”

“Yes. The next part is yours, Gregorius.”

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Myca’s heart froze and shattered, for that voice he knewas well as he knew his own. That voice greeted him as he clawedhis way from his ritual grave deep in the mountains of his home-land. That voice spoke to him when he rose each night, andbefore he sought his rest each morning. That voice was the verylast he expected to hear.

***Myca woke, a shriek lurking somewhere in the back

of his throat, shuddering uncontrollably within himselfand still unable to move. The sun had not yet set, and hisbody was as still and immobile as a statue, a forced immo-bility that sent his Beast ravening against the confinement.He let it rage itself into exhaustion, having no will toresist it, his emotions raw enough that he had no desire totry to rein them in, thick, cold tears pouring down hischeeks, across the tight seam of his mouth. He wanted tosob, but could not force himself to breathe, even as thefeeling returned to his limbs, the weight of daylight fa-tigue lifting from him. Snuggled close against his back,one arm flung about his waist, Ilias slept on. Moving slowly,for slow motion was all he could manage with the sun stillabove the horizon, Myca lifted that arm away and sat upcarefully. In the corner, one of Velya’s excellent servants,trained to respond to the slightest motion, rose quicklyand attended to him.

“Hot water, and a cloth. Now.” It took all the con-centration he could muster to manage the words, clingingfiercely to the edge of the bed, refusing to fall back tosleep.

The servant returned a moment later with anotherof its cowled, sexless kind, bearing a lit lamp as well as abasin, a pitcher of hot water, and several cloths. He madeuse of all of these, bathing his face and neck, shudderingeven to touch himself. The second of the two servantsoffered its neck and wrists, which he refused with a stom-ach-churning jolt of near-revulsion, and commanded it

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to seek out its master and crave an audience as soon ascould be arranged. As Ilias began to stir, he left thebedchamber for the small study they had been affordedand found the box containing the three journals. In thehall, he met the returning servant, who informed himthat the master would see him immediately.

Velya’s private chambers were in the same wing ofhis sprawling haven as the guest quarters and so they didnot have far to walk, for which Myca was grateful. Hisconcentration was in pieces and his temper was on edge.He feared if he had to speak with or even see more thanthe bare minimum of others, he might snap, and lash outviolently. He had no desire to give that insult to Velya,who had been his confidante and nearly his friend forlonger than anyone else within the clan. It nonethelessnettled him considerably to enter Velya’s private cham-bers and discover that the man rose looking as pristine asGod’s own angels, draped in white, his silver hair an art-fully disarranged spill of curls across his shoulders.

Myca throttled an unworthily snide remark andbowed deeply in greeting, the box held close against hismiddle. “My lord, I apologize for the preemptory nature ofmy request, and I thank you greatly for answering it none-theless.”

“Oh, ‘my lord,’ is it?” Velya’s tone was richly, deeplyamused. “For the love of Earth and Sky, Myca, come inand sit down. You look like you just clawed your way outof your grave again. Have you eaten?”

“No, my—” He paused, rose from his bow, and atVelya’s gesture joined him in the nest of pillows and fursin which the Flayer reclined with no fewer than threeservants, from whom he was dining. “Velya, I am sorry. Islept… very poorly. I think it is my spirit’s way of tellingme I have been away from home quite long enough.”

“It is possible.” Velya eyed him closely, and gesturedfor one of the servants to attend him. “You do not look

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yourself, and you have spent more time traveling in thelast handful of years than any other of our blood that Iknow. It would not surprise me if that has finally begun toaffect you.”

A little thrill of mingled fear and anguish rippledthrough him at those words, and he had to force himselfto drink shallowly of the servant’s wrist, swallowing againstthe urge of his throat to close, the desire of his flesh to feelno contact with another. “It would not surprise me, ei-ther. Ilias lectures constantly but… there are some thingsthat I feel that I must do. We were in Sredetz on just sucha… mission.”

“I see.” Velya waved the servants hovering over himaway, steepling his long-fingered hands before his breast.“Tell me.”

Myca did so, telling him the entire story from Nikita’sunexpected delivery to the largely unrewarding trip toSredetz to investigate the Archbishop of Nod’s back-ground. “The only substantive evidence we found was anabsence of any connection between Nikita and VladimirRustovitch. There was no correspondence between themand, as far as I could determine, Nikita had no interest inconverting Rustovitch to his cause…. And we found thesejournals.” Myca worked the locks on the correspondencechest and opened it, removing the first of the journalsand handing it across to Velya, whose brows inclined inobvious interest. “The journals, like the letters, have noimpressions clinging to them. Before I encountered it here,I did not think such a thing was possible, but you hold theevidence in your hands. They are written in a tongue thatnone of us can read. Even the alphabet is not familiar,though Ilias says it reminds him of the koldunic spirit-speech.”

Velya opened the leather cover of the journal withcare and examined the first several pages in meditativesilence. Finally, he murmured, “Ilias is correct. The form

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is very similar, but… different somehow. If you wish, I willexamine these more closely…. I may have some resourcein my own library that will allow me to translate them.”

Myca fought down an urge—a wordless, powerfulurge, too strong for any rational, thoughtful impulse—toautomatically deny that request, not wishing to let thosejournals leave his hands. He swallowed it with difficulty,and nodded shallowly. “I have little to offer you in recom-pense for this generosity, Velya, but I nonetheless amgrateful for your largesse in this matter. I feel strongly thatthese books may hold the key to Nikita’s mystery. If youhelp me unravel that, I would be forever in your debt.”

“Let there be no talk of debt between us, Myca. Youcame to me once craving knowledge and advice, and itpleased me then to teach you what little I could. It pleasesme still to know that you were as apt as any pupil I haveever instructed, and to see what you have made of your-self since you came among your true people.” Velya closedthe book and set it back in the correspondence box. “Thelove and friendship I bear you has survived the years, andif you wish to speak of compensation, repay me by writingme and visiting me more often. There are few enoughamong our kind whom I chose to tolerate, and even fewerwhom I find more than tolerable. You are one of those.Let us be again as close as we were when it took monthsfor our letters to reach each other.”

Myca lowered his eyes and bowed from the shoul-ders. “You honor me.”

A chuckle. “And still so serious. I had hoped thatyoung Ilias would cure you of that. Come, I am cer-tain the good priest of Jarilo has risen and seeks afteryou even now. Best not to keep him waiting.”

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Chapter Twenty

Myca was not of a humor that made him acceptthe second-guessing of his decisions gracefully. WhenMalachite and Ilias both questioned the wisdom ofleaving the journals in Velya’s care, each with his ownargument against that course of action, Myca snarledat them and ordered the servants to immediately pre-pare for their departure. Malachite, predictablyenough, withdrew into a stiff and disapproving silenceas he prepared his own baggage. Ilias, who had be-come accustomed to occasionally being snarled at overthe years, merely observed mildly that it would bepleasant to sleep in their own bed again, and thenwisely let the matter lie. They departed Velya’s houseon the first truly cold night of the autumn thus far,and made good time in the cold, dry weather thatfollowed. The forests and mountains, Myca notedwhen he bothered to pay attention to the landscape,were sere with drought, the rills and streams runninglow, the hard-packed roads clearly little touched byrain. Ilias noted it as well and spent much of his timebespeaking the spirits from the saddle, murmuring tohimself in the lilting tongue used only by the koldun.Malachite kept to himself and Myca wasted littlethought or energy worrying about what the Rock ofConstantinople might be planning within his tena-cious silence.

By day, Myca dreamed strange and disturbingdreams, which he recalled in increasingly vivid frag-ments. The supply of his grave-earth, he could nothelp but notice, was dwindling rapidly now, crum-bling away to gray powder as its spiritual strength fledit. Ilias was in similar straights, but Ilias was also notdreaming terrible dreams. Instead, he was besoughtby agitated spirits, in a state of almost constant dis-

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traction. Myca dearly wished to speak to his loverabout his own agitation of spirit, but held himself back,partly out of fear, partly out of self-disgust, and mostlyout of pride. A part of him refused to admit even thepossibility that there was something within himselfthat he might not be strong enough to face on hisown, despite the abundant examples he knew of tothe contrary and Ilias’ own teaching on that topic. Itwas a folly, he knew, but at least it was a folly of hisown choosing, and he kept his peace—and his lackof peace—very much to himself.

They arrived at the monastery late in the autumn,with Christ-Mass approaching and still no snow tospeak of on the ground, except at the highest eleva-tions. Returning home, for all of them, evenMalachite, was like slipping into a hot bath after araw day, stepping into comfortably well-worn shoesand clothing, walking into an embrace of pure conso-lation. Their rooms were prepared, cleaned and aired,smelling gently of lemon oil and the freshly turnedearth filling their bed. Malachite’s guest room, hav-ing no such need, was instead decorated with pinebranches that filled the air with their resinous scent.The servants nearly mobbed Ilias, so glad were theyto see him again, and in the confusion of hauling ev-erything they’d carted along with them and acquiredsince their departure, Myca managed to creep off andtake a quiet report from Father Aron who, his frailtynotwithstanding, had managed to weather the pas-sage of time quite well. More than a year’s worth ofbacked-up correspondence—from his sire, from sev-eral other Obertus monasteries, from half a hundredspies and partisans scattered from one end of the Eastto the other—waited for him in his office, and he wasprivately glad that he had something to concentrateon beyond his own woes again. It took him two weeks

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to find the bottom of his desk again, and during thattime he completely ignored anything else in favor ofthat activity. He sent letters en masse since the weatherseemed to be perversely intent on cooperating withhis desires. One of the first to go out was the letterthat Velya had handed to him before their departure,sealed in the Flayer’s arms and intended for the handof Damek Ruthven. Myca wrote to that worthy, aswell, and sent two letters for every one he had re-ceived from his sire, reporting in detail on his currentinvestigative progress and the information pouringinto him from his other sources regarding the activi-ties of the Black Cross, at least some of which he wascertain Symeon already possessed. It was pleasant, hedecided, to immerse himself in a completely intellec-tual activity after the sensual excesses of the previousyear.

Ilias gracefully took up the task of playing host toMalachite again, in addition to the long-delayed re-sumption of his duties as resident ghoul-master andpriest of Jarilo to the surrounding community. Myca,distracted and still dreaming dark dreams, completelyfailed to notice when their relationship passed thepoint of cautious tolerance into something approach-ing genuine amity.

***The spirits were agitated. Ilias did not find this

to be wholly unusual. Spirits, like people, could be-come irritable, sullen, and withdrawn for nodiscernibly good reason. Ilias knew precisely why Mycahad turned irritable and sullenly withdrawn withouthaving to ask. He was dreaming again, and more fre-quently, as well. The painful echoes of those dreamsdisturbed the bond between them and lingered in Ilias’mind long after he woke, a shadow that he could nei-ther banish nor wholly understand by himself. Mycawas not approachable on the issue, at least not yet,

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and Ilias hesitated to force it before his lover wasmentally prepared to confront it. He turned his at-tention instead to the spirits, whose distress was atleast a distracting mystery he could investigate withthe tools at his own command.

If nothing else, dwelling in the house of IoanBrancoveanu and Danika Ruthven for a season hadtaught him how to make the simplest of the wind-flutes, and it was to that task he attended during thetwo weeks Myca spent buried in the duties of his of-fice. Often, Ilias sat in the oriel room next to a brazier,working the long slender bone he was transforminginto his flute with tools of copper as Nicolaus andSergiusz played for his pleasure, their instruments andeach other. With increasing frequency, Malachitewould join him with a lamp and a book of his own,borrowed from the monastery or from Myca’s owncollection, Ilias could not tell. Malachite, wisely, didnot ask questions he did not really want the answersto when he saw Ilias working the first time they metin that fashion. Ilias, for his part, made no effort todiscomfit the Rock of Constantinople, or disturb himin his reading. The conversations that passed betweenthem were short and punctuated by long, thoughtfulsilences. A certain camaraderie began to grow betweenthem, as they waited for a letter to arrive from DamekRuthven, or for Myca to rejoin their society.

“Where did the bone come from?” Malachite fi-nally asked one night, as the crafting of the fluteneared its end, the length of pale bone elegantlyshaped in the way that Danika had shown, inscribedwith tiny, nearly invisible sigils scripted in the tongueof spirits.

The Rock of Constantinople had a book openacross his knees. He sat, comfortably enough, in a nestof pillows he had built up over the nights to adequately

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support his back and brittle joints. He had not evenpretended to read that night, Ilias noticed, but re-frained from commenting on the matter.

“It is my own.” Ilias replied, bending silver wirecarefully into ivory grooves carved for holding it. “Iremoved it from my own flesh. When all is done, Iwill wash it in my own blood, as well, to seal the en-chantments on it and make it my own.”

Malachite was silent for a long moment. If thatrevelation horrified or repulsed him, it never showedon his face, which remained calmly impassive. Ofcourse, it was a mask, for he rarely showed his true,leprous face to Ilias, but the koldun suspected the ex-pression was his own. The look in his great, darkByzantine eyes was grave, but not censorious. “Is allyour magic so painful?”

“Not all of it, no.” Ilias smiled slightly. “All of itdemands a price, though, for something cannot beaccomplished for nothing. If one wishes to commandthe spirits, or beg favors of them, one must be pre-pared to provide what they ask in return.”

Malachite nodded, and was silent again, turningback to his book. Again, no pages turned.

Ilias bent the last of the silver wire into place,sealing the ends beneath a thin layer of bone to helphold it in place. “Do you truly believe that Nikita is achilde of the first prince of the Blood?”

Malachite replied without even glancing up, nodoubt at all in his voice. “Yes, I do.”

“Why?” Ilias wrapped the flute in a silken clothand replaced it in its wooden box.

“For this is where my search for the Dracon hasled me. To Nikita. There must be some connectionthere, even if we cannot see what it is as yet.” Slowly,Malachite raised his head and fixed his unblinkingdark gaze on Ilias again. “Why do you ask me this?”

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“Because I wished to know the truth of the mat-ter from your own lips.” Ilias met his gaze squarely.“You are much different from Myca in this, you real-ize. For Myca, there is no simply believing somethingto be true. He is not much inclined to accept a thingon faith alone. He must always have proof—irrefut-able, ironclad proof—before he will judge a thing tobe true. He will not, I think, accept that Nikita is ofhis own line without such a proof. Nor will his sire.”

Malachite glanced away. “Lord Symeon has al-ready said as much.”

Ilias nodded slightly. “It is frustrating, I know. Forwhat it is worth, you have my sympathy—I have beenpounding my head against that particular wall of Dra-conian stubbornness since Myca and I first met. He isvery…”

“Headstrong,” Malachite muttered, or somethinglike it.

Ilias felt the corners of his mouth twitch, and per-mitted the expression to emerge. “Strong in his ownconvictions. It is a fine trait to have, of course, solong as you share those convictions. I am mildly for-tunate in that regard.” He tucked the box in the crookof his arm and rose carefully—he had taken most ofthe bone mass from one of his legs, and the healingwent slowly. “Would you accompany me, my LordMalachite?”

The Rock of Constantinople tilted his head quiz-zically. “Accompany you?”

“I think it is past time that I checked the integ-rity of the wards binding Nikita, and that you weregiven the chance to look upon him with your owneyes.” And, so saying, he offered Malachite a handup.

For a long moment, Malachite did nothing butgaze up at him, his expression wholly opaque. Then,he accepted Ilias’ hand and levered himself to his feet.

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Together, Ilias leaning slightly on the taller man’s arm,they made their way down into the lowest level ofthe haven. The door to the storage room that hadbecome Nikita’s prison was, naturally, bolted from theoutside and, within, all was dark. Fortunately, theyhad thought to bring their own lamp, and they lit thecandles scattered closest to the door.

“Be careful not to cross the wards,” Ilias cautionedhis companion, pointing to the delicate tracery ofblood and salt burnt into the floor, still faintly visibleeven to untrained eyes. “Because I cannot guaranteethat I could drag you back up the stairs without some-one noticing.”

“I will keep that in mind,” Malachite assured him,dryly, and kept a respectful distance as Ilias steppedcloser to the edges of the circle, extending his handsto touch it.

The mere brush of his spirit-senses was sufficientto show Ilias what he needed to know—the wardsstood firm, a bastion of stone containing the quies-cent force of Nikita’s substantial personality. To hiseyes, they showed no signs of degradation, despite thathe had not been present to monitor them constantlyand maintain their upkeep. It occurred to him that,just perhaps, Nikita had made no attempt to wear atthem in his absence. He sang a query to the spiritsbound in the circle and, after a moment, stonegrumbled a quiet reply. Nikita slept deeply, very deeply,divorced from his own grave-earth, sunken deep in-side himself. That made sense, and Ilias murmuredhis thanks, coming back to himself, stepping awayfrom the circle.

Malachite stood watching him an arm’s lengthaway, his face inscrutable yet again. Ilias rubbed thelast of the after-images from his eyes and asked, “Is ithim?”

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“Yes.” Malachite replied, without hesitation.“This is the same man that I met in Paris or, at least,it is a man wearing the same face. I would know himby his voice, as well.”

Ilias nodded. “Perhaps, once we speak to DamekRuthven, we will have the chance to hear his voice.”

“Perhaps.” Malachite murmured quietly, andthere was something in his tone that Ilias could notentirely place. It was only hours later, as he lay in thebed he shared with his fitfully dreaming lover, stillawake despite the pull of daylight, that he realizedwhat it was.


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Chapter Twenty-One

...My lord Damek Ruthven, to honor the old andlong acquaintance between himself and Velya, and thehonor that he owes to the scions of the Eldest’s favoredchilde, offers the hospitality of his house to stapân MycaVykos syn Draconov and his companions. The customsof his court are many and complex, and so herein you willfind a brief discussion of those customs. An interpreterand guide will also be provided….

***The journey to Sarmizegetusa was a journey of

several weeks, most of which managed to pass in thevague semblance of comfort. The winter weather re-mained uncharacteristically dry and, while the roadsfroze solid, no snow actually fell. Ilias, after severalnights of communion with the spirits and contem-plation of their answers, suggested it was the result ofthe renewed intensity in the struggle against theTremere. Both sides, it appeared, we working theweather in their own ways, with consequences wider-ranging than perhaps they had all intended. He couldnot predict when the weather-bind might finallybreak. Myca, balancing the honor of being invited toperuse Damek Ruthven’s genealogical library againstthe potential discomfort of being trapped away fromhome all winter, decided that the risk was worth tak-ing. They departed Brasov on a cold, clear day, allthree packed in lightproof conveyances, accompaniedby a double-handful of guards and a smaller handfulof servants.

Sarmizegetusa lay high in the mountains furthersouth even than the domain of Ioan Brancoveanu,further south even than Ceoris, on the side that slopedeventually down into the vast Danube delta and, from

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there, to the sea. No road led directly to its ruins,though several simple trade roads snaked through thehills below it. Once the capital of the Dacians beforethe coming of the Roman Empire and, afterwards, theprovincial capital of the Roman conquerors, the highfortress of Sarmizegetusa had long been abandoned,the hills and valleys around it occupied only by simplevillages and the folk that made their living from themountains and the forests. The important functionsof trade and government had long since moved northof the great mountain wall, to face and deal with theMagyars and the Saxons, or south to contend withthe Byzantines. Sarmizegetusa itself was little morethan a picturesque ruin in the forest, the remnants ofgreatness clinging to the heights, the old walls of for-tresses, the old wooden and stone columns of a deadfaith, a vanished people.

Sarmizegetusa, for the Tzimisce, was far more thanthat. Its master, the eldest surviving descendant ofthe bogatyr lineages whose founders had guarded—and, some said, still guarded—the resting place of theEldest, had dwelt and ruled there since before thecoming of the Romans. Among the clan, he was famedin his own right, as scholar and koldun, as war-leaderand wise counselor, and his many childer had show-ered honor and renown on his name and that of hishouse. He had, of his own merit, won favor in theeyes of the Eldest, it was often said, and the tales ofhow he had done so were many. Myca and Malachiteboth went to pains to learn the most common, andthe most flattering, of them on the trip south toSarmizegetusa, and Ilias was happy to provide whathe knew. His own sire, dead for many years, was adescendant of a Ruthven distaff line, the several timesremoved grandchilde of Damek Ruthven, whosedaughters had, over the years, been many. The petty

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lords whose domains they passed through en routetold them tales, as well, and suggested in whispers thatthe Eldest had returned, after many years, to the bo-som of the mountains that cradled Sarmizegetusa, theplace he had once resided for centuries.

Myca was not entirely certain how much credithe was prepared to give that, and neither was Ilias.The Eldest had not made his presence felt among theclan in centuries—not, in fact, since the terrible yearhe sent his personal envoy to Constantinople to warnhis most-favored childe against the Embrace of theboy called Gesu. That Myca knew for an absolutetruth, for his own sire had been Embraced in the af-termath of that diplomatic visit, and a war had ragedbetween the Dracon and his northern kin that hadled to his own Embrace. What significance could ac-tually be attached to the Eldest’s long silence, Mycacould not even guess, and he wasn’t entirely certainhe dared do so. There was an old aphorism amongthe clans about letting sleeping gods enjoy their rest,and his own in particular took pains not to disturbthe sleep of the ancients by even thinking their namestoo loudly. He wasn’t sure he believed that one couldthink a being’s name too loudly, but, treading close tothe place that might be the Eldest’s own homeland,he found he wasn’t quite daring enough to put it tothe test, either.

They approached Sarmizegetusa on foot, leavingtheir vehicles and the horses that drew them in the careof a nameless village lower on the mountain, climbingsteep and slender trails that led upward through the for-est. Tabak Ruthven’s letter had included a map, the routethey should travel carefully marked in red ink, whichthey clung to tenaciously. It took more than one night,as Tabak suggested it might, and they took shelter forthe day in the shadow of a partially fallen wall, heavily

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grown over by winter-bare trees, marked on the map asa remnant of the old Dacian fortress. The next night,they reached the boundary of Damek Ruthven’s domain,marked by two tall wooden plinths bearing aloft a pairof sculpted iron wolf-heads that moaned and whined asthe wind passed through them. There, the party stoppedfor a time, and Ilias went on ahead, unaccompanied, toannounce their coming. He was clad in his ritual vest-ments, his unadorned white tunic and his golden crownof flowers, barefoot and unarmed, carrying only a lampto light his way and the heavy parchment scroll theyhad prepared in accordance with the old customs ofDamek Ruthven’s court, of their names and their formallineages, and their request to enter their host’s domain.It had been written on the skin of a virgin girl, whomIlias had been at great pains to acquire and keep vir-ginal, and who was now among the mortal servantsaccompanying them on the journey. He had also goneto great pains to keep her alive, a fact which Myca foundrather strange and unnecessarily time consuming, untilIlias explained, delicately, that Damek Ruthven evi-dently had a taste for virgin girls.

Myca endeavored to cultivate calm and patiencewhile they waited at the gate for Ilias to return, re-minding himself that this was merely a ceremonialformality, that the permission they craved had alreadybeen granted. He tried, with some difficulty, to re-mind himself that Damek Ruthven was old andpowerful and that his age and potency entitled himto respect. His eccentricities were nothing more orless than a remnant of the oldest and most formalcustoms of the clan itself, and that yielding to thosecustoms ultimately cost him nothing. He watched thepath leading back down the mountain, the paved andterraced path that wound its way among the grassymounds that covered ruined walls and the copses of

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trees that had stood since before the fall of the Ro-man Empire, with all his senses refined, looking forthe slightest trace of light or motion. Malachite, hecould not help but notice, was affecting an uncon-cerned posture that ultimately did very little todisguise his intense watchfulness. Not for the firsttime, Myca wondered precisely when his lover hadbegun winning the goodwill of the Rock ofConstantinople, and how he’d managed to do it.

A flicker of white moved among the trees, andMyca permitted the tension making an iron rod ofhis spine to loosen a fraction. Ilias descended the path,carrying his lamp in both hands, accompanied by ahandful of dark-robed figures, most of which were anarm-span and more taller than him. Behind him, Mycaheard a brief, muffled sound of fear and surprise fromone of the servants, quickly hushed. The guards andthe two most experienced servants—Teodor andMiklos, he thought their names were—gathered upthe baggage and prepared to move again without be-ing ordered. The three remaining servants, all of themgirls at the edge of adulthood, huddled close togetherin wise, fearful silence, waiting to see what happenednext.

Ilias and his companions reached the bottom ofthe stair and approached, pausing a few paces abovethe gate.

“Lord taraboste Damek Ruthven has accepted ourrequest to enter into his presence.” Ilias announcedwith perfect serenity, his expression as smooth as wa-ter on a windless night. For some reason, Myca foundthat vaguely disturbing. “Come with me. I shall leadthe way.”

Myca and Malachite exchanged a brief glance,then approached, passing through the gate, the ser-vants following a respectful six paces behind. Ilias

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turned before they reached him and led the way, ashe said he would, his hair swaying with the grace ofhis stride. Watching him move, Myca thought he sawsomething strange in it. Ilias was, for the most part,startlingly graceful and smooth in all of his motionsbut, tonight, something in that grace seemed a trifle…off. He could not place precisely what it was thatcaught his eye, but the more he watched, the more itfaded away and the language of Ilias’ body belongedsolely to himself again, and the length of his strideslowed accordingly as they approached the entranceinto Damek Ruthven’s house.

Myca was faintly surprised to discover that en-trance was little more than a round hut, its wallswooden plinths cemented together with clay, its roofa high cone also of wood. Within the small house, apair of stone plinths stood, on which candles burned,illuminating a great pit that filled the center of thebuilding, and the shallow steps descending into themountain on which they stood.

“He awaits us below.” Again, Ilias’ voice was se-renely devoid of expression. “Come.”

And so they descended.***

Damek Ruthven was almost precisely what Mycaimagined him to be. He sat on a throne carved en-tirely of fused and reshaped bones, draped in thick,dark furs. The skulls of his defeated enemies ringedthe dais on which that throne stood, and only a fewof them were other than Cainite. The man himselfsat tall and did not rise as they entered his presence.Myca guessed that, should he stand, he would be morethan seven feet tall, clearly not the size he had beenas a mortal man, but otherwise lacking any signs ofobvious reshaping for he did not choose to presenthimself as entirely inhuman, either in beauty or re-

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pulsiveness. Damek Ruthven was not Embraced inhis youth. His face was high cheeked and his pale eyesdeep set, lined with care and toil. The long, brownbeard and the curls spilling over his shoulders wereboth liberally streaked with white and iron gray. Hisenormous hands were scarred and rough, his limbsknotted with muscle. He wore antique garments of atype Myca had seen only in illustrations in the olderbooks of the Library of the Forgotten, a cap of fur andfelt, a long tunic that left his arms bare, baggy trou-sers and leather sandals, all without the slightest traceof ornamentation. He wore no jewelry or any otherobvious signs of his status. The force of his personal-ity filled the throne room with the awareness of hispower more completely than any physical symbolcould hope.

Kneeling next to one side of the throne, com-pletely eclipsed in her master’s shadow, was a woman.In truth, she was little more than a girl, her hips slen-derly boyish, her breasts barely budded. She was aCainite, Myca could tell from the glacial hue of herskin and her absence of breath in her lungs, thoughhe could not guess at her age. She was almost entirelynaked, but for the length of her own honey-goldenhair and the beaten gold jewelry she wore. A queen’sransom in amber and rubies weighed down her handsand wrists and encrusted the collar at her throat andthe rings encircling her erect nipples. She did not lookup when they entered, but instead kept her eyes fixedfirmly on the floor. The resemblance, in her submis-sion, to his sire’s advisor Eudokhia was somewhatunnerving. Standing on the opposite side of the thronewas a second male Cainite, clad also in simple, an-tique garments, though somewhat more richly coloredthan those of his patron. His hair was darker, trueblack, though his eyes were fair. His face was a blandly

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perfect blend of characteristics that, even looking athim, refused to fix themselves in Myca’s memory.

Ilias knelt and, setting aside the lamp he still car-ried, bowed smoothly to the floor, pressing his foreheadagainst the stones. A few seconds later, Myca andMalachite followed suit, and waited for their presenceto be acknowledged. It pleased Damek Ruthven tolet them wait. His voice, when he spoke, was a lowrumble, speaking a tongue none of them knew. Aninstant later, a second, lighter voice translated thisspeech into clear and precise Greek. “Rise our guests,and our honored kin. Rise son of the Great Dragon,rise beloved of the gods, rise steadfast servant of theGreat Dragon. You are welcome in our house, by thecovenant of Earth and Sky, and by the Waters of Lifeand Death which bind us all.”

Myca gave Ilias a count of five to rise first, thenlifted his own forehead from the stones, leaning backon his legs to kneel, and from there to come to hisfeet. Ilias already stood, completely composed, andreplied, also in Greek, “We give greetings to you,taraboste Damek Ruthven, and gratitude of the gra-cious hospitality of your house. To thank you for yourgreatness, we offer you these gifts, to do with as youwill.”

From the hall leading into the throne-room, thethree girl-servants they had brought with them wereushered in, in the company of one of their black-robedguides. All three wore the glassy-eyed look of mortalsdrugged into quiescence as they were herded forwardand directed to kneel for their new owner’s delecta-tion. He gave them all a cursory glance, his gazelingering longest on the tall, fair one in the middle,before directing a curt command to the girl kneelingat his side. She rose, gathered up the gifts, and ledthem out. Damek Ruthven turned his pale, piercing

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gaze back upon them, and addressed them all in thetongue of his court, the ancient language of Dacia,which the interpreter again translated for them.

“You are welcome to reside in our domain for onemonth, by the reckoning of the moon, and search thelibrary as you will, so long as you remove no volumesfrom my house. Tonight, we will feast together, andtomorrow you may begin your task.” The interpretersmiled a thin-lipped smile. “I am Tabak Ruthven,childe of Damek, and I will be your assistant.”

***Damek Ruthven’s library-archive was vast, con-

tained in a single, enormous underground hall, andMyca fell instantaneously in lust with the place, loverof the word that he was. Malachite, Ilias saw clearly,was hardly less impressed, astonished by the size andscope of the project. Here, in the warm and well-lithall beneath the ruins of Sarmizegetusa, lay much ofthe collected history of the Tzimisce clan, writingsdating from its oldest nights, including some—soswore Tabak Ruthven, as he toured the high stoneand wooden stacks with them—that his sire said camefrom the hand of the Eldest himself. Ilias did not doubtit. He felt the echoes of an ancient intellect in thisplace, a mind far older and even more abstracted fromhis own than Damek Ruthven, felt it keenly enoughthat it was nearly disturbing.

Myca, clearly having to physically resist the urgeto dive headfirst into the historical tomes that madeup fully half the library, exerted his enormous senseof intellectual self-discipline and turned instead to thegenealogical scrolls, with the able assistance of Mala-chite and Tabak Ruthven. For the first time in months,he dreamed no disturbing dreams, suffered no pain-ful, involuntary convulsions of mind or spirit. Perhapsit was because he was fully mentally engaged in his

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task, but something in Ilias doubted that was the wholeexplanation. He had been fully engaged in his tasksduring the weeks they had spent at home, as well,and his concentration had not protected him then.A suspicion began to blossom in the back of Ilias’thoughts and a quiet request to Tabak one eveningfound him being escorted to the region of the genea-logical archive that contained the records pertainingto the Moldavian lines of the clan, the lines to whichVelya himself claimed to belong. A thorough searchfound no mention of the Flayer among those kinlines,a fact that disturbed Ilias more than slightly, and sohe widened the scope of his own search accordingly.

He found Velya at last among the scrolls pertain-ing to the northern Tzimisce kin, the lines that dweltstill for the most part in the region of Poland surround-ing the city of Szcezcin, on the scroll of thekoldun-prophet Triglav and his kin. A chill slid fromthe base of Ilias’ spine and into the back of histhoughts, settling there and laying in roots. Triglav,sire of Velya the Flayer, was dead. Triglav, sire of Velya,had been dead for many, many decades, destroyed bythe hand of the Dracon, the sire of Gesu, the sire ofSymeon, the sire of Myca Vykos syn Draconov. Hecursed himself quietly for never, in all the years of hisacquaintance with Velya, asking him of his sire, or ofhis other existing kin. The conflict between the Dra-conian Tzimisce and the kin of Triglav had never trulyended, not to his own sure and certain knowledge.Myca, he knew, was Embraced in the midst of it, bySymeon when he had come north to raid the territo-ries of his grandsire’s enemies, to water the earth withtheir blood in retribution for a crime that had neverbeen proven, and had long since ceased to matter.Eventually, the kin of the Dracon had simply stoppedtheir raids and turned inward as the threat to their

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city had taken precedence to the pleasures of blood-vengeance. The kin of Triglav, exhausted, heavilythinned, had been forced to suspend their hostilities,as well. On the scroll he held, whole kinlines wereblack-bordered, wiped out root and branch, with nosurvivors known to exist. Only Velya, of Triglav’s el-der childer, survived.

What this knowledge truly meant, Ilias was notsure, but the possibilities chilled him to the core.Blood-feud was not a game among the Tzimisce. Themurder of sires and childer and blood-kin was not acrime easily forgiven, or forgotten. It had taken anextraordinary political opportunity coupled with yearsof intensive diplomatic effort by the Obertus to bringRachlav and Lukasz to a point where they would agreeto lay down their hatred of each other. No such efforthad been made between the descendants of theDracon and the descendants of Triglav. That conflicthad not ended, it had merely rested for a time. And,Ilias feared, suddenly, sharply, changed its shape.Slowly, he rolled the scroll shut, and replaced it in itsleather case.

A prickle of unease raised the hairs on the backof his neck and, not for the first time in these lastweeks and months, he felt himself not alone, andwatched. It had troubled him off and on since theirarrival in Sredetz, and had not abated since their de-parture from that city. Whatever it was, it tickled atthe edge of his senses, played at the corner of his eyes,vanishing entirely when he tried to focus on it. To-night, when he turned to face it, it did not whollyevaporate, but neither did it become any clearer. Hefelt, instead, a silent entreaty, a tug in his blood thaturged him to follow, to walk, to leave the undergroundentirely and seek… something else.

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Ilias picked up his candle-lamp and followed thatimpulse, his curiosity and his apprehension equallyroused now.

Damek Ruthven’s haven was a labyrinth of nar-row corridors and small, boxlike rooms, clearlypatterned on the layout of the fortress that had oncestood above it. Of all of them, only the halls immedi-ately surrounding the library-archive, easily the largestseries of rooms in the entire structure, were actuallywell lit. Ilias moved carefully through the corridorsbeyond that space. Tabak had intimated that some ofthe halls terminated in traps and prisons for unwaryinvaders, but Ilias suspected that might have simplybeen an attempt at intimidating guests. DamekRuthven hadn’t struck Ilias, during any of their infre-quent meetings, as the sort of person who appreciatedrandom wandering, particularly in the halls of hishaven. Ilias therefore attended his intuition closelyas he made his way through the underground, avoid-ing servants, and coming at last to the base of a narrowstairway. It was not the stair that they had used toenter the haven—that one was wide and obviouslyconstructed. This one almost seemed grown. The“steps” were mostly odd-shaped stones growing out ofthe side of the hill, packed earth, and the occasionaltree root. Ilias climbed it, careful of where he placedhis feet. A breath of cold wind stirred his hair and theflame of his lamp before he reached the top, nearlyblowing out his light. Being careful not to place hishand too near the flame itself, he did his best to shieldit, and continued on. The “stair” emerged at a large,triangular aperture formed by the space between twohuge, heavy boulders. It might have even once beena shallow cave, Ilias thought. Outside the sky was clear,and the moon almost perfectly half-full, sheddingenough light to see by.

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A temple.A long colonnade of stone and wooden columns

led down from the threshold, widening into an enor-mous circle at its far end. Standing in the middle ofthat circle was a tree—a massive, wide-spreading tree,a true grandfather of the forest, still in leaf despitethe winter, the wind hissing softly through its brancheswith a sound like distant whispers. Ilias almost thoughthe heard a voice in it. He felt the age and power ofthis place hanging in the air, rooted deep in the earth,before he even stepped foot on the path. Once he didso, that power rose up to seize him, to fill him, mak-ing his mind reel with the vast, incomprehensible ageof it, stirring his blood as few other things ever had.He had felt it before, when he had climbed the pathto present their petition. He had felt it walk with himand within him, and had known no fear or pain then,either. His lamp fell from his hand, and the candleextinguished itself in its own wax.

A god dwelt here, or a being close enough to di-vinity that the differences hardly mattered. Ilias wasnot aware, precisely, of walking down the path to thetree. He experienced the sensation of motion distantly,nearly outside of himself. He knelt among the rootsof the tree, the ground beneath it scattered with fallenleaves, their scent sweet like dried blood. He was notsurprised to find the bark of the tree, untouched byaxe or flame or lightning-strike, to be warm beneathhis hands, or that it felt like skin. He laid himselfagainst its bole, large enough around that ten menstanding hand-to-hand might not have been able toencircle it completely, and rested his cheek against it.The god welled up within it—welled up within him—like sap rising with the spring. He felt it touching himfrom within, moving in his blood and soul, runningits fingers through his thoughts. Then, it spoke, softly,

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urgently, the same voice he had heard that night inhis own sanctuary, as he dreamed a dream that filledhim with fear, for no reason that he could understand.The same voice, and the same unfathomable tongue,the same sense of insistence, of an urgency so strongit was nearly fear. He begged it, silently, to make whatit needed of him clearer. But it did not seem to knowhow.

Its withdrawal was as sudden as its rise. It pulledaway from his spirit so swiftly he nearly followed it,drawn down by the wake of its motion. He becamereacquainted with his body so swiftly and so hard hiswhole being reeled, and he fell hard away from thebole of the tree, weakened and shuddering. He felt asthough he had been fasting for weeks, his hunger sud-den, sharp and fierce, and his limbs too weak to pickhimself up.

Cold hands caught at his shoulders, and he real-ized he was no longer alone. He exerted a Herculeaneffort and forced his head to lift, and his eyes to focus.Kneeling above him, Damek Ruthven did not lookentirely pleased with him, but he supposed that wasonly just, all things being equal. Then he found him-self being gathered into his host’s massive arms andhe let his head fall against the wool-clad chest, tootired to hold it up any longer.

“What did you see?” In Greek, directly beneathhis ear, and Ilias smiled slightly to see that Damekwas willing to bend on the use of languages, were hiscuriosity great enough.

“Nothing,” Ilias replied, too weary to bother withembellishments. “I heard… his voice. Is that—?”

“Yes.” Damek’s voice, under his ear, was uncharac-teristically tender. “You will need to eat. He has forgottenhow to be gentle… and even I cannot say if he under-stands, or remembers, how fragile we are any longer.”

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Somehow, Ilias did not find that comforting.***

“There is nothing here,” Myca finally admitted,three weeks and a hundred scrolls of southern Tzimiscelineage trees later, as he and Malachite sat togetherin the library.

Malachite, very much to Myca’s irritation, chosenot to offer any permutation of ‘I told you so,’ andinstead nodded gravely. “Perhaps we should take adifferent approach.”

“You think we should check the lineage scrolls ofthe Eldest’s childer.” Myca replied, bluntly, thoroughlydispleased. They had had this argument before.

“My opinion on that matter has not changed,Lord Vykos.” Malachite did not stoop to obsequious-ness but he often retreated into formality in the faceof resistance. “And our time dwindles.”

Myca was silent for a moment as he consideredand struggled to control his irritation with the situa-tion. Malachite, damn his eyes, was correct—theirextensive search of the regional archives had yieldednothing at all. Assuredly, there were Tzimisce named‘Nikita’ in the scrolls they had researched but noneof them were the Nikita of Sredetz, the Archbishop ofNod, whose deeds would have been recorded like anyof the others. And Malachite had not wavered at allin his belief that they would find the truth of Nikita’slineage elsewhere in the archive.

“Very well,” Myca said softly, and summoned aservant to lead them to the appropriate section of thelibrary.

The scrolls pertaining to the immediate lineagesof the Eldest’s childer were stored in their own room,along with the volumes of clan histories and tales thatpertained to them particularly. Some of these collec-tions were larger than others; some of the Eldest’s

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childer were nearly as enigmatic as he himself. TheDracon was not precisely one of them, no matter howlittle Myca himself knew of his great-grandsire, butneither was his existence entirely transparent. Therewere more myths of him than there were solid piecesof history, before or after his involvement in theDream of Constantinople. Myca was entirely awareof this, based on the fear of the Dracon that persistedamong the clan, a fear that often compelled coopera-tion where none might otherwise be offered.

The servant came, small and brown-robed, andled them through the halls to the room of the elderprinces of the blood, then lit the lamps. It did nottake Myca and Malachite long to realize that some-thing was amiss. The folios pertaining to the Dracon’shistory were still present, neatly arranged in whatappeared to be chronological order. Beneath thosebooks, which were somewhat fewer than Myca ex-pected, sat the leather cases in which the lineagescrolls were stored. The leather cases, however, wereempty. All of them.

“Impossible,” Myca whispered, genuinelyshocked.

Malachite was equally stunned, and swiftly movedaround the room, opening other cases and examiningtheir contents. Quickly, Myca joined him, seeing whathe was trying to do. The rest of the lineage scrollswere intact. They were also correctly attributed.

“It seems, Lord Vykos,” Malachite murmured asthey stood together, a dozen lineage scrolls belongingto everyone except the Dracon spread across the tablebetween them, “that someone has gone to a very greateffort at obfuscation on behalf of Nikita of Sredetz.”

Myca was forced to agree.

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Chapter Twenty-Two

Damek Ruthven was, predictably, more thanslightly wroth when Myca and Malachite informedhim of the theft that had taken place beneath his verynose, in his own library. They departed four nightslater, subdued and very much under a cloud. DamekRuthven made it clear through Tabak that he did notconsider them responsible, but they had succeeded inwearing out their welcome. As they passed back overthe mountains, the weather finally began to growdamp, and by the time they reached the monasteryoutside Brasov, snow was beginning to fall for the firsttime that winter.

***Myca withdrew almost completely, assailed again

by dreams and by doubts that gnawed at his confi-dence. He had refused to even contemplate thepossibility that Malachite might be correct—thatsome true connection existed between his ancestorand the Archbishop of Nod. It seemed beyond credit,given the level of contempt the Cainites ofConstantinople had always showered on the adher-ents of the Cainite Heresy, and the depths of personalantipathy that had lain between the founders of theDream and the late, unlamented Narses of Venice.Now, it seemed, all the evidence—or, more precisely,the lack of evidence and the careful eradication ofany that might exist—bolstered the Rock ofConstantinople’s claims in ways that troubled Mycadeeply. It defied logic. It defied everything Myca knewabout his great-grandsire. And it was beginning toappear correct.

It irritated him like a hair shirt against his skin,but he could find no means to refute the possibilitythat satisfied even himself. He was almost ready to

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unstake Nikita and twist the answers he now fiercelydesired out of the oily little bastard. His Beast coun-seled violence and the distribution of a considerableamount of pain to quench his frustration. The onlything that stayed his hand, beyond the arguments byIlias and Malachite against it, was the fear of what hewould learn if he did so.

Several times after they returned to the monas-tery, he sat in his study as the snow piled up againstthe walls outside, and wrote to his sire, begging hishelp, his wise counsel, a word of comfort. Each of thoseletters he burned before the ink finished drying. Pridemoved his hand in that, and an insidious fear thathad had been growing in his breast since his visit toVelya’s house, since the dream he had there, sincethose dreams continued, almost without cease. Thebond between himself and his sire was strong, deep,untainted by the compulsion of the blood, a mark ofrespect that Myca had cherished all his unlife afterthe contortions of will he had seen imposed on hiscontemporaries. Now, he feared, feared with a deep-ening horror, that that respect was ephemeral, thathe had been subjected to a violation as terrible as theblood oath itself, at the hands of the man he trustednearly as much as he trusted himself.

***Malachite returned to the monastery and tried

with all his will not to sink into the same morass ofpain and doubt that he sensed consuming Symeon’schilde. He did not entirely succeed, despite the ef-forts of Ilias cel Frumos to draw them both out ofthemselves. Too much doubt had lived too close tohim, for too long. Too many years of fruitless search-ing had passed, since the fall of Constantinople, sincethe destruction of nearly all the symbols of the Dreamitself. He wished to have hope, but he could not findit within himself.

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For good or for ill, he sensed the end of his longquest approaching, and as it did, he found himselfincreasingly reluctant to continue its pursuit. A ter-rible fear of where this road was leading him had begunto form, and moved him to argue against it when MycaVykos, in an uncharacteristic display of open impa-tience, suggested that they release Nikita when theyreturned home and pry answers out of him. He fearedthat Nikita held the key to finding the Dracon, andhe feared what would happen when he and the Draconmet again. He feared what the Dracon would say tohim this time.

He feared that those words would be, “The Dreamis dead. Let it die.”

And so he held his peace, and offered no sugges-tions, as he and Symeon’s childe wrestled with theirfears alone.

***Ilias cel Frumos knew fear, and his fear was not

for himself. He watched, helplessly, as Myca and Mala-chite withdrew into themselves, wrestling with theirown demons, their own worries of what would comenext, their own doubts.

Myca was dreaming again. He refused to speak ofit, of the misery they caused him, and his temper wastoo uncertain to confront him about it. More oftenthan not, he did not linger in their bed longer thanhe had to, rising and bathing and dressing with lessthan a dozen words passing between them. It struckhim one night, as he sat alone in their chamber, thatMyca was taking no comfort any longer from histouch, from the bond between them, and that filledhim with a pain sharper than any he had thoughtpossible. He had had consorts before this. He had leftlovers, and been left by them, before this. He felt him-self losing this lover and, for the first time, the thoughtof it paralyzed him with anguish.

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Myca was not the only one who dreamed, or whosedreams disturbed him at a deep and primal level. Hedid not dream every night but, when he did, it was thesame dream. The god-tree at the heart of DamekRuthven’s fortress, and the voice that spoke to him inhis mind, in his blood, and his soul. Sometimes, in thedream, he was not alone. Sometimes, Nikita was presentas well, bespeaking the god, in a conversation to whichhe was not privy. On those nights he woke utterly ex-hausted, drained almost to the edges of his strength.He killed while feeding more than once when he didnot intend to, simply to maintain his flagging strength.The lack of control aggravated him. It was one thingto kill because he desired the pleasure of doing so, andquite another because he could not prevent himselffrom doing otherwise. No amount of effort on his partallowed him to extract more meaning from the wordsthat filled his mind, and nothing he did prevented thedream from returning.

***A malaise, spiritual and physical, settled on the

monastery and persisted through the winter. It didnot help that the mood of the three vampires bledover into their blood-bound servants, or that theweather in no way cooperated to lessen the gloom.After spending most of the summer and autumn bonedry, the snows came on with a vengeance, piling highagainst the monastery’s stout walls and drifting evenhigher. Father Aron was forced to ration food amonghis charges, as the harvests had been less than ex-pected. Fortunately, the reserves held until springcleared the roads enough for the monks to descendinto Brasov to barter for supplies.

Of the monastery’s three Cainite residents, Iliasshook off the winter and the dark uncertainties it wit-nessed with the greatest ease. The spring was, afterall, his season, and he descended into the woods and

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fields to tend to his own flock of adherents as soon asit was practical to do so. It was not in his nature tobrood overlong and he felt that more than a monthof poor humor and nagging anxiety was entirely tooself-indulgent, even for a priest of indulgence. Aftera while, he even managed to coax Myca out of hisstudy, if not wholly out of his mood, dragging himalmost bodily out of the monastery and into the for-est sanctuary of the god. There they walked amongthe greening trees and Ilias worked a subtle magic ofhis own on his lover.

Myca’s heart was not so hardened against him ashe feared. Myca’s body, properly invited, quickenedbeneath his touch. They made love with a desperateferocity of passion that neither had truly felt in months,beneath the stars in the circle sanctuary. Somethinginside Myca finally cracked open as they lay twinedtogether afterwards, half-covered in someone’s dis-carded mantle. Ilias cradled his lover gently as he weptfreely, his pride at last giving way to the need for truecomfort. Ilias held him, and let him cry, and when hislover was done, kissed away the tears.

“I have been a fool,” Myca whispered against hisneck, some small time after that, “to turn away fromyou for so long. I have missed you more than I cansay.”

“We have both been foolish.” Ilias stroked thestill-trembling muscles of his lover’s back, soothingthem gently. “But if neither of us were ever fools, thinkof how bored we would both be.”

Myca laughed weakly. “You are too kind. I…”“Hush. Do not judge yourself too harshly.” Softly.

“I am here, my flower. Speak to me, please.”“Not yet. I cannot speak of it yet. But I will soon.

I promise you.”“As you wish.”

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***“We have all been… distracted this winter,” Myca

said, two weeks later, as the three vampires sat to-gether in the oriel room. “But now that the springhas come, we must decide what to do next.”

Malachite nodded slowly from where he sat onthe opposite side of the gaming table, the remnantsof a game of backgammon spread across it. The Rockof Constantinople was not susceptible to Ilias’ finestcharms but, after half a season spent in the solitarycontemplation of his own fears and failings, he couldbe lured out of hiding by well-timed pleas for bothcompany and sanity. “Are we agreed then, Lord Vykos,that there is little more that we might learn from theresources currently at our disposal?”

Myca had joined them halfway through the gameand watched, with faint amusement, as Malachitechased Ilias around the board until the end. “We areagreed. Which leaves us, ultimately, with only a fewlegitimate options.”

Malachite nodded again, picking up a gamecounter and rubbing it between his fingers, the firstsign of a nervous gesture he had ever shown. “Nikitahimself.”

“Yes.” Myca accepted that without hesitation. “Ithink it deeply unwise to attempt awakening himourselves. If he is, in truth, a childe or even agrandchilde of the Dracon, he will be more than amatch for any of us individually or together when hewakes. He is substantially weakened and restrained,yes, but he is not powerless, and I doubt that he willwake in a good humor.”

If Malachite felt any triumph in hearing thosewords from Myca, it did not show in his expression orhis voice. “What do you propose?”

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“I will write my sire, with a detailed report of ourconclusions to date, and ask his permission to moveNikita’s body from Brasov to Oradea.” Beneath thetable, Ilias watched his lover’s hand curl into a fist,and laid his own atop it silently. “If there is any whomight assist us, it would be my sire, and he has theforce of will and blood necessary should Nikita re-quire more restraint that we alone could provide.”

“Have you received any word from your col-league?” Malachite, it seemed, had an almostsuperstitious dislike of using Velya’s name, and em-ployed alternatives whenever possible. Ilias markedit, and thought it not unwise.

“Not yet. I am forced to assume that he has notmade significant progress, or else he would have re-ported it to us by now. It would not help to rush him.Velya does things in his own time, though I believehe understood my urgency in this issue.” Beneath Ilias’hand, Myca’s own fingers straightened out, some ofthe tension in his frame bleeding away.

Malachite laid the little wooden counter back onthe table. “I received a letter with the last courier fromOradea. All of our options might not yet be ex-hausted.”

Myca inclined a questioning brow, and gesturedfor him to continue.

“The letter was from Markus Musa Giovanni.”Malachite informed them, his tone bland. Beneathit, Ilias sensed a certain hint of distaste. “You know ofhim, Lord Vykos?”

“Of him, yes. We did not mingle in the samecircles in Constantinople but there were, of course,rumors. I seem to recall that he and Alexia Theusadid not exactly embrace each other as brother andsister.” Myca’s tone was faintly wry, a little smile

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twitching at the corner of his mouth. “Other thanthat, I know very little of him.”

“Be glad.” The distaste no longer lurked. “He isquite—persistent in the pursuit of those things hedesires. He has been pursuing me, almost withoutpause, since we both left Constantinople, possibly atthe behest of the Oracle of Bones.” Ilias sat upstraighter. The fame of Constancia was such that evenhe had heard of her, the enigmatic priestess of holyMount Erciyes. “I have done my best to avoid him,for I am not convinced that further enmeshing my-self in Constancia’s plots or Markus’ will aid me inmy goals… but in this case, there may be somethingto be gained from letting him catch me.”

“A necromancer.” Myca murmured. “I had notconsidered that. Few among my blood practice thosearts, for all the veneration of the Waters of Death, aswell as Life.”

“You see my thoughts on the matter.” Malachitereplied quietly. “Most of those who knew Nikita best—his colleagues and confederates among the CainiteHeresy—are dead now. Perhaps, the answers we re-quire lie beyond the grave.”

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Chapter Twenty-Three

Myca sent his invitation south as soon as the roadscleared enough for his messengers to travel. By theearly summer, the matter was settled. Rather thanputting themselves to the arduous task of traveling toVenice, an excursion that Myca had looked forwardto with approximately the same enthusiasm as hav-ing his limbs chewed off by a feral vozhd, thenecromancer would come to them. In preparation,Myca moved his household to Alba Iulia, the betterto facilitate communication between all parties. Let-ters were exchanged and permissions requested.Symeon granted his leave to host Markus MusaGiovanni at the Obertus Order’s “mother-house” inOradea, and to personally guarantee the peace of themeeting. Unhurried preparations for the trip toOradea were subsequently made, as no one expectedthe necromancer to reach the city before later sum-mer or early autumn.

This time, Ilias refused to be left behind. His re-solve was immovable and, eventually, he prevailed.This time, he would go to Oradea with Myca andMalachite, and finally meet the sire of his lover, aprospect he regarded with some pleasurable anticipa-tion. Myca, for his part, didn’t regard the prospectwith any pleasure at all and merely hoped that theywouldn’t loathe (and attempt to murder) each otheron sight. Despite the sliver of pain and doubt thathad worked its way beneath the surface of his soul,Myca still hoped that his dreams were only dreams,and that his sire had never betrayed him in word ordeed. In the deeps of the night, during that summerthey spent in Alba Iulia, he finally told Ilias of hisdreams. Ilias, speaking with the voice of wisdom,

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warned him that sometimes the Beast was wily andsubtle, and its voice would prey on fears deeply heldas well as the feral instincts; in walkers of the ways ofdesire, that was often true. He also advised that Mycatell him should the dreams grow strong and constantagain, and he would do what he could to prevent themfrom troubling him, though Myca did not quite un-derstand what Ilias thought he could accomplish onthat score.

Ilias kept his fears about Velya to himself, sincethey were only that—fears based on supposition, andnot fact. Myca accepted unsupported guessworkpoorly, even when every instinct in Ilias’ own beingshouted of the danger after he was told of the dreams,and their nature. He did not tell his lover that a suffi-ciently skilled, and malicious, koldun could manipulatethe spirits of the earth to inflict maledictions andmadness on their victims. Instead, he quietly preparedthose counter-charms of which he knew, the defensesused to turn such curses back on their casters, andseeded them throughout the grave-earth they carriedwith them on the journey. Mostly, they were tiny disksof bone and clay, inscribed with signs of protection,braided cords that he sewed carefully into the hemsof Myca’s sleeping garments and the pillows they bothshared.

Myca’s dreams eased and, eventually, ceased al-together.

***Symeon’s house had, at last, reached its final

form—the great Byzantine villa, surrounded by a con-stellation of lesser buildings, guest homes for visitingdignitaries, the servants’ quarters, outbuildings for stor-age and beasts of burden. They were taken into itwithout the rigors of formal Tzimisce manners, wel-comed home with open arms, and it was almost

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enough to make Myca weep with relief to find his sireexactly as he remembered him, not the shadowy tor-mentor of his dreams. Symeon was in perfect form,greeting Malachite with the pleasant blend of genial-ity and formality that characterized most of hisrelations with other Byzantine Cainites, welcomingthe Rock of Constantinople as an old friend of whomhe saw too little. Myca was, of course, granted prideof place as first-born and favored childe, with an evi-dent warmth that Symeon otherwise showed to noone.

It was clear from the start that Symeon and Iliasunderstood one another perfectly. Myca was uncer-tain whether to consider that alarming or reassuring.Symeon treated Ilias with the precise and perfectamount of respect that he was due as a koldun, usingthe most formal and polite forms of personal address,rarely condescending to use his name, preferring histitle. Ilias responded in kind, digging up proper formsof respectful address that Myca himself hadn’t evenrealized existed and employing them with apeacemaker’s skill. Neither made any great pretenseof warmth, but neither did they make any open showof personal detestation or contempt. They very point-edly refrained from discussing any religious differencesthat would invariably cause friction between them.Symeon politely ignored the realities of the relation-ship between the heathen koldun and his favoritechilde. Ilias was uncharacteristically restrained, andrefrained from flaunting that relationship beneathSymeon’s nose. It was, Myca supposed, the best thathe could hope for.

Myca also noted the conspicuous absence of SirLandric, the hostage who had remained behind tostand surety for Jürgen of Magdeburg’s good behavior.When he inquired with Symeon concerning the mat-

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ter, his sire coolly responded that the situation in thewest had reached the point of stalemate. Jürgen, aspredicted, had responded poorly to demands, and re-turned Symeon’s envoy in a small wooden box.Symeon had, in return, repatriated Sir Landric in twocarefully preserved pieces. Neither had made any fur-ther hostile moves, but a confrontation between themwas now only a matter of time. Symeon did not evenappear to fear or regret that eventuality. In fact, Mycasensed a certain anticipation on the part of his sire.Not for the first time, he recalled who first shaped hissire’s personality. Antonius the Gaul had been bothan astute politician and a warrior; so, too, was Symeonof Constantinople, Antonius’ childe in all things butblood.

Markus Musa Giovanni arrived in Oradea withthe last of the late-traveling trade caravans, as thesummer slowly yielded to autumn. It rolled into thecity by day, its leaders the servants of no less a manthan Andreas Aegyptus, whose skills as a caravan-master and conveyor of Cainite passengers were famedthroughout Christendom, east and west. They car-ried with them a full load of trade goods—expensivesilk brocade from the south, spices from the east, dain-ties and luxuries to tempt the locals, whose purses werefat with a full summer’s profit—and a number ofCainites traveling to various points in the east.Symeon and Jürgen were both receiving ambassadorsfrom all over Christendom and the Levant, and manyof those dignitaries made use of Andreas’ services; hisface was familiar in Oradea and Magdeburg. Whenword came of their arrival, Symeon made a point toformally invite not only Markus Musa Giovanni tohis house, but Andreas Aegyptus, as well, along withhis childe Dehaan and his sister-in-blood, Meribah,both of whom traveled with him as companions.

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Andreas regretfully refused, having a tight scheduleto meet, but promised that he would winter in Oradeaif he was able, and pay a visit then when he could.

Markus Musa Giovanni rode to the gates ofSymeon’s house with the sort of train usually man-aged only by visiting princes and the first-made childerof Methuselahs. The man himself rode on a horseenormous enough to accommodate his own consid-erable size, its saddle and bridle decorated in thefashion of tastelessly wealthy merchants, followed andsurrounded by a dozen guards in the livery of his fam-ily. None of them were other Cainites—Myca knewthat certain highly ranked elders of the Cappadocianclan often traveled with Cainite bodyguards, butMarkus did not appear to be one of them—thoughmany were ghouls. A half-dozen ghoul body-servantsalso trailed along, leading a train of pack animals anda small cart loaded to the top with equipment care-fully lashed down with ropes and tarpaulins.

Markus Musa Giovanni, Myca was forced to ad-mit, possessed quite a vivid personality, as well. Hedressed himself as a merchant prince, in richly col-ored and embroidered silk velvet, his doubletstrimmed in ermine, his thick fingers weighted withgold and gems. About his throat he wore several long,heavy chains, the sight of which made Ilias hiss qui-etly. Even Myca was sensitive enough to sense theaura of power that surrounded the necromancer and,so, once Markus’ presentation and welcoming feastwas complete, he drew his lover aside and questionedhim about it.

“The necklace he wears—did you look at itclosely?” Ilias responded tersely, his hair ripplingslightly in a breeze that found its way down the hall.

“He did not make it much visible, but I did seethat there are… images appended from it. It is much

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like the necklace that Ioan wears, I thought,” Mycareplied carefully, noting Ilias’ agitation but not quiteready to guess as to its source.

“It is similar. It binds something, but I cannotperceive entirely what. Likely several…” Ilias swal-lowed with some difficulty. “There are not manynecromancers among our kind, Myca, because thekoldun have been taught that the land of the dead isoften also the realm of the gods. A wise koldun offersrespect and reverence to the souls of the dead, anddoes not make them servants, nor bind them awayfrom the gods and the rest they have earned. If thisman were a dead-speaker, as the Lady Constancia issaid to be… but he is not. He is an abomination.”

And, thereafter, Ilias made no pretense of cordi-ality toward Markus Musa Giovanni. He was icilycorrect in his observation of the forms of hospitality,and in no way honored their spirit.

***“I am given to understand from my Lord Mala-

chite that you may have some use for my talents, LordVykos.”

Myca understood, immediately, why the re-strained and elegant Alexia Theusa found MarkusMusa Giovanni detestable. The man was so unctuousMyca was privately surprised he didn’t leave an oilslick on top of his bathwater. “That is true, LordGiovanni.”

They sat together in one of the smaller privatemeeting chambers on the first floor of Symeon’s house,its doors closed, locked and guarded. The one smallwindow was likewise shut, its shutters closed so tightlythat not even the faintest whisper of the autumnbreeze passed through them. A cluster of comfortablypadded chairs was gathered about the low square tablewhere they sat across from each other, and a lamp

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burned between them. A single servant attended each.Markus’ man gave the distinct impression of beingolder than his apparent years, his pale watery eyesdarting about in much the same manner Ilias displayedwhen he was perceiving spirits no one else could see.A tongueless scribe sat unobtrusively in one corner,awaiting the signal that his services were required.

“If you do not think me bold, Lord Vykos, I con-fess myself surprised and somewhat bewildered on thatscore.” The necromancer had an admirable lack ofnervous gestures, though he affected to run a ringedhand through his thick red beard when he wished toproject the image of thoughtfulness. “It is the under-standing of my family that sorcerers in plenty existhere in the east, and that they may practice somevariation of the nigrimancies of my own kin. In fact, isthere not a sorcerer among my lord’s own retinue?”

“There are sorcerers here in the east.” Myca ad-mitted, blandly. “I cannot, however, speak for all ofthem, or of their skills. And it has always been myunderstanding that, should one wish to speak withthe dead, one should seek the aid of a Cappadocian.Thus, your presence here.”

Markus Musa Giovanni was also, pleasantly, notentirely a fool. His eyes narrowed slightly at what thatresponse said and did not say, and nodded slightly.“You are wise, Lord Vykos, to seek the aid of one whoknows his business in the necromantic arts. Suchthings should not be left to… amateurs.”

“I am certain.” Myca kept his tone serenely level,and admitted nothing. “Lord Malachite suggested tome that you were quite ably armed in those arts and,unlike many, willing to engage in commerce.”

“That I am.” The necromancer, Myca noted, wasnot immune to flattery but neither did flattery actu-ally disarm him. “I admit it was curiosity as much as

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the possibility of remuneration that led me to answeryour request, my Lord Vykos.”

“I do not doubt it.” Myca let a faint hint of asmile play around the corners of his mouth briefly. “Ishall, of course, satisfy your curiosity if I may.”

“That would be extremely kind of you, my Lord.”“I have, at the request of my sire, been investigat-

ing the Archbishop of Nod, Nikita of Sredetz. TheArchbishop managed to entangle himself in a numberof delicate diplomatic affairs that impacted the activi-ties of the Obertus Order, and induced in us a desire tolearn more about him.” Myca watched the necromancer’sreactions. He had a passable mask, but the occasionalgleam in his eye and subtle change in his expressiontended to betray his interest. “That has proven some-what difficult.”

“It is my understanding that the Cainite Heresy isin some disarray,” Markus observed, wryly.

“Even so. Much of the Crimson Curia, thoseCainites who might best shed light on their leader, areeither in hiding, in torpor, or destroyed. Our efforts havebeen close to stymied.” That yielded a glint of calcula-tion in the necromancer’s dark eyes. “Thus, when yourletter reached Lord Malachite, he suggested that theunique talents of your family might be of use to us. Forsuitable recompense, of course.”

Markus Musa Giovanni, quite refreshingly, did noteven pretend not to be interested, or engaged, in com-merce. “I confess myself intrigued by the possibilitiesinherent in this commission. My family has no particu-lar love of the Cainite Heresy or its rulers, either, as I amcertain you might guess.”

“I had thought that possibility might exist, yes.”Myca admitted. “I understand that numerous forms ofprofit may well arise for all involved in this enterprise.”

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“Yes.” Markus stroked his beard slowly. “Yes, my LordVykos, I see it, as well.”

Myca motioned the scribe forward. “The detailsmust, of course, be recorded and reviewed.”

“Indeed. This would, perforce, be a commission ofsome duration, as I cannot insure immediate results—and there is always the possibility of continuingconsultation.” Markus smiled a decidedly greasy smile.

“Very well. Shall we say a period of no less than halfa year, with the possibility of extension as the matterrequires?” Myca rather hoped to have Markus loaded ona southbound caravan no later than spring, if for no otherreason than to preserve his own temper. He could, un-fortunately, clearly imagine himself violating severalTzimisce laws of hospitality if required to keep companywith the man longer than that.

“Half a year is an appropriate interval,” Markusallowed the point with a nod, and the scribe, a lengthof parchment spread across his portable desk, recordedit promptly. “I shall provide all of my own tools andmy personal expertise in the matter of necromanticconsultation, and provide my own means of travelshould the investigation require us to take to the road.”

“Agreed. You shall receive, in return, provisionfor your material survival in the form of shelter andprovender, which will be provided by my sire or my-self, as well as the hospitality and protection of theObertus Order during our travels, if any result.” Mycapaused. “Other material compensations shall bemade—expenses, at the very least, and a fee commen-surate with the duration of the commission and thedegree of your personal involvement in the enter-prise.”

“Acceptable.” Markus named an amount, whichMyca thought stopped just short of outright extor-tion.

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He motioned for the scribe to record it. “I shallpresent the request to my sire for final considerationand negotiation. Is there anything else that you mayrequire?”“Have you given any thought, my Lord Vykos, asto the disposition of the good Archbishop’s mortal—and immortal—remains, should our investigationsresult in his final demise?” Markus’ hand strayed, thistime, to the heavy chains his throat. Out of the cor-ner of his eye, Myca saw the man’s servant shudder,quickly, and then force himself still.

“I admit that I had not.” Myca replied, carefully.“Ah.” There was a faint hint of satisfaction in

Markus Musa Giovanni’s tone. “In that case, yes, myLord Vykos, there is one last provision I would re-quest for review. In the event of the Archbishop ofNod’s final death, I would ask for the opportunity toclaim any remnants that remain, for the service ofmyself and my family.”

Myca pointedly did not request clarification onthe idea of ‘remnants,’ and instead nodded to thescribe. “We shall see if my lord sire finds that requestacceptable, Lord Giovanni. If so, I have no objectionsof my own.”

***Myca provided the materials that Markus thought

would have the greatest potential use in his rituals, ahandful of letters from deceased members of theCainite Heresy, several of them from the CrimsonCuria, and a tiny sample of Nikita’s grave-earth. Iliasdid not approve on that issue, and seemed quite pre-pared to draw lines of clan between Nikita and MarkusMusa Giovanni. Nikita, dangerous enigma though hewas, was still Tzimisce, and Markus was still nothingmore than a necromancer with no proper reverencefor the dead. It took a considerable amount of efforton Myca’s part to calm him on the matter and Ilias’

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ferocity in Nikita’s defense startled him more than alittle. Granted, Ilias had less contempt for traditionthan most of his faith, but even he rarely invokedcustom as the sole reason not to do something, par-ticularly if he had no other options of his own to offer.Myca rather thought it best to keep the full details ofthe arrangement with the necromancer between him-self, his sire, who approved them without reservation,and Markus Musa Giovanni, who at least had thesense not to gloat.

The necromancer’s preparations required sometime. A small room on the ground floor of the mainhouse was provided for his use, which he promptlywent about making ready, having the furniture cartedout to storage and cleansing it from top to bottom.Those granted the privilege of attending the workingitself gathered there on a night with no moon. Mycawondered if that had any particular significance—assuch timing seemed to in Ilias’ workings and withinthe bounds of Tremere sorcery, as well—or if MarkusMusa Giovanni simply had a showman’s flair for thedramatic. Markus had invited four watchers to wit-ness the event: Myca himself, Malachite, and toMyca’s surprise, Symeon. The fourth, Ilias, declinedan invitation to attend the actual summoning of theghost or ghosts quite pointedly, and withdrew fromcompany whenever the matter was discussed. Symeon,Myca knew, found the idea of a sinner-priest withscruples that well defined to be more than a littleamusing, and took no offense from Ilias’ surliness inthe matter. For that, Myca offered a quiet word ofthanks to whatever gods were listening.

A certain amount of drama was present as theyentered the room, which was entirely empty of furni-ture but for a smoldering brazier and a number ofwrought iron and carved wood candle stands, eachburning a tall, thick candle of decidedly unhealthy

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hue. Myca decided, eying them, that he wouldn’t besurprised if they were composed of rendered corpse-fat. The flames leaping off the wicks were a glaciallypale shade of blue. A series of overlapping circles,curved and straight lines, had been laid on the flag-stone floor in chalk and salt and bone dust. The scentof the last was distinctive, even over the faintly sweetsmell of the candles. Standing in the middle of thisconstruct was Markus Musa Giovanni’s flinchy littleservant, whose name Myca had come to know asBeltramose, his watery eyes in constant motion, hisexpression and posture a mixture of well-worn fearand perfect resignation. He wore a long gray tunicthat, coupled with his pale skin and virtually color-less hair, nearly gave him the aspect of a ghost himself.

The necromancer greeted them gravely, with adeep bow. He had dispensed with his usual selectionof gauds for the ritual, clad in a somber black tunicand hose, his only adornment the chains he woreopenly now on his chest, the links thick and heavyand hung with carved bits of bone and braided loopsof hair. “My lord prince, Symeon of Constantinopleand Oradea. My lords Vykos and Malachite.”

“Lord Giovanni.” Symeon bowed precisely, thecorpse-lights striking fire from the gilt embroideryabout his throat and cuffs. “I trust all has met withyour satisfaction.”

“Indeed, my lord prince, it has.” Markus couldnot resist the urge to offer his most ingratiating smile,as well.

“Excellent.” Symeon half-turned and noddedcurtly to his seneschal, standing framed in the door,her expression so bland, her body language so per-fectly correct, it practically shouted her disapprovalaloud. She shut the doors carefully and, beyond them,they all heard her clear, crisp voice addressing theguards stationed there.

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Markus Musa Giovanni arranged them in a loosesemi-circle around the outer edge of his summoningcircle, the best to watch the show, Symeon in the cen-ter, with Myca and Malachite flanking him on eitherside.

“I warn you, my lord prince, my lords, that someof what you see and feel may be disturbing, but it willnot be able to do you any harm. The circle will holdthe shade, whichever one is able to appear, containedwithin its bounds. It will speak through my servant,and will be compelled to answer whatever questionsyou put to it, and answer them truthfully. I must, forthe time being, ask your silence.”

He received it. The ritual began simply, withoutdrama or fanfare, no chanting or mumbling or gratu-itous displays of perversity, such as Myca’s imagination,at least, had been providing vivid examples. The room,already none too brightly lit, perceptibly darkened.Already none too warm, it cooled so sharply that Mycafelt it through layers of embroidery-stiffened silk. Theunfortunate mortal in the center of the circle, bare-foot and bare armed, shivered and the breath escapedhim in visible puffs of frost. Out of the corner of hiseye, Myca watched the necromancer feed the first ofthe letters into the brazier, releasing a breath of foul-smelling smoke as it was consumed instantly, the coalsflaring icy blue as they did their work.

The cloud of foul black smoke hovered for a mo-ment over the brazier, remaining almost unnaturallycoherent, swirling and eddying in the draft of spec-tral cold that rose from the brazier. Then, in shredsand tendrils, it was drawn toward the circle, its sub-stance sucked away and bound, rotatingcounter-clockwise, visibly agitated. Within the circle,the necromancer’s ghoul shuddered and twitched con-vulsively, his eyes widening. Then, without warning,the smoky vapor surged inward, towards him, envel-

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oping him, forcing its way past his clenched teeth, uphis nose. The ghoul, shuddering and convulsing, fellto his knees, tearing his hair and clawing at his face, alow keening wail emerging from his throat. Malachitealmost stepped across the circle, moved to bring thesuffering creature some sort of aid, only to be heldback by Symeon’s restraining hand.

“The spirit is… eager.” Markus Musa Giovanniobserved, blandly, in an effort to mask his own sur-prise. “It wishes to be heard.”

That was patently obvious. The ghoul thrashedand convulsed in the middle of the circle, babblingin at least two separate voices, as the spirit strove totake his body and use it as its mouthpiece. Finally, hisstruggles ceased and he lay still, panting for air. Aftera moment, even those struggles ended and his simplylay, staring blankly at the ceiling above him.

Then he shrieked.It was a sound that transcended mortality. No

purely human throat could have made it. Containedwithin it was a blend of tangled emotions—rage andhate, and a vast black despair. Myca knew, instinc-tively, that had there been no circle protecting themfrom its force, no subtle web of necromantic bind-ings, it would have flayed their souls open and brokentheir minds.

Markus Musa Giovanni raised his own voice,shouting over the din, “Be silent!”

Silence was so abrupt and so immediate thatMyca’s ears rang with the sudden absence of sound.

“Rise.” The necromancer’s voice brooked no de-fiance.

The ghost-ridden ghoul rose, crawling first to hisknees and then to his feet, struggling not to stand inthe flesh’s customary hunch, fighting for the dignityof an unbent spine, a commanding posture. It did notquite succeed. The ghost’s image shone from within,

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the ghoul’s flesh nearly translucent as water, their fea-tures overlaying each other in a weird interplay oflight and shadow. Myca’s eye followed the pattern andhe gasped aloud at the image that drew itself in hismind’s eye. Symeon’s hand caught his wrist, as well.Myca froze in place, fighting the flesh-crawling re-vulsion he suddenly felt at his sire’s touch and theurge to jerk himself away from it.

“Name yourself, shade.” Markus addressed thething directly and without fear, armed about with hisown protections and means of compulsion.

A low death-rattle laugh emerged from the ghoul.“Name myself? That whelp there already knows myname.”

Markus worked a complicated gesture with hisfree hand, and the spirit howled, bloody froth pour-ing down the ghoul’s chin. “Name yourself.”

“Filth! Perversion!” The ghost frothed for a mo-ment longer, enraged and agonized, but yielded justthe same. “How thin the blood of the Dracon hasbecome, not to recognize its own. I am Nikita, Nikitaof Sredetz, childe of Zdravka, childe of the one calledthe Dracon, may the earth refuse his blood and theair his ashes!”

Now it was Symeon’s turn to react, taking a halfstep backwards, shock coming and going across hisface. “What?”

The shade of Nikita of Sredetz turned a baleful,night-black eye on the prince of Oradea, a sneer curl-ing its lips. “Surely you did not believe that your linealone sprang from the lust of the first prince of theblood? Our grandsire was not as profligate as Noriz,who sowed the seed of his blood far and wide andwith anything that would hold still long enough tolet him, but he was more whore than saint, littleSymeon of Constantinople. You yourself should knowthat well enough.”

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Symeon hissed between suddenly bared fangs, andMyca found himself clinging to his sire’s elbow, as atoken preventative measure, at least. He was relativelycertain that if Symeon really wished to cross the circleand wring that ghoul’s neck, he would, and Mycawould offer all the deterrence of a cobweb. He alsodiscovered, within himself, a certain lack of surprise.

Distantly, he heard himself speak. “How longhave you been dead, Nikita of Sredetz? How did youdie?”

The shade howled again, reaching up to harrowits borrowed face again. “How long? What is time tothe timeless dead? In the thrice-tenth kingdom, nightsare forever and days are eternal. Days or decades, theyare the same to me, now, and neither ends.” It wailed,its teeth grinding, and more bloody froth flowed downthe ghoul’s chin. “How? I lived, and then I did not.There is no how.”

“Who then?” Malachite asked sharply. “By whosehand did you meet your final death?”

The ghost was silent for so long, Myca was pri-vately certain that the bindings had failed and hewould not answer at all. Then, in an icy hiss, it whis-pered, “You think I would not know how I died, butwho killed me? Fools. Fools. As though you wouldnot rejoice at my destruction, no matter whose handwas responsible. Self-righteous fools.”

Myca ignored the slurs and turned to MarkusMusa Giovanni. “Is what it says true? Could it trulyhave no memory of how it died, or what slew it?”

“It is not impossible.” The necromancer replied,in the tone of a man most definitely hedging his bets.“I have seen such things, when the death was brutalenough, that the spirit-remnants have no clear recol-lection of their final moments. But the death musthave been a terrible thing—or possibly inflicted by

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one whose power was so great the force of their willto keep such things unknown extended beyond evenfleshly death, to scar forever the soul of the victim.”

“Very well.” Symeon said quietly, at Myca’s in-quiring glance. “If it cannot tell us that in specific,we have little further use for this thing. Do as youwill, Lord Giovanni.”

Markus Musa Giovanni bowed deeply in re-sponse.

Symeon rested his hand on his childe’s shoulder,as the necromancer began the process of peelingNikita’s ghost from the flesh of his ghoul and bindingit to the reliquary prepared for it. “I think, Myca, thatit is well past time we discovered for certain what youhave captive in Brasov.”

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Chapter Twenty-Four

From the journals of Myca Vykos:We departed Oradea in the midst of the autumn rains,

and made what time we could on the wet and muddy roads.We left in haste, and traveled with a large contingent ofszlachta, the creations of my sire, and an equal number ofrevenant guardsmen whose appearance was such that theycould at least pass for human. Symeon himself could nottravel with us, which pleased him not at all, but neithercould he abandon his duties as the Prince of Oradea andhead of the Obertus Order, even for a mission as urgentas ours. The necromancer, Markus Musa Giovanni, alsoaccompanied us, having successfully argued to Symeonthat his abilities might yet be of some use. Malachite wasof the opinion that the Giovanni would now stick to himlike a burr to his saddlecloth, and would have followed uswith or without Symeon’s permission. I cannot say that heis incorrect. The man was extraordinarily forceful aboutnot being left behind, and beneath his bluster, I sensed agenuine emotion, a sensation close to fear or pain, thatMalachite might escape him again. Ilias agreed, loaththough he was to spend more time with the necromancerthan was strictly necessary, and prevailing reproachful ashe was about the treatment of Nikita’s ghost.

Ilias was also not entirely surprised to learn that Nikitawas dead—I think he suspected, even before I did, thatour prisoner was not Nikita at all….

***The party retraced its path along the entirely over-

land route between Oradea and Brasov, racing againstthe onset of winter. Ilias bespoke the wind-spirits regu-larly now, Myca noticed, and was of the opinion thatthe winter, when it arrived, would be a harsh one. The

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balance of powers between the warring sorcerers in themountains of the south had shifted again, and therewould be no long, dry cold this year. The folk of thetowns and villages they passed through were of a simi-lar mind, and were loath to sell them supplies this latein the season. Consequently, they made heavy use ofthe Obertus monasteries that lined their route, and thestores those monasteries kept.

It was in one of those monasteries, as they ap-proached Brasov late in the autumn, that theyreceived the last piece of the puzzle.

***“A letter? From whom?” Myca asked, looking up

from the journal in which he was scratching out histhoughts, and turning a sharp eye on the master ofthe tiny Obertus priory outside of Sibiu.

“My lord, the messenger did not say, nor wouldhe accept our hospitality.” The prior was, much likeFather Aron, an ancient Obertus revenant, a trans-planted Greek. “He left only the message, and theinstruction that it should be yielded to you alone.”

In his hands he held the hardened leather casein which the letter had arrived and offered it silently.Myca exchanged a glance with Ilias, who sat quietlyon the bed they shared, working at a tiny bone diskwith tools of copper, and accepted the case, noddingdismissal. The prior, who seemed to have some genu-ine piety about him, fled without a backward glance.

Myca opened the case and drew out the letter,which was by no means a slender missive, sealed inribbon and a crimson wax medallion, the sight ofwhich sent a surge of excitement through him. Iliasrose and came to his side.

“Velya’s arms,” Ilias observed, as Myca crackedthe seal, his tone carefully neutral. “He could havewritten to Oradea—it’s not as though your sire wouldhave said anything of it, not now.”

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“Perhaps. Perhaps not. My sire, as you might havenoticed, has not quite shed all of his prejudices justyet,” Myca replied dryly. “It is just as well that he sentit here—I do not doubt that he scattered these on ourroute home, knowing one would likely meet us. Thereis probably one in Brasov, as well.”

Ilias nodded silently, keeping his counsel to him-self, as he often did these nights. Myca frowned slightlyat it, and opened the letter, Ilias leaning forward toread over his shoulder.

The pages of Velya’s letter, and the translated ex-tract of the journals, fell to the surface of the desk. Fora long moment neither said anything, as they digestedwhat they had just read, then Ilias leaned forward andplucked the extract from the pile of loose pages with ashaking hand.

“I love and I hate— “ Ilias breathed out raggedly.“The Dracon himself. The first prince of the blood.This cannot be, Myca. No power at my command couldbind him.”

Myca shook his head slowly. “I do not understandit, either, my heart. But…”

“No. Listen to me.” Ilias’ hand dug into his shoul-der. “This is madness, Myca. It cannot be. I do not knowwhat game Velya is playing with this but I fear whatwill come of it.” Myca turned to face his lover and foundhis face a mask of conflicted emotions. “Myca, I shouldhave told you this before. I learned it in Sarmizegetusa,but I did not know what to do, or how to say it.”

Myca reached up and took Ilias hand, caressinghis palm gently. “Speak. I am listening, my heart. Thereis nothing you cannot tell me.”

Ilias shook his head slightly, but continued. “I knowthis will hurt you, my flower. That is why I did notspeak of it before. I know the friendship between youand the Flayer, who was your first mentor within theclan. I fear, I fear very greatly, that he has used you ill

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and may be using you yet. Velya the Flayer is a childeof Triglav, whom your grandsire destroyed, and whosekin your sire warred against for decades before he choseyou.”

Myca forced his grip to relax when he heard Ilias’bones creak beneath its force, and his lover caught hisbreath. “Blood feud, then.” Softly. “You think this issome… contrivance… of Velya’s, then?”

“The best lies and the subtlest manipulations havetruths at their core. Velya is not a fool, and he knowsthat you would not succumb to pure deceit.” He reachedout and caressed Myca’s cheek. “I fear you have beenthe object of his malice in other ways, as well, but Icannot prove it. I suspect that he has been trying, inways great and small, to turn you against your blood-kin and use you against them. He may even have beenattempting it when he brought us together.”

“I do not know what to believe.” Myca replied,softly. “Velya is not the only one seeking the destruc-tion of the Dracon. Before I left Constantinople forthe final time, I was approached by an emissary of apowerful western Cainite—the Bishop Ambrosio LuisMonçada. Have you heard of him?” Ilias shook hishead slightly. “He is a Lasombra, and extremely influ-ential within his clan. The current pretender to therule of Constantinople is little more than his lapdog.Bishop Monçada offered me concessions, his personalsupport for the establishment of Obertus monasteriesin the west, in return for my effort to locate and de-stroy my grandsire. I agreed to his offer.”

“You cannot be serious.”Myca smiled wryly. “Of course I am serious. I

agreed because I had no intention of following throughon my end of this little bargain, but maintaining con-tact with Monçada gave me a useful insight into thepolitical machinations of the man himself, and many

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of his allies—and his enemies. It allowed me to learnwhat I needed to know to choose my own position,should I ever become engaged on the political field ofthe west. It also taught me that my grandsire, andwhat he is capable of accomplishing, is feared morewidely than I had previously guessed. Otherwise?Monçada is a fool and, like many of his kind, seemsto think of our kind as short-sighted barbarians, easyto manipulate with honeyed words and promises ofeventual support.”

“The Lasombra,” Ilias observed, acidly, “have everreached for more than was within their grasp, and havenever lacked in arrogance. He honestly thought youwould murder your own kin for his favor?”

“Yes. And it strikes me now that the murder ofmy kin—the murders that they have committed andthe death that others seek to bring to them—may liebehind a great many things that have gone on of late.”Myca traced the lines on Ilias’ palm thoughtfully. “Ido not know what we will find when we reach Brasov,my heart. Do you think the wards are intact?”

“I cannot feel them. We are still too far fromhome.” Ilias admitted. “But I would know were theybroken, I am certain of that.”

“Very well, then. We will continue as we planned.We will secure Nikita, or whoever he truly is, andbring him back with us to Oradea.” Myca pressed akiss to Ilias’ palm. “I do not know how much of any ofour fears are true, and how much is simply fear. I thankyou for speaking to me. I know that was not easy foryou, or you would have spoken before. Whatever ishappening, or has happened, we will find the truth ofit, and deal with it together. Are we agreed in this?”

“Yes, my flower.” Ilias closed his fingers aroundhis lover’s own. “Yes, we are.”


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Myca had no love of Malachite, but if there wasno love, there was at least respect. He went to bringVelya’s letter to the Nosferatu and ask for his thoughtson the matter, hoping to avoid the necromancer if atall possible. Neither Myca nor Ilias thought he wouldbe willing to settle for the binding of the ghost ofNikita of Sredetz when he felt himself still commis-sioned, with profit yet to be gained from his journey.Ilias pled a task of his own that required completionand then, when Myca had gone, he gathered up hissmall box of ritual gear and stole outside.

It was raining, and the grassy hill was slick withwater and mud; Ilias slid several times and nearly fellmore than once. But there was an appropriately densegrove of trees at the bottom of the hill next to a chuck-ling, high-running stream, and he had wanted to sitin that place since they arrived. Now, he wanted togo there because he needed the peace and the close-ness of the earth, of tall trees standing over him as heworked. The ground beneath the trees was coveredin fallen leaves and treacherous with roots, obliginghim to move slowly, and his candle-lamp flickered inthe rain and breeze as he drew the items he wantedout of his box. He closed the box, which more oftenthan not doubled as his altar when he was on themove, and laid a white cloth over its wooden top, onwhich he set the candle lamp, a small bone-haftedknife, and a pottery bowl. From within his tunic, hedrew out a small leather pouch he had worn on a thongaround his neck since they left Sarmizegetusa, andemptied its contents into the bowl.

Nine pinches of his own grave earth showeredout. Nestled among them was a tiny seed, deep crim-son in color like the seed of a pomegranate, whichIlias had found clinging to his clothing after his en-counter with the god-tree in Damek Ruthven’smountainside temple.

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He knew a gift when he saw one, and also knewthat then had not been time to use it.

Taking a deep, unnecessary breath, he unsheathedhis knife, its sharp copper blade glinting, and slicedopen his palm. He willed his hand to bleed until theliquid filled his hand, and poured it slowly into thebowl, watching as it soaked into the earth and bathedthe seed. Aloud, he whispered, “My lord, I know whoyou are. I know your name. I know you as I know myown blood, as I know my own bone. You flow in myveins with the Waters of Life and Death, my flesh isyours and your flesh is my own.”

The seed shivered and, to Ilias’ eye, seemed togrow, drawing his blood into itself.

“My lord… who is called the Shaper… I knowthat you were trying to warn me of the danger thatwe would face. I fear that the danger is here, and thatI am not its equal.” Ilias swallowed with some diffi-culty. “I beg you, guide my hand.”

He took the seed in his still-bloody hand and swal-lowed it. Deep within himself, within his blood andflesh, he felt something stir.

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Chapter Twenty-Five

The monastery outside of Brasov was completelydark and still when they arrived—which, consider-ing the hour that they did so, would not have beenunusual for an ordinary monastery but was certainlyout of order here. A messenger had been sent sometime ago to order preparations for their arrival. Mycaknew that they should be expected, and a night watchshould have awaited them. Instead, the lamps out-side the door were darkened, and no bustle of efficientObertus monks and servants issued forth to greet them,or even open the doors. Fortunately for his temper,no one insisted on belaboring the obvious. They sim-ply dismounted and allowed Myca to confer quietlywith the captain of their guards.

A contingent of the guards remained outside withthe Cainites, their weapons at the ready, while theremainder separated into groups and began trying thevarious entrances into the monastery itself. The frontdoors were, naturally, barred from the inside and noneof the windows were large enough to admit a full-grown man, even if they weren’t shuttered tightlyagainst the weather. Myca watched for a moment,then turned to rejoin the others, who were standingwatchfully themselves, tense and silent, even Ilias.

“Something is amiss,” Myca informed them qui-etly.

“In what way, Lord Vykos?” Markus MusaGiovanni asked, fingering his several chains thought-fully. “And is there any manner in which I may be ofassistance?”

“Someone should have been awake to greet us.”Myca replied, tersely. “That the monastery is barredagainst us is more than slightly odd.” He paused, and

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considered. “Would it be possible, Lord Giovanni, toask the spirits at your command to enter the monas-tery and determine the cause of this problem?”

Ilias shifted slightly, but made no objection tothis request. He had been quiet for the last severalnights, withdrawn thoughtfully into himself, but notsullen. He spoke when spoken to, but did not beginconversations, as was his usual wont. Myca wanted toask him what troubled him, or what he was thinkingof, but the process of making certain all the arrange-ments for their return to Oradea were in orderconsumed most of his time.

“It is possible. I would just require a moment ofprivacy. I must, of course, concentrate.” The necro-mancer bowed slightly and, at Myca’s gesture, steppedaway from the others, taking only his servant withhim.

“What do you think it is?” Malachite asked, inan undertone, once the necromancer had departed.Even his illusory face was creased in undisguised con-cern.

“I cannot yet guess.” Myca glanced at Ilias,bundled inside an oiled leather cloak to keep out thedamp. “The wards are still in place?”

“Yes.” There was no hesitation in the koldun’s toneor manner, but Myca felt a low tremor of alarm none-theless. “I have no explanation, Myca. It could bealmost anything. For all we know, an illness mighthave struck.”

Myca nodded slightly, unconvinced, but havingnothing better of his own to add. A call rose, fromsomewhere beyond the circle of torchlight in whichthey stood, and in a moment, the captain of theguardsmen approached, bowing deeply. “Lord Vykos,the door leading into the refectory from the garden isunbarred and unguarded. Do you wish us to investi-gate?”

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“Bide a moment. Keep your men outside untilLord Giovanni returns.” The captain bowed a secondtime and retreated to issue orders to his men. “LordMalachite, perhaps you should…”

The Rock of Constantinople was already at hisbaggage, extracting his little-seen sword from its oil-cloth wrappings and belting it about his waist. Ilias,standing his head bowed in the depths of his hood,appeared to be murmuring softly to himself, perhapsinterrogating the spirits. Myca thought it best not todisturb him and simply waited, measuring the ten-sion among the men and controlling the slow butsteady rise of his own alarm. After a moment, MarkusMusa Giovanni rejoined their circle. He did not bow,and the expression beneath his beard was strugglingfor neutrality and failing to achieve it.

“My Lord Vykos, I fear that something has gonequite drastically more than amiss.”

***There was not a single living thing within the

monastery walls.Myca was silently stunned. The monastery had,

from all appearances, not been assaulted or otherwiseinvaded. There were no signs of violent struggle, norwas the place an abattoir. No blood or fire stained thewalls or the floor. No bodies littered the rooms. It wassimply empty, its hearths cold, its braziers unlit, itshalls untenanted. All of the pallets in the monks’dormitory were made, as though they had all risen forthe first of the morning’s devotions and then neverlay down again. The refectory was in perfect orderbut for the lingering stench of perishable supplies longsince gone to rot. Clothing set for washing and mend-ing still sat in the laundry. In the scriptorium, half aking’s ransom in ink and paints for the illuminationshad gone dry for want of their containers being closed.

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Documents were still spread out on the desks and, insome cases, showed that their writers had ceased work-ing in mid-sentence, mid-word.

The lower floors were similarly abandoned. Noneof Ilias’ servants remained, their quarters cold andempty as tombs. Ilias took the news far better thanMyca would have thought. He neither raged norgrieved, but Myca supposed there would be time forthat later. The koldun instead took a handful of mendown to the lowest room in the monastery to confirmthat the wards were still intact and “Nikita” still im-prisoned. Above, the ghosts bound by Markus MusaGiovanni’s will continued exploring rooms and themen began lighting lamps and candles, setting a fireburning to chase away the chill damp that had in-vaded the walls, and continued searching for any signof the monastery’s missing inhabitants. Myca andMalachite assisted them, as best they could, search-ing for clues invisible to mortal eyes or beyond therange of all mortal senses entirely. There was, how-ever, nothing to be found, even the old, well-wornsensations of daily habitation thinned and faded, likea painting rinsed again and again with water.

“I do not like this at all,” Myca finally admitted,with some difficulty, giving voice to his unease as thethree Cainites stood together in the monastery refec-tory.

“No more than I.” Malachite agreed, grimly.“Where is Ilias? It does not take that long to climbthe stairs.”

“He is coming,” Markus Musa Giovanni said qui-etly, speaking for the first time in several moments,the abstraction that came over him when he spoke tohis own spirits fading. “He is in the long hall with themen—”

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The refectory door opened, and Ilias’ bodyguardsentered ahead of him, one of them carrying his drip-ping cloak and hanging it by the fireplace to dry. Iliasapproached slowly, his hands tucked into the longsleeves of his tunic, his face an inscrutable mask.When he spoke, his voice was pitched low, so thatnone of the mortals present could hear it. “The wardsare broken. Nikita is no longer imprisoned.” He with-drew his hand from his sleeve, pouring a long streamof ash from his palm. “And I believe that I have foundthe monks and my servants.”

***Myca was very much of a mind to order everyone

out of the monastery, down the hill to the chapterhouse outside of Brasov, and then have the place lev-eled. If he could have accomplished it safely in thetime they had and with the force at his command hewould have done so. He was forced to settle for order-ing the men, all the men, inside to perform a thoroughsearch of every room in the monastery, supported bythe reconnaissance efforts of the necromancer’s ghosts.Neither effort found any trace of Nikita and with thedawn now approaching swiftly, he was forced to ac-cept the one option he wished to avoid—shelteringin the abandoned monastery by day.

The four Cainites made the best of the situationthat they could. Rather than sleep in separate cham-bers, the oriel room was made ready with bedding andpillows, pallets laid out and the entire structure, aboveand below, heavily guarded. Myca, not at all com-forted by these precautions, paced the halls until thenearness of sunrise forced him to seek the oriel roomand his pallet, pulled close to Ilias’ own. Malachiteand Markus Musa Giovanni were already abed withtheir servants close by them. Ilias sat cross-legged andawake, awaiting his return, serenely composed despite

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the many oddities of the night. Myca found that tran-quility soothing almost in spite of himself, sheddinghis shoes and cloak, and laying down beneath the massof furs and coverlets that Ilias had prepared in hisabsence. His lover curled close against him, arm acrosshis belly, head resting on his shoulder, and Myca drewcomfort from the closeness, as well, nuzzling the cop-per-blonde hair brushing his chin.

For a moment, they lay together in companion-able silence. Then, Myca whispered the question thathad gnawed at the back of his thoughts all night. “Howdid he break the wards without you feeling it?”

A moment more of silence passed before Iliasmade his reply, his tone thoughtful. “I do not know. Ishould have felt it immediately. The spirits shouldhave spoken to me at once, unless they were com-manded otherwise. That is not impossible.” Softly. “Ifhe is truly the Dracon, it is not outside of his power todo so, were he somehow freed physically, but anyphysical breach of the wards would have warned me,as well. It is a puzzle, my flower.”

“Too many puzzles,” Myca muttered, and drewIlias closer. “My sire will not be pleased to learn thatwe have lost him, if, indeed, he is even lost. But itseems likely. None of the men, nor the ghosts, foundany trace of him.”

“And the spirits could tell me nothing.” Ilias mur-mured sleepily.

“We should have acted sooner.” Myca staredblankly up at the shadowed ceiling far above, tryingto think of how he would phrase it in the letter hewould have to write.

“Perhaps. Perhaps we have done all that we coulddo.” Ilias reached up and brushed Myca’s eyes closedgently. “Sleep, my love. We will think of what to donext in the evening.”

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Myca pressed a kiss into his lover’s palm. “As youwish.”

***He walked between columns of blue marble. To his

right was the sea—a vast dark expanse he could hear andsmell more than see, the waves crashing against the break-water dozens of feet below, the salt-breeze stinging his eyes,catching in the unbound spill of his hair, the trailing lengthsof his clothing. To his right was a garden, full of rare andwonderful night-blooming plants, scattered with statuesand fountains, crossed by gravel paths and lush expansesof well-tended grass. It was a beautiful place, serene andelegant in the manner that all of Byzantium was elegant,gracefully designed and pleasing to all of the senses, notjust the eyes.

He wished to appreciate all of those beauties for theirown value, but his efforts to shorten his stride were half-hearted at best. He was, after all, not walking for his ownpleasure. He was, again, about to enter into the presenceof the most beautiful thing in Constantinople: the loverfrom whom he had been long parted, and to whose armshe had only lately returned…

This is not real, Myca told himself within his dream.This is not real. This never happened.

He threw back his head and cried out aloud, bloodytears of joy running down his cheeks. Beneath him, hislover’s back arched, pressing their bodies more closely to-gether, palely glowing hands clutching at his thighs. He satastride his lover’s loins, their flesh united, rocking slowlyon his knees, wringing every sensation he could from theplaces their bodies touched, stroking his hands across hislover’s chest and belly. When they were together in thisway, they both remembered what it was to live and love,to burn with desire and quench that desire in another’sflesh, before the more divine union of the blood. Heated

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from within by a wild passion, he strove to make his loverscream, to cry out, and, finally, cry out he did—moaninga name, his own name.

That is not my name, Myca told himself within thedream. This is not me, though I feel his touch burn-ing me still. I was not the lover of…

Michael the Patriarch. Michael the Archangel.Michael, in whom the Dream was made flesh. They laytogether afterward, bodies entwined, flesh and blood stillsinging with ecstasy. Michael’s golden head lay on hisbreast, Michael’s hand cupped his loins and caressed hisbelly, making him quiver with renewed desire. Michael’sfangs pierced his throat and exalted him with passion thatwas truly divine. Michael’s flesh entered and claimed hisown, and Michael’s thoughts spilled into his mind throughthe bonds of blood and desire between them.

“You wear his face, though you are not him—your spirit, even reshaped as it is to please me, is yourown still. You are not him…” The Patriarch, the angel,whispered gently into his mind. “But there is much ofhim in you, I see that, at least. They chose well, didmy faithful Gregorius Dimites and your sire Symeon,when they chose to gift you with his form and hisaspect, and send you to me, as a gift of their love.And you… you are worthy for your own sake, for youalone have come to spend my last nights with me,and give to me the comfort that the one who camebefore me never knew. To you, I shall give what noone else shall ever possess. To you, I give my Dream.”

***Myca woke, suddenly and completely, as many

things became clear.He remembered.He remembered the night that his sire had sum-

moned him to a house outside of the Obertusmother-house in lost Constantinople. He remembered

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their conversation, and feeding on a servant whoseblood was thick and sweet with a substance he didnot recognize. He remembered falling into his sire’sarms, and being carried to a room, where he wasstripped bare and reshaped into another’s image. Heremembered the maddening voice of the Muse,Gregorius Dimites, speaking in his thoughts, twistinghis mind, striving to obliterate his identity and leavehim with only one thought, one truth: that he wasthe Dracon, returned to the city in its darkest hour,returned to give aid and comfort to his failing lover.He remembered the nights of passion spent in thearms of the Patriarch—and remembered, in the end,that the Patriarch knew him for who he was…

Knew him for who he was…And used him, nonetheless.He wanted to scream. A gentle hand touched his

hair, stroked loose strands back from his face, soothedhim silently.

“It seems,” the voice belonging to the hand saidquietly, an unfamiliar lilt to each word, “that many ofus have been wearing faces not our own of late. Isthat not so, my childe?”

Myca opened his eyes.The Archbishop of Nod knelt in the center of

the oriel room, unmoving and unspeaking, a lampburning on the bare floor next to him. On either sideof him lay a servant—the necromancer’s servant, hishead twisted at a decidedly unnatural angle, an ex-pression of perfect peace etched onto his face, andMalachite’s servant, who had evidently perished witha good deal less equanimity. Markus Musa Giovannihimself crouched against the far wall, clutching hischains. Malachite stood opposite him, sword in hand,and visibly unwilling to use it. Myca sat up quicklyand cast a glance at Ilias—and found himself staringat a stranger in his lover’s clothing.

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A certain undeniable physical resemblance joinedthe silent Archbishop and the sorcerer kneeling peace-fully at Myca’s side. They were both dark of hair anddark of eyes, fine-boned and graceful. The sorcererhad the long-fingered hands of an artist and his face amore than vaguely feral cast, sharp chinned and high-cheeked, his auburn eyes angular. The Archbishop ofNod had the perfect beauty of Malachite’s icon if notits fair coloring, the interplay of shadows and lightover his features lending them an air of depthlessweary melancholy. Before Myca’s eyes, he bowed hisforehead to the floor, once, and rose again to his knees,his voice soft but resonant in its reply. “You are… notwrong, my sire.”

Myca very much wanted to leap to his feet butfound his muscles too weak to manage it, and settledfor scrambling an arm’s length or two away from Ilias-who-was-not-Ilias. “What is going on here?”

His question went unanswered. Ilias-who-was-not-Ilias rose from his place among the bed-furs andcrossed the room to kneel at the side of the Arch-bishop of Nod. He made no move to reach out to theArchbishop, who returned the favor. They sat togetherin a silence that none dared to break for a long, longmoment. Then, Nikita-who-was-not-Nikita slumpedover his knees, his spine bending, the mask of his facecrumbling, and Ilias-who-was-not-Ilias took him inhis arms.

Myca leaned back, found a wall, and pushed him-self up it, leaning hard against the stone to supporthis watery legs. He wanted to shout a number of things,not the least of which was, Who are you and what haveyou done with my lover?, but could not quite find thedepth of foolishness necessary to do so. Instead, hemade his way laboriously around the edge of the room,until he came to the side of the necromancer, MarkusMusa Giovanni.

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“What is this,” Myca hissed between clenchedteeth, not quite giving it enough inflection to makean actual question.

The necromancer shot him a wild-eyed look. Heextended a shaking hand towards Nikita-who-was-not-Nikita’s bent back. “When I woke he was here. Ido not know how he came to be here… or where theguards might be.”

Myca somehow suspected that the absence ofguards was the least of their worries. “He is… thatis… Nikita…”

“He is the Dracon.” Malachite’s voice, clear andstrong, filled the oriel room. “I know that face betterthan I know my own. I have carried it with me sinceI left Constantinople.”

“Faithful Malachite.” A soft, hoarse whisper. “Youshould have listened to me the last time, Rock ofConstantinople. Truth has no one shape, no one sym-bol. All eyes see it differently. All tongues speak itdifferently. Nothing—nothing—exists unchangedforever. Not even we.” Nikita-who-was-not-Nikitastraightened himself, though he did not rise. “Do yousee it now, faithful Malachite? Do you understand itnow? The Dream—”

“The Dream is not dead,” Malachite answered,quietly. “The Dream has only changed its shape. Itcannot die, even if all of its symbols crumble and fallto dust. The Dream is a thing with its own life. Doyou give it so little credit, hidden one?”

“I give it all the credit it deserves,” the Draconwhispered tiredly. “The Dream will survive all whofirst saw it blossom, and helped give it its first form.My time as its custodian is at an end. The last task Iset myself is done. Michael is avenged. Those whosought to diminish and sully what he created are deador undone. Narses is destroyed, and the Heresy de-

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stroyed with him.” He bowed his head again, a cur-tain of dark hair falling across his face. “And I am sotired.”

Somewhere, Myca found his voice. “You didthis… you murdered Nikita of Sredetz and stole hisform… You went to an effort that I cannot even imag-ine… to destroy the Cainite Heresy?”

“Yes.” The Dracon’s head came up again and hehalf-turned, the expression on his face somewhereshort of pleasant. “Would you not do the same toavenge your lover, Myca Vykos, born of my blood?”

Myca took a ragged breath, cast a glance at Ilias-who-was-not-Ilias, and decided not to answer thatquestion. “Why did you let us hold you? Why did youlet Jürgen hold you? Why did you let him take you inthe first place?”

A rise and fall of slender shoulders. “Jürgen dis-appointed me. I hoped he would destroy me. He didnot. He sent me to you.”

“Destroy…” Myca began, absolutely appalled,only to be interrupted by an unlikely source.

“Destroyed?” Markus Musa Giovanni asked,softly, his eyes gleaming with an unpleasant light.

Across the room, Malachite stiffened with vis-ible alarm.

“This is outside of your purview, Lord Giovanni,”Myca ground out through bared fangs. “And outsideof your commission.”

“Outside of the commission I hold from you, LordVykos,” the necromancer replied, coolly. “But in thismatter I do not serve you. I serve my Lady Constanciaof Erciyes, whose prophecies have never failed in theirguidance. The Rock of Constantinople knows of whatI speak.”

Myca flicked a glance in his direction. “Mala-chite?”

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“Constancia of Erciyes,” Malachite murmured, hisgaze fixed unwaveringly on the necromancer, “hasprophesied that the Dream must die. It cannot, forthe Dream is more than the sum of its symbols, asshe, wise as she is, must realize.”

“Perhaps,” the necromancer countered, his fin-gers knotted in the lengths of chain about his throat.“But those symbols may be undone, and the Dreamitself forgotten for an age and more if needs be, boundaway and kept hidden from all eyes and all minds.”

“Do not be a greater fool than you have to be,Giovanni—” Myca snapped—and recoiled, quickly,to avoid be splattered by the blood.

He had not even seen Ilias-who-was-not-Iliasmove. One moment, he was kneeling at the side ofthe Dracon. The next, he was standing before MarkusMusa Giovanni with his hand buried to the wrist inthe necromancer’s chest.

“Constancia of Erciyes,” He said, he biting offeach word clearly, “has the unhealthy habit in med-dling in matters which do not concern her, andsending others to die for her.” The hand twisted, andwrenched itself free.

Markus Musa Giovanni crumbled to dust with-out even a scream, his empty clothing and manychains falling to the floor in a heap. Myca retreatedanother handful of steps, too shocked to speak, andstopped only when he bumped into the far wall. Ilias-who-was-not-Ilias licked his fingers clean, and casuallycrushed bone fragments and braided locks of hair un-derfoot, rending the necromancer’s chains and fetisheshe used to bind and command his ghost-slaves.

“Constancia,” the Dracon whispered into theringing silence that followed, “knows me well. Sheknows what I desired.”

“You desire death,” Myca said softly.

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“I desire an ending.” There was endless, depthlessweariness in that admission. “You cannot imagine it,childe of my blood, and I hope you never have causeto. I hope that you do not see the night when youhave outlasted everything and everyone that you haveever loved, and watched everything that you tried topreserve crumble around you.”

“Everything?” Ilias-who-was-not-Ilias asked softly.Silence. Ilias-who-was-not-Ilias crossed the room

and knelt again at the Dracon’s side. Within himself,Myca felt his blood stir and pulse in his veins, a sharpcontracting pain filling his chest, reaching up to poundat his temples. Shock—for it was shock that had kepthim from any other reaction—gave way to fear, andfear to a sudden, painful anguish. They were speakingto one another, he realized with dizzying suddenness,speaking to each other in a speech that required noclumsy words, that offered no barriers to perfect com-prehension. He understood, then, what Ilias had beentrying to tell him about his visions, about the agonythat dwelt in the spirit of Nikita-who-was-not-Nikita,in Nikita-who-was-the-Dracon, the soul-devouringpain and loss that consumed him, even deep in thesleep of ages. He understood how one could be eter-nal, as old as the mountains, and still long for thepeace and silence of death, how one could be touchedby divinity and find divinity wanting.

Ilias-who-was-not-Ilias held out a hand to himand, almost against his will, he stepped forward, andtook it. In that moment, he was lost, and knew it tothe core of his soul.

“Bear witness, Rock of Constantinople.” Ilias-who-was-not-Ilias whispered, and drew Myca down.

***It was pleasure. The hands that touched him, that

remade him to suit its need, saw no need for the de-liberate infliction of agony. Myca felt that, had

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nothing of Ilias existed within them, simple indiffer-ence would have caused him mind-shattering pain andthought nothing of it. But Ilias was in those hands, atleast in part, and so he felt only pleasure as his bodywas reshaped, opened and made ready to receive.

He watched from a vast mental distance, everynerve singing with resonant joy, as Ilias-who-was-not-Ilias turned from him to his ancestor, who waited,silent, face bowed. He watched the perfect flesh dis-tort and malform, discoloring, rippling. Liquid. He wasbecoming liquid, Myca realized, distantly, and couldnot bring himself to care, or fear what would happennext. Ilias-who-was-not-Ilias gathered the ball of liq-uid into his hands, held together by the thinnest layerof skin, and swallowed it, taking it into himself, trans-forming it, solidifying its essence. Myca knew—he feltthe knowledge of what was happening within the fleshand blood of his lover filling him wordlessly.

He parted his legs, and cried aloud in pleasure astheir bodies joined together again, at last.

His lover moved inside the reshaped passages ofhis body and, if he thought he had known pleasurebefore, it was nothing compared to what he felt now.It overwhelmed him in less than a heartbeat, drawinghim down into a sweet, blood-colored, blood-scentedwhirlpool of ecstatic sensation, rapture so vast it con-sumed all his senses. Distantly, he knew that this wasnot an act of love, but of violation, a rape committedagainst his body and his soul, to save the existence ofone who wished only for death. He could not bringhimself to care. In the terrible rapture cleaving hissoul and his flesh, he felt Ilias, he felt his lover striv-ing to spare him pain, felt his lover’s soul wrap abouthis own and endure the pain of this defilement for hissake, and his alone. He knew that, in some way, lovetouched him and protected him, even now, and diedfor him as the pleasure peaked.

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He felt the seed spill into him, hard and thick,anchoring itself inextricably into his being, into hissoul, blood, and flesh. He felt the last of Ilias’ soulgutter and die within him, consumed at the last, andthe searing agony of violation as his body sealed itselfaround the intruder, the dragon-seed of his ancestor,the container of its essence, polluting his own beingwith its alien presence. He felt the fine ash of hislover’s dissolving body fall across his own blood-stickyflesh, scorched to destruction from within by the forceof the being that had spoken and acted through him.

Myca Vykos threw back his head and screamed.

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I cannot adequately or accurately define the full mean-ing of the bonds between my sire and myself. Not even tomyself, for my own satisfaction, can I pull the threads ofthe tie between us apart, examine and analyze them, de-scribe them in words that are safe and painless. Thestrength of that bond is such that it transcends the descrip-tive capacity of language; words alone cannot convey it.

But because I am who I am, I must try.Does it matter how we first met, who I was, and who

he was, at that long-ago time? Does it matter where wewere, and the words we said to one another, and the lan-guage that we spoke? I do not think it does. That place nolonger exists in any way that matters. Its villages are bur-ied rubble, its people scattered and lost in the greater seaof humanity, its language forgotten before it could be writ-ten.

What were we, what are we, to each other?Perhaps the more important question.He was not, was never, my lover, though I know

that many of the ancients took their childer for the sake ofpure lust, out of a desire borne in blood. That was not theway between he and I. Our bond is deeper than any tiethat arises from transient desire, infatuation with a prettyface or a sweet voice. In fact, I do not know all the rea-sons why he first chose me, and I do not think that I wantto know them. Some things, even between oneself andone’s sire, are better left unexplored. I know that he madethe decision for the first time when I was little more than achild, and that he held to it as I grew to manhood. Unlikemany of his childer, he offered me a true choice when thetime came—not the dead-water or death, as so many ofour kin do in these degenerate nights, but the gift of hisblood or the right to live and die as a mortal, a life in whichhe would not interfere.

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Why did I choose as I did? I could offer a thousandfacile rationalizations of my choice, but all of them wouldbe just that—rationalizations, self-justification coated inlayers of pride and regret. I will say, instead, only this:when I made my choice, of my own free will and knowingwhat I would both gain and lose by so doing, I believedthat it was the right choice to make, the right way, thepath that I had been born to follow. Was I wrong aboutthat choice, or was I right? Even I do not know any longer.I am not entirely certain that I care any longer. It hasbeen too long since I made that choice. The reasons nolonger matter, and the consequences are ceasing to mat-ter, as well.

There are those who say that I am my sire’s first-chosen and favorite. They are only partially correct. Thepride of place for the first-chosen rightfully belongs an el-der brother whose name is now all but forgotten and whoseline has so dwindled that if it contains a dozen childer, Iwould be surprised, indeed. But favorite? Yes, I was that.I say it, and claim the truth of it, without pride and with-out pleasure. My sire loves me, not as a man loves hislover, but as a father loves his son. You cannot imaginehow terrifying that is, how heavy a weight it hangs uponmy shoulders, to know that in me resides the sum of mysire’s remaining humanity, the remnants of his ability tofeel and comprehend human emotion, the womb of hisrebirth as a thing only barely human any longer.

It is almost true, that he cannot die. So long as one ofhis blood exists, he exists. So long as the world does notfall to ash, he may make himself whole again. It happenedonce. His flesh perished, but his essence lived on, lived onand found purchase within me to remake itself. I felt boththings, almost at once—the shock of his death, ripplingthrough the blood in my veins, and the second, greatershock of his life, quickening within the blood that he hadgiven me, within my very flesh. I felt him reshape me to

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host himself, building a nest within me of blood and softtissue, to cradle a tiny seed of recovering consciousness. Ifelt him grow, slowly, as he drew the scattered pieces ofhimself, the fragments of his identity, back together again,growing stronger and more coherent as the weeks stretchedinto months. Nine months, of course, nine the number ittakes to create miracles of new life. My belly swelled withhim and within myself, I felt him move, I felt him caressme from within, lovingly, trusting me in his vulnerabilityas he trusted no one and nothing else, even his bogatyrwitch-warriors. I knew how a woman must feel as herbabe grew beneath her heart, and it nearly drove me madto discover that same depth of love within myself for mysire, whose soul I carried within me, whose blood andflesh were as much my own as his.

He birthed himself on a moonless night, as my bodycontorted with the demands he made on it, yielding fleshand blood as he required. I know there was pain, but thepain is not the most intense memory I have of that night.Rather, it was laying there afterwards, panting and as ex-hausted as any woman who had birthed her first child,with him laying on my hollowed-out belly, small and redand wrinkled. He mewled, hungrily, as any infant would,and I took him in my arms, gave him suck from my ownthroat—and when I looked into his eyes, I saw that hiseffort to recreate himself had failed.

There was nothing human in his eyes. I had birthed amonster, whom I could not even strangle in the cradle,whom I could not even expose for the sun to burn to ashand the wind to scatter. Blood has passed between us formonths—nine months, the time needed to make miracles—and the bond between us was tight. I loved the monstrousthing I had birthed as much as I loved the scholar who hadfed my mind, the seer who had advised me with wise coun-sel, the sire who had let me find my own way, as he hadfound his. The horror of it choked me, and I could not

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even flee it. Instead, I took him back to the place that hehad claimed as his own, and gave him to the care of thosewho could care for him, and then I ran from the sight ofhim and the knowledge of what had become of him, andbuilt myself a home across the deep salt sea where I hopedto escape the pull of him, the desire to return to him. Ithrew myself into esoteric studies and, then, into the armsof my lovers, in hopes of building something better than Ihad first given birth to. In all of these things, I failed.

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Madrid, 1235

The messenger arrived in Madrid by nightand made his way unerringly to the house ofBishop Ambrosio Luis Monçada. The bishop’sservants admitted the messenger, eventually, forthey did not like the look of him—weary andtravel-worn and clearly not of gentle birth, orelse he would not have been traveling like acommon vagabond. The messenger paid the su-perciliousness of the bishop’s servants no heedand delivered his message to the bishop’s secre-tary, pausing to accept no refreshment, nor tomeet with the bishop himself, who was engagedin business that night.

When the bishop received the message, hewas considerably irritated with his servants fornot taking the messenger’s name or detaininghim for further questioning. He did not, how-ever, punish them as harshly as he could have.He suspected that attempting to detain this par-ticular messenger against his will might havecost him a number of well-trained functionar-ies. The letter came from the east, from thedomains of the Obertus Order, and was, thebishop thought, characteristically short and tothe point, consisting of only one line in an el-egant hand.

The matter that we discussed has been accom-plished.—M.

He might have doubted the veracity of thatclaim, given that he had no way to confirm it

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otherwise, had it not been for one thing. Pressedinto the wax medallion at the bottom of themessage was not the imprint of a seal, but theseal itself, a heavy golden signet, its imagedeeply incised into the metal. A brief perusalamong his own records showed the bishop thatthe signet had left its stamp on a half-dozenpieces of ecclesiastical correspondence over theyears, most of which were more than two hun-dred years old.

Bishop Ambrosio Luis Monçada was uncer-tain whether he should be personally pleased bythis development or not. Instead of dwelling onthe matter, however, he instead wrote severalletters of his own, and began putting plans longheld in reserve into motion.

***The visitor came to the house of Velya the

Flayer in the spring, traveling simply and alone,unaccompanied by servants or bodyguards. Hearrived early in the evening and was receivedwith all due ceremony, offered viands and all thecomforts of an honored guest, which he acceptedgraciously. The letter he presented upon his ar-rival was carried to the master of the house and,in due course, the Flayer roused himself suffi-ciently to attend his visitor as a guest of hiseminence and rank deserved.

Myca Vykos was mildly amused to see that Velyahad obviously not enjoyed an entirely restful winter.Beneath the Flayer’s cultivated air of genial elegancelurked exhaustion so deep he could not entirely con-ceal it, no matter how smoothly he crafted his face orcarefully he carried his body. Myca rose and embracedhim as a kinsman and hid his pleasure in the time-honored rituals of greeting.

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“You surprise me, Myca,” Velya admitted,once they had made themselves comfortable. “Itis somewhat unlike you to travel unannouncedand without companions. Where, dare I ask, isfair Ilias?”

“Ilias is dead.”Silence. Velya’s face was as still as a lake on

a day without wind. Myca reached into hisdalmatic and drew from an inner pocket a smallbone disk, which he held up, allowing thelamplight to play over the symbols incised inits surface. To his credit, the Flayer showed noreaction on his face, though his hands curledon his thighs as though he wished to tear thecharm from Myca’s hand, and possibly the handalong with it.

“He was more powerful than he knew, andmore beloved of the powers he commanded,”Myca said, softly. “His workings, some of them,survived the death of his flesh.” He closed hishand, the charm shattering beneath his finger-tips, crumbling to dust.

Velya the Flayer visibly slumped in his chairas the magic he had labored under for monthsdissipated, the counter to his own maleficia un-done.

“I know what you did, Velya.” Myca whis-pered. “Before he died, Ilias told me of it. Hesensed what you were doing and moved to pro-tect me from it, and he even knew from whereit came. It pleased me to let you suffer as I suf-fered, at least for a time.” He rose. “I came totell you that, and to tell you that your punish-ment is ended, and I am satisfied by it. That,and your quarrel with my family is ended.”

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Velya rose, as well, his eyes narrowed. Whenhe spoke, his voice was a hiss in which Mycaclearly heard the Beast speaking. “It is not foryou to decide such things.”

“Oh, but it is, Velya. It is. If you raise yourhand to me or mine again, I will finish what Istarted, and I will begin with you.” The words,and the voice that spoke them, were not his ownbut, for the moment, Myca did not care. “Deathis clean, Flayer. Death is an ending. There areworse things, and I know all their names.”

Silence descended again. Myca turned, andstrode toward the door. As he touched thehandle, the Flayer spoke again.

“What are you?”“An apt choice of words, my old friend.”

Myca opened the door. “I am not what, or who,I was before. I am not yet certain what, or who,I am becoming. You showed me truths that havechanged me, and will continue to change me.For that, and for the… friendship… we haveshared in the past, I am grateful. For that, I amwilling to overlook the means you used to showme those truths. But do not cross me again,Flayer. If a reckoning is to be made against theblood that created me, that reckoning will bewrought by me and for my purposes, my ven-geance. Be content with what you have gainedalready.”

He closed the door behind him, and walkedout into the waiting night.


The author would like to offer her profoundthanks to Philippe Boulle, Joshua Mosquiera-Asheim, and Lucien Soulban, without whomthis book would likely never have been writ-ten.

She would also like to thank her husband,Anthony L. Sarro III, for tolerating her pro-t racted d i sappearances into the wr i te r ’shermitage over the last year or two, and for allof his help and encouragement.

About the Author

Myranda Kalis (an alias she uses to protecther relatively innocent husband) has been writ-ing incessantly since the age of twelve, honingher skills as a slinger of verbiage on bad spaceopera. She did, however, nobly refrained fromangsty Goth poetry, even when she was anangsty Goth. Dark Ages: Tzimisce is her sec-ond novel (Dark Ages: Brujah was the first)and she has, over the years, contributed to sev-eral roleplaying game supplements for the DarkAges setting of the World of Darkness, as wellas fiction pieces and the odd essay here andthere. Myranda lives in Pennsylvania with herhusband, Anthony, and is expecting her firstchild, Callan, sometime in late April or earlyMay.