The Ferenc's Story

Shaithis slept long and long.

The bats kept him warm (at least kept him from freezing solid in his ice-niche); his wounds healed; his thoughts, like Shaithis himself, remained hidden. Until it was time to rouse himself and be up and about. Which was when his hiding place was discovered.

What!? Who!? The astonished, involuntary mental exclamations brought Shaithis starting awake, echoing in his mind. While still the echoes rang he was on his feet, his blanket of albino bats breaking up in chittering disarray, whirring away from him like a shock of sentient snow. Another moment and his hand filled his gauntlet; he let his Wamphyri senses reach out - but cautiously, tentatively - to discover who was there. Whoever, he must be near, else he wouldn't have sensed Shaithis's emergence.

While sleeping, Shaithis's thoughts had flowed inwards, an art in which he was adept; his dreams could not be 'heard' by any other. But during the transition from deep, healing sleep to waking they had escaped like a yawn, and someone had been close enough to hear it. Too close by far.

Shaithis allowed his mental probe to touch that of the other, and immediately snatched it back. Contact had been brief but recognition mutual: insufficient to detail specific identities, but enough that each creature was certain of the other's presence. Shaithis glanced this way and that. There was only one way out of his niche; if he was trapped then he was trapped; so be it.

Who is it? he sniffed the cold air with his bat's snout. Is it you, Fess, come for your supper? Or must I soil my good gauntlet in pus to tear out the loathsome heart of the odious Volse Pinescu?

And back came the answer, like an astonished gasp in the vampire's mind: Hah! Shaithis! You survived The Dweller's death-beams, then?

Arkis Leperson! Shaithis knew him at once. He breathed his relief, watched curiously for a moment while his breath fell as snow, then made for the exit. Along the way he flexed his muscles, swung his limbs, inhaled deeply and tested his ribs. All seemed in order. Pah! What had those minor dents and scratches been for wounds anyway? Repairs had been minimal; his vampire flesh had scarcely been overtaxed; he was left with an ache here, a bruise there.

Arkis stood close to the foot of the ice-staircase. He was squat for a Lord of the Wamphyri: scarcely more than six feet tall - ah, but a good three feet broad, too! A massive barrel of a man, his strength had been prodigious. Now: it seemed he'd lost a little weight. Shaithis moved towards him, closing the distance between with the easy, flowing glide of the vampire; sinister to ordinary men, but normal by Wamphyri standards. In another moment they were face to face.

'Well,' said Shaithis, 'and is it peace? Or are you too hungry to think straight? I'll be frank: I could use a friend. And by the look of you... huh! Our circumstances are much the same. The choice is yours, but I know where there's food!'

The other's entirely instinctive reaction was a single belched word: 'Food?' His eyes opened wide and his flaring, convoluted snout plumed ice-crystal breath.

Plainly Arkis was starving. Shaithis offered him a grim smile, took from his pouch the last piece of cold bear-heart and devoured half in a single bite, then tossed the rest to the leper's son - who snatched it from the air with a cry almost of pain. And without pause he crammed his mouth full.

Arkis had been sired by Morgis Griefcry out of a Traveller waif. She'd been a leper and her infection had taken Morgis in his member which (along with his lips, eyes and ears) had been among the first of his parts to slough. The disease had been like a fire in him, burning him faster than his vampire could replenish. Finally, with cries of grief echoing his name to the full, Morgis had taken a firebrand and hurled himself and his Traveller odalisque into a refuse pit whose accumulation of methane gas had done the rest. His suicide had left Arkis the youthful Lord and heir to a fine aerie. Even better, Arkis had not contracted his forebears' disease! Not yet, anyway. Perhaps he never would. It had all been many sundowns agone.

While Arkis ate, Shaithis studied him.

Squat in the body, Arkis's skull was likewise squat, as if it had been crushed down a little. His face seemed pushed out in front, and his bottom jaw farther yet, with boar's teeth curving upward over his fleshy upper lip. And yet the overall effect wasn't so much swinish as wolfish, especially with the inordinate length of his furred, tapering ears. Aye, somewhere in his lineage there'd been a grey one for sure. Moreover, he was lean as a wolf; well, by the standards of former times, at least. Now, eyes ablaze with the lust of feeding, upon however small a morsel, he nevertheless narrowed them to gaze on Shaithis. And when he was done: Til grant you it was a bite,' he grunted, 'but was that the food you promised?'

'I made no promises,' Shaithis answered. 'I stated a fact: I know where there's food - by the ton!'

'Ah!' the other grunted, and cocked his head on one side. 'Volse's flyer, d'you mean? Ah, but they guard it well, Volse and the Ferenc. It's a mousetrap, Shaithis; only approach their private pantry too closely and you'll end up in it! No chivalry here, my friend. Cold, crystallized meat can never taste as good as red juice of meat spurting from a severed artery! But... beggars can't be choosers. I have tried and failed; they're never too far away; I know they lust after my blood.'

'Are you reduced to this?' Shaithis raised a black, spiky eyebrow. 'Scavenging after each other?' He knew of course that they were; knew that he would be, too, soon enough. The 'chivalry' of the Wamphyri was at best a myth. But in any case, his insult - the word 'scavenging' - was lost on Arkis Leperson.

'Shaithis,' said the other, 'I've been here four, going on five sundowns; five auroral displays, anyway, which I reckon amounts to much the same thing. Reduced to hunting each other? Let me tell you that if it moves I'll hunt it! I had bats by the handful at first: squeezed 'em to pulp so they'd drip into my mouth - then ate the pulp, too! - but now they won't come anywhere near me. They have minds of their own, these tiny albinos. Right now, I'm on my way to see the shrivelled old granddad frozen in the ice up top. I'd have tried to get at him before, if I was desperate enough - which now I am! So don't talk to me about being reduced to this or that. We're all reduced, Shaithis, and you no less than anyone else!'

So maybe Shaithis's insult had got through after all. That came as something of a surprise; the leper's son had always seemed such a dullard. Perhaps the cold had sharpened his wits.

'Arkis,' Shaithis said, 'there are two of us now and we've shared food. That's good, for it strikes me we'll do better as a team. While you've been here you've learned things and must know many of the pitfalls. Such knowledge has value. Also, the disgusting Volse Pinescu and gigantic Fess Ferenc will think twice before coming on the two of us together. Now, what say we leave this echoing shell of ice and find our breakfast?'

The leper's son sighed his impatience, which angered Shaithis a little: he wasn't used to dull, squat creatures playing the equal with him. 'Now let me repeat myself,' Arkis grunted. 'They guard Volse's flyer, and guard it well! They're likewise well-fuelled, which we're not. And as you yourself have just this minute pointed out, the Ferenc's a bloody giant!'

Shaithis flared his nostrils and for a moment thought to leave the fool to his own devices. Except that would also mean leaving him to the tender mercies of the others -eventually. And Shaithis wanted Arkis for himself -eventually. But these were thoughts he steered inwards, lest Arkis hear them. 'And can they guard two beasts?' he said. 'And did you think I'd walked here, Arkis Dire-death?' (the idiot's other name).

It stopped Arkis dead. 'Eh? Another flyer? I haven't seen it. But then, I've not dared venture too far out on the ice lest they see me! Where then, this flyer?'

'Where I sent it,' said Shaithis. 'Still good and fresh and... wait a moment - ' He sent out a beast-oriented thought: Do you hear me? - and in return sensed life flickering still, but burning very low. 'Aye, and not yet bled to death. Not quite.'

'They know it's there, that great vat of filth and the Ferenc?'

'Of course, else I'd not require assistance from you.'

'Hah!' Arkis cried. 'I might have known it! Something for nothing? What? Think again, Arkis my lad. This is the Grand Lord Shaithis you're talking to. Oh, let's be friends, Arkis - because I've need of you!'

'So be it.' Shaithis shrugged. 'I merely envisaged a joint venture which would furnish joint returns, that's all. Equal shares. But something for nothing? What, and did you think this was Sunside at sundown, with plenty of sweet Traveller game afoot?' He made as if to turn away. 'Starve, then.'

'Wait!' The other took a pace closer. And in a more reasonable tone: 'What's your plan?'

'None,' said Shaithis, 'except to eat.'

'Eh?'

Shaithis's turn to sigh. 'Listen, and I'll ask you again: can they guard two flyers, Volse and the Ferenc?'

'Certainly - a man to each.'

'But we are two men!'

'And if they're both together?'

'Then one beast goes unguarded! Has the cold numbed your once agile brain, Arkis?' (That last was a lie, but a little flattery wouldn't hurt.)

'Hmm!' The leper's son thought about it for a moment, then scowled and stabbed a finger at Shaithis. 'Very well - but if we come upon Volse Pinescu on his own, we kill him. And I want his heart! Is it a deal?'

'Agreed,' said Shaithis. 'Actually, I should think it's the only part worth eating.'

'Hah!' Arkis snorted. And: 'Har, har! Oh, ha - ha -haaa.r he laughed, in his way.

And: Go on, laugh, Shaithis kept his thoughts hidden. But when Volse and Fess are done for, you're next, bone-brain! And out loud: 'Now guard your thoughts. We go out onto the ice...'

Volse Pinescu's flyer was rimed with frost, stiff as a board.

Still Arkis Leperson would have set to, but Shaithis

cautioned him: 'Let's not waste valuable time here. What?

Why, you'd wear those tusks of yours to stumps on this!' Arkis turned to him with a scowl. 'It's food, isn't it?' 'Aye.' Shaithis nodded. 'And half a mile over there a lot more of it - but thick, red and flowing in juicy pipes. Good beasts I breed, Arkis, of the finest flesh. Now listen: do you sense our enemies? No? Neither do I. So today they're not doing much guarding, right?'

Arkis sniffed the icy air. 'It worries me. What are they up to, d'you suppose?'

Time for supposing after we've filled our bellies.' Shaithis had already set off across the blue foxfire ice. And Arkis came shambling after. Shaithis glanced back once and nodded, then faced forward and grinned his sly grin as of old. Ever the leader, Shaithis, and how easy once more to take up the mantle. And behind him Arkis Leperson, like a dog to heel...

A wind came up.

While Shaithis and Arkis Leperson, called Diredeath, sat in a cave carved by Volse and Fess in the underbelly of Shaithis's flyer and sipped the feebly pulsing juices of that now insensate beast, the radiant stars were blotted out by dark, scudding clouds. Snow came down in a shortlived blizzard, which loaned the ice a thin, soft coating.

When the wind died down again the cannibalized flyer was dead and its arteries already stiffening. 'Cold fare from this time forward,' commented Shaithis, sticking up his head to spy out the land around. He looked towards the spine of volcanic peaks. Then looked again. And frowned his concern.

'Arkis, what do you make of this?'

Arkis stood up, belched noisomely, looked where Shaithis pointed. 'Eh? That? A whirlwind, a snow-devil, the last flurry in the wake of the storm. What's this great fascination with Nature, Shaithis?'

'Fascination? With what's natural, none whatsoever. With what's unnatural, plenty! Especially in a place like this.'

'Unnatural?'

'By Nature's mundane standards, aye, if not by those of the Wamphyri.' He continued to study the phenomenon: a whirling cloud of snow forming a squat cylinder twenty feet high and the same in diameter. Something seemed to move in its heart, like a tadpole in a jelly egg, and the whole - device? - making a beeline their way. It threw off whips of snow which quickly settled to the ground without diminishing the central mass.

Shaithis nodded; he knew what it was; 'Fess Ferenc,' he whispered, grimly.

'What, Fess?' Arkis gaped at the thing, now only a hundred yards away across the shining ice, coming at walking pace and beginning to thin out a little. 'How, Fess?'

'That's a vampire mist,' said Shaithis, donning his gauntlet. 'On Starside it would creep, flow, drift outwards from him. Here it turns to snow! Fess was a fine mist-maker ... his great mass. During the hunt, I've seen him cover an entire hillside.'

They both threw out their vampire senses towards the weird, earthbound cloud. Only one creature inside it; the Ferenc, aye, but weary as never before. He hadn't the strength to hide himself. 'Ah-hahr growled Arkis. 'We have him!'

'But let's first discover what goes on,' Shaithis cautioned him.

'Isn't it obvious what goes on?' The Leper's son was scowling again. 'Why, he's finally burst that monstrous boil Volse Pinescu, but in the fight depleted himself. So now he's at our mercy, of which I have precious little.'

Twenty paces away the cloud fell as a final flurry and Fess stood there, naked! Entirely naked, and not only of his snow-cloud cover. Arkis gawped but Shaithis called out: 'Well, Fess, and how fortunes change, eh?'

'It would seem so.' The other's deep bass voice echoed over the ice-plain. But there was a shiver in it; he was freezing. And yet under one arm he carried his clothes in a bundle. Shaithis couldn't see the sense of it. There must be a story here and he wanted to know it.

Arkis sensed Shaithis's curiosity. 'Me, I'm not interested,' he snarled. 'I say we kill him now!'

'You say too much,' Shaithis hissed. 'You think only of your own survival, now, without a thought for the future. Myself, I think of my continued survival, now and however long I may sustain it. So you bide your time or our partnership ends here.'

'Am I to die?' The Ferenc stood tall, glooming on Shaithis across that short distance. 'If so then get it over with, for I've no wish to turn to a block of ice.' But he threw down his clothes and hunched forward a little, and his talons were sharp as razors hanging at his sides.

'It seems I have the advantage,' said Shaithis. 'Also a score to settle. You caused me not a little pain.' The Ferenc made no answer. 'However,' Shaithis continued, 'we may yet come to an agreement. As you see, Arkis and I have formed a team of our own: safety in numbers, you know? But two against the Icelands? The odds are too high. Three of us might fare better.'

'Some kind of trick?' Fess couldn't believe it. If their roles had been reversed Shaithis would have been already dead.

'No trick.' Shaithis shook his head. 'Like Diredeath here you have knowledge of this place. And just as the blood is the life, so is knowledge. That has always been my conviction. To fight among ourselves is to die. Sharing knowledge - pooling our resources - we might yet survive.'

'Say on,' said Fess, his voice more shivery than ever.

'Nothing more to say.' Shaithis shook his head. 'Come out of the cold and replenish yourself, and tell us what's happened that you go naked as a babe in such a place, hidden in a weird and very unsubtle mist. Aye, and then perhaps you'd advise us on the whereabouts of the unlovely Volse Pinescu, your erstwhile companion.'

The Ferenc had no choice. Flee and they would catch him, for they were well fuelled. Stand still and freeze, and they'd thaw him out and eat him. Go forward and talk, and... perhaps he could yet make his peace with Shaithis. As for Arkis, that one was something else.

He came on, got down in the lee of the stiffening flyer, tore a vein from the wall of flesh and bit through it. Nothing was forthcoming (the creature's blood was finished or frozen in the outer regions of its bulk) so he merely stripped the pipe down with his teeth and swallowed the pulp. It was sustenance if nothing else. Between mouthfuls he commented, 'Perhaps we should have stayed on Starside. At least The Dweller would have made a quick end of it.'

'Still blaming me, Fess?' Shaithis stood over him, watched him fuelling himself. Arkis sat well away, scowling as usual.

'I blame all of us,' the Ferenc answered, perhaps bitterly. 'Hotheads, we rushed in like blind men over a precipice. Fools, we went to murder and instead committed suicide. It was your plan, aye, but we all fell in with it.' He stood up and went back on to the ice to his garments, there crouching and cleaning them thoroughly with snow. At least there was that to be said for the giant: he'd always been scrupulous. When he was done he returned again to the cave of cooling flesh and lay his clothes aside to dry or freeze out.

'Some strange contamination?' Shaithis wondered out loud.

'You could say that.' The other wrinkled his already much convoluted snout. Those stinking stains were Volse!' And as he continued to eat, so, between mouthfuls, he told them about it.

'Volse and I, we'd noticed smoke from the central cone. Also some strange activity now and then in a high cave. And we thought: if that old mountain contains heat and fire, it's only reasonable that someone's settled there. But who? Common men? Exiled Wamphyri, perhaps? No way to discover, unless we went to see. Oh, we cast our probes ahead of us, of course, but who- or whatever lived in the volcano, he kept his thoughts to himself.

'The way is longer than it looks: maybe five miles to the foot of the mount, then a rising climb of two more to its cone. But near the top where the way gets steep, there was this cave. And that was where we'd seen signs of activity, like mirrors glinting in the starlight. Dwellers, we'd thought. Snow-trogs or the like. Meat, anyway.

'Aye, there was meat, all right,' (the Ferenc's aspect was suddenly grim). 'A ton of it! But best if I tell it as it happened and not go ahead of myself...

'So we arrived at the mouth of this cave, all craggy and yellow with sulphur: an old lava-run, I fancied. But hardly fit habitation, and no jot warmer than any other place around here. We cast our probes ahead of us; there was life in there, some dull intelligence far back in the cave; we hardly felt threatened. And it seemed likely the bore hole passed right through the mountain all the way to the core. And if that's where the warmth was, that's where we'd find the life.

'So we went in. The tunnel had its twists and turns, and it was dark and smelly as a refuse pit in there. But what is darkness to the Wamphyri?

'Volse, who had fashioned the most incredible pustules to enhance his already hideous appearance, took the lead. He'd stripped off his jacket and his upper body was entirely festooned with all manner of morbid things. "Who- or whatever," he said, "only let them see me or feel me near, and they'll know there's nothing for it but to faint and hope it's a bad dream!" I thought he was probably correct and had no objection to his going first.

'Then... Ah - I' Fess gave a small start as he spied a miniature albino bat hovering near, under the overhang of the dead flyer's side. In a lightning swipe he scythed it in two parts in mid-air. And: 'Ah, yes!' he said. 'And perhaps I should mention: Volse and I, we had companions all along the way. These damned bats! They get everywhere.'

'Why treat them so harshly?' Shaithis cut in. 'On Starside they were our small familiars.'

'These aren't the same.' Fess shook his great head. 'They lack obedience.'

Shaithis frowned. They'd obeyed him - hadn't they?

Arkis growled: 'Never mind the bats but finish your story. It interests me.'

Partially replenished, invigorated from his feeding, the Ferenc began to don his clothes, generating body heat to complete the job of drying them out. He was adept at this as he was at mist-making. And while he dressed so he continued with his story: 'Volse went first, then, into the heart of the riddled rock; and I'll be honest, we thought there was nothing there. Nothing to alarm or threaten us, anyway. And yet I sensed that the picture we had of that place, of its suspected dweller or dwellers, was probably a false one. It seemed to me that my mind was watched, even though I'd failed to detect the watcher. But the deeper we proceeded into the mountain, the more the conviction grew in me that our progress was monitored, even minutely; as if each step led us closer to some terrific confrontation, some contrived and monstrous conclusion. In short, an ambush!'

Arkis grunted and nodded his head. 'The very way I felt,' he remarked, in a low, dark mutter, 'on those several occasions when I'd approach Volse's flyer for a bite to eat.'

'Just so.' Fess nodded, without taking offence, and perhaps deliberately failing to find anything of accusation in Arkis's statement. 'And I knew... fear? Well no, not fear, for we're none of us bred that way. Shall we simply say then that I experienced a new sensation, which was not pleasant? Nor was this presentiment without foundation, as will be seen. And all the while those damned albinos tracking our course, until their fluttering and chittering had grown to be such an annoyance that I stayed back a little to strike out at them where they swooped overhead. Which probably saved my life.

'Ahead of me, Volse had gone striding on. But he sensed it coming in the same instant that I sensed it, and he said one word before it struck. The word he said was: "What?" Yes, he questioned it, and even questioning it never knew what hit him.'

'Explain!' Arkis was breathless. And Shaithis was intent, rapt upon the Ferenc's story.

Fess shrugged. Fully dressed again, he sliced gobbets of flesh from the flyer's alveolate ribs, sliding them one by one down his throat. 'Hard to explain,' he said, after a while. 'Fast, it was. Huge. Mindless. Terrible! But I saw what it did to Volse, and I determined that it would not do the same to me. I never fled from anything in my life before - well, except The Dweller and the awesome destruction he wrought in the battle for his garden - but I fled from this.

'It was white, but not a healthy white. The white of hiding in places too dark, like some cavern fungus. It had legs - a great many, I think - with clawed, webbed feet. Its body was fishlike, its head too, with jaws ferocious! But the weapon it bore - '

'A weapon?' Arkis thrust his face forward. 'But you said the thing was mindless. And now... mind enough to carry a weapon?'

The Ferenc glanced at him scornfully, then held up his own talon hands. 'And are these not weapons? This thing's weapon was part of it, fool, just as your own boar's tusks are part of you!'

'Yes, yes, understood,' said Shaithis impatiently. 'Say on.'

Fess settled down again, but his eyes were uneasy, wide in his massive, malformed face. 'Its weapon was a knife, a sword, a lance. But with tines like thorns all down its length, from tip to snout. A barbed rod for stabbing, and once stabbed the victim's hooked, with no way to free himself except tear his own flesh wide open! And at the tip of that bone-plated ram, twin holes like nostrils. But not for breathing...'He paused.

'... For what, then?' Volse could not contain himself.

'For sucking!' said the Ferenc.

'A vampire thing.' Shaithis seemed convinced. 'A warrior, but uncontrolled, with no rightful master. A creature created by some exiled Wamphyri Lord, which has outlasted its maker.' He said these things, but he did not necessarily believe them. No, he uttered them aloud to cover the nature of his true thoughts, which were different again.

Fess fell for Shaithis's ploy, anyway. 'These are possibilities, aye.' The giant nodded. 'Stealthy - sly as a fox, and all unheralded - it crept out from a side tunnel; but when it struck - ah! - lightning moves more slowly. It slid into view and its spear stabbed at Volse three times. The first blow ripped him open through boils and all, and spattered me and the walls of the tunnel with all of his pus, whose amount was prodigious. He was like one huge blister, bursting and wetting everything with his vile liquids. I was drenched. The second thrust hit him while he was still reeling from the first; it almost sawed his head off. And the third: that sank into him - into his heart -where it commenced to suck like a great pump! And while the thing held him upright, impaled on its weapon against the wall, sucking at him, so the creature's saucer eyes fixed me in their monstrous glare. So that I knew I was next.

'That was when I fled.' (And Fess actually shuddered, which amazed Shaithis.)

'You couldn't have saved him?' Arkis sneered, questioning Fess's manhood; a dangerous line of inquiry at best.

But the other took it well. 'I tell you Volse was a goner! What? And so much of his liquids used up, his head half shorn away, and the thing's great siphon in him, emptying him? Save him? And what of myself? You, Diredeath, have not seen this creature! Why, even Lesk the Glut - in whichever hell he now resides - would not stray near such a monster! No, I fled.

'And all the way out of that long, long tunnel, I could hear the thing's slobbering as it drained Volse's juices. Also, by the time I struck light and open air, I fancied it slobbered all the louder, perhaps hot on my trail. In something of a panic - yes, I admit it -1 called a mist out of myself and hurried out onto the slopes and down to the plain of snow and ice. There I stripped off, for Volse's drench was poisonous, and without further pause hurried back here... and found you two waiting for me.

'The tale is told

Arkis and Shaithis sat back, narrowed their eyes and fingered their chins. Shaithis kept his thoughts mainly to himself (though truth to tell there was nothing especially sinister or vindictive about them); but Diredeath, feeling that he still had the Ferenc at something of a disadvantage, was somewhat loath to let the giant so lightly off the hook.

'Times and fortunes change,' the leper's son eventually said. 'I went starving - went, indeed, in fear of my life! -when you and the great wen had the upper hand. But now... you are only one man against myself and the Lord Shaithis.'

'These things are true,' Fess answered, standing up and stretching, and flexing the mighty talons which were his hands. 'But do you know, I can't help wondering what the Lord Shaithis sees in you, leper's son? For it seems to me there's about as much use in you as there was in that mighty bag of slops called Volse Pinescu! Also, and now that I come to think of it, it strikes me I sat still for a good many hurtful slights and insults while relating my story. Of course, I was hungry and cold as death, and a man will sit still for a lot while there's a chance he can fill his belly. But now that my belly's full and I'm warm again ... I think you'd do well to back off, Diredeath. Or come to just such an end as your name suggests.'

'Aye,' said Shaithis with a quick nod, coming between them. 'Well, and enough of that. For let's face it, we've all we can handle in the Icelands themselves, without we're at each other's throats, too.' He took their arms and sat down, drawing them down with him. 'Now tell me,' he said, 'what are the secrets of these Icelands? For after all, I'm the newcomer here; but the two of you...? Why, you've explored and adventured galore! And so the sooner I know all that you know, the sooner we'll be able to decide on our next move.'

Shaithis let his gaze wander to and fro, from one to the other, finally allowing it to settle on Arkis's dark and twitching countenance, his coarse lips and the yellow ivory of his tusks. 'So how about it, Arkis?' he said. 'You've had a little less freedom than Fess, it's true, but still you've managed to explore a few ice-castles. Well, the Ferenc has told us his tale of the horror in the cone, so now I reckon it's your turn. What of the ice-aeries, eh? What of these ancient, exiled, ice-encysted Wamphyri Lords?'

Arkis scowled at him. 'You want to know about the frozen ones?'

'The sooner all is known,' said Shaithis, nodding, 'the sooner we may proceed.'

Arkis shrugged, however grudgingly. 'I have no problem with that,' he said. 'So ... you want to know what I've seen, done, discovered? It won't take long in the telling, I promise you!'

Tell us anyway,' said Shaithis, 'and we'll see what we make of it.'

Again Arkis's shrug. 'So be it,' he said.

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