The Frozen Lords

'After the mayhem in The Dweller's garden,' (Arkis commenced), 'when it was seen how The Dweller and his helllander father had destroyed our armies, shattered our centuried stacks and brought our aeries crashing down, there seemed no alternative but flight. The Dweller had our measure; the Wamphyri were fallen; to remain in the ruins of Starside would surely bring these Great Enemies down upon us one last time in a final venting of their furious might.

'However, it is the immemorial right of the fallen to quit Starside and forge for the Ice lands. Thus, in the lull which followed on the destruction of our aeries, those survivors who had the means for flight forsook their ancient territories and headed north. Aye, and I was one such survivor.

'Along with a pair of aspiring lieutenants - ex-Traveller thralls of mine, twin brothers named Goram and Belart Largazi, who vied with each other for my egg - I cleared away the debris of my fallen stack from the deeply buried entrance to subterranean workshops, so freeing one flyer and one warrior kept aside and safe against the event of just such a calamity as The Dweller's victory. These beasts we saddled and mounted (I myself took the warrior, an ill-tempered creature personally trained to my tastes), finally fleeing on a course roughly northward from the wrack and ruin of the aeries.

'Our heading was not true north - perhaps a little west of north - what odds? The roof of the world is the roof of the world; to left or right it is still the roof. We paused only once, where a shoal of great blue fishes had got themselves trapped in the formation of a shallow ice-lake, and there glutted ourselves before proceeding further.

'Not long after that the Largazi brothers' flyer, burdened as it was with two riders, became exhausted. It went down at the rim of a shallow sea and left its riders floundering. I landed on the frozen strand, sent my warrior back to the Largazis to let down its launching limbs and tow them ashore.

'And then it was that we found ourselves in a very curious place. Hot blowholes turned the snow yellow; bubbling geysers made warm pools in the ageless ice; sea birds came down to feed on the froth of small fishes where they spawned at the ocean's rim. It was the furthest reach of these selfsame volcanic mountains, which are active still in those weird western extremes.

'After the Largazis were dragged ashore and while they dried themselves out, I looked for a launching place and discovered a glacier where it sloped oceanward. There I ordered my creature down on to the ice; aye, for by now that warrior mount of mine was likewise sore weary - its valiant efforts in saving the twins from drowning had scarcely buttressed its vitality. They need to kill and devour a deal of red meat, warriors, else rapidly fade away to nothing. And so I thought to myself: which will prove most useful to me in the Icelands? A powerful warrior, or a pair of bickering, unimportant and ever-hungry thralls? Hah! No contest.

'It was my thought to slaughter one of the brothers there and then, and feed him to my warrior. Except... well, I'll admit it, I'd underestimated that fine pair of Wamphyri aspirants. They, too, had been busy weighing the odds, and their conclusions had likewise favoured my fighting beast. Now they backed off to a safe distance and descended into deep, narrow crevasses from which I could neither threaten nor tempt them to come out and approach me. Mutinous dogs! Very well: let them freeze! Let them starve! Let them both die!

'I climbed aboard my warrior and spurred the creature slithering down the glacier's ramp, until at last it bounded aloft and spurted out over the sea. And not before time: the launching of that depleted beast had been a very close-run thing, so that I could almost taste the salt spray from the waves against the glacier. However, I was now airborne.

'I turned inland, swept high overhead where the treacherous Largazi twins had emerged from the ice to angle their faces up to me, waved them a scornful farewell and set course for a line of distant peaks standing in silhouette against the sky's weaving auroral pulse. Those same peaks which stand behind us even now, with their central volcanic cone whose lava vents are guarded - according to the Ferenc, at least - by sword-snouted monsters. Aye, the very same.

'Nor would I, nor could I, call Fess a liar in that respect - in the matter of Volse's death by some strange and savage creature - for certainly my warrior came to a sad, suspicious end. And who can say but that Volse and my poor weary warrior were not victims of the selfsame bloodbeast?

'I will tell you how it was: my warrior was weary to death... well, perhaps not so weary, for as you know well enow they don't die easily, and rarely of weariness! But the creature was depleted and panting and complaining. I scanned the land about and saw lava runs on the higher slopes of the central cone: good, slippery launching ramps if the warrior should ever again find itself fit for flight.

'Alas, the landing was awkward and the beast threw me; it cracked its armoured carapace, wrenched a vane and tore a propulsion orifice on a jagged lava outcrop. Many gallons of fluids were lost before its metamorphic flesh webbed over the gashes and sealed them. My own injuries were slight, however, and I ignored them; but such was my anger that I cursed and kicked the warrior a good deal before its mood turned ugly and it began to bellow and spit. Then I was obliged to calm the brute, and finally I backed it up and hid it from view in the mouth of a cavern tunnel much similar - perhaps identical? - to that of the leprous white bloodbeast as described by the Ferenc. For this tunnel was likewise an ancient lava-run from the once molten core, and perhaps I should have explored its interior a little way. But at the time there was no evidence of anything suspicious about that central cone.

'I ordered the warrior to heal itself, left it there in the cavern entrance, let my curiosity get the better of me and came down by foot on to the plain of the shimmering ice-castles, to see what they contained. For as you've seen, they looked for all the world like Wamphyri stacks or aeries formed from ice. As for what I discovered: it was a very strange, very awesome, indeed a frightening thing!

'Expatriate Lords, all frozen in suspended animation, ice-locked in the cores of their glittering castles. A good many were dead, crushed or sheared by shifting ice; but there were some - too many, I thought - who had variously... succumbed? Others were preserved, however, sleeping still within impenetrable walls of ice hard as iron, their vampire metabolisms so reduced that they seemed scarcely changed over all the long centuries. Ah, this was a false impression; their dreams were fading, ephemeral things, mere memories of the lives they had known in the Old Times, when the first of the Wamphyri inhabited their stacks on Starside and waged their territorial wars there.

'All of the ex-Lords were dying; ah, slowly, so slowly, but dying nevertheless. Of course they were: the blood is the life, and for centuries without number all they had had was ice...'

'Some of them!' Fess Ferenc broke in. 'Most of them, aye. But one at least had not gone without. This was the conclusion which Volse Pinescu and I arrived at, when we examined the ice-castle stacks.'

Shaithis looked at him, then at Arkis. 'Will one of you - or both - elaborate?'

Arkis shrugged. 'I take it the Ferenc is talking about the matter of the breaking, and of the empty ice-thrones. For it's a fact, as I've hinted, that certain of the frozen keeps and redoubts - indeed, a good many - have been broken into and their helpless, refrigerated inhabitants removed. But by whom, to where... for what?'

The huge, hulking, slope-skulled Ferenc broke in again, with: 'I've reached certain conclusions about these things, too. Should I say on?'

And again Arkis Leperson's shrug. 'If you can throw some light on the mystery, by all means.'

And Shaithis said, 'Aye, say on.'

The Ferenc nodded, and continued: 'As you'll have noted for yourselves, the ice-castles number between fifty and sixty, forming concentric rings about the extinct volcano which is the central cone. But is the volcano truly extinct? And if so, why is it that a little smoke still goes up from that ancient ice-crusted crater? Also, we have seen - myself far too clearly - how there is at least one monstrous warrior creature guarding the cone's access tunnels. Ah, but what or who else does it guard?'

When his pause threatened to go on for ever, finally it was Shaithis's turn to shrug. 'Pray continue,' he said. 'We're in the very palm of your hand, Fess, entirely fascinated.'

'Indeed?' The Ferenc was somewhat flattered. One by one, he very deliberately, very loudly cracked the bony knuckles of his taloned hands. 'Fascinated, eh? Well, and rightly so. And so you see, Shaithis, you're not the only thinker who survived The Dweller's wrath, eh?'

Shaithis hummed in his convoluted nose, perhaps a little indecisively, and swung his head this way and that. Finally he said: 'I'll give credit where credit's due - when I can see the whole picture.'

'Very well,' said the Ferenc. 'So here's what I've seen and what I reckon: me and that foul festerer Volse Pinescu, we explored the innermost ice-aeries and discovered each and every one looted! Following which -and especially now that Volse is no more, sucked dry by the Thing in the lava-run - I find it easy to piece together a fairly accurate picture of what's been happening here.

The way I see it, some ancient Wamphyri Lord or Lady is master or mistress of the slumbering volcano. In ages past and whenever outcast vampires have happened this way, he or she has fought them off from taking possession of the volcano's "comforts" ... it would seem to have some residual warmth at least. Then, as the vampires lying in siege have succumbed to the cold and put themselves into hibernation, so the crafty master of the volcano has emerged from time to time to pillage their ice-chambers and live off their deep-frozen flesh. In effect, the ice-castles are his larder!'

'Hah!' Arkis slapped his great thigh. 'It all comes clear.'

The Ferenc nodded his swollen, grotesquely proportioned head. 'You agree with my conclusions, then?'

'How can it be otherwise?' said Arkis. 'What say you, Shaithis?'

Shaithis looked at him curiously. 'I say you blow like a pennant in the wind: now this way, now that. First you wished to kill the Ferenc, and now you agree with his every word. Is your mind so easily changed, then?'

The leper's son scowled at him. 'I know truth when I hear it,' he said. 'Also, I can see the sense in sound scheming. The Ferenc's reckoning about the state of things sounds right enough to me, and your plea that we run together for our mutual safety seems similarly wise. So what's giving you grief, Shaithis? I thought you wanted us to be friends?'

'So I do,' Shaithis answered. 'It's just that I worry when loyalties change so fast, that's all. And now would you care to finish your own story? The last we heard you'd left your injured warrior in the mouth of a lava-run and gone down onto the plain to examine the ice-castles.'

'That I did,' Arkis agreed. 'And I found things pretty much as the Ferenc described them: the ice-locked thrones of all those unknown Wamphyri Lords out of time, all cracked open and empty, like Sunside hives raped of their honey. Aye, and in those ice-castles which stood more distant from the central cone, there too I found evidence of attempted robbery, except in many an instance the ice had been too thick and the aeon-shrivelled Lords remained safe, unburgled, intact. Which meant that they were also safe from me.

'Finally I wearied of my eerie explorations. I was hungry but unable to break into these ancient permafrost pantries; the small albino bats no longer trusted me but avoided my crushing hands; if my former thralls the Largazis still lived, by now they'd be halfway here. They'd be exhausted, too, and unable to outrun me. Ah, but that was a thought! It was time I returned to my warrior creature to see how it was holding up. And so I climbed up to the high cavern where I'd hidden the beast away.

'Except it was not there. Several small pieces of it were there, but that was all.'

The sucking thing.' The Ferenc nodded. 'The blood-beast with the hollow, swordlike cartilage snout.'

'But how so?' Shaithis wasn't so sure. 'For a mindless beast to suck a man or, given time, even a warrior dry, this I can understand. But then, to cut the carcase of so huge a creature into small pieces and drag them away...?'

The Ferenc only shrugged. These are the Icelands,' he said. They harbour strange creatures with stranger habits, and food is scarce here. Now think: on Starside would we ever have dreamed of chewing on the rubbery arteries of a flyer? What, with trogs in our larders and Travellers on the hoof just across the mountains? Not likely! But here? Hah! It didn't take us long to learn. Oh, we lowered our sights soon enough. And what of the mainly conjectural creatures and beings which have possibly spent their entire lives here? If the loathsome, leprous bloodbeast hunts only for itself, then perhaps it has its own pantry somewhere. And if it hunts for a master?' Yet again his shrug. 'Perhaps he's the one who butchered Arkis's warrior and dragged its bits away.'

And Shaithis, turning his private thoughts inwards to guard them, thought: A master, aye, you're right, Fess! A master of evil - the very source of evil - in the shape of a timeless vampire Lord; indeed one of the first true Lords. The dark Lord Shaitan! Shaitan the Unborn! Shaitan the Fallen!

'Well?' said Arkis Leperson. 'Does the Ferenc make sense or what? And if he does, what's our next move?'

And perhaps cautiously, Shaithis answered, The Ferenc makes sense - possibly.' And to himself: Indeed he does, for a misshapen fool! But he's been here longer than I have. Perhaps this isn't the sudden burgeoning of previously unsuspected intelligence in the great freak, but simply the fact that he's had longer to feel Shaitan's influence at work ... to feel his ancient eyes on him, staring through the pink orbits of his myriad albino minions!

Now the Ferenc echoed Arkis: 'Well? What now, Shaithis? D'you have a plan?'

A plan? Oh, yes, a plan! To discover more about this Shaitan; to seek him out and learn why he allowed me to clothe myself in his albinos for their warmth; but mainly to know what it is, this weird affinity, which draws me to a creature I've never known except in muttered myths and legends.

And out loud: 'A plan, aye,' he answered. And thinking with his usual, almost casual clarity, he created a plan out of thin air, entirely on the spur of the moment. One which would, he hoped, suit his vampire companions, and one which especially suited himself. 'First we cut a good weight of meat out of this flyer,' he said, 'as much as we can carry comfortably; and then, on our way to the central cone, you can show me some more of the frozen Lords. So far I've seen only the one,' (Kehrl Lugoz, who was banished here along with Shaitan at the dawn of Wamphyri tyranny), 'upon which, due to its insufficiency, I may not base a firm opinion. Then, in the inner ice-castles, you may also care to show me these shattered keeps wherefrom the bodies of certain Lords have been stolen. These several things for a start, then.' And I'll think of others as we go along.

Arkis seemed uncertain, 'Eh? What's this for a plan? We take meat with us and visit a handful of shrivelled, prehistoric, ice-doomed Lords? Also the sacked, empty tombs of other ancients, whose fate we can only guess at?'

'On our way to the central cone, aye,' said Shaithis.

'And then?' said the Ferenc.

'Perhaps to destroy him who dwells within,' Shaithis answered, 'and gain his secrets, his beasts and possessions; and who can say, possibly even discover some means of egress from these hideously boring and barren Icelands?'

The Ferenc nodded his grotesque head. This all sounds good to me. Very well, then let's be at it.' He commenced to cut strips of frozen flesh from the curve of the flyer's rib cage, cramming his pockets with them.

However grudgingly, Arkis followed suit. 'Meat is meat, I know,' he grumbled. 'But the frozen flesh of flyers? Huh! The blood was the life!'

And Shaithis snapped his fingers and said: 'Ah, yes! I knew there was something else. Now tell me, Diredeath: what of your twin thralls, the brothers Largazi? Did they follow you here out of the west? From the fumarole coast, the bubbling geysers and lakes of sulphur? Did they survive? Or perhaps they perished en route?'

'Perished, aye.' The other nodded agreeably and smiled a fond, knowing smile, his boar's tusks glinting dully. 'But not en route. Perished when they got here, and when I found them exhausted and shivering in the hollow core of the westernmost ice-castle. Ah, how they begged my forgiveness then. And do you know, I forgave them? Indeed I did. "Goram!" I cried, "Belart! My faithful thralls! My trusted lieutenants! Returned at last to the bosom of your mentor!" Oh, how they hugged me! And I in my turn fell upon their necks - and tore them open!'

Shaithis sighed, perhaps a little glumly. 'You fuelled yourself on both of them? At once? With never a thought for tomorrow?'

Arkis shrugged and finished stuffing his pockets with meat. 'I had been cold and hungry for more than two auroral periods,' he said. 'And the blood of the Largazis was hot and strong. Perhaps I should have exercised a little restraint, kept one of them in reserve... and then again perhaps not. For it was about then that Fess and Volse arrived. So at least I spared myself the frustration of having one of my thralls stolen away from me. As for their corpses: I stored them in the heart of a glacier. Alas, they went the same way as my warrior! Something sneaked them away while I was out exploring.'

Shaithis allowed his narrow-eyed glance to fall upon the Ferenc, who at once shook his head. 'Not me.' He denied the unspoken charge. 'Neither me nor Volse. We knew nothing of Arkis's glaciated thralls. If we had, well, perhaps the story would have been different.' He clambered out from the lee of the ravaged flyer and stood gigantically in starlight and aurora sheen. 'Well, and are we all set?'

Shaithis and Arkis joined him; all three, they turned their faces in the direction of the central cone. Directly between the monstrous trio and the ex-volcano, an ice-castle had taken (how many?) centuries to crystallize about its core of volcanic rock-splash. It would make as good a starting place as any. Shaithis, taking in the bleak scene, and after glancing a moment into the scarlet eyes of each of his 'companions', finally agreed, 'All set. So let's go and see what the rest of these aeon-frozen exiles look like, shall we?'

And united - for the moment united, at least - the vampires set out to cross the snowfields and scintillant ice-jumbles, and the weird terraces and shimmering battlements of their target ice-castle loomed larger as gradually they narrowed the distance between. And forming a frowning centrepiece to the glittering, concentrically circling aeries, every now and then the duller, darker shape of the 'extinct' volcano would appear to puff a little smoke into the radiant, ever-changing sky.

Or perhaps this was just an illusion? Well, possibly. But Shaithis thought not...

Soon Shaithis discovered that one ice-castle was much the same as the next. This one, for example, might well be the stark, shivery, tinkling cold stack of Kehrl Lugoz; might be; except, of course, it was not the undead Kehrl who waited out the ages in the densely protective sheath of the core but some other Lord. Also, and whoever he had been in life, his waiting had long since come to an end and he was now entirely dead. An ice-mummy - frozen, starved, desiccated to a condition way beyond life - the olden vampire was one with all past things, leaving only his shell to represent him as part of the present.

Shaithis looked at him through the wavering impurity of the ice and wondered who he'd been. Whoever, it was probably as well that he was dead. His thoughts, if there had been any, might have told Arkis and the Ferenc secrets Shaithis would prefer them not to know... like why he lay there on his carved ice-pedestal, propped upon a skeletal elbow, one clawlike hand held up before him as if to ward off some dreadful evil. And his colourless eyes, from which time had bleached all of the scarlet but none of the nameless horror. Aye, even this member of the olden Wamphyri, horrified! By something or someone who had stood here where Shaithis stood even now.

'What do you make of this?' The sudden, echoing rumble of the Ferenc's voice caused Shaithis to start. He looked where the giant pointed a taloned hand at a hitherto unnoticed circular bore hole in the ice. Seven or eight inches in diameter, the almost invisible bore seemed to point like an arrow at the preserved Wamphyri relic upon his carved couch.

'A hole?' Shaithis frowned.

'Aye.' The Ferenc nodded. 'Like that of some gross worm in the earth. But an ice-worm?' He kneeled and stuck his hand and arm into the hole, which extended almost to the depth of his shoulder. And withdrawing his arm and sighting along the channel, he added: 'Directed straight at his heart, too!'

'More such holes over here,' Arkis called from a little way around the curve of the core. 'And it seems to me they've been drilled. See the heaped chips where they've spilled out upon the floor?'

And Shaithis thought: Such small privations as my dullard friends have known have made them observant. He followed the core's curve to Arkis and examined the new holes; rather, the newly discovered holes, for in fact they could have been made a hundred, two hundred years ago. And sighting along them just as the Ferenc had sighted, Shaithis, too, noted that these perfectly circular runs seemed aimed at the main mass of the ice-shrouded mummy's body.

He thought to himself: Runs, aye, and narrowed his eyes a little as he examined that concept more closely. For upon a time, Shaithis had visited the settlements of itinerant Szgany metal-workers east of the great mountain range which split Starside from Sunside. These were the 'tinkers' who designed and constructed the fearsome Wamphyri war-gauntlets. Shaithis had seen the way the colourful Travellers poured liquid metal down clay pipes or along earthen sluices into moulds; so that there was that about these bore holes which reminded him of running liquids. Except all of these incomplete runs climbed gentle inclines towards the dead Lord, which seemed to indicate that they had not been designed to carry anything to him. Something away from him, then? Shaithis shivered; he was beginning to find his investigations, and more especially his conclusions, damnable.

Indeed, there was something about this entire set-up which even Shaithis's vampire heart found ominous, oppressive, doom-fraught. And finally Fess Ferenc voiced his thoughts for him: 'Me and the whelky Volse, we saw cores where the ice wasn't so thick. In them the bore holes had penetrated right to the centre, and all that was left in there were small bundles of rags, skin, and bones!'

'What?' Shaithis frowned at him.

Fess nodded. 'As if the one-time inhabitants or slum-berers in these frozen stacks had been sucked entire down the bores, all except their more solid bits.'

It had been Shaithis's thought exactly. 'But how?' he whispered. 'How, if they were frozen? I mean, how does one draw an entire, frozen-solid body down a hole which can't even accommodate that body's head?'

'I don't know.' The Ferenc shook his own misshapen head. 'But still I reckon that's what this old lad was afraid of. What's more, I reckon he died from the fear of it...'

Later, a mile closer to the central cone, they entered one of the inner ice-castles.

'This is one I've not visited before,' said the Ferenc. 'But as close as it is to the old volcano, I'd guess it's a safe bet what we'll find.'

'Oh?' Shaithis looked at him.

'Nothing!' The Ferenc nodded, knowingly. 'Just shattered ice about a gob of black lava, and the empty hole from which some ancient Lord's been stolen away.'

And he was right. When they finally found the high lava throne it was empty, and its ice-sheath shattered into a pile of fused, frosted shards. A few fragments of rag there were, but so ancient and stiff that they crumbled at a touch. And that was all.

Shaithis kneeled at the base of the shattered sheath and examined its broken surface, and found what he was looking for: the fluted rims of a good many bore holes, patterned like a scalloped fan, all joining where they converged on the empty niche at the black core. And he looked at Fess and Arkis and nodded grimly. 'The author of this dreadful thing could have sucked out the unknown Lord like the yoke of an egg, but that wasn't necessary for the sheath was only two and a half feet thick. So he drilled his holes all the way round until the ice was loosened, then wrenched it away in blocks and shards, and so finally came upon his petrified prey.'

And Fess said, 'Did I hear you right? Did you say "this dreadful thing"?'

Shaithis looked at him, also at Arkis. 'I'm Wamphyri,' he growled, low in his throat. 'You know me well. There's nothing soft about me. I take pride in my great strength, in my rages and furies, my lusts and appetites. But if this is the work of a man - even one of my own kind - still I say it is dreadful. Its terror lies in the secrecy, the stealth, the gloating, leering malignancy of the slayer. Ah, yes, I'm Wamphyri! And if I should be trapped in these Icelands, then doubtless I, too, would develop various life-support systems, including a fortress, sophisticated defences, and a source or sources of food. And I, too, would be as secretive and sinister as needs be. But don't you see? Someone here has already done it! In these Icelands, we are come into the territory of one who victimizes and terrorizes the very Wamphyri themselves! That is the dreadful thing I mentioned. Why, the very atmosphere of this place seethes with its evil. And something else: it seems to me that it is evil for evil's sake!'

After that... Shaithis could have bitten off his forked tongue. Too late, for he fancied he'd already said or hinted far too much. But such was the crushing weight of this place upon his vampire senses - such was its psychic jangle upon his nerve-endings - he felt the others would have to be totally insensitive not to have felt it for themselves.

Arkis's mouth had fallen open a little while Shaithis was speaking. Now he closed it and grunted, 'Huh! You were always the clever one with the speeches, Shaithis. But indeed I, too, have felt the threatening, doomful aura of this place. I felt it when I discovered those several bloodied scales and various small parts of my warrior's armoured carapace in the high cave; also when the bloodless - but well-fleshed, and hung with good meat -Largazis were stolen from the glacier pantry where I'd lodged them. And often I've thought: "Who is it watches over me so closely and knows my every move? Is he in my very mind? Or do the ice-castles themselves have eyes and ears?"'

It was the Ferenc's turn to speak. 'I'll not deny it, I too have felt the mystery of this place. But I think it's a ghost, a relic, a revenant out of time. An echo of something which was but is no more. Look around and ask yourselves: is anything we've seen of recent origin? The answer is no. Whatever deeds were done here were done a long, longtime ago.'

Arkis snorted again. 'And my warrior? And the Largazi twins?'

Fess shrugged and answered: 'Stolen by some thieving ice-beast. Perhaps a cousin of the pallid, cavern-dwelling sword-snout.'

Shaithis had shaken off his momentary fit of depression, had dispersed the strange and ominous mood which had descended upon him tangible as a bank of fog. The Ferenc's answer suited him well enough. He did not agree with it - not entirely - but it suited him to let the others think so. Except: 'So if there's no sly intelligence involved,' he said, ' - or no longer involved, as the case may be - then what sense is there in moving against the volcano?'

Again Fess shrugged. 'Best to be sure, eh?' he said. 'And if there was some "sly intelligence" at work here, albeit a long time ago, perhaps his works will still be available to us, deep down in the heart of the volcano. One thing's sure: we'll never know unless we go see for ourselves.'

'Now?' Arkis Leperson was eager.

But Shaithis cautioned: 'I vote we sleep on it. I for one have tramped enough for the moment, thank you, and would prefer to tackle the cone fresh from my rest and with a hearty breakfast inside me. Anyway, I note that the auroral display is rising to a new peak of activity. That's a good sign. Let the burning sky light the way for us.'

'I'm with you, Shaithis,' the Ferenc rumbled. 'But where to bed down?'

'Why not right here?' Shaithis answered. 'Within shouting distance, but each of us secure in his own niche.'

Arkis nodded. That suits me.'

They separated and climbed to precarious but private ice-ledges and -niches where no one could come upon them unheard or unobserved, and each in his own place settled down to sleep. Shaithis thought to call to himself a warm, living blanket of albinos, then thought better of it. If the bats came, Fess and Arkis would probably find it a suspicious circumstance. Why should Shaithis have power over the bats when they had none? Why indeed? It was a question he couldn't answer. Not yet, anyway.

He curled himself inside his cloak of black bat fur and munched on flyer flesh. It was scarcely satisfying but it was filling. And with one eye open and set to scan the ice-cavern, from Fess to Arkis and back again, Shaithis thought: Ah, but time for the good stuff later!

The good stuff, aye: Fess and Arkis themselves. Who for certain would be thinking exactly the same thing about him.

And settling down he began to breathe more deeply, and his scarlet eye scanned the cavern, and slowly the dreams started to come...

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