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Tales of the Empire

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The Razielim needed but a single night to crest Nosgoth’s great western mountain range. Their second sunset found them within sight of their destination.

To be sure, their progress was faster than it might otherwise have been: the Hylden-built road was as smooth and finely graded amidst rocky crags and passes as it had been below, in the forested foothills. Rather than clinging close to the mountain’s folds, the Hylden road cut straight through, winging over gorges on trestle arches that soared a thousand feet, penetrating fins of stone with broad-blasted tunnels. But as the air thinned, the ever-growing crowd of attending Ancients -- there were perhaps a thousand now -- began to fall behind, their wingbeats labored. Having sent ahead the bloodslaves and wagons, and their handlers in the early afternoon, the bulk of the Razielim were able to travel at their customary ground-eating lope. They needed no breath, after all, and were untouched by the cold.

Early in the predawn, the slope at last eased, smoothed. Passes and peaks, still snow-capped, arched far above. The scent of brine soon tainted the breeze. And then, betwixt two distant ridges, New Avalon came into view.

The city was a spire, straight and tapered as a narwhal’s horn, set like a jewel against rippling black velvet sea. Lights glowed warmly from a thousand points, warring with the pale pink glow of dawn to illuminate in shades of sky-tinctured grain the weathered limestone. It was difficult to say from this distance whether the mass itself was natural and the city simply built atop it, into it, or whether the entire edifice was a construction. It stood at the throat of a deepwater harbor, and the breakers that crashed at the base seemed small as wrinkles.

Ten thousand years in the future, the seas would be higher, lapping over much of the broad plain betwixt New Avalon and the mountains’ western foothills. The harbor would become the treacherous bay of Thornwall, one of Melchiah’s holdings, its passages choked with limestone teeth that could tear through the hulls of even mighty vessels. Of the Ancient’s city, nothing at all would remain.

But it was clear that the army could not descend from the mountains and reach that distant shore before dawn. When another long tunnel, ten paces high and twice that wide, fortuitously presented itself and was declared sound by the Razielim’s only two experienced geomancers, an early halt was called. Though some modicum of privacy could be constructed by cloths hung from the domed roof, the camp setup was of necessity very compact, confining for a people both highly territorial and long accustomed to vast spaces and open skies.

At the western exit of the tunnel was a sloping clearing. The only vegetation there was wind-wracked cedars, the ground littered with scree and boulders. But it would remain shaded by the looming cliffside for most of the morning. While waiting for the slaves and supplies to arrive, a number of Razielim congregated there. At one end of the rocky field, a drill instructor led two dozen of his charges, young vampires just beginning their second centuries, through drills. Their handblades – curved crescents, wickedly sharp – blurred in the air. The weapons were small and of little use against heavily-armored opponents, but by practicing with them, the young vampires honed skills they would soon require in truth, once they developed an elder’s talons.

Near a natural flue formed by a convergence of two massive boulders, two Razielim smiths – including Ferris, trailed by his fledgling who blinked in discomfort at even this filtered light -- gathered materials for a fire. Without a proper forge, they could not cast steel, nor even bronze. But tin farm implements had been pillaged from the village yesterday, and these the smiths could fashion into much-needed rivets and chains.

Ferris’ fledgling crouched to one side, eyes wide as he watched his sire stir the embers and tuck a crucible into the hottest part, all with his bare talons. But as Ferris set to breaking the captured tools into pieces – the better to melt plowshares into flay device components – his gaze wandered. They’d passed a number of humans, all chained together, some hours before. That much, at least, the fledgling remembered clearly. Ferris had hauled him along with an iron grip then, but now, if his sire was just going to sit and talk with that other… well then.

“Oh, for the love of… be still,” Ferris growled, taloned hand lashing out to seize his fledge and drag the youngster back. “…and I’ll relate to you a tale,” he finished, clearly coming to the conclusion that he’d have little opportunity to sit and enjoy conversing with his brethren in any case.

Like all these newest additions to Raziel’s clan, the human whose body this fledgling now wore had been dead for only a very short time before being raised – he almost certainly had retained a good understanding of the tongue his Sire used, even if he had vanishingly little inclination to use it. The fledgling hesitated, primitive calculations clicking over behind fierce gold eyes.

This was an important step – a good sign if intellectual curiosity overruled idle hunger, a poor one if not. Slowly, the fledge folded his legs beneath his body, and sunk back into place.

Ferris paused a moment, perhaps permitting the fledgling a moment of private approval. There was a pleasing familiarity in this ritual, in instructing a neonate in the ways and manners of the Clan. Perhaps it was that habitual nature of this indoctrination, or his preoccupation with his work and his fledgling both, that led Ferris to select this particular tale. It was one very familiar to him; every clan told variations on the story. But no Razielim -- save perhaps a weary, worried, and much-harried sire, too focused on the immediate task -- would have dared to tell it now.

“Sit close, then, and I will recount a tale of Kain and his powers. Now you have heard – or will hear,” Ferris amended, glancing to his progeny, and thereby missing the other smith's wince, the way he looked around in worry, watchful of any listening too closely, “of Vorador, and his rivalries with Kain. A thousand years did he haunt the Emperor’s steps, thieving his kills by stealth and by cunning, foiling his aims. Far and wide did Vorador search for adepts versed in the magics of severing, with which to withhold from a magician his magical energies for a time. Again and again, Vorador tried to turn these spells upon the Emperor, though to no avail.

"Kain, knowing in his cold heart the threat Vorador might one day pose him, crafted a ring of bone by which to contain a portion of his powers, proof against an effort to cleave from him his magic. He kept it always close, and all thought it naught but a signet. The world turned on in the lathe of time, the ages sped bewinged, and – harken close, mine own – even Kain grew careless. He removed the ring, leaving it amongst other jeweled treasures while he took ablution. But, secure in his might, Kain had neglected – as you must never neglect, mine own – the slaves.

"In crept a chambermaid, with dusting cloth and rag, her eyes not quite always downcast, but rather glancing over the riches of her Lords. Those impertinent eyes fell upon the open casket of jewels – amidst which was a single plain ring of bone. Surely, thought the human, even Kain’s gaze would not notice one or two things missing; and yet the worth of even the least gem was enough to buy her liberty, many a time over. And so, with the dumb animal avarice of her kind, the mortal took up a jewel, and put it in her mouth, and swallowed it, that she might creep with it past the guards on an errand of pretext, her prizes secure in her belly. One, two, three, four she swallowed, before the sound of stirring caused her to flee.

“Now, this human was a lowly creature, and bore not the mark of the House of Kain." Ferris frowned, worrying at a finger-thick chunk of tin, his talons locked in the metal. "Thus, mine own, scarce had this foulsome human entered the marketplace, her basket in hand and heart in her mouth, when…”

Cyrus, his unit well-settled and his own assigned duties long since accomplished, found himself at loose ends. His Sire had settled himself well within the tunnel, surrounded by both Razielim and Ancient mages as they continued to learn the secrets of the blood-fountains. And while Cyrus knew Oberon would spare little thought for his wayward offspring when such knowledge was within his grasp, the knowledge of his Sire's disfavor was enough to keep him at a distance. As was the prospect of more of the Ancients' ... attentions, especially as they pertained to his infirmity or his clothing!

Thus, wandering without purpose into the glare of the unfiltered sun, he overheard the beginnings of Ferris' tale. His own Sire had told it to him, once--and a certain secret melancholy guided his steps to the tumbled rock where the smiths had begun their work. Ferris paused in his tale, glancing upward at the new arrival--but returned to his work without comment as Cyrus merely settled himself upon a nearby flat-topped rock, his eyes turned away to trace the white road as it wound itself downward, towards the distant spire.

Ferris' fledgling, on the other hand, inspected this new arrival with a wary sort of interest. He was old enough to recognize other Razielim as kin, at least; although an elder vampire was always a nascent threat, kin or not.

As Cyrus made no aggressive move towards him, the fledgling's caution turned to speculation. He eyed particularly the ginger way the far elder vampire sat, careful not to bend or jar one leg.

Ferris continued. “...when she was swept up by the drivers of slaves. Scream and struggle as she might, she was driven in chains to the slaveblock. And who should be amongst the bidders?”

The fledgling frowned, distracted from his bloody-minded contemplations, wriggling a little when it was clear that his Sire desired a verbal answer before he would continue. “Vorador?” the neonate hazarded, at last, voice rough with disuse but reasonably clear and understandable, as if the young vampire had simply lost interest in the use of language for a time, the ability now to be regained by fragments.

“Well done,” Ferris nodded, praising the effort, if not the answer. “But not quite, for even Vorador, fearsome though he was, could not have entered a city held within the Emperor’s grasp. But men allied with Vorador were there, seeking out fresh meat for their Lord’s divinations. They bought this chambermaid straightaway, and tossed her over the withers of a warhorse, and returned to their realm. Now, the rites of divination are as many as the leaves in autumn, and of these you may someday learn. But the oldest is the art of reading the future from entrails. Vorador was well practiced, and when he cut open his prisoner – here… and here…” Ferris leaned back, drew the smooth back of one fire-warmed talon demonstratively over his fledgling’s soft-skinned belly, “he found indeed his future laid out before him. For there amidst the purple and taupe of viscera glinted gold, emerald, ruby… and a circlet of bone.

“So great was the magic stored in this ring, mine own, that already it had begun to work its warp upon its surroundings, there in the hot catalytic womb of viscera. And as Vorador plucked each jewel in turn from the slave’s heaving belly, it melted, changed. A folded golden pin twisted upon itself, flowered, became a tiny trumpet played nobly by breath no man could sense. The emerald broach cupped into a boat, sprouting a tiny, perfect sail of glass and fine oars of silver. And from the great ruby hatched a chick with strange amber plumage. This last was the only wonder to survive beyond the day, for within hours the trumpet cracked and fell to pieces, and the emerald ship set sail at sunset, rowing away through the air; but the bird fled, and grew swiftly, and later started a conflagration which destroyed all of Coorhagen, bathing itself in those flames. Thus, of all four treasures, the plain bone ring alone was immutable. Thereby did Vorador know of the powers Kain had woven into the ring: leadership, and the shapeshifting of swift journey, and mastery of fire.”

Ferris paused, frowning as he worried at a particularly recalcitrant bit of metal. Cyrus watched out of the corner or his eye for several long moments--then, as the fledgling began to squirm, gave up the pretense of his lack of attention.

"As it was told to me, Vorador was a canny creature--he knew full well that even with this newfound power, he could not attack Kain directly," he offered diffidently, knowing that this tale, like many others, had changed as it had spread between Clans. "The Emperor would know soon enough that a portion of his power had escaped him, and would seek its return. Thus Vorador seized the ring, and bore it to a secret altar where with searing water and fire and ancient magic he reforged it--twisting the power within until it served his purposes. Kain's power now fuelled Vorador's snare, and should the Emperor take up the ring again, as he inevitably would, it would be his undoing."

At the mention of fire and water Ferris' fledgling twitched, and looked uneasy--but he did not move from his place, even though he did not seem to know quite what to make of the strange vampire that had taken up the thread of Ferris' story.

Ferris tossed a contaminating nugget of half-worked bronze away, where it clinked amongst the stones. The workmanship of these farm implements was abysmal, an assortment of scrap metals hammered together with no particular regard to melting points or strength. He turned to sort through his nearby leather haversack, and withdrew a cloth-wrapped brick of black-steel molds, each one indented in patterns. Softer metal could be poured into those grooves, enabling a smith to rapidly produce large numbers of gears or bolts.

"Just so, Cyrus," he agreed, selecting two molds, then handing the rest to his fellow smith. The other vampire, still nervous, frowned as he picked through the heavy plates. "And when the Emperor discovered his artifact missing, his wrath was terrible indeed. But even so long ago, fledgling, Kain's eyes and ears were everywhere, inescapable. It was not long before he ascertained who now held the ring."

The sound of Ferris' voice drew his fledgling's attention inescapably, leading him momentarily to ignore Cyrus, who -- rather confusingly, the fledgling thought -- smelled both of power and latent threat... and of a prey's weakness. The fledgling did his best to weigh the possibility that he'd be beaten again if he attacked and devoured the newcomer, this 'Cyrus.' Perhaps if he *shared* his kill with his Sire this time.... fortunately, Ferris spoke again.

"That very evening, Kain set off towards Termongent forest. He traveled alone, upon foot, for the magics to raise an army at a whim, or to ghost unseen over land and sea, had been bound up in the ring. He’d only gone so far as Charringham when he came upon a very dreadful sight. A thick copse of trees was burning steadily, fierce flames lapping every part of it. The smoke was thick, black and bitter. Timber crackled, groaned, as if crying out at the unnatural torment – for the wood was not consumed. Had he his powers, mine own, Kain might have simply bid the flames to cease... but without the ring, what was he to do?"

The fledgling frowned, obviously struggling with the question. Precocious he might be, but strategy was still beyond the grasp of a mind that was concerned only with the needs of the moment. After a moment, when it was obvious his Sire still awaited an answer, he tentatively answered, "....burn?"

Cyrus smiled a little. "The Emperor has no fear of fire, child," he said, though there was no way of knowing if that was the truth. All Razielim had thought Kain proof against all harm, once ... but now, well, their god, their world, had changed. That thought brought to Cyrus the uneasy realization that perhaps this was not the best tale to tell among an exiled Razielim--but a glance at Ferris showed no hesitation on the part of the elder vampire.

"Kain knew his way lay forward, through the flames. And so he turned the power of the earth against his stolen fire--by his command, the very ground beneath the trees reared upward, toppling the forest to either side as he progressed, showering earth and stone upon the creeping flame," Cyrus continued carefully. "The forest giants had no choice but to give way, falling upon one another as their roots were bared to the sky."

Ferris, absorbed in lifting his crucible and the cherry-red pool of glowing metal within via long tongs, could not contain a soft snort of amusement at his progeny’s unwitting heresy. “Thus, my kindred,” he added, “do the strengths of foreplanning and of smothering prevail against the short-lived might of flames. Remember that, mine own, when your foes mass against you, when they leap like the tongues of an inferno, from all sides. Turn their sources upon one another, let them asphyxiate themselves, and victory will be yours, too.”

The molten tin hissed as it hit the steel, Ferris concentrating on filling the molds to precisely the correct depth. “The emperor advanced upon his path. But before long,” he continued, “Kain came upon a broad river, flowing swiftly, far too wide to leap. A human lay, near insensate, upon the shore, at the verge of death. She had been fed upon, most unneatly. As Kain stepped close to the water’s edge, however, another woman – or something like a woman – rose half-up out off the water, hissing. Her body was scaled like the fishes, her skin gray and dappled. Her hair was a corona of spiny gray fins. Her flat lidless eyes seemed to fix upon Kain, her mouth gaped with the serrations of a fish’s bony teeth. Then she twisted over and plunged back into the water... which churned with the fins of more such creatures, uncountable beneath the murky liquid.

"‘What hath transpired here?’ The Emperor demanded of the dying slave.”

"The slave, rendered courageous perhaps by the shadow of death that lay over her, stared up at Kain's visage. 'A foulsome spell,' she gasped, blood tinting her pale lips. 'My village ... lived upon the fish of the river. But one day, the waters turned dark. One by one, those who went to the water's edge to fish disappeared, and were seen no more.'

She was seized by a paroxysm of coughing, and for a moment, it seemed as if she would expire before she gave Kain the answers he sought. But she recovered, and said, her eyes glassy, 'We tried to stay away, but ... without the river, there was little to eat, and no tithes to give. A-and then we saw them ... they came upon the shore ...'"

Ferris' fledgling wriggled in excitement, enrapt, and his Sire exchanged faint smiles with Cyrus. Little could claim a fledgling's attention quite like the description of downed prey. "'Saw who? What?' the Emperor demanded," Ferris continued, "but the peasant was too direly injured, and could not answer. Thus was Kain forced to observe carefully -- just as you must always examine your surroundings carefully -- to discover what had happened."

When the fledgling looked confused, Cyrus picked up the thread of the tale. "It was obvious that other vampires had been there, for evidence of their feeding lay upon the beach," he hinted. "And since the appearance of the monsters coincided with the villagers' disappearance...." he trailed off, prompting.

The fledgling nodded firmly. And looked blank.

Ferris snapped off a few more pieces of tin tools, sinking them into the blackened crucible. "Kain therefore knew that this spell, far from being foulsome as the mortal imagined, was in fact transforming the local villagers into creatures better suited for their major occupation -- that is, for travel in water. But cast by an unpracticed hand, the transformation had caused unexpected consequences.

"Now doubly determined to wrest from Vorador his ill-gotten prize -- for if this magic were allowed to spread, how would the vampires seize their prey? -- Kain still had a great river to cross. And how do you imagine he managed this?"

The fledgling considered. "Swimming," he said.

Cyrus blinked, and arched an ironic eyebrow. Ferris sighed and picked up his tongs. "Not quite, mine own," he said patiently. "For his power to transform into a shape that might cross the water safely was bound in the ring. Remember? And for all his strengths, the Emperor is a vampire, just as I... or you." Raising a fledgling, frankly, was at least as much exasperation as pleasure. "But I shall tell you what he did: Kain bent down, and gathered up the mortal. He bore her most carefully to where the river was narrowest, and there cast her screaming in. All along the waterway, the men-fish converged, long teeth snapping at the prospect of fresh meat, swarming thickly in the heaving water. Kain watched closely, then -- with the speed and agility that you too shall someday learn -- leapt. His boots struck flesh, one upon a scaly back, then a fish-bloated belly, then a monsterous and yowling upturned face, and then he was across, safe upon dry land."

"Eat fish?" the fledgling asked unprompted, his gaze avid. Cyrus grimaced at the thought, and Ferris shook his head. The question was to be expected, he supposed--fledglings tended to chew upon most everything they encountered for a time, until they grew into the understanding that only human blood would satisfy.

"No--Kain would never sully himself with the corrupted blood of such twisted creatures. He continued on, determined to search out his stolen power, and wrest it from Vorador's talons himself if need be."

"Leaving the river behind, the Emperor continued on. In time, the trees changed, becoming twisted and grotesque, canopied with hanging moss, heralding the trackless swamps in which the ancient Vorador laid his lair. Once, he would have simply flown upon a thousand wings to the manor secreted within--but now, he was forced to wind his way afoot through quicksand and water like any other petitioner. Any other would swiftly have become lost as the swamp closed about them; but the Emperor knew well the territory of his enemy, and proceeded apace to his goal.

"The outer walls of the mansion had just become visible when an eerie keening reverberated off the water and the trees. The ever-present fog had thickened, stinging the eyes and the skin, and glowed with virulent purple light."

"Something gripped Kain's ankle, and from out of the murk arose the wavering, skeletal claws of Vorador's ghasts. Now, swamp ghouls are common in the Termongent forest, but they are drab and solitary scavengers; never had there been a force such as this. Hundreds, nay, even thousands of the creatures clawed their spectral way up from the murk, casting off the decay of the ages, their half-insubstantial bodies white as bleached bone, blue as the flesh of a hanged man.

"The Emperor broke the chill, energy-stealing clasp of the hand upon him, cleaving it from him with a swipe of the Reaver. But there were more ghasts, and Kain stepped back, boots splashing and sinking in the spongy wet soil. How was he to fight a multitude of swift undead amidst so much water? Lest that all-pervasive, acidic fluid warp and mis-channel the magic, Kain could not even split the skies to call down his bolts of lightning. It seemed as if he would be overwhelmed in a moment, driven into the treacherous pools."

The fledgling shivered, eyes wide. Ferris paused for effect, using a short rod of very fine steel to stir the melting tin. "But just then, mine own, above the howls of the gathering horde, Kain heard something: the distant sobs and cries of bloodslaves, penned close by the manor house for Vorador's delication."

"The Emperor made his decision swiftly--and he ran, leaping from one mossy hillock to the next. Not away from the battle, you must understand," Ferris admonished quickly as the fledgling began to frown, "Indeed, for even as he closed upon his goal, a host of the ghast fell prey to the Reaver's eternal thirst. But the ghast were countless in number, and for every one that fell, a score more took their place.

"Soon Kain came upon Vorador's slave-pens, surrounded by water to keep marauding vampires at bay. With a wave of his hand, the steel gates of the prison were ripped asunder, and the humans contained therein came rushing outward, seeking their freedom. The first of them plunged into the moat--then screamed in fear as they saw the ghast, who had scented the living blood before them and left the Emperor for fresher, easier prey. Perching upon a broken pillar, Kain waited until the ghast had entangled themselves amongst the humans, killing indiscriminately on land and water alike. Then, he called down the lightning from the heavens."

Cyrus shivered. He had seen the Emperor summon lightning only once--but the result was not one any creature would ever forget.

"The lightning came down, and danced upon the water, killing the ghast and their prey alike as it leapt from creature to creature, channeled by the metal of the humans' slave-manacles and the water upon their bodies. Great gouts of steam obscured the air as they died, and soon the few remaining ghast fled, newly fearful of the Emperor's wrath.

Thus, mine own, do the wise learn the utility of distraction, of using a foes' desires against them." Ferris paused, and leveled a serious look at his wayward spawn.

Cyrus waited, and when Ferris did not continue immediately, cleared his throat. "And thus does a wise Razielim learn to control his own desires, lest his foes turn these upon him," he added, cautiously. "As... as I was told the tale..."

Ferris glanced to the crippled Razielim a moment. It was not unusual, exactly, for several elders to offer a fledgling instruction -- but Cyrus was of a different linesire, and despite his elevated birth, was not so highly ranked as Ferris. On the other hand, Ferris was peripherally aware of some of the circumstances surrounding Cyrus' slide from grace. While far from the most experienced of Sires, Ferris had strong opinions regarding how to treat a fledgling, and how not to treat one, regardless of the progeny's age. He nodded faintly, well enough pleased to be able to pay a little more attention to his work.

"...when Kain approached the mansion, he found the great front doors ajar upon their hinges. He walked up boldly, the Reaver in one hand, knowing Vorador would be awaiting him within. The ancient vampire's manse was labyrinthine, full of rotting decadence from the age of--" And then Cyrus was brought up short by his own belated realization that the long-forgotten ages to which the tale referred ... were the very same that the Razielim now inhabited. Those 'decadent' and long-dead Ancients, and their wonders, were the same as the soft, blue-skinned creatures that had carried him into the sky. They had traversed more time than the entire span of the Empire, or any human fief before it--more time than even Lord Raziel himself had seen.

It sounded blasphemous, even in the silence of his mind--but it was true. A cold shudder channeled down his spine, and the verdant world about him for a moment seemed alien and threatening.

The fledgling, knowing nothing of any such deeper concerns, watched him with eager golden eyes, waiting. "...From ages long past," Cyrus continued slowly. "The great hall was draped with tattered silks and velvets, lavish with gold and silver ornamentation. Derelict armors fanciful and magical stood watch along the walls, their empty helms thick with dust. The Emperor could detect Vorador's odious presence; the ancient vampire was somewhere in residence. But where?

"As Kain entered, he found the intemperate luxury layered so thick, it took him a moment to recognize the debris of a great feast -- the drained pleasure slaves lying heaped and insensate, the bottles of bloodwine scattered upon frayed cushions. Verily, Vorador's spawn had reveled in their debauchery so much that they now slept, secure in their Master's home."

"The Emperor, however, only walked silently past the sleeping spawn, the Reaver bare and hungry in his hand. For to kill them all would serve no purpose save to raise even more alarm, and while Vorador was undoubtedly already aware of his presence, Kain saw no purpose in butchering his way through an entire household. These debauched creatures would die soon enough, he knew, for they had none of the strength of the Clans, and none of the blood of Kain to preserve them."

Downward he walked, down twisting stairs and hidden halls. Silks and gold vanished, to be replaced by weathered stone and worn carvings, until he could feel the heat of Vorador's forges beating at his skin. Here, metal adorned the halls: weapons strong enough to split stone, with an edge fine enough to split a butterfly's wing. There was armor inscribed with magicks, that gave a warrior the strength of a plated leviathan. Even lesser creations by other smiths were cast aside in piles of metal, copper and brass, iron and steel, to be reforged at Vorador's leisure." Ferris had taken up the thread of the tale at this point, and his tone was frankly admiring--for all of the vilification of Vorador, his prowess was legendary among all the bladesmiths and armorers of the Clans. None had ever been able to match his skill--one could only look at the Reaver to know it to be so.

The forge glowed like the very mouth of Hell, yet Kain did not hesitate. He entered, and there found Vorador awaiting him upon an ebon throne, the stolen ring laid upon the anvil before him like an offering to an ancient god."

Ferris left the crucible alone for a moment, and turned instead to the hardened metal in the molds. Setting his claws into notches -- grooves worn smooth by countless clawed talons -- he twisted. The thick steel came apart into two cleverly jointed pieces, permitting Ferris to pry loose the small tin gears. They still radiated heat, and steamed a little as they rang upon the frost-bedewed stones. Without seeming concern, Ferris picked one up, and with more delicacy than his talons might suggest, he started clipping and smoothing the burrs from the newly-minted parts. "'Degenerate thief,' Kain growled, there in the flame-lit darkness. 'I have returned for what is mine.' The Emperor strode to the anvil, and lifted his hand, to reclaim his prize."

Ferris' fledgling gasped, clearly and furiously trying to remember something, his brow furrowed. "Wrong magic!" he said, as if his warning might avert the danger posed to Kain.

Cyrus smiled a little at the creature's naivete. Once, he'd had much the same reaction ... "Before his talons could touch the treacherous ring, however, the Reaver awoke. Still held in his hand, its eyes flared with an unearthly light, and it keened as if it had just sighted its newest prey."

The fledgling, leaning forward intently, looked confused. "Sword?" He peered at the one his Sire had set aside, as if he thought it would suddenly leap up and speak.

"The Reaver is no mere blade, mine own. It is ensorcelled with mighty magics, and, some say, possessed by the mad soul of a hungry demon. It is a capricious blade, one that only the Emperor himself can master," Ferris remarked, even as he worried at the rough edge of a gear. "By its action, Kain was warned, and he snarled at Vorador. 'What have you done, you treacherous snake?'"

The first of his creations completed, Ferris handed the small disk of tin to the other smith sitting nearby. That Razielim had laid out before him a number of small glass jars, each filled with varying powders and liquids. Spreading a square of white linen over his lap, the smith employed a blunt-tipped shaft of inscribed bone to apply tiny quantities of the enchanted additives to the metal part. Ferris picked up another gear, gesturing to Cyrus that he should continue.

"'No more than what you have done,' Vorador growled, 'in turning my devices against me!' And thereby did he betray his own hubris, for the Reaver had never obeyed its maker's hand, waiting always instead for its true master," Cyrus said. "But now the Emperor was faced with a most terrible choice: would he leave the ring, and his powers, to Vorador's foul designs? Or would he take it up instead, weathering its warped wildmagic as well as he could, whilst he fought his way free of Vorador's desminse?

"Vorador, ancient and cunning, laughed to see the Emperor's predicament. He lifted his hand, calling upon ancient powers with which to smite Kain. And then the Emperor did something Vorador could never have anticipated...."

"He struck with the Reaver, stabbing it forward--but not at Vorador, but at the ring upon the anvil. Catching it upon the tip of the blade, he flung it into the air, just as Vorador cast his magic--a wave of black fire to consume the Emperor. The fire enveloped the ring, burning it to ash and releasing the magics contained within."

"What happened then was like nothing you have ever seen. Vorador's magic and that of Kain struggled like serpents, writhing together in mortal combat in the midst of the fiery conflagration. The ancient stones of the walls themselves began to melt under the assault of such potent powers, and it seemed for a moment that Vorador's spell gone awry would consume all within the mansion. But much of that power, now freed from the ring, belonged to the Emperor, and he did not cower from the flames. Instead he faced them, Reaver in hand, and they dared consume him not."

"Likewise you, too, must needs display bravery in the force of overwhelming odds or great threats, no matter how terrifying, for fortune favors the bold," Ferris interrupted, clipping one faultily-cast piece apart between his talons' hard, razored edges. He returned the palmful of small broken metal chunks to the crucible.

Cyrus nodded. "Just so," he agreed. "Now, all such raw expressions of power are perforce short-lived; they require a channel, such as a spell, or a host, such as an artifact. With the bone ring destroyed, the powers' only option was to return to their source." Cyrus understood -- theoretically -- more about the nature of magical powers than the average Razielim; his Sire had begun his instruction very early and very thoroughly. Those lessons had trailed off, of course, as Cyrus' true lack of ability became apparent. There was little point in knowing, if one could not also do.

"Even Kain, mighty though he was, staggered under the onslaught as the tidal rush of power surged back into him. The energies were as yet twisted by Vorador's reforging, and no longer fit neatly into their rightful places. Even as Kain shook himself, disoriented and momentarily mind-blind, he heard an echoing thunder from the countless tunnels and chambers of Vorador's forges -- the ancient's fledglings, one and all, were swarming to attack."

"The fledglings paid dearly for their temerity, the Reaver claiming the lives of their brethren with each sweep of the Emperor's arm. But so many were they that they forced Kain backward, allowing the treacherous Vorador to make his escape despite the cost they paid in blood. To hold his ground would see him entrapped; and so the Emperor retreated, battling even as his enemies harried him from the mansion."

"Into the swamp the battle raged, the water hissing as it sizzled upon vampiric flesh. But here, Kain knew what Vorador's spawn did not--that the surviving ghasts, feeble-minded and hungry, had returned. They rose out of the water, blue-skinned and skeletal, and fell upon Vorador's fledglings with indiscriminate hunger, tearing at flesh and bone. Even so, the fledglings were loyal, and determined to avenge their master--leaving their fallen behind, they continued their pursuit."

"So, too, you must understand the value of strategic retreat," interjected Ferris, "for it avails the Razielim not, should you fall in a hopeless or needless battle." The small pile of completed parts gleamed warmly as he stacked the last of them atop. Then the process began anew -- Ferris closed the molds, picked up the long tongs, and eased the cruicible from the coals. This time, a scum of other metals -- perhaps zinc or vanadium --had collected atop the molten tin, and Ferris reached down, crunching off a sliver of shale with which to skim the slurry.

Cyrus nodded, returning his gaze to the rapt fledgling. "The melee continued through the swamp, so long that the moon rose and set, and daylight haunted the horizon. The broad river came into view, its waters dark and murky, but quiet. For the moment. But Kain knew what lurked beneath...."

"Swift strides brought him to the water's edge, dark and foaming. The foremost of his pursuers leaped upon him, talons lashing outward to rend the Emperor asunder ... and the Reaver met its newest victim, cutting him in twain. The bloody shreds tumbled into the river, and the fish-creatures needed no other invitation. Once again Kain leapt across, using the tumbling, writhing bodies, heedless of the splashing of the deadly liquid about him--and Vorador's spawn, heedless in their fury, tumbled into their jaws, screaming as the water seared their flesh even as it was devoured."

"Yet still, some survived. They followed in the Emperor's wake, leaping across the bodies of their brethren, eyes red and as maddened as starving wolves."

The fledgling kept jumping half up from his seat on the ground, only to settle back, scarcely able to sit still for the excitement. Cyrus, Ferris noted with amusement, was as caught in the tale as his audience. It was something of a shame the younger vampire had never been granted permission to Sire.

"At last, Kain came to the incendiary forest, the woods cursed to burn by Vorador. The flames had overtaken even the exposed roots of the trees, the very ground heaved with the gasses of subterranean smoldering. By now, powerful though he was, Kain was tiring. The fledglings were many, and were as fierce as their master was craven.

"Forgetting himself, Kain lifted his hand in effort to call upon the magic to quell flames -- the very same magic Vorador had twisted upon his altars. With time to meditate upon those changes, to repair the damage done, Kain could surely have corrected the damage. But as you can imagine, initiated suddenly, the magic went awry."

The fledgling gaped. "He died?"

Cyrus shook his head, his expression wry. "A lesser vampire would have perished--but not the Emperor. His stolen magic, the part that Vorador had twisted, had heeded its master's call ... but instead of quelling the flames, it joined them, turning the forest into a firestorm in which trees seemed nothing more than blackened torches, and the very air itself burned. More of Vorador's spawn were caught in the flames, just as the Emperor was, and turned to ash in an instant."

"However, the magic-fueled firestorm now threatened to consume Kain himself. This was an enemy that could not be battled or killed--one could only flee, and hope to survive its fury."

"Daring not to escape as coils of mist, for that magic too had been altered, Kain called upon the simplest and most common magic of our kind, the call to blood -- the ability to manipulate it from a distance in the weak or unaware. Vorador's fledglings were strong, but stunned by the heat and scorched in the inferno, they could not resist the spell. Their blood poured forth, but rather than consuming it, Kain gathered into a crimson cloud around him. Thusly cloaked, the Emperor darted through the barrier."

"You too will learn this magic soon enough, for it is indeed a common one," interrupted Ferris. Many after their first few decades were more comfortable feeding in this manner than by bite -- though it did result in the death of a mortal subject. "But later, even as you grow in skills and powers, you must always remember that the simplest of lessons, used cleverly, can shield you in unexpected ways."

Cyrus nodded. "And now you know the reason why no Clansman will seek to manipulate fire --" he followed the fledgling's gaze to where Ferris had reached into the coals so unconcernedly, "-- not by magery. For while Kain soon learned to properly command his pyromantic magic once again, his use of the spell cemented one of Vorador's devious curses beyond repair. The Emperor could no longer impart pyromancy to the six Lieutenants, and that skill is therefore lost to the Clans."

A new voice took up the thread of the tale. "And thus Kain returned to his Empire, having regained the fullness of his power, and leaving behind a defeated Vorador, stripped of his offspring and left to molder within the depths of his benighted forest," Raziel said, stepping around the tumble of boulders that had hidden his approach. "Vorador's death was to come soon enough at the hands of the Sarafan, while the Empire--" His mouth twisted. "--the Empire was to last forever."

Cyrus stiffened, awkwardly dropping to one knee and bowing his head, while even Ferris belatedly realized his misstep. "My lord ... I did not mean .." The fledgling looked blankly between them, picking up only on his Sire's unease and uncomprehending of the reasons behind it.

The fledgling glanced away in discomfort from the sudden fear on his Sire's countenance, and settled his attention on Raziel. He vaguely recollected the clanlord as something that preceded the beating he received for eating an Ancient and not sharing, or at least, he was pretty sure that was what the beating had been for. That long, long half-hour of correction, he most certainly remembered.

Also, he remembered he was hungry. *Really* hungry, now, especially as the light had grown brighter during the past few hours. Apparently the story was over, judging from the way that other, weak vampire knelt, horrified resignation painted on his face. As for the newcomer... every aspect of him -- from his carriage to his scent -- bespoke power. He would, the neonate decided, probably be delicious. Maybe as much as Sire. The fledgling did his best to determine whether assaulting Raziel would have any negative repercussions; his curious, bright gold gaze turned speculative.

The nearby activity had quieted over the last few minutes as attention turned towards the storytellers. Now Ferris' corner of the scree slope was deadly silent, the only sound the distant clash of blades as young warriors battled their trainer.

"Rise, Cyrus." Raziel's command was hard, but without the rumble of anger the younger Razielim had expected. Cyrus pushed himself painfully to his feet, focusing his attention upon showing no weakness as he did so, and stood, shoulders squared, to face judgment for his transgression.

"Fledglings must be lessoned," Raziel said thoughtfully, his gaze travelling over the poised and uncertain fledge, then to where Ferris stood immobile, tools in hand. "And the tales of the Clans are worthy of being preserved. However ..." His face hardened. "Kain, while still your progenitor, is no longer your Emperor. We have left the Empire behind--and having seen its eventual fate, I count it well-lost." None listening dared gainsay their Lord, but still Raziel could read their instinctive rejection of his pronouncement in the stiffness of their shoulders, the ingrained flare of anger and negation. Ferris' lips parted as if to assert his loyalty to the Empire--then closed, the words stillborn. Raziel could not blame him for that, not when he himself had spent centuries enforcing such reverence.

But the world had changed, and his Razielim would be required to change with it. The Ancients, for all their wonders, were example enough of his Clan's fate should they be unable to adapt to changing circumstance.

"I hear and obey, my Lord," Cyrus said quietly, bowing his head in acknowledgment. Lord Raziel's reprimand was well-deserved; for he had known the risks they took in telling such a tale, yet had continued to do so anyway.

Cyrus' submission was quick and willingly given; he'd not been of high rank to begin with -- certainly not enough to challenge Raziel in even the smallest of matters. And as injured as be was, he could little afford to draw his Lord's ire.

Ferris... hesitated. On the one hand, he and his spawn both were very likely not in Raziel's good graces. On the other... while never so wrapped in tradition as the Rahabim, the Razielim held dear a number of customs, not least of which were the rights and duties of a Sire. No matter what the Emperor had become, no matter the vile injustice he had wrecked upon all the Razielim... what harm was there in a tale? Was he to be denied the right to raise his progeny, within the norms of the Razielim, as he saw fit? But he was loath to lose this fledgling, least of all to a slip of his own tongue! "I..." Ferris glanced aside in the discomfort of indecision.

Which is, perhaps, how he failed to see or sense his fledgling ghost silently from his place. The neonate grinned to himself as he slipped between boulders, having well-timed the movement to his Sire's moment of inattention. Closer to the red-draped newcomer, there was a succulent ... heaviness to the air, a sense of... something. He didn't know. But it was manifestly delicious. The fledgling paused a bare moment, abruptly recalling being disciplined for attacking another vampire, at one time. Perhaps Sire *would* be unhappy if he just launched himself at this 'Raziel,' after all. How, then, was he to achieve what he wanted? Ah, but in the story, Kain had prevailed by intellect as much as might... yet there were no convenient fish-people here. What was he to do? Frowning in concentration, the fledgling crept closer.

There was the lamed one ... perhaps he would be better served by choosing the weaker prey? Yet the other's scent hung in the air, dark and potent, and the fledgling found himself unwilling to give up such a rare prize. He watched, hoping for an opening in which to leap--and then his eyes lit upon the bucket of water, carefully placed to one side of the makeshift forge. Sire had taught him the dangers of water long ago; perhaps if it were to tip, or to splash towards his prey ....

Raziel paid little heed to the fledgling's movements, his attention upon both Cyrus and Ferris, as well as gauging the mood of the other listening smith. Ferris' discomfort was clear, and Raziel was not inclined to let such discontent fester. Better to lance such a wound early on. "You do not seem to agree, Ferris," he said, keeping his voice cool and even, as if he were passing judgment. "Do you still revere Kain so much, then?"

Ferris choked. "No, my lord! Of course not." His voice hitched -- was that true? God had betrayed them... but did that make him any less a God? He shook his head. "But there is an instructive value in the...." in the tales as they were customarily told, he meant to say. This fledgling clearly had interest in the story; he'd even begun to employ more than single words, which was quite good for only a few months after raising, and... and.... where in Hades *was* his fledgling?

The end of a twisted stick, a weathered remnant of an ancient mountain juniper, emerged from between two boulders near the stern clanlord, scraping and bumping over the pebbles. It contacted the metal bucket with a hollow clank.

Raziel could hardly miss the sound--nor could anyone else. Yet the fledgling's gambit worked, if not precisely as he had hoped; the bucket tipped, shifting upon the rocky soil, then overturned, sending a miniature deluge of deadly water towards the elder vampires.

Dismayed, Ferris hissed a pungent curse as he leaped nimbly out of reach of the spreading pool. Cyrus attempted to do the same, only to stumble as his weakened leg turned upon the uneven ground. He fell heavily to one knee, stifling a cry of pain from behind clenched teeth as the water immediately seared what bare flesh it could find uncovered by armor or heavily oiled leather. Poised with singular focus upon his chosen prey, the fledgling tensed to leap--

--only to be flung into a nearby boulder, talons about his throat too fast to be seen. An abortive cry of fear and frustration was swiftly choked off as those talons squeezed in warning, razored edges cutting deep into new-made and unarmored skin. Had the fledgling been older, and wiser in the hunt, he would have realized his error in the first moment that Raziel did not flinch from the water. Now, however, he could only struggle feebly, dazed from the blow, oblivious to the deadly liquid which puddled harmlessly about the elder's feet.

The fledgling gasped soundlessly his distress, kicking against the boulder to which he was held pinned, oblivious also to the fact that Raziel's grip also held him safely above the puddle, soaking rapidly into the stony soil though it was. His mindcall was wordless, frantic. Instinctively, Ferris bounded to a closer boulder, hooves scraping upon stone, as if he would intercede... then froze, talons scoring the granite. Be still! he Whispered, as firm and cold as the iron he worked -- nearly enough so as to conceal his underlying thread of fear.

Muttering curses of his own, Ferris' fellow smith had abandoned his tools as water splashed over them -- including the rare magical powders -- damnation! He swiped his talons against his leather breeches, easing the sting of the acidic liquid, and picked his way from stone to dry stone to Cyrus. He gripped the injured vampire's shoulder and hauled him abruptly upright. Though Cyrus' hooves were relatively water resistant, the leather of his breeches had split at the knee, where it had worn thin, with the force of his fall, admitting some little water and then trapping it against the skin. Growling lowly with annoyance, the smith set to hauling Cyrus away from the wet ground and the violently steaming pile of ashes that been the makeshift forge.

The fledgling bared his teeth unhappily. Oww, he sent, broadcasting his hurt, which he was certain was nothing less than unlife-threatening. He would most certainly not attack the dark-feeling one again -- not without a weapon. Perhaps if he still had his stick...

Raziel growled, the low rumble vibrating off the stone and through the fledgling's bones in warning. His grip tightened slightly, and the fledgling's bright crimson blood began to trickle from underneath those implacable talons.

"Your fledgling, Ferris, is becoming tiresome," he growled without ever taking his gaze from the fledgling's pained and defiant expression. Despite his anger, Raziel did have to admit the creature was promising--to slip the watchful eye of a Sire not once, but thrice within such a short span of time bespoke an agile mind and the instincts of an able hunter, if not a particularly discriminate one. That the fledge had not only recalled the story told to him, but had learned enough to attempt some trickery of his own was even more impressive, especially given the creature's tender age.

Still, it was obvious that more lessoning was called for. Raziel had greater concerns than the welfare of one fledgling--if it continued to be a nuisance, Raziel would order its death.

Be still *now*! Something of Ferris' urgency must have communicated itself, for his progeny shivered and went -- albeit reluctantly -- limp, hands dropping away from where he'd clawed at Raziel's talons. He made effort only to swallow heavily, a very human reaction, and one ineffectual anyway under the force of Raziel's grip.

The reverberation of that rumbling growl seemed to take up residence within his bones, like the chill of a midwinter storm.

Ferris drew a slow breath. "...My Lord. My apologies. Upon your leave, I shall remove him for discipline immediately." Preferably to someplace the blue-skinned Ancients would not see and interfere -- though frankly, *anywhere* would do provided it got his spawn out from under his Clanlord's merciless talons. Raziel was far from short-tempered for vampirekind, but Ferris was painfully aware that his own offenses of late had been... disastrously frequent.

Good ... Raziel let a hint of approval out from underneath the anger at the younger vampire's submission, reaching out to touch the fledge's mind for the first time. Blood of his blood, it was not difficult--the elder vampire's approval and irritation spreading outward like the dark shadow of wings.

The fledgling felt very small under that shadow, not even daring to whimper.

"It seems your discipline has had little effect thus far," he remarked aloud to Ferris. "Should I conclude that your fledge is incapable ... or just recalcitrant?" The first was an almost-certain death sentence--the second less so, at least at this age. Raziel knew the unfairness of the question, but he waited to see what Ferris' answer would be; whether he could lay aside the single-minded concern of a Sire to evaluate the worth of his fledge honestly.

Ferris was a relatively experienced Sire -- with eleven progeny, no less than five of which yet survived. His spawn were generally well-adjusted, and tended to climb to elevated ranks themselves. Many vampires were far less interested in the young; even Ferris' own line-sire, Artemis, had bothered to raise scarcely a handful. But Raziel had sired over four hundred; was more than five hundred years the smith's senior. Ferris had none of his clan lord's long view of the world and the clan.

"He simply requires more attention than I assumed," Ferris answered quickly, carefully implying that the fault was his own. Which could very well be the case -- he simply needed to spend more time explicating the basic manners of the Razielim... via the tip of an eloquent whip. And he would chose different tales. Ones that would not result in his fledgling assaulting *Raziel,* little though that had come to; his Lord's resistance to water was no less spectacular now than it had been during combat with the Hylden. Kain's teeth -- did his progeny have naught but stones 'twixt his ears?

The mantle of blackness upon his mind kept the fledgling still and quiescent, at least, until the approval in it caught him by surprise. By degrees the fledgling relaxed further, and as Raziel's anger did not increase, the fledgling's terror gave way to furious thought. His throat itched as the skin reformed slowly under the edges of Raziel's talons. Also, he was still hungry. In the quiet afforded under the shadow of Raziel's aura, an idea emerged clearly from the confused morass of instinct.

Slyly, carefully, the fledgling returned the contact, sending as small and tenuous as a spiderweb in a sandstorm. But though wordless, the sending was clear enough. Raziel's approval was returned, coupled with exultant admiration, fascination, yearning, need.

Raziel's eyebrows rose as he registered the tremulous sending, the wordless whisper of desire and admiration. Underneath it, however, he could also taste the insistent beat of the fledgling's Hunger.

Raziel had been cozened enough over the centuries by vampires courting his favor to recognize the fledgling's transparent machinations for what they were. An older Razielim, released from his Sire, might have quickly found himself in Raziel's disfavor after attempting such deceits. But in this, he found himself inclined to be amused at the sudden switch in the fledge's tactics, clumsy as they were.

"Clever creature," he said aloud, addressing himself to the uncomprehending fledgling. He glanced sidelong at Ferris, knowing that the young vampire's Sire undoubtedly had picked up on the unpracticed Whisper as well. "Already beginning to understand that one's tactics must change with your enemy. However, I think there is still a lesson you must learn: that every petition comes with a price." Without relaxing his grip, he shifted the fledgling bodily downward, until sandaled feet touched a dry patch of ground outside the muddy remains of the puddle it had created. Raziel did not stop there, however, but increased the pressure of his grip, forcing the fledgling to his knees with easy, inexorable strength. Submit, came the dark Whisper, a heavy weight upon the fledgling's mind. Submit, and know that your blood, your life, belongs to me.

As his progeny offered up further evidence of his temerity, Ferris tensed, wincing. His claws scuffed flakes from the granite under him. But he did not move, nor murmur any protest, as his grandsire drove his fledgling to its knees with effortless strength.

The fledgling was a hand taller than Raziel, which fact aided his momentary struggle not at all. He stumbled a little, then fell heavily to his knees under the inexorable strength of the grip around his throat. The dark presence upon him was narcotic, hypnotic, as heavy as a mantle, so thick it clouded his vision. Were he hundreds of years older, he might have possessed the will and perhaps even the ability to resist that call to submission. But now, here, the idea never intruded upon his mind. Adrift in the blood-shot darkness, the fledgling responded to the cues offered by the talons on his skin, helplessly letting his head fall back as much as was allowed.

With a low rumble of approval, Raziel knelt, shifting his grip upon that bared throat. Bending his head, he bit down delicately, mindful of the fledgling's soft skin, still almost human in its fragility. Sharp fangs cut inward, and the fledgling keened low in his throat, flinching backwards before subsiding at the sound of Raziel's warning growl.

The fledgling's blood was thin, crimson-red and only slightly more potent than that of a human--hardly a feast. However it was not hunger that had spurred Raziel's action, and weak as it was, the fledgling's blood was kin to his own and to Kain's, the taste singular and comforting. Raziel drank deep, drawing away the fledge's life until its skin was ashen-pale and it slumped, strengthless, within his grip.

Lifting his head, Raziel found those golden eyes fixed avidly upon his face, the fledgling's expression one of atavistic hunger. He licked the blood from his lips, then, stripping one gauntlet from his wrist, proffered it to the young vampire. Obedience has its rewards; drink, and be made whole.

Ferris' nervousness did not in the least ease as Raziel bent, dropped to one knee, bit deeply. There was nothing he could do, save only attempt to keep his rising panic carefully concealed, lest it bleed over and disturb his submitting fledgling. That control was increasingly difficult as the link betwixt them grew attenuated, dimmer by the moment. It was within Raziel's rights to terminate unacceptable fledglings as he pleased, and while Ferris knew intellectually that was unlikely, the mere sight of a far more powerful elder bent over his progeny was enough to make his skin twitch. The granite under him made crackling noises as his claws carved flakes from the surface.

No hint of resistance now marked the fledgling's demeanor; as his skin grayed he only lifted a hand, settling his fingers on Raziel's claws where the elder still gripped his throat, as if for support. Those short-nailed fingers tightened with sudden, violent strength, though, as Raziel's other wrist was proffered.

Though clearly weak, the fledgling knew what to do with an upturned wrist. With the barest shadow of the bloodrage he would someday be capable of summoning, he lunged. Short, delicate fangs found the joint between armored plates and slid through.... into bliss, white-hot, incandescent.

As if he had taken a mouthful of coals, the fledgling gasped, choked, all without drawing his mouth from the seeping wound. The blood was thick as syrup, almost difficult to swallow, and the droplets that beaded the fledgling's lips were all but black. The vein itself seemed to be reforming around the fledgling's very fangs, requiring him to bite at the high-white flesh. The fledgling groaned, rapturous.

Raziel looked downward, to where the fledgling was gnawing upon his wrist, his expression cool and faintly amused. Remembering the first time he had done such, to an equally ravenous and far more determined Anani, and with far less composure. But then, that was the burden of being firstborn, no doubt--the necessity of proving one's worth.

The draw of blood from his veins was palpable as the fledgling drank. His body could well-supply the fledgling with blood to satiation and then some, Raziel knew--but that was hardly his intention. Such a reward was reserved only for the most deserving, and clever as this fledgling was, it had not earned such ... yet. Raziel reached outward, Whispering. Ferris. Attend me. He had few illusions that the fledgling would withdraw from his feast willingly, regardless of his Lord's command.

Ferris moved instantly, was at his fledgling's side in an eyeblink. His talons cupped the neonate's face and jaw. Ignoring the youngling's warning growl, he pressed, carefully forcing that voraciously feeding mouth open, disengaging the fangs, and dragging his fledgling back in a smoothly practiced motion. The neonate, predictably, turned on him in a fury. Ferris cleanly sidestepped, planted a hand at the center of his fledgling's back, and pinned him face-first against the same boulder Raziel had -- not a difficult maneuver, for the neonate for all his rage was yet trembling with hunger, disconcerted and half-drunk with the power that still crackled in his mouth.

Finding himself immobile, the fledgling struggled briefly and then set to licking his lips avidly. Ferris' gaze hesitated for a bare moment on the smear of black upon Raziel's wrist. The wound there was already gone, but the scent of even a little of that spilled vitae was maddening, even for an elder. Ferris bowed briefly, still keeping one hand on his fledge. "Thank you, my Lord," he said, offering the formality of which his fledgling was presently incapable.

Beside the still-steaming remnants of the forge, Cyrus sat quietly, breathing purposefully for focus, his talons were sunk deep into the rocky soil. The other smith had removed his breeches above the knee, cutting through the tough leather. He used a worn strip of cloak to sop away the water -- and the jellied skin, where the liquid had eaten it like acid.

Raziel lifted his wrist to his mouth, licking away the last remnants of the wound. The fledgling's bite had already vanished, the ivory skin flawless as Raziel rebuckled his gauntlet about his wrist, his brooding gaze upon both Ferris and his fledge. Pale as death, soft-skinned and five-fingered, the fledgling was horribly fragile compared to his elder kin. But that would change; the centuries would bring strength and speed, talons and magic. And then ... there would be other changes. Bestial, brutish ones, turning what had once been a Razielim elder into an unlovely, slavering ... *thing*.

Raziel did not know what nightmarish shapes the corruption would wreak upon his line; only that it would come.

Unless he could prevent it. Cleanse the taint from thousands of vampires, just as he had Kain. It seemed an impossible task, but ... His gaze moved to Cyrus, taking in the younger vampire's wounds, and his face hardened.

"We will all need to become more than we have been," he murmured, and moved over to where Cyrus was seated. The younger vampire looked up apprehensively as his clanlord approached.

"Cyrus. You will present yourself to me upon the morn, once we have made camp and your duties are complete," Raziel ordered, then turned away, saying nothing more.

Nothing in Cyrus could prevent his reflexive gasp as his lord's command sunk in. His shudder, of pain and the sudden onslaught of despair both, robbed him of the breath to speak for a moment. The acid-bright agony was fading, albeit so very gradually, as the skin began its slow healing creep over raw exposed muscle, but the recovery brought none of its usual satisfaction. For he knew what this meant. So too did Ferris' fellow smith, who attended him -- the vampire sat back on his heels, pausing in his ministrations.

Cyrus was old enough to have a fair estimate of his own injuries. Even accounting for these newest burns, he would be capable of walking by the time the clan moved again. He would be; he had to be. But he'd not fight again for... for some time. And if he could not move in battle, could not weave effortlessly through the fray, swift in the bladedance... of what use was he?

The vision of refusal tempted him for a moment, hanging before him like a mirage. Raziel would almost certainly enact the execution he intended here and now, before all. But it would be over quickly, and he'd be spared the pain of the long march ahead, all eyes upon his weakness...

And it would be the coward's path. Best preserve what little dignity he had left to him. He swallowed heavily.

"Yes, Master," said Cyrus.