Gabrielle saw David tense as he sat, his hand rubbing his forehead as if he were attempting to quell a headache. Aside for that momentary flicker of tension, he remained aloof. His right hand still rested within the folds of his robe.
"I was wondering how long you would hover on the balcony," he said with a touch of irritation. "As always, a flair for the dramatic entrance."
When a pointed silence was the only response, David sighed.
"Well don't hover at the window!" he barked. "Come on in and start all the nasty things you're hoping to do! We don't have all night!"
There was a flicker of pseudo motion from the balcony, and suddenly, Gabrielle was pinned against the far wall by the same slightly portly figure they had startled earlier.
Gabrielle struggled against the viselike grip around her throat.
"Arijani," She croaked. Then her eyes widened in surprise when she realized David had not moved. In fact, he had done nothing to interfere. He was watching the entire event with perfectly cold detachment.
Arijani also looked back with a malevolent grin. His expression faded to one of mild confusion when he realized that the other was not moving to attack.
David rolled his left hand forward and smiled a soft, cold smile.
"Go ahead, old friend," David said. "Finish it. And then you'll never know how it was done."
David rose with slow deliberation, gesturing to Gabrielle.
"Look at her, Arijani," he said with unnerving calm. "She hasn't aged a bit, has she? Still as young and beautiful as when I brought her before us all those years ago." He smiled and stretched out his arms.
"Now, look upon me," he continued. "I have walked in the sun for over a year! And I stand before you, unmarred. All because of her!"
He stepped to the small table and drained the last of the wine from the flagon, drinking it with relish.
Arijani looked from David to Gabrielle and back again.
"What spell has she cast upon you, my Lord?" He asked. "How could she do this thing?"
David smiled a she wracked his brain to remember the details of her tale. He took another drink of wine and then fixed is gaze on Gabrielle.
"Sleep," he said, raising a hand in her direction. "Now."
Gabrielle went limp, her eyes closing.
Arijani was stunned. His gaze bounced between the two of them in utter astonishment.
"She is a vassal," David said smoothly. "I do not understand all that has happened to return me to this existence, but at the same time, I know that it has. I stand before you, practically the same man you knew, after thirty years."
Arijani let go of Gabrielle's throat and watched her slide to the floor, unconscious.
"Arijani," David said. "Remember when I told you that our change from slave to free creatures was the next step in our evolution as blood drinkers?"
"I remember," Arijani replied uneasily.
"What do you think would be the next step, after our unlife?" David pressed. He stepped to the balcony and looked out at the night. The cup still clasped in his fingers. Then he turned back and smiled. "True immortality, my friend! Not just an existence spent hiding from the sun, but true, complete, total freedom and the endless span of ages to enjoy it!"
The complete disregard for his own apparent safety puzzled the ancient alchemist. At the same time, he was intensely curious. If this man was indeed Nickoli, and he had in fact returned to the land of the living in some way, then he wanted to know how.
Now that he was in the same room with the man, the familiarity of his speech and mannerisms began to toy with Arijani.
Curiosity and bloodlust vied for control. To his own amazement, curiosity won.
"You must tell me how it was done?" The vampire asked finally.
David smiled and looked back to the open balcony. He shrugged. "I don't know."
He returned his gaze to the sleeping monument before him, his eyes searching for the strange grayish aura that emanated from the old vampire. He could see nothing within sight, meaning that the old vampire was probably alone.
"I believe it has something to do with the mixing of my blood and hers," he finally said, gesturing to the motionless Gabrielle on the floor. "I forced her to drink, without taking her blood, in order to lure Xena into a trap. The result was quite amusing. It left her open to my influence, more so than was normal for one of us. I had complete control over her mind."
"And Xena?" Arijani asked.
"Dead," David said simply. "But not by my hand, unfortunately. She fled with Gabrielle and then vanished. I searched for over a generation to find her, but found nothing. Then, I began to hear rumors of the Warrior Princess again, in the Norse lands. I tracked her there and that was when I finally began to get close."
He turned back to Arijani and caught the subtle smile on Gabrielle's lips as she lay motionless.
"Why did you not come to find us, My Lord?" Arijani asked.
David shrugged. "It was as if I were drawn to her," he gestured to Gabrielle. "Something within my blood screamed for me to find her. I cannot explain it any plainer than that."
David set the cup on the small table and looked back at the vampire. He was completely taken into the story. His guard was down.
"Then, as the trail in the Norse lands grew cold, I heard tell that the two of them had gone to the land of Japa, but only one of them returned. Since I knew that Xena had become too soft hearted to place her young friend in danger, I assumed that the survivor was Gabrielle. I returned to Greece – Poditea to be precise, and I waited. Several weeks later, she returned." He held his hand up in a gesture of ownership towards the sleeping Gabrielle.
"You now see the results yourself," he finished. "I beheld her, and I fed upon her. The sensation was intoxicating beyond description, my friend." David sighed. "But I stayed out to long that night and was caught by the rays of the sun before I could reach shelter. Imagine my surprise when the burning sun did nothing to me but hurt my eyes. As you can see." He gestured to his face. "That was the only discomfort. I returned to Poditea and discovered that the young lady was still alive. For the first time, I beheld her in the light of day and realized that she had barely changed at all! It was as if the blood that I gave her had held back the passage of time! And then, to feed on that blood caused what you see here!"
Arijani's eyes were wide in amazement. "It's incredible."
David stepped up to the vampire, completely unafraid. He placed a hand on the alchemists shoulder.
"The amazing part is that she is mine to command, in all things." David smiled. "Half the time, I don't even have to speak - like now!"
David wrenched the vampires arm and flung him against the wall. At the same moment, Gabrielle rolled to her feet, scooping the sais up from the small table and let them fly. The blades punched through the vampires shoulders and impaled him to the wall.
He hissed and spat, but was unable to extricate himself.
David reached into his robes and drew out the bowie knife.
"You are not the Lord Nickoli!" The vampire spat in rage.
"No shit," David said simply. He swung the heavy bowie knife at the vampire's throat. The thick steel blade sliced the vampires head off. It bounced once and rolled into the corner, the eyes going dim.
Gabrielle looked in satisfaction at the head on the floor, and then gasped in horror as David pulled one sai from the wall and allowed the dead vampire's blood to drain into the empty flagon that had held their wine.
"What in Tartarus are you doing?" she gasped in revulsion.
"I have a plan," David said as the flagon filled nearly to the top. The body seemed to wither away as the blood drained from it, leaving only withered flesh on old bones, wrapped in fine robes.
Gabrielle watched in disgust as David sealed the top of the flagon with a large mass of candlewax.
"You have a plan?" Gabrielle repeated. "Do I want to hear this?"
"I have to try something first," David confessed. "If it works, then I'll tell you the whole plan. In the mean time, we need Utanhk!"
David stood near the thick sandstone wall and looked down at the manacles binding his wrists. Large chains ran from the manacles to mounts buried deep in the wall behind him. Torches flickered in the windowless cell. He looked down at the simple loincloth wrapped about his waist, suddenly feeling a bit self conscious.
Before being restrained, David had shaved most of his beard away so that he now wore a goatee just like Nickoli.
"This is your plan?" Gabrielle asked with considerable consternation.
Behind her, Utanhk stood near the thick wooden door, his eyes drifting from David to the dismembered corpse that his acolytes had brought in with the strangers. Then his eyes turned to the flagon of blood and the cup on the small table.
"This is my plan," David answered. He looked up at Gabrielle with nervous eyes. "So do you think this is crazier than the boat surfing idea?"
"David," Gabrielle said. "This goes well beyond crazy. This is insane! What happens if it works, and the change is permanent?"
"It won't be," David said simply.
"What if it is?" Gabrielle countered. "What then?"
"Remember what you told me?" David asked. "What did Imani tell you when she found you later? That Nickoli's blood would have lost its hold upon you in the first rays of the sun?" He thought for a moment. "That gives us about an hour to see if this works."
"She might have been lying, David!" Gabrielle said desperately. "She also told me that I should always hide a lie inside a truth, to make it more believable!"
"Yeah, well," David shrugged helplessly. "This will work."
"You don't know that for sure!" Gabrielle protested desperately.
David reached out and touched her cheek.
"Gabrielle," he said softly as he saw her eyes fill with tears. "Imani is out there, somewhere, right now. She'll never stop coming after us until she either gets what she wants, or is destroyed. If you can think of another option, I'm open to it?"
She thought desperately, but came up with nothing.
"If it turns out to be permanent," she said hoarsely. "I'm drinking it too, you understand?"
David smiled and shook his head.
"No!" Gabrielle hit him on the chest in frustration. "Remember what you said before? In for a penny, in for a pound?"
"I was hoping you wouldn't remember?" David smiled.
"Well I did!" Gabrielle shot back. "It goes two ways, David. All the way, or not at all, okay?"
David smiled and kissed her softly. "This will work."
He nodded to Utanhk who quickly unsealed the flagon and filled the cup with the thick black blood.
David took a deep breath.
"Onobis Illuminotis, Onobis Sentius, Omi Prevarius," he whispered.
"What?" Gabrielle asked.
David grinned his mischievous grin. "I am Light, I am Thought, I Prevail." He winked at her.
Utanhk handed the cup to David and guided Gabrielle a few steps away from him, beyond the reach of his bonds.
David closed his eyes and repeated the mantra quietly aloud for a few moments. Then he looked down at the cup and back up at Gabrielle.
"Oh, this is gonna suck," he said grimly. He raised the cup in salute. "Well, down the hatch."
He fought the natural gag reflex and forced himself to swallow the stuff. It was thick and viscous, with a heavy salty taste.
"I can't believe I'm doing this," he thought.
He forced his body to accept the stuff until the cup was empty and then he let the cup fall to the sandy floor.
For several long seconds, nothing happened
"Oh, man," He groaned. "That was nasty! This had better not be for –" His statement was cut off as he suddenly bent double and gasped in pain.
Gabrielle moved to assist, but Utanhk's strong arm restrained her.
"Wait," he said sternly.
David fell to his knees, doubled over and cried out in agony. His body seemed to be in a state of rebellion. As they watched, his convulsions increased in speed and violence until the thick chains in the wall rattled like the bells of the damned.
Finally, David collapsed onto all fours and stayed there, breathing hard. His fingers curling into the soft sand.
"David?" Gabrielle asked, pushing against Utanhk's arm.
"A moment, if you please?" David replied, but his voice sounded slightly different.
He got slowly to his feet and a soft laugh began to slip from his lips.
When he looked up at her, Gabrielle gasped in horror. The color was draining away from his flesh and the deep thoughtful brown of his eyes seemed to flow away, replaced by a fierce, unholy green.
He looked at her for a long moment and straightened. Then he smiled a perfectly frosty smile and nodded his shaggy head.
"Hello Gabrielle," he spoke in a soft, crisp accent. "It's been simply ages, hasn't it?"
Gabrielle felt her heart sink into a cold pit of terror. She remembered that voice. It was as if her nightmares from the past had suddenly been given form once again.
David looked down at the manacles binding his wrists and smiled. "You don't think these little trinkets will hold me, do you?" he asked in that maddeningly perfect baritone. "You're attempts at frivolity never cease to amaze me."
With a vicious thrust of his arm forward, the mount burst from its mooring. Then the second, and the thing was free.
"I always knew that I could count on you and Xena to fulfill our agreement," it said. "Though I hadn't counted on you actually finding one of my blood descendants for the final play. I thank you. It's truly a shame that your friend is not here to witness my resurrection. I think she would have found it most entertaining."
"Guards!" Utanhk called out as he pulled a stunned Gabrielle back toward the door.
At that, the creature held up his hands.
"Wait a second!" he said quickly. "I had to be certain it was convincing! It's me! Really! I swear to Christ!"
Gabrielle pulled herself free from Utanhk's grasp and stepped up before him, her expression a mixture of hurt and pure rage.
"You bastard!" she said and her hand shot up to slap him.
David deflected the blow easily.
"Baby," he said sincerely. "I'm sorry! I'm really, really sorry! But I had to be sure that this was convincing, and after everything you told me about Nickoli. He's the kind of heartless son of a bitch who would have said something like that! I didn't mean it! You know I didn't! If I could convince you, then I have a chance at convincing them!"
Her gaze remained hard as she looked at him. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, it softened just a bit.
"Never, ever use Xena's memory like that again," she said in a voice like ice. "Ever, you understand?"
David held his hands up in surrender. "Completely! Completely understand!"
Suddenly his eyes went wide in surprise.
"Get out of here!" he said quickly, backing a pace away. "Get out and lock the door! Now!"
Even as he spoke, his eyes began to change from pale green to bloodthirsty red, and the eye teeth began to elongate.
Utanhk needed no further urging. He grabbed Gabrielle and shoved her bodily out the door, slamming it behind them and bolting it closed.
"How long before sunrise?" Gabrielle asked quickly as she stood at the small window and watched the internal struggle renew itself.
"The sky should already be paling with dawn," Utanhk replied nervously. "What's happening to him?"
Gabrielle shook her head helplessly. "I don't know!"
David was in the corner, on his knees. His voice sounded low and demonic. Gabrielle suddenly realized he was chanting.
"Onobis Illuminotis, Onobis Sentius, Omi Prevarius, Onobis Illuminotis, Onobis Sentius, Omi Prevarius," said over and over, his body rocking back and forth as he fought this new internal struggle.
Gabrielle found her own voice adding to his in that chant as she reached out to him with her whole soul.
Finally, the deep growl faded to nothing more than small bits of half whispered words as he slowed his rocking and forced the animalistic hunger back down.
"Stay with me, David," Gabrielle begged from the door. "Please?"
David's blood red eyes snapped up at her, and as she watched, they began to fade. The fangs retracted and he slowly ceased moving. His eyes bored into hers, locking his own soul into her gaze.
The fierce inhuman green reasserted itself and he fell back, sitting against the hard stone wall.
"Screw me gently with a chainsaw," he said in a weak voice.
Ignoring the possible threat to herself, Gabrielle slid the bolt free and opened the door. She knelt before him and touched his hand. The flesh was cold under her fingers.
"What was that?" she asked timidly.
"Bloodlust, I think," David replied, leaning his head back against the stone. "I wasn't ready for that little bit."
"What was it like?" Gabrielle asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.
"I wanted you," David smiled. "Which is not a new sensation for me. Heck, I live with that all the time."
Gabrielle smiled softly.
"But this time," David continued. "I wanted you in a way that was wrong! I wanted all of you! The desire was unbelievable! It blew me away! Then the feeding instinct took hold, and all the desire I have for you, usually, was tied to it! If our friend, Tank, there, hadn't gotten you out of here as fast as he did, I might have – " He stopped. "Well, it wouldn't have been like last night, if you know what I mean?"
Gabrielle touched his cheek and then kissed him softly.
David looked at her with those unnatural eyes and smiled. "You took a chance running in here after. I might have been faking it?"
"With a line like, 'screw me gently with a chainsaw'?" Gabrielle smiled. "Only you would say something like that."
David smiled wearily, and in that smile there was no longer any doubt in Gabrielle's mind.
"So much for part one," David groaned. "Is it time for part two yet?"
"Just about," Gabrielle nodded. "Rest for a minute first."
An hour later, they stood within the shade of the western arch, watching as the shadows stretched out from the temple and ended half way across the courtyard.
David blinked at the brightness of the sunlight. Even in the comparitive darkness of the temple entrance, the nearby sunlight burned his eyes and nearly blinded him.
"I sure hope this works," he muttered.
He looked back at Gabrielle. "Ready?"
Gabrielle smiled in spite of her angst. "Me?"
A grim smile touched David's lips and then he faced the growing light beyond the temple entrance. He took a few moments, psyching himself up for what he knew must follow, his entire body tensing in fearful anticipation. With several deep breaths, like a diver preparing to submerge, he bolted into the courtyard. He did not stop running until he crossed the line of shadow into the brilliance of the sunlight.
Pain! A million needles of fire poured through his veins in the brilliance of that light. His eyes were struck momentarily blind by the sensation. He raised his arm to ward off the glare and stumbled on, feeling the pressure and heat building within his body. He stumbled to one knee and then forced himself back to his feet, willing his body to move. It felt as if he were being immolated from the inside out. His lungs, heart, and every muscle in his body burned beneath his skin. He passed the outer entrance and made for the dock.
Gabrielle watched as pale smoke began to rise from David's flesh. Dread built in her heart.
"Something's wrong!" she gasped, and she ran after him, driven by a panic she could never remember feeling before.
She saw him ahead, a smoking mass in the shape of a man, half stumbling, half running towards the river.
She was almost to him when, with a cry of agony, he flung his smoking body into the waters of the Nile.
Gabrielle skidded to a stop at the edge of the dock, just behind their boat. She searched the rippling water desperately. All she saw were along string of bubbles from the place where David had vanished. Then a thick, dark cloud of some other liquid could be seen for an instant, before it dissolved in a heat so ferocious that it caused the surrounding waters to boil.
The water went still.
"David?" Gabrielle called desperately. "David!"
In an explosive fount of water, David burst from the depths, air screaming into his lungs. He clawed his way to the bank, his flesh still steaming in the bright sun.
Gabrielle half hauled him up out of the water and he lay there, gasping, naked in the bright sun. The simple cloth had burned away in the conflagration.
David rolled over and gagged a few more times. The substance that came from him sizzled and burned away almost before it touched the stone.
Gabrielle thought he was gasping in pain, until she realized that the sound she was hearing was hoarse laughter, augmented by agony.
"Oh, shit!" he rasped. "It worked! It really worked!" He rolled onto his back and stretched out in the sunlight, still laughing as the last vestiges of his pain burned themselves out. "It actually freakin worked!"
"Just be still," Gabrielle said nervously. She laid his robe over his body and then held his head in her lap. She was crying in relief. "Just be still."
"Gabrielle," David started.
"Don't say anything!" Gabrielle cut him off. "Just shut up!"
David's hand reached up and wiped a tear from her cheek. He said nothing. He only smiled triumphantly and closed his eyes.
Gabrielle looked down at him, her emotions running the gambit between rage, to fear, to relief. Finally she sighed in exasperation.
"Just answer one question," she asked, looking down at him.
His deep brown eyes opened and he stared up at her. "What?"
"What in Tartarus is a chainsaw?"
The laughter started as a soft chuckle and grew. The sound was infectious and despite the tumult of emotions, the laughter also burst out of Gabrielle. She punched him in the chest gently and then bowed over him, holding him tightly.
David was on his third plate of food, back in their suite. He ate so ravenously that it seemed he never took a breath. Utanhk and Gabrielle watched him for a while.
"You eat like a starving man," Utanhk finally said.
"I know," David replied. "I don't know why. I guess playing dead can do that to you?"
"Are there any other side effects?" Gabrielle asked.
David looked up at her and smiled. "Aside from still wanting you?" he grinned.
Utanhk cleared his throat loudly.
Gabrielle also smiled. "Yes, besides that."
David considered for a moment and shook his head.
"I'm a little sore, from the sun thing," he said. "If I'm close to the river when the sun comes up next time, I don't think it will be as bad." Then he straightened and smiled. "Oh, there is one other thing. My back and shoulder aren't sore any more?"
Gabrielle stepped behind him and inspected the bruises on his back. Her eyes went wide in astonishment when she discovered that they were completely gone.
"It's like the transformation healed you?" she marveled.
Utanhk straightened. "So the blood of these creatures has healing properties as well?"
"I wouldn't go calling the A.M.A. just yet, buddy," David said quickly. "You saw what the morning sun did to me. I think this is one of those situations where the cure might be worse than the disease?"
"Still," The High Priest continued, his eyes glinting thoughtfully. "There is great power in the blood of these beings?"
"If you want to call it that," David nodded. Then he resumed eating.
Utanhk watched David for a while longer and then excused himself. As the priest left, David saw the expression on his face.
"Uh, oh," he said quietly. "I think the wheels are turning inside that bald head of his?"
"One thing at a time," Gabrielle folded her arms across her chest. "We can worry about Utanhk and his Ritual later. Right now, I'm worried about you?"
David got to his feet, still feeling a bit stiff.
"Honey, I'm fine," he said. "I'm better than fine. I feel great. Just a touch of sunburn, that's all."
"Sunburn, huh?" Gabrielle's eyebrow rose.
"Well, yeah," David nodded. "I was in the sun and I got burned."
He paused suddenly and Gabrielle saw that slightly seductive light in his eyes.
"Oh, and one other little side effect," he said, placing his hands on her shoulders. "I still want you."
Gabrielle smiled and nestled into his embrace. "I married a madman," she sighed.
David held her and smiled. "You'd have been bored with anyone else by now."
As he held her, his mind drifted back to a cold October night, hundreds of years in the future, when she stood on an empty country road, proud and defiant, staring right through him. He smiled and kissed the top of her head.
"So," Gabrielle said, looking up at him. "Now that we know it works. What's your plan?"
David sat back down at the table and munched a date thoughtfully. "We give Imani what she wants."
"Just two problems," Gabrielle replied. "First, we don't know what she wants. Second, we don't know where to find her?"
"Gabrielle," David replied. "We're at Giza, the biggest cemetery in the world. She would have wanted to stay close, so pick a hole?"
"You think she would have stayed by the pyramids?" Gabrielle asked.
"Why not?" David replied. "Can you think of a better place?"
"What?' Gabrielle asked. "So we just start digging into tombs all around Giza and hope we find the right one?"
"No," David shook his head. "I find an unfinished tomb, jump in and have a little drink before sundown, and then I go and hang out. If they're sleeping there, they'll find me. Or, more to the point, we'll find each other?" He gestured towards her with his hand, seeking approval.
"And what exactly will I be doing while you have all the fun?" Gabrielle asked, her hands planted on her hips.
"Ah, well," David said uneasily as he rubbed the back of his head. "I hadn't really thought that far into it, you know what I mean?"
"Mm hmm?" Gabriele fixed him with a dark stare. "You were planning on doing this by yourself again, weren't you?"
"No!" David protested. "I wasn't! I really wasn't!"
She stalked up before him and jabbed him hard in the chest with her finger. "You promised!" She backed him into the corner. "We agreed! No more going at it solo, and now there you go, jumping right into the fire again! Literally!"
David felt his back against the wall. He held up his hands in surrender and he began to laugh.
"I wasn't leaving you out of it!" He continued. "I swear on my mother's life I wasn't!"
"You were going to leave me here, high and dry!" Gabrielle growled.
"You know?" David said, his face splitting with his smile. "You're kind of cute when you get all riled up! You really are!"
The facade broke, and Gabrielle failed to completely choke back her own laughter.
"I really hate you sometimes," She said.
David wrapped his arms around her. "I love you too."
She looked up at him with a sudden earnest. "I won't be on the sidelines this time!" she said. Her fierce eyes bored into his.
"I know," David nodded. "Just hang back in the wings and come charging in to back me up if this goes south, fair enough?"
"I was hoping for something more positive," Gabrielle sighed.
"Believe me," David replied. "I'm not going to be doing this by myself. I'm definitely going to need you on this one."
"This one?" Gabrielle retorted.
"Will you stop that?" David shot back, still smiling. "You know what I mean!"
She smiled and touched his cheek. "Just making sure. That way I won't have to do this!"
In a flash she had wrapped his arm and flipped him over. He landed on the bed with a grunt and laughed. Before he could move, she was on him, looking down at him with that same determined ferocity.
"You realize," David said seriously. "I consider this foreplay, and you're starting."
Her fierce gaze lessened a bit, replaced by something softer and far more seductive. She smiled and lowered herself to him.
The two of them entered the subterranean cell two hours before sundown.
David tossed the empty water skin that he had acquired and went to examine the body of the dead alchemist. The remains were nothing more than dried bones and moldering cloth now, as if time were catching up with it now that the unnatural essence of unlife were gone.
"David?" Gabrielle asked as she lifted the flagon containing the unholy contents. "How much of that stuff did you drink last night?"
"Just that small cup," David replied, frowning. "Why?"
Gabrielle shook the sealed container experimentally. "Because this feels light."
David stepped over and held the flagon. His gaze went dark.
"I think I'll have a word with our friend," he growled.
Gabrielle watched him leave and quickly filled the small water skin. She sealed it and placed it in a box to shelter it from the sun before looking back at the open door. Then she drew from her waist a second water skin.
David stalked down the main hall towards the double doors of the inner sanctum. He had forgone the robes that had been given to him by Utanhk, favoring his regular clothing. Jeans, boots, a tee shirt, vest and his long dark duster. The latter flapped behind him as he walked, like a pair of ghostly wings.
Several adjutants saw him as he approached, but they did nothing to hinder him when they saw the look in his eyes.
There was a simple rule of temple. "Thou shall not hinder the comings and goings of a priest." It was well known among the staff in that temple that the stranger was a priest. A powerful one if Utanhk's words were to be believed.
David didn't even bother to knock. He pulled the doors open and stormed into the inner sanctum, his mind afire with anger and betrayal.
The sanctum was a vast, shadowy hall, dominated by a massive, twenty foot tall statue of the God of the Dead. A single figure could be seen, kneeling in the torchlight.
"Tank!" David said angrily. "We need to have a chat!"
The priest seemed not hear him. He finished whatever incantation he had been reciting before he slowly rose and turned. His dark eyes locking on David's with equal intensity.
"To enter the sanctuary of my God carries the penalty of death, Honored Guest." He growled.
"Funny," David replied. "So does a betrayal of trust, in my book."
The two men faced each other in silence for a few moments, neither on of them wavering.
Finally, Utanhk sighed. "I suppose there is a reason for this intrusion?"
"Where is it?" David asked.
"Where is what?" Utanhk asked in return.
"The blood, Utanhk!" David bellowed. "Half of that flagon of vampire blood! Where is it?"
"I do not know what you are talking about?" Utanhk replied steadily. "All that remains is down in that cell!"
"Bullshit!" David snapped. "We only used one little cup for last night! Now, half the stash is gone! It didn't just get up and walk away!"
Utanhk said nothing. He held David's gaze without flinching.
David's eyebrows rose. "Or maybe, some of it did?" David said with an air of menace.
"I will excuse your accusation, considering what you are planning tonight!" Utanhk said slowly. "I can only assume you are feeling the stress of what is to come!"
David was nose to nose with the priest in one swift step, his eyes blazing.
His finger rose to point at Utanhk, trembling with rage.
"You," he said in a voice that grated like stone. "Don't want to fuck with me!"
"Need I remind you," Utanhk said in a quite rasp. "That you are a guest in this temple! If you have an accusation to place, then do so! But understand this, if your accusation is proven false, I will expel you from this place and leave you to the mercy of the desert! You and your wife!"
David's expression twitched into a savage grin, just for a moment. "Threaten me, play with me, fuck with me all you want!" He said. "But don't ever, ever, threaten the woman I love! The last one that did, I drove insane and left in a place that would make the Eater of Souls seem like a French Poodle! Dig?"
David backed two steps away. "You and I will settle up later. I've got shit to do." He held a finger up in his direction, a gesture of warning, or perhaps of things to come before turning and stalking out the open doors.
Several adjutants stood in the doorway, watching the confrontation.
"Out of my way!" David bellowed. The echoes bounced between the stone pillars like a roll of thunder, sending the onlookers scattering like frightened sheep.
Gabrielle met him in the stairwell heading up towards the exit.
"I heard the bellow," she commented. "I take it things didn't go well?"
"That bald headed son of a bitch has it!" David hissed. "I know it!"
"Maybe he does," Gabrielle shrugged. "There's nothing we can do about it at the moment, right?"
David took a deep breath forcing his temper back in check. It took several more similar breaths before he regained his composure.
Gabrielle watched him for a moment and a knowing look appeared.
"He threatened me, didn't he?" She nodded, smiling.
"What do you mean?" David replied quickly.
Gabrielle smiled. "The only time I've seen you this worked up was when you came after me at Mogador."
David's expression didn't change. Then he smiled and a soft laugh burst from him.
"Okay, okay," He admitted. "He made a few off remarks."
Gabrielle handed him the water skin. "Ready?"
David took the box and slipped it into the oversize pocket within is coat.
"You come up with anything for your end?" he asked.
Gabrielle smiled in a way that made David nervous.
"I have a few ideas," she said vaguely. "Don't worry. I'll be there when you need me."
"Okay," David said, leading the way. "One more time, tell me everything you can about our good friend Nickoli."
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