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Legacy of Kain: Blood Brothers

Legacy of Kain: Blood Brothers

By Andreas Leachim

Shakespir Edition

Copyright 2017 Andreas Leachim

Cover art and design by Andreas Leachim

This is a work of fan fiction based on the Legacy of Kain video game series. All characters and names and related trademarks are the property of Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix. The author of this work receives no financial compensation from it and does not seek to infringe upon the owner’s copyrights in any way.

Chapter 1

After the Fall

 

“Cast him in.”

That was all Kain said, and with that cryptic command, Dumah and Turel hurled their brother Raziel off the precipice and into the churning whirlpool below. With an almost perverse fascination, they watched as Raziel fell, spinning in the air, flailing his arms, the dreadful sound of his inhuman scream following him down into eternity. Dumah’s blue eyes glittered when Raziel struck the water and was sucked below the swirling waves, cutting off his agonized scream as if with a knife blade. Turel looked at his hands and cast his other brothers a meaningful, worried glance behind Kain’s back.

Melchiah and Zephon, standing a few paces away, said and did nothing. Rahab, his eyes shining with malevolence, greedily rubbed his hands together as if to warm them. The wind whipped their capes around them, but the cold air did not chill their undead skin. Melchiah merely closed his eyes and tilted his head down.

Kain stared down into the Abyss, his expression unreadable. Apparently satisfied, he looked at the five remaining brothers, his five lieutenants, and only Turel returned his gaze. Was there a little bit of pleasure in Kain’s stare? Or maybe a warning?

“Let us go,” Kain said, and strode off back in the direction they had come, off the central mesa in the center of the Lake of the Dead, and across the wooden bridge to the mainland heading to the Sanctuary of the Clans.

Dumah, casting a dismissive glance at his brothers, flexed his muscular arms and followed Kain, and Rahab followed a few steps after him. Zephon rubbed his chin and stepped to the edge, looking down into the water like a curious scientist. He kicked a pebble loose and it plunged in after Raziel.

When Kain was safely out of earshot, Zephon patted Melchiah on the shoulder and smiled menacingly. “Well, I’m certainly glad it wasn’t me.”

“You would be,” Turel muttered.

“Yes,” Zephon admitted with a shrug. “I suppose that’s so.” And then he walked after the others, taking his time to enjoy the scenery.

“I wish it had been him,” Turel said, stepping to the precipice himself. He crossed his arms over his chest and gazed down into the whirlpool, the wind moving his long brown hair around his face. The waters looked different now, even though he’d looked down into their endlessly circling depths hundreds of times at dozens of executions. The fact that one of his blood was now doomed there made the scene noticeably more important. And frightening.

Turel was the third born, after Raziel and Dumah, and perhaps of all the vampire brothers, he was the only one who might have been able to claim Raziel as a friend instead of just a rival. Despite this, when Kain ordered him to throw Raziel into the Abyss, he did not hesitate. Kain was his Master, and he prided himself on always performing his duty and following orders. But still, executing his own brother nagged at him like a bothersome insect.

Perhaps he felt a guilty sense of satisfaction from Raziel’s death. While never openly bragging or claiming to be superior, Raziel still behaved arrogantly enough to make his brothers hate him the way those without power hate those with. They may have been brothers, but they were far from equals.

As far as the brothers were concerned, executing Raziel had two justifications. First and foremost, to destroy a powerful rival and perhaps place themselves higher in Kain’s esteem. And second, to punish him for his arrogance and vanity. Turel supposed it was ironic that when Raziel first appeared with a pair of beautiful translucent wings, the first emotions he felt were jealousy and envy. Raziel was the first-born, the best warrior, and probably Kain’s favorite, so why had evolution granted him another advantage? Why was one of the others not given such a gift to parade in front of their Master?

The irony, of course, was that the wings were no gift. None of the brothers had expected Kain to react as he did – tearing the wings right off Raziel’s back and condeming him to a watery grave – but over the years it was becoming increasingly apparent that they could not anticipate anything that their Master did anymore. Being granted wings was just Raziel’s bad luck. They were Raziel’s gift, let him suffer the consequences of their existence.

“I agree with Zephon,” Melchiah said suddenly.

Turel turned to look at him. “Is that so?”

Melchiah did not make eye contact. He rarely did. “Yes. I’m glad that it wasn’t me. Had it been, I don’t think you would mourn to this extent.”

“Is that what I’m doing? Mourning?”

Melchiah glanced up momentarily. “What would you call it?”

“I’m just thinking. Wondering why Kain did what he did.”

“Why does he ever do what he does? If it bothers you so much, perhaps you should have refused to carry out his orders.” Without another word, Melchiah sighed and plodded off after the others, leaving Turel alone at the edge of the cliff.

Turel did not claim to be an intellectual, but he was no fool. Something important had just occurred, far more important than just Raziel’s sudden execution. Kain’s reaction had been too fast, too unexpected, too extreme. Turel might have expected Kain to be angry, maybe even violently so, but to throw Raziel into the Lake of the Dead? Even that seemed a bit too harsh a penalty for something Raziel surely could not have controlled. Clearly, something more significant than just an evolutionary spurt had just taken place.

With those thoughts in mind, Turel made his way back to the Sanctuary of the Clans. It was a brisk ten minute walk across the bridge, through a cavern, and down the deep valley leading south. The sky was a glorious shade of grayish-purple, the sun effectively blocked by thick clouds. Drops of blood marked the ground here and there, spilled from Raziel’s ruined wings when he was dragged to the Lake only minutes before.

When Turel arrived back at the Sanctuary, he made his way directly to the Pillars, and found himself intruding on the heated argument already in progress.

“My Lord,” Dumah said supplicatingly, “Please, let me assist you. You don’t have to do this by yourself.”

“I’ll do it myself,” Kain said, clenching his teeth as he spoke. “You threw him in. I’ll take care of the rest.”

Dumah would not be shrugged off, though. “I can help you,” he insisted, coming forward with his palms spread out, looking like a giant black bear trying to imitate a gentle posture. “Just give the word, my Lord.”

Kain sliced his hand through the air, cutting Dumah off. “You will stay here, and that is my order. I must do this alone. No one may help me.”

Turel edged toward Zephon, who stood in the corner, watching the proceedings interestedly, his darting brown eyes almost glowing with the tension and pressure flowing through the room. He thrived on such court intrigues and violent arguments, especially those with Kain in the center. Being dependent on such things for entertainment made Zephon a reliable source of gossip and interesting secrets.

“What’s going on?” Turel whispered.

Zephon rubbed his thin hands together. “Kain’s going to take care of Raziel’s entire clan as well, and Dumah wants to help him.”

“What?”

Zephon’s smile grew wide and thin, like a cut across his face. “He’s going to kill the lot of them.”

Turel looked up at Kain, who stared right back at him. Both he and Dumah were actually taller than Kain in a strictly physical sense, but getting a dark look from Kain could make either of them seem inches tall. Kain strode over to Turel, his arms swinging with the steps like miniature pendulums. Zephon panicked and backed away, not wanting to get caught in the middle.

“Yes,” Kain announced loudly. “I’m going to kill the traitor Raziel’s entire clan. Do you not agree with this decision?”

“We serve at your command,” Turel replied mildly. “It doesn’t matter if I agree or not.”

Kain lunged forward and struck Turel in the chest with the side of his hand, knocking him backward. He staggered and nearly fell over, gasping for breath and grimacing in pain as if his ribs had been shattered by the blow.

“That’s right,” Kain snarled, “it doesn’t matter what your feeble attempt at an opinion is. Now get out of my sight before you join your late brother.”

Turel gathered some pride and marched out of the room, all eyes following him out the door and down the hall. Kain turned back to Dumah and pointed a finger. “And you. Do as I say, and let me take care of the Razelim alone. Stay out of it.”

Dumah, not willing to antagonize his Master any more than necessary, backed away respectfully and averted his gaze. “Yes, my Lord.”

Kain reached behind him and drew his curved black blade, the weapons known as the Soul Reaver. The hollow sound of metal scraping on metal, as the blade slid free of its sheath, echoed uncomfortably in the circular room. Kain lowered the sword until the tip rested on the hard floor. “Good,” he said, his voice grumbling, and headed out of the room, the blade scraping after him, scratching the floor.

Rahab appeared from behind one of the pillars and ran up to Dumah, watching intently as Kain marched down the hall. When he turned a corner and was out of sight, Rahab stifled a laugh, covering his mouth. Rahab, although the physically smallest of all the brothers, was not the weakest nor the least popular. He had one important ally in Dumah, who towered above him. Rahab was Dumah’s “little” brother in several senses of the word.

“For a moment there,” Rahab said, “I thought I might lose two brothers today.”

“It would have been no loss,” Dumah grunted. “Turel is nothing but a spineless coward. He’s eager to stay in Kain’s good graces, but has the nerve to act as if he possesses the moral high ground. If Kain doesn’t strike him down one of these days, I might be tempted to do it myself.”

From the other side of the room, Zephon snickered. “I’d like to see you try it, brother. It would surely be a good show.”

“Silence yourself or you’ll be next,” Dumah warned.

“Surely, surely. With Raziel gone, I suppose that makes you second-in-command among us, eh? Subordinate only to Kain now, aren’t you?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

Zephon smiled and took a few steps forward. “I guess it’s no surprise then, that you shed no tears for our late brother.”

Dumah straightened his shoulders and clenched his large fists, what passed for a nervous twitch on his large frame. “He was a fool. He deserved exactly what he got. So will you, if you aren’t careful.”

“Oh, I’m always careful,” Zephon said, making his way to the door. “I’m the most careful one of all.”

“The most cowardly, you mean,” Rahab sneered, but Zephon was already out the door and gone.

Dumah cracked his knuckles. “Kain should have stopped with you, Rahab. Zephon and Melchiah are both wastes of vampire flesh. They should never have been created.”

“Better them than troublemakers like Turel.”

“Yes, you have a point there.”

“Do you think he’s going to try something?”

“You mean Turel? Even he’s not stupid enough to try something against Lord Kain. It would be suicide.”

“Might be fun to watch, though.” And Rahab laughed again, a high-pitched, nervous sound, like the chittering of a squirrel.

 

***

 

“Lord Zephon, there’s a visitor here to see you.”

Zephon closed the book he had been reading and leaned back in his thick wooden chair. The fledgling at the door backed away and pulled it open wide. Melchiah, still clad in his ornamental armor with yellow sash, entered the room. The door closed after him.

“Have a seat, brother,” Zephon said, gesturing toward one of the other chairs in his cramped library and study. The smell of incense and candle wax was thick in the air due to the poor ventilation.

Melchiah shook his head. “No, I’m not going to stay very long.”

Zephon shrugged and returned to his book. “What’s on your mind?”

“You’ve heard what Kain has done?”

“Of course I heard. I was there when he announced it.”

“How do you feel about it?”

“Feel?” Zephon closed the book again and this time set it aside. “How do I feel about it?”

Melchiah’s expression did not change, it never did. He had a perpetual look of sorrow and indifference to him that irritated the rest of the brothers. “What? Are you not capable of feeling?”

“Capable, yes. I just choose not to.”

“You don’t care that Kain single-handedly wiped out the entire Razelim clan?”

“I could do nothing to stop it.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

Zephon shook his head and leaned back in his chair, setting his feet up on the top of the worn, stained desk. Dressed in a casual red robe open at the front, a sly smile always curving his lips, he was the epitome of relaxation and amusement. He and Melchiah in a room together were like polar opposites personified. Melchiah was broad and awkward in his skin, with a morose face and short black hair that laid upon his head like dead grass. Zephon’s own body was thin and wiry, and his narrow, aquiline face was outlined in a flurry of light blond hair that he normally tied behind his head.

“I don’t feel anything about it,” Zephon answered after some thought. “What would you expect? Sadness? Regret?”

“Fear,” Melchiah said.

“They were Raziel’s children, not my own.”

“Raziel was his favorite, his first born. If he can annihilate the lot of them, what should stop him from doing it to us as well?”

“Common sense, hopefully, if nothing else. There’s no reason to kill the rest of us, even if he wanted to. We didn’t grow any damned wings.”

Melchiah’s eyes were like spheres of onyx. “Not yet, at any rate.”

Zephon’s smile melted off his face as he realized what Melchiah was getting at. After all, their evolution did usually follow a pattern. Raziel might have been the first to grow wings, but would he be the only one?

“I see your point,” Zephon whispered, putting his feet back on the floor. “Do you truly think we should be concerned?”

“Why do you care what I think? I’m just the runt of the family.”

“Perhaps that’s why you thought of this when no one else did. You’re accustomed to being spat on by destiny.”

“You have such a way with words, brother.”

Zephon rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I’ll think about this and let you know what I come up with. Is that acceptable?”

“More than acceptable,” Melchiah said, and turned toward the door.

“Oh, and Melchiah?”

“Yes?”

Zephon smiled at him and then casually rubbed the side of his own face. Melchiah lifted a gloved hand and did the same, and a thin chunk of flesh fell away from his cheek, exposing deterioration beneath. Melchiah rubbed his fingers together, crushing the decayed bit of skin. “Yes, this one is nearly dried out,” he said quietly, and left the room, closing the door once more behind him.

Zephon didn’t go back to his book right away. He watched the closed door for a few more moments as if expecting Melchiah to come back inside. When he did return his attention to the desktop, he saw a small spider skittering across the surface. Gingerly, he swept it up in his hand and lowered it to the floor.

 

***

 

A thick wooden staff was like a toothpick in Dumah’s hands. He easily blocked off two thrusts from his opponent, the sound of the staves striking each other reverberating up and down the long hall, and swung his staff up, slamming his opponent right across the chin. He flew into the air and crashed to the dirt, his staff clattering away like a dropped toy.

Dumah laughed heartily and broke his own staff over his knee, tossing the pieces aside like kindling. His opponent, a member of his clan named Arkos, slowly got to his feet, both hands on his jaw. Blood seeped from between his lips.

There was a smattering of applause from some of the other clan members standing around to watch the fights. Dumah held combat demonstrations on a regular basis in his clan hall. Originally, he handed out rewards to the winning fighters, until it became apparent that he could easily collect the rewards himself if he chose. No one had yet bested him in physical combat.

“Does anyone else want to try me?” he asked, although it was more than just a request.

A female servant came up to Arkos, who was gently holding his mouth, wiping away the oozing blood. Dumah smiled at him, his teeth like silver daggers. “What’s the matter, Arkos? Was I too good for you that time? Maybe if you practiced more often, it wouldn’t be so easy for me to drop you.”

“My Lord Dumah,” the servant said softly, “You’ve shattered his jaw.”

Dumah put his hands on his hips and laughed. “Yes, well it will heal in time. It’s not as if he talks that much to begin with. Isn’t that right, Arkos?”

Arkos nodded curtly, trying not to betray the excruciating pain in his face. He left the hall, followed by the servant. Dumah walked over to the weapon rack and pulled out a battered wooden sword. He was ready to fight again, and that meant someone had to choose to get beaten.

“Come on,” he said impatiently. “Someone grab a sword and face me.”

However, this time none of the clan members stepped forward. They had been brutalized by Dumah enough times to know better than to volunteer for what was sure to be another one-sided beating. Dumah was just too strong and too large for anyone to be a challenge for him. He usually won the combats in a minute or two without getting scratched, while his defeated opponents went away battered and wounded, like Arkos just a few moments before. Sometimes, if Dumah was in a particularly active mood, his opponents were beaten unconscious and had to be carried away. It was just a matter of time, they decided, before he wound up killing one of them.

Dumah’s grim smile faded when no one volunteered. He gritted his teeth and tapped the edge of the blade on the ground. “Is no one here loyal enough to face their Lord? Are you all cowards?”

Still, none came forward. The entire crowd of vampires looked away and tried to appear invisible. “If one of you does not take up a sword and practice combat with me, I will choose one of you. And if I must do that, I will not go easy on them.” It was an empty threat, since everyone knew that Dumah never went easy on anyone he faced.

Surprisingly, a voice called out from the far end of the hall.

“I’ll face you, Dumah.”

The sadistic grin returned to Dumah’s face as his brother Turel walked forward, his bright green sash rhythmically swaying behind him like a tail.

“Ah, Turel. This visit is most unexpected.”

“I came to talk to you.”

“Talk can wait. Get a sword.”

Turel pushed away the side of his cape, revealing the sword sheathed there. “I already have my own.”

Dumah tossed away the wooden one he held and retrieved his own sword, which had been leaning against his throne. “A real challenge for once! Are we fighting to the death, brother?”

“You’d enjoy that, I’m sure.”

“Yes, very much.”

Turel unhooked his cape and sash and threw them into a corner so they would not get in the way. “Let’s spar and see where it takes us.”

Dumah rushed forward with his sword raised and slashed down at Turel, who slid out of the way at the last possible moment. He charged and their swords collided with a deafening clang, but Turel was not one of Dumah’s fledgelings, and he stood firm and pushed Dumah away with a forceful barrage of his own. Thrust after thrust, parry after parry, the two vampire Lords circled each other, battering their blades against each other with enough force to chip the metal. Dumah’s clan members saw the seriousness of the duel and backed away in haste, making plenty of room, not wanting to get in the way where a stray sword stroke might hit them instead.

“It’s good to face someone who knows what they’re doing,” Dumah said. “It’s been so long since I’ve faced a true swordsman.”

“I remember the last time you battled Raziel.”

“Yes, I beat him that time.”

“But just barely.”

“The extent of the defeat is irrelevant, brother. Not even Raziel could defeat me in equal combat, and you know it.”

“I don’t think anyone has ever faced you in equal combat, Dumah.”

“Ah, still bitter over the fact that I was born so much larger than everyone else?”

“Your size is the primary reason you’re so successful. Had you been of normal size, Raziel would have beaten you senseless.”

“And you, Turel?”

“Perhaps.”

Dumah swung his blade down and Turel adroitly dodged the blow, jumping to the side and thrusting forward once more. Dumah escaped a stab to the ribs and knocked Turel’s sword off the mark. He lunged but Turel had already backed out of his reach.

“I suppose that’s why you had no qualms with executing Raziel,” Turel said. “He was the only threat to your supremacy.”

“And you, brother?” Dumah sneered. “You carried out his execution as much as I did. Unless you’ve forgotten, Kain ordered us to execute him. We carried out the sentence, you and I.”

“That’s true, but I saw a look of pleasure in your eyes when you cast him down.”

“Well, Raziel and I were never on good terms, you know.”

Dumah slashed sideways and Turel dove for cover. Dumah’s blade cut through a wooden pole holding up a burning lamp and it crashed to the ground, spilling fire. The clan members gathered around scrambled for cover and backed away as the fight spread out into the center of the hall.

Turel made three quick slashes and feinted right. Surprisingly, Dumah went for it and Turel gashed at his right side when he left himself open. Dumah danced backward, roaring excitedly.

“Ah! You got me that time!”

He launched into such a ferocious attack that Turel had no choice but to retreat backwards in the direction of the throne. He swung an arm and knocked over the weapon rack, scattering the collection of battered wooden swords and worn staves. They fell to the ground like dry bones and Dumah kicked them out of the way. Murder was glinting in his eyes.

“Planning on killing me too, brother?” Turel asked, his breath ragged.

“Now that you mention it, yes. You chose to fight with real swords. I cannot help it if an accident occurs.”

“I won’t make any difference, you know.”

“Any difference to what?”

“You still won’t be any closer to ruling Nosgoth.”

“Is that what you think I’m after?”

“Of course it is. Why else would you be so willing to carry out Raziel’s execution? You know as well as I do that he did nothing wrong.”

Dumah kept moving forward until Turel was almost pinned in the corner. While they spoke, the speed of their sword movements slowed, but Dumah appeared as if he was just about through talking.

“Who cares what he did wrong? Kain wanted him executed, so we executed him. His scream on the way down was a beautiful thing indeed.”

“As beautiful as yours is going to be?”

For a moment, Dumah paused. His sword stopped and his eyes narrowed, staring deeply at Turel. “What are you talking about?”

Turel made no move to attack, even while Dumah was distracted. “I’m talking about Kain. He killed Raziel for no reason, and who knows which of us will be next.”

“If I kill you now, Kain won’t have to. I’ll be doing him a favor.”

“Yes, getting me out of the way, and thereby putting yourself a step closer on his list of those to die. Do you really think he’ll stop with Raziel, or that he’ll spare you, Dumah? Which one of us will evolve wings next?”

That last line finally got to him. Dumah opened his eyes wide with the realization of what Turel was insinuating, and he let his guard down. He lowered his sword just the tiniest fraction, and Turel rushed in to knock it out of the way. Dumah roared and tried to bash Turel aside, but Turel sidled up beside him and slid his blade up under the back of his armor.. He grabbed the back of Dumah’s collar and easily threw him off balance.

Turel hurled Dumah over his shoulder and he crashed into his throne, knocking it off its marble pedestal and smashing to the ground. The Dumahim ran for cover, shocked senseless at the sight of the Lord’s defeat. Dumah staggered to his feet, blood gushing down his face from where he’d bashed his forehead on the corner of the throne. By the time he wiped enough away to see straight, Turel was back in the center of the hallway.

“Think about what I’ve said, Dumah. And think about what Kain might be doing right now, what he might be planning. You shouldn’t worry about me, brother. Worry about Kain. He’s the dangerous one.”

Dumah used a cloth to wipe blood off of his forehead. “Get out of here, Turel. And consider yourself lucky.”

Turel retrieved his cape and sash and made a hasty exit out the door. Turel lifted his throne back into place and sat down with a grumbling sigh. He tossed the bloody rag aside and took a goblet of wine from a serving girl’s tray.

“I think I’ll watch someone else fight for the time being,” he said. “Someone clean this mess up.”

 

***

 

Outside, Turel considered himself very lucky indeed. He wasn’t sure that he’d be able to throw Dumah off-guard like he had, but Dumah was not the best conversationalist. The only way Turel could succeed in getting his point across was to beat it into Dumah’s head, literally.

Melchiah had actually thought of it first and had passed it on to Turel, the idea that Raziel was merely be the first victim of their evolution. If growing wings was truly what set Kain off, and not something else they were unaware of, then they’d have to tread very carefully from then on. Their evolution flowed in a pattern, coming to each of them in turn. Raziel had been the first this round, but who would be second? And would Kain punish them as well?

The thought that Kain might go on a rampage was enough to startle Dumah, who surely had not considered any such thing. Dumah, although incredibly strong and agile, was not the smartest of Kain’s lieutenants. He rarely made plans and he was no good at tactics. To conceive of Kain coming after him was simply beyond his mental ability.

But he was thinking about it now. As was Zephon, who Melchiah had spoken to a few days before. Rahab would stay uninformed for now, since the other brothers could not trust him to keep it silent. He would run and tell Kain their suspicions the second he was left unattended, Turel was sure of that. Rahab was utterly without morals or ethics and would sell out his brothers for the slightest advantage or good favor from Kain.

With any luck, Rahab would be the next one to evolve, and then they would see just how much they had to fear. Turel had a terrible suspicion that Raziel’s execution was just the first link in a chain of events that none of them could accurately predict. In the end, they were all just like Raziel, doomed to fate and the whims of their own evolution. It would just take longer for them to find this out. Turel wondered if Raziel might have been the lucky one after all.

 

 

Chapter 2

The Flesh is Weak

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Melchiah drank his fill and let the human body slip from his grasp. It tumbled lifelessly off his lap and off the throne, coming to a rest in a heap in front of him. He wiped stray blood from his chin.

“This is a handsome specimen. Have it prepared.”

His two servants nodded enthusiastically and picked the body up. They snuck away to a secret back room to have the body carefully skinned. Melchiah would have preferred not to take another set of flesh so soon, but over time it seemed that they dried out faster and faster, and all he could do was take more and more to keep up appearances. His current skin was only a week old and already it was flaking and peeling, necessitating the need for a new one.

Melchiah’s own flesh was a hideous shade of decayed green, the color of a long-dead corpse. No amount of blood could rejuvenate it, and he was forced to skin human victims and don their flesh just to look normal. He certainly could not go about looking like a diseased cadaver in front of the other vampire Lords.

His brothers knew of this physical weakness, of course, but it was rarely spoken of, like some embarrassing family secret. Melchiah knew how they felt about it though, how they talked about him when he was not around, how they shook their heads in disappointment whenever he turned his back. He was the runt of the family, the weakest of all his brothers. Dumah hated him for it, finding him pathetic and repulsive. Even Turel, who tried so hard to be civilized and impartial, could not look Melchiah in the eye when the flesh he wore began to dry out.

Melchiah was the youngest of Kain’s children, the last one to receive the gift of vampirism. Made last, he was given the smallest portion of Kain’s strength, and it was enough to keep the body animated, but not nearly enough to keep it looking healthy. Kain had once actually apologized to Melchiah for it, many years ago, taking the blame for his offspring’s debilitating deformity. It did not take away the shame, though.

Dumah believed that it was actually just an inherent insufficiency in Melchiah’s soul that resulted in his weakness, not any fault of Kain’s. He believed that Melchiah was just not strong enough to be a vampire, and he made his opinions on the subject openly known. He said that Melchiah was a failure and that his physical weakness brought down all the clans. He was better off dead, so Dumah claimed.

But Kain ignored such heartless claims and treated Melchiah equally, the only thing for which he was grateful. Sometimes, he agreed with Dumah himself.

It did not have any negative effects on his clan, however. The Melchahim were as numerous as any of the clans, with a broad territory and no problems dominating the human population in the area. If Melchiah’s flesh was weaker than that of his brothers, his spirit was as strong as any of them, and even Dumah could not say different.

But the increasing rate of bodies he needed disturbed him slightly. It seemed that things were getting worse as the decades passed.

How long had it been since they threw Raziel screaming into the Abyss? Half a century now? Melchiah didn’t bother to count the years, but it had been some time since Raziel’s death. And in that time, not much had changed. None of them had grown a pair of wings at least. Dumah was still a brutish thug, Rahab was still a fawning sycophant, and Turel was still trying to prove himself the morally superior one.

Zephon had changed, however. He spent most of his time studying, and Melchiah rarely saw him. The last time he had visited had been maybe ten years before, and Zephon had looked different somehow. Maybe Melchiah wasn’t the only one experiencing problems with his body.

Melchiah’s servants reappeared, shaking him from his reverie. “My Lord,” one of them said, “the body is ready. I hope the work is satisfactory.”

With a groan, Melchiah rose from his throne and followed the two of them into the back room. It was ripe with the smell of blood, and the floor was slick with it. The skin was laid out on a stone table in the center of the room.

“Leave me. I can do this alone,” Melchiah said, unhooking his cape and laying it across a wooden table along the other wall.

“Yes, of course, my Lord.” The servants politely left the room single-file as Melchiah began to undress. He turned and looked at one of them as they left.

The servant had a large patch of dry skin along his neck. As the door closed behind them, Melchiah sighed to himself. Things were getting worse indeed.

 

***

 

Turel turned the brittle yellow page and read to himself, the flickering gold candlelight illuminating the small, dusty alcove. He was in one of the old human tombs in the east, where hundreds of dead human warriors had been laid to rest. Turel broke into such tombs and abandoned catacombs frequently in his search for knowledge, his quest to find out more about the origins of Kain and his vampire brethren.

Almost all of what Turel and the others knew about Nosgoth’s history had been given to them by Kain himself, who could hardly be called a neutral, unbiased source for information. And so Turel examined old human records in the search for more knowledge about their origins, their beginnings. He did not find much.

Frustrated, he pushed the old book off the small lectern and it puffed into dust when it hit the floor. He left the tomb and made his way carefully back outside. It was night already, he was surprised to find. He’d spent the entire day there, perusing old journals and histories, learning nothing not already known before.

At first, his desire for knowledge was simply that. He was curious, and interested in the history of his species. But as the years turned to decades, Turel began to feel a different sort of motivation for his quest for facts. If he could perhaps learn the truth about vampires, about himself, he could better predict what was going to happen to him in the future. He wanted to know what caused their evolution, or maybe what directed it.

His brothers were already changing. Not drastically, as they usually did, but gradually, over a span of years. Melchiah, never particularly healthy in the first place, was positively falling apart these days. Turel knew all about his need for fresh bodies to keep up appearances, and he also knew that there would come a time when Melchiah would no longer be able to hide his physical deformity. He was getting worse.

They all were. Zephon looked horrible, and Turel couldn’t even begin to guess what warped form his body was changing into. Zephon had always been tall and slender, but it was becoming stressed to the extreme. His body seemed to stretch out, his limbs getting longer and lankier, and his skin seemed hard and brittle. Turel found him repulsive to look at, even more so than Melchiah.

What will happen next? he wondered. Who will change? And what will they change into? Turel had a sinking sensation that all of them were going to evolve eventually, none of them keeping even a hint of their previous vampire form. He even felt the stirring of change within himself, but tried not to think about it.

The secret lied with Kain, he was sure of it. Kain had been around longer than any of them, and he seemed not to evolve at all. He looked exactly the same as he had centuries ago, not that Turel had seen him recently. It seemed that as Turel and his brothers experienced their physical changes, they grew farther apart. They had not all met together at the Sanctuary of the Clans in probably fifteen years. And Kain seemed not to care, as if he had more important matters to worry about.

Kain knows the truth, Turel thought. He knows what’s going to happen, and he doesn’t care. He never did explain his execution of Raziel to Turel’s satisfaction, and that event seemed to be the catalyst for all that had happened in the decades since. Is he content to let his brethren mutate and evolve into monsters, and not lift a finger to help them or maybe explain why it’s happening?

Kain knew. And Turel was determined to find out as well.

 

***

 

Arkos didn’t know what was happening to him, and as time went on, his desire to know lessened. No one spoke of it, at least not in public, but everyone knew they were changing. Arkos looked closely into the mirror in his personal quarters, trying to discern exactly how his face looked before and how it looked now. Before, his appearance had been basically human, but looking carefully, he could see how his features were becoming more pronounced as time went on. And his body was getting bigger as well.

Lord Dumah had been the first to change, of course. Always huge, in recent years he had gotten even bigger and more powerful. His height was easily seven feet. In addition to his physical increases, he had become even more arrogant and heartless. It seemed obvious to Arkos that Lord Dumah did not care about anyone other than himself. Not his own kin, and certainly not his fawning brother Rahab, who Arkos and many of the other Dumahim detested.

Arkos left his room, feeling depressed. He was almost 200 years of age now, since his resurrection as a vampire, and Lord Dumah still treated him as an incompetent fledgling. Insulting him in front of the others and frequently “volunteering” him for the weekly fights in the main hall. He still remembered the shattered jaw Dumah gave him the day Turel came to visit, more than a century ago.

He made his way to the main hall on his way out of Dumah’s castle. He wanted to do some walking outside, hoping the chill winter air would invigorate him. He stopped at the door, hearing Dumah’s voice.

“He what?” Dumah boomed, his voice easily carrying through the door and into the hallway. Arkos pressed his ear against the door to hear the much quieter response from the person Dumah was talking to. The annoying, high-pitched voice gave it away as Rahab.

“He said that he’s through hiding his true form. He’s gone to his citadel and says he doesn’t plan to leave it ever again.”

“That weakling! Good riddance to him!”

“I thought you’d be glad at this news,” Rahab said, his voice oozing with self-satisfaction.

“He always was a pathetic embarrassment,” Dumah said. “I’m disgusted to know that he and I were created by the same hand.”

Arkos jerked in surprise. They were talking about Melchiah, Lord Dumah’s brother! Dumah never held back his negative opinions of Melchiah, so Arkos knew immediately who they were referring to. But what did Rahab mean by “hiding his true form?” Arkos crouched by the door and listened closer.

“Did you see him last time?” Rahab laughed. “His flesh looked about to fall right off him!”

“He disgusts me,” Dumah muttered. “I hope he speaks the truth when he says he’ll never leave again. I won’t have to look at his loathsome form anymore.”

“Yes, let him stay there and rot!”

“Look at me, Rahab,” Dumah said. “Look at how I’ve grown. I’ve become stronger and bigger over the years. My strength increases naturally, without me even trying. But he only becomes more and more hideous.”

“The gift that Kain gave us is more like a curse with him,” Rahab snickered.

“He can’t even hold his own body together, and he dares call himself a vampire Lord? He squanders what little power he has.”

Arkos pondered the meaning of all this. He had only seen Melchiah a few times, and only at the Sanctuary of the Clans. Melchiah had never come to visit Dumah, but considering the way Dumah felt about him, that was no surprise. And in those few brief meetings, Arkos had no reason to think Melchiah any weaker than Lord Kain’s other lieutenants. So what did Dumah’s comments mean? What was wrong with Melchiah?

“What does Lord Kain have to say about this?” Dumah asked.

“I haven’t seen Kain,” Rahab replied. “In fact, I haven’t seen him in some time.”

“Neither have I. He rarely even comes to the Sanctuary anymore, and I have no reason to go track him down. I have my own clan to worry about.”

“The only one I’ve spoken to is Turel, and you can guess how he felt about it. He said it was ‘regrettable’ and ‘unfortunate’ that Melchiah felt that way, and wished he could do something to help him.”

“The fool!” Dumah snorted. “He’s as useless as Melchiah is! Thinks he’s smarter and better than the rest of us. No wonder he and Raziel were such friends. They had a lot in common.”

Arkos couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He always believed that Kain’s lieutenants all mutually respected each other. There was rivalry among them, surely, but it was healthy rivalry. The way Rahab flattered and fawned over Dumah, Arkos somehow felt that the other brothers held similar respect for each other, even despite Dumah’s constant belittling of Melchiah.

To learn that some of the brothers truly did not like each other astonished him. Dumah seemed to openly hate both Melchiah and Turel. And the mentioning of the dead brother Raziel surprised Arkos even more. Raziel had not been mentioned for years, even though the grisly details of his execution were no secret. It was just an uncomfortable bit of history.

“He’s changing too,” Rahab said suddenly. “Turel is. When I saw him, I could see the difference in his face.”

“Is that so?” Dumah asked. “For a time, I thought it was only me. Well, and Zephon, of course.”

Arkos caught a hint of something in Dumah’s voice, something he had never heard before. Was it fear?

“I won’t go see him,” Rahab said, his voice low. “I can’t even look at him. I don’t know how his clan members can stand it.”

“It’s probably happening to them as well. It’s like Kain and the rest of us. The Lord initiates the change and his brethren follow suit. It’s always been that way.”

“But it’s usually fast,” Rahab said. “Not slow, like this.”

“Yes, I know. I can’t explain it.”

“What about your clan?” Rahab asked. “Have you noticed a change?”

“Yes, but it’s very slight. They’re becoming more like me, it is true.”

Arkos felt his vampire blood run cold. Crouching by the door, eavesdropping on a private conversation between his Lord and his Lord’s brother made him feel like a cowardly spy. But hearing Dumah talk so casually about their physical changes chilled him to the bone. Dumah knew about the changes? If he knew, why didn’t he tell the rest of the clan, to put their fears at ease? Was it a natural thing? Why was it happening?

And what about Zephon? Arkos had met Zephon about as many times as he had met Melchiah, and saw nothing wrong with him. So what were Dumah and Rahab talking about?

The word ‘changes’ rang in Arkos’ mind, and he suddenly realized what they were talking about. Dumah was getting bigger and stronger, but something else was happening to Melchiah and Zephon. They were changing too, in different ways. Arkos felt frozen in fear. Why were they changing? And what in the name of Nosgoth were they all changing into?

 

***

 

The Zephonim spoke in hushed tones, as if some dreaded monster was asleep behind them and they dared not wake it. They spoke as if afraid of the sound of their own voice. But it was not their own voice they were afraid of, it was their own Lord’s appearance.

Zephon knew of their fears but did not address them. What could he tell the members of his clan? What excuse could he give for his startling appearance? He could just admit that he had no control over it, but that would not go over well, he knew. Better to pretend it was intentional, a specific transformation for some future purpose. But even Zephon could no longer pretend that his own visage did not frighten him, he could no longer casually accept what he was slowly turning into.

Raziel got wings and I get this, he thought, staring down at his body. In recent years, his skin had become gradually harder, as if drying out and turning to bone. His limbs got longer, making him appear horrifically lanky and awkward. At full height he was almost seven feet now, almost as tall as Dumah, when before he had been more than a foot shorter.

Despite the fact that he and his brothers had become so estranged, news still traveled fast between them. He knew of Melchiah’s situation and feared that he might soon follow his younger brother’s example. But Melchiah had always had to deal with his problems, while Zephon was only now being forced to. And Melchiah’s weaknesses could be effectively covered up. Zephon could not hide his form by wearing someone else’s skin. His whole body was changing shape.

He sat down at his desk, a task that was getting harder and harder to do as his legs got longer. These days he wore nothing but a long, loose robe, since his regular clothes no longer fit properly and he was too depressed to have new ones made. He feared he would outgrow them as well as his change worsened.

Built into the wall behind the desk was a glass case to display Zephon’s newest hobby. Among the complex mix of webs were three large spiders, his pets. He loved to just sit and watch them as they patrolled their webs, and would drop live grasshoppers and beetles into the case to feed them, watching in fascination as they snared their prey and cocooned them in webbing, to feast on their bodies later.

There were many other spiders in the room, having staked out claims in the ceiling’s lofty corners or narrow crevices between or under furniture. Zephon let them stay there, finding them acceptable roommates.

How beautiful they were, walking on eight thin legs. It was like a complicated dance, their bodies seeming to hover in mid-air, held aloft by the legs like a hot air balloon anchored to the ground with cables. Of all Nosgoth’s animal life, Zephon found spiders the most amazing, the most unique.

So beautiful, and so deadly. The three large spiders in the glass case were all extremely poisonous. Not to Zephon of course, since a spider bite could not kill a vampire any more than a stab wound could, but the little arachnids could kill a full-grown human in minutes with just one bite. The tiniest bit of venom could drop a two-hundred pound creature. Zephon found it amazing.

They were so similar, vampires and spiders. Both were known for their skill at killing enemies, both were found repulsive to most humans, and the obvious similarity, they received sustenance by drinking from their victims. Spiders were the vampires of the insect world, Zephon thought with a weak chuckle. Powerful and ruthless, lurking in the corners to jump out and kill their victims. But vampires had conquered their world, while spiders were content to be mere residents of theirs.

Zephon sighed. This time in the evening, he usually read, but he no longer found any interest in it. Instead, he just went to bed, feeling completely exhausted for some reason.

He slept for six days straight.

When he awoke almost a week later, he felt something was different. He fell out of bed, groggy and disoriented. Something was wrong. He stood up and blinked his eyes, looking around the room. But it was not something in the room, it was something with him that seemed different. He looked down at himself, and then he saw.

He screamed in horror.

Two more arms had grown out of his back.

 

***

 

Melchiah sat in his darkened throne room, having kicked all his servants out. He wanted to be alone. In the flickering light of a few nearby torches, his decayed skin seemed to glisten with sweat. His eyes glowed dimly red, one more disturbing change.

Sitting alone in the shifting darkness, Melchiah felt as if the weight of impending doom had settled upon him. It was the pressing weight of centuries to come, and he knew, as if by prophecy, that they would not be pleasant. If the world was difficult now, it would be unbearable in the future.

Vampires still had control of Nosgoth, gripping it with an iron hand. But would their strength last for another millennium? Another century? Melchiah wondered just how long their fragile grip would last, given all the dark portents he saw on the horizon. He and all his brothers were now facing several changes, not all of them physical. The sudden abandonment of the Sanctuary of the Clans, which none of them had visited in a decade at least. It was as if the recent events were sentient creatures, determined to drive the vampires apart and cripple Kain’s previously unstoppable empire.

Once again, Melchiah’s thoughts drifted to his long-dead brother Raziel. It was his startling metamorphosis and sudden execution that had signaled the beginning of the end, as far as Melchiah was concerned. That was when their world began to unravel like threads in a poorly-made blanket. Now, it was becoming threadbare.

At one time, the clans were loyal to each other. But that was slowly becoming the exception instead of the norm. Dumah and Rahab were close, or rather, Rahab stayed close to Dumah, but all the other brothers had long since gone their separate ways. Zephon, morphing into some hideous creature, was too scared and ashamed to associate with the others. Turel seemed intent on separating himself from the rest of his brethren, and was reportedly moving farther north as if trying to escape a spreading plague. Melchiah made his choice with the rest of them. He would not leave this fortress again, that was certain. He would stay here and accept his evolution, living out his life in secrecy and solitude.

And then there was Kain. Once their Lord and Master, Kain was now nothing more than a frequently absent babysitter. He seemed to have no interest at all in keeping the clans together, and without his strength and influence, they were sure to spread even farther apart.

What would Raziel say if he could see them now? Just then, an amusing thought struck Melchiah. What if Raziel had not been executed? What if he was still alive now, witnessing their slow descent from greatness, joining them in their fall from grace? What would he be doing right now? What alliances would he keep and which would he discard with the changing times?

Melchiah let himself wonder about it for awhile, but eventually his thoughts drifted back into reality and the way things actually were, as opposed to how they might be. And he began thinking about himself again.

Fairly soon, Melchiah planned to make alterations to his large, circular throne room. He had something very special in mind. He planned to construct a circular cage in the middle of the room, and above it, a series of huge, spinning blades arranged like an enormous meat grinder. A gruesome device, built for one purpose. Execution. Or more precisely, suicide.

Because if his mutating form became too much for him to bear, or his world deteriorated to the point that he found it unlivable, Melchiah wanted a way to make it stop. He wanted a way out.

 

***

 

The Sanctuary was as silent as a tomb, which perhaps, it had become. It had once been a busy, active place, filled with the movements and energies of vampire fledglings working to impress their masters, vampire scholars studying in the vast library, and most importantly, Lord Kain and his lieutenants frequenting it to discuss politics and other matters. It was the center of Kain’s empire, the social and political center of Nosgoth. It was the soul of the world.

But not anymore. The building was quiet and cold, abandoned by most of its residents and workers. The Pillars of Nosgoth were like the posts of deserted soldiers. The few who still came to visit or work there did not view the Great Hall with awe or reverence, as they once had. They treated it nostalgically, like some fond childhood memory. The Sanctuary was now more of a symbol of a glorious past than the heart of a prosperous future.

All this change in barely a century. In less than one hundred years, a flicker in the lifespan of an immortal vampire like Kain, the Sanctuary had degenerated from a thriving symbol to a dusty relic. It had all started with Raziel’s death, of course.

Kain pondered this while seated in his throne, the distorted Pillar of Balance. Although it seemed as if his very world was falling apart around him, he was not concerned. He knew it would happen, and not just in a vaguely intuitive way. He knew it was going to happen long before it did. Trying to prevent it would have been worse than pointless, and worrying about it now would be nothing but a waste of time.

A waste of time, Kain thought. What a funny concept. Time was never wasted. It could only be spent, could only be used. Though in a real sense, no one really used time. Time used them.

Kain could have contemplated the philosophical aspects of time for days if the mood struck him. The mood did not strike him today. He was not concerned with metaphysics at this point. He was far beyond that. Instead of pondering the meaning of time, Kain was just impatiently waiting for it to pass.

He felt a stirring behind him, like a loose breeze. But it was not physical, it did not ruffle the folds of his cape. It was a mystical wind that brushed his soul. He sighed and tapped his claws against the edge of his throne.

“Kain,” a whispery voice announced, as if speaking took a great expenditure of energy.

“I’m here,” Kain grumbled, angry at the intrusion.

Out of the thin air in front of him, a figure appeared. Clad in a white dress turned dingy gray, floating several feet above the ground, the image of a woman materialized. Her hands were clasped at her chest, her long blonde hair hanging from her head like dead weeds. One side of her face was badly burned, the flesh melted and charred black.

Ariel. The former Guardian of the Pillar of Balance. Murdered long ago, doomed to spend eternity haunting the Pillars. Kain’s longtime companion, though none else knew of it. Ariel, bonded to the Pillars, was like an echo of Kain’s long-dead conscience, or so he liked to think of her. Their relationship was hardly a friendly one.

“You come here so rarely,” Ariel said.

“I’ve been busy,” Kain replied.

“Ah, yes,” Ariel said, and she smiled. Or at least it looked as if she smiled; her shimmering image sometimes made it hard to discern details about her appearance. “You have planning to do, yes?”

“Preparing,” Kain corrected. “I have no plans.”

“Of course. All of your plans were successfully completed centuries ago. Now all you can do is deal with their consequences.”

“That is one way to view the situation.”

“Are their others?”

Now it was Kain’s turn to smile. “There are always alternative viewpoints. Everyone looks at things differently. There are millions of angles from which to view events, each creating a different effect in the spectator.”

“You do not need to lecture me, Kain.”

“Why not?” Kain muttered. “You lecture me often enough.”

“But not today. I did not come to lecture you this time.”

“Then why have you come?”

“To warn you.”

Inwardly, Kain laughed at her. Coming to warn him! Whatever she was coming to warn him of, he was surely aware of already. Warnings were redundant, as far as Kain was concerned. Like giving a man the cure for a disease he had already recovered from. Kain could not be warned any more than he could be surprised.

But he said none of this. Only, “Warn me of what?”

“Your brethren,” Ariel said. “You must know how they have begun to change.”

“Any fool could have noticed it by now.”

“It will get worse, Kain. Much worse.”

Kain waved her off. “I’ll deal with it.”

“You cannot deal with it,” Ariel insisted. “You cannot prevent it.”

“I said I’ll deal with it,” Kain said, getting angry. “I will do nothing. That’s how I’ll deal with it.”

“Do you not care?”

“What is there to care about?”

“Their clans will change as well, becoming as their masters. Your great race of vampires will devolve into inhuman beasts, Kain. Your Empire will crumble into dust.”

“It already has,” Kain growled. “You tell me nothing new.”

Ariel was silent for a few moments. Then, almost regrettably, she said, “You cannot be turned from your course. I see that now. Nothing will change you.”

“We cannot escape our fate,” Kain said. “It’s as integral to our being as the very air we breathe. We cannot rid ourselves of it, we cannot run from it. Our fate is a permanent part of our lives.”

“You truly believe that?”

“I know it. I have no need of beliefs.”

Ariel shook her head sadly. Somewhere in his heart, what was left of it, Kain felt sorry for her. It was not his fault she was there, forever trapped like a prisoner in her spiritual cell. He was to blame for much of what was wrong with Nosgoth, but he was not to blame for Ariel’s spectral imprisonment. He would even have released her from it, if he could, if for no other reason than to keep her from bothering him. But like him, her fate was set into motion long ago.

“One day, you may realize the error of your ways, Kain. You may live to regret the things you have done in your life. If you do, I hope it destroys you.”

With that, Ariel faded away like a bad dream, leaving only a faint mist floating in the center of the room, which then dissipated into nothing. Kain still felt her presence, though. She was gone, but she had not truly left, because she never could.

What she did not understand was that Kain would never live to regret his actions, never live to feel remorse or guilt over the terrible crimes he had committed. He could not regret what he had no control over. And even if he could, even if he wanted to, it was too late to do it now. It was far too late.

 

Chapter 3

The Last Hymn

 

Arrows rained down upon Dumah like hail. Some of them were lit with fire, and those he knocked out of the air with the back of his hand or pulled out of his armor before the fire could spread onto him.

“This is what I live for!” he roared, raising his blood-streaked sword high above his head. “Give me all you’ve got!”

High above him, perched at battlements along the top of the wall, human archers fired down at him and his clan members as they tried to storm the citadel, one of the last major human strongholds on all of Nosgoth. Nestled in between high cliffs and surrounded by a wide moat, the stronghold was well-defended. The citadel was in such a hard-to-reach location that Dumah couldn’t bring catapults or other siege weapons to bear. For once, he gave the humans an ounce of credit. They had picked the perfect place for their last stand.

That’s what it was. A last stand. Some day soon, the stronghold would fall and the frail humans would be wiped out.

“Take the gate!” he shouted. “Break it down!” He raised his shield in front of his face an instant before a burning arrow reached him. Instead of hitting him directly in the face, it splintered off the metal shield as harmlessly as a toothpick.

Vampires clad in body armor, brandishing fierce weapons, charged from their stations and rushed the main gate in one seething mob. Burning arrows sailed down at them. Humans with crude flamethrowers positioned themselves in crevices near the gate and lashed out with blazing whips of fire, incinerating any vampires brave or stupid enough to get near. The huge drawbridge was down, having been disabled in a previous attack. Dumah himself had wielded the battleaxe that split the last chain, and now the drawbridge could no longer be raised. But the gate was so thick and imposing that even with the drawbridge permanently down, the vampires could not break their way inside.

His own archers launched arrows to the top of the wall, occasionally picking off humans, sending them off the wall and down to their death. Vampires with ladders and grappling hooks scaled the wall and tried to fight their way down to the gate controls, but none succeeded. They were either hurled from the top of the wall to the moat below, or killed while inside.

Dumah and twenty of his clan members heaved up a huge log with handholds carved into it. The front was capped with metal. They rushed forward and slammed the battering ram into the gate with so much force the entire wall shook. But the gate did not give way. Dust and crumbled rock fell from the corners and hinges, but the gate was too thick and wide. It would be easier to break down the entire wall.

An arrow struck Dumah in the shoulder. With a grunt, he yanked it out and tossed it aside. Why did the humans even bother? They might as well be throwing pillows. Unless they intended to shoot an arrow accurately enough to hit a vampire right in the heart, and powerfully enough to impale him, what was the use of using arrows at all?

As they backed up to strike the gate again, one of the flamethrowers splashed a wave of fire across the vampire holding the front of the ram. Immediately engulfed in flame, he shrieked wildly, flailing his arms, and let go. Immediately off balance, the front of the ram fell to the ground. Even Dumah’s incredible strength was not enough to hold it without someone in front. The burning vampire slumped to the ground, his whole body rippling with flame.

“Fool,” Dumah grumbled.

When more burning arrows assailed them, Dumah ordered his clan to back off and regroup. They retreated to the narrow canyon that led to the citadel, out of range of the archers.

“How many have we lost?” he asked.

Arkos answered. “Five, my Lord.” His silver armor was splattered with blood, both human and his own. Dumah looked at him and grunted. Evidence of his fighting was the only thing that kept Dumah from insulting him in front of the others. He knew Arkos’ opinion toward these attacks on the human stronghold, and like all other opinions in opposition to his own, he categorically ignored them.

So instead of insulting Arkos’ weak, pacifistic beliefs, Dumah chose to insult him in general. “And you not among them?”

Arkos did not smile. “Not yet, my Lord.”

Before Dumah could comment upon that, Rahab appeared. Like Dumah, he wore angular gold armor, albeit not quite as large as Dumah’s. His face was slick with sweat, and there was a conspicuous dent in the armor right above his heart.

“Sorry, brother, but we can’t breach the western pass,” he said. “It’s too narrow to make a rush in force, and the humans have it too well guarded.”

“Blasted humans,” Dumah grunted. His eyes, once bright blue, now burned dark red. His face was hardly even human anymore, looking more bestial every passing year. Rahab noticed it with growing concern, but never said anything about it. He noticed it in the faces of Dumah’s children as well, but he never spoke to any of them anyway.

“So what should we do now?” he asked.

Dumah stood up straight and gazed over the outcropping of rock they were standing behind. “It’s either the western pass or the front gate. If we can’t make it through the pass, we’ll have to rush the gate again.”

“We’ve tried to break it down,” Arkos said. “It’s completely immovable. We may as well try the battering ram against the walls themselves.”

Rahab rarely, if ever, opposed Dumah, so when he did this time, the other vampires took immediate notice. “He’s right, Dumah. Going at the gate is a waste of time. We’ve been hitting them here for weeks and we still can’t breach it. Now, my clan couldn’t get through the western pass, but if both our clans made a charge, perhaps we could break their defense –”

“Cowards,” Dumah snarled, and Rahab froze in mid-sentence. “Make up your mind, brother. You said a moment ago the pass was too narrow for a rush in full force. Are you like Arkos here? Afraid of attacking them head on?”

Rahab struggled to find his voice. “I don’t see the point in attacking the gate again. We’ve been doing it for weeks now and we’ve met with only failure.”

“The gate can’t hold up forever,” Dumah said, and for all intents and purposes, that ended the discussion. When Dumah made up his mind on a course of action, it was always unwise to contradict him. He cast a sneering glance at Arkos and Rahab. “And since you two don’t like the idea, you can carry the front of the ram.”

“Me?” Rahab asked, stunned. “I can’t lead the charge. I have to –”

“You have to do what I say!” Dumah roared, his eyes flaring bright red, almost knocking Rahab over backwards with the force of his voice.

Dumah and the other vampires ran back out to the battering ram, with Arkos and Rahab taking sides holding the front. At Dumah’s command, they charged forward and slammed the gate once more, rattling it like a bear rattling the bars of its cage. Arrows rained down at them, so many striking the top of the ram that it began to look like the back of a porcupine. Dumah bellowed another command and they rushed the gate once more, shaking it to its foundations. But it still stood, not even a dent showing on its solid surface.

On the next rush, a human armed with a flamethrower launched a spray of fire toward them. Arkos saw it coming but could do nothing to get out of the way, since the drawbridge was too narrow to step sideways and Dumah and the others were coming directly behind him. So instead, he let go of the ram and jumped forward. The wave of fire caught his arm and it burst into flame. The others were thrown off balance and the battering ram fell once more, crashing to the ground.

Arkos screamed and waved his arm frantically, his entire arm lit up like a torch. The others all backed away as he ran past them, screaming for help. The fire crept up to his shoulder and burned the side of his face, the flames whipping around as he ran.

There was nowhere to go, nothing he could do to smother the flames. He was not completely engulfed, but would be shortly. He had only one choice if he wanted to save his life.

He ran to the edge of the moat and fell onto the ground, crawling quickly to the very edge of the water. Clenching his teeth against the agonizing pain, he thrust his flaming arm into the running water, smothering the flames. However, the moving water hurt even worse, burning his arm like the most corrosive acid.

Arkos pulled his arm back out and collapsed onto the shore, barely able to remain conscious. His arm was now a withered, blackened chunk of smoking meat. The humans atop the wall, seeing him wounded and helpless, launched a volley of arrows down at him, striking him in the chest and stomach. Several flaming arrows came down as well and one caught him on his leg. He tried to pull it out but was too weak.

Suddenly, someone was above him, pulling out the burning arrow. He felt the individual grab his good arm and drag him away from the water’s edge, arrows thumping into the ground all around him. Arkos looked up and was surprised to see Rahab pulling him to safety. His head lolled to the side and he watched the other vampires, his own kin, running back to safety, none of them making an effort to save him or help Rahab.

Dumah, however, did pause, but it was not to help pull Arkos to safety. Instead, he put his hands on his hips and laughed.

 

***

 

Kain was nowhere to be found. Turel searched the Sanctuary of the Clans thoroughly but found no trace of him, found no trace of anyone. It had been several years since Turel had any reason to visit, and seeing the great building so empty surprised him.

He stopped at the Pillars and took a deep breath, the air smelling stale and cold. The Pillars were like dead, bleached trees. And in the center, Kain’s twisted throne, the Pillar of Balance. Once white like the others, it was now black and warped. Turel only knew some of the story, and that had come mostly from Kain.

The Guardian of Balance, what had her name been? Ariel? She was murdered by a dark power and Kain became the next Guardian. But with her death, the other Guardians became insane, and when Kain was resurrected as a vampire, he was told to hunt them down and kill them to restore the Pillars. Turel wasn’t sure how much of the story was true and how much was fabricated, if any was true at all.

Turel turned to walk away and felt something brush past him. He spun around swiftly, but saw nothing. No one was in the room with him, but he could swear that he felt something nearby, like a breeze. He had felt a presence. The hair on the back of his neck stood up.

Turel backed out of the room quickly, unnerved by the experience. As soon as he made it outside, he readjusted his cloak and shivered reflexively, turning to glance back at the building. As a vampire, he supposed there was nothing in the world capable of scaring him, but he had been scared nonetheless. Something had been in there, but it was not something he could see.

For months now, he had been perusing old records and histories, trying to learn about their origins and about Kain’s origins. It made no sense that Kain, the most influential ruler in the history of Nosgoth, and the founder of an entire empire, would have almost nothing written about his early life.

Kain’s name was not mentioned in history until his quest to kill the corrupted Guardians, and then the word “assassin” was usually used in reference to him. His life as a human was a total mystery. After his quest to kill the Guardians, Kain disappeared from history once more, until he founded the Empire hundreds of years later. Unbelievably, there was no physical record at all of Kain’s crucial role in the major turning point of Nosgoth’s entire history: his refusal of the sacrifice. Historians and scholars of the era apparently attributed the Pillars’ final destruction to the death of Ariel and the madness of the Guardians. As far as the historians were concerned, Kain’s role in the whole affair was minimal at best. He killed the Guardians, but was not responsible for the corruption of the Pillars.

Could it have been possible that they didn’t know the truth? Everyone involved would have been dead, except for Kain himself. And Kain had always been vague about what he did for the centuries immediately following the events at the Pillars. Had he simply disappeared from sight and let the historians come up with their own explanation for the corruption of the Pillars?

The next time Kain was mentioned in the historical record was hundreds of years later, when the Empire was founded. But even then, when you’d expect volumes of written material detailing the events that shaped history, there was almost nothing. Most of what Turel found was scanty at best.

How Kain gained control of Nosgoth in the first place? Nothing. The creation of his six lieutenants? Nothing. The beginning of the Empire? Nothing. Surely, there must be some permanent record of the beginning of Kain’s Empire. But Turel couldn’t find one, despite his years of searching. He came to the Sanctuary to ask Kain directly.

But Kain wasn’t there, and Turel was no closer to knowing the truth about his own past. Frustrated, he started to walk –

– and was immediately knocked to the dirt when the ground shook fiercely underneath his feet. A dull roar echoed around him, and he scrambled to his feet, as if afraid that the world was about to collapse down on top of him. Behind him, the Sanctuary stood still, as if it had barely noticed the tremor.

In all his life, Turel had never felt an earthquake, and now he experienced one right in front of the Sanctuary? Warily, he looked around, if for no other reason than to see if anyone had witnessed his moment of fear. But as before, no one was around.

Turel pulled his cape tighter around his shoulders. Coming back to this place was a mistake, he decided. Kain was nowhere to be found, and deep down, Turel doubted he would get any straight answers from him even if he had been there. For all the questions that still lingered, Turel would have to learn the answers himself.

He and his clan were already moving north, away from the Sanctuary of the Clans and away from their cousins, the brethren of Turel’s brothers. With Kain gone, there was nothing to keep them loyal to each other. Whatever fragile connection they shared as brothers had all but completely melted away in the last few decades. The only two who remained friends, if that was even the word, were Dumah and Rahab, but Turel recently heard a rumor that even that might not last much longer.

How far they had fallen. Melchiah a diseased wreck, Zephon a six-limbed freak, and Dumah a hulking behemoth. And Turel himself, feeling the change. He felt fairly certain that the knobs on his forehead were the beginnings of horns, and his legs were twisting into something new and inhuman. The only one of them not to change was Rahab, in some cruel twist of fate.

Turel shook the thoughts from his head and began the long trek back home. At this point, there was no use even worrying about it. Rahab’s time would come, as would his own, and then they would all see what Kain’s legacy boiled down to.

Nothing.

 

***

 

The cacophony was ear-splitting, a massive roar of sound emanating from the huge cathedral like waves of telepathic force. It was so deafening that it was hard to even make out individual notes, but Zephon knew what the cathedral’s monstrous organ was playing. It was undoubtedly some ancient human religious song, something the terrified, superstitious human dwellers still felt could somehow harm a vampire. One of their oldest beliefs regarding vampires was that faith in some specific religion would keep them away. The humans didn’t even know which religion it was anymore, after centuries of failed attempts at keeping the vampires back. So they just played the same simple tunes over and over again on their humongous organ, hoping their pointless faith would save them from the predators right outside their door.

It would not, Zephon knew. In the past few years, his clan had successfully invaded the river valley where the cathedral lay and butchered the human outposts defending it. Now all that remained was the cathedral itself, and that was only a matter of time. The blaring noise was a constant irritation, but nothing more. The only thing holding Zephon’s clan back was what always held them back against the humans: strong defenses, flame throwers, and a wide moat.

But the humans were not prepared for Zephon’s newest weapon.

“Are your men in position?” he croaked to one of his commanders, sitting awkwardly on an outcropping of rock beyond the human archers’ range. His two natural arms rested on his bony knees, and his two other arms rested on the long staff balanced on his legs. He wore a specially-designed golden breastplate and flowing red cloak, covering up his sickly white skin. His eyes, once brown, now glowed red.

His commander stood over seven feet tall, long limbs and hard skin instantly giving away his bloodline. Like all of Zephon’s children, he was well into the change. Any day now, Zephon knew that his clan would begin waking up with extra limbs, as he had almost a century and a half before. In those one-hundred-and-fifty or so years, he had almost become accustomed to the extra arms, and most of his children could now look at him without shuddering in horror. Given enough time, they could get used to anything, he supposed.

“We are ready, my Lord. Just give the word and we’ll begin the final attack.”

Zephon nodded and looked out toward the cathedral. Momentarily, the deafening hymn stopped, giving him a few seconds of blissful silence. And then the earth-shaking noise continued.

“Go,” he said simply.

The commander hurried out into the open area surrounding the cathedral, ignoring the few poorly-aimed arrows that zipped by. He raised his sword and shouted loudly, his voice barely able to carry over the sound of the organ.

Zephon stood and walked to where he could get a better view as the events unfolded. Two hands held the staff, and two hands hung loosely, swinging with his steps. And from behind dozens of boulders and erected barricades, his clan stormed the cathedral, as they had done countless times before. There was only one door and it was behind a moat almost forty feet wide.

But Zephon’s soldiers did not head for the door. They headed directly for the moat, a surging line of them. Zephon set the base of his staff on the ground and leaned on it, watching intently. Instead of swords or axes, his clan all held staves as well, but they were longer than Zephon’s. Almost ten feet long, they were far too long to be used as weapons.

Humans crouched in crevices around the door watched in total surprise at what appeared to be a suicide rush toward the moat. The archers on the high turrets didn’t even bother to fire their arrows.

When the Zephonim reached the moat, they stuck their staves in the ground just in front of the water and pole-vaulted over it, leaping onto the wall. Spreading their arms and legs out, they hit the wall.

And stuck there.

And then, slowly, they began to climb directly up the sheer stone face of the cathedral. They had no grappling hooks, no climbing equipment, they simply climbed up the wall with their bare hands and feet. The humans with flame-throwers could do nothing, since they were all positioned around the door, which none of the Zephonim even got near. They could only stand and watch in horror as the vampires effortlessly scaled the wall. A few of the Zephonim lost their grip or missed the wall on their initial jump and fell screaming into the moat, but only a few.

It had been tried before, of course, but always with grappling hooks, and never more than a few at a time. The humans had no difficulty in cutting the ropes or otherwise knocking the vampires off before they reached the top. But this time, with the entire clan scaling the wall at once?

“Climb, climb my little spiders,” Zephon whispered, watching as his children went straight up and poured over the wall like a swarm, infesting the giant church in one fell swoop. He imagined that he could hear their screams over the noise of the organ, hear their cries of terror and disbelief as his children swept through the building like a plague, killing everything in their path.

The humans thought they had a perfect defense. And up until just recently, they had. But they could never have anticipated the advantages that evolution granted the Zephonim, the advantages that just now were becoming known.

After a time, the organ stopped. This time, it did not start back up again.

 

***

 

Rahab was alone. His clan, the Rahabim, was the smallest vampire clan in Nosgoth, except for the long-gone Razelim, whose number equaled zero. Unlike his brothers, Rahab never felt the desire to create more vampires like himself, never saw the point in ruling a large clan. He was a follower more than a leader anyway. His older brother Dumah had the largest clan, numbering well over five hundred by now, while Rahab limited his children to a scant fifty. But while Dumah’s clan spread out to such an extent that Dumah could barely keep track of where all his children were, Rahab kept careful track of his clan, and while many of Dumah’s brethren had left the clan and went off for adventure on their own, Rahab’s children stayed with him at his citadel in the south, brazenly loyal and protective of their Lord. For the moment, however, they were gone from the main hall. Rahab needed time to think.

He knew full well what several of his brothers thought of him. A spineless coward who stayed around Dumah for protection. A fawning sycophant who flattered and fed Dumah’s ego in hopes of gaining power. The one without any real loyalties except to himself, the one who could not be trusted.

Maybe that had been true a century ago. In retrospect, Rahab was repulsed by his behavior in the past. But the situation had changed recently, in several ways. Maybe one at a time, Rahab would not have come to the conclusion he had, but it seemed like events were converging, leading toward an inevitable outcome. Turel and Melchiah, it seemed, had noticed the trend years before, but they had come to a completely different conclusion than the one Rahab came to.

They saw the changes as a sign of impending doom. The once-proud race of vampires degenerating into beasts, eventually being wiped out by the sick whims of their own evolutionary patterns. But both of them always had been pessimists, after all. They did not see things clearly enough, Rahab supposed. They saw the changes as some uncontrollable effect of nature, a sick joke played by fate. Rahab looked at the other side of the coin.

Their evolution was not random and unfocused, it was a direct result of their lives, it was their final purpose. Melchiah, always sickly and frail, became more so. Dumah, always brutish and strong, became more so as well. Zephon’s bizarre metamorphosis into a six-limbed creature was less easy to explain away, but Rahab felt certain that it was somehow directed by Zephon’s personality.

Rahab himself had not changed at all. Without any other reasonable explanation, he decided that it was because he had no debilitating inferiority complex like Melchiah, or violence-prone personality like Dumah. He was convinced that vampire evolution was a mirror of their self-image. And if that was true, their evolution could be controlled.

It could be directed. It could be guided. Instead of a weakness, it could be one of vampire kind’s greatest strengths.

But none of the others realized this, unfortunately. Melchiah was no help, sulking in his own castle, letting himself waste away like the bloated corpse he now resembled. Turel was on some fruitless quest for the knowledge of their origins and probably would not help Rahab anyway, even if he could be convinced of the necessity of cooperation. The two of them had never really gotten along. Zephon had distanced himself from the others, for obvious reasons, and Rahab honestly did not want him involved.

That left Dumah. Rahab had tried to ignore reality for some time, but what happened during the last attack on the human stronghold convinced Rahab of the futility of expecting Dumah to join him. Finally, belatedly, Rahab realized that Dumah cared for no one but himself. He was content to engage in pointless war against the humans for his own amusement, and spend the rest of his time drinking and partying at his lavish castle in the north. He had no great plans, no noble goals, only the search for his next source of pleasure. Not helping when Arkos was nearly killed, openly laughing as one of his own kin was nearly burned alive, showed Dumah for what he was. Rahab did not want him involved either, not after such incontrovertible proof of his inner nature.

And so Rahab was forced to do it alone. He would shape his own evolution, will himself to grow into something greater than a simple vampire. Vampires, he was convinced, were destined to rule the world, using the incredible power of their own evolution to conquer whatever obstacles lie before them. If the others did not see the light, so be it.

Rahab would accomplish his destiny alone.

 

***

 

Zephon walked casually through the destruction, carrying a single leather bag. He stepped gingerly over the scattered, blood-soaked bodies of the cathedral’s former inhabitants. Men, women, and children were strewn about everywhere, murdered where they stood. Some remained, since the vampires could not completely exterminate their only source of nourishment, but almost all of the church’s residents were now dead, butchered by Zephon’s brethren.

They were examining every inch of the cathedral now, every spire and every winding hallway in the maze-like upper levels. Once inside, Zephon knew he had made the right choice for his new home. The church was an architectural wonder, housing an entire village worth of homes on the bottom level, and a complex web of rooms and corridors in the highest levels, not to mention the massive organ itself, with pipes hundreds of feet long, reaching several stories up into the air. Not that their song would ever be heard again. The first order of business was to dismantle sections of pipe to silence the organ forever.

Zephon gradually made his way past the village and organ and up to the higher levels of the cathedral. He wanted to thank the humans for building such a perfect home for him and his clan. Over time, it would become his permanent home.

He had to get away from his brothers, away from the entire lot of them. It was not difficult, since they wanted him gone as well. He was a constant reminder of what may happen to them any day. None of the others, with the exception of their dead brother Raziel, had dealt with such a dramatic change. Growing two arms had been both Zephon’s curse and the key to his most devastating weapon. To put it lightly, it was a mixed blessing.

Finally, he reached the tallest tower in the cathedral, led there by one of his brethren. He dismissed the young vampire and closed the door behind him. The room was warmly lit with two oil lamps that cast flickering light upon the rows of books on the shelves. The room was dominated by a large wooden desk covered in sheets of manuscript and tied-up scrolls. Apparently, the room belonged to the leader of the human resistance there. The former human resistance.

Zephon guessed he was the man now lying in the middle of the floor, arms spread wide, his chest viciously ripped open, blood spread out around him in a pool four feet wide. The sight brought a rare smile to Zephon’s dry lips.

He stepped over the carcass and to the desk. With one swipe of his long arm, he knocked everything onto the floor, scattering the pages like leaves. They were probably part of some history of the church’s residents. It was a pity no human was left to read it.

Zephon carefully placed the leather case on the desk and opened it. From inside, dozens of spiders emerged, pouring out of it like black mist, spreading across the desk and down to the floor, skittering all over, investigating every corner of the room. The little black spiders searched everywhere.

They were Zephon’s pets, his other children. They were his brethren in a very different way. He watched them make the room their own, and tossed the bag aside. In time, he would make this room his own as well. But for now, it was enough that his spiders were comfortable.

Yes, this place would do quite nicely.

 

Chapter 4

The Sarafan’s Revenge

 

Turel stepped up onto the circular dais and looked around the stained white marble of the tomb entrance. Thick dust and mold was up to an inch thick in some places, but since it had been opened to the elements, the tomb did not appear quite as ancient as it most certainly was.

An earthquake, one of the many earthquakes that Nosgoth was increasingly prone to in recent years, had revealed the crypt entrance. At first, Turel expected it to be just another tomb for fallen human warriors in the early days of Kain’s empire, but as soon as he stepped inside the round antechamber, he knew that this was much more than a simple crypt. The entire outer chamber was lined with gold trim and decorated excessively with complex engravings. Turel realized that whoever was entombed here was not some simple commoner. In the middle of the room, over fifteen feet in height, was a wide slab of black marble in contrast to the white marble elsewhere.

Turel walked up to it, his hooves clicking loudly on the marble.

Several decades before, he had woken up from a week-long slumber to find his legs grotesquely warped. Now they looked like the legs of an animal like a goat, with his knee facing backward and his feet replaced with large black hooves. Now, his lower body was covered in coarse brown fur, but he suspected that it would not stop there. Even with this disfigurement, he considered himself infinitely more lucky that Zephon and Melchiah, who didn’t even look humanoid anymore.

Finely-written calligraphy covered the monolith, and Turel began to read the complicated inscriptions. Almost immediately, he almost staggered backward in surprise.

The Sarafan! Entombed here were the Sarafan Priests! An ancient order of knights, long before even Kain was born, who engaged in one of the most destructive vampire genocides in Nosgoth’s dark history. They had supposedly been obsessed with ideas of moral purity and virtue, and all but wiped out the vampire race, thinking vampires were a plague to be eradicated. Their bodies had lain here for several millenia now, undisturbed in final rest.

Turel backed away from the monolith and almost had to laugh. If the Sarafan thought that vampires were a scourge in their own day, they should have lived to see what Nosgoth had been reduced to in this era. If vampires were a plague all those centuries ago, then Kain turned them into a full-blown epidemic, and the whole world was dying from it.

Grinning at the absurdity of it all, Turel entered the long hallway into the center of the tomb, where the bodies of the Sarafan Priests lay. He wondered how their crypt could have remained untouched for so long. Incredibly, it lay only a few miles from the Sanctuary of the Clans. Did Kain know it was here? He had been around for centuries, so he must have known. But why would he leave it undisturbed? The Sarafan represented a pathological hatred of vampires that even modern humans would be hard-pressed to match. Hundreds, even thousands, of vampires were killed by the Sarafan in those ancient times. If Turel had been in Kain’s position, he would have demolished the tomb and defiled the interred bodies long before now.

As soon as Turel pushed open the heavy stone door to the central chamber, he knew something was wrong. Right in the center of the room, one of the casket lids was flipped upside down.

Ancient grave robbers? Turel thought.

He took another step into the room and realized with slow disbelief that all of the tombs were broken open. The engraved sarcophagi were tipped over, their lids knocked to the floor. There was a sense of profound coldness in the room, but it was not the coldness of death. It was something else, something colder. Turel felt himself shiver involuntarily.

The bodies of the Sarafan were not here. The caskets were empty, the tomb completely stripped. With a foreboding sense of horror, Turel’s gaze drifted to the names inscribed above each of the empty stone coffins, the names of the sacred Sarafan Priests.

Dumah. Melchiah. Rahab. Zephon. Raziel.

Turel.

 

***

 

As rain poured down continually, as if there was a constant, unrepairable leak in the heavens, Rahab surveyed the abandoned human metropolis, now mostly submerged under water. He had sought out such a place to perform his experiments, which he hoped would give him the key to unlocking the secrets of their evolution. His brethren followed him there unquestioningly, but with noticeable hesitation. They may not have spoken such doubts out loud, but Rahab knew what they were.

Why come to this place? Why make their new home in such an inhospitable location? Water was one of their race’s few natural weaknesses, so what would possess their Lord to move them to a place full of it?

In Rahab’s mind, that was the perfect reason to move there. If he was going to manipulate their evolution to make them more powerful, what better way to do so then to erase their weakness to flowing water?

Now, standing in the pouring rain, Rahab closed his eyes and sighed pleasantly, letting the water drench over him, soaking into his cloak, but not touching him through the layers of clothing. Even a vampire as strong as Rahab was not immune to water; rain would not kill him, certainly, but it was not a pleasant experience. Despite this, it felt good, it felt calming. For the first time in his life as a vampire, he almost understood what it was like to enjoy a simple pleasure. Momentarily, he felt what it must have been like to be a human.

“My Lord?” came a voice behind him.

He turned to see one of his brethren, a vampire named Valen, standing in the broken doorway leading to the balcony Rahab was standing on. He stepped out into the rain and cast an sour look into the gray sky, his wide hood protecting his face from the falling rain.

“My Lord,” he said again, “The others and I are rather confused. About coming here, I mean.”

Rahab smiled and gazed back out into the half-drowned city. “Finally voicing your concerns?”

“Well,” Valen said uncomfortably, “things have been so strange lately.”

“They’ve been strange much longer than that,” Rahab said. “For centuries now.”

“The changes in your brothers. Your falling out with Lord Dumah. Our movement here.” Valen took a deep breath, readying himself, and spoke in a hushed tone, as if afraid of someone overhearing. “I did not want to bring this up before, but just what has been going on?”

“Time has been going on,” Rahab said cryptically. “Only time, Valen. The course of nature.”

“But my Lord,” Valen said, sounding pained. “What does it have to do with us?”

“It has everything to do with us. Because unlike my brothers, who are content to be victimized by it, we are going to take advantage of it.”

Valen, understandably, was confused. Rahab looked at his bewildered face and could not resist laughing. He put his arm around Valen’s shoulder and led him back into the building.

“We all evolve over time,” Rahab said, leading Valen down the arched hallway. “These changes are what separates us from the humans. We are continually becoming stronger and more advanced, while the humans do not. It’s the reason our race is the superior one.”

Valen nodded, giving Rahab a sideways glance. “I know all this, my Lord. I still fail to see what it has to do with moving our entire clan to this deserted human city that’s half submerged under water.”

“I’m getting to that. You mentioned before how my brothers are changing. What do you think of their evolution?”

“Honestly, my Lord?”

“Yes, honestly.”

Valen looked straight ahead. “I’m glad that I am not in Lord Zephon’s clan. Their appearance horrifies me.”

“It horrifies me too, Valen,” Rahab said, turning a corner. Part of the wall was caved in, with rubble scattered across the floor. Rahab and Valen walked around it, stepping across a wide puddle from the rain making its way inside. “The same with my brother Melchiah. Even Dumah and Turel are gradually changing, but their new forms are less hideous. And yet, our clan has not changed at all, have we?”

“No, Lord.”

“Do you have any theories as to why that is?”

“No,” Valen repeated. And then, after a pause, “But I am glad that it is so.”

Rahab smiled. Such naive honesty was the reason he’d chosen to give this little speech to Valen and not some of his other kin, who might be tempted to conceal their true emotions. Valen was sincere to a fault, which was simultaneously his greatest virtue and his greatest weakness. Rahab did not exactly respect him for it, but he did not hold such unerring honesty against him. Honesty was a rare trait in vampires.

“I have theories, but I won’t share them all with you right now,” Rahab said. “The point I want to make is that we are going to evolve eventually. It is unavoidable. All we can do is try to make that evolution work for us instead of against us. We have the power to manipulate that natural state of change, but only if we take advantage of it.”

“Have the other Lords done this?”

“Dumah has, but not intentionally. His size and strength have increased over time because of his confidence. He believes himself to be the biggest and strongest, and so his evolution guided him in that direction, because he feels that way so strongly. He thinks he’s invincible, and I wonder if someday he might be.”

“And what of your other brothers, my Lord?” Valen asked.

“It’s affected them too, but negatively, because they didn’t use it to their advantage. Take Melchiah, for example. He’s always been full of self-loathing, and look what he’s turned into. Our evolution reflects our self-image, I’m sure of it.”

Valen stopped and looked out through one of the large stained-glass windows that lined the hall, somehow unbroken despite long years of neglect. Outside, water lapped against the side of the building as rain poured down.

“That is why we’ve come here?” he asked finally. “So we can change the course of our own evolution?”

“Yes,” Rahab said with deliberate forcefulness. He could see the look in Valen’s eye. He knew where this was going. “I’m going to make us immune to the water, Valen. I’m going to turn a weakness into a strength.”

“But how?”

“By performing experiments, by testing our ability to withstand it. If we keep ourselves exposed to the water, and if we believe that we can someday conquer it, then someday we will. It will be like building up an immunity over time.”

“Do you truly think we can do it?”

“I know we can.”

Valen thought about it momentarily, then shook his head and turned away. “I don’t know about this, my Lord. It all seems so fantastic. I can almost see how it could be possible, with what has happened to Lord Dumah and Lord Melchiah, but do you really think we could achieve it intentionally? How long would it take?”

“As long as it takes,” Rahab said with an indifferent shrug. “As long as it has to.”

“But why, my Lord? I mean, if we could truly alter our evolution by will alone, then we already would have. The changes in your brothers have only taken place in the past few centuries. If what you say is true, then we would have already evolved to higher forms.”

Rahab put his hand on Valen’s shoulder again and started walking down the corridor. “You’ll have to trust me, Valen. It may sound incredible at first, but I’m convinced that we’ll succeed. It may take a hundred years, but I’m going to make us immune to water.”

“I trust you, my Lord,” Valen said, perhaps a little too quickly. “I’ve always trusted you.”

A section of the hallway had broken away, leaving a twenty-foot gap. Below them, water churned and splashed, as if fighting to get inside. Rahab leaned over the edge and looked down into the turbulent water below. Valen did so as well, pulling his hood tighter to block out the oncoming rain.

“You’ll help me, won’t you, Valen?” Rahab asked.

“I’ll help you if I can, my Lord,” Valen replied. “But I admit,” he added a little guiltily, “that I’m skeptical.”

“I know you are, but that’s not a problem. You can still help me.”

“If what you say is true, my Lord, then we all must be convinced that we can overcome our weakness to water. But I just don’t think it’s possible. How can I help you if I don’t believe it will work?”

Rahab put his hand on Valen’s shoulder as if to pat it reassuringly. Instead, he braced himself and pushed forward, knocking Valen off the ledge and into the swirling maelstrom below.

 

***

 

Turel found himself on his knees. The horrifying realization of his origins struck him like a blow, knocking the wind from him. He set his hand on the floor to hold himself steady, gazing back up at the names inscribed above the seven tombs surrounding him.

They were Sarafan! He and his brothers had been resurrected from the dead bodies of the most fanatical vampire hunters in the history of Nosgoth. Kain used the corpses of his greatest enemies to house the resurrected souls of his most loyal soldiers. Now, finally, Turel saw the reason there was nothing in the historical record about the creation of Kain’s lieutenants. Kain would have made sure that the secret remained hidden from those it affected most.

Turel stared at the empty sarcophagi. And to think, he had searched for this answer for centuries, and now that he had it, he wished that he had never begun searching. It was as if fate had played a hideous practical joke on him; the harder he looked for the truth, the more shocking the truth was destined to be.

Sarafan Priests! Just the thought burned Turel to the core. When he was human, he dedicated his life to the extinction of the vampire race, and now as a vampire, he helped almost exterminate the humans. His entire existence became one giant paradox. And not just him, all his brothers as well. They had all been Sarafan, and Kain turned them into their own worst enemy.

After a time, Turel stood. He wondered how his brothers would react to the news that their bodies once housed the opposite of everything they ever believed. Surely, none of them would ever find this tomb on their own; Melchiah and Zephon could no longer even leave their homes, and Dumah and Rahab were not the kind to delve into the past. Should he even bother telling them? What possible purpose would it serve?

One of the sarcophagi was not defiled, he noticed. It belonged to Malek, the leader of the ancient Sarafan. According to the stories Kain told, which Turel had no real reason to believe were true, Malek was killed when the great vampire Vorador murdered six of the Circle of Nine, long before Kain’s birth. Mortanius, the Guardian of Death, who later resurrected Kain himself, brought Malek back to life as an undead servant, and he was later destroyed by Vorador once again, centuries later, when Kain was on his mission to murder the corrupted Guardians. Turel guessed that the reason Malek was not resurrected as a vampire was that there was not enough left of his physical body to make it possible; Kain once described the undead Malek as nothing more than bones and armor held together by powerful dark magic.

Turel approached his own sarcophagus and looked inside. It was lined with dust and grime after a millennium of neglect. Standing there, over the place where his body should have been eternally laid to rest, Turel could not help but imagine what his life must have been like. Thousands of years ago, long before Kain’s refusal to sacrifice himself doomed Nosgoth to ruin, the land was still pure and unpoisoned. Sarafan priests were like Kings, worshipped like living deities, dedicating their life to eradicating what they saw as a mortal threat. In the Vampire Purges, thousands of vampires were killed, most of them rather brutally. Impaled with staves and crucified, hung up to be incinerated by the sun.

None of this was embellishment by Kain. Most of what Turel knew about the Vampire Purges was from historical texts written by human historians, in order to record for posterity the holy crusade of the Sarafan. Even written from their own perspective, Turel saw the Purges as utterly reprehensible and morally corrupt. The Sarafan, as far as he was concerned, were nothing more than a force of fanatical murderers and demented psychotics who wanted to control the populace by exaggerating the vampire threat, and using it as an excuse to butcher innocents.

Turel looked at his hands. Since his resurrection as a vampire, were they any more bloody than they had been when he was human? He had killed others, of course. Being a vampire made it a necessity, after all. But he had to admit that he had also killed for fun on occasion. But as a Sarafan, he must have killed on a daily basis, reveling in each death, believing each dead vampire was some kind of moral victory. He must have wanted death, desired blood on his hands.

Turel, in his vampire unlife, accepted death as a necessary part of his existence. He had to kill to survive. But he never had anything against the humans, he had no desire to see them exterminated or needlessly slaughtered. He never joined in Dumah’s pointless attacks on the human citadel, for example. He was the enemy of humanity not by choice, but by need.

He didn’t hate humans. He could accept a world where vampires and humans could live peacefully together, even though he could also accept a world in which that was not the case.

He turned on his heel and walked out of the tomb. Knowledge of his origins did not bother him anymore, now that he had thought about it. Which is worse: killing because you have to, or killing because you want to? Turel decided he would rather be a vampire with a sense of morals than a human without one.

Maybe Kain had done them all a favor after all.

h1={color:#000;}.

***

 

Kain had nothing to do but wait. Ever since he had taken over Moebius’ Time Chamber over a millennium before, Kain had realized that his life, and the lives of everyone who ever lived, was nothing more than a drawn-out waiting game. Despite his best intentions, and despite the opinions of the millions of individuals his actions had affected during his existence, Kain never really changed anything. His resurrection as a vampire, his refusal of the sacrifice, his creation of the Empire; none of these things changed the world in the way many people thought they did.

History could not be changed, it could only be experienced. The future was spread out in front of him like a map, and all he could do was follow the predetermined path laid out for him. He was like a puppet with the strings of Fate moving him around, making “choices” that seemed to affect all of Nosgoth. But long before he was born into the world, the course of his human life and vampire unlife had already been set in stone by hands unseen. Kain never chose to refuse the sacrifice, the unalterable whims of history and fate forced him to. He never had a choice to begin with.

Kain stared into the swirling void of the Time Window, watching in perverse fascination as snippets of the past and tantalizing hints of the future flashed before his eyes. He had done it a thousand times, stared penetratingly into the mists of time, discovering the secrets of the past, and learning the course of events for centuries to come. At first, it was frightening, and painful, to know that every choice he’d ever made had been predetermined, but by now he accepted it with cold resolve.

Even a prisoner trapped in a dungeon has a small spark of hope, a longing belief that someday he can escape his imprisonment, if he could just arrange the right set of circumstances. Kain, in his own sort of imprisonment, had the same idea. All he had to do was arrange the right situation and nudge things in a different direction to achieve the desired outcome.

But time is relentless, and only a major alteration to the set course of events could truly change the future. It was not enough to make little adjustments here and there, hoping that they would add up to something important. Kain scanned the Time Window for that one moment when the future was truly made. He was looking for a fulcrum, a temporal axis, a point at which events could transpire in two different directions. If he could provide pressure at the crucial moment, he could truly change history

Free will was an illusion for all but a very select few. As far as Kain knew, the only two people for whom Free Will might conceivably exist were the Time Streamer Moebius and Kain himself, since they had knowledge of the future. And even then, the vast majority of their decisions were not really decisions at all. Even Moebius himself was a slave to fate in the end. He had predicted his own murder years before it occurred at Kain’s hands.

Like Moebius, Kain knew when his death would occur. It was actually scheduled to happen many centuries in the past, but whereas Moebius’ death had been unavoidable due to the circumstances surrounding it, Kain’s death just happened to occur at one of the fulcrums of history he was searching for.

He reached out, as if trying to touch the visions displayed across the Time Window. He smiled slightly as the scene dissolved.

It was almost as if fate was finally giving Kain the ability to really choose the direction of his destiny. The scene was already preordained, so all Kain had to do was follow the path until he came to the intersection he desired, and go one way instead of the other. It would not be exactly that easy, but Kain knew it was possible.

All he had to do was wait.

 

***

 

Rahab’s dreams were murky and fractured. Faint images of floating through an endless void, flailing his arms and legs to no effect, feeling a constant sense of pressure all around him. His eyes opened wide as he awoke, and he found himself once more in his laboratory, almost completely submerged in a pool of stagnant, foul-smelling water.

He wore a special outfit made from thick animal skins and coated with a layer of fat. It was completely waterproof, and he would stay for hours in the pool of water, trying to accustom himself to the feeling of water all around him. Without the suit, of course, he would incinerate himself, but he slowly was getting used to the constant wetness around him.

He climbed from the tub and stripped off the suit, letting it flop to the floor. Almost twenty years had gone by since he had moved his clan to this water-logged abbey, and the water was still deadly to his vampire brethren. But Rahab knew that they were making progress, however slow.

He walked to the window and pressed his hand against the glass, looking out at the endless monsoon that wracked the area. When he pulled his hand away, it left a sticky residue on the glass. For some time now, Rahab had noticed his skin was constantly covered in the greasy substance, which bathing could not rid him of. He took it as a sign that his efforts were working, that his body was changing. The grease was the first step toward an immunity to water, he was sure of it. And slowly but surely, his kin were beginning to believe it as well.

Rahab walked down the damp hallway to an open balcony continually washed by rain. The building sloped sideways, so the water ran off the edge of the balcony instead of flooding the hall, and Rahab could stand safely within feet of the downpour without risking himself.

He watched the rain for a few minutes and felt an overwhelming desire to jump out into it and soak his body in the falling water. Each day the temptation was a little stronger. Hesitantly, he reached out and exposed the back of his hand to the rain. Several drops fell onto it, and Rahab quickly retracted it, wincing in pain.

His hand smoldered for a moment or two, leaving several small burns where the water had touched. Perhaps it was just his imagination, but Rahab felt that the pain was less severe than it had been in the past. The water didn’t burn him quite as deeply, quite as harshly. The grease covering his skin seemed to be forming a protective barrier.

Once the metamorphosis was complete, when the Rahabim could immerse themselves in water with no ill effects, their clan would soon become the dominant clan in Nosgoth. Rahab could see a time in the near future when his brethren, and his brethren alone, ruled the world. The other vampire clans could not challenge his clan when they had such an advantage. In the water, they would be unassailable. They would be invincible in their new element.

They could build dams across rivers to flood other areas of Nosgoth, forcing the other clans to higher ground. They could use water as their weapon, and build pumps and hoses to spray water at anyone foolish enough to get in their way. Rahab imagined complicated scenarios where his clan’s immunity became their primary strength.

He clenched his teeth against the pain and stuck his hand once more into the rain. One day, his work would all come to fruition. Someday, the Rahabim would dominate the water, and then nothing could get in their way.

 

Chapter 5

The Final Rebellion

 

Dumah roared excitedly, the wine in his enormous goblet sloshing onto the floor as he waved his arm. In the caged-off arena in the center of the huge hall, two humans armed with dull swords faced one of Dumah’s kin. All around the cage, his brethren shouted and cheered, waiting for the blood to spill.

The humans were thin and weak, captured during one of Dumah’s short-lived campaigns in the west against the lingering human tribes there. They’d been locked in the dungeons for weeks now, poorly and rarely fed, and their ribs stuck out as evidence of their malnutrition. Their bodies were as thin and frail as match sticks, and they looked almost comical in their attempt to hold off the vampire attacking them, wielding their useless weapons and with nothing to protect them except their shredded, dirty clothes.

The vampire facing them was one of Dumah’s personal favorites. He loomed over the puny humans at a height of seven feet, and like his Lord, he had lost all traces of his former humanity. His face had a bestial appearance, like some mythical lion-like beast, his skin was dark brown and hard as tree bark, and his black hair ran down the back of his head like a mane. He wore nothing but a metal belt and loincloth, normal clothes no longer fitting him.

As screams pressed upon the fighters like waves, the vampire dove forward, his thick, muscular arm striking one of the humans right in the chest. He flew backward and slammed into the cage bars, crumpling to the ground. He tried to get to his feet, but he opened his mouth and blood began to pour out. He gripped his chest and collapsed back to the floor. The vampires surrounding the arena roared even louder, shaking the bars as if trying to rattle the entire building apart.

The remaining human backed away, holding the sword out like a totem to ward off the vampire coming for him. The vampire jumped forward like a dog breaking free of its chain, and went straight for the human’s throat. The sword embedded itself in his shoulder, but he didn’t even notice as he clamped his huge jaw on the human’s small neck, practically biting it right through. He drank deeply and tossed the body aside, taking a moment to dislodge the sword from his shoulder.

“Don’t forget the other one!” Dumah bellowed, laughing violently at the brutal sport played out on front of him.

The vampire sauntered forward, hunching his back and letting his arms hang down until they almost touched the floor. The other human was still alive, barely able to breath with his broken ribs jamming into his lungs. The vampire lifted him with one hand and reveled in his agonizing scream, and then hurled him over the top of the cage. The human fell to the floor on the other side and was immediately descended upon by half a dozen of the Dumahim.

“Good show!” Dumah roared, standing up. Now towering over everyone at almost twelve feet tall, Dumah barely fit in the room. His skin was mottled blue, his arms as thick as tree trunks, and his large eyes glowing fierce red. Almost nothing remained of his former human shape, as now he resembled some demonic titan.

When his brethren finished devouring the pitiful human, they all stood up with blood smeared across their faces and gore dripping down their chests. They were little more than wild wolves crowding around the alpha male of the pack. When he spoke, they listened like brainwashed slaves, having abandoned their individuality for the simple pleasures of bloodlust and animalistic brutality.

Dumah waved his arm at some of the vampires crowding around the side hallway. “Get some more prisoners from the cellar! I want to see more blood!” The crowd of brutish thugs surrounding him cheered madly at the proclamation. “And bring one for me! A female! I need a drink!”

More of the miserable human prisoners were brought up, some of them barely able to walk without help. Their clothes hung in filthy tatters, and they slumped under the weight of the heavy iron manacles around their neck and wrists. Five of them, three men and two women.

One of the females was separated from the others and dragged to Dumah. She tried to struggle, but didn’t have the energy, and succeeded only in kicking at her captors and whimpering weakly. Dumah grabbed her and lifted her with one arm, holding her up to eye level.

Once, she might have been attractive, even beautiful. Her long brown hair was a dirty tangle, but once it might have been luxurious, and while her blue eyes were sunken in and red with crying, at one time they might have sparkled.

“Don’t worry, love,” Dumah growled sardonically. “It will be over soon.”

Meanwhile, two of the humans were shoved into the cage and armed with the same two swords their butchered predecessors had been. Another of Dumah’s kin entered the arena for the next round.

Dumah dropped the girl’s lifeless body onto the floor and nudged it away with his foot. He had drained her so thoroughly that her skin was almost white, and his brethren left it alone, since there was nothing left for them to drink from it.

All day it went on. By the time most of the Dumahim passed out or wandered off to sleep, they’d slaughtered almost thirty humans in the arena. Most of the bodies still littered the hall, torn to pieces or drained completely. The constant stink of blood and decay permeated the entire compound. The deafening cheers of the day had died down, leaving only uneasy silence.

One vampire remained awake, however. He moved silently down the shadow-filled hallways and made his way down the stairs to the dungeons below, his eyes illuminating the dark passageways. He made his way to the cells and crept quietly to the final row. Peering into one of the cells, he saw its last remaining occupant, a young women with dirty blonde hair, sleeping fitfully.

When he entered the cell and picked her up, she awoke immediately and tried to scream, but his huge hand covered her mouth and his voice grumbled harshly in her ear.

“Silence, or die now.”

Paralyzed by fright, she girl stayed quiet at the vampire carried her out of the dungeon and back up the stairs. But instead of going to the main hall, he carried her down a rear hallway and to a narrow doorway in the back of the building. He pushed it open with his foot and set the girl down. The moon was barely visible in the sky as the first rays of dawn crept over the mountains.

“Now go,” the vampire said simply. “There is a cave to the east. Your people are there. They will find you.”

The girl hesitated, thinking it was some cruel joke. If she walked ten feet from the door, she expected a dozen of the monsters to attack her. It was something a vampire would do; make her think she was about to escape before finishing her off, to add extra thrill to the slaughter.

The vampire said nothing more. It just stood in the doorway, staring down at her, as if unsure what to do next. If she could read expressions in the beast’s face, she would have guessed sadness. No vampire she had ever seen looked so totally harmless. It was like a tamed wolf.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked brazenly.

The vampire looked up to the mountain ridges beyond the castle walls, and then looked down at its large, paw-like hands. “I do not want to be like this,” it said slowly, as if trying to pronounce the words correctly.

“What do you mean?”

“I looked human once. I do not like how we live now. We are not vampires, we are monsters.” The beast clenched its fists and looked at the ground.

The girl backed away, keeping an eye on the vampire as she did so. Dim rays of light spread across the hard ground, but the vampire wisely stayed in the shadow of the doorway. As the girl walked away, continually looking over her shoulder, the vampire said, “This door stays open. Your people will come inside. Attack us while we sleep.”

“You want us to attack the other vampires?” the girl asked incredulously.

The vampire nodded but said nothing.

“You want us to kill them?”

This time the vampire did nothing. At this point, nodding in agreement was no longer necessary.

“Do you have a name?” the girl asked.

“Why?” the vampire replied.

“Because you’re not like the others. I didn’t think vampires had a conscience, but maybe you do.” A cold breeze swept across the ground, whipping the ripped tatters of her clothing around her legs, but she did not shiver. The sun had almost risen, bathing her in sunlight. “You saved my life,” she said sincerely, suddenly feeling sorry for the vampire, although she didn’t know why. “I want to have something to call you.”

The vampire squinted its red eyes against the growing light. “We do not have names. But many years ago, my name was Arkos.”

 

***

 

One morning after sleeping for a week, Rahab awoke with an unbearable desire to plunge into the water swirling only feet from his sleeping tank. It was a knife twisting in his gut, a searing pain in his lungs. He tried to pull himself from his tank and found that his legs would not move independently of each other. Staring down, he saw that his legs were fused together, and his feet were replaced with a flipper-like appendage.

Gasping for breath, he crawled to the window and hurled himself through the thick glass, barely feeling the numerous cuts and slashes as the fragments sliced into his greasy skin. They flew outward and mixed with the falling rain, and in his descent into the churning water, Rahab felt as if he was being showered with glittering gems. He splashed into the water and dove underneath the surface, feeling weightless for the first time in his life. And also for the first time, the water did not sting, did not burn, did not scorch his vampire flesh like acid. He swam through it as easily as any human. Even easier, in fact, as his powerful lower body pushed him through the water like a shark. He did not even have to come up for air. The water became his new world.

Coursing through the water, he stayed beneath the surface for hours and hours. He explored the depths of the drowned alleys and crevices of the abandoned human town. It was like experiencing freedom after years of torturous imprisonment, like tasting food after days of painful starvation.

He had been right! That one burning thought coursed through his mind as he moved through the water. They doubted him at first, but over time they began to believe. And now it was proven! He had willingly, forcefully manipulated the very evolutionary patterns that his brothers had become victims to.

He had to show his clan! He had to give them the final proof that his ideas were right! He finally came up to the surface to show his clan the fruits of his labor, and he was immediately struck with a blinding pain as intense as water had ever been. He sunk back below the waves and stared up to see what had wounded him.

Through the wavering surface of the water, he could see that the rain had stopped momentarily and the feeble rays of Nosgoth’s sun were trying to break through the clouds. The sun? Rahab had nothing to fear from the sun, partially blocked by the clouds as it was. He wasn’t some fledgling, ruthlessly scorched by even the merest hint of sunshine, he was one of Kain’s lieutenants! Sunlight as weak as this was no threat to him!

Once more, he attempted to climb out of the water, and once more, the sun blasted him, burning his skin the moment he lifted himself from the waves. He shrieked and fell back underwater, the water cooling his scorched skin.

And then, looking up through the water at the dull sun glowing through the gray clouds, he realized that in conquering one foe, he had merely made himself more vulnerable to another. Fate, it seemed, was a crueler master than he had envisioned.

 

***

 

The attack seemed to come from everywhere at once. The Dumahim, drowsy and lethargic from the debauchery and brutality of the day before, awoke to the screams of their brethren as hordes of humans armed with flamethrowers and sharpened staves poured into their stronghold. Stupefied by the shock of seeing the humans actually attacking them, the vampires were easy prey. Instead of attacking in force, which might have held the humans at bay, the vampires retreated down the corridors of the castle in small groups, and the few vampires who attempted to fight back were outnumbered and killed quickly.

It was as if, overnight, the world flipped upside down. The humans, considered by most of the Dumahim to be little more than defenseless weaklings to be murdered and tormented at their whim, had suddenly organized a ruthless offensive and actually invaded the vampire’s home. One vampire could stand alone against half a dozen humans armed with spears, but one vampire could not stand alone against fifty humans spraying liquid fire. Instead of slaughtering the invaders, the vampires were chased down hallways and killed one by one as the humans swept through the castle like a flood of water, incinerating each vampire they touched.

Impaled and torched bodies littered the halls, and the stink of burned vampire flesh filled the air. After their initial panic and confusion, the Dumahim organized themselves enough to fight off the humans, but the suddenness and effectiveness of the attack demoralized them, and gradually the humans fought their way through the stronghold, leaving dozens of dead vampires in their wake.

Dumah was one of the very last ones left. Barricaded in his enormous throne room, he kept the humans back for almost a day before they finally breached the doors and flooded into the room, quickly killing the few vampires left. Dumah single-handedly killed almost twenty humans himself, crushing their bodies in his huge hands and knocking them around the room like discarded dolls, before one of the soldiers ducked under his arm and brought the end of his spear right into Dumah’s huge chest. Weakened by the injury, Dumah could not stop three more humans from impaling him with long spears. He collapsed back into his throne with them sticking from his chest.

The few vampires able to escape the carnage did so, but their home was destroyed, their master was defeated, and they quickly lost what little remnants of civility they still possessed after decades of devolution. Without Dumah to organize them, they scattered across Nosgoth, becoming little more than mindless scavengers.

The vampire once called Arkos was killed by the humans along with the others, passively neglecting to defend himself as a human jammed a sharpened wooden staff directly into his heart.

 

***

 

“My Lord,” the Melchahim whispered, his voice sounding like wind blowing through dry leaves.

Melchiah concealed himself in the deep, penetrating shadows of his throne room. His red eyes glowed in the darkness, however, giving away his position. “What is it?” he asked, his own voice booming grotesquely across the room.

“There is news that the clan of your brother Dumah has been exterminated by human vampire hunters, my Lord,” the retainer said. Dressed in a white cloak turned dingy gray with time, the vampire hunched over sideways like a cripple, his leg twisted and deformed. His skin was the color and texture of dried mud.

Melchiah said nothing for a few moments. “Dumah as well?” he asked finally.

“Dead, my Lord.”

“How interesting,” Melchiah grumbled. “You may go.”

The vampire shuffled out of the room, leaving Melchiah alone once more. They rarely came in anymore, the few of his deformed kin who still remained loyal to him. Most of the Melchahim had run off in the past century or so, revolted by the hideous form their bodies had taken, or in most cases, simply unable to remain civilized enough to stay loyal as their minds slowly deteriorated. Melchiah knew well that many of his brethren were about as intelligent as the decomposing zombies they so resembled.

Melchiah moved to another corner of the room, dragging half of his body behind him. No longer even remotely human in appearance, Melchiah had transformed over the centuries into a rotting behemoth, over two thousand pounds of horrible decayed flesh. His legs had devolved into a tail-like extension of warped flesh, and his arms were like the legs of an elephant, dragging around his carcass as if it was some cancerous growth, which perhaps it was.

Even in his position, Melchiah had not lost his cynical sense of humor. To think that Dumah, supposedly the strongest and most powerful of the vampire Lords, had been defeated by a bunch of human peasants struck Melchiah as hysterically funny, and ironic as well. It was perfect symbol for the outrageous paradox that their once-dominant empire had become. The Dumahim were decimated and the Melchahim had expanded across the world. With Dumah’s clan scattered to the four winds, that made Melchiah’s clan the most powerful in Nosgoth!

The remaining brothers – Zephon, Rahab, and Turel – were all content to remain in whatever remote little corner of the world they had retreated to as the true nature of their vampirism became apparent. Zephon, the hideous arachnid, holed up in his decaying human cathedral. Rahab, the aquatic lurker, swimming in the stagnant depths of some underwater human city. And the proudest of them all, Turel, now a deformed goat-creature in the snowy mountains of the north. Somehow, although Turel’s form was the least abhorrent, he was dealt the strongest psychological blow, for he had always considered himself above his brothers. To be reduced to their level probably tore him up inside.

Melchiah didn’t really care. He might have at one time, but he learned to feel no sympathy for those who felt none for him. His brothers had effectively abandoned him to his fate, so why should be pity their equally pathetic fall from grace?

He could just imagine Dumah and his degenerate breed desperately fighting off the humans he had tormented for so long. Finally, his incredible arrogance had done him in. Unable to even conceive of the humans mounting an assault on his citadel, he had never bothered to prepare for such an eventuality. Melchiah envisioned hordes of torch- and spear-wielding humans surging into the compound and butchering any vampire dumb enough to get in their way. Melchiah wished he could leave his home, just so he could see what remained of Dumah’s once-glorious citadel.

That would never happen to Melchiah. Over the decades, his vow never to leave his castle expanded into a vow never to let anyone else in. His own clan could come and go as they pleased, but the complex series of gates and secret passages leading to Melchiah’s own throne room made it very difficult for even the most efficient vampire hunter to break his way inside. By design, Melchiah was unreachable, and almost completely cut off from the outside world. Which was the way he wanted it.

He gazed up at the shining series of blades installed in the ceiling. One day, he told himself, they would be used. But not just today. With the death of Dumah, maybe things were looking up.

 

***

 

Turel’s bulk barely fit through the doors to the Sanctuary. Eight feet tall and sporting shoulders six feet wide, he was nearing Dumah’s mythic stature. And like his dead brother, he had lost all traces of the humanity he once lay claim to. His entire body was covered in brown fur, and his face new resembled some demonic goat creature, with a protruding snout, long whiskers, and huge, bull-like horns jutting from his head. His hooves stomped loudly on the ground, almost shaking the floor.

With a slight push from his gigantic arms, he opened the doors to the Pillars and stepped inside. It was the first time he had been there in over two-hundred years, and it felt like a homecoming of sorts. After all, this is where it all started.

How long had it been since the day they hurled Raziel screaming in to the Abyss? Six hundred years? Seven hundred? Surely not a thousand, but Turel could not be sure, since he had long ago stopped trying to keep track of the accumulating years. At least five centuries had passed since that fateful day. And in that time, all of Nosgoth had fallen into ruin. In essence, Turel had spent the first two-thirds of his life as a vampire watching the Empire grow and flourish, and spent the last third watching it disintegrate like a castle made of sand. Along with the Empire, he had watched his physical form disintegrate as well.

“Ah, Turel. I knew you would come.”

The deep, baritone voice was like a ghost coming back to haunt him. Turel looked up and saw the figure sitting nonchalantly at the Pillar of Balance. Black sash draped over his shoulder, arm resting casually on the Soul Reaver, as always.

Kain.

Turel stepped to the center of the room and examined his former Lord and Master with a sense of futility and growing frustration. Kain had not changed at all in all these centuries, he looked exactly as he had the day he ordered Raziel executed.

“Surprised to see me?” Kain asked, smiling devilishly. “You came here to see me, did you not? I certainly came here to see you.”

“Why?” Turel asked, his voice low.

“You are merely the first,” Kain replied. “I’m going to see all of my wayward children soon. There is much I have to discuss with them. With you.” He leaned back in the throne and smiled again, baring his fangs.

“I know who we once were,” Turel said, casting his gaze away. He let his shoulders droop. “You made us from the bodies of the Sarafan Priests.”

“Indeed I did. How does that make you feel, Turel?”

Meeting Kain’s gaze momentarily, Turel knew with a sense of hopelessness that nothing could surprise Kain. He could say anything, admit to anything, and Kain would never be caught off-guard. There was a cold pit in his stomach, the feeling that Kain somehow knew everything he was going to say before he even said it.

“Angry at first,” he replied simply. “But not anymore. We were monsters then and we’re monsters now. Just monsters of a different breed.”

“Well said, Turel. First, the slayer of vampires, and now the slayer of humans. You could almost call it poetic justice.”

“Are you trying to tell me that you did it for our benefit?”

Kain shrugged theatrically. “Let us just say that I wanted to give your soul a taste of the other side. I was equalizing your karma.”

Turel nodded. “Spoken like a true sophist.”

“I never claimed to be anything else, Turel. Given enough time to think about your actions, you can learn to justify anything,” Kain said, leaning forward as if to push the point home. “Trust me when I tell you that I know what I’m talking about. Turning the Sarafan into vampires is the least of what I am guilty of.”

“That does not surprise me,” Turel said.

Kain leaned back again, the easy smile returning to his lips. “What to talk about next? We’ve discussed your tragic heritage. What do you think about the current state of affairs in Nosgoth? What do you think about this grand catastrophe that I’ve orchestrated?”

“You’re getting ahead of yourself, Kain. Even you wouldn’t be so bold as to accept credit for the whims of our evolution. You could never have anticipated what was going to happen to us.”

“You’re half right,” Kain conceded. “I did not cause your changes, but I most definitely knew about them. I knew that you would evolve before it ever happened.”

“And you did nothing to stop it?”

Kain waved his hand dismissively. “There was nothing to be done. Attempting to delay or prevent it would have had no effect. It may have even accelerated the change.”

“But we’ll never know, will we?” Turel said.

“Well,” Kain said, “let’s just say that you’ll never know.” His constant, patronizing smile was beginning to wear thin on Turel’s patience.

Turel dimly wondered if he could kill Kain. It was the only time the thought had ever crossed his consciousness, and it surprised him that he had never considered it before. Even when the Empire began to fall apart, when Kain began to show just how little he cared about anyone else, Turel had never thought of acting against him, let alone attempting to kill him. He thought about killing Dumah on occasion, but never his Lord and Master. All those years ago, Turel had always played the part of a loyal servant, doing Kain’s bidding and following his orders to the letter. Disobeying him had been an alien concept. Killing him had been all but unthinkable.

But now, Turel felt less restricted by such inconveniences. Kain was important no more; he was a relic of a dead age, a symbol of a destroyed past. No one would care if he was killed here and now. Kain had been gone from their lives for so long now that he might as well have been dead already. And Turel was now three times Kain’s size, not so easily defeated.

Then again, of course, Kain still had the Soul Reaver.

“Go ahead,” Kain said softly, as if reading Turel’s mind. “You’ll be dead before you can get a hand on me. Many have tried, but none have succeeded.”

“You think yourself invincible?” Turel asked, eyeing the blade. “Without that sword, you’re just as helpless as we used to be. Unarmed, I would tear you apart.”

“Not so,” Kain said. After a pause, he sighed. “It’s of no consequence. You and I are not going to battle to the death in this room. I know this for a fact, Turel.”

“So you’re invincible and omniscient?”

“I’m not invincible. But omniscient?” Kain chuckled softly. “I am most certainly omniscient.”

“You’re deranged,” Turel stated bluntly.

“Have you forgotten that the Time Streamer Moebius was killed by my hand?” Kain asked suddenly. “Did you think I would end his life and not reward myself with all of his knowledge? Moebius possessed the keys to the doors of time, Turel. How could I not take them once he was dead?” Kain’s voice grew with emotion as he spoke, and he sat up straighter in the throne, as if addressing a crowd instead of just one person. “I am privy to the very mysteries and secrets of time. I may have been born the Guardian of Balance, but with Moebius’ blood on my hands, it appears that I became the Guardian of Time as well. For me, looking into the future is no more difficult than reading a book.”

“That’s where you’ve been all this time, then. The Oracle’s Chamber.”

“Yes,” Kain said. “I’ve spent many years there, studying the past and the future, seeing how they intertwine and intersect. The threads of Fate spin around in the river of time, becoming a net to catch its victims.”

“So what happens now?” Turel asked. “Tell me the future, Kain.” Truth be told, he didn’t really care anymore about Kain and his twisted mental games, but he decided to go along with the little drama just the same.

“Something very interesting,” Kain said cryptically. “I’ve been waiting hundreds of years for it.”

“For what?”

Kain put his finger to his lips. “Shh, wait just a moment and you will see.”

Turel waited and saw nothing. For a moment, he was about to conclude that Kain was a madman after all, but just as he was about to say something to that effect, he felt something. It was like a psychic tremor, a disconcerting mental wave that made him shiver involuntarily. He felt dazed for a moment, as if stunned by some unconscious revelation.

“What was that?” he gasped.

“The prodigal son returns,” Kain said. “Your long-lost brother has come back to haunt us.”

“What are you talking about?” Turel demanded.

“Raziel,” Kain said, the word dropping like a stone to the bottom of a stream. “Your brother Raziel has just been resurrected. Soon, he will be coming for us.”

The words almost knocked Turel over backwards. “Resurrected? By whom?” he shouted, completely stunned. “He’s been at the bottom of the Abyss for centuries!”

“Yes, and his desire for revenge has been burning for all this time. Even now, he is making his way to the surface, where he will come to destroy me. But not before destroying his brothers.”

Turel could think of nothing to say. He just stared in complete, utter disbelief at Kain, who seemed totally indifferent to what he had just said. Raziel? Coming to destroy them all? Had Kain lost his hold on sanity? Did all his years staring into the future at the Oracle’s Chamber distort his perception of reality?

“You’d better go now, Turel,” Kain said finally. “Go to your stronghold in the mountains and stay there. Raziel won’t be coming for you, at least not now.”

“What about my clan?” Turel asked.

“Who cares?” Kain scoffed. “They don’t matter. I know that you’ve left some of them to guard the Sarafan’s tomb. If it will make you feel better, send some of them to guard the Oracle’s Cave as well. They won’t stop Raziel, but they may slow him down.”

“Are you saying I should send my kin to be slaughtered?”

“Don’t worry about your clan,” Kain ordered. “Just do as I say. Raziel is going to kill everything that gets in his way, so there’s no use trying to protect your precious offspring. Fairly soon you’ll be my only remaining lieutenant, Turel, so concern yourself with your own safety.”

“But I don’t understand what’s going on,” Turel said desperately. “Why is Raziel coming to kill us?”

“Revenge,” Kain said simply. “Is there a better motive for murder?”

Before Turel could say anything else, Kain ordered him away. There was no incentive to argue, no reason to fight. Turel could do nothing but accept Kain’s demand and do what he was told. Even now, he remained obedient. Some things, he decided, never changed.

He left the Sanctuary with hunched shoulders and a defeated posture, unsure what to make of the whole situation. He didn’t know what to think or what to feel. And to his surprise, he really didn’t care.

 

***

 

Long after Turel had left the Sanctuary, Kain got up from his throne and walked slowly around the Pillars. He admired them, as if for the first time. He let his gloved hand slide across the polished surface of each Pillar, almost convincing himself that he felt a coldness emanating from each. They had stood, broken and withered, for nearly two thousand years now. Soon, Kain would return to a time when the Pillars stood strong and mighty, but not for a few more days at least. It would take Raziel at least that long to hunt down and murder his brothers.

Would Raziel ever understand the truth? Kain remembered well how Raziel stared at him in uncomprehending hate and surprise, moments before his execution. Why are you doing this to me? his eyes had screamed. Even after all the centuries, Kain remembered those eyes as clearly as if he had just seen them. Raziel, his first-born son, his first lieutenant, his most prized possession. Thrown to the Abyss so long ago.

In his hate and lust for revenge, Raziel would find his way here. In a strange way, Kain pitied him. Brutally executed for reasons he did not understand by those he trusted most, only to be resurrected and once again thrown into chaos. Before it was done, Raziel would face torment hundreds of times more painful, although it would be emotional torment and not physical. Raziel’s fate was even more twisted and maddening than Kain’s. But in the end, he would understand. Kain was sure of it.

He had been killed for his own good. If Raziel had lived, he would never have learned the truths of his past, never have become the crucial fulcrum that the streams of history pivoted upon. Most likely, he would have mutated like his doomed brothers, probably into some hideous bat creature.

Of course, he would not understand that yet. The only thing on his mind would be his quest to extract his vengeance. But in time, Kain would make him believe. He would convince him of the truth. He had to.

For Kain’s life, and the very future of Nosgoth, hung in the balance.


Legacy of Kain: Blood Brothers

Based on the Legacy of Kain video game series by Crystal Dynamics. Centuries ago, the vampire Kain refused to sacrifice himself to heal the Pillars of Nosgoth and return the land to peace and prosperity. Instead, he chose to conquer Nosgoth himself and now rules a vast empire, aided by his six vampire lieutenants. When his first-born lieutenant Raziel evolves a pair of beautiful wings, Kain has him executed. Now, Raziel's five brothers - Dumah, Turel, Zephon, Rahab, and Melchiah - must come to grips with the whims of their own twisted evolution as their mighty empire crumbles around them. Because Kain seeks to manipulate time and fate itself, and there will come a time when their long-lost brother Raziel will return to exact his revenge ...

  • Author: Andreas Leachim
  • Published: 2017-04-18 15:35:09
  • Words: 25083
Legacy of Kain: Blood Brothers Legacy of Kain: Blood Brothers