Thick smoke drifted across the sky from the Great Northern Smokestack, tinged yellow by the struggling sun. A black cloud rolled in from the north. As it neared the Sanctuary of the Clans, Nosgoth's forgotten seat of power, the cloud swooped along the dry winds with a clamor of leathery wings, becoming a funnel. Hundreds of little shadows scattered across the stone parapets, each identical to its brother. They pierced the air with shrill squeaks, seeking a place to land.
After a few moments the head of the flock suddenly reared back. As the stragglers flew into the fore the swarm absorbed itself, melting into the dark tower of the vampire king.
Over two thousand years ago he had been a reckless nobleman, a petty Coorhagen lord. Time had improved him. His feeble human skin had calloused into a resilient hide that resisted wounds and healed almost instantaneously. In place of brittle fingers, his hands ended in three flexible, sturdy claws. Horned ridges had grown from his brow, forming a natural crown, and his coarse, dark hair bleached silky and white as moonlight.
On his back he carried the Soul Reaver; a possessed flamberge with a wavy, double-edged blade. A vampiric skull adored the crossguard, the sword its sharpened tongue. The Soul Reaver was both his weapon and the embodiment of his divine right. For over a thousand years his rule extended across all of Nosgoth, his empire governed by six vampire clans, each led by a patriarch of his own creation, all of them loyal only to him, their lord and father, some more out of fear than respect. Humans were universally subjugated, cattle.
He crossed the rampart, cloak flowing in the wind like a bloody gash. Now the lands beyond the Sanctuary lay barren, populated by only the hardiest of creatures: tribal humans, demons, feral vampires driven mad by bloodthirst, and the last refuges of his fragmented empire. The patriarchs of the clans were dead, truly dead. Their countless children soldiered on through a world of nightmares.
The game was nearly won. Nosgoth's destiny was the prize. He alone could make the finishing move.
After his conquest of the mortal world, he had built the seat of his empire around what had once been the magical and spiritual axis of Nosgoth: the Pillars of Nine. Broken near the base and blackened with corruption, the Pillars sagged at the center of his palace, powerless.
Not for mere vanity did he build his palace here. From the moment of his birth the Pillars had been the fulcrum of his destiny. The center Pillar - the Pillar of Balance, had chosen Kain to be its living Guardian, the avatar for its power. Ironically, he would also be its destroyer. At the time he had no idea the true scope of the devastation. Once he realized what he had done, it was already too late.
But age brings wisdom. For sometime now he suspected the cause of the Pillars' fall was not his alone, that another force almost as great as the Pillars themselves had conspired to tear them down, using him as their unwilling catalyst. Raziel had vindicated his belief moments before his dissolution. Kain intended to honor that sacrifice. Today he would finish what he started.
The walls rumbled ominously as he descended through the tower. Regaining balance, he hastened his descent and hurried to the secret tunnel.
Vagrants had sacked the dining hall during his long absence. Ash from centuries ago nestled in its frigid hearth, undisturbed. Desperate times reduced his once lavish hall to a vast and empty room, lit by a dull ray of sunshine drifting through a broken window. On either side of the hall, stone columns still boasted the six clan crests, except for one. Before the Sanctuary's abandonment, the crest of his eldest son, the patriarch of the Razielim, had been chiseled from the record. Kain stared at the marred column for a brief moment in recognition.
Standing over the hearth, he bent down and tried to open the grate. The rusty hinges resisted at first. With a mighty grunt he tore the grate from its bindings and tossed it aside with one arm. The hearth's floor was much thinner than the rest of the Sanctuary. Concentrating, he shattered it with telekinesis and jumped down.
A fall from this height would have killed or crippled a human. As he fell he partially transformed his body into mist to slow his descent, landing gracefully and silently. In front of him a long, narrow tunnel stretched into darkness. Cobwebs dusted the earthy walls. Behind him, a ladder made from steel beams provided the means of escape. Although, that was not the only way out.
Kain started down the tunnel, eyes squinted as they adjusted keenly to the fading light. He had not set foot here since the Sanctuary's construction. The foundations of the Pillars ran deep, like the roots of a tree. This passage would take him to these roots, where he expected to find the source of the cancer that had been conspiring against Nosgoth since before his birth, what Raziel called the true enemy, which the Soul Reaver was forged to banish.
The tunnel suddenly shook. Gravel trickled from the ceiling onto Kain's head as he recovered himself and the rock strained and cracked beneath his feet. He hurled himself into a sprint. Supports buckled and crashed at his heels, chased by a booming, otherworldly laugh. The end of the tunnel lay just ahead. He threw himself across the threshold, rolling and smashing through a wall of crumbling earth, landing on his knees on the other side.
Piles of earth spilled from the tunnel, blocking his exit. He exhaled, standing as he drew the Soul Reaver from its scabbard. The eyes of the skull crossguard expelled a fierce blue flame tinged with white and gold. These hellish flames emitted no heat, only light. The Soul Reaver hummed in his grasp. Perhaps Raziel sensed his old tormentor from inside the sword. Their adversary's laughter abruptly subsided.
VERY CLEVER, KAIN, it bellowed mockingly. BUT FUTILE! COME TO ME AND MEET YOUR DEATH.
Kain scanned his surroundings. Apart from a few unconvincing threats he found no sign of his quarry, yet. He heard its loathsome body dragging through some other part of the cave. Markings carved into the walls pointed him in what he presumed to be the proper direction. The roots of the Pillars lay ahead. Their adversary's attack only hardened his resolve.
He came to a ledge where two caverns intersected, lit by eerie yellow crystals. Unlike the tunnel behind him, this section had been extensively altered by beings far more archaic than him, the ancestors of the vampires. When he discovered this place he had been struck by imagery of the Soul Reaver etched into the walls, as though his killing weapon was some sort of holy icon. Ornate columns and arches marked the entrance he sought. Something new caught his eye as he approached, a monster visible only to the wielder of the purified Soul Reaver.
A massive green tentacle spooled around the architecture. The largest had suckered its body to the roof of the cave in an S pattern while the tip stretched down one of the walls. Others sprawled about the cavern, a slowly writhing nest of worms. Some were obviously poised to pull the columns down on top of him the moment he tried to pass.
Kain stopped near the passage and looked upward. Cancerous masses of flesh grew amid the quivering limbs straddling the walls of the cave, festooned with amphibious blue eyes of various sizes, all focused on him.
KAIN, SCOURGE OF THE CIRCLE AND DESTROYER OF NOSGOTH, YOUR SOUL WILL FINALLY BE MINE.
"I did not come to talk," Kain snapped.
WHAT ARE YOU, KAIN? A PESTILENT TYRANT, THE SINGULAR SOURCE OF THIS WORLD'S SUFFERING AND DECAY.
I AM THE STILL CENTER OF THE TURNING WHEEL, THE ENGINE OF LIFE, THE DEVOURER OF ALL THE HORRORS WROUGHT IN YOUR WAKE. WITH EVERY LIFE YOU DESTROYED, YOU PROFITED ME. YOU ARE NOTHING!
Still surveying the gauntlet before him, Kain curled his lip. He did not care for these sermons. They lacked subtlety.
Lunging with lightning speed, Kain swung the Soul Reaver. Its enchanted steel screamed a shrill cry of war and cleaved into the undulating flesh. White light erupted from the wound. The chamber shuddered and the limb recoiled with a roar of pain and rage. NO!
As the arm retreated the other tentacle released its hold on the columns. Kain leapt past as it lashed at him, but as he turned the corner it swung back, breaking through the arches and hurling them down the hall. He dove blindly, skidding on his stomach. The huge blocks of granite smashed into the wall behind him, splintering rock like wood. He scrambled to his feet just in time to be swept away by another attack.
It wrapped Kain's legs, thick and sturdy as a tree, and swinging him around lurched him upside down into the air. Kain's grip held true. He plunged the Soul Reaver upward into the tentacle. When the fangs of the crossguard struck flesh a whole section ruptured with purifying flame.
Unbound, Kain flipped to right himself and landed in a crouch, ducking just as another tentacle flung over his head. It crashed against the wall, showering him with light debris. The arm retracted with incredible speed, whipping and causing more destruction as it fled. Despite the hallway's impressive breadth it was still too narrow for a creature that size to maneuver. Kain rose, safe for the moment. The chamber rattled violently.
YOU GAIN NOTHING FROM THIS DEFIANCE, KAIN, it railed, stammering from pain or fear. NOSGOTH IS TOO FAR GONE. EVEN THE PILLARS CANNOT SAVE IT NOW. AND WHEN THOSE ABOMINATIONS YOU FATHERED REALIZE THIS - THEY WILL TURN ON YOU - AND THEY WILL REND YOU LIKE THE HOUNDS OF HELL!
That thought crossed his mind before, that he could give everything and fail. He had come this far on a momentous gamble. But Raziel's sacrifice granted him a weapon far more potent than the Soul Reaver. He had hope on his side.