"What say I?" Kain repeated dumbly as he stared deep into the distorted reflection he cast in that grotesque, monstrous eye. His image warped across its convex, gelatinous and undulating surface. His mind struggled to process the absurd predicament in which he found himself. Nothing which had been said to him connected logically and he fought with considerable effort to react with any semblance of rationality. The Vampire shook his head to bring himself back to conversation and his brow furrowed.
"What in all the depraved depths of the cosmos could you possibly expect me to say?" He demanded, lips pulled back in a snarl as he looked firmly into the gaze from that colossal eye. "After everything that has happened, everything you have put me and this world through, you expect me to believe a single word you utter?!" Anger at the sheer audacity of this divinity clad parasite made his voice quaver.
Before him, the eye blinked in its horizontal fashion with the pupil narrowing to a near indistinguishable dark slit.
"No, I would imagine not." The echoing voice replied with a rumble of amusement, seemingly entertained by Kain's display of obvious incredulity. "At least not without proof of my sincerity. A token of goodwill, if it pleases you."
The suggestion hung in the putrid air as the silence lengthened. Kain pursed his lips tightly together, his grip on the hilt of the Reaver strengthening so much that the blade twitched and wavered in his grasp, its tip clinking off the cavern floor. There was no way this could be anything more than some twisted attempted to mislead him and that was the best case scenario he could think of. But despite all the doubt and scepticism that flared through him, one small voice wondered if there was a chance, however small, of this being genuine.
"I can't believe I'm even considering this absurd, ludicrous negotiation." He growled, more angry at himself this moment than anything else. With his fangs exposed, Kain glared into his enemy's waiting stare. "Alright demon, I'll play your game!" The Vampire snapped and raised his free hand to point a talon forward. "If you want to prove to me that you are indeed sincere, then answer me this…Your new angel of death, this mutation you have forced upon Asmodeus, the one who now calls himself Abaddon; what is the source of his strength?"
It was a calculated move on his part to ask such a thing. If this was indeed some sort of trick, then the information would prove invaluable in dealing with a powerful opponent. There was of course the chance that his monstrous enemy might lie to him, but it would at least keep him talking and so long as he talked Kain felt he might be able to gleam relevant accurate information out of him.
The large eye rolled off to one side as if glancing away with some disdain.
"And what makes you think I did not simply grant him such power directly?" The false God asked as several tentacles slathering up the sides of the walls either side of the pulsating nucleus. His voice had a slight injured tone to it, as if taking offense at the suggestion that he was not the source of his agent's might.
"Because if you could grant such power, you'd have given it to Raziel when you first set him upon me, to ensure his quick and easy victory while you still have sway over him." Kain scowled back, gesturing dismissively with his hand. "This Abaddon was strong enough to withstand attacks from Raziel, Ajatar and myself all at once. So clearly he has an advantage that the wraith on our side does not."
The eye rolled about in its fleshy socket for a moment, gazing up at the swirling tempest of souls being fed into the toothed maw above before it slowly rotated to look squarely at him. It's twined pupil widened out and once more Kain could see his distorted reflection in its pitch blackness.
"Perceptive." That deep echoing voice conceded grudgingly, the eye glaring at him with evident annoyance. Kain stared right back with equal spite.
"Well?" He asked, waiting. Silence endured for another few prolonged moments before the eye blinked again.
"Asmodeus was a talented agent and an asset to the Divus. But his ambition and jealousy of his monarch finally pushed him into recklessness that put the grand design in jeopardy. It was his ego that gave you the opportunity to destroy Fanum-Divus. He became far more of a burden than I could tolerate." The false God began finally. "I needed his drive and skills but not his impulsiveness. Quite a conundrum."
Kain stepped back quickly as two large tentacles rose up either side of the rocky platform on which he stood. The tentacles slipped up and then curled about each other forming a circle of slithering green flesh in mid air. In the centre of this circle the air simmered and changed, a hazy image forming, wavering like ripples disturbing the surface of still water. Kain kept the Reaver tightly at his gaze as he watched, brow furrowed.
The image showed Asmodeus as Kain had known him before his change, a blue skinned ancient Vampire but one who had been spared affliction by the Dark gift of the Hylden. He was on his knees, his body battered, scarred and bloodied. Behind him his wings were a bloody wreck, draped uselessly on the floor. The crown of Fanum-Divus he had worn so proudly gone and all his finery reduced to blood soaked rags. All about him stood a crowd of Divus, all recognisable due to their diversity of species and the archaic robes they wore. It was the picture of one being judged by his peers and being found wanting.
Asmodeus' image raised himself up, hands raised imploringly and an expression of untold fear on his bloodied face. Kain knew that expression all too well. It was the face of one about to beg for mercy. But before a sound could escape Asmodeus' lips, the broken Divus was engulfed by a blinding light. What emerged then from his mouth were no words but instead a hideous terrified scream.
"So I rebuilt him. I took all of his useful qualities and discarded the unwanted neurosis. I molded Abaddon from the clay of Asmodeus." The voice of his enemy continued as the narrative unfolded. To watch as Asmodeus was 'remolded' was not a pleasant experience, even for one as hardened to the macabre as Kain. Bones were shifted, organs were pulped, muscle and skin rewoven like cotton into a tapestry. But this was a change that was not simply physical. The screams coming from Asmodeus was his very form and soul were twisted about changed in pitch and volume almost constantly, before being sharply muffled as the change reached its climax.
"And the heart of this new being, I placed a shard of this ancient weapon." Kain leaned forward with sudden interest, watching as something in this image was being guided towards the chest of the now newly formed Abaddon. It was a jagged object of irregular outline, about the size of a large penny. It flowed towards Abaddon and sank without any seeming resistance into his chest to take up residence in his heart.
It took a moment but Kain recognised that shard, the material it was made from. Quickly he glanced away from the image he was being shown and looked directly at the white pyramid over which the False God's nucleus grew like a cancer. It took the Vampire a few moments but sure enough he spotted it. A piece of material from the Celestial Arrow had been pried free, just below the large singular eye watching him, leaving a small but noticeable vacant hole.
"With this fragment of the Arrow, Abaddon can call upon powers the likes of which Raziel could only dream of. He commands the shades, finally a general who can use them like no other. His powers will continue to grow as his body adjusts to the presence of the fragment and his evolution reaches new heights." The False God continued in gloating exaltation, the image he showed revealing Abaddon emerging from the crucible of his own creation. With a gesture this new entity summoned the relentless horde of darkness Kain had fought with so recently and cloaked themselves in their seething mass like a shroud. "His potential is limitless!"
Kain scowled as the tentacles retracted with a disgusting wet squelching sound and the image vanished, leaving him glaring into that single giant eye which despite having no other facial features somehow managed to look smug.
"So the man who craves power is made a demigod, but is so remade in the process that his avaricious mind can not even enjoy it." Kain muttered grimly.
"Consider that his punishment for his hubris." The voice of his enemy replied with grim finality.
"If this would be God was indeed telling the truth then I had not yet seen the full extent of Abaddon's potential might. Disconcerting to be sure. Yet it begged the question; if Abaddon was only going to grow in power, why would a ceasefire and parlay even be contemplated?"
If indeed the source of Abaddon's power was then shard of the Celestial arrow implanted into his heart, then logic dictated the best means of dispatching the seemingly invincible foe was to simply tear the organ out of him. Yet somehow Kain could not shake the feeling that such an obvious weak spot would not be as easy to exploit as he imagined. No doubt precautions had been taken to ensure its protection.
"And just where is Abaddon now?" The Vampire asked quickly, before his enemy could press the general topic of the conversation further. The colossal eye narrowed in a squint as it glared down at him.
"Even now, my new Angel fights for me." The false god said in reply and with no small amount of satisfaction. "He contends in constant struggle, clashing back and forth from realm to the other, with his predecessor."
It took a moment for Kain to realize exactly what or who was being referenced by the use of the word 'predecessor'. The battle he had been thrown from when he had wound up so deep underground was still going on. Abaddon and Raziel had not stopped fighting. No, of course they had not. Raziel would not rest, not for a moment, until he had wrested back Ariel's spirit from Abaddon's thieving clutches.
It was all a matter of endurance now. Which would win the war of attrition? Abaddon's strength or Raziel's will? Kain felt a little smile part his lips. If there was one creature through the entire cosmos with willpower to rival and even surpass his own, it was Raziel.
"Well then Kain, does this satisfy you?" The deep echoing voice asked into the lingering silence. Kain blinked, his smile fading and looking back up at his reflection in the curved eyeball.
"Let us say for now that it does and go on from there." He began in a very slow, deliberate tone of voice. "You've laid out what you propose. But what exactly do you expect me to do?"
The eyeball blinked twice in its disgusting horizontal fashion.
"Once our conversation here is finished, you will depart from this place and return to your little alliance." His enemy told him in harsh reply, his words echoing in the abyss of this colossal cavern several times. "You will tell them my terms and convince them that their only chance to save their world is to stand down and leave my ship unmolested. I in turn will command my Divus to form a defense perimeter around my ship and to hold that line until I am ready to depart. I will forbid them from launching any assaults upon you or your allies."
The twin tentacles surged up once more, again creating the ring in which formed the wavering illusion. This time it showed the gleaming vessel the Divus had constructed for their master, the twin swan like wings of the Ark's hull illuminated as if lit from below be heavenly light. It hung over the swirling vortex of the abyss where it had been when escaping from the collapsing city of Fanum-Divus. The ship had clearly been designed to invoke feelings of religious reverence and unstoppable divine power. Personally, Kain simply thought it was a gaudy eye sore.
"Then, when the Ark is ready to leave, I shall board her and venture forth. The Equinox will come and I shall shield this world from the worst ravages of its immense energies." His enemy went on and in the shown image, the ship rose up and ascended into the star lit heavens, slowly rising until was no more than a dot in the sky. Then it was gone entirely. "Afterward, Nosgoth will be left to you and your ilk. Save it, squander it, fight over it; at this point I care not."
Kain listened to it all with a steady, deep frown. All of this was very easy to say but it might prove a far more difficult challenge to actually manifest this set of circumstances.
"Consider your position rationally, Kain." The booming voice went on as the tentacles separated once more and rolled undulating either side of the looming, wet eyeball. "Do you imagine that if you were facing another general whose forces outmatched yours, they would make so generous an offer?"
And there, Kain was forced to admit albiet it with immense bitterness, his enemy had a point.
"No. No they would not." He conceded flatly. Any half competent military commander with such an overwhelming numerical advantage would not even consider an offer of truce. They would press the attack and squash the enemy. An enemy destroyed was far safer than an enemy at a negotiation table.
"Then do what you know you must." The eye before him loomed in its fleshy socket before seeming to retract, sucked back in with a skin crawling wet sound. "Unfortunately, until such time as you command your forces to stand down I can not tell my own to do the same. The risk to the Ark is too great. So if my offer is to be taken up, you must make the first move."
Kain pressed his lips firmly together at that. That he expected. If there was to be a truce, then he would have to be the one to lower his weapons first. That was always the problem with truces. Someone had to put down his weapon before the other and that always left them open to an attack. Although he somehow doubted that was was his enemy had in mind. It was simply too obvious a ploy.
"What assurance do I have that you will honour your word if I do?" He asked anyway, prolonging the conversation deliberately. Somehow the large wet eyeball managed to look offended.
"None whatsoever." The false god replied with brutally blunt honesty. "After all we both know any assurances I might offer would be worthless to you. But that does not change the fact that this may be your last and only chance to save your dying world."
Anyone might be forgiven for considering the offer, for weighing the pros and cons and making a judgement based on what they thought was best. But Kain did not want to be that person. He did not want to take anything this slimey pulsating cancerous tumor of a creature as anything other than a foul self serving lie. He wanted to reject anything it might utter and simply smash it's disgusting body out of existence with sheer bullheaded aggression. But despite every revolted impulse in his body he found himself evaluating the offer in a clinical, detached manner.
Of course this offer hinged entirely on his enemy being actually capable of shielding Nosgoth's fragile being from the powerful effects of the Equinox when it occurred. Once more something very easy to say he had the power to do and yet he had presented no evidence of this ability. He was just relying on the reverence and assumption of ultimate power that came with being a 'God'. Since Kain suffered from no such delusion. Yet neither could he rule out the possibility that his enemy could indeed do what he claimed. Whether or not he actually would, was another matter altogether. As his enemy had said, any assurances would indeed be worthless.
Yet despite all the instinct and logic telling him, screaming at him, that this so called deal was little more than some elaborate trap or scheme Kain could not silence that small voice inside of himself. A voice that dared to hope that all he had to do in order to save the world was to merely do nothing. A voice which against all reason hoped that his enemy would keep his word and depart, never to be seen again, leaving them to rebuild a world brought to the very brink of total collapse. It was a voice of utter naivety and all the more stubborn because of it.
"There was no doubt in my mind there was some ulterior motive for wanting my compliance in this insane offer a truce. Clearly there was more to this, some other reason then mere concern over the safety of the Ark which compelled my enemy to invite me here to talk. Whatever it was, I sensed it was imperative I discover it as quickly as possible."
Kain's frown deepened, both from his dark thoughts and from the putrid smell of this place which assaulted him perpetually. Suddenly he wished not to stand in this vile cavenus chamber a moment longer.
"Then I suppose our business here is concluded." The Vampire said flatly, half turning from the eye still looking down upon him. Before he could take a step forward, a large thick blubbery green tentacle slipped free from the slimy walls of the surrounding grotto and bared his way. Kain tensed instantly, raising up his serpentine blade.
"Not quite." His enemy said with a rumble of amusement echoing about the chamber. "There is one other, small matter to attend to." Before Kain could say anything, the tentacle raised up to form a grossly malformed dripping archway. "Moebius, my devoted servant. Step forward."
The spectre of the old dead Time Guardian advanced obediently into the grotto. He came once beckoned like a beaten dog obeying a call from its master, head hung low and shouldered hunched together. Before the sight of the old manipulative man's spirit had inspired pity in Kain, but now seeing him cringe and fawn that pity was replaced with an overwhelming disgust and contempt. Even the ethereal hand in which he carried his ghostly lantern seemed to quaver as he held it out before him.
"I am here, my master." The ghost announced in a voice which was oddly flat, deliberately neutral. The reverence, the wistful romantic look Kain had always seen on his face when he spoke of his divine master was entirely gone. Now there was only cringing fear.
"Come closer." The voice of the false god said in a deceptively mild tone almost ingratiating tone when Moebius' ghost paused beside Kain. The Vampire and the spectre exchanged a brief look, then the spectre took a few steps closer. Kain did not fail to notice that Moebius was looking just about anywhere other than directly at the pulsing nucleus and its colossal eyeball.
"You have served me faithfully in both life and death. I have a task that I can only trust to one so devoted." That voice droned at them. "You are to venture forth from this place and accompany Kain back to his ...people. You will act as my voice and will amongst them. You will bare witness to the choice he makes."
Kain visibly started. THAT was something he could quite honestly say he had not anticipated. Moebius looked even more stunned. His ghost took a step backwards in his startelement and his mouth dropped down.
"Leave..the city?" The spectre remarked with trepidation. "I…"
"And why should I consent to having this pathetic spectre haunt me?" Kain snapped, cutting Moebius off before he could say anything further.
"He will be going whether you consent or not. Either beside you or following behind." The voice replied flatly. "Think of him as my ambassador."
Moebius was visibly shaken and had his free hand resting about his ghostly throat, his face a study of intense anxiety.
"Master, I.. I do not know if.. If I can.." He managed to stammer out as that large eye rolled in its fleshy socket to look at him. Moebius looked up at it and then glanced away quickly, meeting that inhuman gaze causing him what looked almost like the physical pain of a living body.
"You will go, Moebius." The False God said in a firm tone. "You will go because I command it."
Kain glanced about quickly when a slick slopping sound reached him. About the walls of the grotto the tentacles were writhing, sliding all over each other like a nest of restless serpents. Tentacles of all different sizes were undulating together, moving sluggishly but with sinister purpose forward. The Vampire kept his sword raised at his side, but the tentacles ignored him, sliding past and converging towards the spectre of the Time Guardian.
Moebius had not yet noticed as he was too preoccupied with his own anxiety about the chore his master was laying upon him.
"Master, I .. but I …" He was saying. Suddenly the tentacles surged up all about him, forming an arching cage like posture all about the ghostly form, like he was trapped in between cruelly arching claws fingers. Each tentacle began then to pulse with a sickly looking green radiance, the energy of harnessed souls flowing beneath the slimy disgusting skin. Moebius looked about in panicked alarm, finding himself trapped.
"You will go." The voice of the False God intoned in utter finality. "And you will do so in the guise best suited to this task."
The glow intensified suddenly, the tentacles emitting so much green light that Kain had to raise one hand to cover his eyes. The air in the grotto grew heavy and tense, as if it had taken on the heft of stagnant water. Moebius' form vanished into that light, the last Kain saw of him was of the ghostly form looking back with a terror stricken expression.
"No more the shade of a man!" That voice announced, the sound echoing all the more in the tense air. "No more the form of who you had been in life!"
The tentacles then retreated, sliding back to their usual positions and their glow faded as they reported. The air returned to its normal state. Kain lowered his hand and looked out.
Moebius was gone. Where his spirit had been standing something was hovering, bobbing up and down gently just off the ground. It was a ball of flame, flickering pale green and blue fires dancing together in a display of intermixing colours. Occasionally, Kain would swear he saw the outline of the old man's face formed by those dancing flames.
The great eyeball of the nucleus looked on, the reflection of the fires dancing in its elongated pupil.
"Now you are a will'o'wisp! The Ignus Fatuus! The light of the spirit."