... Kain discovered, within his darkened soul, a growing disaffection for humankind as he embraced his newfound immortality.
The tower interior, I soon discovered, was nothing like its exterior had hinted it would be. After climbing a steep, winding staircase for several exhausting minutes, we arrived at a landing and an enormous wooden door. Casting me an inscrutable glance, Kain pushed it open with one clawed hand, and gestured for me to precede him. For a moment I hesitated, unwilling to show my back to one I perceived as enemy; a flicker of amusement shone then in his eyes, and gritting my teeth I stepped quickly over the threshold. Once inside, I pivoted on the spot to take in my surroundings.
The chamber was handsomely decorated. The floor beneath my feet was black and lushly carpeted. At the far end of the room, opposite of where I stood, a massive ornate marble fireplace was set into the stone of the wall. Stairs spiraled up to a second level, where I could see bookcase upon bookcase of dusty tomes on display. Upon the walls hung a myriad of tapestries; elegant, beautiful, and quite obviously ancient. The main floor was littered with furniture; a high backed chair of mahogany wood with scrolled arms and legs; a chaise of wrought iron cushioned in silk. Kain stepped past me and strode to the fireplace, where he merely had to point a finger at the logs settled within the fireplace to create a roaring flame. I jumped, startled; I had forgotten, it seemed, the extent of Kain's powers.
The vampire turned to me again, and with a sweeping gesture said to me, "Do sit down. I imagine you are weary, after your travels."
I chose a stuffed chair close to the fire, for I was now quite thoroughly chilled. Incredulous, it seemed, to hear the legendary Kain indulge in pleasantries. I was becoming increasingly aware that the vampire I had once known had irrevocably changed somehow.
"How do you find it?" He asked me suddenly. Prompted by my blank stare, he continued, "Life. Being alive once again – how do you find it?"
It took me a while to formulate an answer. "It is ... exceedingly strange. Frightening, at times. And frustrating."
I glanced at him sharply. "It could be, I suppose. I have not yet had the privilege of experiencing it as such."
"No, I imagine you have not." He turned then, and with his silent, predatory tread made his way to the high backed chair situated a few feet from my own. He settled himself snugly before turning his intense gaze to me. "How did it happen, then? How were you born again to this world?"
"I simply awoke, as if in a deep slumber."
"Where were you?"
The corner of my mouth curled up in a small, bitter smile. "In the glade where the Pillars once stood." My home for the last millennia, all because of you, I added silently.
"Ah." His eyes moved away, focused on the flickering fingers of fire that crackled in the stillness around us. "And did you remember ... everything?"
He blinked, and looked again to me. "No?"
"I knew nothing. I knew not my name, nor where I was. I knew, however, that I had been dead. And that the Pillars where somehow familiar to me."
"So you went there, to the Pillars."
"And what you found there gave you back your memories."
"Yes." Even those I did not want back.
"Is it?" I asked somewhat harshly. "To you, I suppose. But I did not want this life, and it seems there is little I can do but accept it."
"Did not want life?" Incredulity was foremost in his tone. "I cannot believe that anyone given a second chance such as this would rather cast it back at whatever powers had bestowed it upon them."
"You forget, Kain, exactly in what manner I existed for the millennia prior to my final rest." I could not keep the scathing bitterness from my tone, nor did I wish to.
"Ah," he said again, and his clawed hands curled over the arms of his chair. "And there we have it. Even before I came to recognize you today, there was something simmering just beneath your surface, strong enough to be felt. Rage, and hatred, and no small amount of sorrow, I imagine ... and all of it directed towards me."
Shaken that he'd read me so easily, I mutely and steadfastly stared into the fire. He went on, "I do not begrudge you those, Ariel. But, I must ask you – have you come all this way only for answers, or had you some hopes at vengeance as well?"
"Hopes, yes," I replied fiercely. "I wish for no more than for you to endure what torture I had endured. I wish for you to hate me the way I've hated you for centuries. Mostly I wish you dead, but I have not the power to grant myself that wish, nor am I likely ever to. And so I must settle for answers, and continue to hope."
He began to laugh then, the sound rich and echoing. "How brutally honest!" His laughter died abruptly, and he leaned forwards in his chair. I could not drag my eyes away from his own, so intense in their regard that inwardly I shrank away. "Would it make any difference, Ariel, to know that I have learned in this last decade the pain of regret?"
"Have you?" I wondered in blatant disbelief.
He nodded, leaning back again. "Oh yes. And ... I hate it, but I cannot lose it. Part of Raziel's gift, I suppose." He added, and the irony in his tone was thick enough to taste.
I opened my mouth to ask, Raziel's gift? Kain was still speaking, and so I remained silent. "You see ... I regret many, many things. What I had done to you weighs heavily upon my conscience. But, I wonder, does that change your regard for me?"
I thought about it for long moments. "No." I finally whispered.
He nodded again. "I thought not. As I said before, I do not begrudge you those feelings. However – I do not intend you harm. Like your anger, your fear of me was also quite apparent. I swear to you there is nothing to be afraid of."
How I wanted to disbelieve him! But his tone was earnest, solemn, which was something I'd never thought to hear from him. Seeing my acceptance on my face, he smiled. "Good. Now – on to what you came in search of. Your answers."
I was silent. He rose then, and began to walk a path before me in slow, measured steps. "Fifteen years have passed, since my return to this time, this age, armed still with the Soul Reaver. However, it had changed remarkably. After you merged with Raziel's Reaver, Raziel himself discovered that the fate he had been so desperately trying to escape was inevitable, as he'd feared. However ... it was not quite the destiny he thought it to be. By a case of mistaken identity I impaled him upon my Reaver, and he began to disappear within the blade. Before he was gone, however, he told me that it was meant to be this way, that this was what he was meant for: to be my weapon, to be, as before, my right hand. And so, with Raziel within my Reaver, I was able to see the true enemy – the Elder God. But that," here he paused, casting me another inscrutable glance, "I suspect you already knew."
I did not reply. I had known all along the role the Elder God played.
"In addition to my newfound sight which the new Reaver granted me with, I gained new abilities. One of those, as I mentioned, was being able to feel remorse for all the crimes I've committed. I can sense now, to a great extent, what any creature feels. And perhaps the most important thing I've gained is insight ... but I shall speak more on that later."
He had stopped his pacing, and was staring again into the flames. "Time weighs heavily upon me, more so now than ever it did before. It affects my mind, affects my thinking. I no longer know my destiny or my fate, and in frustration for my lack of vision I did something desperate. Fifteen days I ago I cast the Soul Reaver into what remains of the Lake of the Dead, hoping the Abyss would destroy the accursed blade and free me from whatever intricate webs are woven around it."
"And there, Ariel, is the how of your new existence. I must admit, I thought the Reaver to be impervious, and so when I cast it into those roiling, swirling depths I thought no harm would come to it. When the blade struck the water, however ... there was an explosion of mass proportions. The sword shattered, and escaping from it I saw hundreds of souls, soon pulled down into the depths of the water. I do not think that that is all that escaped from the sword. I think you were set free from its confines, and I think that is why you are here in front of me now, a living, breathing entity."
"But why ...?" I whispered.
He shook his head. "That I cannot tell you. I only know the how of it. And now ... there is something else you must know. Something I must show you."
Curious, I stared after him, twisting around in my chair, as he strode back to the door through which we had entered. He swung it open easily and stepped aside, as if inviting me to peer through. I could see nothing but a silhouette standing just outside the light of this chamber, but as the figure moved into vision I could not help the audible gasp that escaped me.
No longer was he a ruined, wraithlike mockery of what once he had been. Whole again, he had regained his former glory; he was unmistakably vampiric. Despite this, he still shrouded himself still with the insignia cape of his clan, wrapping it about his face and neck. He was clad otherwise in black, some of it armor. I could see, as he stepped forward with a silent, stealthy tread similar to that of Kain's, that his body had not been entirely restored. Fluttering slightly in the wind of his passage, hanging from his shoulder blades, were the tattered remnants of his wings. As he entered the room Kain gently shut the door behind him, trapping me effectively; the mortal and the two immortals.
"Raziel," Kain said, gesturing my way, "Meet one who was reborn much the way you were."
Raziel's eyes, above the mask of his cape, narrowed. He studied me a moment, and I realized he had no idea who I was. How could he, when he had only seen me as a tortured and bloody specter? He moved his gaze to Kain's, questioningly. "Unfamiliar?" Kain asked, and I detected within his tone a hint of amusement. He was enjoying making Raziel play this little guessing game.
"Who is she?" Raziel asked. How very well I remembered his voice, too; it was soft, yet always it carried beneath it a tone of superiority and easy arrogance; the tone of one used to being obeyed.
I began to speak, to tell him my identity, but Kain held up one clawed hand to stall me. "Come Raziel! She gave you guidance when you needed it, often enough –"
"Ariel." Raziel whispered abruptly.
"Raziel," I said, my words just as quiet. "I did not think to be seeing you again."