As Kain's sword, the Soul Reaver, began to assimilate me into its cursed steel, I became confident that my oblivion was close at hand… the vampire Lord, the one that had had me cast into the Abyss to suffer eternal damnation, had turned from my enemy into my ally. But only for a few short moments, moments in which I realized the sacrifice I had to make to defeat the bane of all existence…

The Elder God, the self-proclaimed hub to the Great Wheel… I, Raziel, had once been his slave, her angel of destruction, charged with the task of purging the land from the immortal vampires, and gaining my revenge upon Kain…

I chased the vampire through space, time, through the tatters of my own heart, letting righteous anger blaze the trail ahead… I endured much pain, but conquered many foes. All between Kain and myself died at my hands… if you could call these damned claws hands…

I tore his heart from his breast once, a gory and satisfying victory… I had thought myself rid of the vampire, rid of my responsibilities. I stole the heart, and aided a vampire I indeed considered worthy to hold Kain's vampiric organ…

But I was betrayed, betrayed by the very being that had given me new life, and my hideous form.

The Elder God was no true God… he was a squid, a parasite, who fed upon the souls of countless beings, and who was driven only by his own greed, his own gluttony. He had used me for so long, used me to gain his own wants, his own desires…

But I resisted. In the end, I forced Kain, a man I had presumed dead, to impale me upon his sword… in the moments it took the weapon to absorb my life spirit into it, we came to terms with our conflicts, and parted as friends.

My story should have ended there. I should have been reduced to nothingness, my sacrifice so that Kain would have one last chance to strike down the true villain in this story.

But, it did appear that that was not meant to be my path… My story was not finished just yet…

- - -

Breathe in… breathe out… breathe in… breathe out…

Opening his eyes unsteadily, Raziel looked about unsteadily… for a moment his mind was fuzzy, memory blank… he could not quite recall who he was, where he was, what he was doing here…

Wherever this was, it was dark; a cavern of some kind, by the looks of it. The cold stone underneath his inhuman flesh was rocky and jagged, but when Raziel tried to shift his position, a wave of nausea overtook him, forcing him to remain still once more.

"Ah… you awake, no?" The guttural voice rang painfully in Raziel's ears, and he turned his head weakly. His eyes, which normally glowed with the fire of countless suns, were dull and flickering.

The oddest looking man stood crouched upon a rocky ledge, chin in hand. The man was filthy, and nearly bald, the only hair he did possess running down his back in long, greasy strands. He was covered in dirt, and only dressed in a rather skimpy loincloth… he was almost anorexic in his thinness, but what flesh he did have was obviously wiry muscle.

Raziel tried to speak, but little more than a low croak issued forth… he felt so weak… in fact, he was quite surprised that his body had not simply shifted back to the Spirit Plane…

Spirit Plane…

That simple thought suddenly brought forth a flood of memories… Kain… The Elder God… his own supposed death…

Shock made him sit straight up, but then the nausea overtook him once more and he fell on his side, retching.

The odd little man scampered forward, moving on all fours like some kind of animal… he limbs were quite agile, and he navigated the rocky plains with surprising ease… "Stay still. Weakness fills you. Nourishment you must have…"

It was then that Raziel, through his pain-ridden gaze, saw that the man carried with him a bowl, a rough wooden one… he could not see what was in it, but he did not need to. Despite his weariness, he chuckled wryly as the man attempted to push it towards him, managing to croak out a few words; "My… needs… different…"

"Life force, not food," The man urged, pushing the bowl forward again. Then he scampered back, watching the Wraith cautiously.

Raziel managed to lift his head a few inches, peering over the edge of the bowl… indeed, it was filled with a deep blue liquid, one that seemed to glow softly… that glow was warm, comforting, and it seemed to call to Raziel. Raziel had seen a substance like this in his travels through Nosgoth… but he wondered where this man had obtained it.

Lifting his hand to his mouth, he could not help but feel amusement that the sash that covered the deformed lower half of his face was still intact… it had virtually become a part of his being by now…

Lowering it, he opened his hideous jaws, one seriously overlapping the other. When he did so, he took in a deep breath, focusing upon the purified soul energy. He could see the liquid stir in response, then rise from the bowl, projecting itself down his throat and into his body.

As he absorbed it, Raziel felt the nausea fade and life spring back into his limbs… such a small amount of soul liquid had considerably rejuvenated his needs, and after he raised his sash again, he rolled to his feet, looking about the cave, eyes glowing with new power.

The man watched him, remaining crouched on the ground. His eyes were slightly narrowed as he waited, watching Raziel test his limbs.

Raziel felt wonderful… in fact, he didn't remember ever feeling this good in quite a long time… he had officially died twice, and yet for some reason he kept feeling better after every death… it was very puzzling, to be honest.

"Thank you," He finally said, bowing to the odd man. He received a grunt in return, and then nearly fell over in surprise as the man sprang up into the air, flipping in an agile somersault and landing back on the rock some seven feet away.

"Who are you?" Raziel asked curiously, approaching slowly… what an odd little man…

"I Zanarath," The man replied, jabbing a finger into his chest. "Me Man-Wraith."

"You're a- a what?" The blue demon was feeling quite confused at this point…

"Man-Wraith… me strong and fast, me live in real world, not silly boring fake one."

"Ah." That was pretty much all he could think of in response to that… from what he could gather, however, this man was some sort of Wraith that resided in the Material Plane instead of the Astral one… of course, he could just be an insane old man…

But that leap had been beyond what a human was capable of…

"How did I arrive here, precisely?" He asked after a moment, curiosity filling him. The last he had remembered was Kain's sword absorbing him into its blade…

"Me hunt in spirit world…" Zanarath replied gruffly, scurrying down the rock. "Me see you floating for afterlife… me take you and bring you here…"

But that made no sense… Raziel had assumed he would be absorbed entirely into the sword… unless…

Lifting his hand, he clenched it slightly, attempting to call upon his Wraith Blade. Normally, such an action would have formed a sword of fire upon his arm, one that could slice through flesh and soul alike…

But this time, there was nothing. Not so much as a flicker… and he did not even feel the usual hunger that the Wraith Blade normally gave off, the need for souls. Truth be told, he knew not whether to be disappointed, or relieved… on the one hand, the blade had been a powerful weapon… on the other, it had once tried to absorb Raziel's own soul…

But now he was starting to piece together what must have happened… the sword had not absorbed Raziel himself, just stripped him of the Wraith Blade, thus giving Kain the power to fight with the Elder God… but the strain had driven Raziel's soul towards the afterlife… but then Zanarath had given Raziel what strength he needed to come back to the land of the living…

He looked at Zanarath, wondering if this was necessarily a good thing… once upon a time, he would have embraced death with open arms. Were his wishes so different now?

"Why… did you bring me back?" He asked, tilting his head.

"Sarafan come. They try to take my home, to burn me. I stop them, but they come back soon. Help I need. I hear of you, Reaver who end Sarafan lives, you strong." Scurrying forward, Zanarath tugged at Raziel's arm, a pleading look upon his dirty face. "Help?"

Raziel considered it… then nodded. This man had saved his life, the least he could do was return the favour. "I will help you. Do you know when the Sarafan will arrive?"

"Soon… rest of their patrol leave many suns ago… two suns at most before bad men come back…"

Raziel nodded grimly, sighing. His task was not yet finished… it appeared that he had at the very least one more path to walk before he could find his eternal rest. If eternal rest was indeed the path he wished…

Such confusing times…

- - -

The cave led out onto a rocky ledge, one some five or six dozen feet above the ground. Down below, sparse grasses stuck up from the ground here and there, but there was mostly rocks and dirt. The only way up was a narrow path, one that spiralled around the cliff face.

Looking out towards the horizon, where the sun could be seen poking lazily, preparing to enter into its nightly slumber, Raziel took a deep breath. Though he didn't need to breathe, technically, he found the action to be quite comforting; it almost seemed to clear his head.

"Right then…" He murmured, stretching. After a moment, he lightly tried to balance himself upon one clawed foot. In the past, he could have done so with ease, but he was still weakened, and wavered upon his tedious position.

Shaking his head, feeling mild disappointment at that, he considered perhaps slipping into the Astral Plane and feeding there… but no… since the Elder God had collapsed the spectral gates, the only way he could return to the Material Plane was by possessing the bodies of the dead… and there was a good chance that there would not be a corpse anywhere for miles in this barren place.

Experimentally, Raziel settled into a defensive stance, honing his concentration. He attempted a few snapping punches, and though they sliced through the air with dazzling speed, it was still too slow…

A spin kick nearly made him fall over…

After the fifth failed uppercut, Raziel could feel frustration build inside of him… it had been too long, much too long! He had weakened, lost much of his power, and that simply would not do.

Growling, he turned and leaped, clinging to the rocky wall with his claws. The leap, he could not help but notice, was only seven feet high; he needed to grow more accustomed to his body, to regain his old strength.

Scaling the wall like a blue spider, Raziel ascended to the top in a few seconds, pulling himself over the cliff and resting on his knees. His chest heaved lightly as his head remained bowed.

He would need to conserve his strength somehow… he could not risk returning to the Astral Plane yet, and so would probably be weakened even more by the time the soldiers of the Sarafan arrived…

Unless perhaps he struck first…

The thought came unbidden to him, and for a moment Raziel wondered where it had come from. But then his conscious mind focused on what his subconscious had already seen; a flash of metal in the corner of his eye. It was some distance away, but his sharp eyes were easily able to discern the shapes of individual men… and there… a campfire was being prepared…

The Sarafan were here…

Despite their relative proximity, the rough terrain would still make any journey they could hope to attempt here take another half-day or so… but if Raziel could reach them first, he could have a chance to feed, and to regain his full strength…

Reaching behind him, he lightly tugged at his ruined wings, which had for a long time been but useless flaps of skin, good only for a painfully slow float upon the air… but maybe, if he could adjust his posture, he could sacrifice altitude for speed?

Raziel did not worry about the fall if he failed; theoretically, he could fall from the stars themselves and suffer no injury from it. And so, feeling a touch bold, he stood quietly, facing the gleam of metal. Taking a few steps back, he gave himself a running start, taking another deep, cleansing breath before launching himself from the edge.

Clawed hands gripped at the fabric of his limp wings, stretching them out like the folds of a cloak. He could feel the pressure of the air under his stretched flesh as he hovered slowly, beginning to drift sluggishly towards the ground far below.

Before he had even dipped below the ledge, however, he forced his body up, making it sure it stayed parallel to his wings. Even weakened, his body was more than strong enough to hold this position indefinitely as he angled his wings…

Already his speed began to increase, the wind whistling through Raziel's ears as he swooped forward, a blue man-bird that rocketed through the sky. He dropped at a fair pace as well, but with his momentum, he moved forward sixty feet for each foot that he dropped, and he was moving at well over ten feet per second…

Despite this, it took him many minutes to get near the camp, and by the time he did he was only about twenty feet above the ground. The sky had darkened completely, making his approach an invisible one, but he could see the large number of soldiers easily, perhaps four dozen in all…

He felt a bit worried at that… even at full strength, four dozen would be difficult to survive through, and he could not risk losing the body he possessed…

It was then, though, that he saw the small patrols circulating the area a few dozen feet away from the main group; each were travelling in solo scouting parties, and they did not even have so much as a torch… it was likely that they were low on such supplies, and did not really expect much resistance this far out in the middle of nowhere anyway…

Raziel's vision, however, could see them perfectly…

Raziel knew that he would have to be quick; one warning shout from a single scout could bring all the others upon him, and while he could glide quite quickly, he had no way of flying up…

Turning his shoulder, he brought himself about to soar towards one of the Sarafan guards, adjusting the angle of his wings so that he could drop more quickly. When he was but five feet above the ground, and six feet from the soldier, he released his wings, flipping it midair and bringing his feet to bear.

The guard found himself unable to murmur, let along shout, when two clawed feet slammed into his back with astounding force, knocking both attacker and victim a good seven feet through the air. Both landed in a pile, the blue Wraith recovering first.

Quickly slamming his clawed hand into the man's chin, the blow tore a good chunk of flesh from the soldier's face, causing him to give a small squeak of pain. Anything louder was impossible, he diaphragm and lungs compressed by Raziel's knees.

Two more blows, swift right and left hooks, took all the fight out of the man, causing him to go limp. It was then, but a few dozen feet from the comforting light of the Sarafan campfire, that Raziel pulled down his sash and began to feed.

The energy that flooded his body caused his muscles to twitch and jerk, a bloodlust that he had not felt in a long time coming over him… he had first felt it when he had first fed upon the corrupted force of a vampire, and now his heart thudded in his ribcage once more as a thin stream of energy linked he and his prey.

Once the man was good and dead, his body drained of what had once driven it, Raziel got back to his feet, moving silently across the rocky terrain. He kept his eyes narrowed to limit the glow they gave off, and with a predatory determination he stalked the remaining patrols, not even bothering to replace his sash after every feeding. For a brief hour, he was no longer the civilized Raziel; he was a hunter, and they were his food…

Once every soldier on the outer perimeter lay dead, Raziel took a deep breath, standing up from his latest victim. A quick glance at the camp showed that no one was the wiser; any who did not sleep merely chatted, or stared at the fire dully…

From the last soldier he killed, Raziel took his spear and sword, deciding that with the loss of the Wraith Blade, he would need something to supplement his fighting style. His muscles no longer felt any weakness or uncertainty, and as he moved away from the camp, back towards the cliff, he ran as silently as the wind, and just as swift…

In half a day, the Sarafan would be there, in force.

Raziel would be ready for them.