By: Phoenix Flame
Disclaimer: I do not own Legacy of Kain, but all the OCs are mine. A couple of gently-used shoutouts are half mine.
Author's Note: This little plot bunny has been prowling around my skull for a while, and grew quite a bit in the process. I loves me some Raziel, but I wanted to write a story starring a different lieutenant. I enjoy feedback of all kinds, so, in the all likelihood of sounded cliché, please read and review!
Chapter 1: The Cave
Moonlight glittered off the swaying grass, giving it a look of wetness though it had not rained in weeks. The stretch of grass suited the predators. Foxes crept through the heather, hidden from other creatures stumbling through the field. From above an eagle easily noticed the shifting of the long blades as something scampered underneath. But the foxes remained burrowed in their dens while the eagles took safety in the trees. Fiercer predators stalked through the night.
"What are we even looking for?"
"Something that died a week ago," Ryszard snapped.
Selik eyed the grizzled vampire who rode in front. Ryszard's leather cuirass was mottled with dried blood, while his eyes stayed fixed on the dark horizon.
"Then why did Zephon order this patrol?" Selik asked.
"The remnants of the humans we fought near Stierstadt fled this way," Trennen answered with annoyed patience.
Selik could almost hear Trennen's eyes rolling. He wasn't so much older, only a decade. Snorting, Ryszard and turned back in his saddle. The moonlight gleamed off the scar across his cheek and nose. Selik paused at the older vampire's derisive gaze.
"I fought them, unlike you two whelps," he said. "Any left would have died of septic by now."
Trennen's horse skipped a stride; Selik felt the vampire stiffening with frustration. "They could have found another village to shelter them."
Ryszard's smiles were always half a snarl. "Wrong again. They headed south. The only village that way within three-days ride was abandoned months ago from plague." He touched the hilt of his broadsword. "Any single houses left are too scared to risk it. We are looking for their corpses or any of the human's army."
Selik groaned inwardly. Ryszard was normally taciturn, until he got the chance to correct a mistake. Then he became very talkative, either with words or fists. Worse still, he was bored. Selik knew little of Trennen, beyond the fact he loathed his superior.
This was his third patrol, and already Selik understood why his sire preferred to design stratagems from the war room and send out parties to deal with more straining work. More boring work, he amended.
While the Dumahim laughed and called it laziness, Zephon won his battles with strategy before force. Zephon designed the means to take Nactholm, thought to be impregnable with its encompassing lake.
Arrogant Raziel claimed his legendary victory over Baldur, but had he thought of a way to get an army over a lake? A swill of pride filled the vampire for his clan. That did not make him any happier to be out roving the countryside for humans that were either dead or dying.
He wondered if Zephon would have sent them out on this mission if the men were not Blue Thrones, the latest humans who couldn't stand the thought of being conquered. These in particular came from the nobility, a class much eviscerated in the last fifty years.
Selik smiled at a memory. If the others in the chamber spoke true, Turel's firstborn had asked why they were making such an effort to stamp out all traces of the Thrones. After all, they were little more than an angry, well-dressed rabble. Lord Kain smashed him in the face with a painting of a field of staked vampires, all victims of the Sarafan.
Though he was irritated at the search, he understood the need for strangling the child in the cradle. It did not help matters that apparently the leader of the Thrones, some Lord Sandulf, claimed a leader of the Sarafan as an ancestor. Or a sorcerer—damned if he knew; the story changed every month or so. What made some vampires furious was Sandulf's supposed large army, which no one could actually find in its entirety.
Suddenly his horse balked and sidestepped. Nudging it back, Selik wondered what had startled the animal. Then he noticed that his companions' mounts stirred too, their eyes rolling like marbles.
Within moments it passed and the horses resumed their steady pace. Ryszard remained glaring at the distant trees as if they were about to uproot and come after him. Doubtless he had been a human army officer, even if he could not remember it. His wariness was infuriating at times.
"What's down there?"
Selik turned to see Trennen had pulled up, looking down. For a moment, he wondered what was so interesting about tall grass, until he realized that they had stopped at the edge of a cliff. Riding closer, he saw that the cliff led into a deep gully.
He felt foolish for not having seen it earlier, but when he looked at Ryszard the older vampire also looked interested. It was a fine place to provoke a charge. He could picture those stupid nobles charging their destriers, lances couched, only to crash into the ravine—
"I see a cave at the bottom," Trennen said.
"Glad your stupidity hasn't blinded you." Ryszard had nudged his horse as close to the edge as he could and scowled at the trench. "We'll have to look inside."
Before he could stop himself, the question flew from Selik's mouth. "Who will know?"
Ryszard's tone was ominous. "If not Zephon, then Lord Kain. Would you anger either?"
The raven flying through the sky received more than a perfunctory glance. A moment later, the vampire turned and cast Selik a wolfish grin.
"Go check the cave. Ask me why again and I'll break your jaw and throw you down there myself."
Unlike the boasts of many boisterous fledglings, Trennen included, Selik had no doubt Ryszard's threat was true. Many of those same fledglings, Trennen again included, discovered under Ryszard's training that quick healing was not such a blessing after all.
Selik dismounted and assessed the cliff. His elders could jump the whole way down with no issue but he would need to climb. It looked easy enough; better a slower climb than a broken ankle. He lowered himself to his knees and began to scale the side of the gully.
Soon he began to curse. His talons were designed for tearing; the sharp points could not directly pierce the deceptively smooth cliff face. A snarl of frustration tore from his mouth as he reached back and slashed his claws at the rock. It made a screech that set his fangs on edge, but it gave him a small handhold.
Continuing his descent, he wondered if his claws would be bloody stubs by the time he reached that damned cave. Besides that, he felt something unsure deep in his gut. He scowled. Perhaps the scouting had sharpened his nerves.
The Zephonim were naturally good climbers. Even now as precarious as descent was, he felt reasonably steady. He felt his frame against the rock, and instinctively knew when he needed to lean to the side or adjust his footing. It was still not easy climbing. If any of the humans had sought shelter in the cave, chances were they had broken every bone in their body. Likely not, as Ryszard knew the cave was empty. Making him bloody his hands now saved him the trouble of dismounting his horse to hit Selik for questioning orders.
His precarious concentration promptly shattered when Trennen barked in surprise and steel sang from a sheath.
He jerked and stiffened but pushed his weight too far back. Scrabbling for balance, his grip tore free and he crashed the rest of the way down. The vampire smashed against the ravine's rocky floor, driving his shoulder and hip hard into the gravelly surface.
Selik sprawled on the ground in a position most undignified for a fierce vampire warrior. He groaned and sat up, holding his left arm gingerly. Inspecting his throbbing hand, he saw that two of the nails had ripped free and a third had snapped in half. The blood trailing from the damaged fingers shone darkly in the moonlight. At least there was no water.
"What was that?" he called up.
Ryszard's gravelly voice answered back. "An idiot. Are you hurt?"
"Not too badly."
"Then get up and look at that cave," snapped the vampire.
Groaning, Selik eased himself to his feet. If he had fed recently, his injuries would have begun to mend. He hadn't fed in several days. The vampire made his way to the cave.
The cavern was naturally made. He walked through the triangular entrance and into the darker depths. Inside, the air clung to his skin while the darkness seemed an undulating presence. Even his acute vampire eyes could not make out everything in the cavern.
Still, it was just a cave. He smelled no trace of humans or blood, only earth and loam. He climbed—fell—all the way down here and there was nothing! Striking the wall in frustration, a hiss cut from his lips as his hand bled more freely. Then everything changed.
The emptiness of the cave disappeared. Selik whirled, his back to the wall and senses quivering. He felt no human or vampire, he was certain of that, but a nameless presence pervaded the darkness.
He flinched as the voice cut through the black abyss. Twisting to look around him, he could not find the direction it had come from. As if the darkness itself spoke.
"Who are you?"
The voice was smooth, lyrical if slightly sibilant as it replied. "Only a creature that has dwelled here for too long." The voice paused before continuing. "So long, I have almost forgotten your kind."
The voice was not so level anymore. A faint, hissing growl mingled with the smoothness. Now that he had heard it, Selik realized the timbre sounded silken, but far from mellifluous. A feeling stirred low in his gut as the voice picked up fervor again.
"I see that you retain your wretchedness. Filthy…bastard…murderers." The voice twisted into a furious rasp and rebounded across the walls.
The serpentine tenor wracked over him in fury. Selik jerked his sword from its sheath. Instantly he felt the enraged presence recede, and the smoothness returned.
"Calm, sirrah. I see now. Your scent is different. Twisted, more like…me."
Selik glared at the darkness but remained silent. Books told of demons and ghosts, but nothing seemed like this thing.
A bitter laugh. "No, it does nothing to hate me. I am almost too insubstantial to detest. Not like I was, vampire."
The vampire shifted uneasily. At last, he believed the sound was coming from the far end of the cave. He felt no compulsion to venture closer. Not without Ryszard.
"You still have not answered me. What is your name?"
"I hardly remember," the voice replied. "A name is only remembered when it is spoken. All who spoke my name are gone from this place."
He could hear little anger anymore in its voice, only melancholy.
"If all of your kind are gone, why do you remain?" he ventured.
"I have no desire to stay, not alone. But I made a promise."
There was such glumness in the tone that Selik found himself curious, and almost concerned. What is wrong with me? He sheathed his sword, the movement occurring before the thought crossed his mind. He began to back up. Instantly the darkness shifted, like a snake rearing to attention.
He tried to distract it. "What drives you to stay?"
The same bitter laugh wafted through the cave and he found his question ignored.
"It has been so long since anyone has seen me. You cannot know how it is, to live through the epochs in a single place, to be in the one unchanging thing as the centuries tarry on. Lucky, free, blood drinker." For an instant the guttural hiss returned, only to be quickly quelled. "Tell me, would you like to see me? No one has seen my kind in centuries."
Selik peered into the unnatural darkness. The air smelled differently now—charged, weakly so, but stirring with energy. And it seemed that in the black depths, something even darker stirred.
Zephon would want to know about this. An ancient creature unseen for ages…He quelled his curiosity. Almost to the mouth of the cave, some of his uncertainty had eased.
Half for bravery, half for curiosity, his tongue betrayed him. "Come with me if you like, stranger."
A scabrous laugh ricocheted off the cavern walls, cold and vicious. Triumph shattered the melancholy as the stagnant energy roared into fervor. Selik drew his sword once again, trying to track the sound but finding it buffeting his senses from all angles. And suddenly, something clamped onto him.
The vampire leapt back, only to collide with a wall of the cave. The thing that had taken hold of him did not touch his skin, but he felt the pressure deeper, as if his thoughts themselves were being seized.
"Let go of me!" he roared, clawing at his own head with his free hand until blood trailed in rivulets down his face. Or thought he roared—his jaw felt locked, his whole body rigid.
He twisted and fell, only to smash again into the stony wall. The force of the impact knocked the sword from his other hand. He struggled blindly, as something he could never remember feeling quaked in his chest. Fear. His body remembered it of course, from time before it changed and the mind forgot. He scrabbled at the ground for balance, slashing blindly with his free hand.
Finally, a victorious rasp pervaded the cave, but this time, the words hissed from his own mouth. "You asked to see me, filthy wretch."
The force slammed into him again, and in one final second, he knew he was lost.
"You asked why I stay, sirrah," the voice snarled in hideous ecstasy. "Vengeance."