Disclaimer: I don't own any of the Legacy of Kain characters, settings, etc.
A Time for Grieving
"Claiborne!" The sudden call distracted Kain from his opening line. Claiborne's attention moved from him to the other speaker. In the beginning Kain had been very affronted by her disdain for his rank. But he had been young back then, and had since learned a bit of patience. "Oh! I'm sorry to interrupt," said a brawny teenage boy, scars of acne on one cheek and mussed hair pushed into his face. He was shaped by hard labor at the anvil, layers of muscles stacked under his sleek skin.
"What do you need, Dorset?" she addressed him, turning away from Kain in what would have been a fatal move for any other. He remained patiently beyond Claiborne's dark eyed range of vision.
"I'm so sorry, Claiborne. I just wanted you to know that man what wanted a sword's here to get it," he said, bowing awkwardly to Kain with his eyes pasted to the floor humbly. Fear jittered nervously beneath his carefully schooled expression, the overwhelming smell of terror permeating from him.
"Take him to the tavern for a few drinks and put him up at the Inn," Claiborne instructed. "I'm not to be disturbed."
"Sorry ma'am," Dorset apologized again, stooping in another awkward bow. Claiborne ushered him out and locked the old door after him. As the door was sealed behind the boy and the anxious perfume he exuded faded, Kain felt himself engulfed in Claiborne's unusual company. His sense of the outside world faded, and he found himself only aware of the four walls in the cozy shop she kept.
With her warm skin and rosy cheeks, she looked human. Her too large eyes with impossibly long lashes were fringed by the bangs of that unruly braid, and her blue dress and white apron were charmingly provincial. She dried her hands on the stained apron and returned to him, her fine boned feet in their shoes clicking softly across the polished floor.
She went to the table where her books were open wide, the detailed chronicles of a thousand forgotten histories. She leaned over and blew some ink dry. Kain watched the way the molten candles a million times replaced cast a soft golden edging to her sharp features. Her skin looked amber in the lighting.
"You are Emperor. You can sit, if you so like," she prompted, her dark eyes focusing on him suddenly. If Kain were younger, he would have felt embarrassed to be caught examining her with such precision. Instead he merely pulled back a chair and seated himself at her table as she closed books and shuffled papers out of the way. He resumed his unabashed examination of her fluid movements until she had situated herself before him. She laced her fingers together and propped her chin upon them, fixing him in her sights.
"It would seem your human charade maintains plausibility," Kain said by way of conversation. Claiborne just lifted an eyebrow and put her hands down on the table. She leaned back and glanced around the room once.
"Except in the basest forms, I am human," she replied.
"Isn't it that baseness which specifically classifies you as entirely inhuman?" Kain asked, smirking at her from across the table. "You either are, or you are not."
"Spoken with true arrogance," she mimed a toast.
"I remember when I would have ripped your throat out for such boldness," he told her, his amusement edged in a threat. He was in a mood for a fight. His claws were itching with visceral agitation for the opportunity to sink beneath soft flesh, to feel the give of skin and the rending of musculature. The grinding of joints dislodging, the satisfying snap as pressure broke a bone.
"I remember a time I was like to that," she replied. Kain watched her fingers curl a bit in recollection. A strange look of longing flitted across her features before it was replaced by the usual indifference and aloof friendliness she often wore. "Strange news found me today," she spoke when Kain offered no reply. "News of a certain death."
"I did not come here to justify my actions to a human lap dog," Kain snapped defensively, standing up. His chair scraped noisily across the floor and he turned to leave.
"I have only stated your reason in coming, something which you seem keen to avoid," she said, her words stopping Kain mid stride.
"I have not felt such impatience since I was a boy," Kain said in a low voice, and a touch of weariness entered his tone. He stood with his back to her, facing the door she had locked, studying the wrought iron. He was restless and impatient, struggling to accept what had happened, what must be done. "Now that it begins, finally, I'm no longer certain I am ready for it."
"All the time in the world and you are yet uncertain?" Claiborne said with mild amusement.
"It makes one question the value of time," Kain agreed. He turned around and looked across the room at her. Her blue dress had deep grooves of shadow, and her hands were laid casually on the wooden table as she studied him in veiled emotion. "Immortality hardly makes time an ally," he stated after a pause and went to one of her book shelves.
"What has begun?" she asked after a moment's pause.
"The restoration of Balance," he provided, half turning his head. His eyes remained on the book spines. She said nothing, just let him pore over his own thoughts. Kain found himself irritated with her patience.
"What of your son?" she asked just as he was ready to turn with a snarl. He stopped the motion cold and felt his rage snuffed out, replaced by an unusual ache in his chest. His claws touched a shelf lightly, as if to ground the current of feelings running through him.
"Raziel," he said the name, groping for expression.
"The others say it was envy," she informed him. Kain felt a smirk of bitter amusement cross his face, but his mind was elsewhere.
"Not envy," Kain answered. His claws flexed tighter on the shelf he had placed them on, then released it and crossed the room in meditative steps, drifting without awareness of movement to her writing desk. In hundreds of years, the writing desk and the cluttered table Claiborne sat at had not shifted positions. He touched the antique desk and stood as a statue, his eyes fixed on the splotched ink bottles and well used quills.
"For balance?" she prompted him.
"Yes," he answered, seeming to break from his daze long enough to turn his eyes to her. She had shifted into a more proper sitting position, a penetrating expression on her face. "You should have seen him, Claiborne. He was glorious." He spoke now in response to her face, the slight furrowing of her brow, the pursing of her lips. "Of all my achievements, he was the greatest; so great that he could not remain in my shadow forever. It was not envy that moved me to rend his newfound wings." He watched her muscles tense and the slowly, painfully, unwind. She now sat as if she were positioned over needles, her arms hovering ever so slightly over the table, just a few fingers touching the wood. All of her was on full alert.
"Have you any idea what it is you've done?" she asked after a long time. Kain's attention returned fully at her words. "For 'balance'? You call such an atrocity 'balance'?" she demanded. "What balance can be achieved through such cruelty? You said yourself it was not envy, so why then did you not just kill him? Why would you break him?" Her voice was edged with accusation.
Kain opened his mouth to answer when he stopped himself. The words died on his tongue as he recognized pain and despair on her face, mirroring the agony and betrayal that had so twisted Raziel's ungodly countenance.
"It's unforgivable, even for you…" she whispered throatily.
"It was necessary," Kain spoke.
"Necessary? Necessary!" she repeated. The room suddenly became too hot and confining. "Explain necessary to me, Kain. Explain envy and murder to me, Kain. Explain why envy was enough to make murder necessary, Kain." She stressed his name in a way that made him want to cringe. Each time she said it, a degree of anger built in him.
"It was not murder, it was necessity," he repeated.
"He was your son and yet, jealously grounded by your own weakness, you destroyed him. The Vampire God Kain decreed none could be greater, and so you tore him apart." She pronounced every word evenly with an acidic, staccato rhythm.
"It was no such thing." Kain tried to keep his tone even. "Listen to me, Claiborne," he instructed.
"There's nothing to hear," she looked away from him and focused her gaze on a burning candle. Kain suddenly felt very hollow on the inside as he superimposed Raziel's impossible features over hers. That same tilt of the head as Raziel was unable to bring himself to look at the one who had crippled him. "I overestimated you Kain" Claiborne said with Raziel's downturned face, refusing to look at him.
Kain's last reserves snapped. He crossed the distance between them in a matter of seconds and curled his claws around her throat. He jerked her head up towards him.
"Look at me," he snarled down at her when her eyes found some other point to focus on. "Look at me!" he repeated, tightening his grip. Her wide eyes found him and bored into him with the unblinking stare of disillusionment, just stared with gold eyes full of betrayal and hurt.
"Traitor," she said. The gaze was unwavering. "Why would you mutilate and murder him? Why, if not for envy?" Kain dropped her face as if burned, but she wouldn't look away. Those eyes followed him as he moved apart, clinging to him, asking over and again 'why?' Raziel didn't understand. But how could he understand? How could he understand that this was as it was supposed to be?
"You wouldn't understand now, Raziel," he shook his head, trying to remember where he was, what time he was in.
"Why?" a woman's voice said. "How can you do this?" Raziel, Kain's pride and joy now brought to his knees, asked. Kain held his first lieutenant's gaze blood oozing onto his hands. The broken joints of Raziel's wings were dripping, still trembling in between Kain's merciless claws. The Emperor felt a wave of nausea. His other lieutenants had at first gasped, but now chuckles and hateful delight at Raziel's pain echoed around him.
For the first time Raziel looked weak. He was crumpled on his hands and knees, his voice an agonized whisper. Kain faltered in his next command, grasping desperately to maintain his superficial smirk and speak the final words of condemnation. This was right. This was how it had to be, the way it was supposed to go. It had to be right…
"Enough Raziel!" Kain barked. "Enough, Raziel…" he begged. "It is your fate, don't you understand? This is how it must be! You are the key to restoring me, to restoring Balance! This is how it must go…this is how it must be…" he repeated, losing his faith in the words. "It is the prophecy…it must be you…it must be…Raziel…" He shook his head and closed his eyes, trying to blot out the expression on Raziel's face. "Forgive me, Raziel…"
Fingers penetrated the long white hair streaming down his back, parting the strands in a tender caress. He felt small arms against his back and torso, the hand in his hair pulling his head down to rest on a woman's shoulder. His hands found Claiborne's waist, at first timid to believe it was she. As he recognized the familiar form of her hips, he crushed her against him. Her soft fingers moved soothingly through his hair, while Kain dropped his guard and let emotion run its due course. In over a millennium of life, he had never come face to face with such grief.
"I have never faltered before," he confided after a time, aware of only Claiborne and the lingering scent of her soap in her clothing and hair. Claiborne offered no response beyond the slight shifting of her cheek against his. It was strange to him how the years did not draw him close to any but Raziel. He reflected that even now he would have no mercy in slaying Claiborne, that he would lose no sleep or peace of mind at her death. Perhaps the occasional pining for the days long gone of their shared intimacy, but he knew nothing else could compare to casting Raziel into the abyss and intentionally invoking his hatred.
"I never will again." He tilted Claiborne's head to one side and exposed her neck. "Not for anyone." His fangs sunk into her throat and he felt her fists convulse. Her spine arched a bit and she tried to pull away from him, a strangled cry jumping out of her mouth. His mind clamped down on hers, forcing her into silence, and as an afterthought he induced a feeling of pleasure for her last moments.
She stilled in his arms, and then became heavy as the blood drained out of her. It poured sweetly down his throat until she sagged against his chest and he felt her heartbeat stop. Carefully he dislodged his fangs and stood up fully to look at her slightly sunken features. She was still dark skinned and amber in the candlelight, but she seemed a bit pale. He swept her up and carried her to the desk littered in books, the detailed chronicles she had kept since he had turned her centuries ago as a young woman.
He laid her down, pillowing her head on a leather bound volume and folding her hands on her stomach. She looked peaceful, even content, thanks to the stimulus he had provided for her. He hooked some hair behind her ear and cupped her cheek, waiting to see if he felt the same horrible feeling of loss for her as he did Raziel.
"No," he told her at last. "I have nothing else to lose. It makes me rather invincible, Claiborne." He paused, and then gave her hand a parting squeeze. Her skin was cold for the first time. He turned and unlocked the door, leaving her to remain undisturbed until the young blacksmith finally grew curious enough to figure out what had happened.
As the door closed Kain felt a burden lifted from him. Raziel would return, would burn with vengeance and hatred, but he would return. At that point everything could be revealed. For now, Kain had come to terms with what he knew must be done to restore order to his dying world. He swallowed the last lingering taste of Claiborne on his tongue and promptly turned to debating what should be done with the troublesome members of Raziel's bloodline.