Legacy of Kain: Once And Future King
(AU / Continuation fan-fiction for Legacy of Kain Defiance)
/../- implies vampiric 'whisper' a.k.a. telepathy/mental projection.
The Soul Reaver isn't capable of speech as such, but I gave it dialog anyway to show that Kain can interpret its wordless snark without difficulty? I have no idea. Just go with it.
The End: Chapter 1-
There was an odd timelessness to the air Kain realized as he studied the sky. Fractured granite blocks shifted and shed pebbles around the shattered observation room, but the earthy noises of structural decay didn't bother him. Even the urgency he felt as he watched Hash'a'gik winging off in Janos Audron's body was secondary to the all encompassing silence that radiated from within. Glancing down, Kain smiled briefly at the sight of the Soul Reaver, his once again. The sinister looking sword flickered with soundless white fire. Its insubstantial flames coiled over the hilt, and up his arm. The sensation wasn't an unpleasant one.
"Troublesome child." He scolded his sword gently as he considered the horizon again.
In the far distance the Pillars of Nosgoth burned and crumbled. Brought low by his youthful refusal and the Hylden's careful centuries of work. Soon he would have to act. Without intervention it was likely his younger-self would meet an untimely end. The ominous rumblings of Nosgoth's pain could be felt even in the Citadel. Kain snorted, acknowledging the scope of the disaster. Aftershocks were probably spreading as far away as Meridian. It would take days for the sorry humans there to learn the news of what caused them. The smell of the dust on the wind made the miles between he and the shrine seem negligible.
Kain hesitated, savoring the fullness of the novel sensation of awareness. In the silence of his chest, where his heart had once beat its weary way through the better part of two thousand years, he felt for the first time, that he was beginning to understand what it was all about. Until now it had seemed an incomprehensible tangle; his madness, the constant betrayals and wars, the wounded world. Always before, the 'Wheel of Fate' had been a hypothetical. Kain had fought his destiny ignorant of exactly what he was pitting himself against. He could feel it now, turning along its slow and unalterable axis beneath his feet.
No longer a sleeper walking a preordained path; he felt absolutely and jarringly sensitive to his role in changing the fate of the world. It was Raziel's sacrifice, the purified Reaver, which burned away the fog which had bound him. Kain couldn't help but stare in amazement at the truth of it all. He had become an outsider looking in at the workings of history. His own knowledge and powers amplified by the wisdom of each Balance Guardian before him.
The whole sordid affair of his life, and the events leading to the Pillars' fall, seemed an impossibly thin and implausible plot. He sneered at its lack of imagination even as he acknowledged that the so-called Elder God had almost managed to succeed in its aims.
Raziel's words came back to him with haunting clarity. His true enemy indeed.
The burrowing parasite was a remarkable foe. Attacking the bones of the world from a point that no vampire would have ever dared question, it had poisoned the future to its own ends since before written history. The Ancients were nothing more than willing pawns to the beast that they founded their civilization upon. What was its final goal, Kain wondered. The destruction of the races of Nosgoth? Of Nosgoth itself? He would have to ask the foul thing when next they met. Smirking, Kain conceded that he'd probably forget in the heat of the moment. Tearing the tentacle-armed-horror into palm-sized pieces and scattering it to the winds would take some time however. No doubt it would want to prattle as it died. Having only spoken directly to 'god' twice, he was already certain the creature was the talkative type.
All things considered, he had done fairly well in his half-guessed theories throughout the years. In adding his new player to the board, the truth concerning the Hylden, the Circle of Nine, and particularly Mobius' baffling motivations all became quite blindingly clear. Kain sheathed the Soul Reaver across his shoulders and stretched his arms to work some of the tension loose. It had been a long series of days already, and his labors were still incomplete.
He was meant -he had no doubt- to panic at this point. The false-god's gambit had to involve him flying in haste to defend his younger-self; desperate to avoid of all his efforts of the past two millennium unraveling with his untimely demise as a fledgling. Therefore, haste was the one thing he would not allow himself. He hadn't come this far just to fall into the ageless creature's trap now. Even as weak and ignorant as the Kain of this age would have to be, the vampire would doubtless survive long enough for him to consider his strategy.
Kain took a slow breath and forced himself to prioritize. The Reaver hummed in subdued agreement against his shoulders. Janos would have to be stopped. There was no question. He didn't need the Hylden distraction right now. He had wasted too much time on them already. They had waited a thousand years at this point to exact their revenge. They could damn well wait a little longer without complaining.
There was also the small matter of Vorador's beheading. Probably it was already too late to prevent the uncomfortable incident. Kain frowned, remembering the sight of Mobius holding aloft the old vampire's head just before he struck the Guardian of Time down, the first time.
He shook his head at his youthful gullibility. How long had his pride at that maneuver lasted? How foolish to think that killing a man who was capable of crossing through time at will, would honestly stop his schemes at all. The young Kain currently at risk of being crushed by the Dark Entity would soon know better.
Still, the sooner Vorador's body was reclaimed, the sooner he, or his alter ego, could sort out the arduous task of putting the vampire back together again. The green skinned vampire lord had more than enough dark gift within his blood to walk off a petty thing like a beheading; if his body was reunited with its missing component soon enough.
He laughed at the oddity of fate. No wonder he had been able to restore Vorador to life, even as a mere fledgling all those years ago! The heart beating in his chest had belonged to the green-one's maker all along! It was not the superiority of his magic, as he arrogantly assumed at the time. It was the call of a sire's blood that had healed his old mentor. He had merely been a vessel for a greater power. Tilting his head back so he could feel the brush of the Reaver's hilt against his jaw, Kain acknowledged silently that very little had changed. He was still playing host to… well, at least an equal power. The sword sighed softly, a faint brush of contentment and regret along the edge of his awareness.
Kain wondered if it would be too optimistic to assume things in Avernus would be delayed somewhat by Raziel's handiwork and Mobius' inability to return from the dead. Some damn fool of a Seraphan would eventually put Vorador's various components up on pikes, and begin a cross-country parade back to the strong hold. It would be far easier, and far less aggravating, to intercept the little party before it left the holy city.
Had he been thinking clearer while bantering with the parasite in the caves below, he would have snatched the useless time-streamer's body as he escaped. Maybe gibbeting the corpse along the cathedral's main avenue would have made the foolish mercenaries understand that they would no longer be getting paid to do Mobius' dirty work.
Rubbing his forehead, he wracked his brains for any other events of the present era that he had forgotten. The Second Crusade was ending as he watched, the Third Crusade, and the age of the Seraphim Lord was close now, perhaps already upon them. In the city of Meridian along the south coast, he had no doubt that he could probably see the rise of mechanization. Maybe the Hylden had already begun their power play amongst the theocracy. Black ships were probably beginning to ply their sinister trade between the city and the island stronghold. It would be centuries yet before the Kain of this era walked blindly into that little bit of excitement.
Young Kain would want to set out to raise his first army, heeding Vorador's council and keeping on the move as he crisscrossed the south. How odd to think he'd holed up in Meridian for years on-and-off in his youth without really noticing the Hylden encroaching. Blind stupidity on his part, to be sure, but what was Vorador's excuse? He smirked, making a mental note to harass the vampire later.
Marcus, Sebastian, Faustus, and Magnus would be found first, he recalled. They in turn would fledge other vampires for his army. Vorador would reassemble his family at the same time, raising and training the future leaders of the cabal. Eventually it would all fall to shit after Sebastian's betrayal. But those events were all years in the making. Kain smirked at the memories even as he dismissed them. What he needed was an ally in the present.
As much as he didn't like to admit it, he had been counting on Raziel's assistance in a more ambulatory sense than the child currently was capable of. He picked his way past the rubble of his firstborn's fight with Janos and stepped off the edge of a shattered balcony into thin air. Releasing a breath, Kain willed his body to fragment and swarm as he fell.
There was little time to waste, but Mobius' stronghold wasn't far. He was determined to make the most of his new found freedom of choice.
The forests and villages flashed by beneath him as he bent his will towards the lake-side retreat of the former Guardian. Blues and greens enough to dazzle even his jaded eyes surrounded him as he ducked into valleys and across the lowlands. The soldiers and sycophants of the countryside paid no attention to his silent flight. There were woods and caves enough in the region to justify the unusual phenomena of bats at mid-day. Given the cataclysm in progress at the Pillars' sanctuary, a flock of insomniac bats flitting about was the least of anyone's worries.
Seeing through a colony's-worth of bat eyes was something that one could never exactly adapt to, Kain found. The kaleidoscope of different angles and heights gave him a headache on prolonged flights. There were few faster ways to cross the rugged country around the lakes however, especially in this age. Luckily the target he had in mind was hard to miss.
The sprawling fortress beside the Lake of Tears was an eyesore even from above. He aimed for a convenient balcony and directed the swarm to regroup. Kain landed with cat-like silence despite his mass, hardly waiting until his limbs had fully resolved themselves from the cloud of furry creatures, before crouching below the rail to avoid prying eyes from the adjacent courtyard. The laxity of the Time-Streamer's army was pathetic. Looking first left then right, he couldn't spot a single guardsman. Kain clucked his tongue at the neglect and stood, strolling across the open causeway and to the adjoining terrace with easy familiarity. Mist-shifting through the iron-gate that supposedly kept unwanted visitors away, he strode down the empty hallways of Mobius' inner sanctum.
The sanctuary was unsurprisingly empty, only a few of the mercenary rabble remained behind when their master bid them march on Avernus. Maybe half a brigade remained, mostly gathered in the forecourt and outer bailey as they waited for news of their master. Assorted servants and guardsmen were scattered throughout the buildings. He trusted his nose to find them before the spotted him. Not interested in braking stride for anyone, Kain chose a discrete side-corridor and made good time into the heart of the complex.
In the end, only one mercenary was unfortunate enough to get in his way. Kain snapped the fool's neck before the mortal even realized he was in danger, snacking lightly and then casting the body into an unused salon to continue his stroll. The light snack refreshed, but Kain couldn't really bring himself to enjoy the kill. There was just so much to be done!
One measly hour before the fiend Janos had become would collide fatefully with his younger persona, perhaps less? Kain shook his head at the arbitrary nature of things. He had spent the better part of a thousand years sitting on his hands waiting for his chance to set things right. Waiting for Raziel to do the impossible and return from the lake; waiting for his chance to free his lieutenant from the cycle of history and aid him to defeat Mobius once and for all. Now that the moment had come, every second had become incalculably precious.
He had tossed his theoretical 'coin' and had only himself to blame that events were now irrevocably put into motion. Kain was determined, no matter what sacrifice remained to be made, that everything was in place before it landed. He had already given up more than he had been prepared to offer for his chance at victory. Now he plunged ahead reckless of consequence. He had been counting on Raziel being here to assist! A second pair of hands was imperative at this stage. Sadly, Raziel's were no longer available, so some sort of lesser-substitute would have to be appointed.
Kain felt the beginnings of a headache forming as he realized exactly how much he would be obliged to explain to anyone he took into his confidence. There was the small matter of time streaming to explain. Then there were the multiple paradoxes in the current continuum of time that even he wasn't certain how to resolve. Not to mention a whole charade's worth of vampiric and human political history to be gone through. It would take a year to cover even the barest essentials with a new servant. Assuming of course that whoever he found had half a brain to begin with. He had been grooming Raziel for the better part of a decade, both before his death and after his resurrection. Irregardless of his child's excitable temper; Raziel had at least possessed an above average intellect. Having to start over now, when time was so exasperatingly finite, was infuriating.
Kain bolted the door behind him as he entered Mobius' private workrooms. The heavy wood silenced most of the buzz of the stronghold behind it. He shook his head as the noise faded, dismissing the mercenary army categorically. Even if they weren't simpletons or zealots, they'd be of little use against one as powerful as the Dark Entity. The creature had bent the flow time again and again to reach this moment. It held all the cards. Or at least believed it did. The fact that he was still alive, and relatively whole, was the only thing in his favor. The though naturally lead to another, and Kain smirked at the obviousness of it all. Clearly what he needed was someone more of his own caliber. Really, if you couldn't trust yourself, who could you trust? Two could play at the game of time bending just as easily as one, after all.
Moving quickly down to Mobius' personal time streaming chamber he found a treasure well worth stealing for his own. His youthful lusts for gold and other fineries had died early in his metamorphosis. Even his habit of collecting all manner of written word was more out of the vain hope of someday finding something of use. So what if he never bothered to weed down his collection? It was so difficult to say what would be relevant in the future. A bad book was better than no book, when one had the better part of five centuries to wile away. It was one of few opinions he and Vorador had always shared, despite their generally opposing outlooks.
The book waiting for him on Mobius' workbench nearly made his mouth water with anticipation. The slippery Guardian of Time hadn't had a chance to destroy his fabled notes on the chronoplast in this era. His death truly hadn't been predicted. Had Mobius thought for a minute that Kain was still alive, he'd have thrust the papers into a brazier before going to the Citadel. Kain was surprised Mobius' other-copy hadn't done so either, before going to his death at Avernus. The two must have forgotten to coordinate this time. He grinned widely and scooped up the thick booklet.
It gave Kain a brief feeling of victory to think about the withered old bastard's startled expression once more. The joy in the memory soon paled when he recollected the events immediately after. Raziel! If the child had only listened when he told him to leave Janos well enough alone, things might not have taken quite as unexpected a turn. But who was to say? Perhaps this ordeal was the only way to the future that he sought. He was hardly about to run from a fight now; not after coming so far.
Kain flipped eagerly through the book to check that all pages were intact and then settled to read a section that had not survived into any of the futures he'd had the luxury to live. The notes were considerably longer than he could have ever supposed. And Mobius' chicken-scratchings were no easier to read than in previous years. But still his quick scanning proved fruitful. There were depths to the odd device that no one could have expected to master without the clues provided.
How Mobius had concocted such a fabulously occult machine, he suddenly realized, was a complete mystery. Probably it was the influence of the parasite at the base of the citadel that called itself 'oracle'. Maybe the time traveler's mechanical skill exceeded his psychic talents? Certainly in the end his predictions had left a little to be desired. Kain smirked again at the knowledge the man would no-longer be coming back. It was really for the best. He liked the Guardian of Time better in his current state. Mobius was one of those people Kain found much easier to appreciate when post-mortem.
A flash of light interrupted his diligent perusal even as he was just finding the section he was interested in. For a moment he stared at the chronoplast's doorway, wondering if his irritating enemy had yet again found away around his life-related handicap. Reaching for the Soul Reaver on his shoulder Kain couldn't sense any hostility, overt or otherwise, from across the room. The blade seemed to agree, showing no sign of alarm at the new arrivals. He hesitated a moment longer, but when nothing nasty jumped out to do battle with him, he came to a more entertaining conclusion.
"Kain, I would recommend that you not look. It'll only spoil the surprise."
His own voice, calling out from within the inner chamber, provided all the confirmation he needed. The unmistakable amusement in it was tempting, but he was too entrenched in this mission to risk it on a whim. Glancing down, he smirked as he realized that the reading he was about to embark on required more than a few moments. His future-self must have come to the conclusion that a small overlap in the continuum was required in order to both understand and accomplish what he intended to do. Kain almost laughed, acknowledging that he had become far more reckless over the years. He'd have never dared such a blatant abuse of the time-chamber a century ago.
How often did Mobius meet himself on any given day? He suddenly wondered. No wonder the man hadn't been infected by the Hylden insanity, Mobius had already been uniquely insane.
"It has been less than thirty minutes." He offered the figures standing in the shadows before resolutely turning around to continue his reading while facing the wall.
"If you skip to page 124 you'll save yourself a bit of trouble, I should think." His doppelganger offered smugly as he and another person slipped past. Kain grinned as he flipped ahead past the irrelevant notations. It was supremely amusing to think that he was now in triplicate all within the same space. Present, Future, and probably yesterday-morning, all three Kains bent on one singular purpose. Entertained by the idea of being in multiple places at once, and at the headache he was probably causing the squid lurking beneath the earth, he chuckled aloud as he read.
The cruel joy was short lived. He frowned remembering that not all of his alternate selves were equal. Really, there were four Kains, if he counted the youngest version of himself now about to meet with destiny in the form of the maddened Janos. Four Kains existed, but only two Hearts of Darkness, and one of them beating in its proper place, inside Janos Audron's chest.
The paradox was considerable. It was a damn shame that Moritanius couldn't manage to stay in possession of the Hylden spirit for long enough to let his younger-self kill them both. Clearly he would have to scold Raziel for his lack of forethought should they meet again.
/I don't suppose you can hear me?/ He whispered in his mind. For a moment he was positive that his lieutenant's personality was there, but as soon as a connection was made, he found he couldn't hold onto it. Raziel was at his shoulder, and also far out of his reach.
/Well far be it from me to say 'I told you so', child. But really, Janos Audron? You're going to make the fool of a vampire that I was in this time fight Janos Audron, father of vampires?/
The sword, for lack of a better word, twitched suspiciously. Knowing his son the way he knew few others in the world, he could read the emanation as if the thought had been spoken aloud.
You mean there was a time when you weren't invincible?
/I don't recall you having much success in containing the man here./ He grumbled back at the blade, quickly scanning through the text where he left off.
Closing the notebook with a sigh, Kain rubbed his face, trying to internalize everything he had gleaned from Mobius' chicken-scratch handwriting. It was as he had always suspected. The time streaming chambers could do far more than simply shuttle a person from one point to the next like a glorified warp-gate. It could also be used to search for specific people, events, potentialities. No wonder Mobius always had just the right edge, the right information, whenever he needed it. He could simply search the entire continuum of time for whatever it was that he was in the mood for and scoop it up; and to hell with maintaining any sort of reasonable causality. And now he, Kain, was reaping the whirlwind that the mad guardian had created. He considered his options as he set the book aside.
According to the text if he was to have any luck, he would have to confine his search to something or someone very singular, and preferably powerful. For a moment he was certain he could simply search for himself. It was the ideal answer to his needs, but only if the chamber understood that what he wanted wasn't his present self but one from a different time frame. How many times had he stood in this chamber, past and present, fiddling with the confounded device? All he would have to do is find an amenable version of himself from, say, yesterday-morning and he would be more than satisfied. Surely, his alternate self would need some convincing, however he felt he was more than up to the task of justifying his request. So long as the version of himself he encountered wasn't a total prat he wouldn't have any problem.
Resolutely he promised himself to narrow his search down to those Kains reasonably similar in age to himself. He wasn't entirely sure if the versions from more than a century before would suit his needs. He winced. It was hard to admit one was formerly an arrogant idiot, even in the privacy of ones own mind.
So the trick was to narrow the parameters of the search somewhat. A recent Kain would be in possession of a Raziel-enhanced Soul Reaver. That was the easiest distinguishing mark he might search by. He drew the weapon and looked it over. To the naked eye it looked much as it always had, but this blade was not the one he had carried through his own dark future. That one had been shattered against Raziel's wraith, as part of the cycle of events that brought them both back to the past. This blade came from their clash a hundred years prior when he had prevented Raziel from being engulfed. He snorted in cynical amusement. Stopping his erstwhile child hadn't done much good. A hundred years later they met only for his lieutenant to fling himself selflessly into the doom he had been bitching about avoiding in their previous encounter.
He shrugged at the mystery of it all as the blade in his hand glowed softly. Raziel's moods and motivations were inexplicable most days. He smirked, acknowledging that they were truly a pair in that sense as well as in most other ways.
Wasting no further time in placing the sword across the poles of the machine as the instructions had guided. He specified the constraints he was looking for and then engaged the device by grabbing onto the control armature.
"Find me one wielding the Balance Reaver's power!" He snarled against the tingling burn of the magic coursing through his arms.
The sword flickered and glowed where it lay across the machine's interface, its aura reacting to the enchantment being woven around it. "Forgive me, child." Kain spared a thought towards the evil looking blade. "It's not that your sacrifice was a vain one. Indeed I believe all pivots upon it. But for the upcoming labors, I require an ally with a pair of arms and legs, as well as the cleansed soul you so thoughtfully provided me."
. Hundreds of thousands of gears and cambers in the walls and floors began to move, their modest labors building into a rushing symphony of motion and sound, discretely tucked out of sight. To what purpose their motions, Kain could only guess. Sympathatic vibrations? Temporal resonance? He had long ago learned the vocabulary of Mobius' unique craft, but the underlying theory was still a mystery, and likely always would be. Power built in the crystalline focus at the heart of the room, a smaller portion gathering in the armature beneath his claws, and he felt in his spine the instant that the true magic began.
The room's colors bled and ran like wet ink as time bent and folded in on itself. Everything becoming vague and half-formed other than whomever stood within the central field of the machine's orbit. Would-have, should-have, could-have beens flickered at the edge of his vision. The very walls around him bent and buckled, aged a thousand years, then restored themselves to gleaming newness, then faded completely. Kain had long-ago taught himself to ignore the phenomena. Practice had made the process rather mundane over the years, if no less strange looking.
He vastly preferred the larger time-chamber to the north, it was more spacious than the little closets Mobius had constructed across Nosgoth. Kain rather enjoyed the spectacle of watching the gateway coalesce against the wall of the room; more so then feeling of the passage opening up under his feet. It allowed a person time for second thoughts, before leaping into the unknown. Mobius' other toys didn't really provide the option. Kain didn't consider himself particularly fearful of enclosed spaces, but the streaming-chamber in the citadel made him uncomfortable. For a long moment there was nothing but the silent rushing of dim light around him, the streaming chamber seemingly hung in between seconds as it searched through all of probability.
His previous jumps through time had all been fairly brief and abrupt affairs. Kain frowned as the seconds seemed to trickle by with still no resolution. Arcs of magic stung his fingers as he held on to the machine, not liking the idea of being bucked free of the malfunctioning contraption and left hanging in limbo. Then again there was the very real possibility that he had asked too much of the machine, and stupidly just clipped himself out of reality altogether. There was nothing particularly he could do either way. The small chronometer on the dial spun in random ways, sometimes forward sometimes back, blindly looking through time.
Kain watched it, wondering why it was working so hard when the sick realization hit him. He had asked for the impossible. As often as he or Raziel had been near or in this chamber in the past, both of them wielding the Soul Reaver; neither of them had been holding this particular Reaver blade. The pure and untainted heart of the weapon was going to be his search's undoing. It had never existed in Mobius' fortress, or this chamber, before his arrival minutes before. Creating a paradox of that magnitude was stretching things a little too far for his comfort.
He hissed in dismay, and tried to let go of the grips. If Mobius' notes could be trusted, he would either stop the process and return to when he had begun, or he would be obliged to escape the safety of the field and let the time stream throw him where it would. Kain cursed himself for not spending more time on his initial request to the machine, probably there had been a better way to configure his intention before the search had begun.
To his surprise and relief, the machine had already settled on a destination. There would be no need for further stupidity, for now at least. He frowned again as the room grew darker even than customary in Mobius' dank outer chambers.
Not the past then. Surely, it was a point in the future?
He released the grips and paced to the doorway, darkness more penetrable as his eyes adjusted. The room was in complete disrepair. More so than in his own far-flung future, the place looked abandoned. Enormous cracks ran through the ancient tile work on the floor. The murals on the walls, still Vorador's beheading he noted with amusement, were nigh blanketed with the filth of eons. Which ever era he had found, this particular chamber wasn't frequented by the people living in it.
Kain's nose twitched as the smell of damp and mildew came to him. The fortress had always been beside a lake, but in the future water levels had risen considerably. Still, he didn't remember this section of the fortress getting submerged. Until he discovered more about the era he had been dumped into, he didn't dare make assumptions. He wasn't eager to be caught in a sudden deluge. Kain glanced over the dials of the time machine once more, trying to determine what age he had been dropped into. Due to the vague nature of his request, he hadn't set an explicit date, and so the machine could tell him next to nothing. Snarling at the uselessness of it all, he realized the only way to be sure would be to go out and check.
Cautious of the fragile architecture, he stepped out into the room, hesitant to leave the time chamber behind. From the fractured and crumbling look of the ceiling, the whole place could cave in at any minute. Dust and gravel trickled out of cracks in the walls like tiny waterfalls. In several sections tree roots as thick as his arms had burrowed through the destroyed masonry and wound their way from ceiling to floor, continuing their quest downwards towards the soil. Kain heard the drip of water towards one corner of the room. The muffled noises from above included the distant call of songbirds. He paused, recognizing the wholesome sound. That at least proved this age was not his own lost empire. Only carrion birds had managed to profit by the land's gradual collapse, and even those had become scrawny, bitter sounding creatures.
Underfoot was mostly dust and tatters, nothing big enough was left to be recognizable. Someone had probably stripped the room bare of anything useful an eon ago. All that was left was rotted flora and a few scattered bits of trash. Kain nudged the rusted remains of a large candelabrum with his foot. Bits of its decorative flourishes broke off and clattered to the floor. He sighed and shook his head; tasteless overwrought junk, like most of Mobius' décor. Moving to the other corner of the room he toed some interesting looking mounds of what might have once been books, but was more likely just old leaves. The dusty cloud his nudge created tickled his nose, forcing a sneeze. Kain rubbed his face and stepped away from the irritant.
Looking around the rest of the room proved more of the same. Mostly it was just dirt, rubbish, and fallen rock. A gentle tremor made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Dirt sifted down from the ceiling, but blessedly, the structure held. He retreated back into the relatively safety of the time-streaming device to consider his options.
A mistake must have been made. There was no Kain here. Not unless he was ground to dust ages ago and now unidentifiable amidst all the other filth on the floors. He almost laughed at the morbid idea. The question remained, what was he to do?
The damnable machine had brought him here for a reason. One last prank from a dead time-guardian? He found it hard to believe. Clearly the timelines had converged on this moment in response to his search. So where was the Reaver? Had he left it in this hole for some inexplicable reason?
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of footsteps above him. Despite the ludicrous danger of wandering in the crumbling building, someone else seemed to be at large. For a moment Kain was tempted to go and seek the stranger, but his sharp ears detected the man's direction. Whoever it was, they were coming to see him. Smiling at the games fate played, he held his position, content to wait. The scratching 'click' of each footstep puzzled him as he heard his visitor turn the necessary corner and descend the stairs. Not boots, surely. Nor armor. Talon? He smiled slowly. Talon. His host would be a vampire it seemed. Feeling renewed satisfaction in Mobius' time machine, he patted it almost paternally. It had done its job after all, if not quite as anticipated. He began to frame arguments suitable for his own intellect. If he was to meet himself, he could probably cut to the chase fairly quickly, but still it didn't hurt to be prepared.
"Is there someone below?"
He couldn't help but hiss, taken aback by the question in the darkness. A tingle of shock tickled down his spine. That voice? He looked towards the broken doorframe on the far side of the room. The sudden gleam torchlight danced crazily along the shattered flagstones and between the rotted timbers.
He might be stunned, but the vampire approaching was ignorant of it. "This structure is highly volatile! And even if it were not; access is forbidden by order of the Last Scion. Show yourselves without delay!"
The idea of a 'Last Scion' was briefly distracting but not enough to shift his attention fully away from the man approaching.
"Who are you, to order me about?" He called back, already certain he knew who it was.
Raziel. Of course it would be Raziel. He had sought the Reaver, had he not? He shook his head at the obviousness of it. The time-streaming device had done exactly as asked, in its way. It had brought him to a point in time where his 'Reaver' could be found. Kain felt the urge to laugh, first at his own stupidity, and then at the shock this alternate-Raziel was about to get. Would the vampire know him, he wondered? How could he not. They were eternally bound together. Friends or enemies, it mattered not. Either aligned or opposing, they were always a pair.
"I am a servant of the Scion, stranger. And you are trespassing on holy ground." Shouldering the remains of the door aside, and cringing at the renewed cascade of grit from above, Kain's visitor warily held his torch aloft, peering at the ceiling in dismay. "Truly, this is a ridiculously dangerous bolt-hole, sir. Come with me now to higher ground and explain yourself, and I may turn a blind eye to your odd little adventure."
He almost chuckled at the so-familiar tone of the scold. How many times had he heard his firstborn use just such cajoling tone with one of his younger lieutenants? But those days were long past, not to mention in a future that would likely never come to pass. Still, he couldn't help but address his visitor with his old customary way. "Raziel. Don't be unforgivably simple. If I am here, surely it is for good reason."
The shock his companion suffered was perfectly apparent. Still holding the torch outstretched, his once and future subordinate-now-sword stared at him in absolute amazement.
Forgetting himself, the dark-haired man strode closer, forgetting his earlier concerns for the failing structure. "Lord Scion? But how can this be when I only left you a few hours past. You didn't pass by me, I would have seen it! And your f- your clothes!"
Kain almost laughed at the alarmed catch in the vampire's voice. Self censorship had never been Raziel's strongest skill. He had no doubt what it was the vampire had meant to say. He wondered how different looking this era's Kain had to be to prompt such an honest if impolitic criticism of his profile. Close enough that their inspection could now be mutual, they both paused to assess.
There were certainly points of incongruity in his lieutenant's dress; his manner as well. The fact that Raziel was a fully evolved vampire helped him roughly estimate the century. But his costume, halfway between knight and priest was a bit puzzling. The red of Raziel's clan-crest had taken on a less ruddy, cleaner hue, his symbol more artistic, but it was without a doubt of the same general design. His face was much the same, as handsome as he ever was. It was almost painful to see him whole and beautiful again, knowing his ruined destiny.
If not for one particular defect, he would have easily mistaken this future for a close twin of his own. Changes of fashion were superficial, and didn't mean anything. The fact that this vampire was more conservative in dress and speech then his own lost-child meant nothing. The twin arches of smoky grey rose above each of Raziel's shoulders before plunging down out of sight behind the man's back however were completely outside of his ability to predict. Kain's nose told him as surely as his eyes did, that the enormous appendages were no more and no less than a pair of feathery wings, large as life.
Kain wondered what it meant, for surely this did not tally with his memories. This Raziel's evolution had clearly followed along a classical trend. Rather than bat-like or Hylden styled, his wings were things of wonder. Powerful ropes of muscle were disguised by the soft looking down of feathers. These wings were meant for far more than mere gliding. They looked sturdy enough to launch Raziel into flight from a standing start. If anything, they were most similar to the wings portrayed in the murals of the ancients, saving that their color made the vampire look more like a sculpture than a proper ancient. Rather than the clean elegant black of the paintings, these were a sooty dappled shade. The easy grace with which the vampire wore his extra limbs implied they were not a new development. There had been no punishment meted out for early evolution, for this Raziel.
Kain tore his eyes away from their curious inspection before his amazement became apparent. Was Raziel's evolution accelerated then? Had it been expected? Did all vampires now have wings? Or had he arrived absurdly late, and somehow this era's Kain had spared his son?
It was clear that Raziel wasn't as well pleased with what he found. The vampire's yellow eyes strayed over Kain's clan shroud, his face, armored greaves, and back to his face again, with obvious alarm. Kain couldn't help but wonder what in particular about his appearance didn't tally compared to the other Kain, the one who belonged in this time. Was his alternate version more handsome? It was hardly possible to be less. Perhaps he too had wings now; there was an amusing thought. He almost laughed at the absurd idea. It was impossible to say without direct study, but clearly something was amiss. His subordinate recognized him on instinct, but when presented with the blatant change from expected, was clearly dismayed.
If there was a Lord Scion, it seemed to imply that this particular continuum was of a sort Kain had never before encountered. A future where he was Balance Guardian? Did that mean he had won? The fact that he had found this timeline at all meant that his Raziel's gift truly had been the key to unraveling fate. Never before had he found a way to go forward into a future not wracked with ruin and corruption. Surely this was the future he was hoping to bring about? His infant hope grew a further notch.
"What is the year?" Kain asked abruptly, needing confirmation.
"What ever do you mean?" His new Raziel blinked in confusion, pulling back slightly.
"Don't question. Just answer plainly. What is the exact date?"
"It is the turn of the year, Lord. Today is the first day of the first month of the1005th year since Empire's founding. As you well know." The dark haired man frowned again, struggling to make sense of their meeting.
"You're supposed to be attending the ceremonies to celebrate your ascension at the capital. How on earth did you come to be here of all places... and your appearance..."
"Enough." Kain dismissed the ramblings with a curt gesture. "When did I decide to do a damn-fool thing like re-number the calendar?!"
Raziel's confusion grew. "It has been popularly accepted since I was a mere fledgling, lord. I couldn't say when precisely the old calendar was dismissed entirely, but the only ones who use it now are scholars who specialize in the ancients."
"I don't suppose you know the date by the old calendar?" Kain rubbed his face, feeling his age.
"Not off hand, no. But it wouldn't be impossible to calculate. Since the origin of the new calendar is well known."
Kain stared at the handsome vampire a full minute before coming to the conclusion that the man had no comprehension of his rising frustration. "... AND?"
"Sire?" His lieutenant cringed in an unbecoming way.
"The date, Raziel. The date? Do try to keep up."
"Is this some sort of odd test, lord?" A deep rumble beneath their feet caused them both to cringe and look upwards at the precarious cracks in the masonry for a moment. "If it is, can we kindly have it somewhere more hospitable?"
"Come this way." Kain brooked no hesitation, catching the front of Raziel's red surcoat and walking briskly backwards until they were within the relative safety of the time streaming chamber. "Now. Quickly. What is the basis of the new calendar."
"Your ascension, lord scion. The day that you claimed your birthright as the Guardian of the Pillar of Balance and wielded the ancient sword, Soul Reaver, in order to defeat the Hylden challenger and banish their kind to oblivion for all time?"
"I see." Kain let go of his lieutenant's coat in order to crouch on the floor. Other than Mobius' notes, there was no scrap of paper to do the notation on, and no ink even if less valuable parchment was available. He had sharp claws however, and the weathered floor was easy enough to scratch. Quickly doing out the math, he raised an eyebrow at the result. This future was easily as far along as his own had been before he had started the whole process off by murdering his second-in-command. He glanced up appreciatively at the vampire next to him, wondering what the odds were that this Raziel would suffer the same fate.
The potential headaches of causality if Raziel was late to his own execution truly staggered the mind. But would such an event even be necessary, in this perfected future? If he was able to return the vampire to this moment when all was resolved, no one -saving his lieutenant- would ever be the wiser.
Cut out from the wheel of fate as he was, he found that he stood wholly unaffected by this parallel future. Try as he might, he could summon no memory of living in a pristine Nosgoth with Raziel as his priest and son at his side. The Kain of this world was wholly separate from his own consciousness. The experience was both new and unpleasant. There would be no cheating from this point on, he realized. He had to first make the new future, before he could experience it.
His choices were limited. He would either accept what the time machine had found for him, or push the man back into the collapsing stronghold and set the instrument to searching again with no guarantee that there was anything else to find. Suddenly he understood his future-self's amusement back in the chronoplast chamber. Spoil the surprise? To have Raziel back in the flesh mere hours after his investiture into the Reaver's blade? No wonder he had sounded so smug.
His considering stare didn't go unnoted. Raziel backed away nervously. "Something in all of this isn't right. You act like my lord, and you certainly sound like him... But you aren't, are you...? This is some sort of trickery."
"Stay where you are, child. I haven't dismissed you yet." He stood slowly, "As it turns out, no, I am not the man who you say is currently celebrating the anniversary of his victory. But never-the-less, I am Kain. Your lord and master. And as such, you will at least do me the courtesy of hearing my request."
"I kneel to only one man." Raziel's eyes narrowed. "The redeemer of this wounded world! The righteous and noble king of all the tribes of Nosgoth! I do not submit my will to just any piratical pretender who slanders the word of the divine with his own petty demands."
Kain blinked at the outraged declaration and fought hard not to smile at the improbability of being seen as both noble and righteous; especially by Raziel of all people. Quickly on the heels of the thought was a pang of reminiscence. His firstborn had always had a natural aptitude for overblown-if-inspiring speeches. During the founding of his empire, he had exploited the skill ruthlessly. Still, it was hardly productive now.
"Are you quite finished?"
"No!" The vampire chose an awkward moment to grow a spine. He had the audacity to grab a hold of Kain's cape, and made to drag him bodily from the room. Not for the first time Kain was reminded that his eldest son was almost of a height with him when not inclined to slouch.
It didn't mean his ungrateful offspring could ever match him fairly, but it amused him a moment to realize he could meet the irritated gaze full on. To his even greater amusement, Raziel flinched and looked away, chastised. That at least was something new.
Even when still playing the roles of obedient son and dutiful king with each other, he had taught his second early on how to curb any irksome submissive tendencies. Vampires didn't grovel, even before their master. Genuflection was given by action, with the firm understanding that even the slightest of a vampire's acknowledgements was by its very nature, a humbling gesture. Clearly the Kain from this timeline hadn't bothered with such a concept. Having only exchanged two minutes of conversation with Raziel, he already felt the difference. This was not the wasp-tongued critic and assured commander he was used to bantering with, but an entirely tamer creature.
The ground shook again, this time dislodging several chunks of the walls around them. Kain rolled his eyes at the need for a blatant lie. "Very well, I'll go with you, but first let me turn off this machine. I do not want it still active if this molehill decides to collapse after we've left." Sure enough Raziel, as the law-abiding officer he seemed to be, honored his request by letting go of his arm.
"Hurry then. I have no wish to tarry here."
Kain smirked and turned to quickly re-adjust the device's various gears. A return to the past was strongly recommended before Mobius' crumbling fortress did its swansong right on top of them. A judicious offset in the number of minutes and he risked the small overlap in time needed to keep to his tight schedule. He shook his head at the insanity of it all.
Raziel watched in cautious wonder. "What is this place?" I once explored these ruins as a fledgling from basement to tower roof and never noticed this room before."
"It's easy enough to overlook, for those who don't know to search for it." Kain agreed calmly, sheathing the Soul Reaver across his shoulders, his need for it done for the moment. He grabbed the poles of the machine to activate it. "It's a time machine, as it turns out. A remarkable toy created by a madman, which I have been availing myself for a few centuries now. After all, what better way to gain perspective on the past, than to relive it?"
"What?!" Raziel moved to flee but it was already too late. The characteristic flickering light that defined the manipulation of time surrounded them and prevented the vampire from anything too foolish.
"What have you done?" His lieutenant crouched on the floor as if leery of losing his balance as reality shifted around them. Kain simply bared his teeth in wicked pleasure.
The process was over almost as soon as it began, reality reasserting itself with a familiar lurch. Kain could hear the shouting and hurried footsteps of the Seraphan mercenaries on the floors above, reassuring himself that he was in the correct time again. "Come, I'll explain as we go."
"Go where?" The dark haired vampire looked around in bafflement. "Why have you abducted me?"
"I need your assistance with a small matter." Suddenly remembering his audience outside the chamber, he halted Raziel's progress at the door. "Wait." He murmured softly and then called out to the Kain on the other side of the room. "Kain, I would recommend that you not look." He couldn't help but shake his head at the hypocrisy of what he was about to say. "It'll only spoil the surprise."
It was supremely strange to watch himself turn his back, politely refusing to acknowledge the time distortion that their meeting must cause. "It has been less than thirty minutes."
His earlier-self reminded him, quite helpfully, really.
Kain adjusted his frame of reference back to the current present with a nod. He gestured to Raziel to remain perfectly silent, and then lead the astounded vampire from the room. Turning back, he took pity on his past self. "If you skip to page 124 you'll save yourself a bit of trouble, I should think."
Carefully closing the door behind them Kain hushed Raziel a second time as the man went to ask a question, and then led him to the closest unguarded balcony. "Are those wings just for show? Or do you have some capacity for flight?" He glanced over at the startled vampire.
Engrossed by the scenery, Raziel paused in confusion at his question. "Of course I can fly. What good would wings be if they were merely decorations?"
Kain remembered the ruined drape of the wraith Raziel's tattered wings and looked away, conscience gnawing at him. "What use indeed." Thinking on past mistakes didn't do anything to correct the current situation however. "Follow me then, if you can. To the Vampire Citadel if you know the place."
"I do." Raziel's frowning face became a confusing mosaic as Kain willed himself to transform.
Looking back to see if the vampire was able to keep up was impossible without losing control of the swarm's direction. He cursed the way his attention was fragmented amongst a colony of spectral bats, but the shadow on the ground just behind Kain implied his replacement-child was characteristically only a pace behind. Cutting across the valley, he took the shortest route possible to return to the citadel. With any luck, by the time he got there, he'd have some idea of what he would do about Audron.
Rematerializing as his lieutenant gracefully landed, Kain could still easily see Janos in the distance. They had made excellent time, thanks to his minor time bending. The possessed vampire was still aloft, gliding around the broken remains of the Pillars, seeking to confront his earlier self. Turning to see if the reality of the situation had yet to sink in for his companion, he gestured to the view. "Now. We need to talk."
"By the grace of the ancients." Raziel swore like the priest he had once been. His grey wings fluffed and shifted with his amazement. "The Pillars are broken? But they were healed over millennia ago…"
"One thousand years, plus-or-minus five." Kain shrugged. "Today is the day of their fall. And hopefully the day of their rebirth. Today is the day when Kain claims his destiny as the Scion of Balance and changes the fate of the world."
"Today?!" The vampire spun and stared at him in horror.
"Listen to me Raziel, we don't have terribly much time and it appears, unfortunately, you have no memories of these events."
"I shouldn't think I have even been born yet." The vampire pointed out absently, eyes drawn back to the distant Pillars.
"Born, lived, slain, interred, but not yet resurrected." Kain couldn't help but be distracted by the memory. "It will be some years yet before I go looking for you and your brothers."
"Rahab would give his left arm to see this." Raziel murmured.
Attention naturally bending to the ruined Pillars in the distance, Kain sought and found Janos, still circling. Clearly the creature possessing the ancient vampire still hadn't spotted what it was looking for.
He wracked his memory to try and recall exactly what his first moves on emerging from his decision at the portals had been. It was such a long time ago! How ironic to be staring at the events as they unfolded and not be able to remember such a trivial detail. He knew what he eventually did, but his immediate goals at the time were a mystery. Probably sought shelter from the falling debris and brigands somewhere to wait until nightfall? It seemed a reasonable thing to do. Even in his former stupidity, he had been a careful creature. Hopefully it wasn't too much to ask that his younger self had sought a convenient bolt-hole.
Turning to his companion, he spared a second to admire the vampire's profile. For certainly vampire he still was, despite his knightly trappings. Something in Raziel's nature gave it away, more than just the characteristic hunger. There was the super-human ability to observe with clarity coupled with curiosity in his firstborn's stare. "Welcome to history, child." He couldn't help but say.
Raziel met his eyes with a look that spoke of dawning comprehension of their situation. "You are not my Kain. Nor are you this Kain… But, somehow, you are another Kain?"
"Perhaps the only Kain." He shrugged. "The only one who matters, for the moment." Shaking his head, he dismissed the incongruity of existing in a future he could not remember. "You were told about the Pillars, surely. The Nine Guardians? Their eventual corruption and my own origin at Moritanius' hands?"
"I know some of it." Raziel hedged. "You did not like talking about your past."
"Did I tell you about the Hylden? About the Elder God?" He couldn't help growling a bit over the creature's self-aggrandizing name.
"The Hylden were our race's enemies, long ago defeated foes. I fought at your side against their sympathizers during the dawn of the Empire." His lieutenant frowned at the memory. "Of this 'god' you speak of, no, I know nothing of it."
"Interesting." Kain filed the information away for further inquiries later. "And how about the eternal Janos Audron? And that sour old bastard, Vorador? What do you know of them?"
"Janos Audron was the Father of Vampires, who was resurrected to become a pawn of the Hylden, the Dark Entity. You slew him and then redeemed the Pillars to the greater glory of Nosgoth…" Raziel's words trailed off at Kain's ironic glance. Setting what had to be memorized genuflection aside the vampire settled his hands into the pockets of his outer coat and shrugged.
"Of Vorador, I know only a little. He was an ally of yours in the Second Crusade who died at the start of the Third, shortly before you resurrected us. Apparently he sought to betray you to your enemies."
"Very well." Kain thought a moment about how to rearrange the actual events in a way more palatable to his new ally. Several of the vampire's comments didn't tally with the future as he had seen it, but there was no time for a discussion comparative history.
"In the distance, if you look, you will see the possessed Janos Audron hovering over the Pillars. He is even now hunting for Kain, not myself but rather the Kain of this age. However this Kain has no foreknowledge as yet of his fate to be the redeemer of the world. If he were to accidentally go to war with Audron as he is now, it would almost certainly be his death. I need to get to Kain, instruct him in his higher purpose, and equip him with this."
He drew forth the Soul Reaver, once again flickering with phantom fire at the idea of going into battle against the Hylden. Raziel drew back in judicious caution. Kain smirked at his lieutenant's discomfort, knowing full well that if the vampire knew the real reason for his sword's power, he would be horrified beyond measure. He pushed on with his narrative instead. "What I need from you is merely this. A distraction."
"A distraction." His firstborn gave him a look that clearly implied several slanders against his sanity. Looking first at the horizon, and then back at his maker, Raziel gestured weakly. "You want me to take on the Adversary."
"So that I can prepare Kain for his battle. Yes." Kain nodded firmly.
His lieutenant continued to stare at him. "You're in earnest."
"Do I look to be otherwise?" Kain raised an eyebrow. "I have given you an order, child. Do not defy me."
"But it's the Adversary!" Raziel's composure broke as he pointed energetically. "Only the Scion can defeat him, all the histories were in definite agreement on that account! He had the strength of a titan and his every breath brought pestilence and horror to the land!"
"I'm not asking you to defeat him." Kain explained with brittle patience. "Just run him off for a bit, keep him busy. You ought to be more than up to the task. I have a suspicion most of what you've been taught is a trifle embellished."
"And you promise Kain will come along and aid me in due course?" His lieutenant's incredulity faded but his expression wasn't entirely convinced.
"Of course." Kain smirked. "That is, after all, what is written in history."
Raziel grumbled as he checked that his sword was loose in its scabbard. Glancing around the room, he claimed a serviceable looking spear from the nearest armored display as well. Tossing it from hand to the other to test its weight, he grimaced and walked to the edge of the broken section of balcony. "The histories never said anything about the Scion needing me to come along and save him…"
"They never do." Kain agreed under his breath. Shielding his eyes with a hand as his ally erupted skyward with a huge beat of his oversized wings, Kain sighed in pleasure at the sight. For a moment he stood watching, quietly proud for his child. Staring at moldering old murals of ancient vampires over the centuries had not prepared him for the simple splendor of watching one in flight. Smoke colored feathers shook loose with Raziel's initial zeal to be in the air, each floating back to earth with weightless ease. The vampire held neither fear of sunlight nor the dizzying drop below him; as confident in the air as on foot, perhaps more so. Moving ever higher and faster, Raziel spread his wings wide and used the winds that rose over the cliffs to gain altitude with which to stalk his unwanted prey.
Kain was sorely tempted to stand back and watch the ensuing aerial battle, confident that its like hadn't been seen in Nosgoth's skies in over a thousand years. But sadly there were other appointments to keep. He would simply have to trust that Raziel's stubborn courage was up to the task at hand. Clearing his thoughts of any distractions, he willed his body to transform into the swarm; consciousness shattering in a dozen directions as he winged his way across country towards the Pillars. If his hunch was correct, and he sorely hoped it was, then he would find his earlier self in the cave system nearest the Pillars, replenishing himself in the shady grottos for the long trek to Avernus Cathedral where Vorador might yet be resurrected.