Leaping through the fire-ravaged doors, Raziel landed lightly on his feet in the furnace room. Momentarily uncertain, he hastily scanned the two ramps curving up and around the great incendiary gauge in the center of the hall, trying desperately to remember which one led to the gas release and which to the ignition lever.
Beneath him, the floor reverberated to the pounding tread of his rapidly approaching brother, Dumah.
Raziel shuddered. Having only recently liberated Dumah from the Limbo to which ancient human vampire hunters had murderously exiled his soul, Raziel had already felt the steel-hard claws of his typically ungrateful brother. Rejoined to his immortal flesh, Dumah had surprised the Soul Reaver of Fate with his own ability to feast upon a soul with the merest touch of his powerful talons. Up to this point Raziel had proceeded unchecked in his quest to destroy his vampiric siblings and their king-father, Kain. But this new foe posed a problem. His power amplified by the Void, Dumah had proven invulnerable to all attacks. Raziel's glyph magic had garnered no greater reaction than Dumah's amused contempt. Risking close contact to employ the deadly Soul Reaver, his efforts again proved futile, and he was rewarded by a soul-thirsty touch that robbed him of his spectral blade.
Now, weakened and hunted relentlessly on both the Spectral and Material planes, Raziel had sought outside assistance to aid his pursuits, and thus had lured Dumah to this room in the hopes of lighting a conflagration that would make the vampire behemoth yearn again for the flames of hell.
A loud roar of glee startled him as Dumah barreled around a corner and caught sight of his diminutive quarry. Galvanized by the imminent danger, Raziel suddenly recalled the room's layout clearly, and wasted no time in loping at full speed up the right-hand slope.
Dumah's massive body burst through the ruined portal and came to an abrupt halt. Towering a good fifteen feet in the air, he quickly took note of his surroundings, and a bloodthirsty grin touched his face as he realized that his weakling brother's desperate plight had blinded him to a pair of doors on the level to the left. No place to run now, whelp, he exulted. The vampire overlord started to move forward, then paused.
Something nagged him about this room. Banished from the world of flesh and light for so long, his memory was slightly unclear. During the glorious chase of his depleted eldest sibling, Dumah had paid scant attention to the path Raziel's frantic scampering had led him on. But the doors into this lofty hall were twisted and melted, and now that he recalled, the corridor leading here had seemed unnaturally blackened. Was there something he was not seeing?
Suddenly it struck him. The path here, blasted and charred, as if by FIRE!! With a violent shock, Dumah realized that what he had assumed to be a panicked flight on Raziel's part had actually been a ploy to lead him here, to the furnace room that served to heat his castle in the frozen wastes. Where he could die.
Dumah swayed on his feet, dizzy for a moment. He cursed his vainglorious stupidity. His enhanced power had repulsed all assault, leaving him certain of his own indestructibility and strength. Excessive pride had doomed him once before to oblivion, and now it seemed history would repeat itself. To die again…
No! Dumah snarled inwardly. The vampire general brought himself under control. Thoughts of death were swept away as his determined brain quickly analyzed the situation. Raziel was already halfway to the gas-wheel. No time to run him down, so then what? Run to the other side and wait there? Bah, such a tactic was beneath him! Then his thoughts seized upon a solution, one that suited him perfectly. Once again he bared his fangs in a deadly grin.
Raziel was almost at the wheel. Below him, Dumah dropped to one knee and raised his arm high. A reminder of who is the strongest of all, brother, he smirked, and just as Raziel was clapping his claws around the wheel to turn it, Dumah clenched his fist and brought it thundering down on the floor.
Supernatural power radiated out in an earthquake that rocked the hall. Raziel froze. A numbing shock traveled through his body, causing his muscles to spasm and clench, leaching his strength out through the ground. Clamped to the wheel, he stood rigid as a statue, unable to move. "No," he croaked faintly, but that was all he was allowed.
Dumah bellowed his laughter. Rising to his feet, sure of his victory, he sauntered casually up the ramp. Seeing his approach, Raziel began to strive desperately for control, but without success. Nothing seemed to be working, and try though he might, he remained immobile and helpless before his pitiless opponent.
The grizzly titan moved to stand next to his wretched elder, towering over him. He paused to enjoy the moment. It was a good one. Raziel was obviously struggling, but to no avail. There could be no doubt now as to who was truly mighty. Flush with power, Dumah's blazing red eyes caught a sidelong glimpse of those of his brother. Did they glow solely with anger, he mused, or was that also fear he saw there? The thought pleased him immensely, and he chuckled again, which caused Raziel to strive in utmost horror to master his unwilling body, his eyes scrunched tight in concentration.
Tiring of the scene, Dumah took a step back and cocked his massive arm for the deathblow. Mightiest vampire of all, he crowed inwardly, and soon even Kain would be forced to admit to this, before he died and rejoined his precious firstborn in the pit. Then, he, Dumah, would feast on the very soul of his god, and the world would belong to the Dumahim. He only hoped, on reflection, that he would not have to kill Kain twice to keep him down, as he had Raziel. Seized with amusement by his own cleverness, he decided to make this his parting shot, as it were. The dead silence of the hall was broken by Dumah's rumbling growl as he spoke the last words Raziel would ever hear.
"It seems to be always my duty to kill you, brother."
Raziel's eyes sprang open.
The world seemed to shrink.
Memories resurfaced, memories of agony. The insane torment of the Abyss. Burning from outside and within, all personality and self erased by scorched flesh, drowned lungs screeching with silenced mindless wrath. The remembered desolation fired all his nerves with phantom pain, reliving the devastation as he had only fleetingly since his return to flesh. It came back in all its intensity. The core of his being was washed away again in a deluge of burning water. But something refused to leave with the rest, forcing itself beyond the torture, tied to one word at this moment.
A fleeting glimpse filled his voided mind. During his incarceration, it had existed when all else was lost, receding below the depths of conscious thought upon his resurrection in the spirit world. Now it returned again, one of the last things he had seen before the end, a solitary glimpse up as he fell. The sight of the two lieutenants assigned the task of his death. His brothers' faces as they watched his descent. One was Dumah.
The fury took hold.
Riding a tidal wave of rage that obliterated all impediment, Raziel came back to himself, his body all his own again and alive with pain. Dumah's fist came sweeping down. Raziel's hands twisted the gas release savagely, his legs propelled him upward, and with a wild shriek, he was air-born.
Dumah's heavy blow smashed the controls, too late. Shocked, he looked up to see Raziel, his ruined wings unfurled, gliding across the pit toward the ignition lever on the other side. His claws aimed a wild sweep at the retreating form but missed by scant inches.
He panicked. What now?! The wheel was destroyed, but the gas main was still active, he couldn't turn it off! If Raziel reached the switch then Dumah was dead. Dismayed, he stood frozen, rooted to the same spot where Raziel had previously stood. Inside his mind, a frightened voice spoke the words, Not again.
Shaking his head furiously, Dumah desperately strove for clarity. Should he go after Raziel, or flee? Surely he could make it out of the room in time to save himself. Then he recalled the blackened stretch of corridor, charred hundreds of feet along its length, and he realized that the unleashed fury of this inferno would travel far and halt his flight before he could reach safety. And besides, he thought darkly, the mightiest vampire of all did not run!
Eyes locked on Raziel's winged form, Dumah realized there was only one solution. He would have to close the central grate before Raziel lit it. He could do it. His Spectral Constriction band could easily shut the mechanism. And then, with the danger passed and the gas controls destroyed, Raziel would be at his mercy. He would rend the life from his brother's body on this plane and the next, maybe even draw out the torture across time. Yes, time, that was what he needed. Time to reach the grate. Time to live, by all that's unholy, I don't want to die!! Dumah turned and raced down the ramp, raced for his life.
Above the hall, Raziel floated towards his goal. The ignition lever filled his vision, and he strained his emaciated form forward to gain every inch of distance. There was no longer fear, or doubt, or even self-pity. Only hatred, wild and unrestrained, pushed him on. The switch was a promise of revenge, its song throbbing in his pain-crazed mind. Kill Dumah, it panted. Kill Dumah, kill him, die hard and be awake for it this time, you bastard!! It was no longer a question of could he do it. He would kill Dumah! This was the truth and he knew it!
Only four feet away from the edge of the rise, Raziel sank below the lip. A bestial snarl tore from deep within him. Suddenly releasing his wings, he reached forward and dug his talons deep into the wall, where he hung suspended. Behind him, Dumah had reached the floor and now hurled himself towards the grate. Raziel scrabbled madly upwards like a deranged spider. He had to kill Dumah, he had to!
Dumah was almost to the grate, almost there. He saw Raziel hanging on the wall. Exultation flooded his thoughts and spurred him on. He prepared to unwind the band. He was going to win. Almost there…
Raziel didn't see Dumah approaching, didn't care. His eyes were set on death and his body moved without conscious thought. The legs pushed out against the wall with all their strength, the arms pulled up. He shot up into the air over the edge, one hand snaked out to catch the handle. Twisting in midair, he landed with a thump on his feet facing out into the hall just as Dumah reached the grate.
Dumah saw this happen. He faltered. His racing steps slowed, then stopped. Suddenly subdued, the giant stood staring up at Raziel, taking in the tableau before him with utter disbelief. A strange numbness swept through him.
But I am the strongest, he thought dully.
His shocked brain seemed to record the next few moments slowly, but with perfect clarity. He watched the muscles in Raziel's arm flex. He saw the talons tighten, and the lever pull back. A loud click sounded from below him, heralding his doom. Sudden terror shattered his self-control, and he drew a deep breath, his last, to give voice to his lost soul, when the furnace room blew.
A maelstrom of flame struck Dumah from behind, accompanied by a thunderous detonation that was swiftly surpassed by his agonized roar. Searing fire engulfed him in endless pain. He burned. Every part of him burned. The breath in his lungs turned to flame, stifling his cries. The world around him was ablaze. His strength deserted him, and his mighty legs buckled. He smashed down to his knees, then pitched forward in a burning heap onto his face. The agony subsided, and from the corner of one seared eye, he caught a glimpse of his executioner, tall and strong, enveloped by fiery waves that did not touch him. Death came then, and Dumah was no more.
The fire had long abated, gone forever along with the master of this hall, but Raziel had not yet moved. He sat perched on the edge of the ramp, perfectly still. After consuming his brother's soul, he had watched dispassionately as the charred meat that was all which remained of a mighty warrior had crumbled and dissolved. Time passed without his notice.
He had spoken to the Elder. His unearthly overseer had urged him on to a confrontation with Kain. "No," Raziel had responded forcefully.
The liquid tones of the Elder filled his being. You deny me, Raziel? Have not my gifts been to your benefit, demanding the obligation that you rid us both of the one who has engineered your downfall? And the world's?
"Retribution upon Kain was only part of the motivation you played upon to enlist my efforts," Raziel whispered savagely. His head came up, and a terrible glint suffused his eyes. "There is one more."
For once, the Elder seemed nettled. Such a task can wait, Raziel. You now have everything you need to breach the stronghold wherein lurks Kain. After which…
"No!" Raziel interjected harshly. "I will have a clean slate before I face him. The very crime which thrust me into the sphere of your influence has yet to be fully redressed."
The memory resurfaced, his final one before the Abyss. Yes, that was right; there had been two of them there, watching him scream and die.
Raziel nodded silently. "I will leave no loose ends for Kain to play upon when we meet."
Silence reigned. Then, Very well, Raziel.
With that, the Elder had gone.
Now, Raziel rose and stretched, the Soul Reaver carving a wicked path through the air. He brought the blade before his face, examining its twisting, hungry energy. The eerie glow bathed his face with a devil's cast, lending his eyes a disturbing radiance, and he spoke a single word.
He turned and strode purposefully from the hall.
To be continued…