Kain was not in one of his better moods. He had not been in the best of moods for as long as he could remember. But this fit that had taken Kain over was by far the worse that had ever settled down over his muscular shoulders, making the tyrannical ruler of a dying empire slump into a depression. The people around him suffered for this; human servants already cowed in Kain's presence were now utterly terrified to carry out even the slightest task when he was around, and the vampires quickly ghosted down another part of the Sanctuary when the master vampire stalked past. Even the Clan Lords to some extent stayed away from their sire. Just because they were the Chosen of Kain did not mean that they would escape his wrath should Kain wish to turn it upon them.
The master vampire's state was not due to the fact that the humans in their Citadel had increased their raids against certain vampire establishments – the training camps for the fledglings, who would become warriors, and it was not even Ariel, the specter that Kain had doomed to haunt the Pillars until his death released her. No, it was an issue that weighed down on Kain's mind, something that he had seen during his voyages through the time stream. The emperor had not believed what he had seen, and yet, Kain knew there was nothing that he could do about it. For Fate and Destiny to be fulfilled in its entirety, Kain had to play out the part that had been written for him, with the hope in mind that somehow sooner or later he would be able to change what the vampire was sure was not his true destiny.
And the destiny of the other being, whose fate was just as closely bound as his. Kain gloomily reflected that, when the time came, would he have the conviction and fortitude to see it all through? That he would not break at the decisive moment on which everything was hung?
"Grandfather, are you well?"
Clara's voice brought Kain out of his trance with a start. Lifting his head up, Kain could see Clara hesitantly standing in the doorway that led into the throne room. The vampire master had not seen Melchiah's human child for the longest of times – time Kain was beginning to wonder if he would ever recover – but she had grown quickly as humans do. Clara's blonde hair was pulled back into a simple braid that fell down to the small of her back, a few curls framing an oval face with striking eyes and a sweet smile. Dressed in a simple gown of yellow, a Melchiahim Clan symbol emblazoned on the left shoulder, Clara looked as confident as any young woman would be.
She gave a measured look to her grandfather, waiting for a reply.
Kain waved her forwards with one talon, rising from his throne as he spoke. "I have seen better days, Clara. And what, may I ask, brings you here to the Sanctuary today?" The emperor of Nosgoth grabbed the Soul Reaver from where it had leaned against his throne, strapping it over his back with a practiced ease.
Clara stopped at the foot of the Pillars, looking at the ruined structure before replying. "I was suppose to meet one of my friends here, down near the main gates. The time came and went and she never showed up." The young woman covered her mouth with one hand, coughing hoarsely deep in the back of her throat. When the fit had come and gone, Clara took out a kerchief and wiped her lips as if nothing had happened. Kain thought he spotted blood on the white cloth, but before he could be sure of it Clara had pocketed the material. "So instead of me going off to find her and waste a perfectly good day, I decided to see you instead grandfather. I am not disturbing you, am I?" she added quickly, waiting for a rebuke. Another cough caught in her throat, but Clara struggled to hold it back.
"So I am just the secondary person to see when one of your friends decides not to make an appearance," Kain chuckled lightly. "It makes me feel so good to hear that from my grandchild." Stepping down from the dais, Kain stood beside Clara, his height dwarfing her.
"Well no- I mean that it is just that- you're usually busy and I never see you," Clara spoke quickly, a deep red blooming over her face. "And when I do see you, it is never for long and you quickly rush off somewhere else," she continued, flustered and babbling, but unable to stop herself. Kain was content for Clara to go on for a few more minutes as she tried to talk her way out of the situation she had so superbly placed herself in. In truth he was not really listening to what Clara was saying; Kain was grateful that the young woman had shown up. It gave him a distraction from his more unpleasant thoughts, dark images that he did not want to think about, not until much later. Kain had heard that Clara had not been in the best of health; humans fell ill easily to the elder vampire's knowledge, as he had been one himself long ago, but Clara had been contracting more and more colds and sniffles as she had grown older. Another cough passed her mouth, just as deep as the last one, but it got her to stop talking. She wavered slightly on her feet, looking as if she would fall over at any moment.
Placing his hands on Clara's shoulders, holding her up before she could even consider falling to the ground, Kain shook his head. "I know I am busy Clara, so in this free time that I have would you care to spend it with me? Or is this old vampire too boring for someone as young as you?"
Her face lit up with a smile that she had never been able to lose since childhood. Kain found Clara's smile cheering. "Of course I would like to spend time with you, grandfather. My father won't expect me back until the end of the day, and he only comes out at night anyway. He trusts me enough now that I don't have to walk around with an escort."
Kain nodded slightly. Perhaps Melchiah, although receiving the weakest of Kain's gifts, had taken the elder vampire's attitude towards possessiveness. Even with Clara's unfortunate ability to be ill most of the time, it was a wonder Melchiah had allowed her to go off by herself without someone to make sure that she was all right. But then again, Melchiah had raised Clara from an infant and Kain could not even begin to understand the bond between parent and child. He did not even try to grasp the concept.
"Come then; the halls of the Sanctuary wait." Waving a hand expansively to the Sanctuary of the Clans, the emperor of Nosgoth strode out of the throne room with Clara following close behind. Having to lengthen her stride to match her grandfather's the young woman could not even say a word, all her concentration on just staying with Kain. Noticing Clara's silent struggle Kain slowed down his pace slightly, allowing her to walk alongside him without difficulty. Passing down the arched hallways, the walls lined with murals of the events that had shaped Kain's empire painted on the white plaster, the vampire master and the young human girl were quiet.
The Sanctuary of the Clans was a sprawling building, covering the blighted landscape with its immense size. Banners from the six Clans were displayed at every corner, the colours melding with each other and at the same time clashing. Arcane symbols were carved into the alabaster marble, the colour already beginning to fade with the passing of time. In the airy courtyards, trees and shrubs cut and pruned into fantastic shapes, dignitaries from the Clans conducted business on behalf of their Lords. Their voices, loud and overlapping, fell silent the moment Kain came into view. Moving as one, all the vampires dropped down to one knee and bowed their head, not raising up their eyes until their emperor, a god walking amongst them, passed by. Voices resuming the moment Kain and Clara were out of sight, which was when the vampire spoke.
"Your friend, Clara. Does she always leave you waiting?"
Clara could give nothing but a quizzical look at her grandfather. "What do you mean by that?"
"That she always promises to wait for you and yet she never does. That she might not be as trustworthy a friend as you lead yourself to believe." Kain's yellow eyes tracked the flight path of a small bird, something so rarely seen nowadays in Nosgoth. His granddaughter shrugged her thin shoulders.
"She has done this to me a few times, but she apologizes for it and says something else had come up." Kain nodded, not bothering to hide the disbelief in his eyes or the way his mouth turned down distastefully. Clara looked away from him ashamed, scuffing the toe of her slipper on the floor. "You want me to know then that she's lying to me, is that right grandfather? That my friend is not really much of a friend to me at all? It says that just as clearly on your face. I am not stupid but she's-" Clara sighed. "She is my friend, and I forgive her for it."
Kain cleared his throat and resumed walking. "I would not want a person who tells lies for as a friend, Clara."
His granddaughter raced to catch up to him. "What would you know about friendship, grandfather?!" Clara's voice was thick, her tone defensive. "You stand by yourself as a god. My father says that a ruler cannot have friends; what would you know about this?" She did not give an apology for her rude outburst; Clara knew that she could be punished for what she had just been told. But, even at seventeen, she stared down the one person in Nosgoth that did not make her fearful. Her hands balled into fists, shaking slightly, the young woman waited for Kain to make his reply.
When he spoke, Kain's voice was cold and quiet, but filled with an arrogance and power that Clara had seen when the Clans had come together. "Do not question me about such things, Clara, for if you knew what I know then you would not be so hasty in your words. I will forgive you because your years are not many, but never harbor any assumptions that I do not know what friendship is." Kain began to stalk down the halls, moving faster and faster. Clara had to jog slightly in order to hear him talking, the deep cough she gave echoing eerily down the long hall they were in.
"What does-does that mean?" Her face was flushed. "Grandfather, slow down please!"
Kain did not slow down. "When I was much younger, I believed in friendship. I blindly allowed people to get close to me, and where did it lead? Betrayal. I was taken advantage because of my naivety and stupidity, firm in the knowledge that my so-called friends would remain loyal to me when we faced our greatest challenge. It was no so. And do you know what I did to those once friends turned traitors, Clara? I killed them all. I destroyed them but not before letting them know that things would not have gone the way they had had they remained loyal to me, as true friends always do."
He waited for a response. When none came from his grandchild, Kain turned around to see why Clara was so silent and received a rare moment of shock. Back down the hall, leaning up against a fresco, her face pale and drawn with a fine sheen of sweat covering it, was Clara. She was gasping weakly for air. Unable to keep up with her grandfather's stride, and suffering from her lingering cough, the young lady could not even walk anymore. Kain was quickly by his grandchild's side, holding her in his arms as she pitched forwards, her strength gone.
Eyes fluttered open, fixed on her grandfather's face with an effort. A cough, much stronger than any of the others, erupted from Clara, making her whole body shudder as if a powerful current had coursed through her. Blood flecked her sweet lips, falling onto her dress and marring the cloth. Kain looked at her in horror. Dimly he recalled a time, when he was still human, on an epidemic that had coursed through Coorhagen, killing many people before the healers were able to contain it. It left people short of breath, sweat soaking their bodies, leaving them weak and helpless as coughs wracked their bodies. The blood, Kain remembered, came from the lungs as they slowly collapsed, which meant that the disease had already won and the apothecaries could do nothing...
Clara's sickness was worse than he knew, perhaps even worse than what Melchiah knew.
"No, no, no. It cannot be," he whispered softly in denial, more to himself than to Clara.
"Grandfather, can you take me home?" she asked softly. Clara's efforts to breath were becoming difficult. Picking her up easily in his arms, grateful that there were no vampires around to see Clara in such a state, Kain nodded.
"Oh course, Clara. I'm your grandfather and you are my family. I will take you home and you will be cared for." Closing his eyes, the ancient vampire summoned one of his many Dark Gifts, the ability to teleport himself over vast distances in mere moments. He had never used his power for something like this before, but Kain found it somehow right. As the air shimmered around the two, Kain's mind fixed on an image inside Melchiah's palace, Clara spoke one more time.
"She is still my friend, grandfather."
* * * *
Melchiah could not hold back the sob that escaped from his throat. As Kain had told his story, reminiscing about Clara, the sadness had begun to eat away at Melchiah. His throat had become clogged and felt like it had become stuffed with cotton. No words could express the way he felt, and when the cry could no longer be contained within him, it had burst forth. The anguish in that one note was more complex than a world of screams. Kain could do nothing as Melchiah held the rag doll close to him, the one thing of Clara's that was the closest link of her to him now.
"Tuberculosis," Melchiah raged, wiping the tears from his cheeks. "It was that disease that killed her, making her waste away until she was nothing, nothing. It killed me to see my beautiful little girl confined to her bed, unable to move, unable to speak, filled only with pain. The light that she had was just snuffed out, Sire, gone like that. And in Clara's final days when she-"
Unable to finish the sentence, Melchiah just shook his head and uttered a low moan filled with loss. It was enough pain that Melchiah remembered his Sire bearing Clara home, how the apothecary and healing mage had been called for, but even their arts could do nothing. Kain had been right; the disease had spread too quickly and they knew about it too late. That had been torture for Melchiah, torture for any parent to see their child dying and knowing that nothing could be done.
"I would have given my life for her if I could," the youngest Lieutenant brokenly whispered. "My life for her's. She was my child, my baby." Melchiah cradled the rag doll close, its droopy smile seemingly mocking him.
"I will leave you, Melchiah," Kain gently spoke. "Know that if you need anything, then all you have to do is come to me." The emperor of Nosgoth left the room before Melchiah could give his hollow thanks. Now left alone, new memories from his brothers and sire inside of him, running through his mind, Melchiah felt the walls of Clara's room closing in on him. How could he keep on living? Why was he still moving?
...Clara was walking, she was walking! Melchiah stretched out his talons towards his daughter, a wide smile across his face as he coaxed Clara on. She stood, unsure and a little unbalanced, on her feet, but there was trust in those blue eyes. She took an unwieldy step forwards, her arms outstretched to her father, confident that if she fell then he would catch her. Two more steps, closer to her father. Clara burbled happily, finally reaching her parent and feeling his strong talons hold her. The claws would never cut her flesh; they would keep her safe.
"You walked Clara," Melchiah nearly sang the words like a praise. He held her above him ad laughed. "Yes, you finally walked!"
Melchiah was still moving because he was a father to his Clan, to the Melchiahim. They looked to him for guidance, for reassurance as any child would. When anything wrong happened, they turned towards their father and sire to make things right. Melchiah's children, his clan. But they were not his true children, not as Clara had been. He cared for them with the best intentions, but Clara had captured his heart. She was above and beyond them; they would be unable to ever obtain the affection that Melchiah gave to his daughter.
...His second-in-command, defiant in front of the Clan Lord. How dare he make such a remark about Clara, Melchiah fumed.
"She is a human, sire. Nothing more than feed for us," Melchiah's second spoke forcefully as he stated his opinion. "Why waste your time with her? You are a god!"
Melchiah was rarely given to anger, but when it did come, the Clan Lord knew he could be a force to be reckoned with. He let his second-in-command talk on for a while longer, while the other officers stayed to the sides of the hall in silence, keeping their opinions to themselves. When Melchiah did strike – and he did – the other officers did not offer up a hand to help the beleaguered vampire against his sire.
There had been an opening after in Melchiah's officer ranks, and it was quickly filled.
Clara had come to him as a baby, orphaned to the world and lost in its chaos. Melchiah had felt the same emotions raging through him, but the storm had calmed after Clara came into his life. It had a purpose, a meaning. Melchiah had never bonded with another being as he had with Clara, watching her grow and learn as the world whirled around her. She had been blessed, growing up in a world that for others while filled with darkness, had been nothing but light for Clara. In those rare moments, Melchiah wondered what Clara would have been like if she had never been dropped at his doorstep.
..."Father, why do the humans work for you," Clara demanded one day as she and her father were outside, walking along one of the balconies.
"Because they are my servants. Because the vampires have conquered them." Melchiah did not know how to explain it well enough to his daughter, who was only eight.
"Uncle Zephon calls them slaves. He says humans are not worth very much. And uncle Dumah says that I shouldn't even pay attention to them."
Melchiah sighed. "Your uncles views are jaded, Clara. Don't listen to what they say, understand me?" She nodded. "These humans are my servants, and I treat them as well as I can but at the same time, I must still show them who is master."
"I am human. So should I be working with them then, father, since you have humans working for you?"
He had ruffled her hair and smiled at Clara's simplistic view. "No Clara, because you are my daughter. You are special to me, and different from them."
Why? Yes indeed, why? Melchiah had churned that conversation over and over again in his mind. The answer always came out the same. It could never be expressed or explained in words, no one else would even begin to comprehend such a thing from a Clan Lord. Perhaps if something like this had appeared in their lives, and they had run those hurdles as well, then the same understanding could possibly be reached.
"Because she is my only child," Melchiah proclaimed quietly to himself. "From now, until the day that my final death comes, Clara will always be my only child. Those were the moments in my life that mattered, the ones that truly counted. I measured my happiness by her, my time through her. And now with her gone..." His yellow eyes looked around the room, holding everything in his mind's eye as best as he could. "With her gone, it will never be the same."
Placing the rag doll up against the pillows on the bed, Melchiah gave a wistful smile. Clara had loved that doll more than anything else. Even when she lay in her bed, breathing her last with her father lying beside her, holding onto his talon tight, Clara still held the doll in the crook of her arm, refusing to let go. The simplest things in life were always the most precious.
Melchiah left Clara's bedroom, closing and locking the door quietly behind him. Some memories were good to reflect upon, but others, the ones that truly counted, were coveted away, locked up and only opened when they really mattered. Too precious for the rest of the world to see, who might ridicule them, they were only to be brought up with a few special people.
The Clan Lord walked down the lonely halls of his palace, seeking companionship with his vampires.
-- End --