Author's note: Greetings to everyone viewing my story! This is my first ever work that I'm posting on this site and also the first ever work that I'm writing in English (it's not my first language), so, please, don't be too strict with me) But nevertheless all kinds of feedback are more than welcome, so feel free to express all your thoughts and ideas, including critical ones - it's very important for the progress of my story and for me personally.
Those of you who are familiar with the original plot of the "Soul Reaver" might be wondering now why my fic begins with the chapter "The Silenced Cathedral", and though I've already explained that in my profile info, I will reiterate it here one more time: I have the earlier chapters of this story already written too, but since it took me a while to sharpen my writing skill, I find what I was writing in the beginning a bit 'raw' now and would like to firstly edit them before putting here. Therefore I'm currently uploading the part depicting Raziel's quest for Zephon and everything that happened afterwards in accordance with the classic storyline, since I consider this part to be the best I've managed to come up with so far. The chapters portraying earlier events of the story will certainly be uploaded by me as well, only a bit later, cuz as I've already said I now feel compelled to make some serious 'amendments' to them.
And one more thing: while writing my fic I tried to stick to the original plot of the game as much as possible and whenever admissible keep all the facts and details, but as you have to understand, some things that we see in the game just cannot remain in the novelization for the sake of its logic and consistency. Because of that I had purposely changed some details or added some new ones so as not to harm the literary quality of the story. I hope that all true "LoK"-fans will sympathize with such decision of mine and will not hate me for 'trenching upon what is sacred')))
And just as the common cliché goes I can't help but say: please, read & review! It really IS important for me.
Thank you for your attention and now onward with the story,
The Silenced Cathedral
In the short run I emerged from the caverns and finally reached the ruins that greeted my exit from the Underworld.
The sun, although hardly discernable through the thick veil of smoke, rose feebly high above the horizon just as it did when I was leaving the territory of the Sanctuary of the Clans.
If my sense of time was more or less precise then I must have spent only one day and one night traveling here, which was rather fast for such a considerable distance.
I took a view of the scenery and again glanced to the side of the grotto through which I left the Elder's keep at the beginning of my quest. Even though I had already noticed then that the entrance to it did not exist in the material world this externality was still marvel to me. I remembered the humans to have a saying like 'things are not always what they seem to be'. It was very unlikely, however, that the authors of this phrase could even hardly imagine how close they got to the absolute truth in their philosophical edifying. But unlike the representatives of both human and vampire races I was an infrequently rare inhabitant of this world, who had the privilege of witnessing both astral and material realms and even comparing all the differences. I wondered if the Elder God was somehow responsible for some of those incongruities, for this particular one clearly evidenced his careful attempt to conceal his presence from all Nosgoth's dwellers.
The eastern mountains were about fifty feet away from me, so I made for them, following the direction of my protector. Mountains as a whole covered about two thirds of Nosgoth's surface, but the eastern part was undoubtedly the most highland. Climbing these sublime ridges was nearly infeasible, but I strongly suspected that there had to be some passage at their bottom, otherwise the territories of the east would be practically inaccessible.
My intuition did not fail me, and soon I found one right beneath the cliff - almost imperceptible on the dark rocky background, but rather wide and capacious.
I walked into the passage and saw that it was blocked with a huge set of iron gates – an essential obstacle on the face of it, but not for a creature with abilities like mine. So I transferred myself to the spectral realm and swimmingly leaked through the bars, again making use of the Dark Gift that once belonged to my brother Melchiah.
As the barrier was left behind me I continued my way through the passage.
Despite attaining such a great height the mountain that I was passing now turned out to be not as vast as it seemed to me at the first gaze, for it took me only a couple of minutes to cross this tunnel that reached all the way through it.
As I stepped out of the passage I beheld a broad coastal area spreading miles away to the east. Although my vision was a bit distorted by the blurry haze of the spirit world, I could still discern the sweeping watery waste ranging beyond the slender rocky coast on which I was standing now.
I approached the shore-side and peered into the water space underneath me, which in this realm was as thin and transparent as air. The pool had a rather shallow depth, about thirty feet at most, and everything on its bottom was perfectly visible.
There I got the sight of three sluagh, walking on the pool's ground like some sea creatures and voraciously devouring the lost souls that were flying around them. Watching them under an insubstantial prism of liquid felt like watching fishes in an aquarium, and the moment I arrived at that idea made me chuckle aloud.
But then this feeling of amusement was quickly replaced with appropriate ruefulness and disgust, for once again I comprehended how pathetic in fact was this afterlife that awaited every living being post obitum – not heaven, not even hell, but just some lifeless phantom purgatory, where your spirit was either to be gobbled by some retarded spectral parasite or was to devolve into one. The Elder God had told me earlier that the souls were getting trapped in this realm because of the vampires' immortality that had disrupted the balance of life and death, but I still doubted whether the vampires' mere existence could have alone created such a terrific antinomy. Instead I had a theory that this phenomenon had rather something to do with the corruption of the Pillars of Nosgoth and the balance they could no longer sustain. But as ever I had no facts proving me wrong or right, so I could only hope that my further adventures would cast some light on my suspicions.
I shifted my glance from the water and swept it over the shore until I got the view of some tall building rising out of the pool in the distance. Through the misty brume of the spirit world it looked like another impenetrably black mountain, but as I continued to walk along the coast toward it, its constructive features started becoming more discernable.
The edifice had a towering cone-shaped form which made it look so hill-alike from afar and its east wing was built attached to the nearest cliff. Those sides of the structure which were not covered by the rocks were surrounded by a moat formed by a waterfall flowing from the top of the cliff, which flooded the whole area beyond the coast. Such an untypical location could only be explained by protective purposes.
The building itself consisted of about four or five tiers, each one tapering from the bottom upwards. This type of design seemed very familiar to me and I was gradually beginning to suspect that I had already seen such piece of architecture before.
The construction of this sort could only pertain to Nosgoth's churches… or cathedrals.
At last it flashed upon me where I could have seen this building. For this edifice before my eyes was much more than just a simple towering cathedral – it was a legendary fortress, created centuries ago by the mankind as a testament to their defiance of Kain's empire. Aside from being an excellent defensive post this tower was deliberately conceived by the human architects to become a holy weapon against the vampire menace. The cathedral had large acoustic pipes concealed in its fundament that were spreading throughout the whole construction's height and jutting outward from its walls. If the pipes' internal stacks were connected accurately within the same tier they could amplify any sound coming from there a thousand times. And since vampires also had a subtle, but cogent vulnerability to the sound, it made the cathedral to be one of the few human inventions that could pose true danger to the members of my former race.
So this must have been the exact place where my omnipresent protector had directed me to. Of course, it was not the only cathedral located in the east, but its remarkable design and inimitable height left me no room for the doubt that it was the very structure I assumed it to be.
I again ranged my eyes over the cyclopean-high building in front of me, which tip almost pierced the skies above, and it reassured me in my supposal.
The Elder God told me that the cathedral was taken over by my brother Zephon and his clan who killed its human guardians and made the structure into their lair. I remembered Kain to have been planning an assault on this fortress shortly before my execution, for he too was concerned with the destructive potential of the cathedral. And it was surprising that Kain granted such an important task to Zephon, the second weakest of our brood after Melchiah.
Although now I had to admit that the Zephonim had done their job more than well, ensuring that the human weapon of annihilation remained silent. Now the most irony about this was that all the vampires of Nosgoth owed their lives to my brother, for only God knew how far the deadly hymn could have spread from the cathedral's pipes had the humans managed to use them.
I walked several more steps by the front side of the cathedral, observing its exterior façade. Two grey flags that carried the symbol of the Zephonim clan were hung above the entrance to the building like an illustration of their victory over its former human occupiers. The bridge to the entrance was down, and it seemed strange to me that the Zephonim did not lift it in order to minimize the possibility of any undesirable intrusion. The front door, however, looked as if sealed, but I could only be sure about that in the material realm.
I took a fleeting look around and spotted a conduit flaring right by the waterfall that filled the moat around the building. Wasting no time, I promptly made a movement toward it.
After re-entering the world of the living it had become much easier for me to orient myself on this rocky terrain. The mountains around no longer seemed so dark as how they did in the spectral realm and the details of the whole landscape were now much more distinct.
I strode back to the bridge over the moat, intent upon crossing it straightway, but then my peripheral vision caught a glimpse of some tiny light speck gleaming behind my left shoulder. I turned around and got the sight of a huge passage between the two shore-side mountains, which I failed to discern earlier due to the obscurity of the spirit world. Unlike the artificially created passage I crossed to get here this one must have formed in a more natural way, perhaps as a result of rock decay.
And at the end of this pass-way in the distance of about half mile I distinguished a miniscule view of a burning bonfire.
I could hardly imagine someone to be dislocating in this arduously accessible part of Nosgoth, and, furthermore, in such a perilous closeness to the Zephonim's cloister. But nonetheless I knew too well that where there was bonfire, there had to be someone around who had kindled it.
This spectacle was very befuddling and though my main goal lay within the cathedral's walls, I could not resist my curiosity and suspiciousness to go explore this place. So instead of getting across the bridge I redirected myself to this cragged passage.
Before passing the crevice between the mountains I stopped dead and looked at my right arm.
The wraith blade…
I had almost forgotten that it was flaring as bright as this bonfire that I was approaching now.
I had to dispose of it temporarily if I didn't want to be descried while checking this area. And the only way to do this was to get injured anywise.
I unclenched the talons on my left hand and slackly clawed the thin coat of flesh on my right arm. A tiny drop of blue blood exuded from the little scratch, but this was enough to diffract the Reaver's projection from my arm, driving it into somewhere inside me.
Once more I felt my body losing its refreshing stability and my soul hunger awaking with renewed vigour. But since the sword had been maintaining me up until now, I knew that my energy would suffice for several more hours.
Without the Reaver summoned I continued to move toward the bonfire area, gradually slowing down my walk as I was getting closer to it.
When I had about twenty yards left between me and the fire place, I made out a silhouette of some figure standing in the bright shine of the burning wood. I quickly leaned unto the side of the mountain, sheltering myself behind the snouts of the rock.
As I made sure that I had not been revealed, I cautiously peered out of the exposed cliffs.
Then I saw that the stranger by the bonfire was a vampire hunter - a tall warrior mailed in heavy black armor and armed with a crossbow. His vestment was identical to the one I had seen on a vampire huntress Enya who had accompanied me to the territory of the Necropolis. Since the warrior's face was covered by a helmet and he even had the same weapon she did, one could easily confuse these two if it was not for the salient stalwart features of his body that could only belong to a male human. Evidently he and Enya were the members of the same war host in the human army and thence their garment was nearly equal.
In a short time I stopped examining the hunter's visage and shifted my gaze to the area behind him. There were several tents standing in the rear of the fire place, but I could not be exact about their number because of the poor visibility – this place was so much smothered with cliffs that the weak sunlight as it was hardly reached here.
So this was some sort of a staging post that the human warriors had here. The terrain itself, however, was a very unlikely one for the vampire hunters to set up their camp on.
And yet for some reason they did.
Perhaps they were planning to storm the cathedral and dislodge the Zephonim that had invaded it, but I couldn't know this for sure and wanted to make it clear.
Suddenly some fuss near one of the tents came into my view.
I did a double take and saw another human indolently getting out of the closest to the fire place tent. This one was stripped to waist, having only his chausses on. He was not wearing any helmet either, so his bald head remained exposed.
Even in such a gloom I could discern that the man's well-built torso was all sweaty, while his arms were blooded almost up to elbows.
The human took a cloth out of his sheathe and slovenly wiped his hands, then started walking toward the sentinel hunter.
The guarding arbalester drowsily turned his helmeted head to the approaching human and lowered his crossbow a bit.
"How are they?" the armored hunter asked.
"I've stanched their wounds – luckily they are not fatal." the man with a naked torso replied and flicked away the sweat from his forehead. "But almost all the warriors have their nerve-endings injured. Now they are literally paralyzed. I don't know how long it will take them to recover."
The crossbowman shook his head in disapproval.
"I knew that assailing the cathedral was a bad idea…" he said with a mixture of fatefulness and anger in his voice.
"And you have any better ideas?" the human that appeared to be some kind of a healer asked him with reprimand. "The cathedral is our only hope of getting the upper hand over this vampire plague! Or do you want to continue living under their flagitious bondage?"
"I just don't want our people to be fecklessly thrown into every misbegotten combat like pieces of meat into a chopper!" the guardian's tone sounded almost like an accusation. "How can you expect us to get the upper hand over them if we cannot even bring our siege weapons to this place? As long as these creatures have such a positional superiority we will never be able to get even close to the cathedral!"
The bald-headed human raised his finger for an objection but then stopped as if having changed his mind.
"You know exactly that I am not the one who gives orders here." he said in a more measured manner. "But the longer we wait the greater the numbers of these beasts keep growing and the lesser are our chances of taking back the cathedral."
The arbalester turned his head away and grabbed his crossbow a bit tighter.
"If only these beasts were our only problem now…" he murmured angrily. "These goddamn traitors…"
"You mean the vampire worshippers?" the healer asked him. "They're just headless lunatics. Think that wheedling those ghouls will spare their pathetic lives."
"Lunatics or not, but they have slaughtered our squadrons not less than these beasts did." the guard responded. "I've seen some of these bastards before, and they seemed to be more devoted to the vampires than the ones of their own kind themselves. Whatever truly guides them – their faith or their fear – what they do they do completely willfully."
The healer knitted his brows together, probably thinking over what his fellow hunter had told him, but didn't say anything in reply.
For a second or two the humans were silent, but then the one with the naked torso started another subject.
"What are we going to do now?" he asked.
"Wait for the reinforcements to come, then bring all the wounded back to the Citadel." the crossbowman answered stiffly.
"And what about the others? Those whom we left inside the cathedral?" the healer's question sounded as an imploration.
"It is too late for them…" the armored hunter declared with an understandable note of resignation.
The healer cast a hopeless glance in the direction of the crossbowman, but again didn't reply anything and just speechlessly made for another tent, while the guarding hunter remained standing at his watch.
When it became clear that the conversation between these two was not to continue I prudently sneaked back behind the cliffs and made my way out of this place.
My speculation was not that far from the truth: not only were the humans planning to storm the cathedral – they had already attempted to do this once, but unfortunately for them my brother's clan had prevailed in that collision.
It appeared that my arrival here had taken place accurately after the hunters' assault on the Zephonim, which was hardly a mere coincidence, for there had already been too many of them.
Anyway I had long since grown accustomed to the fact that my resurrection was not just a contingency and everything that was now happening in Nosgoth had to have some connection with my presence here.
But what had provoked my interest even more were those vampire worshippers that these hunters were talking about. The crossbowman said that they were humans who willingly served the vampires.
But why would they do this?
Of course, vampire clans had thousands of humans enslaved throughout the land, but those were captives and not some willful worshippers.
Before now I had only once in my life heard about humans worshipping a vampire as their Master. Those were the servants of the ancient vampire Vorador who used to be the Father of the whole vampire race before Kain became the Emperor of Nosgoth. But Vorador was a noble and respectable vampire unlike my brethren and their offspring, who had devolved into a bunch of insensate crippled monsters. Even if those human renegades thought that caving in to the vampire oppression would make a better chance for their survival it was still very strange for them to act in such a way.
Soon I returned to the territory of the cathedral and this time headed straight up to its entrance.
I crossed the bridge over the moat and came nigh unto the front door, which turned out to be sealed almost pressure-tight just as I presumed earlier in the spectral realm.
When I failed to open the door by force, I took a few steps backwards and tried to visually examine it, looking for any hint that could help me unlock it.
In the center of the door I discerned a tiny aperture like that of a lock with some strange blue energy pouring of it. The color of this energy looked similar to the blue flame of the wraith blade, which gave me a feeling of perplexity.
I glanced closer at the door one more time and sighted two scarcely traceable emblems of the Soul Reaver graven symmetrically on each side of it. I had no idea why or how the Reaver's effigy appeared on the door to the cathedral, but I was beginning to think that I knew what my next move should be.
But first I had to feed to sate my fervid soul hunger and restore the blade's material form.
In order to do this I abandoned my physical body and took a dip into the spirit world.
Once I re-joined the world of the dead, I instantly jumped into the pervious water space of the moat around the cathedral.
After landing on the lake's bottom I ran to the western side of the lake. I was hoping to meet there those sluagh that I was recently watching from above the shore, for I knew that their unintelligent souls would easily replenish the surplus of my energy and help me return to the material realm with full health and the Reaver in its physical form.
While running I noticed that the cathedral's fundament was built literally sunken into the lake bed, which was very unusual even from the protective point of view. Never before had I ever seen a building in Nosgoth with such a construction style, and something was telling me that the idea of defense was not the only one behind this finding of human architects.
Upon getting round the western wing of the cathedral I found my way to the broad band of the lake.
The same three sluagh that I was after were still there busy devouring the lost souls that were fussing around them through the unrespirable air of the spectral realm. For some reason the straying spirits were gathering heavily exactly in this particular area, so these vermin were lucky to have discovered such a stable influx of 'food'.
The sluagh reacted to my forthcoming as always enthusiastically by intermitting their feast and beginning to interrogatively approach me. No matter for how long these demented creatures had been feeding here I knew that their appetite was unquenchable and even now they were groaning to make me into their next dish.
But they had no idea that I was planning to do the very same thing to them.
The first sluagh to draw near rapidly rolled past me and tried to deliver a hit to my chest before I even had a chance to attack it. Its speed was far greater than the speed of the sluagh that I had encountered previously, so I hardly managed to dodge from the strike.
I immediately countered with a horizontal sword cut, but then the sluagh showed some adroitness of its own, deftly ducking from the Reaver's flaring blade. The agility of the spectral parasite surprised me and I raised the blade vertical to the ground, temporarily taking the defensive position.
Before the sluagh could come up with a second attack the other two predators had already caught up with their partner. Only now I noticed that one of them was moving on all fours like an animal and was a bit bigger than the rest of the pack.
The sluagh started acting literally in unison, all three lunging at me almost simultaneously.
I sprang back, at one time landing a sundering overhand blow right to the cranium of the four-footed wretch that got the nearest to me.
The green bile-like blood sprayed in all the directions and the bigger sluagh got stunned.
The other two vermin apprehensively staggered back, while I swiftly took the advantage and continued my onslaught on their fellow scavenger.
I descended upon the head-wounded sluagh with a flurry of sweeping sword strikes, the Reaver shrieking in anticipation of the upcoming meal each time it tore through the jelly-like flesh of the beast.
As the derivative matter around the parasite's astral body got completely destroyed, the wraith blade absorbed its screaming spirit like liquid without giving it a chance to escape.
The rest of the pack were obviously bewildered to watch their partner disappear in the Reaver's fire, but didn't flee like the weak-hearted majority of their kind that I had met heretofore. Apparently the plentiful amount of souls to feed had enhanced both these creatures' strength and courage, and now they were intent upon fighting to finish.
When the space between us got cleaned, the two remaining sluagh again took the offensive.
The carnivores of the spirit world encircled me and applied the same strategy they did before – they started striking at me slightly synchronically, but this time from different angles. I had to admit that for mindless chowhounds these creatures had pretty decent combative thinking… but still not decent enough to get the better of me.
The moment they lunged at me for the third time I promptly skewed their clawed paws and delivered a roundhouse cut to both of them.
The sluagh howled in pain as the green plasma that filled the thin coat of matter around their insubstantial carcasses splattered before their own eyes.
Not losing a second, I darted at the soul-eating beasts again, the blade in my hands ready for another doubled thrust.
The sluagh to the right managed to avoid my assault, but the one to the left took the blow to the full extent.
The Reaver sliced all the way through its semisolid torso, at once dismattering it and swallowing the exposed defenseless spirit.
As the last survivor of the pack realized that it was left alone in this skirmish, its instinct of self-preservation had finally outshined its former audacity and the parasite attempted for a runaway.
I took a jump into the air and landed right in front of the escaping soul-eater, blocking its way, and then threateningly flourished at it with the wraith blade.
The sluagh began to back up frightenedly until I nailed it to the cliff behind. Probably conceiving that escape was no option the tired-down beast ravened at me out of desperation with its mouth agape.
I easily sidestepped the vermin's sharp-toothed jaws and pierced it with the sword, the flaring blade burying itself in the sluagh's trepelloid composition and tearing its astral body from the membrane of matter it was wrapped in.
When the creature's essence was sucked into the green blaze of the Reaver, my eyes glowed with renewed power and I once again felt my soul energy to be fully restored.
The way to the material realm was now open to me.
I returned to the world of the living through the same portal near the waterfall that I had discovered earlier.
Once more the Reaver was manifesting itself from my right arm in its physical form, its flame now changed from green color to blue… so much like that strange energy that was oozing from the lock of the cathedral's door.
The Elder God instructed me formerly that the wraith blade would help me 'gain entry where my path was previously blocked'. All this lead me to the conclusion that perhaps the Reaver could turn out to be the key to that mystical door.
So I approached the entrance to the cathedral again, but this time, as I hoped, with the means of opening it.
At once my eyes got bent on the energy-exuding aperture that was outlined on the dark-grey background of the door as if beckoning the visitor to put into it something that would unseal this mysterious lock.
Although the idea of the wraith blade being the key to the door belonged to me, it still seemed too weird to be true.
Anyway, I had no other alternative now but to try my plan and at least hope that it would not prove a disaster.
Still being full of second thoughts I carefully inserted the Reaver into the lock.
To my surprise, the blade's ethereal corpus fit perfectly into the fissure and as I continued to plunge it deeper, I sensed some kind of magnetism beginning to pulsate in this contact.
When the sword immersed itself into the key hole almost up to its pommel, the lock flashed with glaring light in a sound of electric discharge.
Some invisible power violently forced the blade out of the aperture, the impact all but knocking me off my feet.
With an effort I caught my balance and then saw the door divide in two parts, each one moving off sideward with gnash.
My triumph soared higher than ever in that moment, as I gradually began to conceive that the Reaver had genuinely unsealed the door and that my way into the cathedral was finally free.
But apart from the heartwarming feeling of pride that the unveiling of this riddle had enlightened me with it had also sparked a lot of questions in my mind.
First and foremost, if the door to the cathedral could only be opened with the Soul Reaver, how had the vampire hunters have broken into it earlier?
Did that mean that the mortals possessed some unique means of their own that had helped them avoid this obstacle?
No, that could not be possible…
Besides, the door carried the symbol of the Reaver itself, which indicated that the sword was the one and only key to it.
I began to suspect that this hurdle was built up here deliberately in advance of my contemplated resurrection.
But who could have done that?
And most importantly – when?
Only a couple of days might have passed between the humans' besiegement of the cathedral and my arrival here.
Whoever had established this arcane entrance within such a short period of time should have known about my come-back from hell from the very inception.
And for now I knew only one person except for my ancient protector with such a conversance – Kain…
And if this theory of mine was correct, then what was awaiting me inside this edifice was nothing but another set of his traps prepared specifically for me.
I crossed the threshold of the entrance with a mixed sense of anxiety and intensity, for I knew exactly that whatever I would find within the walls of this building would certainly be shocking and distasteful: the degraded clan of my brother, the immured vampire hunters if there were still some of them alive, further traces of Kain's machinations…
I wished I could abstain from visiting this place, and yet I knew I couldn't.
The hour was late, and I still had no notion of how to reach the northern territories of Nosgoth, where my former Master was supposed to be already waiting for me.
Again I was standing on the precipice of another new quest, which I had to complete fast if I still wanted to see our world live.
Walking through the front door got me into a spiraling corridor, which stretched along the perimeter of the ground tier. The walls and the floor were made of some fawn-colored brick - obviously the best material to sustain the water that the fundament of the cathedral was sunken into.
I didn't know which way to go and decided to act on blind faith, instinctively choosing to run rightwards.
However, this option fell down as soon as I turned round the corner, for it emerged that here the corridor was passing into a water-filled rescission. From the color of this water I deduced that it was not a sewage where the liquid could be supplied for some domestic purposes, but clearly the water of the lake around the cathedral.
So it appeared that the building was surrounded by water not only from the outside, but from the inside as well. The more I learned of the constructive features of this structure, the more I kept wondering at the unorthodox approach of the human architects. This whole water base here surely served some significant goal and I was eager to clarify what goal it was.
Since I no longer had any second options, I quickly ran back to the left side of the corridor. This part of the passage was descending, leading somewhere below, but having no water rescissions whatsoever. Evidently this wing of the cathedral was based on some firm ground; otherwise the water would have inevitably permeated here from the cracks in the fundament.
The corridor itself proved to be longer than I could have imagined, stretching forward on and on as I kept running along it. The human architects made sure that those who wanted to infiltrate the cathedral would have to make a serious distance before getting into the heart of the edifice. The Zephonim, nevertheless, managed to do so, and now it was my turn to follow their example.
The conformed running through the constantly lengthening passage-way had almost bored me, until my ears detected some odd noise coming from above.
The sound resembled some kind of bone crackling, and after a few seconds it also got diluted by a subdued hiss.
I looked up at the ceiling with the Reaver in my hands at the ready, but failed to see anything there. The corridor was very dark, and whoever was prowling me here was making perfect use of this obscurity to lurk in it.
The crackling noise continued, as I started gazing around and above, trying to spot my chaser. But instead it was me who got spotted, when all of a sudden something or somebody hit me to the back of my head from behind.
Off-balanced I fell face-burst, the wraith blade incontinently losing its material projection and disappearing from my right arm. It always annoyed me that only one shot to my body, even an insignificant one, sufficed to deprive me of the Reaver's power in the real world, and especially exactly then when I needed it most.
I half got up and touched the back of my head with my talons to examine whether there was any wounding. To my unfortunate I found out that the hit left me busted open, blue blood-like energy smearing my left hand at the first contact. Although the injury was painless for me, I knew that my soul energy would now deplete faster as long as the wound remained open. I had to devour a soul to heal it and retrieve the blade's manifestation, and the spirit of my assailant would fit as fiddle.
Full of determination, I regained my feet under me and turned around to face the one who had attacked me.
But what then rose to my view left me standing almost paralyzed.
Before my eyes appeared a tall creature with a skeletal build, its arms and legs wiry and thin, perhaps even thinner than mine. The creature's skin was pale grey, while its hind limbs were ivory black as if it was wearing leathers. Its neck was sinewy, with some tensed skin membrane growing out of it and coalescing with the shoulders.
The fiend had a small skull with very prominent fangs and a couple of strange black dots on its forehead which looked like several more pairs of eyes.
But the strangest thing about the creature's appearance were its front limbs – they were probably twice longer than its legs, hanging low and reaching the floor, their joints bent inward as if they were broken.
These elongated arms, if it was the right word to call them, ended with tridactyl talons, which could only belong to a vampiric entity.
As I had noticed this feature, my conscience started scrambling its way through the flabbergasted state of mind that the creature's visage left me in, making me perceive the worst thing that I could have expected – this hideous being in front of me was a Zephonim.
Although I had already witnessed myself how terribly the corruption had affected the clans of the Dumahim and the Melchiahim, even this horrific experience failed to toughen my heart against what I was beholding now. The ghouls that I had been coming across until this moment were, however grotesque, at least of a vampiric guise. But this abhorrent deformity standing before me now was blasphemous to be even referred as to a representative of my once honorable race. If this morbid creature truly shared my brother's congeniality, then one could only quail at the thought of how cruelly Zephon's evolution must have contaminated him.
The Zephonim sniffed and then got on all fours; its gaunt front limbs stretching forward hazardously close to me. The quadrupedal posture was giving the monster a very spider-like exteriority.
The devolved vampire tilted its little head to the left and stared at me through its beady sinister eyes as if studying its wondrous prey.
I spread my talons wide, preparing to take the fight, but suddenly the same rattling sound that I had heard seconds away came from behind and distracted me.
I starkly turned my head and saw another Zephonim standing abaft and eyeballing me with a bloodthirsty look.
This one looked identical to the first one, but its skin was of a darker shade and instead of dots on the forehead it had a pattern in the form of a huge black arrow with its head pointing downward.
These creatures seemed to have dropped on me from above, although there were no ledges or cornices there. Definitely there was yet much for me to discover about their abilities.
Now that it had become a two on one struggle I had to work out a strategy of dealing with these gollywogs. With their lengthy mandibles the Zephonim had a firm advantage over me, for they could easily keep me at a bay by assaulting me from perhaps a twice longer distance than I could. Though I always preferred the offensive style of fighting, I realized that now it would be better to hunker down for a time and wait for a suitable moment to execute a counterattack.
But first I had to get out of this flawed position between them. So I drew my back against the wall behind, trying to keep both Zephonim within my sight.
When the one to the right finally opened up the brawl by swinging at me with its bony arm, I harshly leaped off the wall in front of me and made a diagonal somersault over the onrushing vampire.
The Zephonim attempted to knock me off in mid-air, but missed the shot, while I safely landed behind its back.
The monster adroitly slewed round in a single twist of its anemic body and continued to take further horizontal swings at me, each one winging the air with a whiz. The dystrophic bodily constitution had made these beings extremely agile and it took a great effort of mine to dodge their lightning-fast blows.
After failing to deliver several more shots to me the skeleton-like vampire attempted for a vertical attack, lashing at me with both its front limbs raised above its head.
This was the moment that I was waiting for, and without skipping a beat I slid under the lunging beast, stabbing my talons into its ribcage.
The Zephonim screeched in pain, instantly losing all its aggressive pep, as I continued to drive my claws deeper into its torso.
When I almost grabbled for the ghoul's heart to pluck it out, another Zephonim came out of nowhere, clinging onto the left wall and then scaling it in my direction at a killing speed.
Before I even managed to react the wall-climbing creature slashed me to the face with its enormously long arm, forcing me to draw my hand out of its partner's brisket and shrank a few steps back.
The vampire that I was trying to disembowel remained standing upright, squealing in anguish and grasping at its heavily bleeding wound, while the other one jumped at me straight from the wall and knocked me flat.
The snapper ghast pinned me to the floor and tried to bite my neck with its slavering mouth, but I kicked it into the stomach with both my feet, sending it flying.
The wretch landed right on its limbs and then crawled back to me forthwith, each of its scuttling legs performing not less than ten moves per second. The velocity of these predators was unbelievable and for the first time I felt yielding in quickness to my adversaries.
The Zephonim again started throwing its talons at me, while I had nothing left to do but keep on edging away from the violent swipes, looking for a moment to counter.
In the full swing of the struggle the energy exhaustion reminded me of itself afresh, causing my vision to swim a little and thus making me linger in my mobility for a split second.
My opponent responded to this momentary weakness of mine in less than no time and launched forward its right limb, shooting a string of some chalk white stuff from its wrist directly into my face.
At the last gasp I managed to block my face with my left forearm, this strange substance gluing to it instead. Only now I realized that this sticky white thing that the monster threw at me was a web… a spider web.
In all likelihood my comparing of the Zephonim with the spiders turned out to be not that abstract after all, for their arachnidan treats didn't stop at their appearance. After I had seen the descendants of my brother scale vertical ground and even shoot web it had become obvious that they didn't only resemble, but were spiders, at least partly. One could only be lost in conjectures by which reasons the Nupraptor's poison that was inherited by Kain and then passed to other clans had made them devolve in this or that way. The vampires native to this time had developed great adaptiveness to their environment, but lost their rational minds, having turned into subhuman animals, and the Zephonim were pointedly no exception. I had no clue why the corruption brought them to inhabiting these vile arthropod-like carcasses, but I was dead sure that the source of each clan's putrefaction always lay with their leaders. Maybe when I would eventually find Zephon I would have some clarity put into this secret.
In the meantime, my enemy continued its incursion by clasping the web-string with both its arms and beginning to pull it, dragging me closer to itself.
I bore my feet against the floor, withstanding the manhandling, and then jerked my left arm with all my might, the cobweb all but breaking.
The vampire's underweight had finally counted against it, and the Zephonim toppled over and got dragged to me instead.
When it clashed into me, I slashed its snout with my free arm, my talons dissecting right through its eyes.
Blood squirted on the right wall as the arachnid ghoul started shrieking and plucking at its ragged face, losing its grip of the web-string.
With my left arm lastly broken from bonds I viciously hurled myself at the Zephonim, forcing all my talons into its already blood-steaming eyes.
The snark rived in agony, desperately trying to fight back with all its limbs twisting back and forth, but I continued to squeeze its skull with my claws tighter and tighter.
Soon the brain box cracked, letting the disgusting mixture of gore, marrow slime and worse flow out of it and run all over the dying grimace of the beast's face.
The Zephonim screamed one last time and its limbs had grown still.
I unclenched my talons, letting the dead body fall headlong into the puddle of its own blood, and then removed the cowl from my lower jaw, getting ready to devour the creature's essence that began to rise from its corpse.
As the Zephonim's soul got imbibed into the pulsing glow of my gaping maw, I felt its energy enriching mine, but for this once not completely. The brawl must have taken too much of my stamina and one soul was not enough to fully redeem it. But still this feeding was howbeit vital for it could sustain me in the material realm for some more time – undoubtedly more than I needed to finish off the second Zephonim.
I took a squint at the belly-wounded vampire that I started battling earlier before its 'friend' had ambushed me. The feral creature was still harrumphing over the injury I had inflicted on it, surrounded by the pools of its own blood on the floor here and there.
Quick off the mark I darted at the gaunt beast, again aiming at its sternum.
The Zephonim attempted to defend itself, but the trauma had patently weakened it and all its moves had become too slow for me.
After eluding its bony arm shots I knocked my foot right into the fresh puncture in its abdomen, nailing the devolved ghoul to the wall.
The hardly closed wound opened up anew in a crimson spray of blood, as I continued to press the monster against the wall and plunged my talons into its skinny neck.
The Zephonim wallowed with all its limbs like a bug that got turned upside down until my hand reached for its windpipe and brutally yanked it out.
The arachnid started choking on its own gore, then limped bluntly and slipped down the wall, leaving a smearing bloodstain on it.
The liberated vampire spirit broke from the deceasing osseous figure, quivered in air as if trying to fly away, but then got inhaled by the gleaming cavernous hole in my chest.
At last my energy was refilled, all my wounds healed and skinned over, and the Soul Reaver was again projecting itself from my right arm, beaming in the darkness of the corridor like a gigantic blue candlelight.
The battle was over, a small, but difficult one.
At this point I had confronted only two members of the Zephonim, but inside this cathedral there could be hundreds or perhaps thousands of them waiting for me.
I didn't know how many of them I would have to face afterwards, but at least now I knew what I was doing business with…