A burst of green energy shot into the midst of the gibbering Sluagh pack. One of their number let out a long eerie wail and took off down the hall, flailing its now transparent and harmless limbs. The rest milled about restlessly, voicing wordless murmurings of hunger, until two more flashes of jade fire streaked into them, sending the scavengers scurrying off in search of less hostile prey.
Raziel lowered the Soul Reaver and sank back down, grateful for the rest.
Since his undignified flight from Turel’s hordes, he had been careful. Spending as much time as he could in the Spectral Realm, he had chosen to hide whenever possible and conserve his strength. His magical reserves had been depleted, and he could no longer risk open combat against the powerful Turelim vampires.
Turel’s trap-door strategy had been vexing at first, but Raziel had soon recognized that there were ways of getting around it. Even in this floating dungeon, one could still find places to hide from view, and some of them even had planar portals to enable him to cross back over to the Tower proper. There, out of sight, he would simply wait until the doors were opened to allow Turelim to enter or exit. At that moment, he would translate across the divide to find the Turelim gone and the doors agape, enabling him to move on.
It wasn’t perfect. Once after reforming he had been spotted while heading towards his hiding place, and was forced to defend himself against a roomful of vicious undead monsters. In the initial moment of discovery he had panicked and tried to use the Sunlight Glyph. It was a costly mistake. Not only was this the most draining spell in his arsenal, but it also required the use of sunlight absorbed by his body, and there were no windows in the Tower, especially this far inside the keep. The Glyph lowered his magical energy greatly and had only a limited effect, failing to kill a few of his adversaries. The remainder he had fought hand to hand to work out his aggression at being so foolish, but he did employ the relatively low-cost Stone Glyph to petrify a few vampires long enough to shatter them. After that it was only muscle, skill, and determination. In the end Raziel prevailed and made his way out of the hall without further excitement.
Later he had recalled that he was close to the great meeting hall of this sub-tower, the main attraction of each of the four lesser members of the fortress’ layout. It was here that vampires from all the clans had congregated for companionship and entertainment. On reaching the entryway he had been set upon by the pack of greedy Sluagh eager to feast on his energy. It was not much of a contest.
Now Raziel was enjoying a few moments of peace before the renewal of his private war. He was crouched on top of a warped pillar topped by a great metal bowl filled with fire. Blue and cold, the flames flickered but gave no light. After resting for a few minutes, Raziel half-rose with a sigh. The planar portal on this pillar had been a lucky find, and now he had to make use of it. Crouched low, Raziel cast the Shift Glyph, and as the world mixed and flowed around him, he hunkered down in the now-orange flames atop the straight column, unharmed, and hoped he had not been seen.
The Turelim who were patrolling the anteroom gave no sign that they were aware of his presence, and Raziel offered silent thanks.
Two large metal doors that blocked off the great hall were now familiar to him, and he settled in to wait for his opening. It could take hours, but he was patient. Even if it took him the rest of the day, he was resolved to…
A scream burst out from close by, and Raziel almost fell off his perch.
Collecting himself, he peered cautiously over the edge of the bowl.
A mob of humans was marching into the gallery. Some of them had the shaven heads and red robes of vampire worshippers, but many others were dressed in rags and tatters, their skin a uniform pasty white. There were men, women, children, aged and young, all the different stages of human life exposed here. Numbering over three hundred in all, they were herded along by twenty Turelim. The scream had originated from a human female who had broken from the crowd and flung herself at two vampire sentries below Raziel’s hiding place. Both beasts eagerly began to shred her apart, and the crimson spray of her lifeblood soon found its way down their snarling throats.
Raziel glanced back at the mob. Their vampiric overseers had quickly moved in to prevent any more escapes, and they all stood intently watching the slaughter. Still, though some small children were sobbing, the looks on their elders’ faces were wistful, even joyous. They were vampire worshippers all, and Raziel knew they considered that dead woman to be extremely fortunate.
The Turelim who had been guarding the hall now surged forward eagerly en masse. The ones escorting the humans consulted amongst themselves, then chose ten happily exclaiming humans and led them forward to the other group. One vampire stepped out as they approached.
“Is this all you deign to offer us?” he proclaimed angrily, and those behind him rumbled their assent. “Why so tight-fisted? You have more there than you need, surely.”
“All these are reserved for the Atlas Legions. Their well-being is paramount, as you should know by now,” a spokesman from the shepherd Turelim replied. He pointed a claw at the two greedily feasting vampires. “Besides, you lot have already exceeded your bounds. Attend to your duties and we will see to ours.”
“Pah!” the other vampire spat. “Those mixed-blood laborers are always receiving special treatment!”
“If this concerns you so,” his opponent glowered threateningly, “you may voice your complaint to Anhat. Now we have real work to do!” He turned and stalked back to his charges.
The hall guard growled at his retreating form. Then he and his troop moved to surround their newly delivered food, all of whom had fallen to their knees and were crying thanks to their saviors.
As the first shrieks rang through the hall, the human parade meekly followed its guides to the closed double doors. Two Turelim pulled both portals apart and beckoned the herd through, but before the first human could take a step forward, Raziel had already slipped back to a world frozen in time.
Leaping to the empty floor, he passed beneath the arch and gazed out on a vista that was dauntingly familiar.
The circular chamber was huge, stretching hundreds of feet in diameter. A wide staircase, made twisted and uneven by the dimensional flow, descended from the entrance to the hall floor, and in the center of the room, towering a hundred feet in the air, was a prodigious statue of Kain.
This lone monolith, one of a quartet, was the centerpiece of each grand hall. Carved from volcanic black glass, the colossal monument was braced from within by many iron bars and carved in painstaking detail. Each tendon, every strand of hair was meticulously well crafted, a testimony to the ultimate ruler of the planet. Kain’s image stood with feet planted apart, one had on his hips while the other grasped the hilt of the gigantic metal Soul Reaver sword set point downwards. His face bore a look of fierce pride and majesty, the artisan having crafted well, and Raziel could not help but feel the same awe he had experienced on first viewing this titanic dedication to the sire of all Nosgoth’s vampires.
He remained so entranced for a while, and then came back to himself. Casting his eyes to the right, Raziel recognized an elegant walkway that ran a short length along the wall to an exit from the gallery. From here he could see that the door remained as it had been in his time, an ornate affair of wrought iron bars molded into pleasing shapes. Thanks to Melchiah, Raziel could phase his body through this perforated barrier on the Spectral Plane without having to cross over to the physical world. Simple enough. But he had something else in mind.
That huge retinue of humans destined for food, and the mention of something called the Atlas Legions: this hinted at matters of great importance. Was there something now in this hall that could be turned to his advantage? In truth he had not given much thought to assault, so concentrated had he become on managing to reach Turel as soon as possible. But certainly he would welcome an opening, some unguarded moment to wreak havoc and score a major victory against his brother’s perfectly oiled machine. It certainly merited further investigation.
Raziel’s glowing eyes roamed the hall, seeking means of egress to the real world. He noticed a portal on the floor far below, but quickly discarded it as impractical. There must be a more advantageous position from which to spy on the goings-on of this cavern. Looking up he saw, sure enough, the gentle glow of a planar portal from above the cornice of the doorframe.
Raziel crouched down and leapt twenty feet straight into the air to catch the ledge. Pulling himself up, he stepped into the luminous waves of energy and transported himself to the world of light. He could feel particles coalescing into flesh and bone around him, drawn by his will to form an appropriate vessel to house his spirit. When the transformation was complete he turned and looked out upon his new surroundings.
Kain’s colossus still reigned undeniably, but no longer was the hall empty. The floor below was packed with hundreds of Turelim.
Raziel sank down below sight and examined the layout. The first humans were just passing the threshold beneath him and descending the stairs. The Turelim far below were not moving about or grouped haphazardly. Instead they were all facing the statue and arranged along lines that radiated out from it. These bands of quartz cut through the green and black mosaic tile patterns that decorated the floor. Each vampire stood above a crystal node in the band, and the air around them was wavering and distorted, like heat ripples over a blazing fire. It was telekinetic power, Raziel realized, and from what he could see they seemed to be focusing their abilities down into the ground. The crystal bands pulsed with a steady glow. He could feel the power radiating up from the floor, on a scale he had never previously imagined. The Reaver of Souls stared down upon these proceedings curiously. What was its significance?
Then it occurred to him; these must be the Atlas Legions, and they were the ones charged with the task of making the Tower fly. It was members of this group whom Raziel had seen being transferred and deposited in the temple settlements outside. Somehow those crystal ley-lines acted as conduits of telekinetic power, directing and amplifying the Turelims’ efforts throughout the fortress and keeping it aloft. The same thing must be happening in the other three lower towers, Raziel surmised.
Having deduced all this, he was forced to admit that there was nothing he could do here. Whatever magic he had left could destroy only a tiny fraction of the Legions present, and even if he managed to get close enough to use it, he would be swiftly wiped out by the remaining members. There was just too much power here, and though his death would not be final, it would achieve no purpose. Besides, he had to save his strength for when it was needed.
So resolved, Raziel now turned his attention to exiting this huge power generator. The human food mob had reached the steps and its members were happily moving to meet their fates. The upper level on which he resided was deserted. Raziel rose up and leapt silently from his perch to land with catlike grace. Stealing a glance at the hall, he checked to see if he had been noticed. No, all was well. The Turelim were intent upon their load bearing and the humans had eyes only for their heavenly masters.
Crouched low, Raziel crept unobtrusively up the side stairwell. Reaching the small door, he pulled it open a crack and slipped through just as the feeding began.
Jehamiah rose up through the opening and hovered in midair. At sight of him, the guards who had been tensed for battle now relaxed. He acknowledged their vigilance with a satisfied nod and strode off to meet Turel as soon as the metal shield closed beneath him. There were more deaths to report.
Upon approaching he was surprised to see that his master seemed alert and ready for a change. Thinking bitterly that this was because he might bring word from Ellich De, Jehamiah decided to keep his message succinct.
The first lieutenant stopped before his father’s throne and bowed.
“Others are dead, but we are ready for him,” he stated simply.
Turel stared calmly at his firstborn. The tips of his claws tapped together slowly, making a harsh clicking sound that reminded his servant unpleasantly of the Zephonims’ clacking limbs.
“Do you know why I am doing this, Jehamiah?”
The question was so unexpected that Jehamiah could only stare at his sire.
“The reason is,” Turel continued without waiting for a response, “because it is my destiny.”
Jehamiah nodded wordlessly in agreement, uncertain what had brought this on.
“I am the only one who can defeat him. And defeat him I must, to preserve our race and our rule. I have dwelled upon nothing else for over 700 years. The others lacked the means to prevail, crippled as they were from outside and within. It saddened me to see them brought so low.”
Turel leaned forward suddenly, his hands convulsively clutching the arms of his throne. “But it was justice! They had erred in opposing me, and if you believe it was his hand that consigned them to death, you are mistaken. It was mine! Not for his vengeance but for my own have we come to this point!”
Turel was panting with fury, and his feverish eyes held the vampire marshal in their grip. Jehamiah was paralyzed by what he saw in their intensity.
“But I do not condone the loss of my children, Jehamiah!” Turel rasped harshly, his claws digging into his seat. “I show my love for you by actions, not words and vague hints of my own importance. I have taken steps to protect not only myself but you as well. It is through me that we will all be redeemed! Do you understand what I am saying?!”
Turel had risen to his full height, and the look on his twitching face was positively mad. He stared out now at the Turelim guards.
“Do you all understand? I will save my children! I am not like HIM!!”
Bewildered, Jehamiah stared up at his leader. Had you asked him why he could not explain it, but for some reason, he did not think Turel was referring to Raziel this time.
The first lieutenant glanced behind him at the other Turelim, and they too were gaping at Turel with expressions of worry and confusion. He turned back to his lord, concerned and uncertain what he could do to help, but Turel had resumed his seat and his face was once again calm and collected. The episode, whatever it was about, seemed to be over. Jehamiah was relieved but remained wary.
“My lord?” he queried. “Are you… dissatisfied with our preparations? Perhaps it would ease your concerns if a guard were placed about the Open Eye.” Ellich De had always rejected such measures scornfully, implying ineffectiveness on the part of Jehamiah’s troops. Jehamiah would relish the opportunity to see the haughty fool countermanded by Turel himself.
But when his master spoke next the lieutenant was disappointed. “Ellich De is now forewarned of our enemy. I do not believe he has anything to fear. But your concern is noted and appreciated, Jehamiah. I am sure your brother would be honored to hear of it.”
Jehamiah quickly bowed to hide the look on his face.
“For now,” Turel resumed thoughtfully, “we will await our foe here. Though the presence of my children will hearten me come the final battle, in the end only my hand will be needed to deliver the final blow.”
When the voices came, Raziel froze in his tracks.
After leaving the great hall he had chosen a route upwards which he had supposed would be deserted, leading as it did through craft rooms and a library of ancient lore. So far he had been correct, his progress on this level had been unimpeded. The narrow flight of steps he was on should lead to the rooms reserved for chronicling vampire history. From there it was only a short distance back to the main shaft and he would be halfway up the Tower.
So Raziel was naturally upset by this disturbance. He had not been expecting another battle here. What kind of Turelim would be reading at a time like this?
Unless, he thought with a groan, it was no longer a library. He kept forgetting how much time had passed since he had died.
Padding cautiously up to the landing, Raziel made his way to a small door. Pressing his ear against it he could hear shouting again, but it was curiously faint. It was possible that whoever was making the commotion was in another corridor leading to the library, and if Raziel was quick he could make it through the relatively small chamber before anyone else arrived. Of course, the speakers might be headed this way from the direction that he was intending to travel, but Raziel was tired of playing it safe. He was going to take his chances. With that, he jerked the door open and dashed in.
Raziel skidded to a halt. He had been right. The library was gone.
More importantly, the floor was missing too.
He was now standing on a narrow iron gantry hundreds of feet above a great pool of water, and he was not alone. Several Turelim guards were stationed on other walkways that branched off from the main arm. One of them looked towards the door.
The portal closed with a soft click, but there was no one there.
The vampire crossed over to the door. Pulling it open, he peered down the staircase. Nothing.
Perplexed, the Turelim stood uncertainly for a moment. Then, with a dismissive shrug of his heavy shoulders, he turned and retraced his steps back to his position to concentrate once more on the show below.
Hanging by his claws beneath the gantry floor, Raziel too was interested in this exhibition.
Of all the things he had expected
to find in Turel’s stronghold, water was the last.
Stealing Rahab’s aquatic invulnerability had not
completely erased his uneasiness for the element, having been executed by being
tossed into the
“Enough of your jabberings!” the elder roared. “As your captain it is my duty to see that you are properly trained for the coming assault. Since it has now been announced for one day from now, there is no time to waste.”
One of the youngsters stood and voiced something that was beyond Raziel’s hearing. But their leader’s response was nothing if not audible.
“The matter of the intruder is best left up to your elders and betters! You will concentrate on preparing yourselves to best serve the Turelim cause when we set forth to bring the earthbound clans under our sway. Now hark unto me!”
Far above, Raziel’s claws dug into the iron grate. For a moment he was too stunned to think. He knew that he had heard aright, but the prospect still left him aghast. There was more than just his own quest at stake here. Turel was well on his way to becoming the temporal ruler of Nosgoth!
He should have realized that his brother would have embarked on such an attempt. From what Ariel had told him, Turel had somehow received foreknowledge from Kain that Raziel would return someday. He must have known that Raziel would eliminate all his youngest siblings first and leave the strongest for last. With the other clans deprived of the leadership and protection afforded by his brothers, Turel could then step in and launch an offensive that would catch the bereaved vampire community off guard. From his brief meeting with Kain, Raziel had inferred that their Father no longer deigned to trouble himself with the day-to-day rule of Nosgoth. Obviously Turel intended to fill the void left behind by their indifferent sire, and he had relied on Raziel to dispose of his siblings so that Turel would not have to risk his own skin. Raziel trembled with outrage at the enormity of his brother’s presumption. Ariel had been right: Turel was a coward.
“Though it is unlikely fledglings such as yourself will be directed against them,” the captain continued, “you must still learn effective strategy for combating the Rahabim. Keep in mind, these are no spindle-limbed web-eaters like Zephon’s insects you were trampling yesterday.” Derisive laughter came from the fledglings. “As dwellers in water, these fish cousins of ours remain our most powerful and elusive opponents. But even a strength can be a weakness.”
At this the captain gestured to two adult Turelim standing against the chamber wall. Both of them were wearing rubber gloves, and so begarbed they withdrew from one of the light globes in the wall what appeared to be thick copper wires. These they then placed into the murky water before them. A great crackling and spitting of steam came up from where the metal came in contact with the lapping surface, and strange flashes of energy snapped up over the water. A muted howling could now be heard from the pool, and the Turelim on the catwalk began to laugh maliciously. Suddenly a form burst out of the water and landed on the bridge near the captain. It stood there, swaying groggily, and Raziel saw it was a Rahabim vampire.
The purpose of this place was now clear to him: it was a training hall for the Turelim warriors. Captives of the four other vampire clans were held here in the outlying buildings in environments similar to the ones they occupied on Nosgoth, where Turel’s brood made sport with them to determine the best means of defeating these lesser clans. Raziel was sickened by their callow treatment of their fellow vampires but did not dare interfere. He had a mission of revenge to get back to, and with that he began to crawl quietly and surreptitiously along the bottom of the railing.
The Turelim captain was now advancing on his beleaguered quarry, egged on by his eager young followers’ cries. The Rahabim, trapped and long used to this torture, was still not about to give up. Its throat swelled and it spat a blue glob of energy at its opponent. The captain responded with a telekinetic blast that cancelled the assault, then bore swiftly down on the wounded prey.
The injured Rahabim tried to lunge forward and bite him, but the captain dodged nimbly aside and slashed his talons through the vampire’s back. It shuddered and tried desperately to dive back into the water, but the captain rushed in and grabbed it by the throat. He lifted the struggling, spitting creature off the ground, an evil sneer on his face. His students cheered raucously.
Raziel had now crossed the length of the combat range undetected. He was almost at the door leading out. What transpired below was none of his concern.
“And so it is done!” the captain bellowed triumphantly. The Rahabim was thrashing weakly and trying to bite him. “Of course you know, we are not supposed to permanently dispatch our practice toys here.” He gave the Rahabim a rude shake. “But since after tomorrow there will be no need for their services, I will give you a final demonstration.”
His claws tightened around the Rahabim’s neck with bone crunching force. The vampire’s eyes bulged out in panic.
“If the rest of them prove as uncooperative as this guppy,” the captain called out happily, “you might all bear witness to another total clan purge, just like the one I experienced in my youth. What a rare treat that was!” He laughed joyfully.
The fledglings joined in.
A bolt of green energy streaked across the hall and struck the captain in the back. With a surprised cry he flew through the air and impacted against the wall, then slid down into the water. Immediately it devoured his flesh with searing hunger, and the captain’s terrible shrieks filled the room before he sank beyond sight, thrashing in mortal agony. The Rahabim tore free of his burning grasp and, not questioning its good fortune, furiously sank its serrated teeth into the captain’s throat.
The fledglings were shouting in panic and cringing away from the water’s edge, as if expecting to be dragged in at any moment. The two Turelim adults grasped long-handled metal hooks and tried determinedly to fish the captain out of the water to safety. The hooks caught hold, and they swiftly heaved their compatriot upward to hang dripping in the air for all to see. His head was missing.
The Rahabim shot out of the water in a high arc, the captain’s blistered head dangling triumphantly from its jaws. It dove back down and exited into a side drain, blissfully thanking Almighty Kain for this unexpected miracle.
On the catwalk, the Turelim charged out of the hall in pursuit of the enemy.
Raziel ran as fast as he could, scorning concealment in favor of speed. There was no regret for his rashness. He had enjoyed that!
The slight lead he had on his pursuers would not last long, but fortunately he was not far from regaining the center of the Tower. A spiral staircase began there that curved up the sides of the shaft and led directly to Turel’s royal hall. The tunnel that housed this stairwell was open on the side looking out into the Tower’s interior, to give one a view while climbing. This meant that any doors planted there recently would be no real hindrance in the Spectral Realm, since Raziel could simply vault over the balustrade and shimmy past them to regain the stairs. He was counting on Turel’s vanity to have kept him from walling up the openings and thus depriving his people of another view of his precious architectural triumph. Barring some unforeseen disaster it was now a clear shot to the inner sanctum.
Raziel staunchly refused to think about what he would have to do when he reached his goal.
Upon arriving at the final door back to the main shaft he did not bother with opening it but simply kicked it down.
He stood now on a vast stone platform that spanned half the width of the Tower’s central cavity. The long outer edge curved in a smooth crescent arc from one side of the shaft to the other, allowing a somewhat eclipsed view of the lower portion of the Tower and the entrance in the base far below.
But Raziel had no chance to appreciate the scenery. He was more concerned with the scores of Turelim turning to face him.
Before they could recover from the shock of his abrupt entrance, he quickly cast the Sound Glyph and brought those around him to their knees with ruptured eardrums.
There was not a second to lose. Raziel turned and dashed off to his left. The door he had entered by was only a few yards away from the great arched tunnel that was the platform’s primary means of access. This was located near the tip of one of the platform’s two points, and the portal to the stairs was set into the side of that tunnel. There was probably a door there now, but as soon as he got past it he could escape into the Spectral Plane and travel the stairs in relative freedom.
Raziel plowed into the wide tunnel and headed for the stair entrance, firing bursts from the Soul Reaver behind him to hinder pursuit from any vampires unaffected by his spell. The entrance was only a few feet off, and to his surprise it was unblocked. A Turelim stood inside the stairwell, leaning weakly against the wall. Raziel brought about the Soul Reaver to clear the way with another blast.
Too late he saw the vampire raise its hand and flip a switch in the wall. Before Raziel could react, a heavy stone slab dropped between him and the Turelim, sealing him off from the stairs.
Raziel roared in frustration and spun around. The nearest enemy was already starting to climb to its feet. The stairwell opening actually started some forty feet beyond the edge of the platform, much too far for him to glide. He had to think of something fast.
A huge pulley was set in the wall on the other side of the tunnel. From it extended a heavy chain up to a raised portcullis above the tunnel entrance. Raziel lurched desperately towards it. The recovered Turelim were now bounding at him with furious intent. Just as they were almost upon him, Raziel reached the gear and slashed the Soul Reaver through the chain. It parted like wet paper, and the portcullis came thundering down. One Turelim dove towards him, but the points of the gate slammed home into the ground, impaling the vampire like a bug on a pin.
Trembling with exhilaration, Raziel backed up a few paces. The monsters were swarming around the portcullis, trying to heave it up and firing pulse blasts that failed to penetrate the thick iron bars. Safe for the moment, he turned and loped dejectedly down the hall. This too led eventually to the upper reaches, but it was more convoluted than the lost stairwell. There were many rooms and halls he would have to pass through between here and his destination, offering numerous chances for ambush and confrontation against him. And his magical reserves were close to drained. Raziel cursed disconsolately. He was not looking forward to another protracted spate of battles and hiding.
He turned a corner and was just debating whether or not to go to spirit form for a while when he suddenly stopped.
Turning he glanced about in puzzlement. Though this stretch of decorated hallway was identical to the next, there was something strangely familiar about it, something important.
Raziel tried to remember. A secret, wasn’t it? But what…?
He had been here before… and not alone…
Then it came to him. Of course!
This was the entrance to the royal dining hall, the one Turel had concluded their firs tour of the Tower on!
The use of this room was restricted to the imperial family of Kain, its location was kept a secret. One path opened out here, and the other…
The other led directly to Turel’s throne room!
Raziel could scarcely believe his good fortune. He had only used this vault two times in his life, which from his point of view was only about fifty years ago. After his death, the clan leaders’ already tenuously acrimonious existence with one another had deteriorated into fearful suspicion and isolation, lest they hazard the same fate as their eldest brother. Contact must have broken down completely. That meant these secret passages had probably not been used for centuries, and quite possibly were long forgotten by anyone. This was his best chance to catch Turel unawares. That is, he thought suddenly, if the passage was still there.
Fearful of what may or may not happen, Raziel edged over to a particular alcove set between two piers. Reaching up he traced one claw along the lines of a stylized relief just as he had seen Turel do before. He then pressed three seemingly unrelated designs.
With only a faint rumble of stone against stone, a portion of the wall slid down into the ground. An empty span of corridor stretched out before him. Quickly Raziel stepped inside and pressed a panel in the wall. The opening rose up behind him, and for the first time in hours, Raziel relaxed completely. He was safe.
This feeling lasted only a few moments. While thankful for this opportunity, Raziel was still suspicious. There was no light to be seen, and although he recalled the path was a fairly straightforward affair, he did not want to be caught unawares. The way might be booby-trapped somehow. With this in mind, Raziel deemed it wise to advance forward through the Spectral Realm.
Having performed the translation, Raziel found that, as expected, he could see his way clearly now. Spectral beings did not require light, and the corridor curved up ahead, seemingly unchanged and harmless. Satisfied, Raziel continued on his way.
The trek lasted nearly an hour. Murals along the walls depicting vampire history relieved the monotony. Raziel was surprised to see himself still evident in some pictures. He had assumed they would have been erased after his fall from grace.
Something else was beginning to trouble him. Though he had been traveling for some time, he had encountered no Sluagh, not even one. Abandoned and walled off though this area might be in the physical world, Raziel was curious at not finding any of the soul scavengers. The extravagant vampire banquets he and his brothers had held here must surely have left a rich and tempting depository of human souls that, in this time-shorn world, would have provided a feast for the carrion crows of the underworld.
Raziel proceeded with caution. On this twilight plane, he knew, there were predators far more perilous than Sluagh.
But no threat materialized, and eventually Raziel arrived at the Council’s secluded pleasure chamber.
It was a circular room, about fifty feet across. The concave dome of the ceiling was connected to the floor by eight pillars that formed a ring in the middle of the area. Through the ring Raziel could see what appeared to be an oddly warped piece of statuary, but he paid it no heed. The metal gate that led to Turel’s hall of rule was closed, as expected. Casting his eyes about, Raziel located a planar portal behind a pillar on the side of the room opposite the door.
He crossed around to the dimensional conduit. There was something nagging at him. Though faint, Raziel thought he could detect some kind of mystic energy in the air. It seemed to be coming from the twisted piece of art in the middle of the room. As he passed outside the ring he saw that along the inner surface of each pillar there was now a cluster of long spikes extending from about ten feet off the ground. This was a new and incongruous decoration for a vampire dining hall, where impalement on these instruments would mean death for their kind, at least temporarily.
Still, there did not seem to be any immediate danger. So Turel had developed some odd preferences in interior design. If the same held true for his throne room, Raziel might not have to look too hard to find a means of killing his brother. It had occurred to him that he would require some method beyond what he presently possessed to slay a vampire as powerful as Turel. The others had posed problems in that regard as well, and still he had overcome them all somehow.
But maybe, he though faintly as he prepared to cast the Shift Glyph, it would not come to that. Despite everything he had seen and experienced, a part of him still did not want to have to commit another fratricide, especially against a brother he had loved so deeply. Yes, Turel had destroyed him, but only at the insistence of Kain. No matter how his sibling had changed, if Raziel could only reach him, talk to him, he could explain that there was no reason to try and kill one another. Maybe then they could actually join forces against the father who had so cruelly abandoned them both. It was not impossible, he supposed.
As Raziel drifted back to the Material Plane, he thought he heard a faint warbling cry.
It prevented him from simply walking around the pillar to cross the hall. Instead, crouched behind the column, he risked a quick glance around its frame. As it turned out, this was a wise move.
A group of Turelim was standing in the center of the room.
Back pressed against the pillar, Raziel waited for his nerves to settle down. Curse it! He should have known this was too easy!
There were far too many to fight single-handed, and Raziel was unwilling to squander any more Glyph energy. For all he knew he might need every bit of it for the coming conflict, but he hoped he was wrong. If he were to successfully make it out of this chamber, he would have to rely on his wits.
His eyes drifted over the curved wall only a few feet in front of him. It was decorated with light carvings that swirled and danced up along the ceiling. It might just be possible…
Moving as quietly as he could, Raziel stepped over to the wall. He gently pressed his bony talons against it, digging into the crevices.
Yes, this could work. With that, he began to scale the wall.
Keeping the pillar between his body and the Turelim, he moved assuredly along the curve of the stone. The arachnid abilities he had inherited from Zephon’s soul now served him well, enabling him to cling and adhere to surfaces he rightly had no place on.
Raziel reached the point where the pillar met the ceiling. No choice now, he would have to move into the open. He only hoped that he was high enough to be out of the Turelims’ field of vision. Slowly, inch by inch, he crept out from behind the column and waited tensely, ready for combat.
No sound came from below. Glancing down, he saw that the vampires were absorbed in deliberation of the object in the center of the room. Breathing his thanks, Raziel crept laboriously along the curved roof of the hall.
As he went, though concentrating mainly on evading detection, Raziel gradually became aware of something. The mystic sensation he had received in the Spectral Realm was back, and much stronger now. Something in this room was causing it, and it was crazily familiar. He had felt something like this before, and recently. By now Raziel had maneuvered to the center of the ceiling. From there, he felt he was sufficiently concealed to spy on what was going on below. He craned his neck around to see.
From this vantage he could now see the room clearly. There were eight Turelim vampires arranged in a circle, each standing before a corresponding pillar. Their eyes were tightly shut, and streams of telekinetic power were flowing from their hands towards a great metal sphere that hung in the center of the room. Below this globe was a shifting pool of sand in a stone basin. Under the influence of their power the sphere was slowly rotating in the air. Another object, like a tiny stone effigy, was gliding above the surface of the globe, seeming to be moving slowly toward one of dozens of small glowing crystals embedded in the orb. Raziel noticed that in this strange enclave, one of their number, leaner and hungrier-looking than the rest, was emitting blue sparks of energy from his body, the unmistakable mark of an ultra-powerful life vampire. Raziel was reminded uncomfortably of Dumah.
There was something about that one’s scent that stirred a memory in Raziel, as if he had encountered it before. Was it…?!!
No, not Turel. But dangerous all the same.
Still no closer to understanding this scene, Raziel’s eye was attracted to something odd about the pillars. The spikes he had seen in the Spectral Realm were still there, but no longer were they unoccupied. There were bodies hanging on them, skeletal remains of some victims long dead and gone. But there was an irregularity to these corpses. One spike stuck out from their bony chests, but two others branched off to the sides and seemed to be supporting appendages of some kind. The corpses’ arms were hanging at their sides. Were these freaks of some kind, with additional tiny arms growing out of their…
It hit him with the force of death itself, a sweeping wave of furious realization.
Not arms! No, not arms!!
THESE WERE HIS CHILDREN!!!
His beautiful kin, brutally murdered and hung in this room like trophies of war, their undeveloped pinions that had doomed them set on prominent display!
As had happened once before with Dumah, Raziel lost control. With murder in his heart, he let go of the ceiling and dropped down onto the revolving globe, bringing up his talons to cast a spell that would burn these filthy murderers to ash.
A force slammed into him from all sides. It squeezed him like a walnut, a strength like iron bars crushing his limbs and making his head feel like it was going to rupture inwards. Raziel’s glowing eyes bulged out with thwarted fury and pain, he made wretched gurglings as his bones threatened to snap.
Although the pounding cacophony in his ears did not subside, he distinctly heard someone laughing at him.
Raziel’s mad eyes settled on the life vampire, who was shaking with mirth and displaying its yellow fangs in a sick grin. It bowed mockingly, and although nearly doubled over from laughing, its hands continued to emit the telekinetic attack that was acting in conjunction with the other vampires to crush Raziel’s body.
“Ellich De, second lieutenant to Turel of the Turelim, bids courteous greeting to his master’s most exalted and beloved sibling,” he gushed dramatically, and Raziel suddenly recognized this degenerate.
Outraged at being brought low by this second-generation upstart, Raziel shook with rage but was prevented from responding by the telekinetic death-grip that held him prisoner. The force pressing around him felt like it was going to burst him at any moment, but the insanity that had possessed him before was still leaping and churning within, screaming out for death, any death. Like a furiously burning star collapsing under its own weight he hung there, a locus of conflicting forces.
“Are you pleased to see me?” Ellich De inquired innocently. “Of course you are, and rest assured that the feeling is mutual. Do you know that we were aware of your presence in our tunnels as soon as you set foot in them? But I was so thrilled at the prospect of seeing you again that I simply had to let you join us. How very unrealistic of you to assume that our lord had overlooked the existence of these passages.”
Raziel groaned bloodily in response, the hatred building up in him until he thought he must explode.
“Ah, yes, speaking of Turel,” Ellich De exclaimed ecstatically, “we must inform him that he must present himself here for an impromptu family reunion. You do know that he has been eagerly expecting your arrival.”
Ellich De’s joyfully leering face seemed to loom before Raziel, but in his eyes there was no humor, only coldly calculating viciousness. “Won’t it be so cheerfully nostalgic, all of us here, the long-lost rebel and his honored brother…” His voice took on a sneeringly insinuating tone. “And their children?”
The pressure around Raziel seemed to double, and the fury sundering his body blazed with thwarted intensity. From his throat burst an unholy scream. His glowing eyes flared with a blinding light, the facewrap ripped away from his features, and Raziel’s body exploded in an eruption of mystic energy.
The facewrap floated down and settled to the floor.
In the Spectral Plane, Raziel slumped weakly against the distorted globe. He had not felt this level of exhaustion since first arriving in the pit. It would be some time before he was back to full energy, but thankfully, time was something he had aplenty. He would abide here until his strength was restored, and then he would return to the real world and manage, somehow, to have his revenge!
An unearthly moaning sounded nearby, and Raziel started up. It was the same noise that had accompanied him into the real world, the one that had put him on his guard. But now it was different.
Now there was more than one.
Looking up, Raziel saw, floating down from around the ceiling, the most dangerous entities on the Non-corporeal Plane: vampire wraiths.
Raziel staggered to his feet as more than half a dozen of the black-robed monsters descended to surround him, their eager calls sending a tremor of fear through him. He had fought these creatures before, but never in such numbers, and in his present condition he could not afford to risk such a challenge. This explained the lack of Sluagh on the way here. He had to escape. If they overwhelmed him, he would be banished back to the Elder’s Lair, and he would have to break into Turel’s Tower all over again.
Before he could formulate a plan, the first one dove at him.
Raziel reeled back and swung the Soul Reaver. Both attacks went wide of their targets, but as Raziel righted himself unsteadily, another wraith saw its chance and raked its talons along his back. Raziel cried out and swung around instantly, driving the Soul Reaver through the wraith before it could begin siphoning off his energy. It stumbled back out of reach, briefly opening a hole in the wall of death, and Raziel leapt desperately forward at this chance of escape.
A wraith slammed into him, bearing Raziel to the ground. The Reaver was already exhausted, and the force of the blow proved too much for him. The wraiths clustered about him, their hungry wails taking on an eager hymn. The one that had felled him swiped its claws across his back, but Raziel hardly felt it. He knew he had failed now, and that whatever advantage he had against Turel would soon be lost. As the energy flowed from his spirit form into the wraith’s greedy mouth, Raziel was at least glad that he had so little energy left it would not feed these devils much. The world began to fade around him, his thoughts and regrets mixing and flowing in his mind.
A strange cry broke above him suddenly, and the draining transfer stopped.
Blearily, Raziel raised his head to see what had saved him.
The wraith that had attacked him had risen off his body. The others swarmed in, but that one lunged forward, striking at them angrily, and they swiftly dispersed, crying out in rage and confusion. Raziel shared in their bewilderment. What was happening?
The lone wraith now lowered itself beside him, and Raziel could do nothing but stare into its shadowy hood. His vision must be fading, because he could swear that the wraith’s eyes were gray, not red.
Its murky features came closer, and it was now making odd sounds, different from the empty moans of before. There almost seemed to be sense to them: a noise, repeated over and over again. Raziel strained to hear it. The wraith bent in to his ear.
Gradually it became clear.
To be continued…