Chronoplast, arcane mechanisms moved with infinite precision, coming into
contact briefly, then parting to continue their revolutions, a scraping sigh
marking their passing. The various gears, hooks, and unnamed instruments
whirled and spun, functioning in purposeful unison. Their progress served to
record and catalogue time. One might almost believe that this fantastic
contraption was aware, or at least alive. Whatever the case, its workings
continued unimpeded as they had for millennia, reaching out with metal fans and
spirals to catch the currents of time. Its design held many secrets.
And Kain knew them all.
The God of Nosgoth stood within the monstrous cavern whose walls hid the eternal labors of the Chronoplast. The power contained therein was subtle, but palpable. Kain could feel it even now. It crawled over his skin like the machine’s lifeless breath to settle in his brain, seeking a will strong enough to harness its potential. Kain was not found lacking.
He issued it a command, though no words were uttered. The endless whirring and clicking of the Chronoplast seemed to slow, as if considering the order. Then it swept smoothly back to life, the pause and altered beat audible only to Kain’s well-trained ear. He relaxed momentarily, considering his options. So much still needed to be done in preparation, but he felt that he had accomplished a good deal already. He was not tired, nor intimidated by the work that lay ahead. But still, instead of continuing in his orchestration, he paused.
Was it happening now?
Kain knew the enormity of his self-appointed task, but the urge to slip away, if only for a while, stayed with him. Surely he could take a moment to check on the progress of events. He had always savored some of the less potent functions of this hall, they being the first he had uncovered. It was still exciting to watch events take shape.
At length Kain made his decision and stalked out of the chamber, leaving the Chronoplast to complete the duties he had assigned it.
He moved up the sloping corridor, passing portals of eerily shifting mists that swirled and receded as he moved by. He knew them all by heart, and so he recognized precisely which one he wanted when he came to it. Kain stopped before the portal, and at his presence the mists surged suddenly, then faded, allowing a picture to form before his eyes. Kain leaned forward eagerly, intrigued in spite of himself. He never tired of this. In the portals down the hall to one side of him resided the past, and on the other side lay the future. But this one, he knew, was calculated to show this time, the present.
An image appeared, showing a crouching figure with a gleaming spirit blade surrounded by black-garbed monsters.
Kain settled in to watch.
Raziel hunkered down on the lip of the stone basin, letting the ambiance of the
Spectral Plane restore him gradually . Around him hovered eight vampire wraiths.
Cellidane and two others were moving about among the rest, their glowing gray
eyes distinguishing them from the crimson glares that continued to peer out
from their cohorts’ hoods.
As Raziel watched, Cellidane approached one of the red-eyed wraiths. It hissed in a hollow rasp and backed away, its claws raised warningly. But Cellidane did not pause. From her unseen mouth a stream of softly glowing gray light emerged and coiled toward the wraith. It lashed out frantically, but the light surged forward and entered its occluded cowl.
The vampire wraith flailed about for a moment, then grew still. Its hood came up, revealing eyes that now gleamed gray. From a mouth that only moments before could only wail inarticulately, a voice now spoke, “Cellidane?”
Cellidane drifted forward to clasp its hands. “Welcome back, Jetro.”
The two of them floated off to help the others bring the last of them around, and Raziel could only silently marvel at what had just occurred. To think that upon being banished to the Spectral Realm by Turel’s minions, he should be set upon by vampire wraiths, only to discover after they had fed upon his spirit that they were the souls of Razielim vampires, his own clan. The infusion of his being into one of their own had liberated it from the memory-shorn existence of the wraith, revealing itself to both of them as Cellidane, Raziel’s own first lieutenant from when he was a vampire clan leader. After the initial shock had worn off, Cellidane had proceeded to transfer some of her own awakened essence to the seven other wraiths present. Though eager to help, Raziel had been too weak to be of service. It was all he could do to just sit and wait for his strength to be restored. But as he watched more of his long-dead children come back to themselves, Raziel was filled with an emotion that he had never thought he would experience again: happiness.
As the transfers continued, Raziel suddenly became aware that someone was watching him. Turning he saw one of the newly rejuvenated wraiths regarding him intently. Upon being discovered it quickly looked away.
Raziel stared at the wraith for a few moments. Then slowly, shakily, he rose to his feet. Around him the other wraiths, moving in on their last defensive sibling, paused to watch. With unsteady steps, Raziel approached the Razielim. It flinched away from him, but he persisted in reaching out a talon to touch its hood. At this the wraith slowly, almost guiltily, raised its shrouded features to meet his glowing white eyes with its gray ones.
“Do I know you, child?” Raziel asked softly.
The wraith continued to watch him, trembling. It nodded its head haltingly.
“I am Ikarus, my lord,” it whispered in a familiar voice.
Raziel inclined his head in remembrance. This was one of Cellidane’s own children, but a fairly young one. Raziel had met him several times before as one of Cellidane’s personal aides. The juvenile vampire had struck him as being unassuming but extremely devoted to his mistress. In fact, Raziel had sometimes wondered if the fledgling’s feelings towards the vampire lady ran deeper than just loyalty. This sort of relationship was not frowned upon by vampires, there being no reason, whether biological or otherwise, to decry it. When one was immortal, family connections were no hindrance to personal interactions. But Cellidane, Raziel knew, had looked elsewhere to find her pleasure, something he intended to discuss with her shortly. All the same, it came as no surprise to Raziel that Ikarus should have remained by Cellidane’s side even after death.
“I am glad to see you again, Ikarus,” Raziel spoke out loud. “You are welcome to my eyes.”
Ikarus cast his gaze downward. “I… Thank you, my lord.” He bowed respectfully.
Raziel nodded in approval. Around him the other wraiths returned their attention to the last holdout, and soon all eight of the phantoms present had been restored to an awareness of themselves. So united, they clustered eagerly about their patriarch, who had resumed his place on the basin beneath the floating Nosgoth globe.
The Reaver of Souls looked about him carefully. For the moment he was too overwhelmed to say anything.
“My liege,” one of the wraiths spoke then. All, including Raziel, turned to regard it. The wraith hesitated, then bowed reverently.
“Sejm,” he began with his name in the traditional vampire introduction. “I am Razielim, who are…”
The vampire spirit stopped. Some of his fellows’ robes rustled, and low rumbles of disquietude came from their cowls, for the rest of this mantra ran “first clan and claw on the hands of Kain.”
Before the awkward silence could go any further, Cellidane floated forward.
“You are Razielim, who form their own fist now,” she told Sejm firmly.
Raziel nodded to his child, and another wraith rose to make his acquaintance. Soon all had been named, and Raziel found that of those present, only Cellidane and Ikarus were known to him. The rest were very young, some not even born in his time. But they were still his children, his clan, and he was not alone anymore. It felt so good just to be near them, he almost forgot their wretched conditions.
Then Cellidane glided towards him. “Father,” she spoke, and there was compassion mixed with pain in her voice. “What has been done to you?” She reached out a claw to touch his face and Raziel realized for the first time that his clan symbol face-wrap was gone, exposing his ruined features and missing lower jaw.
“I shall tell you,” he spoke in a sepulchral whisper. “And then you must reveal the events behind your own predicament.”
So began a very bizarre conference. Raziel detailed to his audience what had befallen him since his execution, how he had risen in the Underworld lair of the mysterious Elder God, who had informed him of Nosgoth’s peril from the vampire dynasty and empowered him to seek out and destroy his brothers and father. The Razielim, most of whom had never even seen their legendary founder, crowded in expectantly as he narrated of his battles against Dumah, Melchiah, Rahab and Zephon. Some even cried out in shock when he told of his encounter with Kain himself, and how he had lost the fight but gained the Soul Reaver. He tried to keep his tale short, but his appreciative listeners plied him with eager questions, craving more details about Ariel and the abominable secret behind Kain’s resurrection of the six vampire brothers. There was, of course, time to spare here, where time was relative only to each other and not to anyone in the outside world. But soon Raziel called a halt to their interrogation, although the Razielim were not the only ones to be disappointed. Finally he informed them of his perilous journey through the floating Tower, culminating in his thwarted confrontation with Ellich De and return to the Spectral Realm.
At this last point in the story, Raziel noted a certain apprehension in Cellidane’s manner. The others too were silent and some looked to their lieutenant, as if expecting something from her.
Raziel gazed upon his flustered child. He had some idea of what was at work here, but he needed confirmation from Cellidane. She had to reveal to him what no one else could.
“Cellidane,” he spoke commandingly, and she looked up. “Tell me now, and hold nothing back. What transpired to our clan after my execution?”
Her black robes shivered slightly, as if containing some powerful dread at what she knew was coming. Close beside her Ikarus stretched out an arm to touch her, but she raised a claw to forestall him, and he drew back worriedly. Then the Razielim lieutenant faced her sire squarely and began to speak in a terse, low voice.
“At first… we were only confused. We all knew something had happened to you, but we had no idea what. I felt your pain from afar, but that was all. When you did not reappear, I sought an audience with Kain and the other clan leaders, but was repulsed. Other avenues of communication fared me no better.”
“Then reports began to come to me, of fledglings born with strange abnormalities. At first I did not comprehend the meaning, but when I too began to experience the changes, I came to realize that we were all, every Razielim, undergoing the same transformation that had inexplicably overtaken you, my lord. We were gaining our wings. And that was when our doom descended.”
The other Razielim voiced angry outbursts, but Raziel silenced them with a gesture. They obeyed instantly, and Cellidane continued.
“All the clans came against our enclaves in full force. Caught unprepared, we were routed and driven from the cities. Although still the strongest of all the clans, the disparity between our forces’ numbers hung heavy against us, and they had Kain and the Council behind them. But while defeated, we did manage to learn from some captured enemies that you had been executed most basely, and that Kain had called for our total annihilation. All because of the wings.”
“No!” Raziel shook his head sternly. “Because of Kain. He is the force behind our race’s demise, not we.”
The Razielim shouted their approval. He could not see it, but from the sound of her voice he thought Cellidane was smiling. “Yes. Of course you are right, my lord. At any rate, the loss of you robbed us of our heart, and the brutal downturn of our role in the world devastated us. There was no succor to be found anywhere. All the clans, even the Melchahim, were bent upon our destruction. We knew that no quarter would be given. Some of us tried to disguise ourselves, to blend in amongst the other vampires and work from within to help us. But in the end, the wings gave us away. As they grew larger, no amount of covering could conceal them. After only five years, we all boasted pinions that could, with the aid of wind currents, propel us through the sky with ease.”
“But by then it was all but over. Our clan was scattered across the earth. We heard tales of gruesome bonfires made of our kin, of fledglings staked out in pools of sunlight. As we roamed the land in search of safety, we sometimes came across forests of long spears with Razielim impaled upon them, their heads shorn from their bodies to insure they would never return.” Cellidane’s voice was hoarse with grief, and the other wraiths bowed their heads in sorrow. Raziel allowed her a moment to collect herself.
“For forty years we fought them,” Cellidane finally continued, “but our numbers dwindled, and we were denied any opportunity to replenish them. We were always starving, cut off from the human food supplies. We tried raiding them, but it proved too costly. Eventually we gave up and became reconciled to the constant hunger. By this time I was the recognized leader of the clan, a shrunken and desperate shade of its former magnificence. I sent word to the surviving bands to go into hiding. I did not know if any others even still existed to receive my commands, but the attempt had to be made. We lurked in deep mountain caves and near the ocean shorelines where vampires dared not tread. In this way we managed to hold on for sixty years.”
“And we could have remained so for much longer,” a Razielim named Thraim spoke out. Cellidane flinched in response, and Ikarus leaped at the vampire furiously. Before they could come to blows, the Soul Reaver swept between them, its dangerous glare falling over their shrouded forms with a perilous warning matched in Raziel’s eyes. “Enough!” his voice cracked menacingly, and both of the wraiths moved grudgingly back.
Raziel turned again to his first lieutenant. “Pray continue, Cellidane,” he urged her softly.
When she spoke next, Cellidane’s words were cold and distant, like she was relating a story someone else had told her once. “We were secluded in the mountains near the border of Turel’s territory. He and his Turelim were always the most savage in our persecution. They claimed to be following Kain’s will, but I believe they truly enjoyed seeing us brought low. They resented you, and us. During the fight for our capital, I challenged Jehamiah to personal combat, to buy our people time to escape, but was forced to flee when Turel joined the fray. Yet for all their ardor, the remnants of our clan remained unnoticed by them in the caves.”
“But we were starving, and close to despair. There did not seem to be anything left to do. Some of the elders who still worshipped Kain were counseling that we should give ourselves up to him and pray for mercy. But I knew this was folly. Others had tried this before, and their only reward was to die quickly. The fledglings were growing more panicked and desperate. Finally I thought there was only one recourse left to me, one possible ally we could turn to. I…”
“I left the caverns and flew out to find him.”
Raziel growled inwardly, and Ikarus too seemed to share his wrath. They both knew to whom Cellidane had turned.
“Ellich De,” the Reaver of Souls cursed.
Cellidane nodded miserably.
Raziel swore, but it was not aimed at his lieutenant. When still a clan leader, he had noticed the relationship developing between his first-born daughter and Turel’s then-third lieutenant. He had noticed, and disapproved. It was not a question of propriety. He would not have cared if she had sought the company of Turel himself. Raziel simply did not like the devious Turelim underling. It was nothing he could put his finger on, the vampire’s personality just bothered him. This ineffable quality was what Turel had laughed at when Raziel had broached the subject to him
“Are you now trying to dictate to me on my own children, Raziel? You are my brother, not my father,” Turel teased him while on a Hunt together.
“Come now, Turel, be serious,” Raziel had interjected. “Surely you perceive there is something wrong with him.”
“Oh yes, of course I do. His fallacy is obvious for all to see. He is in love with your daughter. Should you toss him into the
Raziel had glowered darkly, and Turel swiftly dropped further attempts at humor.
“I admit to some apprehension myself, Raziel, but Ellich is extremely clever and ferociously loyal. These are not attributes I regard as character flaws. He may be given to excess, but he has offered me no real reason to rebuke him. And he seems to care for her. Do not be offended, brother, but perhaps you should endeavor to change your child’s feelings and not mine.”
Raziel had paused thoughtfully. “Very well, I shall.”
He had tried, and failed. Cellidane had stubbornly refused to part ways with Ellich De, and Raziel had resigned himself to their continued interaction with ill humor.
He now cursed himself for not slaughtering the grinning bastard on the spot.
Cellidane had resumed her narrative.
“Turel and Jehamiah had been blatant in their pursuit of our kind. But in all the times I questioned survivors, not once did I hear of Ellich being involved in any attacks.” Her voice now held a powerful undercurrent of shame. “I took this as a sign, that he cared enough about me to wish us no harm, possibly even enough to aid us. I flew to the Tower one night and made my way in.”
“When I found him, it seemed like all my hopes were realized. He held me, told me he loved me and could never stand to see me slain. He listened as I told him of our plight, and promised us help. He told me of food stores only a short distance from the desert, in a canyon. If I went there in two days, he would make sure it was deserted of Turelim. He had the authority.”
“I was so relieved, I never doubted. Returning to our dwelling, I told all of our good fortune. Though some expressed doubt, the opportunity was too good to pass up. At length I consented to exercise some caution, and took only my aides to attend the meeting.”
“When we arrived at the appointed time, the storage facility seemed bereft of its guards. All eight of us could smell the humans locked in their pens, and the thought of food maddened us. We descended on a building and tore it open.”
“The blood-hunger was so strong. I can only assume that was why we did not scent the trap.”
“The Turelim descended on us in the darkness with nets and cudgels. We were overwhelmed and beaten into submission, then chained and taken from that place. I wondered why we had not been killed outright, but soon it became clear.”
Cellidane now spoke in a bitterly hateful tone. “From words that I had let slip to Ellich, Turel had divined our location. He allowed us the time to reach the rendezvous because he wanted me and any other leaders of the clan captured alive. Then he raided the caves. We were brought there, forced to bow in shackles at Turel’s feet, while his warriors returned from the caverns with what prisoners they cared to bring. These were tortured to death in front of us, and for hours we listened to them scream. Turel told us that ours was the last holdout to fall. We cursed him, challenged him and his captains to face us in open combat like warriors. Jehamiah accepted, but Turel overruled him, and we were left to watch helplessly as the bodies, hundreds of them, were piled into a great heap and burned.”
“When all was done, we were taken back to the Tower, to this very room. Ellich De was waiting for us.”
“I still had not believed,” Cellidane snarled. “I thought he had been captured and forced to tell of our meeting. But he was laughing when they dragged us in, and there before our eyes Turel conferred on him the rank of second lieutenant.
“I screamed at him, called him traitor and coward. Ikarus…” she glanced in his direction, “tried to attack Ellich De, chained as he was, but Turel’s attendants caught him and impaled him on the spikes. Then they did the same to the rest, until only I remained. Ellich De beseeched Turel for the honor of killing me, and he acquiesced. That last insult gave me the strength I needed, and with all my power I broke my chains and lunged at Turel and the traitor, hoping to tear their heads off before they could finish me.”
“Jehamiah caught me before I reached either of them. He picked me up and cast me onto the spikes. As I died, I heard Ellich De upbraiding Jehamiah for stealing his glory, and Turel laughing. It faded then, and was gone.”
Cellidane looked up at Raziel. “I remember nothing else, until you returned to us, my lord.”
For a moment following the end of her story, there was silence. No one dared speak as they all looked to their ancestral prime.
Then Raziel climbed to his feet. During Cellidane’s tale, he had felt his strength returning, and upon her completion he finally sensed his power was restored fully. He was strangely calm, something he had not expected. Cellidane’s recitation of his clan’s final moments had failed to incite the killing wrath he had first experienced upon viewing their pitiably maimed corpses in the physical world. If anything, he felt at peace. After all this, one thing was abundantly clear to him.
He could now kill Turel without a qualm.
The lord of the Razielim gazed around him at his children. It should never have come to this, he thought. In the end, the mightiest vampire clan had been destroyed for the sick amusement of selfish beings. What human had ever been so base and cruel?
“It is not just that this be so,” he spoke out loud.
That was when it happened.
It was in the eyes of his children, a pearlescent gray power, cold and strong and unstoppable. Raziel closed his eyes, feeling an awesome change run through him.
He knew why he felt no rage. The emotion was too small for what he had become. Up until now, he had killed out of revenge, his fury and recrimination fueling his actions. He had called this justice, but he had been wrong.
Finally Raziel came to understand. Surrounded by his children, all unjustly murdered, he felt the force connecting them, binding them all in an alliance of will and spirit. Always before, he had looked on his new existence in terms of what he had been before. No longer. He was not a former clan leader or a vampire, not a former anything. Neither were they. Here in the smoky lands without sun or life they had all become truly divine beings, entities of purpose, existing to carry out great deeds that would change the world and shape the future.
He served no masters. A higher calling belonged to him. Raziel, the Reaver of Souls, was no longer a killer, an Angel of Death.
For the sake of the ones he loved he was, now and forever, an Angel of Justice.
Raziel’s thoughts came down slowly from this prodigious epiphany. He saw flashes of his previous life, traveling with Turel and serving Kain. He watched as he slaughtered his brothers and devoured their souls. All had been necessary to bring this realization about. He had taken his revenge. Now he would have justice.
Starting with his children.
He stepped down from the rise and strode purposefully forward. The circle of wraiths parted before him. Raziel moved across the room to stand over the planar portal. He felt its cool waves of promising energy lapping over him, and raised his hands to cast the Shift Glyph.
A powerful claw grabbed his arm.
Turning, he stared calmly into Cellidane’s hood.
“You are returning? To kill him?” she inquired pensively.
“Kill them all,” he corrected her lightly.
“But,” she protested, “they have already defeated you once before. Not even your magic was enough to stop them.”
“True,” Raziel conceded. He glanced meditatively over at the other Razielim, still clustered uncertainly in the ring of pillars. “I have given the matter thought, and I believe I have one recourse available to me. Unfortunately, its effectiveness is relative to my position to the enemy. ‘Tis a pity this portal could not be closer to the center, but I will make do somehow.”
Cellidane’s cowl dropped down to stare at the floor, and Raziel reached forward to clasp her shoulders. “Nothing would give me greater joy than to have you join in this battle with me, Cellidane. I know it grieves you to be trapped here while Ellich De languishes in the arms of life unending. Take solace, for I will soon send his soul winging to accompany you, if only for a moment.”
Cellidane did not respond. Drawing aside from her, Raziel raised a claw in parting to his remaining children and stepped once again into the portal.
Cellidane’s head was up and her eyes were sparkling triumphantly.
“I can help you.”
She gestured urgently to the others. “We all can.”
The flash of power faded, the eldritch echoes died away, and Ellich De brayed
with hysterical laughter.
Staggering forward, he bent down and picked up Raziel’s face-wrap. Upon straightening up he noticed the other denizens of the Open Eye still staring dumbfounded at the spot Raziel had just vacated. That was unwise of them, he snickered gruesomely.
“Unless you would prefer for me to rip your hearts from your bodies,” Ellich De announced with a sick grin, “you will kindly direct your attention to Raziel’s imminent point of return rather than his place of departure.”
Much to his satisfaction, seven pairs of eyes instantly swung to the pillar behind which Raziel had first appeared.
Ellich De felt a shiver of excitement race up his spine. While continuing to work on sensing Raziel’s forthcoming presence in the room or the corridor beyond, he held up the faded wrap before his eyes. Judging by the clan markings, this must have originally been Raziel’s clan cape. How thrilled Turel would be to have this as a trophy. By now, every vampire in the castle must have felt the sudden lurch of thwarted inertia as the Tower came to a halt. The others were not so advanced as he to have attacked Raziel and kept the Tower moving. Soon Turel would investigate, maybe even in person, and Ellich De would place the cape in his master’s claws just before he called Turel’s attention to the captured Raziel. He smiled in anticipation of Turel’s praise. He would be greatly rewarded for his efforts, no doubt with the position of first lieutenant. Not that the title would lend him any greater power than he already possessed, but just to see the look on Jehamiah’s pompous first-generation face: that would be supremely satisfying.
Caught up in dreams of glory, Ellich De’s thoughts were interrupted by a cry from one of his subordinates.
Immediately the Turelim lieutenant focused his attention on the point where Raziel must be returning. But to his surprise, there was nothing there. Angrily he rounded on the offending vampire, whereupon he saw that it was pointing at something behind him.
Pivoting swiftly, ready for anything, Ellich De was still shocked by what he saw.
On the pillar behind him, the shrunken corpse of Cellidane was crumbling into dust.
Ellich De cried out upon seeing his prize abandoning him. Turning about, he witnessed the seven other corpses on their stakes all following the same fate. Each body was deteriorating into a sickly gray ash, but much too swiftly to be natural. Mystified, the entire coven could only stare in bewilderment.
Around them, a hot wind began to blow.
It whipped through the room, sounding a high, menacing note. The wind sent ripples through the vampire ashes, picking them up and spreading them throughout the chamber. The Turelim sputtered and shook their heads as it clogged their mouths and stung their eyes. They fired force blasts to no avail through the blinding dust cloud.
“Stay calm!” Ellich De shrieked furiously. “This is only a trick! Prepare to strike when he appears!”
The flustered Turelim responded with swift assent, resuming their positions before their pillars.
The gale screamed even louder. Without warning, the dust in the air began to move purposefully, coalescing in the center of the room over the Nosgoth globe. A hurricane of gray powder raged in the middle of the Open Eye. Within it, a shape began to take form, an upright figure of man-like appearance. Amazed, Ellich De stared up into the piercing eyes of Raziel.
“Attack!” the Turelim sorcerer screamed.
His followers responded instantaneously. As Raziel’s body appeared atop the globe, they launched their combined assault. From all sides, a deluge of psychic power thundered into Raziel.
The Reaver of Souls stiffened.
And suddenly, inexplicably, he began to spin.
Faster and faster he whirled about, his arms tucked in at his sides. The demon wind continued to shriek, and Ellich De was aghast. He could feel his own telekinetic attack being sucked into Raziel, seemingly offering him no harm. He broke off his assault and staggered back, staring wildly about him. The other Turelim were shouting in confusion and continuing to pour their unified strength forth uselessly.
Ellich De glared up at the blurred figure, and he bared his fangs with a guttural snarl. Suddenly springing forward, he launched himself screaming at his nemesis, his claws outstretched to shred flesh. He bellowed insanely, a colossus of magic and hate.
In a split second Raziel snapped to a halt. His arms swept out.
And from out of his body burst an overpowering wave of telekinetic might as he invoked the Force Glyph.
Enhanced by the Turelims’ attacks, the sphere of force blasted out on all sides. It slammed into the howling vampires, lifting them off their feet and hurling them backwards. Ellich De rebounded away from Raziel and soared shrieking through the air straight at the pillar behind him.
And at the cluster of spikes that adorned it.
An unholy cry of pain tore the air as Ellich De smashed into the column, impaling himself on the deadly shafts. An instant later his underlings met a corresponding fate. Thrown back by Raziel’s spell, they were skewered with slithering scrapes of metal punching through flesh and bone. Moaning desperately, they lingered suspended on the very instruments which only moments before had boasted the Razielims’ corpses.
The Turelims’ pleas died out, and their bodies fell limp as death stole over them. Their souls rose out to hover momentarily before vanishing from this plane.
Only Ellich De remained.
Twitching and gurgling, he hung on display, his legs kicking aimlessly. The gory spears protruded from his chest. Raziel vaulted down off the great metal sphere and moved slowly forward to stare up into the vampire’s crimson eyes. Ellich De’s jaws gaped, and a bloody froth burst from his mouth to run down his chest. Raziel watched him struggle impassively. Reaching up, he removed his clan wrap from the Turelim’s grip.
“There is no need to linger on my part, Ellich De,” he spoke quietly as he wound the fabric about his face again. “Another craves your company far more than I.”
With a final pitiful whimper, Ellich De hung still.
The world seemed to twist in on itself, the colors flowing and blending
together to merge into a great white emptiness. The pain went away. Then his
sight came back, but darker. He suddenly realized that he was free to move, and
promptly did so. Looking about at his suddenly monotone surroundings, he saw no
sign of his killer. No further peril. Once again he inhabited the afterlife as
a vampire wraith.
The predator had not followed him. Souls were nearby, beings he had once known but who were now nothing more than helpless prey. He would consume them, and then he would fly swiftly, find a way out to reach the prince who lived on this world and the other. Had to warn the prince. About the predator. The prince would protect him from it. Then the prince would move about in the world of light, hunt the predator. Rend him and imprison him. Afterwards the prince would remove the barrier that blocked the wraith from returning to the world of light, and he would be reborn.
An eerie moan sounded close by, and the wraith froze.
He looked about, and squealed in terror as eight other wraiths swept up around him.
He lurched away in panic, but the wraiths paid him no heed. Instead they streaked about, chasing the bobbing balls of life. He understood. Their territory. Good then. They eat and he leaves. Had to get to the way out. The lone wraith turned towards the door, when a strange sound came from behind it.
“Hello, my love.”
The wraith turned about, and Cellidane ripped her claws through its face.
It staggered back, gurgling in agony, and Cellidane moved in for the kill. She viciously plunged her talons into the cloaked form, and the creature reeled away in terror. Its strength was gone, its body was transparent and weak. No, no, not this one, this one is not prey, leave it be! Helpless and confused, the wraith staggered haltingly away from the attacker, wailing in despondent fear.
Cellidane watched him go. He was no longer a threat. She did not raise a hand to stop him.
Instead she opened her mouth.
Almost out of the room, the wraith was jerked back. It felt its substance stretch and change, and it squealed again. Thrashing in mortal dread, the wraith was sucked towards its attacker’s hood. It was now a stream of energy, and as it descended mournfully into the lightless reaches of the cowl, the wraith heard the odd sounds again.
“Have a taste of true death, Ellich De!”
Alone now in the chambers of the Open Eye, Raziel glanced casually about the
room. His new body seemed stronger and more supple than his previous forms.
Cellidane had been correct. Though unable to return to their own bodies, the
Razielim had been able to cut their earthly ties to the immortal flesh, then
had used their spirit powers to craft their remains into a form that Raziel
could inhabit. In this way he had been able to appear back in the real world
wherever he wished, and thus had chosen a position from which he could best
employ the Force Glyph. As he had suspected, the telekinetic spell had rendered
him impervious to the Turelims’ assault during the casting, and its unleashed
power, while inflicting no direct harm, was perfectly suited to casting all of
the vampires onto the very stakes they had used on his children.
Raziel examined the room’s new ornaments, taking an icy satisfaction from this outcome. Then he headed without further preamble towards the gate to Turel’s throne hall. He would now do whatever it took to destroy the Turelim prince and his crazed dream of world domination.
He halted. <No time, Cellidane. I must confront Turel before he can muster his forces against me here. This could be my only chance.>
<You do not understand, Father. We can still be of assistance to you,> she insisted.
Raziel chuckled. <If all goes well, I will not be visiting you again during this conflict, so I do not see how that is possible.>
<But you will,> Cellidane spoke confidently, <if you remove your vanquished opponents from their perches.>
Now Raziel laughed out loud. <I am sorry, Cellidane, but you are clearly unaware what having a vampire’s soul consumed entails for its body in this…>
His thought trailed away. Swinging about, Raziel stared around him in astonishment.
<Why…> he finally managed, <why have they not begun to dissolve?>
It was true. Hanging on every pillar, the Turelims’ bodies remained as solid and unchanged as ever. This contradicted all his previous ample experience on the matter.
<Cellidane, have you not yet devoured their souls?>
<Trust me, Father,> she responded. <Take them down.>
Perplexed, Raziel stepped over to one of the columns. The Turelim’s feet dangled directly above him. Reaching up, he grasped it by the ankles and pulled outward. The spikes in the pillars protruded at an upward angle, and Raziel was only able to move the corpse about halfway along their length. After a few moments he abandoned that approach and, taking a firm hold, simply pulled down hard.
The body jerked down a bit. The spikes tore up through it before striking bone. The metal, already weakened from the force of the heavy body slamming into it, snapped clean off, and the Turelim tumbled to the ground in a heap.
Standing over it, Raziel reached down and began to remove the spikes from its body. The first two he threw off to the side. But as he gingerly removed the last, he stepped back hastily and brandished the weapon in readiness, still uncertain as to what might happen next.
The vampire’s corpse lay before him unmoving.
Suddenly a claw twitched, and the beast sprang to its feet.
Raziel reeled back apace, then dove forward with the spike.
The Turelim’s head turned towards him, and its eyes opened to reveal slits that glowed gray.
The sight caused Raziel to stumble. His feet slid out from under him, and he landed on his rear with a jarring thump.
Above him the Turelim coughed bloodily, then swore.
“Damn!” Sejm growled. “Did you have to rip him off?!” He glanced down meaningfully at the bloody tears in his chest.
Raziel only stared.
Seeming to remember himself, the newly reborn Sejm dropped to one knee. “I apologize, lord. I intend no slight to the manner in which you liberated me. The pain is refreshing, even as it passes.” As he spoke, the wounds quickly closed with unnatural alacrity.
“Sejm?” Raziel whispered.
“Aye, my lord.” The Turelim form drew itself up proudly. “Shall we now attend to the rest of our comrades?”
Raziel nodded dumbly, and clambered to his feet. Then he and Sejm went about removing the other bodies from their posts, only this time Raziel tried to be more gentle. Sejm’s new height and reach made him better suited to the task, and as each Turelim came down, it arose infused with the soul of a Razielim wraith.
The bizarre process continued, until Raziel finally found himself standing before Ellich De.
His claws twitched. He was loath to touch this carcass, but having some idea of the result, he grasped its ankles and coaxed it carefully off the spikes.
The vampire instantly came back to life and landed on its feet. Its eyes were closed.
“Are you well, Cellidane?” Raziel inquired.
The gray eyes snapped open and centered on his face. An exultant sigh escaped the lips.
“Perfectly so, Father,” Cellidane responded, “Simply taking a moment to enjoy the irony.”
The other Razielim laughed appreciatively. Raziel gave his daughter a marveling stare. “How can this be?” he asked with plain curiosity.
“We all, each of us, devoured only one apiece of the souls you sent to us,” Cellidane informed him. “If a vampire wraith devours another vampire’s soul, then no matter the condition of their original body, their spirit can now inhabit their victim’s form should it ever be removed from the cause of its demise.”
“I could never do this,” Raziel said.
“Of course not, Father,” Cellidane chided him lightly. “You are no longer a vampire in any way, and you have no need of others’ bodies when you can make your own.”
Raziel shook his head admiringly. “Amazing.”
The other Razielim ceased examining their new bodies and gathered about their leaders.
“Ikarus!” Thraim called out happily. “I am so pleased to be back, I suppose I can forgive you for being so ugly.”
Ikarus’ snout split in a grin. “Be relieved you have no means with which to view yourself, then.”
“We are alive again!” another vampire shouted joyfully, and they all let loose cries of unsurpassed glee. Standing in the midst of his children’s revelry, Raziel’s wrecked features twisted into their closest approximation of a smile.
“Silence now, all of you,” Cellidane admonished them, and their fervor was quickly restrained, although they continued to prod and inspect their new forms curiously. “You are no longer alone, Father.” Cellidane dropped to one knee, and the others followed suit. “We now boast the powers and awareness of these bodies’ previous hosts. With our strength at your command, we shall breach the defenses erected about the Turelim overlord and join you in sending his soul down to the pit wherein he exiled us!”
The vampire cohort roared in agreement, and as one they surged to their feet.
“Lead us now, Father! Our vengeance is at hand!” With that Cellidane turned towards the gate leading from the room.
“Wait!” Raziel shouted.
His host froze around him. Cellidane looked back with a questioning air.
The Reaver of Souls stepped through the press of hulking bodies until he reached the great metal globe that floated in the center of the room. There he paused and stared thoughtfully up at the mystic device. The small object still hovered over the surface, but no longer did it move.
“Cellidane,” Raziel spoke over his shoulder without taking his eyes from the globe. “You say that you have inherited the Turelims’ thoughts and abilities. Can I assume you thus know the purpose of this instrument and its function?”
“Yes, Father,” Cellidane replied. “The stone marker represents the Tower and is used to guide it across the land. The crystal nodes are the Turelim strongholds where the Atlas Legions disembark and board the castle. If you look closer you will see a map of the world inscribed into the surface of the globe.”
“Indeed,” Raziel peered up at the surface. “So we are now here,” he indicated the spot below the Tower icon. His claw traced a line out along the surface. “You control its movement. Does this mean you can set the Tower back down?”
“No. Our levitation is provided for constantly by the Atlas Legions themselves. But the telekinetic barrier that guards the Tower’s main entrance is under our control.” She indicated the basin of sand below the sphere.
“I see,” Raziel whispered. He continued to stare at the globe for a few moments. Then, as if having come to a conclusion, he turned about to face his expectant clan.
“I regret, my children, that you will not accompany me in the battle against our enemy. But your place is here, for it is up to you to engineer the downfall of my mad brother.”
To be continued...