Prologue ; The seven
Brother Benedict Arsen was nervously squeezing the wooden hilt of his halberd. The keep was infested with darkness so thick, he could see no farther than the tip of his weapon when it was fully extended, immersed in this veil of tar. His heart was speeding up again.
Quiet… he whispered to it : We mustn't be heard…
Benedict, or Ben as those close to him called him, was a full knight of the order for over a decade now. His long blond hair was fastened in two tight brides, their ends bundled up with black ribbons, and residing on the chest of his armor. His short neat beard was sticking out under the edge of his pointy helmet with a long blue silken thread as a symbol of a clear sky, and his sharp green eyes rapidly darted from corner to corner, searching for his quarry. Or his hunter. His armor with a sun engraved on the chest by golden threads, was completed with a silken purple cloak, and the metal was forged with rows of engraved runes by their most skilled magi, for what ever protection could be offered.
No other party had ever been able to get so far and this deep before. If the land had a chance of restoration, he and his brothers were that chance. He paused before a window. The night gave him neither stars nor moon, muffled by impenetrable clouds as always. This time, it was for the best. He had seen enough of the tortured earth. People were dying by the score. Crops wouldn't flourish. Fruit wouldn't grow. Hunger and famine begun to take root, followed by illness in its many flavors. Riots were already burning in almost every city. All because of the parasites.
No more. It had to end tonight.
" Brother Arsen… "; he heard a whisper
It was brother Immargo Akizum, a younger but very skilled knight of the order. He didn't have a golden sun on his chest, but he was close to receiving his rank. If Light would grant that they see more days after tonight. Immargo gave an image of someone insecure, but only on the surface. Beneath that mousy exterior was a shrewd and keen mind and muscle with mush skill engraved within. His red hair was strapped in a short tail trough a slice at the top-back of his helmet and his choice of weapons were a sword and a shield.
" … how well can we be sure that killing the fiend would have any effect ?"
" You heard the Wisemen, brother. "; a third sarafan stepped from the dark. The entire party was trying to stay close but the shadows seemed to outnumber them tenfold.
Sister Eleanor Retenyah was a slender but strong woman in white armor engraved with silver chain, forming an X over her chest. She had no helmet and shiny black hair sloped around her head. A large two-handed axe occupied her muscular arms which could match most men Ben had known.
" The very presence of the demon rains discord and plague upon us all. "; she whispered :" I put my trust in their words. "
" It's too late to doubt anyway Immargo. "; Benedict replied :" Even if it's a trick of the Lords of the Light, I will rather die fighting to save the world then idly watch it rot. "
After that, silence took hold again broken only by soft steps on bare rock. Ben almost laughed at the absurdity of the whole thing. Flies had come seeking the spiders, for the spiders' had reined long enough. Of course, he knew as well as all of his companions that if things went wrong for them tonight, dying would be a blessing compared to the alternative. He gritted his teeth. If there was any justice in this world, the Lords of the Night would die tonight.
He led his eight friends trough the darkness-infested corridors of the castle. The Sanctuary of the Clans. A place known well to anyone. It was a place you went when you sought damnation. Only a few windows stood here and there and not a single torch nor candle burned along the walls. Their eyes were sharpened however, during their long service, and they also honed their other senses to detect oncoming attackers. Within these walls they needed every edge, deep within the residence of Kain and his six apocalyptic sons. The names of the fiends burned with anger in his heart ; Raziel, Turel, Dumah, Rahab, Zephon and Melchiah. Fathers of despair and agony. Even if he and his companions should die tonight, their act would go down into stories and legends. At least one of these fiends was bound to fall.
This thing the monsters had forged out of the land, this Empire, was a blight upon the world and the power of the undead lord and his children was threatening to suck the very wellspring of life dry. And the Sarafan Order was the last line of defense left between the living and the undead. The Sarafan… More like a resistance, small enough to be a rebellion rather then actual order, but they could not falter even in the face of annihilation. It had been ten long years since the last nation fell to the Hunger Armies of Kain, and since then, all who opposed it had been swept away before its might. The Order was crumbling. They had lasted far longer then any other foe of the vampires, but after a decade of constant defeats, their own days were running out. One more reason to embark on this quest.
A sudden yell made the fighting reflex spark like a bolt of lightning in Ben's chest galvanizing him to action. The attacker had been a cowardly monster that crept up on them from behind and surprised them. The first brother the fiend fell upon hardly had time to scream and warn the others before the thing plunged its unholy jaws in the man's neck to gorge on his life. Like one, all of them moved forth and attacked, but the creature was swift and elusive. It was using the resident darkness as its ally. Alas, alone, it was no match to a band of the greatest living Sarafan, and Immargo's blade got red with vampire blood within seconds. The monster shrieked and withdrew, trying to flee back into the pit he crawled from, but Brother Andar got him with a crossbow and ended his foul existence instantly. A direct shot to the heart.
" Well done. "; Ben said, tapping Andar on the shoulder
" Let's hope this one had no chance to inform the others. "; Andar spoke back
" To the contrary. "; Ben said :" We can only hope that it did, and be prepared for what is to come. "
" Ben ! Over here !"; Elanor shouted
As they ran over to her, they found brother Angus Tataran bleeding on the ground. Thick stream of blood oozed out of the large hole in his neck, gushing out stronger and then fainter in time with his heart beets.
" K…kill me… "; he cried, desperately holding the wound where scarred and battered skin once used to reside :" I… don't want… to come back… "
All of them gathered around in sadness, giving silent smiles as the last farewell to their lost kin.
" Light embrace you, brother… "; Ben whispered and brought his halberd down.
It tore the metal of the chest-plate and easily cleaved directly trough Angus's heart. Swift and merciful. Ben suppressed a sob as he pulled the halberd out. Angus was not the first, and he would not be the last, but there was no choice but to press on. They had to hope that it would be worth it in the end. Somehow that thought didn't help him as much as it once did. There was just so little hope left in him.
Offering a silent prayer, the eight remaining Sarafan continued their progress trough the halls of this hellish pit. The last strands of light seemed to be devoured the more they would descend, so from then on they used torches. All things considered, their presence had been detected. Speed was their sole ally now, and darkness was only slowing them down. There was no more point to deny themselves the bliss of flame.
At last they'd reached the throne room, a huge chamber with the seat of evil which loomed before them invitingly. A spiked throne of gilded stone was embracing a gray broken column on a huge black and white marble pedestal, and eight more pillars surrounded it behind, in the same decrepit state as the center one. A long red carpet was leading straight to the throne, bidding them welcome.
The chamber was huge, made of pure brown rock, hard enough to last as long as the mountain they extracted it from. Two lines of fat poles supported the high ceiling that seemed to vanish, replaced by the night, like it was a sponge for the black waters of the sky. As they entered, a few barely heard squeaks greeted them and a few wings flapped away trough some crevice known only to their owner. All was still.
The first few steps were the worst, but with Ben leading the way, the others found the strength to join him. As they slowly and cautiously proceeded trough the chamber, a rumbling sound suddenly echoed behind them and a heavy iron grate cut off their exit, descending from above. It forced chips of stone to break off as it hit the floor, locking the pray within the cage. Instantly, they formed a circle and started to look around, to the edge of torchlight they clung to. Departing here alive was not something they hoped for from the beginning, but what came next was exactly what they were looking for.
Torches on the walls burst into angry flames, illuminating the brown chamber and about thirty feet between them and the throne, stood a proud, regal figure with an expression of judgement upon his face. The creature's eyes burned with white flames like diamonds, black hair was falling down around his head to his neck and he wore a tight leather outfit, almost an armor, completed with a brown half cape stretching from his right shoulder to his hips, bearing the sigil of his clan.
Raziel was cross armed, his eyes sharp and narrowed, his gaze almost a physical weight upon the eight humans before him :
" Welcome. "; he spoke finally and his voice was a deep whisper, which somehow reached into the entire room and filled it with his dominance.
" Cursed be you and your master !"; Ben snarled :" And all your kin !"
" Let's attack, Ben !"; Eleanor spoke :" We mustn't waist time !"
" No !"; he replied :" There are trap coils around !"; he frowned at Raziel :" Where are your demonic thrall, fiend ?"
" Not here. "; Raziel replied, almost bored, but that peculiar effect of his voice surrounded them and made the torchlight fade noticeably :" Come now, Sarafan. You have made it. You have fought your way here and succeeded. A most valiant effort… Exactly what we were looking for. Isn't that right, my brothers ?"
Other monsters appeared out of nothing. Raziel's brothers, demonized and hungry, but still on a merciful distance. The circle was complete ; All of Kain's sons were here, surrounding the band of still determined humans who held on to their courage.
" Be careful, my sons. "; a whisper echoed throughout the chamber, and where Raziel's voice was cold, detached and merciless, this voice was definitely cruel, bearing hints of amusement and loads of dominance. It was also soft, laced with slow words, but where Raziel's voice was like a chill wind that would make frost grow within their spines, this voice was like the sound of a distant thunder urging them to flee and hide before the oncoming storm :" They must be taken alive. "
" Seven of them, actually. "; Turel smiled wickedly as he beheld the eight Sarafan his tongue massaging the tip of his right nail-like fang.
" Here are the rules, hopeless ones… "; Rahab thundered in a loud growl :" First one to die, signals the end of the game !"
Benedict wasn't about to take it any more :
" Forth, my brothers, and may the Light shield our souls !"
As one, all of them together lunged at the surrounding fiends and a great battle ensued. The Sarafan were clashing the Night lords as fierce as the Night lords were clashing them and the noise of steal and screams of rage whirled about them, storming throughout the huge chamber. The carpet was not the only red surface in the room now. Blood begun to stain the stone in dark crimson spurts and re-paint the walls in chaotic dots. The eight best Sarafan Knights in all of Nosgoth, unmatched in skill and virtue, were sadly no match to this foe after all. They started to pull back together, back to back with one another, as the ultimate monsters closed in on them.
The Lords of the Night took over the rhythm of this dance. Raziel and Turel were untouchable, Dumah and Rahab were unstoppable and Melchiah and Zephon almost toyed with the Sarafan like children tormenting small animals. And the bold group of Sarafan found themselves with their back against the wall.
It was than, when the vampires were at their most confident, that Benedict took out the silvery silken pack, given to him by the Wisemen. Their sole hope and chance was contained within several pounds of black powder strapped to his back. Two others - Immagro and Areniah - joined him with packs identical to his own and the three of them stood for a precious second shielded by the others. As one, they brought torch fire to the packs' cloth and as one they hurled the sacks to the center of the chamber across the heads of Sarafan and vampires alike.
The packs caught fire as they flew and at once produced a blast of heat, smoke and light which burst forth like a crack of the long-forgotten dawn. Fire blossomed and for a split second, Ben saw a huge bright cloud consuming the chamber with impossible speed. The sound of a hundred thunderbolts knocked all of them off their feet, the light forcing all present creatures to shield their eyes and collapse on the floor in pain and terror. The castle shook in its foundations and after that insane instant when the ringing in his ears subsided and the silence took hold one last time, Ben picked himself up on unsteady feet using the hilt of his halberd for support.
The others joined him, eyes wide, all of them panting and hissing with unspent rage and pent-up exhaustion. Blood was staining their blades and armor plates. Hands which held the hilts of swords and axes shivered with weakness. And shivered as well with the realization which took hold as numbness gave way to despair.
Kain himself had decided to intervene.
His six sons had fallen down just as the Sarafan did, some were on one knee, some were on their backs or bellies, but each one had his hand extended towards their father, feeding their magic into him. And Kain was holding his arms extended to ether side of him, containing the cloud of still roiling fire within a huge translucent bubble of his will which took up a large circular area of the chamber and its western wall. It was a bizarre sight to see ; that awesome burst of red and brown fire was stopped cold as if imprisoned in a giant flask of twisted glass.
The master fiend had long white hair, falling down to the small of his back, the last few inches of its length strapped into a short tail by a red ribbon, and his skin seemed like it was a sack of swamp water. Black trousers and a red half-cape were the only clothing he wore, and upon his back was the long sinuous blade of dark metal with a crowned and fanged skull for its hilt. The scull's empty eyes were glaring hungrily at the humans on the other side of the chamber.
All seven of the fiends were focusing their dark magic, and together they contained the explosion which was supposed to consume the entire room purging the evil out from the withering land. With a grunt of effort, Kain, the Master Vampire, self-proclaimed Emperor of Nosgoth, brought his claws together in a swift thunderclap above his head, and the sphere of contained fireball collapsed in on itself with an almost comical pop. It winked out of existence along with the last of their hope.
" Enough games !"; Kain snarled turning towards the exhausted humans, and his face projected upon them the promises of hell he crawled out from.
Despite all of that, the Sarafan still fought back. Benedict was spinning his halberd like a quarterstaff, his brothers and sisters were screaming defiance with their every breath, but their last efforts, though valiant, had been doomed to futility. Darkness descended upon his eyes, and Ben lost consciousness just in time to see his sister Adriah being neck broken.