Seals of darkness

Chapter 1 ; The making

He awoke in darkness, dull pain burning at the back of his head, serving as a dam for his thoughts and memories. Everything was foggy and out of focus, but near by, there was a distinct sound of trickling water, a sharp contrast to his other perceptions. As the image of his surroundings slowly materialized to his eyes, the graveness of his situation finally became apparent. The chamber he was in was black and rancid with moisture, except of the bars of bluish light cutting down to his left, emanating from a large ceiling grate. A deep square well with no apparent exit, occupied only by him and a few spiders crouching upon their webs. It was a dungeon.

Ben tried to move, but he couldn't. His wrists and ankles were shackled mercilessly by cold unyielding steel. Chains bit into him with icy jaws, and cold stone blocks in the wall seemed fused-frozen to his spine. His armor was gone and he was wearing only his smallcloths and rusty manacles that chewed at his wrists, their edges blunt to deny him the option of a suicide. But all those things were nothing next to the pain of memories. He was lost. And worse yet, he brought his brethren down with him. They were lost souls now, soon to be outcasts from the Light.

It angered him. Rage galvanized him into motion. With every ounce of whatever strength remained to him, he tried to brake free, but in the end of a long exhausting effort and tearing groans, he fell back against the wall, dangling in his bonds.

" My mercy is not something to be squandered. "

Ben lifted his sight off the hopelessness of the floor. Before him was the devil himself, the Vampire Overlord Kain. The creature stood in the center of the small chamber, letting the darkness bend around him, warped by his very presence. That presence was one of arrogance, cruelty and hatred, and as it engulfed Ben, the frost of his bindings became almost a relief. The aura of evil which cloaked Kain was nauseating and twisted and terrible and insane, but for all that, it was contained, held tightly within the grip of a will beyond anything Ben could conceive. It was that will power, that strength of conviction and determination, which was the true danger of this creature, beyond whatever dark powers he could command.

Come to think of it, Ben had never gotten so close to this creature until tonight. And now a single step was dividing the space between them. Being able to observe him better, Ben could make out certain details which stories or oil paintings did not convey. The master vampire seemed sharper than a razor, with golden eyes and a strong chin. Warped ridges of bone protruded above his eyebrows and temples like the crown he so fervently sought. Black lips surrounded strong white teeth like the jaws of a wolf, and his demonically deformed skin only intensified the aura of dominance he transmitted to those around him. A lord in every sense. A Night-lord.

But Ben was a Lord too, a Sarafan Lord, an Angel of Light, and he would not pay this creature tribute in fear and shivers. The glare he gave instead as his reply spoke more of his intentions than curses or oaths.

The fiend took that glare in, and smiled a chilling smile :" You have made a great effort to reach me, and now you have no words ?"

" Kill me already, fiend !"; he snarled :" I do not have to put up with your stench !"

If anything, his host smiled wider :

" What makes you think you have a choice in any fate I bestow upon you ?"

" I have a choice to defy you, and i will. "; Ben snapped back. " I shall always defy your filth !"

" Aaaaa. " The Lord of Monsters spoke. " You attempt to provoke me into extinguishing you. A pitiful effort, but it pleases me. You were indeed the right choice for my purpose. "

Suddenly the remnants of the haze which clung to his thoughts dispersed from Ben's memories granting him back the specifics about his final battle. He and his brethren were taken alive… Seven of them, at least. For a brief moment his thoughts of hope and escape blossomed in his mind, but then he remembered who it was that was holding him. There were fates far worse than death, and Kain and his sons knew them by the score.

A shrieking sound stirred their brief silence, startling Ben in his bonds and Kain turned his attention slowly towards its source ; a couple of shades that crawled to his presence. The creatures were dragging on their swollen bellies and had only diamond-shaped glowing eyes and glittering fangs visible. Flesh made of darkness seemed like it was inflamed by it, and they resembled gusts of black smoke more than actual creatures. They were like manifestations of darkness themselves skittering over to Kain, twining about his legs with pleased squeaking sounds, apparently no more intelligent than animals.

Ben frowned confused for a moment. He had never seen this kind of vampires before. The features of all six clans were well known to every Sarafan. This was a new bread. It must have been. Something even more horrible, the Empire waited to unleash upon the world.

But no. With a sharp twist of his claws, Kain broke the creatures' necks simultaneously. It was a swift death and the two shadows dispersed into amber dust and ash.

" The corruption haunts us as well, "; Kain spoke :" My poor children started to change, to degenerate. It won't be long before the clans become packs of wild beasts, and the land degrades into hell's front yard. Most inappropriate. "

" I'd say you are merely taking your true forms. "; Ben grinned :" If you wish an end to the seeping corruption, sacrifice your self. You know it will restore the land. "

At once Ben found himself in the grip of an iron claw which made his neck scream under pressure. Now bolstered with physical touch, the mantle of dark power which emanated from the fiend, stabbed its icy tendrils into Ben's spirit, clawing and gnawing at it from all sides. The full weight of Kain's displeasure crashed down upon him, and Ben knew that with a tad more effort, this creature which so completely held him in his mercy, could crush the life, or his very sanity out of him. But not his soul. Surely not. Light, please, not.

" To sacrifice for whom, human ?"; Kain asked coldly :" You ? Your like ? Who are you to ask such a thing from me ?"

He released him and the Sarafan coughed a few times gasping in relief as the vampire's presence withdrew :

" …Light's servant… "; he whispered :" … while you are an unnatural thing. An evil that shouldn't exist. "

" But I do exist !"; Kain snarled :" I have the right to it as much as you. Your precious Light doesn't care. Higher forces wouldn't allow me to be, if it is against their code !"

" Lies. "; Ben spat :" The Light will burn you and consume you. Fire and dawn will swallow you whole one day and my kin will yet parade your remains in triumph. "

" No Sarafan. " Kain said, and the conviction in his tone was absolute. " For tonight, i will reshape the future according to my design, not yours. "

Ben growled defiantly.

" This i have foreseen. " Kain resumed. " All things in the world will wither and die, vampire and human alike, and no amount of killing or sacrifice will undo it. But I have a way out. You. We have selected you and your six companions to carry us to the most distant corners of the seven sides of the world. You'll rest by day and travel by night. You'll blind whatever eyes cross your path. And when your mission is complete, when you hide us where no living soul can reach, you'll kill yourself and thus mark an end to corruption. "

At that, Ben just spat before Kain's feet :

" That's all the service you'll receive from me !"

Kain smiled again, this time with teeth, bringing forth his red and black claw in a regal gesture of the kings of old. A greenish flame glittered within, surrounded by his three fingers and a magic noose tightened around Ben's neck cutting into his flesh with cords of pain. Ben could hardly see past the cloud of agony to catch a glimpse of his captor's golden eyes.

" Hold on to your sweet defiance… Barer of the Seal. "

A scream of a tortured man joined six others from surrounding cells in the corridor, and their mixture pored out trough the castle in a symphony.

Kain was sitting upon his throne, the Pillars of Nosgoth at his back, and his six sons before him. The Pillars defined him. His sons extended him. Upon his back rested the life and death of this world and all creatures which dwelt in it. The polluted powers of the Pillar of Balance, the central column within the grip of his throne sang in his very bones. He was a god. And yet, he was damned by that very godhood, turned to madness and insanity by the very corruption which had poisoned his Pillars and was slowly consuming Nosgoth. He knew it. He loathed it. And he embraced it. Embracing the madness of his heritage, the poisonous energies of the toppled Pillars gave him strength, the drive to restore balance by whatever means necessary.

And tonight, he would set his plan into motion, his beautiful design born of the very madness which consumed him. The last desperate chance to heal himself and the land together.

Seven Dumahim priests in black robes, and of ghastly corps-like features, bold wrinkled and skinny, stood week and exhausted at the middle of the chamber around a big furnace, spewing flame and black smoke. They were performing metal work, poring liquid silver and copper into molds, but what was sapping all of their strength was the magic which they fused within the hot alloy. Once it hardened, each priest produced a round medallion still smoking hot from the unnatural fires of the clan's magic. The seven necklaces of black silver were round, each the size of a large coin, and each having a carved marking of shining copper engraved upon it ; a symbol of each clan.

As the vampire-priests knelt and presented their work, Raziel slowly paced along their line observing the medallions, feeling the magical artifacts with his palm, probing them with his senses. For a moment he paused as he got to the one with his clan's symbol on it, observing it a second longer, then he nodded and turned to Kain :

" I could not have done better myself. " He said. His tone was always detached and distant, but this once it bore hints of satisfaction.

" Thank you my lord. "; one of the priests spoke with a voice of illness and effort

Raziel took his medallion, and the other Lords of the night followed. The eldest priest brought Kain's to him and placed it over his knees as if giving an offering to a deity. In exchange, Kain and his sons offered curved ritual daggers to the seven Dumahim priests, which they joyfully accepted, and promptly fell upon them, plunging them into their hearts.

" It is not the end. "; Kain said as the Dumahim convulsed :" We must sleep through the ages that come, until our own returns. "

" The clans… will wait… for you… my lords…"; the eldest priest spoke one last time before his life, if it could be called such, passed on into the spirit world.

Kain rose from his throne with the glittering medallion dangling from his red talon, gloved in black leather. By now, every child of the clans followed the example of the present priests, and the final gears of the mechanism were clicking into place. Along with the vampires, far at the other corner of the room, were bonds of wooden planks and iron, which held the seven captured humans in their ruin. They didn't struggle any more, now broken by torture, but still, the magic that was about to take place was unpredictable and the bonds were a necessary precaution.

Each of the remaining vampires, came to his selected human and placed the necklace around his or her neck. And the spell took hold. Thunders tore the murky sky, and the castle danced on tremors of the land. Wind cried of forgotten sins and the flowing waters of Nosgoth at once crackled with ice. The night was reeking of danger and rage, for the course of destiny shifted away from its proper path. As the last vampires perished from the world, the Pillars of Nosgoth, once broken and toppled, now turned white and erect, searing away the corruption and rot, but it was not the end.

It was then that the captive humans felt the true despair. The Night Lords were no longer with them ; they were within them. Mangled will of the former Sarafan swiftly succumbed to the seven greater spirits, and the possessed humans tore free of their shackles with unnatural strength. The only seven creatures remaining within the castle were nothing more than shells, suits to be worn by Lords of the Night.

As dark residue of this act subsided, Bearers of the Seven Seals stepped out into the night, led by a man once known as Benedict, now also the wielder of the Soul Reaver.

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