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Author's note: The Legacy of Kain series has my favorite storyline ^_^ In the first one, Blood Omen, there are two endings. One was chosen for the continuation, Soul Reaver, and the other was left out. One day inspiration struck and I wrote this, it's about the "other" ending. Hope you like it ^^. (Special thanks goes to Dranyth, he knows why >:)
I am the last Pillar, Kain thought. The only survivor of the Circle of Nine. At my whim, the world will be healed... or damned. At my whim.
Kain stood, silent and lost in thoughts with the nine majestic Pillars of Nosgoth towering over him, casting shadows to engulf the moonlit grove surrounded by thick bushes and pines. The Unspoken, a fiend that had premeditated both the murder of the former nobleman and of Ariel to disturb the Balance of the world and to remain as its sole ruler, had just been slain by the vampire, sharing the same fate as every current member of the Circle. Except for Kain himself.
As the Balance of the world had been disrupted by Nupraptor's madness when he had learned of his beloved Ariel's slaying, someone had to destroy each corrupted member in order to restore it. That someone had been young Kain, himself Ariel's replacement as the Pillar of Balance, before it was his turn to be assassinated. Revived as a vampire, Kain had gained powers beyond the reach of common mortals. Now, only he remained among the Circle, and he was quite possibly facing the greatest dilemma of his brief existence.
If I live, the world dies, and if I die, the world lives, Kain mused. My curse could just end right here.
But was that what he really wished for? Indeed, he had sought to break free of the curse of his vampiric state nearly as soon as he had received it. The whole world shunned his kind. The innocent daylight, and even any source of water -from the puniest ponds to vast swamps and lakes- could harm, even kill him. There was no possible acceptance from the human denizens of Nosgoth anywhere, no way he could again lead the 'normal' life of the nobleman he had once been. Forever condemned to be an outcast, an outsider, light was denied to him; his path was forever the one of darkness.
However, was that really a bad thing?... After all, he was currently one of the most powerful being in Nosgoth. The once mighty and proud paladin order of the Sarafan had been wiped out; its last priest, Malek, got forever silenced by one of the greatest vampires in Nosgoth's history, Vorador, who himself had been captured and executed by a large group of determined vampire hunters lead by the archmage Moebius... Whom, in turn, had recently been slain by Kain himself.
Indeed, the vampire thought, there can't be many people who could be a challenge to me anymore.
Vorador... Kain remembered his fateful encounter with the vampire lord, back in his mansion in the Termogent Forest. His first impression had not been very positive: an inexplicable dread had seized him, but not just in awe of Vorador's aura of power. "In the bowels of that black forest, I found something worse than Hell", he had muttered under his breath, "a vision of what I was becoming." However, even as the 'decadent old fool', as he had labeled him -not to his face of course- told boastful tales of his exploits of the past, Kain had grudgingly recognized him as a very useful ally and he had been glad to have him on his side. Without his aid, he might have never been able to be rid of Malek of the Sarafan, the Pillar of Conflict and archenemy of any self-respecting vampire. And though he hated to admit it, he had felt a pang of anger -nay, in fact, a burst of hatred, bloodlust and desire for vengeance stronger than ever when the guillotine put an end to the vampire lord's millennia-long reign. Not only had it reminded him of his precarious position and his vulnerability at the time, but also, the world just wouldn't be the same without such a mighty, proud and arrogant vampire.
Vorador had claimed that vampires were like Gods to humans, if they possessed the strength and will... Kain had been reluctant at first to believe that, but after seeing how powerful he had become, and how easy it was to control the human mind, to shred it or twist it, he'd been reconsidering ever since. After all, at the Battle of the Last Stand against the Nemesis Army when Kain had stood with the legions of Willendorf, had he not been able to destroy a good regiment with only one lightning spell? Had he not been able, with a mere thought, to turn the Nemesis soldiers against each other by autosuggestion of a fictitious hatred or rivalry? Had he not been still fighting on relentlessly with all his strength as the other warriors were barely catching their breath or lifting their weapons anymore? True, his side had been defeated as soon as King Ottmar had fallen in battle, for the legions of King William the Just were far more violent, well trained and well armed than the Willendorf army. Yet Kain, using a spell to disguise his true nature, had not only been the sole survivor of his side, but he was the one who had brought them together to fight for their homeland in the first place. He had even succeeded where Vorador had failed by bringing the time streamer Moebius to his knees... and sending his head not too far, too. A wistful smile split his face as he remembered the time mage's beheading. The vampire was now so much more than he'd once been, and though the observation seemed ridiculously obvious, it danced before his eyes and rang in his mind more clearly than ever before.
And right now, his crimson eyes narrowed to slits, as he stood before the silent gaze of Ariel's ghost, he was seriously considering drawing the Soul Reaver, destroying all the Pillars, making all humans his slaves and proclaiming himself the overlord of Nosgoth. But Kain was now in full control of his emotions, and so he stayed his hand to resume his pondering. After all, did he really want to rule a nearly dead world? What business did he have with humans anyway...
Smiling bitterly, Kain started pacing around like a wild beast trapped in a cage. He stopped and glanced up absently once in a while, only to see Ariel's shade floating in front of the center Pillar, the one of Balance, which she once represented devoutly. Her face was an expressionless mask of death, her eyes unreadable, empty of any judgment and filled with the serene patience worthy of the undead. Kain knew she expected, or at least hoped, that he would restore the Balance by giving his life. As the last Pillar, his death would start the cleansing of the corruption of Nosgoth that the mentalist Nupraptor had tainted with his hysterical rage. The young vampire bit his lip and resumed his pacing, his cold face wry and cynical as it was all too often. So in the end, despite all her very noble intentions, even Ariel, Guardian of the Pillars of Nosgoth, was trying to use him in some way, even she was expecting something of him. The Unspoken, the necromancer Mortanius, the 'Oracle', even Ariel...
Clenching his fists at the memories of so many betrayals, Kain truly wondered what he owed to the world that did little more than frustrate him. Why should he sacrifice himself for some 'noble' cause to rid the world of nightmares, when he had been tormented endlessly by them for so long?
Then Kain glanced down and sighed, almost as if in shame, irritated at his self-pity. My fate was never all that bad, he mused. After all, Malek's sufferings had been far worse. Barely reaching his thirties, the vampire had spent but a few months in a state beyond life, not centuries, even millennia, unlike the paladin... Then he wondered why in the Abyss he should feel sorry for one of his greatest foes, and he shook his head angrily.
Torn apart by feelings of contradiction, Kain absently stared at his hands and some sort of uneasiness assaulted him. Nothing so weak as remorse or guilt for the blood he has spilled -never that! But he was considering what a burden it would be to go on living like this, carrying the fate of the world all by himself. He suddenly felt very tired...
Once I choose, there is no turning back. It all comes down to what kind of mood I am in at this moment... So why did it have to be in such circumstances? Kain mused bitterly, his eyebrows set in an eternal frown. After all I've gone through, now I should just kill myself for good and suddenly, magically, chaos will part. Kain snickered, but even there he was reluctant to ignore the possibility. Would it just be worth it then? He never felt so unsure, so hesitant of all his existence. Damn those questions with no answer!
As he pondered this, the memory of certain words spoken not-so-long ago flashed in his mind. "Answers indeed. I have them all, if you have the questions. And what are the questions, for these answers?" How he remembered that encounter so vividly! That raspy, nerve-grating -for him at least- yet clear and tantalizing voice, and Kain had rudely shoved aside the Oracle's ramblings with his query. Well, he wouldn't refuse some insight right now. But this time, it was all up to him. At least no one would come and taunt him about how easily he had been used or manipulated anymore.
Again Kain shook his head, wondering why everything seemed to bring him back to bitter, hateful memories of treachery and deceit. "The future says, you die..." "We will send you back to the grave whence you came, vampire..." Casting aside the dark, haunting echoes of his manipulator's taunts and trying to sublimate his rising anger and foul mood, he glanced in the distance, beyond the trees of the grove where the Pillars stood, and mustered all his discipline to calm himself.
After a while he felt more at peace, and sighed ruefully. His dilemma still hung, almost as tangible to him in the chilly night air as the damaged Pillar of Balance in what remained of its former glory, right in front of him and Ariel, whom he knew would keep haunting the place as long as the imbalance was not corrected. His mind raced for an idea, a decision to make, and he once again started to walk around the grove in circles, idly touching and tugging at the branches of one of the many tall fir trees surrounding the area and plunging it in shadows. "I care not for the fate of this world!" he had once shouted, in the very same place. Well maybe he should have said "I care not for the fate of humans!" Yes, he thought grimly, if humans aren't worth it... at least Nosgoth itself should be. Even if now the world was corrupted, if trees weren't as copious, woods not as thick and lakes not as pristine as before, it was still a beauty to grace, and losing it would be an unimaginable waste. Kain pictured scorched, smoking wood as the remains of a once green forest when too-frequent fires caused by the imbalance would ravage it eventually, gray and polluted slush instead of delicate white snow as carpet for mountains, lifeless and cracked boulders gathered into masses of hard, chilling stone filled with tar pits instead of lush organic valleys, and a sickening, poisonous mist clinging eternally over Nosgoth and choking whatever life it penetrated, and -albeit vague- a certain sadness, a rueful feeling crept into him. He returned to the center of the Pillars slowly and tentatively, his wry, bitter half-smile still etched on his deathly-pale face, the possibilities stretching in his mind.
Suddenly Kain drew his beautiful and intimidating Soul Reaver, so quickly and impulsively -by all appearances- that even the ever-stoic Ariel nearly flinched. He stroked the black, yet shining and perfectly honed, undulating blade, his fingers idly touching the miniature horned skull carved on the hilt. With another sigh, he ran a hand through his long, white hair, then suddenly gazed up sharply -as if just awakening from a trance-, once again staring at the crumbling Pillar of Balance.
Each Pillar needed a token that linked the deceased member with the power he or she represented in order to be repaired. The Pillar of Conflict, for example, demanded Malek's helmet, symbol of his warrior prowess, decorated with a braid of hair torn from the scalps of the paladin's victims; the Pillar of Time would have remained in ruins without Moebius' Hourglass as well as his demise, and so on. Balance itself represented the equality between life and death. Thus, it needed a symbol, a token strong and meaningful enough to represent both the end of life, brutal or slow, and the power of life itself.
It needed Kain's blood.
"Blood is life", Kain whispered, as he had said countless other times. "Life without blood? What a travesty!" he had once said in outrage. The very blood that had sustained him, the blood he had spilled and hunted at the same time, was like the artery of life that needed to be severed to restore the Pillar of Balance, and eventually, little by little, to restore Nosgoth itself. Kain's blood, willingly spilled in a noble, sacrificing manner, to replace Ariel's, spilled by the treachery and evil of the Unspoken. A vampire's blood to save the world from damnation... Kain started to laugh cynically, nearly cackling at the irony. The blood of a creature that everyone fears or hates, the epitome of necromancy and of life twisted and corrupted, to restore the Balance that people sought, the Balance nature needed. Even now the paradox rang painfully in Kain's head, yet he only grasped the Soul Reaver more firmly, barely suppressing his fit of laughter. The fate of the whole world rested on his shoulders. One quick slash, and the fragile Balance could be severed forever. One quick move of his hand, and the marble Pillar could topple to ruins and dust.
One quick stab and it would all end here. Firming his jaw, Kain sobered immediately and set his face into an expressionless mask, even though he surmised Ariel had already guessed his intent as he read the faintest hint of surprise -pleasant or not, he couldn't tell- in her eyes. After so many hesitations, the young vampire brought the sword low with such speed and determination that a newly arrived observer would think it was what he'd planned all along.
The Soul Reaver sank in like a knife through melting butter, yet it did not mutilate its target with the dark magic that empowered it like it usually did for Kain's victims. This time it rather pierced like an assassin's dagger through the chest, but Kain felt no pain. He fell on his knees, the long sword stuck across his chest and red chain mail, and his vision blurred as blood frothed and bubbled in his mouth. His senses dimmed as the last wisps of life fled from him, but a sensation of calmness, of serenity, overwhelmed him. He fell face down on the cold hard floor, his hands stretching to reach the damaged marble column, as if he wanted to feel its touch in desperation. The crimson pool below him grew and seemed to flow around the Pillar, as if it absorbed the blood and cells from his being to sap it as energy of its own.
Kain knew it would not work as 'magically' as he had thought rather wryly and in jest earlier. It would take time for the world to recover from its injuries, and some scars might never heal. But he was confident it would work even as he felt his pulse vanishing, fleeing. Then he closed his eyes forever and lay perfectly still, at the same time finally appreciating the release from his curse.
Yes. Blood is life. His 'cursed', vampire blood... was now Nosgoth's life. As he fully embraced the absurd beauty of the paradox, Kain died, the eternal frown still drawn on his forehead but without the lines of anxiety that had marked it... And as Ariel noted with a rueful smile, for once, his bitter, grim smile was tainted with a look of peace.
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