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A Stitch In Time

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Raziel shifted where he stood, feeling the deep aches that still lingered from his ... interview ... with Rahab. Kafka, sensing his master's inattention, champed at his bit and tried to jerk his head around to bite at a passing fledgling; Raziel yanked him back around without looking, hand hard upon the reins.

With Melchiah and Rahab's agreement, the stage had been set. Now the Razielim readied themselves to enter the ruins, and leave the Empire forever. The remnants of his clan now numbered some three thousand men, along with assorted slaves, war-horses, and other baggage. The slaves would be killed or freed when they passed through the portal; Raziel had ordered only essential weapons and belongings, plus the war-horses, to be taken. All else they would reacquire on the other side. The Sarafan plunder would give them whatever odds and ends they required--and the Sarafan themselves would quench his warriors' thirst.

Anani, Gershom, and Kain all stood nearby, waiting along with their lord as the lesser Razielim organized themselves into their squads and battalions. Sentries had been sent out to report when the way was clear. All they needed now was time for the Melchiahim and Rahabim armies to clear the field as they 'attacked' each other, wheeling and moving in an elaborate, bloody duel that still somehow had no casualties ...

A wave of a massive, blue signal flag, and the Rahabim began to retreat. The badly injured in the gory battle limped their way to the sidelines, Rahabim and Melchiahim both. They retreated unmolested to take their pick from small groups of slaves, guarded only by a handful of the very youngest fledglings, who looked upon the orgy of bloodshed with wistful expressions.

The entire Melchiahim force streamed after the retreating Rahabim, their baggage train slowly creeping along behind, picking the battlefield clean of the bodies of a handful of horses, and scooping up a few men too injured to move. Within an hour, though the sounds of battle could yet be heard, the Melchiahim camp was emptied. Pennants yet snapped in the breeze, and tools of the forge yet lay where they had been left. But no eyes remained to witness the emergence of so many Razielim from the hills and scrubby forests.

It was just as well. Questions might have been raised, if the other clans had seen the Razielim thus.

Some of the squadrons blended into their surroundings, their profiles broken by the oddly color-shifting armor they wore. The effect, en-masse, was highly disorienting, even as used to it as Kain had become, over weeks of watching the Razielim drill in their Ancients-wrought armor. Others wore but one or two pieces of more complete sets -- the only way to spread a limited number of suits out across so many warriors -- and in truth, all the naturally-armored Razielim elders really needed. The younger fledglings carried bows that glistened, reflecting the light oddly, as if made of crystal. The ornate hilts of heavily-enchanted weapons hung at many a man’s side. All of them awaited Raziel’s word.

Gershom tilted his head, his gaze turning vague as he listened to a voice only he could hear. It took only a moment, then he turned to Raziel. "The sentries report the way is clear, my lord."

Raziel nodded. "Let us proceed." Turning to Kafka, he swung himself up into the saddle, reining him in harshly as the stallion made another abortive lunge. Kafka knew a battle was in the offing, and was eager for prey to trample beneath his hooves. "I shall take point, along with Anani's battalion. Phineas's skirmishers will cover our flanks. Remember--the moment we step through the portal, we will be in enemy territory. Speed and surprise will be our allies against the Sarafan; use them well." He regarded them all a moment more, soberly--then reined Kafka around. His fledglings knew the business of war as well as he--nothing more needed to be said.

Anani and the others fell in around him as they moved out into the open, the rattling of harness and armor oddly loud on the hushed plain. Vampire armies needed no horns or drums to call out orders--Whispers flew from mind to mind, and the battalions of Razlielim fell in order behind them with an eerie silence. Every face was intent, fierce--every vampire knew well what this last march meant. They would triumph and survive, or they would die. There were no other options left.

Heavy-nodding heads of grass seeds shushed against horses’ legs and men’s chests with a sound like parting waves. Kain patted the neck of his own mount as he fell back to travel alongside a group of Razielim sorcerers -- there were fewer than twenty, and mostly young, but even still could be exceedingly valuable... as well as being prime targets for ambush. The mare he rode was white, spotted with rust across her hindquarters, but otherwise of little particular note -- and yet Kain was constantly awed by her tolerance of vampire kind. Centuries of breeding must have gone into her line.

The camp of the Melchiahim was quiet, eerily emptied. They passed through without trouble, while scouts darted ahead, disappearing between the broken walls of the Sarafan Citadel. There was a flurry of motion, and Kain tensed... but it was only the scouts again; this time the elders among them were carrying massive chunks of the rusted iron portcullis, moving them to where they would not catch the legs of the horses. Like a darksome, silent tide, the first few units of Raziel’s army streamed into the citadel’s central courtyard. Do you recall... where it is? Kain sent, faintly dismayed. The upper levels of the castle were long since collapsed, rubble strewn widely. Great arched doorways yawned like broken mouths, their wooden doors often half-rotted away.

Approximately, Raziel replied. Thankfully he well knew how eons could change both structures and landscape, and now he led the way, Kafka picking his way through the rubble of the opening that had been the main gate. Once there, Raziel drew him up, scanning the overgrown stones. The side hall had been *there*, the barracks *there* ... which mean the entrance to the Great Hall would be to one side, closer to the western wall. The roof had long fallen in, broken vaults still clawing at the sky to mark the hallway that had once stood, filled with elaborate stained glass windows and statuary celebrating the Sarafan 'saints'. The latter were both long gone, in any case. Raziel pointed Kafka at the weedy stones of the corridor, letting the stallion pick a path as sentries moved on ahead on foot. "If we can find the Great Hall, twill be much easier to find the antechamber, I think," he mused aloud.

Kain kept his little band of mages shepherded towards the center of the halls and courtyards through which they passed. They’d be absolutely necessary once Raziel reached Kain’s own era... particularly considering the feat Kain intended to undertake all too soon. He paused a moment before answering, evidently distracted with other sendings -- Phineas glanced to Kain and then a small group of warriors peeled off from the main force, climbing or leaping atop crumbling walls for the better vantage. In this warren of old and tumbled hallways, who knew what creatures had made their lairs, after all. I knew this citadel, as a man, Kain sent. Left, I believe.

Raziel nodded. Unfortunately, their way was blocked by a heap of fallen blocks and other rubble to steep for the horses to climb. A glance at Gershom was all he needed; the elder vampire immediately began barking muted orders at his subordinates, and other lesser elders began clearing the pile through dint of brute vampire strength, tossing aside boulders and using talons to dig through the encrusted rubble. Warriors they might be, but none shirked an order, no matter how menial the task. The task was done with surprising swiftness, a narrow passage opened for the rest of the Razielim and their mounts. They moved through it in ordered ranks, and into the area beyond.

The Great Hall was nothing more than a vast, weedy courtyard now, scattered with broken stones and the nests of small animals. Only a bare remnant of the original walls remained, barely enough to mark the boundaries. Raziel halted once more, this time dismounting, giving time for the rest of the Razielim to file into the hall as he searched out the portal chambers.

Leaving the sorcerers secure in the center of the field that once had been covered to serve as the great hall, Kain likewise swung from his mount to stride beside Raziel. If the Ancients built this chamber, as it seems likely they did... then the structure itself may well be entirely undamaged. Kain’s gaze swept the surrounding evidence of towers and keeps. One of the latter was crumbled, but the rubble had fallen into an enormous heap, as if supported from beneath by a massive dome. There, mayhaps?

Steel crashed from one of the nearby halls to which the sentries and scouts had spread. Kain tensed, but the ruckus was short-lived. Human brigands, my Lord, Anani’s Whisper came swiftly, relaying the message. Four. They seem to have been concealing themselves here for weeks. Shall we add them to the stocks? Free-range prey could be something of a delicacy.

Yes, but keep them separated from the domestic stock, so that they do not have opportunity to cause trouble. But let those who need it feed from any magic-users; we do not have time to silence them properly. Sorcerers were often more trouble than they were worth, needing only a moment's inattention to cast a spell that could cause chaos for an entire squad. Besides, none of the brigands were bound to live long in any case, and his warriors had enough other matters to attend to.

Following Kain's hunch, Raziel headed to the piled rubble of the tower. It is in about the right location, but ... he Whispered to Kain. Frowning, he climbed up onto the pile, searching with hands and nose as well as eyes for any sign of a chamber beneath. It was slow work, and his frustration was almost palpable by the time he found a possible clue: a gap in the rock, too small for a man, that had the faintest waft of magic exuding from it. "Here, perhaps... it appears we have more digging to do."

Kain watched for a moment as Raziel worked, tossing massive, man-sized boulders to tumble down the slope of the dome with every evidence of ease. While Kain could move the fill and broken stone easily enough, those great facing blocks were well beyond him. After a short time of attempting to lever aside one of the chunks Raziel moved with such ease, Kain retreated a bit, circling the dome instead. It seemed about the right size -- a mound more than twelve meters tall at the highest point, and twenty in diameter. The segment upon which Raziel worked was perhaps the stub of a thoroughly collapsed hallway, leading into the dome. At several points, Kain tried sieving through the stones in mistform -- while it was simple to weave between the fallen Sarafan stonework, there was a layer beneath that which was quite impenetrable.

Kain rejoined the elder, when it seemed as if Raziel had made a discovery. He considered the opening a moment, then let his shape dissolve into a thick white mist that seeped into the gap. A few moments, and then filtered light blossomed from deep within the hole. “By the runes on these doors, this is the place. Have men dig in through the north; the stone seems thinner, and the supports still good,” Kain called out, his voice muffled. “But I cannot access the chamber itself. A seal blocks the way, akin to the one you opened.” Kain studied the golden barrier a moment. Would this respond to the Reaver, the way those at the sanctuary had to Raziel’s spectral version thereof? There was only one way to find out.

The stones beneath Raziel’s feet rumbled.

"Masiosare?" Raziel called out, mindful of nearby ears. Frowning, he glanced over at the nearest elders. Help me clear the way. With their assistance, heavy blocks were tossed aside, Raziel leading the way. Dust and rubble rained down into the gradually enlarging opening, until Raziel could clearly see the younger vampire in front of what was unmistakeably the door to the chronoplast chamber. A now open door, with the way clear beyond. We almost have the way clear, Kain--you may wish to hide the Reaver. Directing the other elder Razielim to continue clearing the way until the door could be easily accessed by the gathered army, Raziel picked his way downward.

Kain reached back idly to brush his fingertips across the Reaver’s hilt, expertly dismissing the sword in favor of a lesser blade. He crouched to better examine a long string of carvings that coiled around the entire, enormous chamber.

This chronoplast was... different, though clearly built by the same hands as the last. Only one chest-high platform encircled the room, and the ceiling was correspondingly lower. The massive... device which depended from the apex of the roof was more less spidery, less more ornate, with a fewer moving parts. Perhaps the Ancients had gained in technology by the time they’d built this chronoplast... or perhaps they’d simply not had the manpower to create such a complex structure. That possibility sat poorly with Kain.

Regardless, the chamber had stood the test of time, despite being built around and upon by the Sarafan. When the stones had been dragged away to provide Raziel enough room to enter, Kain stood. Whilst the warriors cleared passage enough for horses and munitions, he would require Raziel’s aid to change the chronoplast’s settings correctly. “The year 632, I think?” he asked, then paused. The Ancients had provided them diagrams of the proper positionings for the dials in the chronoplast, for the ages to which they wished to travel, but these were clearly not quite of the same layout. I trust you learned a more efficient means of setting these dials? he inquired, hoping that the principals behind the Chronoplast, whatever they were, remained constant.

I watched Moebius do it once ... Raziel sent back thoughtfully, moving up to study the mechanism. What he did not say was that he had been distracted by his own rage and need for vengeance, and thus had not paid attention as closely as he might have. He would figure this out--there was no other option.

The mechanism only had one controlling lever, as opposed to the multiple dials in the original chronoplast. Did that mean this one was more limited in utility? Inspecting the carvings about the device, Raziel was inclined to think so. His grasp of Ancient script was still very poor, despite his recent studies, but at least now he knew enough to decipher the symbols used to delineate ages, years, and days. Tracing the elaborate runes with his talon-tips, he said slowly, "It looks as if this will activate on its own, once the target time is set properly. And this ... " he tapped another symbol, "Indicates how long the portal will remain open." They would have to change that, if all three thousand members of his clan were to be able to go through. The last thing he wished was for any of his Razielim to be trapped in this time through no fault of their own!

Still inspecting the device, Raziel reached out for his eldest's mind. Anani--instruct the others to begin forming into ranks for the passage. This will need to be done swiftly and well; I want none left behind. Even as he sent his commands, he had to banish his own niggling doubts. What if he and Kain were truly the only ones Fate was willing to let travel the ages thus? He could very well be leading his Razielim into nothing better than nonexistence ....

Kain examined the runes Raziel traced, able to make far less sense of them. It was more instructive to watch Raziel instead, the faint twist to his lips that bespoke unease. It was not difficult to imagine what the trouble might be, as the first of the Razielim clambered through the narrow passage, falling into neat ranks, three abreast. This first wave was entirely formed of unusually strong, heavily-armored elders; they looked on with repressed eagerness... and blatant, absolute trust.

Not in Kain, of course.

Kain exhaled, perhaps a little harshly. “Have one of the slaves summoned. I shall observe through his eyes -- then we shall know whether the portal is safe, and whether a being may return from the other side, whilst it stands open.”

Raziel slanted him a wry glance. Am I so obvious? he Whispered to his too-young sire. Still, it was an excellent idea. Phineas had entered the chamber, and stood surveying it as his scouts fell back into their assigned places. Raziel waved him over. "Select a slave from the stock, and bring them here," he ordered. "We shall test the portal before sending our warriors through."

Phineas nodded. "As you command, Lord Raziel." A jerk of his head, and two of his fledglings accompanied him as he disappeared back into the crowd, making his way through the door. The chamber was rapidly growing tight with bodies, and it was a good thing his Razielim had lost none of their discipline--otherwise the gathering could have easily turned into chaos.

As Raziel turned again to the dial and its assortment of settings, Kain set his hands atop the chest-high, encircling platform and pushed himself atop it, to sit cross-legged. It would not do at all to have his insensate body disturbed, while he was away from it. He watched Raziel closely from that vantage.

Raziel made the final adjustments as a ragged, scar-crossed human was dragged forth. Kain could smell the man’s terror, even with so many warriors in such close quarters. That fear peaked when, with a final turn of the controls, the device above began to rotate, a low whirr beginning to build. The portal blasted open with a silvery keening note, blue and white energies cracking furiously, obscuring the chronoplast’s destination. Kain paused a moment to erect a dully-glowing blue shield about himself, and then struck, casting forth a thin stiletto of energy which burrowed from the nape of the human’s neck and up into his skull.

The human suddenly straightened, the scent of his terror fading. Kain glanced about, gathering his bearings whilst muffled in a human’s flesh -- strange how much taller all the vampires seemed, how incredibly solid. The human’s eyes could scarcely see, and Kain was now all but noseblind. Kain forced the human’s slow, weak muscles to move him towards the open portal of light... only to find himself drawn up short. Kain leveled a narrow-eyed glare at the fledgling who so effortlessly held him, with a single hand clamped around his arm.

Raziel looked from the human to Kain, rapidly ascertaining the problem. Moving forward, he wrapped a hand around the human's other arm. "I have him," he told the fledgling, who obediently stepped back. Raziel 'escorted' the human to the portal, making it appear as if the man was being pulled along by main force, though his grip was far lighter than it seemed. Once there, he glanced downward at the Kain-possessed human--then let him go, stepping backwards and trusting that Kain would force the man through.

Kain’s momentary hesitation at the brink of the portal was real enough. He could move a human a relatively long distance from his physical body, but he had certainly never tried sending his consciousness across eons before. If his link with his own body were severed... what then?

Kain stepped through.... and into the heart of a maelstrom.

There came a sensation of falling, as if from a very great height. Waves of power battered at him, mists of electrical charge clinging to his limbs. Kain’s vampiric body would have weathered the storm well, but this fragile cocoon of flesh... was far less sturdy. The jolting, tumbling passage forced his all-too-human stomach into his gorge. And then, nothing but blackness.

Raziel watched as the slave stepped through the portal--then spun in place as he heard a soft gasp from Kain's seated form. The younger vampire had slumped, eyes staring blankly at nothing. Raziel covered the distance between them in an instant, dropping to one knee, heedless of the watching Razielim. Did he dare call out--and if he did, would he break Kain's concentration? He had to take the risk. Kain? he sent, wondering if his Whisper could even reach through the portal to where Kain's mind was.

The silence, in response to Raziel’s tentative sending, was deafening. There was nothing within range for the Whisper to reach.

The seconds crawled by. And then the veils of power sheeting the portal bulged, parted, and disgorged the same human slave, thoroughly battered and a little scorched, but whole. He took a single step only, and then collapsed, his heart ceasing to beat though his wounds were surely not severe enough to cause death, not even for a human.

But as the slave fell, Kain blinked, glanced up, his eyes slowly focusing upon Raziel. A small, stiff movement, and the dully-glowing blue dome that had protected his helpless body evaporated from between them. ’Tis safe, Kain sent. Though attempting to bring any humans through may be more trouble than it is worth. At least, it surely would be if the humans had been fed anytime in the past four hours or so.

Raziel nodded, more than a little relieved in spite of himself. Behind him, the nearest Razielim shifted, murmuring lowly among themselves--for the abilities Kain had exhibited were almost unknown among the Razielim, who as a general rule had little skill in mind-magicks. Which raised the inevitable question that if 'Masiosare' were not a Razielim fledgling--what *was* he?

Do you feel able to accompany me and the vanguard through the portal? Raziel asked, ignoring the whispers. He rose to his feet, his eyes still on Kain. "Anani. Have any of the Razielim who are wounded or otherwise require blood to feed on our humans. Then release the remaining domestic stock, and execute any brigands that are left."

Anani nodded, his eyes going vacant as he turned inward to communicate with minds elsewhere. There came shortly a muffled disturbance as the culling progressed. A handful of the slightly more poorly-fed Razielim retreated to the place the stocks were being held, their brethren closing ranks behind them.

Kain nodded and dropped the thin shell of shielding magic around him, with an odd kind of mental exhaustion. Maintaining the link to his body over such a distance-- physically little more than a few meters -- had not been easy. He stood, perhaps somewhat unsteadily, slithering down off the platform which encircled the chronoplast. I do. However... how much time do we have before the portal closes? Will it need to be reopened from this side?

If I am reading the runes rightly--we have about forty-five minutes of active use before the magic is expended and the portal will need to be reactivated. So yes--you and I will likely need to return once the battle is joined, to ensure that the portal can be reopened. It had to be one of them; Raziel could not trust even his own clan with such dangerous knowledge.

Moving back the the front lines, he looked at Gershom. The harsh white glare of the portal had limned the craggy-faced elder's features in stark shadows, making his unsmiling countenance seem both demonic and predatory. "Is the vanguard ready, Gershom?"

The elder Razielim bowed, fist over his heart. "They await your command, my lord."

Raziel nodded, and drew his blade--the saber he had brought from Haven, materia gleaming in its hilt. He was now wearing armor of Ancient make himself, rather than his normal attire--but the cape with its paired sigils still adorned one shoulder, bloody crimson in the unnaturally-white light. "Let us go, then," he said, raising his voice so that the warriors in the chamber might all hear. "Go and claim a future for ourselves once again!" There was a muted roar in answer to his words, and Raziel turned, heading for the portal, now utterly focused. This was the final line--there would be no going back, no matter what the cost.

Looking across the sea of reflecting eyes, Kain allowed a faint smile to touch his lips. This was a fine force indeed, and when they swept into the heart of the Sarafan fortress... oh yes. This would be a most satisfactorily sanguinary evening.

He fell in behind Raziel as the elder stalked to the portal; as much as he longed to take the lead, Tarrant did have the right of the matter. Even still, Kain would not relinquish his place at Raziel’s right hand for any Razielim -- Anani and Gershom exchanged glances, but seemed little inclined to protest, for the moment. A lesser sword, one of the Ancients’, hung at Kain’s side. It would suffice, though Kain found himself missing the reassuring weight and presence of the Reaver upon his back.

Kain stepped through the portal, a moment after Raziel.

The journey this time was easier, though only marginally. Caught up in the maelstrom, ribbons of time-warping power flowing and flaring about him, mists so solid they seemed tangible... an eternity passed, or perhaps a moment, and then he was through, blinking into the blackness of the same chamber he had departed, now empty and echoing. The massive doors ahead were sealed. Inside a human shell, the room had been deathly silent; now he could just make out the bustle of unsuspecting activity beyond the enclosed space.

Raziel scanned the area swiftly as they landed, wary of ambush, as unlikely as it might be ... but their arrival had gone unnoticed, just as they had hoped. He moved swiftly away from the portal platform, towards the outer door, in order to clear the way for the others to follow. Gershom and his personal guard came first, stumbling from the portal and shaking their heads dizzily--but nonetheless alive and whole. A last remnant of apprehension fading, Raziel Whispered exultantly to Kain, They made it--we are here! He could almost scent the Sarafan that made their home outside ... all unknowing of the predators that had infiltrated into their fortress.

Kain exchanged a brief, fierce smile. “Clear the landing,” he ordered the more coherent individuals, reaching out to catch a somewhat younger Razielim who reeled with disorientation. Most of Raziel’s personal guards were already following him, albeit unsteadily -- a metallic clatter sounded as one misjudged the depth of a step, a clawed foot slipping on the granite and spilling the Razielin onto his back. He was swiftly hoisted to his feet. Can you open the doors without the Reaver? Kain sent. In a few minutes, I think, time enough for the room to fill and the men to recover.

I believe so, yes. Unlike the other chambers, this chronoplast had been spell-locked only to keep creatures out, not in. Sufficient application of brute force should be enough, from the looks of it. And I agree. There is no point in pressing the attack without at least the initial force of numbers on our side. Even as he sent those words, more Razielim were coming through the portal--Anani and his elder offspring foremost among them, followed quickly by those warriors chosen for their ability to strike hard and fast, in order that they might break way through the Sarafan ranks for their comrades to follow. The tromp of booted feet and the shifting of armor quickly filled the room as they fell back into their ranks, though some of them were not so battle-hardened that they could not prevent themselves from glancing about in unease and wonderment.

Raziel took his place before the door, Anani and Gershom moving up quickly to cover his back. They were very close to their full complement ... Ready, Kain?

I am, Kain sent back, with tightly held eagerness. The faint scent of anticipation was gathering, the front ranks tense, their reflecting eyes glinting with bloodlust, fangs flashing in the faint glow of enchanted blades. At the rear, warriors were rapidly recovering their bearings, or helping others through the portal at a rate of some two score a minute. Phalanxes were forming up, readying themselves to join the second wave, their commanders silently urging their troops on. Wisely, Kain permitted Gershom to join Raziel at the massive double doors, instead drawing his own longsword from its finely-worked sheath. At his back, the front ranks readied their own weapons.

“Upon your mark, my Lord,” Gershom grated, talons clenching deep into the engraved bronze of one of the doors.

At Raziel’s word, the doors shuddered, then grinding in their tracks, began to slide aside. Torchlight sheeted in. A stacked crate fell and broke open, scattering bolts of fabric -- the Sarafan had been using the short connecting hallway as storage, evidently. In the corridor intersection, a pair of initiates in plain white tunics looked up from their discussion, gape-mouthed.

Raziel did not need to shout any commands to attack. As soon as the way was clear, the Razielim began to move, Raziel and Kain lunging forward at their head like the crest of some great bloodthirsty wave. The initiates barely had time to scream before they were cut down with supernatural speed. Neither their youth nor their weaponless state would have given any of the Razielim thoughts of mercy--these were the enemy, human fledglings bent upon the indiscriminate extermination of the vampire race. Many of Raziel's chosen vanguard were elders, after all--some of them old enough to remember the Sarafan well, before the Empire had crushed them.

Brief as the initiates' cries had been, they had still drawn attention. An older knight came stomping from an antechamber. "Abel, what are you--" He fell backwards in horror at the sight of the vampire horde that filled the narrow corridor. "By the--guards! Guards! We are attack--" his shout ended in a gurgle as Anani's thirdborn slipped up behind him and neatly slit his throat, dropping him to the floor. The damage was done, however--the Sarafan sentries came running from their posts, shouting as they saw Raziel and the others, and soon the corridors were filled with the clang of metal on metal and the screams of the fallen as the battle was truly joined.

The assault was eerily quiet, despite the choked cries of the fallen and the clash of steel, for the Razielim were utterly silent, without even the battle cries -- ‘For Raziel!’ -- to which Kain had become so accustomed; these shock troops knew well the value of surprise, after all. The hallway was wide enough for the Razielim to fight three abreast, and they did so with a murderous flurry, swarming over and around the startled guards, blades flashing almost too swiftly to be seen. Even in the tight confines, the Razielim were many, many times more agile than the men they fought, ducking under blows, employing walls or the backs of other knights as springboards to launch themselves deeper into the fray.

Kain wrenched his weapon from betwixt the plates of a man’s armor, beads of blood glittering in the air like suspended rubies. The flow and flux of this battle was sheer glory, the tide of Razielim scarcely slowed by the besieged humans. As Kain rounded a corner, his boots skidded in a splash of gore, and that alone saved him from a beheading by a virulently-glowing axe. The blade trailed a luminous afterimage of green as it was swung, and a painful pressure seized at Kain’s chest. Others of the men around him were affected similarly; several fell, gasping and stunned. But most of the Razielim, wearing ornate amulets or selections of armor, paused not at all, leaping the fallen to crash with blades extended into the man, before he could bring his weapon around for another blow. The Hylden-armed human fell as swiftly as did any other. Anonymous hands seized Kain’s arm, jerked him upright and away from the axe, its glow now masked by blood.

The Hylden have been here, Raziel sent openly to the others. 'Ware any green-glowing magics--let those with the Ancient amulets handle them! He cut down another swordsman with an almost idle backhand, snarling. New shouts rose--the Sarafan had apparently organized themselves enough to realize this was no small band of beleaguered vampires, but a full-on assault. The further swordsmen fell back, and were replaced by a partial phalanx of pikemen standing shoulder to shoulder in the wider parts of the corridor, spears bristling outward as they advanced.

After a brief glance to ascertain Kain was still protected, Raziel darted ahead, using the high vaults of the corridor to his advantage as he launched himself into the air, wings outspread. He did not stay there long--in such close quarters, that would only make him a target for arrows. A few wingbeats took him over and past the first ranks of pikemen. Folding his wings, he dropped straight downward, laying about him even as he landed, tearing into swordsman and pikeman alike with claws and blade. Those knights behind the pikemen stumbled backwards; they had not expected anything like this! The pikemen themselves folded, their ranks torn apart from behind.

The Razielim did not waste the opportunity. Surging forward, the few surviving pikemen were torn apart, and the vampires flooded into the Great Hall, spreading outward to take on the other remaining defenders. More Sarafan with Hylden weaponry appeared, a few even in glyph armor, shouting defiance. But their kills were few--the Razielim had learned swiftly, and the more-vulnerable among them faded back, taking on other attackers as their protected fellows chopped the Sarafan down without mercy.

Kain threw back his head, a darksome laugh falling from his lips as he spitted a young squire just as an elder Razielim removed the youth’s head with a single twist. It landed at the base of Moebius’ stature commemorating his own ordered beheading of Vorador -- a pretty irony, to Kain’s mind.

Razielim were falling back now -- not all of them to be sure, only some of the more lightly armored skirmishers, making way for fresh blocks of warriors from the chronoplast. These were more heavily armed, and were supported by bowmen who put arrow after arrow with inhuman accuracy into the eyeslits of visors and helms. The appearance of these fresh troops recalled Kain of the time -- it was difficult to tell for certain how much of it had passed whilst Kain fought in the grip of bloodlust, but... had it been half an hour? Raziel! Kain sent, as he ducked and weaved, making his way back to then portal. I go to keep the way open -- it should take naught but a minute.

I will accompany you, Raziel sent, finishing a disembowelling stroke. He was not about to risk Kain being caught in a different time than himself! Not after what had happened the last time ... A badly-aimed strike clanged off his shoulder-armor; with a scowl he punched the hilt of his sword at his attacker, caving the man's face in and shoving him aside. Anani, he sent to his eldest, I go to make sure our remaining brethren come safely through. Hold the Great Hall--take the outlying wings if you can. I will return. The Great Hall was theirs in any case--only a few remaining bands of defenders remained, desperately fighting for their lives. Taking the rest of the castle and rooting out the Sarafan from every nook and cranny in which they saw fit to hide would be brutal, painstaking work, and Raziel trusted Anani to isolate the defenders until sufficient numbers of Razielim had arrived in order to take up that task.

We will not fail you, my lord! came Anani's reply, full of bloodlust and fierce satisfaction.

Raziel took wing once more, trusting himself to the air rather than trying to fight his way through the press of attackers and defenders to Kain's side. It took only a moment to arrive back at the smaller corridor that led to the chronoplast antechamber, though Kain, true to form, had not waited for him, but was at the portal itself.

The corridor and antechamber were choked with men, many still unsteady from their journey through time. Those earliest wounded, who had retreated here to recover, were hobbling or being moved out to the courtyard, now cleansed of Sarafan. A crude ramp had been laid to cover the stairs leading up to the portal -- now necessary as a long string of horses was being led through, the animals nickering or baying, tossing their heads furiously as they emerged from the portal. They seemed to withstand the disorientation of the portal better even than the vampires, which was a mercy, for ill horses would be far more difficult to logistically manage.

Kain was forced to wait for his chance to duck back through the portal -- there was no telling what might happen if he ran into a man or animal coming the other way in that haze of conflicting temporal magic.

The jolting passage was brief, and Kain found himself standing dizzily, face-to-face with a startled young Razielim who led another train of animals. Kain managed to order the vampire to continue, and staggered aside. There was the large, complex dial that opened the chronoplast -- if Kain was reading it aright, there were but a few minutes left before this portal closed. It was difficult to be certain whilst he was so disoriented, whilst his head seemed stuffed with humidity and lightning.

Raziel was only a pace or two behind his sire, and he dropped out of the portal neatly between one moment and the next. There was a brief moment of dizziness, but it passed in a moment, and then he was moving to Kain's side. "Stop the next line of horses," he ordered the subcommander organizing them up the ramp. "How many warriors and horses remain?"

"I believe about six to seven hundred men remain, sire," the vampire replied, bowing. "And another hundred horses, at least."

His clan had made swifter progress than he'd hoped. Pleased, Raziel glanced at Kain. "Do you wish to reactivate the chronoplast when it shuts down?" he asked politely. As if on cue, the portal sputtered, then dissolved as the magic that animated it disappeared.

“I do indeed,” Kain nodded, touching a clawtip to a marking around the rim. “The main dial here, correct?” He knew well enough the workings of the device, of course, and needed no confirmation, but Raziel had no need to know the extent of his abilities in this particular regard. Of rather more importance... if Kain was going to reset the chronoplast for just over a year in the past, if he was going to return to interrupt the injustice inflicted upon Raziel... Kain would have to make certain the elder left him here, alone.

"Correct. Simply reset it to this point," Raziel replied, unaware of Kain's motives. It took only a few more moments for the new charge to build--and then the wave of temporal energy washed outward into the air, rippling as it settled into the active portal once more. Raziel turned to the waiting fledglings with their lines of horses. "Get them through," he told the subcommander. "We will have need of them soon enough." For the moment, he decided to stay here and ensure the remainder of his clan were safely through. Between Anani, Gershom and the others, he did not doubt they had the battle well in hand. There was little need for him to flit between times like a demented bat.

Kain watched as the portal blasted open, as the last of the men, horses, and supplies began moving through. It quickly became obvious that Raziel was not planning on joining them. Kain shifted his weight from foot to foot. His gaze traced the places upon the dial he would have to reposition, in order to travel a mere year into the past, rather than many ages. After a few more moments, Kain scrubbed at a patch of spattered blood which had dried and now itched. An odd sense of... electric unease coiled at the back of his brain, setting him on edge as much as did the chicanery he was soon to attempt. “There is little cause to remain here, Raziel. I can ensure the rest of the men make the passage.”

Raziel slanted him an amused glance. "Anani and the others have the battle well in hand, Kain. I would rather remain and ensure that we *all* go through safely." The last of the horses was making their way through the portal even as he spoke, with the remaining companies of Razielim forming up behind them. Raziel was not about to point out the trouble Kain inevitably seemed to get into whenever they separated--but he wasn't about to allow his sire to go wandering off on his own either.

The last of the horses, kicking and snorting, was led through. With a nod from Raziel, the subcommander led the last contingent of relief troops into the portal, the armored vampires going through three and four abreast. It still took some time to oversee the progression of several hundred warriors--but in the end they all disappeared, sent back in time to rejoin their brethren.

Turning away from the chronoplast controls, Raziel mounted the portal platform. "It appears our work in this time is done, Kain." He glanced back at his sire. "Shall go, then, and see if they have left any Sarafan for us?"

Kain nodded firmly. "After you," he offered, moving as if to join Raziel. He could terminate the existing portal in seconds, simply by resetting the time. Once that was done... well. Kain had the will and the weapons to carry off even such a feat as he planned now.

Kain glanced back to the chronoplast dial, making certain of its settings... and something caught his eye. A flash of movement, perhaps, or a glint of red, or perhaps the electric itching that coiled at the corners of his senses. Kain turned -- and sucked in a hard breath.

Leaning casually against the open archway of the chamber, arms folded and horned head tilted, stood the demon that had cast Kain into Haven.

With a last glance, Raziel was about to step forward and do just that--when an unmistakeable aura washed over him, a black, electric-shot wave so potent it threatened to swamp him entirely. Every hair on his neck lifted; for Raziel knew that aura. Knew there was only one creature who had ever possessed it.

He spun in place, the wraithblade beginning to spark on his arm even before he caught sight of the figure lounging at the far side of the chamber.

"Kain." As much a growl as a name, it was discernably *not* directed at the too-young figure of his sire that stood by the Chronoplast controls. Raziel moved away from the portal, body tense. The illusions sparked by the darkmagic trap in Sanctuary were still not far from his mind, and even knowing their falsity, he still found himself half-expecting this elder Kain to arrive dripping with the blood of his brethren.

The demonic figure gave Raziel's greeting a bare nod, golden eyes narrowed in sardonic amusement. "Raziel. I see 'I' have been keeping you quite busy of late."

The moment Raziel began to move, that struck and perhaps even horrified expression on his face -- Raziel's waryness confirmed Kain's ire, made him stand forward, snarling, fangs displayed in his fury. And then Raziel spoke. And his jaw dropped. "What?" Kain demanded, his gaze sliding to... himself? Raziel had said Kain would become, in many respects, unrecognizeable. But to grow so twisted, so strikingly monstrous, smooth white skin replaced by plated tan-green dermis, elegant bones distended and spiked....

Kain spared his younger self no more than the barest shadow of a wry glance, as if he knew perfectly well what he had once been thinking -- which, to be sure, was not outside the realm of possibility. Pushing lightly off the wall, Kain stalked forward, slowly, every motion of his gait contained force and the potential for devastating speed. His mirrored gold gaze, however, was fixed upon Raziel -- as perhaps was the attention of the blade he bore. The Reaver upon his back, a twin to his younger self's, crackled as it answered the same call that summoned the weapon to coil around Raziel's forearm.

A hiss of sudden fear escaping his lips, Kain darted forward, to intercept the, the... himself. He seized the identical Reaver from its extradimensional pocket, and ran to intercept. "Return whence you came; I'll afford no other warning," Kain snarled, leveling the point of the Reaver.

His elder self addressed Kain for the first time, lifting a hand. "And leave us to our half-considered machinations? I think... not." His massive, three-clawed fist closed.

Kain had an instant to gasp a protest as he felt the latent strands of magic about him tighten -- and then he was wrenched upwards, in very familliar telekinetic bonds, the Reaver clattering from his loose grasp.

Kain's sudden movement made Raziel overcome his shock and lurch into action, lunging forward in an attempt to do ... what, he did not know exactly. He did not know why the Kain of this time should suddenly appear now. All he could think of was that the younger Kain should not fight his elder self--and most especially, the two Reaver blades should not meet! If they did, the history they had taken such pains to create could be wiped away in an instant ...

Fast as Raziel was, he was not fast enough. Not to cover the distance already between them, and certainly not fast enough to prevent the younger Kain's sudden capture. The keening of no less than *three* embodiments of the Reaver warped the space around the Chronoplast, all of them keening, tugging at each other and the moorings that held his soul, trying to devour, to become whole once again. The air eddied around them all, reality shivering and twisting under the onslaught.

The elder Kain had anticipated this; knew it for what it was. An idle flick of his other hand, and Raziel was caught in midair and flung backwards by a telekinetic bolt, crashing into the wall near the still-active portal. Rolling to his knees, Raziel shook off his dizziness, forcing away the disorientation caused by being so close to his other 'selves'.

"...half-considered machinations? What are you--" he could not finish the question, not even sure *which* Kain he was addressing it to.

"Come, Raziel," Kain's voice was just as deep as his younger self's, but seemed more resonant from a deeper chest, and the tone was infinitely more sardonic. "Did you imagine that permitting us to learn the workings of the chronoplasts would have no repercussions?"

Caught in the telekinetic grip, Kain did his best to writhe, choking, his breath cut off. The coil of invisible energy around his throat did him no real harm, of course, but between that and his near total inability to move, he could work no magics. Leveling a hate-filled glare across the chamber was more or less all he could manage: this creature, the thing that Kain would become, did not deserve an empire -- did not deserve Raziel. And most certainly did not deserve free rein to meddle in the streams of time, casting Kain to that false Haven.

Kain tightened his telekinetic grasp minutely. “Recall that we have, to your date, a rather poor record of favorably altering the path of history, stripling,” he growled. “Your intervention in Raziel’s fate would be an unmitigated disaster, you may be certain.” Kain’s eyes narrowed fractionally, as if considering.

Raziel's eyes widened at that quasi-admission. "You ... he thought to intervene?" The thought of a younger Kain fighting his way into the scene of Raziel's execution, armed with the Reaver--both warmed his heart and horrified him at its implications. He looked between the two faces--one furious, one sardonically resigned--for a moment, struck again by the irony of it all.

"What do you intend?" he said warily. If it were any other, he would have feared for their life in Kain's capricious hands--but an elder Kain would not be so foolish as to cause lasting harm to his younger self. "You did not prevent my Razielim from leaving this time--and we still have the Hylden to fight, as you will doubtless recall." For no doubt this Kain *did*--how else would he have known what his younger self was planning?

"Your clan, Raziel? I trust you do not mistake my temperance for sanction.” Kain snorted, a husky exhalation. His gaze settled, stony and heavy and so very old, across Raziel for a single long moment. “They are simply immaterial.” Kain gestured. With a now-familiar flash of blue, his captive vanished -- as well as the third of the Reaver's incarnations, from where it crackled to itself upon the floor. With no further explanation, Kain turned on his heel to leave.

Feeling the weight of that gaze settle like a familiar yoke upon his shoulders, Raziel climbed to his feet, facing his sire--watching him leave. "You mistake me, Kain," he said quietly. He knew his clan had simply been a means to an end for Kain. Often, he thought the same could have been said for he and his brothers as well.

"What do you intend--for your younger self?" Raziel repeated, casting the question at that broad, indifferent back. "The Hylden are still waiting ... and the Powers of Haven have their hooks in you now as Chosen." Did Kain truly mean to just ... walk away? From Haven, from the oath he swore for the Razielim ... from Raziel himself?

Kain stilled a moment. The corner of his mouth tightened, a small, sardonic smirk. "I mistake very little, Raziel -- and you, not at all." The answers to Raziel's questions were, for the most part, self-evident, even if Kain understood Raziel's motivation in asking. The Hylden would be addressed; that, after all, was Raziel's end of their bargain, when Kain had first asked after retrieving his clan. And surely Raziel knew better than to suppose Kain meant to nursemaid capable adult vampires, to stand beside them through every trial. Kain had never done that even for his own children. His constant support would only have ensured their weakness.

Still... Kain seemed to consider. "You and I will cross paths again; of that you may be assured. For the time being, I am returning myself whence I can cause little harm." That last was spoken with a certain, very dry, amusement.

Raziel absorbed those words ... and after a moment, inclined his head minutely in acknowledgment. "Very well." Much as Raziel wanted to argue, to demand that Kain see through what he had started, he knew how little it would avail him, and he had too much pride to cling to his sire's cloak like some human child. He did not know what Tarrant would say when Raziel returned alone, but that was the Powers' problem, not his.

He had known that this too-young incarnation of his sire would have to eventually return to his own time. He had just not expected it to be so soon.

Turning, Raziel mounted the platform once again. "Farewell, Kain," he said, refusing to look at his sire--and stepped through, letting the whirl of magic take him away from the Empire once again.

If Kain made any answer, the howl of magic around and through Raziel blotted it out.

 

*****

 

Alone in the echoing chamber, illuminated by the dance and flare of the portal and the crackling light of the Reaver upon his back, Kain waited, for several long moments.

Kain lifted a heavy, three-clawed hand. The underlying weave of Power that permeated the whole of Nosgoth responded to his will, and the stones above shuddered. Solidly placed by the Ancients and reinforced with layers of protective magics, yet still they shuddered. A single swift wrenching movement, and the entire chronoplast caved in, the light in the portal blinking out with a terrible snapping crack, the whirling device overhead snapping, crumbling. Cascading sand and soil obscured the lingering flare of a teleportation spell.

Now than the chamber had been opened, this was the surest and safest way to seal it. And if the act was more viciously thorough than it need have been, there was no one left to see.