“No, I do not see it,” Kain said, squinting downward.
They stood together at the windswept top of a very tall, black, strangely-spiked tower. The cracking dome of Hylden energies was nearby, and the territory all around the tower had been laid waste -- the energies of Haven sapped to the very bone. A handful of demonic guard patrols moved like ants far below, terrorizing the few placeholders who wandered the crumbling streets.
Kain had obtained armor and clothing, as well as a number of useful, mundane items. The merchants of Haven seemed to have some protection against theft of magical objects, and so Kain had acquired but few of those. His efforts towards reconnaissance and assembling a stronger defense had so far absorbed nearly every moment not spent feeding. The strong breeze fluttered at a corner of a large map of the area, which was pinned to the rooftop with stones.
"There," Raziel said, pointing. His eyes, raptor-keen, had picked out an area that shouldered up next to the Hylden's warded fortress, where the energies had twisted strangely. Crumbling like all the rest of the region, the decay of *this* particular area had somehow undermined the foundation of the Hylden fortifications, to their detriment. The demon patrols had not noticed the weakness--or if they had, their limited intelligence had not led them to take any action on it.
"See it? Just north of blue-painted building, near the dead tree. A small advance force might be able to penetrate there."
Kain’s eyes narrowed as he spotted the place. He inclined his head slightly, considering the terrain. “And t’would have to be an advance force, for without a phalanx behind it to draw fire, the unit would be subject to bombardment from those crags... there.” Kain was painfully aware that he and Raziel might literally be the only allied combatants on the field, depending on the support that could be mustered, and the Powers’ whim. Kain sighed, pinning the fluttering edge of the map underfoot. “I begin to think it unlikely that the gate can be closed from this side, at all.”
"If only we could muster more warriors, then we might stand a chance," Raziel agreed, frustration lending an edge to his words. "But the Chosen are too fractious, the Powers too arrogant, and the placeholders? Far too feeble." He growled low in his throat.
Kain tilted his head back, idly tracing the patterns of the arching spires that adorned the top of the tower. “Placeholders could be of some use as bait. If one were to lead a contingent of them back to Nosgoth... tell me, were you able to explore the Hylden’s defenses there?” Raziel must have viewed them, to some extent, when he’d retrieved Kain.
"Somewhat, though I was a bit ... rushed," Raziel admitted. "They are formidable. In Meridian they are so firmly entrenched that it would take a true army to shake them loose, and a well-warded army at that. In the outlying areas ... less so, though the effects of their presence have begun to make themselves known." He had not forgotten that unnatural draining of the land itself, seen through Taiki's eyes--there was no doubt that the Hylden were at the center of it, bloated spiders, spinning their webs ever further.
“There, at least, the Hylden have not the advantage of the energies they wring from Haven,” Kain pointed out. This world, built of easily-manipulated power, had fallen prey to the Hylden most easily. Any true world, even Nosgoth, would perforce crumble much more slowly. “Even a small force might stand a better chance in Nosgoth.” Kain’s eyes slid to Raziel. “And there, the possibility exists of raising the necessary manpower.”
"Raising in what sense?" Raziel said in puzzlement, missing Kain's hidden meaning. "Surely you cannot think that a peasant army would stand a chance against the likes of demons--or allow themselves to be led by vampires, even if they were?"
Kain shook his head. He disliked broaching the subject -- Kain had so often failed to create fledglings himself.... “You once mentioned that you were part of a clan, did you not?”
His shoulders stiffened as Raziel turned to face Kain fully. "That clan does not exist," he said sharply. "Not in your time." Nor any other .... He bit back the bitter words. Surely Kain realized that much, at least? Unless ... "You wish me to create new fledglings?"
Kain watched the reaction carefully. Something had happened to Raziel’s clan... but then, it also seemed that Raziel knew the means of siring fledglings. “Would that prove difficult?” he inquired.
"It could be done--*if* I were willing to do so. I am not," Raziel said coldly. "Even if I were, it would be years--decades even--before they would be of any more use than your average conscripted peasant. They would be nothing but meat for the demons."
Kain grit his teeth briefly. He could hardly force Raziel into siring... there would be little purpose in doing so, in any case, if Raziel’s fledglings were no stronger than Kain had been, as a neonate. Deep in thought, he idly adjusted the buckles on one bracer. “What, then, of your clan? They could be retrieved from the future using the timestreaming chamber -- and brought into my present.”
"That is not possible," Raziel snapped without thinking. "You cannot just yank an entire *clan* from--" He stopped short, a revelation striking him down like a lightning bolt.
His clan was dead. Wiped from the face of Nosgoth.
With the timestreaming chamber, one could travel forward--and back--in time.
His clan *had* no future. If taken in those last days before their extinction ... and preserved in another time ...
Could the Razielim truly live, even prosper, in the past? Not in the time of which Kain spoke, of course--that would preclude the Empire, and create another paradox. But what of another, distant enough in time and space to ensure their safety?
Turning on his heel, Raziel stared blindly at the noxious green wards of the Hylden's fortress, ignoring Kain entirely as he tried to absorb the ramifications of this new, unexpected possibility.
Kain watched silently for a few long moments. “And why not?” he prompted at last. “If the chambers have not been destroyed in your time, then they should be accessible.” ‘Should’ being the operative; Kain had never actually used one of the chambers successfully. That damned, demonic Power with its false Reaver had halted Kain, when he’d tried.
"It might--be possible," Raziel whispered, still without looking at him. "It might be possible, and if they could *live* ..."
The notion struck a certain amount of unease -- would Raziel’s sire be among that clan? Fledglings Raziel had raised? “You believe they would be an effective fighting force, then?” Kain asked, unwilling to permit the subject to drift too far afield.
Taken by surprise at the sheer absurdity of the question, Raziel blinked--then gave a harsh bark of laughter. "Effective? Oh yes--there are none more effective in Nosgoth, Kain. Of that you have my word."
Kain nodded, considering. He disliked the necessity of asking, but... “What manner of calamity befell them, precisely?” If Raziel’s clan had perished in the effort to accomplish something -- something that was vital to the flow of history -- then removing them to another era might well be problematic. If they had fallen to a natural disaster, however, or even better still simply disappeared, Kain saw little reason not to utilize them now.
Raziel's face was stony. He had been expecting the question, but that did not make it any easier to answer. Not when it was his sire and his clan's killer asking it.
"They were ... hunted down by the other vampire clans, after their lord was executed. There were no survivors."
Save Raziel, of course, Kain thought. He shrugged slightly. “Then in the chaos, no one will notice if they simply vanish from your era. They’re there, we need them, let us go retrieve them.” Kain crouched to remove the stones from his map, and began rolling it into a neat tube. “Would you prefer to collect a pair of return amulets from the Powers, or shall I?”
Raziel raised an eyebrow at Kain's sudden decision. "You overstep yourself, Kain. I will not take them from one killing field just to have them die in another. If you are to have your army, I require certain ... assurances."
“And which assurances those?” Kain asked, tapping the end of the tube to even it, before slipping it into a scroll case. Did Raziel have doubts about his clan’s abilities to unseat the Hylden?
"I require your oath, Kain. That if I bring my clan from their time in order to fight for you, that after the battles are won, that you will aid me in taking them to an era in which they can live unmolested. Swear to me that however long your life, regardless of my eventual fate, you will never forsake them." Raziel's voice was iron-hard, uncompromising. "If you do--then you may have your army."
Kain considered Raziel’s words seriously. “You have my oath that I shall look after them, and never forsake them. But while they may inhabit any given era for many years... they may not remain there indefinitely.” Kain could not, for example, permit the clan to cross into an era in which Raziel might exist, after all. Perhaps they could eventually be moved to the future, or...
Raziel eyed him narrowly. "What do you mean by that, precisely?" He was long past trusting Kain on such matters ...
“When would you move them to?” Kain asked. “A time and a place they might thrive... and yet not interfere with your own rebirth. If the distant past, they might live until the Sarafan purges of the early 400’s.” Thinking rapidly, Kain removed a writing utensil from a dimensional pocket, and crouched down once more with the long scroll case. He drew a line down its length, notating some few of the major events in Nosgoth’s history, including his own misguided time-traveling. “Tell me... could they be taken to any part of Nosgoth’s future? Sometime after their lord perished.”
"It might be possible, but--Nosgoth is dying," Raziel reminded him. "Is *still* dying, even in my time, the Pillars still broken. Until the balance can be restored, any future time is likely to be bleak at best--demon-infested at worse." He crouched down, opposite of Kain, and touched a talon to the beginning of that line. "The past, on the other hand, is longer than you think--perhaps they can be taken to a time long before the Sarafan. Perhaps ... even the time of the Ancients, or before. Some remote place, near enough to humans to survive, somehow ..."
Kain frowned thoughtfully. “I believe that the timestreaming chambers were crafted as adjuncts to the pillar of time. The earliest it should be possible to move... would be shortly after the pillars were first crafted, to seal the Hylden away.” Kain paused, sitting back on his heels, and touched a finger at an arbritary mark, just past the end of the case. “How long ago were the pillars raised?”
"That I do not know," Raziel admitted. It made sense, though, that the power of the timestreaming chambers would not extend past the power of the Pillar that fuelled them. "Only Janos--or perhaps Vorador--would truly know, I think."
And Kain had been unable to locate Vorador. “Do we seek them first, then? For if the early era of the pillars is a short span, less than a thousand years perhaps, your clan might not be safe there -- nor unobtructive of history -- for long.”
"Any time is longer than they have now," Raziel said grimly. "And seeking Janos or Vorador in this time is problematic. We might be best served by simply seeing how far the timestreaming chamber will take us into Nosgoth's history--and then making our plans from there."
Kain nodded. “Very well -- such an excursion might be swiftest, in any case.” Once they reached the past, a little time and a full view of the night’s stars should reveal how long ago they’d been sent, and how safe it would be to leave Raziel’s kin there. And... Kain did have to admit a certain interest in the Ancients themselves -- their architecture was so magnificent, how glorious would it be to view them in person? “You and I should both equip ourselves as thoroughly as possible. And we must still seek... permission to utilize the CDC’s portals.”
Raziel growled a little at that, but nodded. "Unfortunately, you are right. I think we should tell them only that we wish to return to Nosgoth, and naught of what we intend there. I do not know if they would attempt to prevent us, or if it is beyond their concern--but I do not want to take the risk."
“They may be receptive to the argument of closing the portal from the other side,” Kain stated. In the Powers’ view, it was probably unlikely that either of the vampires could cause further trouble, no matter when or where they went. Still, Raziel did have a good point. “Do you prefer to approach the Powers, or shall I? Or both of us?”
"How much time will you need to prepare?" Given the new inhabitant of Raziel's castle, he supposed he should be gracious enough to let Dio know of his coming absence ...
“A few hours, methinks, unless the negotiations with the Powers drag on.” Kain said. He should be able to obtain a few more magical devices in that time. “I will speak with them. Shall we meet back here... at moonset, near dawn?”
"I think I will need at least a day--but no more." Raziel sat back on his heels, and pondered their makeshift timeline. "I wonder--if we do encounter the Ancients, whether we would be treated as interlopers or kin?" The Ancient vampires did not seem to be as predatory as those sired by Kain--but then, Raziel only had Janos for an example. Who knew what the Ancients were truly like?
Kain raised an eyebrow. “So it is true, then? The Ancients are the oldest of vampires? And... Janos is one amongst them?”
"They were--the oldest that I know of, at least. Their immortality and blood thirst was born of a curse, however, and not their own innate natures," Raziel replied. "Janos was the last. He was ... a noble spirit, and undeserving of his fate."
Despite the urgency of the mission, Kain could not help but sit and listen, and ask to hear more, the faintest edge of regret perhaps touching his tone. He’d never had a chance to meet the famed Ancients; they sounded so different from the common human portrayal. It would be an astounding experience, to actually meet those creatures of legend.