Blood Reign
by d_Galloway

Chapter 1: a Price

I slowly rode my way into the hamlet of Ziegsturhl. The only thought that crossed my mind was how pathetic this excuse for a settlement was. A few small buildings, the largest of which was a pub, hardly constituted as anything. If it were not for my dire situation, I would have never even thought about entering such a place.

I tethered my horse to a tree near the entrance of the hamlet and entered the pub. Like the rest of this god-forsaken settlement, it was nearly empty. The few patrons did not even lay an eye upon me; they were too busy with the ladies of the night. I took a seat by the bar.

"The tavern is closing!" shouted the bartender. "Go back to your homes, men!" Everyone else left, except for me.

"What?" I shouted. "No mug of ale for a weary traveller? I could reward you greatly, for I am from Coorhagen and am of noble blood."

"I stay open for no man in these dark times," replied the bartender. "Things come with the night that no sane man would welcome."

I sighed, then left, cold of heart and stone, into the long, bitter night.


As I made my way out of the tavern, I felt that something was wrong. I turned towards my horse, only to find it brutally mutilated. Large carts were turned over, blocking the only exits out of the hamlet. Then I heard someone shout, "There he is! Get him!"

I turned, and saw lowly brigands rushing out from all sides. They were lowly brigands, not worthy of being struck by my blade, but I had no choice. I drew my sword and shouted my battle cry, "Vae Victus!"

One of the brigands charged at me, only to fall when my sword went straight through his chest. I then sliced open two others in one stroke, then stabbed another from behind. And yet, the brigands still threw themselves at me. They were pathetic, unwilling to realize how outmatched they were. I raised my sword to strike the last few of my attackers down.

Then I felt something strike my back, followed by a sharp stabbing pain. I fell to the ground as the last of my attackers backed away. I could hear one shout, "Finish it!"

Then I felt something stab straight through my body. Pain washed all over me, then I felt nothing as darkness consumed me.


I found myself chained to two pillars. Around me was fire and molten rock. I looked down, and saw an iron sword stuck through my body. It was no doubt the same weapon that had struck me down.

I looked across the endless horizon. Vae Victus..."suffering to the conquered." How ironic, I thought. Now I was the one that was suffering. It was nothing simple like physical pain; rather, it was a cruel jab of impotent anger, the hunger for revenge. I didn't care if I was in Heaven or Hell; all I wanted was to kill my assassins.

"Imagine this," said a haunty voice from behind. "Kain, nobleman of Coorhagen, trapped in the eternal abyss. How pathetic."

"Who dares to speak of me like that?" I shouted. "I was overpowered by an entire army of assassins!"

"Oh, really?" said the voice. "Then explain this." I felt the sword being pulled out from behind. It wasn't a feeling of pain, though; it was only a tingling sensation.

Finally, my mysterious speaker appeared in front of me. He was a tall, bony man with a black robe and clothing that seemed to be made out of human bone. He freed me from my chains, then said, "I will give you what you wish: revenge on those that murdered you."

"How could you offer me such a thing?" I said.

"Patience, Kain," he said. "I am Mortanius the Necromancer. I can return you from the grave, at a price."

"I care not for what the price is!" I shouted. "I seek nothing but revenge! I will destroy my murderers!"

"Of course you will!" said Mortanius. "Now, we shall begin..." I then felt pain for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. I felt my body quiver and shake with newfound power. My hair began to turn a disturbing shade of white, while my teeth began to transform into fangs. Mortanius handed me the sword my attackers had used, and before I could help myself, I licked the blood caked onto it.

"What is this?" I shouted.

"I have returned you from the grave," said Mortanius. "Now, pass through the flames, and you will return to the land of the living." I rose to my feet and staggered through fire and magma, finding that it did not damage me as I wore my new armor.

The necromancer laughed behind me. "You will have the blood you hunger for."


I found myself in a cold, stone coffin. Normally, it would take a great deal of strength to lift such the lid of such a thing, but I was able to throw it clean off with one nudge. I climbed out of the grave, finding that someone had recently opened it. I never doubted for a second that the necromancer had a hand in this development.

I looked at my pale body, examining the many changes I had endured. The necromancer was right; I had been restored at a price. In my foolishness, I had not realized what this price was. I had awakened to the pain of a new a vampire.


Chapter 2: Blood and Revenge

I opened the door to my tomb and entered the mausoleum. Lying at my feet, however, was a scroll. When I examined it, I found a series of arcane runes written in a strange pattern. The only english words were at the bottom. They read:

"This spell is linked to your grave, and will allow you to return to rest if you become weak. I hope it will aid you."

I smiled. The necromancer had promised me much, it seemed. I decided to call this the "Sanctuary" spell, because of its function.

I continued through the mausoleum, until I found a gravedigger. He raised his head from his menial task and looked straight at me, then gasped. "A...a monster!" he shrieked, before raising his shovel and swinging at my head. I smashed the shovel with one punch, then sliced the gravedigger's head off with one clean slice. A fountain of blood erupted from his body. Filled with my unholy hunger, I raised my head and allowed the blood to flow into my mouth.

My thirst quenched, I continued my way, until I was finally out of the accursed mausoleum. The first thing I noticed when I exited the cold, dark tomb, however, was the terrible feeling I felt when I entered the unforgiving light for the first time. I had not expected such cruelty, even after discovering about my curse. Then, as I continued down the path, it began to rain. As the water hit the back of my neck, I felt the flesh begin to burn and cinder. I then remembered that water is acidic to vampires, and thus ducked into a smaller tomb until the rain stopped.

I decided to explore the tomb more thoroughly. A few gravediggers tried to stop me, but they did little more than quench my appetite. Then, to my horror, I found a young woman chained to a wall, as if someone had decided to throw her into this portal to hell simply for their cruel amusement.

"Please!" she shouted. "Help me!" I admired her beauty, her flawless complexion. She was perfect in every way. That is why I did not hesitate to sink my teeth into her neck. She squirmed briefly, then slumped lifelessly against the wall. Just a short walk away from her, though, I spied a small satchel. When I opened it, I found a series of curious devices, shaped like a three-pointed star with blades.

I remembered these objects from a weaponsmith in Coorhagen. They were called flails, small throwing weapons capable of ripping the flesh clean off a man's bones. Thanking my luck for these small weapons, I pocketed them before leaving through a secret passage leading out of the cemetary.

The rain had stopped, and the clouds parted, revealing a full moon. The darkness seemed to empower me, making me stronger than I thought possible. The wind picked up a familiar stench from the woods in the distance. In life, I would have not regarded such a thing, but now, I could tell exactly what that stench was. It was the smell of my assassins.

I raised my sword in preperation. My hunger was growing again, and I had a specific meal in mind this time. I made my way into the woods, until I was right next to the source of the stench. I ducked behind a tree, and saw my assassins, all drunk and resting.

"Can you believe how easy that bastard went down?" I heard one say.

"That guy was such a wimp," said another. "We've had harder times than that."

I cursed their bragging. I had slaughtered many of their kind; they only killed me because I was stabbed from behind. They were cowards...and cowards do not deserve to live. I grabbed a tree branch and purposely snapped it in half.

The brigands looked up from their pathetic drinks. One of them picked up his sword and approached the trees I was hiding behind. His expression when he saw me was breathtaking. My sword went straight through his neck, sending his head rolling down his body.

The others rose to their feet and charged. "What matter of sorcery is this?" shouted one of them.

"We killed him once," shouted another. "We can do it again!"

Not even I can remember exactly what occured during the carnage. Limbs flew everywhere, screams drowned out all other noise, the ground was soaked in spilled blood, and all other signs of death filled that one spot. When it was over, my assassins were dead.

I filled myself on their blood, content with the knowledge that the bastards that killed me were banished to hell. My vengence was complete...

"Not so fast, Kain." I could hear that blasted necromancer's voice ringing in my head. "Those fools were only the instruments of your murder, not the cause. Seek out their masters. Seek out the pillars..."


Chapter 3: The Pillars of Nosgoth

I pondered the necomancer's words briefly. The only pillars such a man could mean were the Pillars of Nosgoth. In my many journeys, I had never seen anything as beautiful as the pillars, and yet, many spoke of strange powers and occurances at the bases of those very objects. When I was alive, I did not give any attention to these wild claims, but after being cursed with vampirism, having walked through the flames of Hell itself, I no longer had the will to doubt any possibility.

I walked down the road. I began to note many of my new abilities; I could see perfectly well in the pitch-black night, and my strength seemed to be restored as I finished sucking the blood out of a body I had dragged along. I discarded the corpse in the nearby water. Then I spied a small wooden sign, next to a stone bridge. It pointed to the east, and simply said, "Ziegsturhl." The town I was murdered in...

I followed the road, until I was back in the pathetic town. A few young women were conversing by the tavern window, oblivious to my presence. That is, until I snapped one of their necks from behind. The others tried to scream, but I quickly finished them with one slash from my sword. I then drank their fresh blood.

I walked into a nearby house. A fat, slobbering drunk and his dirt-stained wife were eating a pathetic meal of moldy bread and filthy water. The man stood and grabbed an axe, but blocked his swing with one hand and ripped out his heart with the other. I then took the axe and threw it at his cowering wife. It imbedded itself straight into her neck.

I left the corpses, now drained completely of blood, lying on the porch. It seemed I had effectively taken care of half of the hamlet's population. That left only the tavern. I smashed the doors open with one kick. The patrons rose to their feet in horror.

"What do you think you're doing, stranger!" shouted a lowly whore. "Get out!" She walked up and slapped me across the face. Not unexpectantly, I felt nothing from her strike, and returned her hatred with a smile. Then I sliced her in half.

The others jumped at me, each one carrying some sort of makeshift weapon. The tavern owner cowered behind his counter. I tore my attackers apart, then drank what little blood I could salvage from them. The tavern owner crawled back as I approached.

"Please, no!" he shouted. I reached into the satchel I had procurred in the crypt and removed three of the flails.

"When I was a man," I said, "you denied me a simple mug of ale. You were worried that 'creatures of the night' would come and kill you. Well..." I threw the flails. One ripped his head off, one tore open his chest, causing his organs to spill out onto the floor, and the third shevered his manhood from his body.

"...I guess one did," I finished. I grabbed some oil-soaked rags from a corner of the tavern and lit them ablaze with some flint and my sword. The tavern began to burn almost instantly. I walked away from the carnage, and the hamlet, feeling much more relieved.

I continued down the road. Only a few foolish brigands dared to attack me; most stayed as far away from me and my bloodied sword and teeth. Finally, I reached a cliff, which overlooked the distant pillars.

Once again, I was entranced by their beauty. It seemed that even vampires were not incapable of emotion. However, something was very wrong. I could feel a sense of sorrow and dread resonating from the pillars. Still, I pressed on, oblivious to what was awaiting me.

After nearly an hour of stopless walking, I reached the Pillars of Nosgoth. Their imposing forms were stained black and cracked, as if they would crumble at any second. On each was inscribed a symbol, for which that pillar would stand: the Pillars of the Mind, Conflict, Nature, Energy, States, Dimension, Time, Death, and Balance. They were arranged so that the Pillar of Balance would lie in the middle of the great stone platform, while the other eight would surround the sides.

However, it was not the pillars that caught my gaze this time; rather, it was the apparation that was floating among them. I instantly recognized it as a ghost, a spirit trapped to this world through either anger or grief. From what I could tell, it seemed to be the latter in this case. The ghost was a woman, with a long dress that seemed to cover her legs. Her face was partly-rotted off, her hair was old and twisted, and her gaze seemed to stare into what little soul I had left.

"Look upon the Pillars!" she moaned. "See the destruction that has been wrought onto the world!" She turned away from me. "Nupraptor, your madness has shattered our dreams and blinded you."

"Shut up, spirit," I shouted, "or I'll send you back to Hell!"

The ghost turned back towards me. "There is nothing to fear from me, vampire," she said. "I am merely a shadow of my former self: Ariel, Guardian of the Pillar of Balance, a member of the Circle of Nine. Still, I can provide you with the answers you seek..."

"All I seek is a cure for my curse!" I shouted.

"There is no cure for death," said Ariel. "There is only release. If you can help restore the Pillars of Nosgoth to their former glory, you will be able to find peace at last."

"What do you mean?" I asked. "Were not the pillars always like so?"

"No," she replied. "When I was alive, I was a member of the Circle of Nine, the Protectors of Hope. Our mission was to preserve the Pillars of Nosgoth, in order to maintain order in all of Nosgoth. For countless millenia, the Circle of Nine has existed. When a Guardian finally died, after hundreds of years of extended life, a new Guardian was born; the others would then seek this child out and train him or her to be a Guardian. It was the perfect order of things.

"The problems began five hundred years ago. In order to exterminate the threat that the Circle perceived the undead to be, they created the Sarafan, a devote order of warrior monks who exterminated all forms of undead. Eventually, they tracked down and killed Janos Auldron, who was said to have been the greatest vampire to have ever existed.

"This, in turn, angered the vampire Vorador, who was rumored to be descended from Janos himself. He broke into the Circle's stronghold and attacked them. Their defender, Malek, Guardian of Conflict, was not there at the time of the attack, and as a result, six members were killed. When Malek finally arrived, Vorador defeated him, but left him to suffer the wrath of his masters. The only other two surviving members of the Circle condemned his soul to be forever sealed inside his armor, thus making him the Circle's permenant defender.

"While this blow was severe, the Circle continued to thrive. Many years ago, I was chosen to be the Guardian of the Pillar of Balance. When I met my fellow Guardians, I fell in love with the Guardian of the Mind, the mentalist Nupraptor. He, in turn, fell madly in love with me. Then one night, I was ambushed and murdered. My feet were sliced off, half of my face was burned away, and I suffered numerous stab wounds. When it was over, there was a horrific, bloody mess.

"Nupraptor found my body, and went mad with grief. Seeing nothing but pain and death around him, he sewed his eyes and mouth shut, leaving only his mental powers to communicate with the outside world. He then sensed that a member of the Circle had orchestrated my murder, and in a blind act of revenge, brought his insanity onto each of the other members. They soom turned their agendas away from doing good and towards acts of evil and greed.

"The Pillars represent the mental state of each Guardian. When Nupraptor committed his revenge, the Pillars instantly turned black and cracked from the corruption. They continue to decay even now. Due to the current state of the Pillars, another Guardian was never born, which leaves only one possible action."

"You wish to have me kill Nupraptor," I concluded. "If it will free me from this nightmare, then so be it."

"Please, bring peace to Nosgoth," said Ariel.

"I care nothing for Nosgoth!" I shouted. "I do this only for myself!"

"Then do it for yourself," said Ariel. "Find and kill Nupraptor, then bring the item that binds him to the Pillar back here to restore it. You will find it by searching for something unusual on his person. He is in his Retreat to the northeast. Beware the Unspoken..." She then faded away before my eyes.

I walked away from the pillars, and thus, my quest for Nupraptor began...


Chapter 4: The Search for Nupraptor

I continued down the long road, until I reached a strange shrine. On the front steps lay a scroll, which I promptly open. Once again, my "friend" the necromancer had left me something.

"One of a vampire's greatest powers is the ability to shapeshift. There are four forms a vampire can assume. The first is the bat form, which when invoked will allow you to transform into a flurry of bats that can reach any place in Nosgoth with ease. However, it is best that you know the area first, lest you get lost in the middle of a swamp or rainstorm. Use it wisely. Inside this shrine lies another skill."

I smiled as the incantation at the bottom of the paper was etched into my mind. The necromancer really HAD thought of everything. He really wished me to suceed.

I stepped inside, and saw a scroll resting on an altar. I opened the scroll, taking note of the seal on the paper. It was no doubt the necromancer's "calling card".

"Inscribed is a magical spell, handed down by the ancient magi through the centuries. While natural light weakens a vampire, this spell creates a halo of magical light, which allows you to see in the darkest places without any drain on your power." I decided to call this the "Magical Light" spell.

I stepped out of the shrine, only to see a handful of knights standing outside. "There he is!" shouted one of them. "He's the one that slaughtered Ziegsturhl!" The knights rose their swords and morning stars and charged. I drew my sword and swung at them, cleaving three of their heads off in one stroke. The only remaining knight continued his defiant charge. I smiled as I grabbed his arm and tore it clean off; he still tried to fight. That's why I ripped out his still-beating heart before pushing him out of the way.

I continued down the road. Brigands continued to attack, but I easily made meals out of them. However, as night began to fall, rainclouds came, accompanied with thunder claps. I quickly ran into a nearby cave as the rain began to fall.

I leaned against the wall, looking at the falling rain. Before, I had admired such weather; now, with my current situation, I loathed it. Then again, I never knew how to swim, so I tended to stay out of water, but there was a difference between staying out by your own will and staying out for the sake of your existance.

Then I noticed a figure in black drop something in the cave. He had not been there when I entered. I drew my sword and charged, but the figure dissapeared before my eyes. I looked at what he had dropped, and saw another scroll, once again bearing the necromancer's seal.

"This will allow you to assume the form of a wolf. When in this form, you will be able to move at a much greater quickness and grace, and allows you to clear large gaps that you normally could not cross."

I smiled, then sat down and waited for the rain to stop. When it finally did, I cursed my luck; the sun was beginning to rise. I picked up my equipment and left the cave, continuing to the south.

I followed the road for another hour, until I reached another cave. There was no rain this time, only a curiosity that compelled me to investigate. I stepped inside, only to find another scroll. This spell, however, did not carry the seal of the necromancer. Cautiosly, I unfurled the scroll. It contained a series of arcane runes, with a heading that simply read "Energy Bolt."

I pocketed the scroll and exited the cave, only to hear a low growl come from beside me. I turned, my sword raised. I then sidestepped the wolf as it pounced at me. While it tried to turn around, I sliced off its head and sampled its blood. I immediately felt sick to my stomach. Human blood seemed to be the one form of substance I could use.

I continued down the path, only to find another cave. I was more cautious this time, but I heard something calling to me from inside. "Come, Kain," said a distant voice. "Come to us." I entered the cave, entranced by the voices. Inside was a momentous site.

A large fountain filled the entire cave. Instead of water, however, blood flowed freely from it. The fountain itself was decorated with reliefs of human faces, twisted so that they seemed to be in eternal pain and misery.

"The blood of ages flows so sweet," said the same voice. "Come, drink from us."

I bowed next to the fountain and took a handful of the blood. I quickly shoved it down my throat, and felt my body begin to warm up. My muscles in particular seemed to be getting much warmer.

"Your strength has been increased," said the voice, "for our blood enhances." To my horror, the blood in the fountain became completely black. I did not dare to drink from it again; something was very wrong with it. I simply stood and walked out of the cave.

The road stretched on, unforgivingly, for several more miles. Finally, I reached a small road sign. It pointed to the north and read, "Natchtholm." I followed the road, until I could finally make out the small houses and buildings that made up this small town.

However, my progress was blocked. Mountains surrounded the town, while a deep river ran through the only entrance. It seemed that word of my presence had reached here, for the one bridge across the damn water was sealed by several boulders. At first, I thought of simply trying to find another road, until I saw the dark clouds coming. I had only a few hours to find shelter, and I did not want to stay inside any town for too long.

In desperation, I pushed against the boulders, and to my amazement, they began to move effortlessly. Finally, after several minutes of pushing, they were out of my way. It seemed that the voices had not lied; I was indeed more powerful than before.

"Get him!" Then again, the foolish humans did not seem to notice what had happened. Already, several armed men, probably nothing more than petty mercenaries and bodyguards, going from owner to owner, driven by greed, approached me.

"Kill the vampire!" shouted one of them. I drew my sword and met their advance. I sliced one across the chest, then gracefully slid and sliced another's head clean in two, then removed another fool's arms with two clean strokes, with one more to remove his torso.

The others began to falter. "What matter of demon is this?" I overheard one of them ask. Many of them finally regained their nerve and charged, only to be destroyed with a few more slices. The last one turned and ran. I raised one hand and recited the arcane spell. The man turned just as the bolt of energy ripped through his body, tearing it to small pieces.

I smiled, then feasted on what little fresh blood remained. It was not enough to satisfy me. I had to find some more. Then I spied a nearby tavern. Raising my sword, I snuck inside.

The roar of voices inside drowned out the commotion from outside, as well as my own heavy footsteps and the clink of my armor. The wenches were too busy inticing the patrons to notice me, while the men were too busy staring at the breasts of these prostitutes to care that a pale man with sharp teeth had entered their bar.

Then I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder. "Get out of here," said a rather stiff voice. I turned, and saw the burly barkeeper staring at me. The other patrons and wenches turned their eyes towards me as well, and horror seemed to simultaniously flood over all their faces as they realized what I was.

"I will leave," I said, "but not until my thirst is quenched." I then grabbed the bartender and, with one mighty pull, threw him over the counter. I then bit into his neck and drained his body of blood.

The other patrons watched this in shock. Finally, they turned tail and ran, jumping out of windows and tearing through the door in an effort to escape. My thirst was gone, but I felt rather bored. I raised three of my flails, took aim at three of the fleeing men, and threw them. They went through the broken window and found each of their targets, tearing through them with ease.

I smiled, then left the tavern. I next entered the old blacksmith's shop; it is always wise to ensure that a weapon is in its best form. The blacksmith, however, was gone. I sighed, until I noticed something below me. I bent over, and found a small red orb lying on the ground. It seemed to pulsate with a rather strange light, and I immediately thought of how strange it would be for a blacksmith to have something like this.

Then I heard the sound of a weapon being moved. I turned, and faced the blacksmith, raising a double-bladed axe. "Go to hell, vampire!" he shouted. He brought the axe down, while I dodged. In my panic, however, I had accidently thrown the orb at the man.

The minute it impacted with his body, he began to scream in pain. I saw blood rise like a fountain from his mouth, as his body seemed to shrink. However, as I looked closer, I saw that it was not shrinking; it was being crushed together. The man screamed as his head tore to pieces. The sound of bones crunching echoed in my ears. Finally, what was left of the man exploded in a gory fountain of blood.

I enjoyed the entire spectacle. I then noticed a small chest of these orbs, numbering about ten total. I packed the chest into my satchel, then left the blacksmith shop.

I found little of interest in the rest of Nachtolm. I fed on an elderly couple simply out of hunger; they blood was tasteless and impure. Still, I needed the strength, for the road seemed to stretch on for many miles until the next town, and I did not know if any humans were travelling at this time.

I left the town, only to feel something hit my shoulder, followed by a sharp burning sensation. I looked down, and saw a few rain drops begin to fall. I ran down the road, in search of shelter, until I saw a nearby cave. In desperation, I ducked inside. Fortunately, I had only suffered slight damage, so I would heal rather quickly.

Then I saw the contents of the cave: another large blood fountain, exactly like the previous one I had found. The fountain's blood was still red, and stirred my hunger even more. I ran to the fountain, took a handful of the blood, and shoved it into my mouth.

Almost immediately, another warm sensation went throughout my body. I staggered back to my feet, as the blood turned black. "The rain will no longer harm you," said the mysterious voice from before, "for our blood preserves." I thanked whoever had designed these fountains; the previous had helped me greatly, and if this fountain worked...

I walked to the cave's mouth. The rain was now coming down in vast droves. I stuck my arm out of the cave mouth and waited. I felt no burning, no pain, only the sensation of water hitting my hand. I cautiously stepped out, and realized that the voice was correct; I was immune to rain. However, I had a suspicion that this did not extend to all water, so I simply continued down the road.

It was a full day before I reached the next town, Steinchencroe. I shuddered at the name, for it carried nothing but terrible meanings. Nowhere in Nosgoth would you find a place more filled with scum, debauchery, and disease. I smiled deep inside at the irony; in life, I would have never graced this nightmare of a city with my presence, yet in death, I only added to the stench.

The streets were filled with whores and drunken soldiers. None dared to lay an eye on me; this was the only place where I could blend in, at least during the night. However, my hunger was great; I needed a place to feed.

Then my eyes spied a large building. A sign hanging above it read, "Red Rose Brothel." I found myself licking my lips uncontrollably, but in a town such as this, that did not seem so strange. I passed through the entrance, only to find the desk unoccupied. Two women were escorting a man into one of the nearby rooms.

I started following them, when I heard a scream, followed by the sound of something being dropped down a long tunnel. I followed the sound, until I entered the kitchen. The man's head, torso, and various other body parts were dumped down a long chute into a large bin. Blood covered the walls, floor, and table. A nearly-dead woman was chained to the wall, and the message "Help!" was written on one of the walls in blood. I cursed this waste of blood, then ducked into a small pantry when I heard footsteps returning.

The two women returned, accompanied by a burly man. "Okay," said the man, "I get dibs on the heart this time. You two can have either the liver or a leg."

"Or maybe," I said, kicking the door open, "I'll just make myself a meal." I snapped one of the women's necks, then impaled the other. The man reached for a bloody meat cleaver, but I twisted it out of his hand and brought it down on his head. I then feasted on their blood, as well as that of the chained woman. After all, one must not let a good meal go to waste.

I left the brothel and made my way to the northern exit of town. "Wait, stranger!" shouted a distant voice. I turned, and saw a man sitting in a dark alley. His eyes were glazed, his teeth were rotted, and he was stirring a large bowl filled with some green slime.

"I know what it feels like," said the man. "I live on the outside of existance as well. But you can find others that will speak to you...if you know how to look." I didn't bother listening to the rest of the man's ramblings. I simply left the city. Blood like his did not belong on my teeth.

I next came upon a small circle of tents, brightly colored and covered with elaborate symbols. These were obviously used by the gypsies, pervayers of lies and practicers of foolish sorceries. Whatever they said had to be taken with a grain of salt, but sometimes, they had something of use.

I snuck around the tents, steering clear of the gypsies gathered around a fire. I ducked into one of the tents, which was mercifully unoccupied. However, a small book on the ground caught my eye. Curious, I examined its contents.

It spoke of the vampires and their various forms. Much of the text was too faded to read, but it spoke of a strange ability the vampires possessed. With the proper concentration, they could disguise themselves completely as a living human, therefore allowing them to enter settlements freely. However, the disguise was flimsy, and if any violent action was taken either by or on the vampire, they would lose their concentration, and thus the spell would break.

Curious, I followed the instructions of the book and concentrated. Suddenly, I felt my body ache and moan, along with a warm sensation. Finally, it stopped, and I took a closer look at my form. My pale skin was now a dark brown, my teeth were no longer fangs, and my clothing was now rags. It seemed I had disguised myself as a mere peasant, a disgrace to someone as noble as myself, but a necessary evil.

I stepped outside and approached the gypsies. Their eyes narrowed onto me, but they did not attempt to attack me, proving that my disguise worked. "Leave here, stranger," said one of the gypsies. "You are not welcomed here." He pulled a knife and pointed it at me.

I walked out of the camp, until I was beyond their visible range. I then broke my own spell, returning to my vampiric form. The gypsies didn't see me returning until it was too late.

The stretch of road continued to the town of Vasserbunde. Word of my coming had apparantly reached even this tiny town, as the buildings were sealed by large stone pillars, covered with mystical runes. Several heavily-armored guards patrolled as well, intent on protecting this village from someone...or something.

However, the thoughts of their fear of me were dashed when I looked at the nearby mountains. Sitting on top of one of the tallest peaks was a bizzare lair, carved into a misshapen skull. A waterfall poured out of its mouth into a lake far below. I now recalled what I had heard about my opponent, Nupraptor.

He was a revered mentalist and illusionist, capable of sensing the future and providing guidance. Pilgrims often journeyed to his lair to seek an audience with the fool. Now, it seemed, the mentalist had turned his thoughts to destruction, and if he was corrupted like Ariel had told me, he would enjoy the company of pilgrims no longer. Ironically, I had come seeking not his wisdom, but his life.

I approached one of the guards from behind, snapped his neck, and drank his blood. I then dismembered and consumed the other guards. I would need their strength if I was to survive the ordeal ahead. Now cruel fate had taken me to the last refuge of my enemy...Nupraptor's Retreat.


Chapter 4: Nupraptor's Retreat

I searched the perimeter of the town, desperate to find an entrance to the retreat; there was none. Also, the presence of a waterfall indicated that the mountain had a large amount of water on it, so using my bat form would have been suicide.

Then I realized something about the waterfall. I eyed the spot where the water landed, which was a large lake. Carefully, I skirted along the edge, making sure not to accidently slip and fall into the acidic water. When I reached the waterfall, my suspicions were confirmed; a large cave was hidden behind the flying water.

I quickly dashed in, anxious to get as far from that accursed lake as possible. The interior of the cave was an enormous, winding passageway, covered with dust and decay from decades of neglect. The ground appeared to have once been a kind of path, most likely used by the pilgrims that journeyed here, but now it was nothing more than a disgrace to my feet. However, what really entered my mind was the strange series of sounds that seemed to be echoing from all over. The entire place stank of death.

I began to walk through the cave, but stopped when I saw something strange on the ground; a partially-hidden panel. Curiously, I grabbed a nearby rock, stood a few steps away, and threw it at the panel. The instant it touched, an enormous, blood-stained axe tore through the wall, spikes began to rise from the floor, and enormous blades ripped through the ceiling. Nupraptor seemed to enjoy his solitude, and when I thought about my curse, I could see why.

The traps did not stop; I had to plan my way through. I rolled under the axe and jumped over several spikes. When the blades came down from the ceiling, I quickly rolled out of the way, then jumped over another set of spikes and immediately ducked under another swinging axe. However, even more traps were ahead of me, but my confidence was restored when I saw how polished they were; they had obviously never been used.

I made my way through all of the traps, until I finally reached a large set of double doors. I smashed them off their hinges with one kick, and found myself in a hallway that made the cave look inviting. Blood stained the walls and floor, with tattered corpses hanging at every possible section of the ceiling. I cursed Nupraptor, not for his murderous ways, but for his waste of good blood.

As I entered the hallway, a twisted voice suddenly entered my head. "Who is this that enteres my sanctuary? Begone!" I looked around the area, but saw nothing. Then I realized who this had to be: Nupraptor himself. He could sense where I was. That meant only one thing:

I would have to be more brutal than usual.

The halls of the Retreat were twisting and vast, and decorated with more blood then I had spilled during my entire unlife. A few bodies still lay about, and I saw the nature of the wounds. Some were hacked apart, but the blows were wild and random; someone had done this while in a wild rage. Others seemed to have exploded from the inside-out; considering Nupraptor's mental powers, that was not a surprise.

A large gathering room awaited me at the end of the halls. The carnage in the hallways was nothing compared to the horrors that were found inside. Bodies were sadistically heaped onto each other, the floor was blocked by the spilled blood, and even the ceiling was covered with hanging corpses. Only one person remained alive; a young serving girl, her teeth stained with blood and her clothes torn to shreds.

"What has happened to Nupraptor?" I asked. "Why has he murdered his servants?"

"He is mad," said the girl. She had obviously gone mad; she made me seem sane. "After Lady Ariel's murder, he attacked his loyal servants and pilgrims. He spread our blood throughout the Retreat, then sewed his eyes and mouth shut to block out the world. Of course, he can still read minds...he still sees all...he can never be healed! We must all die!"

"Very well," I said. I grabbed her neck and drained her blood. It was my first act of mercy in a long time.

The next room was similar to the previous, only it had a large picture of a giant brain placed on the ground tiles. Four alcoves were nearby, each with a tile covered with a strange rune. Curious, I approached the first and stepped on the tile.

Suddenly, I found myself in a large room. As I took my first step, monstrosities poured from all corners. There were twisted men, slime-like monsters, skeletons, zombies, and every other kind of monster imaginable, as well as a few that described description. I raised my sword and struck at the enemies, fighting them off as best I could. After what felt like an eternity, I suceeded in destroying all of them, and quickly drank the blood of the human attackers. I then stepped on another rune tile, and found myself back in the brain room.

I stepped on the next rune, and entered a nearly pitch-black room. Even my developed eyes were not powerful enough to pierce the darkness; the only light was centered in a small piece of ground. I walked in the light, but it suddenly faded, and another row of tiles were lit. As I continued, the lights continued to dissapear and reappear; a trick of Nupraptor's, most certainly. Finally, I reached another rune tile, and returned to the brain room.

The third rune tile sent me to a room filled with spikes. They were constantly rising and lowering, but I quickly noticed a pattern. Carefully, I stepped across the spikes, making certain not to accidenly impale myself. Finally, I reached the end, and stepped on the rune tile.

The final rune tile sent me to a large hallway, which branched into several smaller hallways. The entire area seemed to be a maze; Nupraptor, however, had no knowledge of how to make a convincing maze, so I was able to find the exit quickly. I stepped on the rune tile and returned to the main room. A set of double doors at the farest end were now open, leading into another hall.

I continued through the halls, until I reached the front of the Retreat; the skull. The two eye holes were actually windows; nearly all of Nosgoth was visible from this point. I looked through the left eye, and saw the great plains and forests of Nosgoth; I had seen enough of it for one lifetime already. The right eye, however, showed a scorched, barren land, with flaming fissures erupting from the ground. As if Nosgoth needed help in making its corruption apparent...

I continued through another door, to a large throne room. Strangely, it was completely empty; Nupraptor was not here. However, at the end was a large, black teleporter. Preparing myself for battle, I stepped onto the teleporter.

I was instantly transporter to a small room. Two twisted monstrosities stood in front of me. The first looked like a knight, wielding a long halberd. His armor seemed ancient, and bore a symbol long faded by time. The most noteworthy feature, however, was the nature of the body; namely, there was none. The pieces of armor seemed to be floating in the air.

The second was bizzare beyond belief. It was a green-skinned man, with a large exposed brain. Its purple robes were long faded and torn, and a mess of purple slime covered its entire body. However, when I saw the eyes and mouth, I noticed they were sewn shut. It was Nupraptor...and he was a bigger monster than I was.

"So, Malek," said Nupraptor, via some kind of mental telepathy, "have you come to fail the Circle once more? Leave, Paladin!" The knight silently faded away, and Nupraptor returned to me. "Come, Kain. Come share my pain..." He then vanished. Enraged, I kicked down the next set of doors.

The room was enormous, and almost completely filled with spikes. Only the very middle of the room was safe to walk on, with Nupraptor waiting on the other side. Suddenly, several large boulders appeared out of nowhere, and rolled towards me. I quickly jumped over, but the ground I was to land on suddenly flipped open, revealing another set of spikes. I grabbed the edge and threw myself to the side.

Despite my near-fatal fall, I smiled. "So this is the mentalist Nupraptor?" I asked. "This broken, pathetic little man?"

"Surrender, Kain!" said Nupraptor. "You will not destory me so easily! You will join me in eternal suffering!"

"So you will not surrender without a battle," I said. "Very well, old fool! If it is death you seek, I will not deny you!"

Nupraptor's eyeless face stared at me, filled with complete and total hate. I held my sword steadily, carefully approaching the mentalist. Strangely, he did not move, or attempt to stir as I approached; he merely stood there, watching me.

Finally, I striked. I brought my sword down hard on his neck, but as I did so, his entire body vanished. Angrily, I turned, and saw him standing on the other side. If his mouth still worked, he would have most likely been grinning.

I ran towards him, blinded by rage, not realizing how Nupraptor had tricked me before. Once again, strange boulders appeared, and I jumped, sprang over an opened trap, and slashed again, but Nupraptor once again vanished, and appeared on the other side.

"You cannot win, Kain." I heard Nupraptor's voice in my head yet again. "Your mind is weak, your thoughts petty and meaningless. You cannot even begin to comprehend my power."

I looked around, desperate to find some way to destroy the mentalist. Then I spied it: a spiked iron mace, lying in the spikes. I quickly dashed over, dodging the spikes and boulders, scooped down, and grabbed the mace's handle.

Nupraptor continued to stare at me from his corner. I knew it was useless to attack him, but this time, I had a plan. I quickly threw a flail at him, and like always, he dissapeared. However, he foolishly appeared a few steps away from me.

Before he could react, I brought the mace down on his head hard. Blood and slime gushed from all over, as the mentalist collapsed, silently screaming. His exposed brain was indeed his weakness; he couldn't stand any damage to it. Still, there was no time to think of such thoughts.

I tucked the mace into my belt and unsheathed my sword. As the mentalist looked up, his sightless eyes beging for compassion, I brought my sword down on his neck. His lopsided head hit the ground, rolled a short distance, and stopped. The slime surrounding his body melted into a puddle, and his headless body crumpled upon itself.

Feeling rather joyous at my impending salvation, I grabbed Nupraptor's severed head. "Alas, poor Nupraptor," I said. "I knew him well...well, not really." I then saw a bridge had appeared on the other end of the room. As I crossed, I clearly made out the outside of the Retreat.

I decided to use my bat form now. I began to concentrate, but quickly felt my body begin to tear itself apart. Soon, I was not one, but several conciousnesses, staring out over all of Nosgoth. I still felt strained and stretched, but I flew to the Pillars, where my form quickly returned, equipment and all.

Ariel was waiting for me; she knew about Nupraptor already. "The poor fool," she said. "His blindness caused this disaster. Place his head before the Pillar of the Mind." I walked to the corresponding pillar and set Nupraptor's severed head before it. The instant it touched the ground, it dissintegrated, and the pillar became a pristine white.

"This would normally be the end," said Ariel, "but it is too late. The circle is too corrupt to survive. You must destroy all the other members before balance can be restored." I silently cursed Ariel, but still listened intently.

"Before you can even begin to defeat the other guardians," continued Ariel, "you must face their guardian, Malek, Guardian of Conflict. Centuries ago, Malek failed the Circle, and nearly all the members were killed. For his failure, his soul was placed within his golden armor, and ever since, he has never failed a member of the Circle."

"Except you," I said.

"Nupraptor, it seems, was right," said Ariel. "My murderer was indeed another guardian, which is why Malek did nothing; he would never harm another guardian, under any circumstances. Now, go to Malek's Bastion, in the mountains to the north."


Chapter 5: Malek's Bastion

Once again, I used my bat form, this time to return to Vasserbunde. The feeling of unease was still there, but had lessened greatly. The town, however, was still the same: silent, empty, and cowering.

Gripping my mace, I smashed downt he blockade at the end of the town. Screams of horror erupted from within the nearby buildings, and my attention turned. This mace was strong enough to crush stone; it seemed I would crush some heads, as well.

I smashed into every house, finding it unguarded and filled with pathetic humans. I quickly satisfied my hunger, then continued north, on the long road leading to the snow-covered mountains of northern Nosgoth.

The life around me began to trickle off and fade. I had grown up in these lands; they were no place for the weak. Packs of wolves constantly roamed the terrain at night, searching for fresh blood. In fact, they were no different from myself...except I was alone.

As night fell, I rested against a cliff wall. There were few humans on the road; I found little chance to feed. My strength was quickly fading. Then, as if by some good fortune, I saw lights approaching.

A large wagon passed by, driven by two young, healthy men. Four others rode at the side, armed with heavy pikes. I ducked behind the rocks, drew my sword, and waited.

As they entered range, though, a loud howl echoed through the mountains. The riders glanced around nervously, but were quickly killed when a pack of ten wolves descended on them, tearing them apart.

I saw their blood flow onto the ground, and my anger grew. The wolves cared not for the blood; they went after the worthless meat! Finally, I could take no more. I raised my sword and charged.

The wolves turned and growled, but I quickly subdued half the pack before they could react. In fear, the others blindly attacked, but four only suceeded in tearing themselves apart. The final wolf whimpered and ran, but an Energy Bolt caused its body to completely explode.

I looked at my fresh kill, and sampled the blood. I immediately spat it back out. Human blood was all that could satisfy me; this pathetic excuse was tasteless and bland. I salvaged what little human blood I could, and continued down the road.

The next sign I came upon was welcoming: it pointed to Coorhagen, my home town. Nowhere in Nosgoth could there be fairer, nobler town. My family had presided over it for centuries, before I fled. I thought of avoiding it, but it was on the only road leading north, and I was curious to see what had happened to my home. Still, I did not falsely assume a warm welcome when I arrived.

Further down the road, I saw what seemed to be a body, lying face-down in the dirt. At first, I thought it was merely a victim of a robbery, but when I got close, I saw the horrifying truth. The man's body was green and rotten, his face twisted in a look of horror and pain. Even his blood was now a sick green. His clothing was rotten, and his path was worn; he had tried to escape.

As I looked up, I saw more than I wished to. More bodies were lying on the ground, tossed over rocks, or thrown haphazardly into old carts. I now knew what had happened. We had heard of a disease ravaging a few small towns in southern Nosgoth, which caused the skin to melt off the body and the blood to become a sickly green. When the first few travellers brought it to our town, I fled to avoid its terrifying effects, only to be trapped with an even worse disease.

None of the warnings given to us were able to prepare Coorhagen for the monster...that was the Plague.

I continued down the bloodied road. The hundreds of bodies here would have brought tears to my eyes if I could still cry. The tragedy here was too much to behold. The Plague had wiped out practically my entire home. What a terrible waste...good blood gone bad.

When I finally reached Coorhagen itself, it was worse than the road. Bodies were either thrown into carts or simply left where they fell. The town was as silent as the grave. It was now certain; I was the last member of town a manner of speaking.

I went through every house I could, only to find the same carnage. However, I finally found one person: a small girl, huddling in her bed. I looked down at her, my eyes filled with hunger. She did not even look back at me; she just whimpered and cried. I saw two other bodies in here; they were most likely her parents.

I decided to go soft for the first time since Nupraptor's Retreat. I quickly bit into the girl's neck, and my hunger was satisfied. She didn't even resist as I drained her. When I examined her body, she was actually smiling. I felt sick inside, so I began to leave.

As I did, though, I spied a scroll lying on the table. Once again, the accursed necromancer's symbol was on it. I read the scroll:

"This spell will create a barrier around you, making you immune to all forms of attack. However, its affects are only temporary in nature, so action must be taken quickly in order to effectively use it."

I decided to name it the "Repel" spell. I pocketed the scroll, kicked the girl's body once for good measure, and returned to the carnage outside.

The plague-ridden corpses blocked my passage, forcing me to take the routes through the buildings. Not a single soul moved now; that girl may have very well been the last survivor of my once noble town. Cursing the misfortune of this event, I sat in one of the buildings and pondered about what had happened.

However, my thoughts were distracted when a sickening scratching sound emerged from nearby. I readied my sword, and the scratching drew ever closer. Suddenly, a trap door crashed open, and loathsome creatures, nothing more than animated human skeletons, climbed out.

I struck at the creatures, smashing their skulls and breaking their bodies, but they continued to march towards me. In desperation, I ran to a back room and slammed the door shut. The creatures pounded against it, trying to smash it open. My eyes darted around the room, and I saw a way out: another trap door. In desperation, I threw it open and jumped inside.

My eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness, and I saw what was hidden inside: a strange suit of armor. As I examined it, I realized that it was made completely out of human bone. The solution to my problem came quickly.

As I put the armor on, the sound of wood splintering echoed from above; the skeletons had broken through the door. As I slipped the final piece of armor on, they smashed through the trap door and jumped down. However, they did not approach me; they simply looked around blindly, then stood still. Their lack of intelligence caused them to mistake me for another skeleton.

I made my way past them and left out the back door of the building. Before I continued through Coorhagen, though, i made sure the building burned behind me. Like I thought, it helped ease my pain.

(to be continued)

As I wound my way through my old hometown, the carnage seemed to lessen. In fact, when I was within twenty yards of the other side, I found no corpses at all. I was both elated and saddened to see this. It seemed that my humanity was still there somewhere.

However, a good deal of rubble blocked the town exit. I entered a nearby home, hoping to find some way out. What I found, however, was another pile of corpses; these however, seemed to have committed suicide, rather than die from disease. A staircase led into another underground area. I never realized how many of these peasents had mulitple levels in their homes. I wished I had been harsher in life; they did not deserve such luxuries.

I went into the basement, desperate to satisfy my curiosity. More bodies were to be found, and these, too, seemed to have committed suicide. I had stumbled upon the results of a sick, twisted ritual. Another waste of blood.

The only usable item I found was another old scroll. Once again, it bore the necromancer's symbol. It read:

"This spell will exploit the petty differences and hatreds humans have for each other, turning them from mere dislike to all-out hatred. They will turn onto each other temporarily, leaving you to feed off of them."

I decided to call this the "Inspire Hate" spell. I smiled at the thought of what the last surviving human victim of this spell would think, as he saw his neighbor's blood on his own hands. It was fascinating to me.

Satisfied, I left the basement and made my way out of a back window. I was now out of Coorhagen. My once glorious home was now quiet, forever silenced by the plague. I felt some sorrow, but then realized that I had greater concerns. I had to destroy the Circle and regain my humanity.

I continued north, and the green shrubbery gave way to blankets of white snow. At first, I feared the water content in the snow would be dangerous, but it did not burn me in the least. It seemed my armor was able to protect against the little amounts of water to be found in the snow.

I finally reached the northernmost end of the trail; there was no other place to move to. I looked over the edge, and through the dense mist and fog, I saw my target. In the distance, a towering mountain loomed, surrounded at all sided by deep water and fog. Its center was thin and slender, while the base and plateau were enormous. However, the most important sight was the large fortress sitting on the plateau. This was no doubt Malek's Bastion, his isolated home.

With no other way of reaching it, I transformed into my bat form and flew to the fortress. I landed in front of the icy gates, as piercing winds blew from all directions at once. Two guards stood in front of the iced-over main gate, themselves frozen solid for centuries. Feeling malicious, I smashed their frozen corpses, shattering them. Sadly, there was no blood.

Sighing, I kicked the frost-covered gates open, sending ice and metal flying everywhere. The formidable fortress stood in front of me, cold and lifeless. I readied my sword, and prepared to face my foe inside.


Chapter 6: The Sarafan Warrior

Malek's fortress was as impressive up-close as it was in the distance. The walls spanned a countless distance into the sky, with spiked tiers and worn parapets covering every inch. The doors were made of steel, long since frozen by the cold, and the stone walls were delicately carved and placed. If Malek had one sin, it was vanity.

I kicked the second door open, and looked for the first time at my enemy's lair. It was cold and dark, with not a single sound echoing from its massive interior. I used my Magical Light spell, gripped my sword readily, and stepped inside. The doors, as if pulled by some unseen force, closed shut behind me.

As I went farther into the bastion, I heard the unmistakable sound of machinery. As I stepped into the next chamber, my suspicions were confirmed; Malek had created a large machine in his fortess. Strange suits of armor were created inside, then spewed out just as quickly.

I paid no mind to this, until I saw the armor move. Each complete set of armor, armed with a large sword and protective shield, marched towards me. Malek's machinery did more than create armor; it merged souls into the empty suits. Malek had created an army of creatures like himself.

I had no time to dwell on this, though. I parried several blows, and returned several more. The armors crumbled from my attacks, their souls released from their prisons, but for every enemy I struck down, five more took its place. Soon I was being overwhelmed by the horde, forcing me to take an action I had always despised: I fled.

I ran through the nearby doors and barred them behind me. However, I soon learned that this chamber had a machine, as well. As more of the armored creatures descended on me, I heard a strange voice, rasping and aged in tone, calling out to me.

"I can sense your presence here, demon," said the voice. "The stench of death clings to you." This was undoubtably Malek. I continued my struggle against the unending army, and was finally able to cut my way through. I ran to the far doorway, but stopped when I saw a large switch. In desperation, I threw it, and the machine stopped.

Now realized what I had to do, I tore through the advancing horde and returned to the previous room. I tore a hole through this army and threw another switch, shutting off this machine. Finally, I tore through the rest of the enemies in the area. However, Malek's voice once again returned, mocking me. "Come to slay the slayer of vampires, have you? Your undeath does not make you immortal, vampire." From only listening Malek for five seconds, I developed a deep hatred for him.

I headed through the next passageway, and found several more machines in one room. I saw a switch next to me, so I quickly threw it, but nothing happened; in fact, the machines seemed to speed up. As more and more soldiers poured out, I cleaved my way through, desperate for an escape. However, I finally saw something of interest; a large, glowing orb, hidden in a small room. I ran to the orb and quickly shattered it, causing the machinery to halt. This was followed by an ear-shattering scream, as the possessed armors collapsed, empty of all life.

Once again, Malek's voice echoed through my head. "You try my patience, fledgling! Care to try my blade instead?"

I found the back door to the room, and quickly left. I once again found myself outside the bastion, but on the other side of a previously conspicuous wall. I saw another tower, sticking out of the cold like a sore thumb. As I approached, though, I realized I had another problem. My eyes began to yearn from lack of contrast, and my mouth ached for blood. My hunger grew in this wasteland, and with it, my strength waned.

The guards in front of the tower offered no resistance. Their bodies were frozen like the others, their flesh welded to the cold metal of their armor. I forced open the frozen door and entered the final refuge of Malek. I quickly took the nearby stairs, climbing to the top of the tower.

When I reached the top, I saw a grim sight. A large throne room had been erected, with faded tapestries and banners, all bearing the same strange markings. On the rotting throne sat a frozen corpse, its clothing nothing but rags, staring at me through sightless eyes and rotted teeth.

"It is not often that a man sees his own corpse." I heard Malek's voice in my head yet again. "It is a sobbering experience. But I am far less interested in my corpse than I am in yours! Prepare yourself, vampire!"

I doubted this was Malek's true corpse; it looked too fresh for 500 years of emptiness. However, I did not have time to debate this. My goal was to destroy the Sarafan. Gripping my sword, I approached the next set of doors and forced them open.

On the other side was a long hall, apparantly once used for training and sparring. On the other side waited my opponent. Malek looked at me through his bodiless armor, which at the same time seemed to be filled with some kind of presence. His armor was a bright gold; even after 500 years, it had not rusted in the slightest. In his hands was a long halberd, its blade still caked with centuries-old blood.

The Sarafan said nothing; he simply approached me. I raised my sword and followed in suit. Finally, we charged at each other, screaming and howling like the monsters we were. I struck first, but Malek effortlessly blocked my attack. He then thrusted, but I quickly sidestepped. As I did, I struck again, but Malek instantly raised his weapon and parried. At last, I had found a worthy opponent.

Malek attacked again, but I struck his blow aside and shoved him away. I attacked once again, but this time he tripped me using his staff. I rolled away just as he was about to impale me, but then realized that I had dropped my sword during the struggle. I reached for my mace, but Malek knocked it out of my hands. The battle was draining what little energy I had left.

"It is over, fledgeling!" shouted Malek. He raised his halberd, just as I saw my answer: a pair of hand axes hanging on the wall. They were the only weapons remaining in this nightmarish fortress. I dodged Malek's attack and grabbed the axes, holding one in each hand. I could not use spells or items like this, but it did not matter; I was going to destroy Malek using my own strength.

"Why do you resist?" shouted Malek. "Surrender, and I will free your soul!"

"I do not think so," I said. "I think my soul is fine just where it is." I then attacked. Once again, Malek blocked, but this time, my second weapon struck his armor. He shrieked in response, and drew away from me. Energy cracked around his armor briefly, then stopped. The armor fell, in pieces, to the ground.

"Down after only one blow," I said. "You are pathetic, Malek." I approached my fallen enemy, but something grabbed my leg and threw me into the nearby wall. Before my eyes, the armor reformed and stood before me. I could feel the hatred inside of Malek as he withdrew to the far end of the room.

"You are formidable, Vampire," he said, "but I am not beaten. I can never be destroyed!" He then raised his hands, and a wave of pure energy began to move through the room, tearing apart the walls, floor, ceiling, and support pillars. In desperation, I jumped through a nearby window, and found myself falling towards the water. I quickly transformed into my bat form, and flew to the cliffs on the other side of Malek's island; an area I could not reach before. A small girl was nearby, playing in the snow. Before she could scream, I snapped her neck and feeded on her, then threw her body into the trees. My strength was partially restored, but I was in no condition to battle Malek. He was like me; an undead creature, and thus seemingly immortal. It seemed his destiny with my blade was postponed.

With no remaining action, I returned, empty-handed, to the Pillars. As I reformed from my bat form, Ariel appeared before me. Her expression changed to grief when she saw I was without Malek's item.

"Does the Sarafan elude you?" she said, taunting me in her usual way. I would have struck her then, but she was still of use. "Very well, go east of Malek's Bastion. Through the many mountains and caverns of Nosgoth, you will find the Cave of the Oracle. Speak with the Oracle of Nosgoth; he can help you defeat the Guardian of Conflict."


Chapter 7: The Caves of the Oracle

I returned to where I had landed upon my escape from Malek's Bastion. A large grove of trees blocked my passage, but my axes were easily able to cut through them. I cleared my path, then continued forward into the frozen wasteland.

I soon reached another obstacle: the ice on the frozen lake had shattered, rendering it impossible to continue. However, I quickly formed an idea; I remembered what I had been told when I learned of my lupine form. I concentrated on the transformation, wondering if it was true.

I got my answer quickly enough. My body became covered with grey fur, my face became elongated and menacing. I fell to all fours, as my hands turned to sharp-clawed paws. I let out a blood-churning howl, relishing my new form. I then reared onto my hind legs and jumped onto the platforms of ice. Soon, I had crossed the lake, and transformed back into my vampiric self.

A voice in my mind greeted me: it was none other than the necromancer himself. "Oh, little vampire, this game grows interesting. But with so many pawns, can you find the true player?" I shook the necromancer's words off; I had little respect for the man after what he had done.

However, the snowfall is what truly brought me back to my senses. As it touched my skin, I felt the same acidic burn that I felt with the rainfall so long ago. The snowfall, it seemed, was no different. I quickly hid in a nearby cave.

Inside, I found yet another small altar. Like before, an aging scroll sat upon it, bearing the necromancer's seal. I unfurled the scroll, and read the words upon it.

"The human mind is a fragile thing, Kain. With this spell, you can cause a jolt in your victim's brain, rendering them helpless before you."

Realizing the potential, I called this my "Stun" spell. I pocketed the scroll, then watched as the last of the snow fell onto the ground. Now safe to travel once more, I continued down the frozen path.

Soon, I reached a large mountain, every inch of it covered with the same snow that had covered everything else. However, at the base was something far less concerning: an encampment. I donned my human disguise and approached.

It was obvious that these were bandits, the lowest forms of human life imaginable. They were busy counting their loot, brandishing their weapons and raping whatever young women they had come across to notice me, disguise or not. I transformed back, raised my sword, and struck one bandit in the back.

The others immediately turned in response, but began to panic when they realized what I was. However, I had a much crueler fate in store for them. Raising my hands, I chanted the incantation for the Inspire Hate spell.

The effects were immediate. The bandits turned to each other, their eyes filled with deep and insidious hatred. They did not understand what they were doing, but they still attacked each other. Even the young women joined the attack. I, meanwhile, sat back and feasted on whatever blood I could salvage.

Soon, the attack was over. Only one person remained: a woman, nude from the waist up. Her body was soaked in blood; I believed that she had killed half of the men herself. Still, I was hungry, so I chanted the Stun spell. Her body instantly jolted, then stood still. I leaned it, and sank my fangs into her lovely neck. Now satisfied, I found a large cave, leading deep into the mountain. Since this was likely where the Oracle was, I made my way inside.

The cave was dark, the walls covered with layers of ancient vegitation. The floor was made of frozen rock, and iced human remains were littered all over the area. I readied my weapon, expecting an attack of some kind, but found no resistance. However, I did find another side cavern, which I entered.

Once again, I found a blood-filled fountain. The same voice as before called out to me, demanding that I drink. While I had feasted just prior to this, a little more would not hurt; after all, I expected very little in the way of feeding here. I leaned over, took a handful, and feed myself. I felt the warm feeling yet again.

"The snowfall will no longer damage you, for our blood preserves." The voice was begining to annoy me, but I doubted its authenticity. I simply left the cavern and continued through another cave, which led to a frozen cliffside. The snow fell, but I was not damaged; the voice was indeed correct.

I entered the next cave, and the next, and the next, for several hours. Finally, as night fell, I realized where I was; the first cave. I had been going in circles! The damn oracle indeed knew how to create a maze, but I had no time to think about his ingenuity; I had to find my way out. I continued through the caves for several more hours, until I finally foud a hidden pathway.

The path led to a small chamber, decorated with various relics and artifacts; it appeared to be some kind of museum. The first item to catch my eye was a large book, layed open on a pedastal in the middel of the chamber. The passage read:

"It was during these dark times, infested with the plague of the undead, that the Circle brought the Sarafan to existance. Trained to be devoutly loyal to the Circle, and the perfect exterminators of the undead scourge, they were lead to many victories by the righteous paladin, Malek. They cleansed the vampires with fire, and released their souls to more blessed realms. There is no wrath as terrible as that of the righteous..." I read no more. Disguisted and intrigued, and closed the book, and examined the remaining items in the museum.

On the left of the book was a guillotine, its blade still wet with blood. As I touched the blade, I felt the dripping blood's texture; it did not feel like anything I had experienced during my journey. On the right was a suit of armor, the kind used by the ancient villain known as the Ward and his minions. However, they had died out centuries ago, and yet the armor seemed unweathered by time.

On the back wall were two shields, both pristine and uweathered. On the right was a silver shield, bearing the crest of mighty Willendorf, the kingdom to which I had sworn allegience in life. However, it seemed strange that this new shield would be stained with blood; Willendorf had few wars, and even fewer conflicts. The shield on the left was foreign to me; its body was pure black, and bore a red demon as its crest. With no other interesting items, I continued through the next set of double doors.

I was now in a large, cavernous room, devoid of any form of ice. A large, black cauldron sat in the middle, with an ancient figure slowly stirring its contents. It was an old man, seemingly thousands of years old. His fine robes seemed to crush down on his small frame, trapping him in a permenant hunched state. His eyes were glossed over, and his face looked like a crumpled piece of cloth.

"A nobleman?" asked the Oracle. "Seeking wisdom? Death has taught me well."

I was not amused. "Enough philosophy! I seek answers."

"Answers indeed!" laughed the Oracle. "I have them all if you have the questions. And what are the questions for these answers. King Ottmar- The only one that can defeat the Legions of the Nemesis. King Ottmar- Paralyzed by his daughter's malady. King Ottmar- The useless. Now, what are the questions?"

The man's ramblings were truly begining to anger me. "A pox on your tricks and babble, old man! Answer me this: How do I defeat Malek?"

"All in time, sire!" said the Oracle. "Yes, time. Unless you master it, it will master you. And now it's time for your answers: Malek, defender of the Nine and last of the Sarafan sorcerer-priests. His vanity led to the slaughter of the Circle at the hands of the vampire Vorador. For his failing, his soul was fused with his armor. He has not allowed any member to fall since."

Through his ramblings, I realized he had given me a clue. "Where can I find this Vorador?"

"Go to the Termogent Forest," said the Oracle. "Follow the Ignis Fatuus."

"The Ignis Fatuss?"

"The Ignis Fatuss light the path to Hell. Your path. Time, Kain. Next time..." He then dissapeared, and I left the chamber, more confused than when I had entered. Another passage opened, leading out of the caves, and into the forest on the other side. My next goal was clear. I had to find the vampire Vorador and learn how to defeat the paladin. Now, to see if the Oracle was indeed worth the trouble...

Chapter 8: The Termogent Forest

From where I emerged, I spied a large, ancient tower. Two armed men, most likely bandits, guarded the entrance. They were completely oblivious to my presence, which made it easy to approach them from behind and slice off one of their heads. The second turned, but I ran my sword through his skull, then drained their blood; I had grown hungry in the caves.

I slammed open the rotting tower door, prepared for some kind of encounter. However, I found no brigands in this chamber; only another of the necromancer's damned scrolls. Once again, I opened the parchament:

"A vampire can transform their bodies into pure mist at will. While transformed, they are immune to physical weapons, and can seep through cracks and locked doors, like a shadow fleeing light."

I memorized the method of transforming, and the scroll disintegrated. A heavy metal gate slammed down behind me, blocking the main exit to this forsaken tower. With no other choice, I opened the next door, and found myself staring at a sewer. As I stepped through, another gate crashed down, trapping me in the foul sewer.

A large metal grate stood in the wall. I approached it, and concentrated on the transformation. I felt my body collapse and tear apart, as I became light as air. Soon, I was nothing but a cloud of mist, shaped as my vampiric self. I touched the grate, and felt my hand pass through. I then stepped through, and felt my body dissintegrate, then reform. I reverted to my vampire form, and entered the next room.

I now faced a cage-like door. I simply phased through, only to find myself staring at nearly a dozen bandits. Instead of reverting, I stood there as they foolishly attacked me. Finally, as they fell to their hands and knees, completely exhausted, I transformed back and finished them off easily.

After feeding, I opened the next door. I was now outside, behind the tower. As I closed the door, a heavy thud emerged from the other side; a bar had blocked the door. It did not matter; I had finished my job here.

The road continued through the thick forests of Termogent. Stangely, no humans seemed to dweel here, and while I had enough strength to last without blood for some time, I was nonetheless unnerved by the silence. As if in response to my thoughts, the scent of spilled blood filled my senses.

I quickly followed the scent, and found what I had searched for behind some brush. Human bodies, most likely related to the brigands I had faced at the tower, were torn apart before me. Slime and plant debris had ruined the blood, but that was the least of my worries. I heard strange noises echoing around my, accompanied by the strong aroma of mold and rotting flesh mixed together. I did not wish to risk being weakened here, so I quickly returned to my travels.

Finally, I reached the end of the forest, only to find something far worse: a vast swamp. At first, I thought I had taken a wrong turn, but then I saw the strange, burning lights ahead. While they were placed upon scones carved from human skulls, I doubted that they were attached; in fact, they seemed to be floating slightly above the posts. I transformed into mist, and made my way across the water.

Finally, I reached what appeared to be a cave. I returned to my "normal" state and entered, only to find not the passage to Vorador, but another one of the strange fountains. The same siren-like voices called out to me, and I willingly drank.

My muscles felt warm yet again. "Your strength has been increased further," said the voices, "for our blood enhances." I did not dally behind; I simply took up my sword and left the cave. As I stepped outside, I returned to mist and continued my journey.

As night began to descend, I found two buildings, nestled in close proximity to each other. I entered the smaller building first, and found two scrolls waiting for me on a large altar. The first read:

"You can use your own blood as a weapon, Kain. By sacrificing some of your own blood, you can create a projectile that will drain an adversary of their blood on contact. If the attack misses, however, you will have lost a considerable amount of strength."

I decided to call this my "Blood Gout" spell. On the back was, once again, the necromancer's seal. The other scroll, however, was much older, and had yellowed and withered with age:

"Humans are weak creatures. They can fall easily to control, especially from the vampires. A vampire can remove a victim's soul and replace it with their own, thus giving them complete control over their victim's body. When they remove their soul, the body turns to dust."

There was no sign of the necromancer's seal, but this spell was potent nonetheless. I called it the "Control Mind" spell. After my searching was complete, I entered the larger building, which appeared to be some kind of temple.

The interior was completely deserted, save for dust-covered skeletons and rusted weaponry. The walls were covered with various symbols and carvings; the building had been used as a religious center once, it seemed. Now, it was nothing but a ruin, a shadow of its former glory. I took the large, stone steps to the top, which was a ceremonial area once. Now, it housed a group of sleeping humans, apparantly under the notion that this would be a place to hide.

I snuck past the humans, to a large altar at the other end of the entrance. Resting upon it was a large, finely-crafted sword. Its hilt was similar to my own sword, but contained strange runes that I could not decipher. The blade was a strange combination of red and silver, and had the same runes carved onto its surface. I saw no need for such a weapon; it appeared to be the same as my current sword.

"You!" shouted the humans; apparantly they had already awaken. "Get away from our sword!"

"Your sword?" I asked.

"We came all this way for it," said one of the humans; I had not yet faced them, and they did not seem to realize who I truly was. "A blade like that would make us all wealthy!"

"That is, if it's not just another sword," I said. I turned around, still brandishing the sword. The humans gasped and cowered when they saw my blood-soaked fangs and pale skin. "Let's see if it was really worth your time."

One of the humans regained his resolve and drew his sword. "Come on, men!" he shouted. "We completely outnumber the beast! Get the damn sword!" He then charged forward; the others wisely chose to stay behind. I sighed, then slashed the sword in front of me.

As I did, I learned the true meaning of the sword's power. As it struck the foolish human, flames surrounded the blade, and inadvertanly the human. He screamed and writhed in perpetual agony, until he quickly turned to nothing more than a pile of ash. He did not even leave a drop of blood for me to feed on.

The other humans faltered, and started to run. I quickly grabbed the dead human's discarded sword and, following the directions for the Blood Gout spell, sliced open my palm. I then pulled my arm back and threw a ball of blood at the humans. It connected with the one in the back, and as it tore through his chest, his blood quickly drew back towards me. I quickly consumed it, then used my Control Mind spell on the last human to descend the stairs.

I felt myself back in a human body, weak and pathetic. The others stopped and turned to face their now-possessed friend. "What's wrong with you?" one of them asked. "We need to get out of here!" I said nothing; I simply drew my sword and tore them apart while they looked on in horror. Finished with my deed, I returned to my vampiric body, and descended the steps. I consumed what little blood I could, and returned to the swamp.

It was nearly midnight when I reached the last refuge in the swamp: an enormous mansion, surrounded by towering stone walls. The gates were unlocked, and parted easily when I pushed them. The courtyard of the mansion was magnificent; a complete mirror image of the swamp. Perfectly-carved statues surrounded the building, while stone towers reached up to the balconies. I realized just who lived here at last: Vorador himself. It seemed strange that a vampire would choose to make his home surrounded by the elements that would kill him, and yet here I was.

I opened the finely-carved oak doors, and entered Vorador's Mansion.


Chapter 9: Vorador's Mansion

The grandour of Vorador's secluded home was breathtaking. The walls were covered with all manners of gold and precious metals, while the ground was covered with an amazing red-and-gold carpet. A mansion this magnificent would have put anyone in my court to shame. The fact that this treasure remained undisturbed proved the power of fear over greed.

Suddenly, a cry emerged from a side door. The sound was familiar to my ears; it was the sound of shrill human screaming, accompanied by the slurping sound of blood being drained. I quickly opened the door, and found the source of the noise: a lifeless human body, drained completely of blood, was lying on the carpet. Above him floated a most unusual sight: a hovering female vampire, her fangs still wet with blood. She wore no clothing to speak of, save for a leotard and a small top.

She stared at me for a few seconds, then launched herself at me. I quickly drew my flame sword and struck her to the ground. The fire from my blade quickly consumed her body; vampires are especially weak against fire. Strangely, I felt a pang of remourse, something I had not felt since my ressurection. I had slaughtered hundreds of humans, and yet I felt pity for this pathetic creature.

I continued down the hall, only to find more of these female vampires, feasting on a pile of corpses. It did not take me long to learn what had occured here. The pile had no humans; rather, the victims were all vampiric women. Vorador had a private harem in his manor. They were nothing but dogs, preying upon one another out of pure hunger. No creatures should prey on their own kind. I drew my flame sword and leaped at the creatures, easily destroying them. At least now they would have rest.

The rest of the manor was filled with lavish treasures and other memorabilia. Grim war trophies were stacked all over, many of them bearing the same design as Malek's armor. It seemed true, then; perhaps Vorador really had defeated Malek. That only strengthened my resolve to find the reclusive vampire and gain his secrets.

Buried among his treasures were two impressive artifacts. The first was a large, leather-bound book, its pages weather and crumbling with age. It spook of a genocidal war five hundred years ago. The Sarafan had slaughtered the vampires out of fear and superstition, and did not stop until Vorador attacked the Circle. The tapestry spoke of a similar tale. Undead beings were consumed by fire and chaos, screaming out like tortured souls seeking help. Their fate was that of the weak; their fate would not find me. However, blood calls out for blood...

I descended a flight of stairs, and came upon a drab stone room. Its purpose was revealed as I saw the chained humans, begging and screaming for salvation that would never come. This was Vorador's private pantry, his holding pen for the cattle he fed on. I had grown hungry by this point, so I quickly fed on their bodies. However, a scroll was lying on the ground nearby, along with a strange suit of armor. The armor portrayed a snarling, growling face, and had spikes portruding from every possible location. I realized the importance of this armor; it would enable me to damage the fools who dared to attack me. I quickly doned the impressive armor; it fit me perfectly.

The scroll itself did not bear the mark of the necromancer; rather, it was in the same handwritting as the Control Mind spell. It read:

"When I must feed quickly, I can use my Blood Shower spell. This enables me to draw the blood from multiple sources at once, making it easy to feed my hunger and destroy attackers at the same time. Not like I get that many here."

I memorized the spell, and returned to the mansion proper. Vorador's harem continued to prowl the halls, but they fell easily to my attacks. Finally, I reached something of importance: a large, blood-soaked room. Human corpses were attached to meat hooks, nailed to walls, shredded on the ground, dumped into pools of acid, and crushed beneath piles of rubble. Vorador did not even bother to drink their blood; he had simply killed these humans for sport. The idea sounded intriguing, but I still had to find the ancient vampire.

Near the torture chamber, I found the actual lair of Vorador. He sat at the end of a long dining table, drinking from an onyx gauntlet. I had expected a vampire similar to myself; what I found was much different. Vorador's skin was a dark green, his ears pointed like spikes. His eyes were cat-like, and pierced into my very being. I saw a true horror, worse than anything I had seen before. Vorador was what I would become.

"Ah, another of my own kind," said Vorador. "It is so rare that I meet another of my own kind. Would you care for a game of chess?"

"No thank you," I said. The idea of playing a game with Vorador did not intrigue me at this time.

"Very well," said Vorador. He offered me a goblet of blood. "Come, drink with me. Let us toast to out gift. Remember, we are gods, young one. Dark gods."

I laughed inside as I drank the blood. What gift? This curse had turned me into everything Vorador was: a monster. His belief that we were gods and humans were nothing but sacrifical lambs to us did not sound correct. And yet, deep inside, I knew he was right. Mortal dreams were prayers, prayers for us, begging for our power. Vorador, however, suffered from what old men often suffered from: senality. He launched into a boring tale of his exploits during the vampire purge.

"After slaughtering six of their sheep," said Vorador, "I defeated their pathetic little sheperd: Malek. Since then, our kind have not bothered with the cattle except to feed. And I suggest you do the same. Meddling with the affairs of men can only lead to disaster. Sarafan witch hunts are much too tedious to concern ourselves with. Am I understood, Kain?" I nodded.

"Good," he said. He handed me a strange ring, inscribed with a strange red rune. "Take this ring. If you ever need assistance it will summon me. Despite your youthful arrogance, you amuse me, Kain. It would be such a pity to lose you to the abyss. Now, be gone." I stepped out the side door as Vorador stared blindly ahead. I continued through a dark passage, until I reached the forest again. My visit with Vorador had only strengthened my resolve. His power uncontested by mortals, he had fallen to another foe. Decadence has claimed many a great warrior. And so I left that place with clear knowledge of what sort of monster I would become if I let my curse consume me...and with an ally for the future.


(To be continued)