The Blood Curse (The Dark Gift)
The Blood Curse (The Dark Gift) was the curse the Hylden laid upon the Ancient Vampires. It was the cause of their blood-thirst, immortality and sterility. Later, it was passed to humans.
The Blood Curse (The Dark Gift) in Soul Reaver 2
Early in Soul Reaver 2, Raziel found the Subterranean Pillars Chamber. Inside there were murals that depicted a blue-skinned winged race, who bore some resemblance to Raziel. The murals showed the winged race fighting in a war. They raised the Pillars and "thus defeated their adversaries". Raziel noted the murals also showed them "apparently afflicted with the same blood-thirst [he] had so recently suffered". Raziel was referring to the blood-thirst he had experienced as a vampire, before his execution in the Abyss and his transformation into a devourer of souls.[1,2]
Raziel found other murals in the Reaver Forges. The ones in the Air Forge confirmed that the winged race - "the architects of the Pillars and the creators of the Reaver" - were "Nosgoth's first vampires". According to Raziel: "Their blood thirst appeared to be a curse inflicted upon them by their vanquished enemies."
Raziel travelled back in time, and met Janos Audron, the last of survivor of the winged race. From Janos, Raziel learned that the Pillars summoned humans rather than vampires as Guardians because the Pillars chose their Guardians from birth. Crucially, "vampires [were] no longer born"; they were humans, transformed. It was unclear if a sudden lack of births (presumably a consequence of their enemies' curse) caused the vampire winged race to die out, or if it was just the eventual result of the winged race dying out gradually.[4,5]
The Blood Curse (The Dark Gift) in Defiance
In Defiance, Kain and Raziel found more murals which elaborated on the history of the winged race and their adversaries. It had appeared - from the context of Raziel and Janos' conversation in Soul Reaver 2 - that the winged race were known as Vampires before they were cursed, and the name only became associated with blood-drinking afterwards. This assumption was supported by Raziel's descriptions of those Defiance murals: he only ever referred to the winged race as Vampires, even when murals illustrated a pre-curse event. Kain's exclaimation at the end of Soul Reaver 2 had identified their adversaries as the Hylden.[5,6]
The story of the Blood Curse was clearly explained by the end of the game, building on the details revealed in Soul Reaver 2 and Blood Omen 2:
There was a great war between the Vampires and the Hylden. It lasted for a thousand years until the Vampires banished the Hylden "by powerful magic, sealing them into another plane of existence." This plane was the Demon Realm, as seen in Defiance when Kain found himself there, after his fight with Raziel. The Pillars were raised as "the lock" that bound them ('the Binding').[7,8]
It was a Pyrric victory: the defeated Hylden "retaliated with a terrible curse - afflicting the Vampires with a bloodthirst that turned their once-noble race into ravenous predators". From the murals, Raziel noted the curse "plunged the Vampires into despair, and apparently drove many to madness and self annihilation." Having felt that blood-thirst himself, Raziel wondered what about the curse had devastated them so much that they were driven to suicide.
Despite their horror of the curse, the Vampires had passed it on to humans, Vorador being the first to receive their 'Dark Gift' (from Janos). Raziel believed they had done it in a "desperate bid to preserve their bloodline... for their enemies had cursed them not only with blood-thirst, but with sterility as well". Raziel's assertion clarified why births amongst the Ancient Vampires ceased, causing humans to be summoned as Pillar Guardians in their place.
Kain learned from a mural that the Vampires had apparently "adopted - and, when necessary, abducted - the human Guardians, and made vampires of them when they came of age. Until the humans rebelled against their masters..." Moebius and Mortanius had led the revolt. In a second mural, he also saw the despair of the Ancient Vampires: for them, "the dark gift was clearly a curse, damning them to a kind of spiritual purgatory." This started to explain why so many had taken their own lives.[11,12]
Raziel found the final pieces of the puzzle. He saw murals in the Earth Forge and the Avernus Catacombs which bore a symbol representing the Wheel of Fate. He realised "it was not the blood-thirst, but their immortality that was the true nature of their enemies' curse."
In Soul Reaver, the Elder God told Raziel that immortal vampire souls were trapped in their bodies, and could not be spun in the Wheel of Fate. The Ancient Vampires had worshipped the Elder God, and apparently started the war with the Hylden, who opposed the Elder and refused to submit to the Wheel. The Blood Curse was an ironic revenge: their new immortality severed the Ancient Vampires from the Wheel, and caused the Elder God to abandon them. Suicide was the only way for them to appease their god and rejoin the Wheel of Fate.[13,14,15]
At Raziel's insistence, Janos summerised all of this history when he conversed with Raziel in the Vampire Citadel. Janos justified preserving the Vampire bloodline and passing the curse to the human Guardians as "a necessary evil". He said it was to sustain the Binding, and that the Binding was decaying while the Pillars were under human Guardianship. The banished Hylden were "scratching to gain a foothold back into this world." The Revenants in Defiance - and the Hylden Lord's possession of Mortanius - were signs that the Binding was failing, but whether that was strictly due to the Circle of Nine's humanity is open to debate.
The name given to the curse in this article - the Blood Curse - was not used in the dialogue of the games. It was simply referred to as 'the curse', or something similar. The longer name comes from the Defiance Dark Chronicle, as one cutscene was titled 'Mural: The Blood Curse'.
The passing of the Blood Curse (the Dark Gift)
We don't have much information about how the Blood Curse was passed from the Ancient Vampires to humans. Amy Hennig (Director and storywriter of Soul Reaver, Soul Reaver 2 and Defiance) has said:
The ancient/original Vampires (like Janos) had one method, by which Vorador was raised, and by which Vorador would also raise his vampire offspring. This would be a more "traditional" method, where the vampiric curse is passed from one vampire to a human.
We can probably assume 'traditional' means there was an exchange of blood between vampire and victim, as in Bram Stoker's Dracula. In Blood Omen 2, Vorador said it took "time and energy to create a vampire". It was not a trivial task for him, and it's not clear if humans died as part of their transformation.[17,18]
Kain's transformation into a vampire happened differently. He was murdered as a human, then Mortanius resurrected him from the Underworld using necromancy and - as we learned in Defiance - the Heart of Darkness. According to Amy Hennig:[17,19]
Because of this unique heritage, Kain's method of creating his vampire "sons" is also unique - rather than using the traditional "blood" gift to create a vampire, Kain must donate a portion of his spirit. By breathing a portion of his soul into a corpse, that creature's soul is drawn back into the body and the creature is resurrected as a vampire. This is how Kain raised his six lieutenants in the Tomb of Sarafan.
Raziel also described this in the Background Story for Soul Reaver. He said that Kain's offspring weren't vampires due to 'a poison of the blood'. They needed blood to feed their bodies, but their souls gained 'their advantage from the powers of the underworld'. It seems the curse was not just rooted in the blood of vampires, but in their souls as well, as Kain raised his lieutenants in that way. Presumably the same method was used by the lieutenants to build their clans, and all of Kain's vampiric descendants were resurrected corpses.
The effects of the Blood Curse (the Dark Gift): traits of Nosgothic vampires
Humans who received the Dark Gift/Blood Curse experienced physical changes over a period of time. A universal trait was that their hands and feet would change; initially their fingernails would become long and sharp claws, later their hands became tridactyl and taloned, like those of the Ancient Vampires. Yellow or amber-coloured eyes were also characteristic, although there were exceptions (notably Rahab). Generally, they would start to look inhuman, as Vorador did. Kain and his offspring were shown to have a variety of weaknesses: to water and fire, sunlight and sound. It's not certain which, if any, of those weaknesses were shared by the Ancient Vampires and Vorador's kind, but some vulnerabilities were likely universal. Umah described the vampiric weakness to water as if they all shared it.
Other, fairly common, traits present in Nosgothic vampires included:
Immortality. They were immortal in the sense that they did not grow old or die of old age. Physical wounds quickly healed. Impaling, decapitation and a few other actions could kill them (separating their soul from their body), but resurrection was possible. If the cause of fatality was removed, the soul still existed in the Spectral Realm, and the body was able to repair itself, a vampire could reanimate.
Enhanced physical agility and strength. In Blood Omen 2 Umah told Kain he was "stronger and faster than mortal men, able to jump higher and farther than any human that ever lived".
The ability to 'float', slowing their descent during a jump to land silently behind a target. Notably, Kain did this at the end of Defiance, when he jumped into the Spirit Forge.
The ability to communicate telepathically using the Whisper.
Limited telekinetic ability.
There was a lot of variety in Nosgoth's vampires, and the powers they had at their disposal. In Blood Omen 2, it was seen that - in addition to the traits described above - they developed 'Dark Gifts' (as they called them). These abilities ranged from mind control to incinerating people with a thought. The Dark Gifts developed differently for each vampire, and one vampire could gain the gifts of another by 'absorbing their veins'.[23,24]
Kain and Vorador were seen to shapeshift in Blood Omen, and Kain relied on his Mist Form in Defiance to dodge and pass through gates. Several vampires (Kain, Vorador, Janos and Umah) could teleport, however so could many humans, so, in this case, they were likely employing magic rather than relying on innate abilities. Using Kain as a basis of comparison for all Nosgothic vampires is not ideal, as we don't know what skills he inherited as the Balance Guardian.
The rapid evolution - and devolution - of Kain's descendants into monsters was not a result of the Blood Curse, however. That was caused by Kain's personal corruption; Kain's soul was corrupted by Nupraptor's attack on the Circle of Nine, and his vampire offspring inherited that.[25,26]
- [SR2] Raziel (referring to the murals in the Subterranean Pillars Chamber): "The surrounding murals depicted a winged race, their features so like my own - but beautiful, where mine were grotesque... and angelic, while mine were demonic.
I tried to decipher these images...
... a great war, but with combatants like none I had ever seen...
... the Pillars, raised by this winged race, who thus defeated their adversaries...
... the winged beings again, writhing in agony, apparently afflicted with the same blood-thirst I had so recently suffered..."
- [SR1] Raziel: "The old hunger has left me; I have no desire for blood."
The Elder God: "You are changed. Your blood-thirst is replaced by a deeper need - you have become a devourer of souls."
- [SR2] Raziel (referring to the murals in the Air Forge): "The scenes I discovered here were unambiguous.
This race of winged beings, the architects of the Pillars and the creators of the Reaver, were Nosgoth's first vampires. Their blood thirst appeared to be a curse inflicted upon them by their vanquished enemies."
- [SR2] Janos to Raziel: "Over time, our race died out. Until I alone remained... sustained only by my obligation to you, and by my guardianship of the blade."
- [SR2] Raziel: "Why would the Pillars summon human guardians, then, if they are meant to be served by vampires?"
Janos: "The Pillars choose their guardians from birth, Raziel - and vampires are no longer born."
- [SR2] Kain: "My god... the Hylden...
... we walked right into their trap..."
- [BO2] Janos to Kain: "The wars between us flamed for a thousand years, but we prevailed at last, and we banished our enemies from the face of the earth by powerful magic, sealing them into another plane of existence."
- The Defiance Script (Dialogue) (Dark Chronicle - Mural: The Raising Of The Pillars)
- The Defiance Script (Dialogue) (Dark Chronicle - Mural: The Blood Curse)
- The Defiance Script (Dialogue) (Dark Chronicle - Mural: The Dark Gift is Passed)
- The Defiance Script (Dialogue) (Dark Chronicle - Mural: The Human Guardians Revolt)
- [DEF] Kain (referring to the mural behind the pool of the 'Oracle of the Ancient Vampires'): "For my ancient ancestors, the dark gift was clearly a curse, damning them to a kind of spiritual purgatory."
- The Defiance Script (Dialogue) (Dark Chronicle - Mural: The Wheel of Fate)
- The Defiance Script (Dialogue) (Dark Chronicle - Mural: History Is Written By The Victors)
- [SR1] The Elder God: "The birth of one of Kain's abominations traps the essence of life. It is this soul that animates the corpse you 'lived' in. And that Raziel, is the demise of Nosgoth. There is no balance. The souls of the dead remain trapped. I can not spin them in the Wheel of Fate. They can not complete their destinies."
- The Defiance Script (Dialogue) (Dark Chronicle - Return To The Vampire Citadel)
- Warp's answers from Amy at the Eidos Forums
- [BO2] Vorador to Kain: "It takes time and energy to create a vampire. I have not the strength."
- [DEF] Raziel to Mortanius: Kain. You used the Heart of Darkness to create Kain."
- The Background Story, as given in the Soul Reaver Game Manual (UK and US versions)
- The Blood Omen 2 Script (Dialogue) (Chapter 1 - The Slums - Welcome To Meridian: Training)
- [BO2] The Seer to Kain: "You can manipulate objects already by sheer will alone, but as you were taught, you can only use this ability at close range."
- [BO2] Umah to Kain (referring to his forthcoming encounters with the traitor vampires): "You would be lucky to survive one such encounter until you grow stronger. But should you prevail, then you will be able to absorb their veins and thus gain new abilities. To our kind, these are called the Dark Gifts."
- [BO2] Marcus to Kain: "The Dark Gifts manifest differently in each of us. Over the years during your absence, my powers have increased enormously. I now have the power to Charm all living things, to subjugate their minds and make them do my bidding."
- The second Defiance Q&A page at The Lost Worlds
- [SR2] Kain to Raziel: "Wracked with grief and tormented with suspicions of treachery, Nupraptor plunges into a madness which overflows and infects all of the Guardians, who are symbiotically bound. Including me.
The repercussions of Ariel's assassination were expertly calculated...
The entire Circle descends into madness, and I am tainted at the moment of my birth - instantly rendered incapable of fulfilling the role destiny has prepared for me."