The screenshot shows a ghostly image of Raziel, lacking any of his colouring or textures, standing on a bridge over a mountainous area.
The bridge is suspended by arches and pillars, the latter of which extend upwards above the walkway and have some form of light or torch mounted at their peaks. The rails of the bridge appear to be bronze or copper, and are decorated with a recurring ornate pattern. The surface of the walkway appears to be a lighter cream-coloured stone.
Beneath the bridge and into the distance, dark mountains can be seen. Above these is a pitch black sky, with no stars or weather features.
Story Speculation - Theories
This image is by far the most controversial discovery made regarding the cancelled game. The character of Raziel achieved complete closure in the concluding moments of Defiance, sacrificing himself so that Kain would be able to see "the true enemy" of Nosgoth. This development provided resolution to his complex character arc spanning three games, and may be the most poignant moment in the entire series.
Kain: No, Raziel!
Raziel: The Soul Reaver, pure of all corruption. This is what it is for. This is what I am for. The two become one, both Soul Reavers together, and the Scion of Balance is healed. And I am not your enemy - not your destroyer. I am, as before, your right hand - your sword.
Kain: No, Raziel, this can't be the way!
Raziel: And now you will see the true enemy...
This is the moment in which Raziel achieves his destiny, the confused continuity of the Soul Reaver blade is resolved, and Kain loses his last son and ally to the greater cause. The consciousness of Raziel submits to experience a purgatorial descent into madness and fury, fully understanding that millennia of imprisonment in the blade will devolve him into a frenzied, soul-consuming, barely-sentient undead weapon.
For the character to be, quite astonishingly, standing on a bridge in The Dark Prophecy raises a tremendous array of questions: Is Raziel free? What is his intent? Where is he travelling to? The image also raises significant concerns as to how the character could return without greatly diminishing the devastating moment of self-sacrifice that concluded his story arc.
From the image, we can construct at least four possible theories to explain Raziel's appearance in The Dark Prophecy. Be aware that these theories are mutually exclusive possibilities to explain the given screenshot, and are highly speculative due to the severely limited information.
Theory One: Raziel is extracted from the Soul Reaver
The most straightforward theory is that some external force has extracted Raziel from his imprisonment in the Soul Reaver blade. Such an event would not be unheard of, as Blood Omen sets precedent that such extractions are possible.
Consider Malek the Paladin, whose soul was extracted from his flesh by Mortanius' powerful necromancy and fused into a suit of armour. This fusion of soul and metal was destroyed by Vorador during their final battle, leaving the armour completely inert. Malek's soul was freed from its prison, and finally allowed to rest. The means by which Vorador performed this feat have never been explained.
The second example is the daughter of King Otmar, whose soul was extracted by Elzevir the Dollmaker using a lock of her hair as a conduit. Elzevir was able to use this piece of hair to somehow remotely draw her soul out of her body (in Willendorf Castle), and fuse it into an unremarkable-looking inanimate doll. Kain provides some interesting observations on this:
Elzevir imprisoned the girl's soul in a small fabric doll. The old man's intentions I shall never know. Strange that such a tiny thing, a shred of burlap and silk with a single lock of hair nailed to it, could bring a kingdom to its knees. Small things frequently have enormous consequences.
— Kain, in Blood Omen
I entered the court with the dollmaker's head in one hand, and the doll containing the girl's soul in the other. I placed them both before the King and watched his eyes catch fire. With the doll in their possession, the court's sorcerers could restore his daughter's soul.
— Kain, in Blood Omen
It would appear that the process to extract a soul from its prison is reversible even by human sorcerers, whose powers were presumably extremely limited, evidenced by the fact that they were unable to meaningfully do anything to slow down the advance of the Nemesis. It appears then, that the manipulation of bonded and imprisoned souls is a not feat reserved for only the most powerful magic wielders.
Soul Reaver 2 teaches us that major adjustments to past events can result in a "fatal paradox" in which the irritants of history are expunged from the timeline. Consider the Soul Reaver blade's importance throughout history: It is wielded by the fledgling Kain during his rise to power; it becomes the weapon of choice of the Hylden General for two centuries; and eventually becomes the iconic blade of the ruler of Nosgoth for a millennium. The existence of the sword enables Kain to eventually be purified of his corruption, and finally gives Nosgoth hope of a future without the tyranny of the Elder God. It is pivotal to Nosgoth's history, and causing Raziel to be freed from it before these events have occurred would undoubtedly be a fatal paradox of the most devastating nature.
The conclusion we can draw from this is that extracting Raziel from the Soul Reaver is not an act of magical difficulty, and may even be achievable by sorcerers on the low end of the spectrum of magical power. It is the cataclysmic consequences to time itself that are the limiting factor here, releasing Raziel may be easy, but preventing time from collapsing in on itself is not.
A possibility is that the Elder God or some agent working on its behalf (perhaps even unknowingly), takes the Soul Reaver from Kain during The Dark Prophecy and extracts Raziel from it. Considering that the Raziel-imprisoned Reaver is the only known weapon capable of harming the Elder God (and with future Reaver enhancements, possibly even defeating it), it could be in the Elder's best interests to neuter the sword by removing its soul-consuming essence. The Elder God is a creature seemingly unaffected by the linear flow of time (as shown by its time-transcendent dialogue with Raziel in Soul Reaver and Soul Reaver 2), and it may be able to tolerate the devastating effects on time that Raziel's release will cause. The act would be one of self-preservation, with the Elder God sacrificing Nosgoth to the ravages of a fatal paradox in order to preserve its existence.
This could lead to an interesting consequence: if Raziel is freed, then perhaps during the events of The Dark Prophecy, history is collapsing due to the fatal paradox. Such a development could certainly lead to an exciting conclusion, in which Kain and Raziel seek to defeat the Elder God before all of Nosgoth is destroyed.
Given Raziel's acceptance of his grim imprisonment at the end of Defiance, what would he be doing following his release from the blade? Would his quest be one of altruism, a hunt for the Reaver so he can resume his place within it and repair history? Or would it be a mission of escape, fuelled by desperation to avoid returning to the blade no matter what the consequences would be? Having been imprisoned in the blade for a relatively short duration, during which he experienced agonising impotence, endless hunger and absolute knowledge that his torment will play out over thousands of years, perhaps Raziel is extracted from the blade as a broken man, desperate to escape regardless of the consequences to history.
If this first theory is correct and Raziel has indeed been extracted from the Reaver, then The Dark Prophecy would certainly have to resolve this crisis. Would the penultimate story development be Raziel returning to his imprisonment, enabling Kain to wield the sword against the Elder God? Consequently, now that Raziel understands firsthand what imprisonment in the Soul Reaver involves, will he return to the sword willingly?
Theory Two: Raziel is still in the Reaver
The last time we saw Raziel was during his willing sacrifice to the Soul Reaver blade, accepting a state of prolonged imprisonment and torment so that Kain would be armed with the weapon he needs to save the world. In the moments before his complete absorption he transferred the energies of the spirit-imbued wraith blade, his own deranged future self, into Kain to purify him of his Guardian corruption. And then he was gone, his character arc completed.
Can we reconcile these two facts? Could this inexplicable environment somehow exist in the sword itself? Let us consider some of the more enigmatic comments made about the importance of the Soul Reaver blade:
At the time of the Binding, nine guardians were called to serve the Pillars, and I was summoned as the tenth guardian: the keeper of the Reaver, the weapon of our salvation. Over time, our race died out until I alone remained - sustained only by my obligation to you, and by my guardianship of the blade.
— Janos Audron, in Soul Reaver 2
Janos considers the Soul Reaver to be the weapon of his race's salvation. Given that at this point in time, his entire species is apparently functionally extinct with him as the last survivor, what possible "salvation" can he be referring to?
Janos: The Binding must be secured, Raziel. The Pillars are the lock...
Raziel: ...and the Reaver is the key.
We know that one of the purposes of the Pillars was its functionality as a weapon of mass-destruction, and in the moments of its activation it excised the majority of the Hylden race into the Demon Dimension. The Reaver seems to be able to open this "lock", presumably the barrier preventing the Hylden from returning, but how and why would such an unlocking lead to the Ancients' salvation?
You must reclaim the Reaver. It was forged for you, and you alone. Without it, there is no hope.
— Janos Audron, in Soul Reaver 2
Further commentary that the Reaver is the enabler of hope for the Ancients' cause:
I crafted the Reaver blade, but only at the behest of my sire Janos Audron. What sorcery he and the others laid upon the sword afterward, I cannot say.
— Vorador, in Defiance
Vorador confirms that the Ancients used their extremely powerful magics on the Reaver blade. Can he "not say" as he was not privy to their intent, or because the magic being utilised was beyond his comprehension?
What magic could the powerful Ancients have performed with the blade? How would this magic somehow lead to the salvation of an extinct race? There are no clear answers to these questions, and the suggestion is that there is much more to the blade that we have been told.
Here is a theory to reconcile the enigmatic statements of Janos and Vorador, Raziel's imprisonment in the blade, and the screenshot from The Dark Prophecy: the Reaver is bigger on the inside than the outside.
There is precedent for such magic. Recall that in Blood Omen, Kain approaches Dark Eden, the domain of the mad triumvirate of Bane, Dejoule and Anarcrothe. The central tower was a dimensionally-transcendental structure: tall and thin on the outside, but containing a gargantuan fortress and extensive laboratories within.
The surface of the castle belied its interior, for it was far larger inside than out. With the powers the Circle had at its disposal, 'twould have been simple to distort space to accommodate this strange structure.
— Kain, describing the tower at the center of Dark Eden, in Blood Omen
This distortion of dimensions was possible through the magical manipulations of three members of the potent Circle of Nine. The Ancients, as a race - the very creators of the Pillars - would logically have far more magical power than these three comparatively young Guardians. What if they used a similar magical technique on the Reaver?
The evidence that suggests that Dark Eden was to return in The Dark Prophecy is also relevant. What if in the early stages of the game, the story reintroduces to the player the possibility of things and locations being bigger-on-the-inside, in order to set up a later plot twist that the Reaver itself also shares this exotic quality?
So if the Reaver is bigger on the inside, then what is within it? Consider the situation the Ancients were in: Cursed with vampirism and immortality, the loss of the Pillars of Nosgoth to the human Guardians, the gradually weakening binding, and the threat of the rising human empires. Could they have used their extensive magic to turn the sword into a lifeboat of sorts, conjuring an entire plane of existence within the metal for them to hibernate until a cure for their condition could be found?
Assuming there is any validity to this, then perhaps there is indeed a surreal artificial reality in the Reaver blade, a ghostly mirror of Nosgoth beneath a blackened sky in which the Ancients sleep awaiting a cure, and eventual release. This might be the salvation of their race that Janos refers to, and why his role of protecting the blade is one of paramount importance.
The Ancients may have planned the Reaver to have two purposes:
As we know from the Soul Reaver games, Raziel's soul is destined to remain in the Reaver in a state of hellish solitary confinement, leading to his devolution into the frenzied wraith blade. Therefore if this theory of a world-within-the-sword is accurate, something must happen to the Ancients and environment within the Reaver to leave him utterly alone. Perhaps the Scion of Balance succeeds in his prophesied role and the Ancients are freed and restored, leaving Raziel as the solitary occupant and prisoner of the world within the blade?
In The Dark Prophecy, Raziel may find himself inexplicably in a surreal mirror of Nosgoth, exploring the abstract reality that the Ancients created for themselves within the Reaver blade. Perhaps he learns things from this reality, the secrets of the Ancients, and somehow has to communicate this information to Kain to assist him in his quest to destroy the Elder and save Nosgoth.
Perhaps a darker development would occur, and we would have witnessed Raziel's descent into madness as he spends more time in the Reaver, a consequence of his soul-devouring nature being incompatible with the tranquillity in the sword? If Raziel degrades into hunger madness, then perhaps this supposed "saviour" of the Ancient race will be their final tragedy, the ravenous consumer of their resting souls?
Theory Three: Raziel continues to exist in a form beyond the wraith blade
When Raziel sacrificed himself to the Reaver, he was fully aware of the horror that awaited him. He would spend millennia trapped in the sword, experiencing a descent into madness that would consume his personality and leave him as a frenzied and impotent devourer of souls. He would then be released as a wraith blade and bond to his past self, then be taken back in time, imbued with the cleansing power of spirit, and finally be fed into Kain to purify the Scion of Balance of his corruption.
The last thing we saw happening to this final form of Raziel, the wraith blade itself, is its absorption into Kain. What if there is more to this process of purification than we are aware? What if the power of the Spirit Forge, while healing Kain of Nupraptor's madness, also healed the wraith blade of its own derangement? The process of purification could have excised the wraith blade of its torment, erasing the memories of its millennia of imprisonment, and consequently restoring to the wraith blade the persona of Raziel. Therefore, Raziel would find himself somehow existing within Kain. Such a continued existence would certainly fit in with the Elder God's declaration that Raziel is "undying" and "cannot be returned to the wheel".
Consider the surreal elements of the screenshot, the ghostly figure of Raziel, the abstract mountains and pitch black sky. Could Raziel, his essence fused into Kain, be somehow exploring an abstract geography made up of Kain's memories? Perhaps as Kain explores the tangible world of Nosgoth, Raziel explores Kain's memories giving both him and the player the opportunity to see (and even experience) the past events that have made Kain who he is today. Raziel may explore physical manifestations of paramount moments in the series that were never shown to the player, such as the resurrection of Vorador, the raising of the Sarafan corpses as vampires, the rise of Kain's Empire, the moments following Raziel's execution, and even Kain's revelation that he is the Scion of Balance. Perhaps Raziel, existing as wraith blade energy within Kain's mind, is able to observe details in these memories that Kain himself has somehow missed, and Raziel's interactions in this non-corporeal (but seemingly real) memory world help give Kain insight as to where his quest should take him.
If this theory is sound, then Raziel would be experiencing a varied selection of times and events in the Legacy of Kain lore, providing the player with further back story as Kain's quest furthers the plot of saving Nosgoth. How could this be resolved, though? Perhaps Kain begins to realise that his memories are being manipulated by some internal force aiding him in his quest, and eventually understands that Raziel still exists within him.
This could even lead to a scenario where as the final battle with the Elder God approaches, an act of intense magic allows Raziel to be extracted from within Kain and given a body once more. The result of such an act could be the two powerful protagonists of the Legacy of Kain series finally matched up against the Elder God, and combining their strengths to finally free Nosgoth of its tyranny.
Theory Four: the collapse of causality
Consider the Elder God is now exposed for the first time in history, and is facing a powerful enemy with a weapon that can harm it. Despite the creature's boasts during its battle with Kain at the end of Defiance, the reality is that the Elder has never been more vulnerable than it is now.
As the Elder is apparently unaffected by the linear flow of time (as demonstrated by its non-chronological interactions with Raziel in the Soul Reaver games and Defiance), it may consider the use of fatal paradoxes (as discussed in Soul Reaver 2) as a valid defensive strategy. Desperate to destroy Kain regardless of the consequences to Nosgoth's history, the Elder God may use its ability to transport creatures in time (a power it exhibited in the Vampire Citadel in Defiance) to summon enemies for Kain. As Kain is discovering the enhancements left by the Ancients for the Scion of Balance to aid him in destroying the Elder (such as the Dragon Statue Reaver Forge), he may inexplicably find creatures appearing from all of Nosgoth's history, summoned by the Elder as combatants. This could be one possible explanation for the presence of the pre-banishment Hylden seen in The Dark Prophecy concept art; they may have been summoned from the distant past to fight against Kain as unwitting pawns of the Elder.
There is an exchange in Defiance in which Kain makes explicit the person and weapon that stands the best chance of destroying him:
Kain: I have not come here to threaten you Raziel.
Raziel: You say that, while you hold in your hand the instrument of my doom?
Kain: I saved you from the Reaver once. I have no intention of imprisoning you within the blade.
Raziel: At least not until the moment it serves your plans to do so!
Kain: You are not the only one at risk. I may carry the instrument of your destruction, but I too, have taken a chance in coming here. Or haven't you realized? You bear the only weapon that can kill me.
Raziel is the only combatant that Kain acknowledges can kill him. The Elder God, being aware of this, could completely violate causality and summon a past version of Raziel to Kain's current time and place to fight him.
Imagine if the Elder used its time-travelling capability to take the Raziel who had just woken up on the floor of the Lake of the Dead, after centuries of torment in the Abyss, and deposited him in front of Kain? Or consider the Elder God redirecting Raziel when he jumped into the Chronoplast portal at the conclusion of Soul Reaver, so that instead of appearing in Moebius' time-streaming chamber in the Sarafan Stronghold, he appears in front of the present incarnation of Kain instead? These earlier versions of Raziel were thirsty for vengeance and blinded by rage, and would almost certainly attack Kain on sight.
Blood Omen gives precedent for such acts of time manipulation during Kain's battle with Moebius. In the latter stages of the fight, Moebius appears to summon a future version of Kain to the combat arena, and Kain is forced to defeat this strange version of himself from a future that doesn't take place.
For the Elder God to summon a vengeful, past version of Raziel to fight Kain, the consequence could be that the flow of history collapses entirely, the laws of causality lost to a succession of fatal paradoxes. This would be devastating to Nosgoth, and might even result in reality crumbling piece-by-piece around Kain as he tries to progress in his quest. The Elder God, a creature outside of the laws of time, might simply consider such physical and temporal devastation to be a small price to pay for the death of Kain.
If this theory is true, then Raziel would be a very dangerous enemy for Kain to face, a powerful undying wraith who can continue to reappear from the Spectral Realm when defeated. Such an encounter may also be a devastating development on a personal level for Kain, to see the "son" he had reconciled with once more pursuing him for vengeance.
Story Speculation - Would Raziel's return have been detrimental to the series?
It had been assumed that Raziel's story arc had been completed, and that his final act in Defiance was an elegant moment of closure for the character. His story, from blind vengeance to affecting altruism, is regarded as one of the strongest character progressions in the entire gaming medium. For The Dark Prophecy to have brought the character back from his apparent destiny is certainly concerning, and significantly difficult to imagine being done successfully. It would take an extraordinary story to warrant dismantling the exit that Amy Hennig and the Defiance team orchestrated for Raziel, and we may never know if Ritual Entertainment were up to the task.
Comments From Ben Lincoln
I believe that it's quite likely that there were at least tenative plans to include Raziel in The Dark Prophecy. I am not particularly fond of this idea, because I think it cheapens his sacrifice in Defiance, but historically, games with Raziel in them seem to have performed better commercially. This lost episode was to be built by a different team than the one that had worked on Defiance, and it seems to me entirely possible that someone at Eidos gave them the direction to include Raziel by any means necessary for that reason. The fact that at least one person at Ritual was using the Raziel model only lends weight to this belief.
However, I would caution the reader about making too many assumptions based on a single screenshot. For example, even assuming that Raziel was intended to be in the game (and this is not known with absolute certainty), it's possible that The Dark Prophecy was to be told in a non-linear fashion, with Raziel's chapters taking place before the conclusion of Defiance.
See also my comments in the Mountain Bridge article.
The images were gathered from the portfolio website of Frank Pierce.
Frank is a former Ritual Entertainment environment artist and level designer, and worked at the studio from November 2003 to April 2004. Relevant screenshots are preserved here for historical reference:
Frank's website confirms that the images are from his time at Ritual Entertainment, and confirms that he did work on "unreleased titles".
11/2003-04/05 Ritual Ent, Inc, Dallas, Texas
Environment artist with some level designing. Vehicle and prop implementation with an understanding of scripting. In-game special effects work with particle effects. Experience with PS2, XBox, and PC development. Shipped "25 to Life" worked on two other unreleased titles using Valve's Source engine.