The Ruins of The Pillars of Nosgoth
The images show us the Pillars of Nosgoth in a devastated state, with what appears to be blackened scorch marks erupting from the central dais into the surroundings. The forest that encircles the base appears to have sustained heavy impact and heat damage, with the closest trunks toppled, cracked and still burning. The trees further away appear to have been stripped of most of their foliage, with their barks still glowing red with heat. In one of the images there is a particularly distorted segment, possibly indicative of heat blur. This would suggest that the entire area is still extremely hot.
The grass that once grew around The Pillars appears to have been completely incinerated along with any surface soil, leaving barren grey rock. From the dais, wide jagged cracks have erupted in the land, widening as they spread into the distance. To the east of the base, one of these cracks has cut entirely through a rocky outcrop. In all of the cracks red hot rock can be seen, which suggests the presence of cooling lava or exposed magma. The sky is an ominous dark grey and the distant features are heavily foggy and obscured, suggesting heavy smoke or airborne dust is blanketing the area.
The Pillars themselves are broken but still maintaining their perfect vertical alignment, lacking the twisted and depressed angles seen in the futures of Soul Reaver and Soul Reaver 2. The Pillars of Dimension, Nature and States seem to have fared better than the others, with their broken peaks not visible in the screenshots.
It is highly likely we are seeing the Pillars of Nosgoth shortly after their destruction, at a point soon after the young Kain refused to sacrifice himself for their apparent restoration. The devastated surroundings, burning forest, and scorch marks all suggest a recent cataclysm of tremendous power, and the other games in the series do confirm that The Pillars did collapse with an incredible explosion.
Consider how Defiance ended, with the older Kain standing at the peak of the Vampire Citadel, staring at the recently collapsed Pillars of Nosgoth. If we assume The Dark Prophecy takes over immediately after this moment, then it seems likely that The Pillars will be Kain's next destination, and the first area in the game.
Starting the game here would make narrative sense. The Pillars of Nosgoth are a location of paramount importance to the series, and set the scenario for returning players while establishing the essentials of the back-story for newcomers. Kain would likely visit the area, ruminate on the devastation before him, and receive input directing him to his subsequent destinations. With confirmed locations such as the Dragon Statue Reaver Forge, and story developments such as the Hylden occupation of Malek's Bastion, it seems someone knowledgeable of these places and events must meet Kain at The Pillars and provide him with counsel.
The pertinent question is: Who does Kain interact with during his visit to The Pillars? One possibility could be Ariel, whose appearance in the The Dark Prophecy is suggested by concept art. Despite Ariel reaching the apparent conclusion of her character arc in Defiance, the time-travel factor means it remains to be seen if she is still bound to The Pillars in some way. The form "purified" in the concluding scenes of Defiance could be a version of her from Nosgoth's future, meaning her past self would still be bound. Alternately, the absorption of her "purity" into the Reaver could have left a remnant, a sum of her impure parts left over and still trapped at The Pillars. This impure and twisted Ariel (a possibility supported by the concept art, depicting her with a sinister red eye), could suggest she sends Kain to Malek's Bastion as a trap, to vengefully lure him into the dangers presented by the occupying Hylden.
This is an unlikely scenario for a number of reasons. The games do not present Ariel (or the rest of younger members of The Circle of Nine) as having any significant knowledge of The Hylden. Ariel's binding to The Pillars would also prohibit her from learning of events at the distant bastion. Also, given that the younger Kain recently destroyed the balance she was dedicated to reclaiming, the character would have no motivation to interact with a vampire regardless if she recognised the older Kain as the same entity as his younger self.
Who does Kain meet here then? The most likely possibility would be The Seer, the prophetic, possibly Hylden figure from Blood Omen 2. This speculation is supported by one particular piece of concept art, in which a female Hylden is depicted who shares more than a passing resemblance to The Seer. If we recall some of her interaction with Kain in Blood Omen 2, we can see that her appearance in this time and place would make a great deal of narrative sense:
The Seer: Be gone, Dark One. I did not send for you.
Kain: And yet, here I am.
The Seer: So I see. Kain, the disruptor, the pebble in the pond who destroys all he touches.
Kain: You know me, woman?
The Seer: Better than you know yourself.
— Blood Omen 2, Chapter 7: The Canyons
Consider that there is indeed a "Dark Prophecy", a dark prediction of the future that is so pivotal to the story it becomes the selling title of the game. The Seer is the only known active prophet who exists in this era, making her the most logical suspect to deliver it to Kain. Her reference to the younger Kain in Blood Omen 2 as "dark one" could render any prophecy about his actions indeed being a "dark prophecy".
The Seer's appearance would also begin to explain her "better than you know yourself" declaration, confirming she had indeed met the Elder Kain some point in her own past. Her "pebble in the pond" metaphor also could relate to the elder Kain's "you and I are pebbles, Raziel, and have even less hope of disrupting the time-stream" metaphor, suggesting she shares his nuanced view of time and time travel.
The encounter between Kain and The Seer could have possibly included some of the following: An explanation of the nature of the Dark Prophecy, the revelation of a Hylden occupation taking place at Malek's Bastion, and a warning that Kain will not be able to reach the bastion in his bat form. The latter is necessary as various screenshots and concept art confirm that Kain ascends to the bastion through more pedestrian means than flight.
Kain's interaction with The Seer might be respectful, as he would recall her assistance, protection and guidance during the events of Blood Omen 2. He may have also tempered hostility to her Hylden features as the events of Defiance have now confirmed that it is the Elder God and not the Hylden who is the true enemy of Nosgoth.
The events that took place here could be as follows: Kain arrives and surveys the scene, providing a monologue to the player regarding the destruction around him. The Seer appears and provides context on current events, directs Kain to Malek's Bastion and leaves. Kain then leaves The Pillars on foot, and follows the Cobbled Road to the base of the Bastion.
The observation that The Pillars have maintained their vertical alignment is interesting; it suggests that their depressed and angled appearance seen in the Nosgoth's future is a change that happens over time. If the land beneath the base is indeed heated to the point of becoming magma (and the visible red hot rock seen in the cracks would support this), then its fluid movement could be what distorts The Pillars into angular positions.
The cracks erupting from the base of The Pillars seem to increase in size and devastation as they travel into the distance. If these cracks expand further forming into ravines and canyons, then they could be partly responsible for the intense geographic changes in Nosgoth's future. Indeed, the Blood Omen 2 area "The Canyons" may have physically originated from one or more of these cracks, as may have the many ravines and cliffs seen in Soul Reaver. The cracks could have torn through rivers and lakes, flooding the Drowned Abbey and contributing to the formation of The Abyss.
The cloud of dust or smoke seen above the area could be comparable to a high-impact event, and may have spread across Nosgoth blocking out sunlight for a period and causing the demise of plant and animal life. This would explain some of the changes explored in Soul Reaver 2's first two time periods. In screenshots of the Cobbled Road and Inner Bastion areas, the sky depicted is also grey and possibly filled with a smoke or dust cloud, suggesting coverage of a significant area.
If The Dark Prophecy was indeed intended to be the final game in the series, then a possible conclusion is an actual happy ending, a complete restoration of the Pillars of Nosgoth. If such an ending was intended, then starting the game with their ruins would tidily bookend the narrative and motivate the player. The game could have begun with the devastated Pillars and ended with their complete repair, mirroring Blood Omen starting with the white Pillars cracking and ending with their total collapse. There are absolutely no materials to feed speculation on how The Dark Prophecy would have ended, but its an interesting consideration nonetheless.
The images were gathered from the Behance portfolio of Isabelle Lemay in mid-2010.
Isabelle is a former Crystal Dynamics staff member, and was employed as a Senior Environment Artist between January 2001 and December 2004. Isabelle has had considerable experiences in the industry, and over the last thirteen years has worked at many prestigious game studios including Blizzard and Valve.
Her portfolio is currently unavailable through the Behance network, but Google's Cache preserves the original appearance of the page. The following screenshots are also provided for historical reference:
It is worth noting that the screenshots are credited as being from "Legacy of Kain: Defiance". There are a number of facts to contest this:
The screenshots are possibly from The Dark Prophecy. If we assume that the artist was under a non-disclosure agreement prohibiting her mentioning the cancelled game, the only possible way of exhibiting the work would be under the misleading title of a released product. This could explain why such screenshots are displayed under the Defiance heading.