RATHEGALIA: ENDOWMENT OF BLOOD
Written by Christopher Ikpoh
Illustrations by Junki Sakuraba
Sometime in the distant past, many eons ago…
“The price for what we have obtained will be paid in blood!” a deep, anguishing voice bellowed under a pair of menacing moons.
The night sky was raging with lunar illuminations and vibrant lightning amidst ominous darkness. Rain assaulted the terrain, saturating the majestic forest beneath it. Everything was overflowing with water. The events transpiring seemingly infuriated the planet of Friki, and the heavens were voicing their anger.
Within a wide clearing before a kneeling figure was a group of warriors surrounded by dead enemies. Their black and gold armor channeled the rain down the course of their bodies as leather and metallic riverbeds. The leader of the group stood with her arm extended, confidently holding a sword representing the tradition of untold generations. Her chest heaved mightily as she pressed the tip of the blade against the neck of the defeated man. It was apparent they were at the conclusion of an intense battle. Her long midnight hair, once fallen over her porcelain white face, had just been moved back with her off-hand. However, elation was not the expression displayed. No. Instead, her furrowed brow and slight snarl exposing her elongated fangs portrayed an incensed demeanor giving way to relief. A violent, horrific feud was finally over.
“Then, let the endowment be paid with yours,” she calmly replied. A stern nudge was given to the weapon, piercing the tip of the sword through the defeated man’s neck, and exiting it through the back. She continued to breathe heavily while holding the dead body in place with the blade. Her fellow warriors watched intently as blood poured from the man’s jugular, creating crimson streaks down his chest as rainwater ferried the liquid life towards the ground. The defeated was no more.
As the group of warriors stood silently, thunder cracked with hostility overhead. There was magic encompassing everything – a dark magic – and those present could feel it. It permeated all creation for as far as they could see, and it was this magic that cried out to nature begging not to be dragged into oblivion. The leader removed her sword from the man’s neck and turned to view the entirety of their celestial surroundings. Bolts of lightning battled in the sky above a rocky cliff in the distance as the rain crashed into her face more aggressively than before. The wind intensified, flapping the attire under her armor in all directions.
“Queen Rathegalia!” one of the warriors shouted to their leader over the roaring wind and thunderous cracking. Their queen’s attention was not captured, though, as she continued to observe the malevolence before them resisting its eternal damnation. Thus, the warrior shouted louder and with a more familiar tone. “Adelfi!” The leader turned sharply to her caller as her deep concentration was broken, and realizing they had the queen’s attention, the warrior resumed. “What is happening?!”
Adelfi fixed her gaze on the warrior as her hair danced before her eyes and streams of water were swept into the wind from their armor. “Death!” the queen answered with a shout. They all looked at the black abyss above them being ripped apart by the destructive thunderstorm, and they could sense the withering dark magic clawing to prevent its inevitable demise. Adelfi then continued with a murmur to herself, “Evil never dies quietly…”
The year – 749 AD; the beginning of the medieval period on planet Earth. A continental holy war was burgeoning. The Byzantine Empire – one of the grandest in the world – had absorbed and replaced their Roman predecessors. The newly formed realm was believed to be a direct reflection of the Kingdom of Heaven by its inhabitants, and the emperor, Constantine V, was their divinely anointed leader.
However, unrest was bubbling over in the cauldron of society. The Byzantines experienced an enormous division within the Christian faith that permeated every aspect of the empire’s existence. This separation was caused by the implementation of iconoclasm, which Constantine himself spearheaded. He was devoted to carrying on the work of his father and previous Byzantine emperor, Leo III, despite the exponential growth of contention iconoclasm caused within the powerful Roman Catholic Church in the west. Constantine’s greatest opponent was Pope Zachary, and his papal opposition to iconoclasm was supported by Catholics throughout Europe, including some within Constantinople.
The consternation surrounding iconoclasm regarded the belief the veneration and worship of Christian symbols and icons was in direct opposition to the second of the 10 Commandments; that it stripped Christ, Mary, the saints, and all other holy figures of their divinity by lessening them to the equals of mere humans. The Roman Catholic Church and Pope Zachary counterclaimed Constantine was a heretic for enacting laws and practices supporting iconoclasm, and that the emperor’s campaign was weakening the Christian faith and its followers. Rome and its leaders also made claims Constantine was committing treason against the Christian faith, stating the emperor had been influenced by the Muslims to their eastern borders, as forbidding the worship of symbols and icons was said to be purely an Islamic ideal.
Amidst the widespread religious turmoil, ancient myths about demonic creatures stalking the Earth were no longer just the fables of some and nightmares of others. They were becoming a reality, as the twilight began to birth unspeakable horrors. Monstrous beings emerged from the shadows to hunt humans, devour their flesh, and drink their blood. Innumerable reports of unholy entities ravaging entire villages and taking victims to never be seen again overtook the empire, transforming the myths into undeniable truth. Pope Zachary fanned the flames by publicly claiming across the world Constantine and his iconoclasm crusade were the cause of the supernatural enemy’s emergence and the chaos they inflicted. In lands far and wide, the Catholic Church preached the emperor’s beliefs were of the Devil, and ultimately his actions invited a supernatural evil into their homelands by continuously removing man’s divine weapons against wickedness: Christian symbols and icons.
The emperor refused to allow Pope Zachary and the Catholic Church to admonish him and brazenly undermine his rule. Thus, with the division between the eastern and western parts of the Byzantine Empire beyond repair, the Roman Catholic Church and Constantine amassed their armies and advanced on one another resulting in the dawn of a holy war greater than any known before it.
Meanwhile, across the universe existed a majestic planet known as Friki. The forests were alive and rich with life. The mountain ranges were vast and reached the skies. The plains were plush and bountiful, and the seas were deep and teemed with all types of awe-inspiring creatures. In addition, flourishing civilizations were established across the planet. The inhabitants were nothing like those of Earth, though. A darker side to Friki’s natural beauty existed in the form of terrifying creatures roaming the lands. Among them were werewolves and higher vampires, which were regarded as the two most dominant species on the planet.
From the dawn of time on Friki, fierce tribalism kept the two sides segregated within their territories, each bestowing their own chosen monarchs with power. However, unlike the werewolves who were joined in solidarity as a race, vampires were further divided with each familial clan mostly isolating themselves from the others. Yet, about 4000 years ago after ages of skirmishes back and forth, the vampires realized peace and unity were needed in order to overcome the ever-growing werewolf threat as the Great War of Friki erupted.
There was massive bloodshed, and violent atrocities were committed by both sides during the hundreds of years the war raged on. It was the newly formed cohesiveness amongst the vampires that finally allowed them to emerge victorious, though, catapulting their kind to the top of the Frikian order. But alas, peace would not endure amongst the victors, for harmony always has a way of falling victim to unbridled ambition.
Once they reigned supreme, the vampires began debating which clan’s monarchy should rule over their unified kingdom. This resulted in more fighting and battles. Thus, to gain an edge over the other clans, vampires sought to control the most precious resource on the entire planet; the supply lines which served as its inhabitants’ sole source of nourishment and sustenance. It was a series of interdimensional portals connecting Friki to Earth, which the vampires had been using for millennia to capture humans to feed from and farm on Friki.
Amid the chaos, a single vampire ascended above the rest. His name was Belmont Rathegalia of the Rathegalia Clan. He was regal. He was studious. He was domineering. Belmont was all the things a vampire ruler should be. After rising to become the unquestioned leader of his clan, Belmont implemented his unique military strategies. This turned the tide of the clan wars, and coupled with his sheer domination on the battlefield, resulted in his people gaining firm control over most of the portals. Once in a position of power and influence, though, Belmont chose to use diplomatic governance to align all the clans instead of seeking to crush them. This unprecedented decision saw vampires come together under one accord to manage the usage of the portals and their dealings with humans, eventually resulting in the creation of the Vampire Order of Friki, or the VOF – a group of elders from all the clans that worked as a council of delegates. Thus, peace was reestablished amongst the vampire ranks.
With a governing body in place and order restored, Belmont sought to further expand the reach of their newfound harmony to better stabilize the kingdom. Thus, he vigorously negotiated the inclusion of their mortal enemy – the werewolves – in usage of the portal system, as they too had come to primarily feed on humans over the ages. His bold campaign came much to the chagrin of his fellow elders, as their widely shared belief was vampires were entitled to sole control of the portals to Earth after winning the Great War of Friki. Belmont helped them realize, though, that if they continued to oppress and battle their ancient enemy, they would never truly know peace; their borders would be under constant attack.
As revelations always do, Belmont’s logic pierced the hardened hearts of the other vampire elders and they eventually agreed to the plan. Finally, Belmont embarked on an ambassadorial mission to meet with the werewolf elders. He offered shared access to the Earth portals in exchange for a truce, and despite all the odds his proposal was accepted. Alas, for the first time in Frikian history amity between the two sides existed. True peace was achieved.
The multiple feats of diplomacy, along with Belmont’s legendary status as one of the greatest vampire warriors to ever live, inspired the clans to anoint him king. It was a timeless vampire tradition for a single monarch to rule over their kind, and there existed no better selection than Belmont Rathegalia. Yet, despite all his greatness and the adoration he garnered from vampires and werewolves alike, not even King Belmont could prevent chaos from arising once more on Friki. A fact that began to haunt their world in 749 AD.