RATHEGALIA: ENDOWMENT OF BLOOD
Written by Christopher Ikpoh
Illustrations by Junki Sakuraba
Book 2, Page 2
Upon returning to his study, Belmont continued to ponder what lied ahead. Aima. The mysterious caravan. The illegal human trafficking. The king’s conscious was being ravaged by the severity of them all. A perilous quest to Earth loomed, as well. Belmont was entering uncharted waters, and he knew not how to begin to navigate them. The weight of his task grew exponentially with each passing second, subconsciously slouching his shoulders and making every step he took heavier than the last. However, one thought provided the king with some reprieve – his plans to procure assistance for his journey. Not from the VOF or anyone on Friki, though, for his belief of traveling with a company of vampire warriors being a hindrance to the mission still rang true. The aid would be clandestine.
Belmont slid the wooden bar across the entrance to his study ensuring he could not be disturbed. Then, he moved to the far end of the room away from any possible prying ears. Once settled, he gently slid a bookcase to the side exposing a hidden stone block. At first glance, the piece of the wall looked identical to the rest of the room. However, when Belmont placed his hand over it something unexplainable happened. The stone block began to glow a blue light, and soon the surface began to ripple. It was then thunder clapped loudly outside, opening-up the sky causing a torrential downpour to occur. Belmont looked at the window to witness the storm before saying to himself, “Yet again, a storm.” Finally, once the ripples dissipated a hole in the wall appeared and housed inside it was a mystical device.
The king grasped the object and turned to place it on a table next to his chair. Taking a seat, he positioned the device exactly right before reading the inscription on it. “Ajji majji la tarajji.” The words created an opening in the top of the object, and from it emanated a pulsating light with a golden hue. Slowly, it grew strong and faded repeatedly as if it were in rhythm with Belmont’s heartbeat. The king stared attentively at the light waiting for a transition to occur. Seconds went by, but it felt like hours. His impatience swelled with each pulse of light. “Where are you?” he muttered to himself, and it was then the change he so eagerly anticipated occurred.
The light glowed bright and constant, portraying ripples as a figure formed before Belmont. Within seconds, a tall, slender, statuesque man was displayed before him. Yet, he was fit; his physique hardened by training and battle. A long beard draped from his face, and on his person was a cultural headwrap with robed attire over his torso. The man’s presence was commanding within the mystical ether comprising his appearance, and it brought a smile to Belmont’s face. “My dear friend, it has been far too long,” the magical image of the man said.
“John Damascene,” Belmont replied. “It has been far too long, indeed.”
John was a human man native to the city of Damascus within ancient Syria on Earth. Long ago, his dedication to studying everything from science and mathematics to religion and mysticism saw him migrate to just outside Constantinople in the Byzantine Empire, though. It was much to the chagrin of his peers and colleagues, for a Syrian residing in the heart of the Christian empire was unheard of. However, John was never one to simply flow with the tide. His desire to obtain knowledge drove him, not national or religious allegiances.
Thus, there existed very few who could rival John’s wisdom. Yet, it was his prowess and proclivity for alchemy and magic which made him unparalleled. After relocating, John worked tirelessly for decades traveling Earth to investigate the rarest of myths for the sole reason to obtain items with powers such as amulets, charms, and specific ingredients for potions and powerful concoctions ranging from plants to animal parts. This, however, was in direct conflict with his status as a priest within the Christian faith, which he achieved after converting from Islam while living near Constantinople.
Magic was strictly forbidden and deemed heretical on Earth for Christians. Everyone from the Catholic Church to the common peasant would not hesitate to have practitioners of mystical arts tried as witches and warlocks to have them hung. Life as a Syrian-Christian priest within the Catholic Church, but hailing from the Islamic empire, was already hard enough. Facing persecution for being a grandmaster magician was the last thing he needed. Furthermore, John was once close with the Byzantine emperor Constantine V, but they fell at odds because John ultimately sided with Pope Zachary on his stance against iconoclasm. The priest faced potential danger on all sides. Therefore, he kept his supernatural expertise completely secret from everyone… except Belmont.
The king first met John over 100 years ago on a trip to Earth with a few Vrykolakas warriors to investigate a group of vampires who illegally used the portals to travel there. Upon meeting with a couple of their regular human contacts, they were introduced to John. The priest was a victim of the rouge vampires. He barely survived the attack and was found beaten and battered by the human leaders present. Not only did John manage to survive, though, he killed his Frikian assailants. This fact confounded the warriors. Belmont was in awe, though, because the manner which the rogue vampires were killed was exceptionally unique.
Human myths regarding vampires spoke of extremely specific ways to kill them. One must burn a “demon of the night” and then behead them or impale them through the chest with a wooden stake; two methods which barely produced a handful of human victories over vampires in all of history. Yet, the vampires who attacked John were twisted and contorted into knots of flesh and broken bones, a feat impossible for any human to achieve.
When interrogated by Belmont, John refused to tell him how he secured his survival. Therefore, the warriors motioned for Belmont to let them execute the priest to help keep the vampire existence secret. The human leaders seconded the motion, eager to protect their lucrative arrangement with the vampires. However, before the king could respond John disappeared into thin air! The priest reappeared next to a warrior having stolen the vampire’s sword and cut him down. John did this again and again until all the Vrykolakas warriors and human leaders present were slaughtered. Killing Belmont was not on the meeting agenda, though, and when John disappeared and reanimated next to the king, Belmont used his superior speed and reflexes to block the priest’s strike, disarm him, and knock him to the ground. John, unarmed and under the edge of Belmont’s sword, resided to his fate. Yet, killing John was not on the meeting agenda, either.
The king removed his weapon from the priest’s throat and helped him to his feet, a gesture that shocked John. Belmont expressed his willingness to spare the priest’s life if John were to divulge the source of his power. It was then the priest informed Belmont of his vast magical and alchemical knowledge. John detailed how he wielded an ancient amulet to give him the strength to mangle the rogue vampires while he fought to keep them from tearing him apart. The amulet was destroyed in the final moments of the battle, though. As for the teleportation, the priest explained it was the result of a potion he ingested along with an ancient incantation which he was able to utilize extremely sparingly.
The king was infatuated with what he was hearing and proceeded to sit and converse with John for many hours. Likewise, once the priest had coped with fact he was almost ravaged by otherworldly creatures, he too was infatuated with the information and stories Belmont was sharing with him. He was astounded by being in the company of living evidence life existed elsewhere in the universe. John grew ravenous with curiosity, and it was not long before the priest began inundating Belmont with questions of his own. The king sensed the genuine astonishment inside of John, and thus decided to feed the priest all the knowledge he sought by answering his questions. This was in direct conflict with the very laws established by the king’s ancestors, as sharing ancient secrets and knowledge of their ways with humans was punishable by death. However, Belmont recognized a kindred spirit in John, and the priest did the same, forging the beginning of an unbreakable bond and friendship.
Over the decades, John would secretly help council Belmont on all matters dealing with Earth and humans. The king sought the priest’s guidance to ensure he remained objective in his decisions, and John was more than happy to oblige. Belmont held the intel he gathered from John in extremely high regard, as it continually proved to help ensure the safety of Friki and its inhabitants.
In return, Belmont continued to provide John with the ancient knowledge of his people. He would allow John to study texts and scriptures of all kind from his own personal study and Vrykolakas archives located elsewhere. The priest used the opportunity to feed his insatiable desire to possess the rarest of wisdoms to expand his expertise practicing magic, furthering his abilities beyond any wizard or witch he ever knew or heard of; a fact which impressed Belmont beyond belief. His own exposure to magic was extremely limited, as practicing the mystical arts was also punishable by death on Friki due to a dark history involving magic and vampires. This did not deter the king from opening the annals of Frikian knowledge to the priest, though. Thus, John did not only owe Belmont his life, but much of who he was as a scholar and magic practitioner, as well.
Shortly after the priest’s image appeared in Belmont’s study and the two shared pleasantries, John inquired, “To what do I owe this unexpected visit?”
The king paused for a second, grabbed a book next to him on the table, and answered while flipping through the pages, “Where to start?”
“The beginning is as good a place as any,” the priest quipped.
Belmont chuckled before continuing, “I did it, John. I found aima.”
“Incredible! Would you happen to have a sample for me to study and experiment with?”
“Unfortunately, no. The well had been drained by a megathirio by the time I found it.”
John paused and then replied with an inquiry. “Well, what did you observe? Any anomalies?”
“Physiological changes, as if it underwent millennia of evolution within a fraction of its biological lifespan.”
“Remarkable. Expound on your findings, please.”
“Venomous glands inside the mandible with the ability to spew it upon threats or prey. Increased size, strength, speed, aggression…”
“Well, now you truly must find the source of aima on Friki.” Belmont continued to flip through the pages of the book, though, without responding. When John noticed, he said, “I’m sorry. Am I boring you, king?”
“Sorry,” Belmont answered, “it is just… immediately after locating aima I witnessed something – a mysterious caravan manned by vampires wearing an unidentifiable house sigil on their attire. They were transporting human captives to an unknown location deep within remote terrain of Friki.”
The priest retorted, “What sigil did you see?”
“That is the thing. I cannot find it anywhere in the archives. I have scoured this text documenting every clan symbol ever created by every vampire house that has existed. The unknown sigil is nowhere to be found.”
“Did you commit it to memory? Can you sketch it for me?”
Belmont grabbed a quill with some ink and drew the sigil precisely as it appeared on the attire of the vampires with the caravan. The magical image of John studied the perfect drawing, and after 10 seconds or so stated, “Yes. I know where I have seen this before.”
In utter disbelief and anxious to hear more, the king replied, “You know this sigil? Where have you seen it?”
“Here on Earth.”
Belmont was taken aback. “Humans wearing vampire attire deep within the outskirts of our lands on Friki? Impossible.”
“I did not say humans wore the sigil, my friend.”
Again, Belmont was silent with contemplation. His mind raced to make sense of what he was told, and when it all came together, he turned sharply to John’s image. “A new vampire house on Earth.”
John began to explain. “What was once solely a myth – campfire stories and scary tales of monsters in the night – are becoming veritable truths. Word has spread far and wide of fleshly demons of the night who attack humans under the canopy of darkness, leaving their victims to never be seen again. Wicked supernatural creatures bearing sharp fangs and moving with speed undetectable to the eye, with the strength of 20 men, have been greatly reported across the Byzantine Empire and beyond. I investigated a few sightings near my location, keen to prevent others from being attacked by rogue vampires as I once was. The vampires I came across were not easily dispatched, and all their attire brandished the sigil you have drawn. I figured another band of outlaw Frikians passed through a portal and were causing an uproar here. I never thought they would be associated with something more nefarious, though.”
The king inquired, “The activity of this new vampire house on Earth has caused an uproar?”
“It has. The situation has even been weaponized by Pope Zachary and the Catholic Church against Constantine V, furthering the war between both sides. Leave it to holy leaders to never miss an opportunity to exercise political subterfuge in the name of God.”
“The illegal human trafficking,” Belmont mumbled.
The priest was puzzled by Belmont’s words and queried, “Illegal human trafficking?”
“We have experienced a massive influx of humans here on Friki, creating chaos on all fronts. Vampires are in a frenzy either trying to feed off as many of these undocumented humans as they can, or they are working tirelessly to contain the importation of the excess humans to restore balance to our economic system. And I just left a VOF meeting. It has the elders on edge, understandably so. Political subterfuge…”
“Hmm…” the priest mused.
Belmont surmised, “I knew whoever is behind this had intimate knowledge of Friki, vampires, our inner workings as a society, and the Treaty of Worlds. It seems I underestimated exactly how much they know and understand, though. The vampires on Earth responsible predicted the heightened human trafficking would do just what it has here in my world, and they knew unleashing terror on your world would result in widespread panic and fear igniting the already volatile religious powder keg that is the Byzantine and Catholic empires. I anticipate these are just the first steps in whatever their master plan is, and I expect them to move to capitalize on it expeditiously.”
“Destabilize both sides simultaneously making them easier to be destroyed, whether by themselves or by one another.”
“Precisely. Furthermore, I believe the location of the aima I discovered, along with witnessing the caravan not too far from there, is not a coincidence, either.”
The priest flowed with Belmont’s line of thinking until a question formed in his mind. “How does the aima factor into this?”
“I don’t know, but I’m guessing getting to the bottom of the other two issues will reveal the answer to that. Friki’s greatest fear of human awareness of vampires is quickly becoming a reality, and if indisputable evidence of my kind and the Treaty of Worlds becomes global Earthly knowledge, it will only be a matter of time before they create a unified front to exhaustively investigate everything. It will inevitably lead them to discover the portals, leaving my home world vulnerable to a massacre.”
“All the while, the vampire house stationed here will remain in the shadows as they have been for God knows how long, patiently waiting to slaughter the devastated remnants of whoever emerges victorious,” the priest remarked. John’s and Belmont’s words were coated with urgency. The direness of the situation at hand was undeniable for both Friki and Earth, and both knew what the resolution must be, which lead the priest to query, “When will you arrive?”
“I am leaving now,” the king declared.
“As much as I love our quests together, this is not something we will be able to handle between the two of us. We will need assistance, and seeing how there are innumerable reasons we need to keep this secret…”
Belmont moved about his study with purpose gathering the armor, sword and shield he discarded after returning to Castle Rathegalia. “Any ideas?”
“Three of us is better than two.”
“But will it be enough?” the priest queried with concern.
“Too large of a party and we lose any element of surprise we may have by becoming too conspicuous. More importantly, though, with the revelations that have arisen from our conversation, I frankly do not know who we can trust. We have no idea how far this thing goes in either of our worlds.”
“It is of no consequence, though. The order before us stands unfathomably tall, and whether we are accompanied by an entire militia or we are just a trio of warriors, evil never dies quietly,” Belmont stated with conviction arising from the depths of his spirit.
“I take it you will be using the hidden portal I created for you in your study,” John said.
“Yes,” the king replied. “Give me a few minutes and then activate the portal as always.”
“Of course. I will be expecting your arrival to my home shortly.” The magical image of John began to ripple before the light emanating from the device on the table dissipated into nothing. Belmont finished changing from his regal attire into his armor. He placed the device back into the hollowed place in the wall before waving his hand over the opening creating ripples of blue light. The stone block was solid again, and as it solidified thunder burst again in the night sky outside his castle. The king glanced at the lightning flashing through the study windows, and then directed his vision toward his sword and shield. Placing the weapon on his hip, he quickly went to remove the wooden board that locked the study door before grabbing his shield. This would make it look as if he exited the room without being seen if anyone came looking for him, instead of creating suspicion of how he exited when the door was locked form the inside. Then, seconds later the secret portal to John’s home opened.
Without hesitation, Belmont used his supernatural speed to enter the interdimensional gateway. Traveling at the speed of light was never something anyone could become accustom to. His body felt nonexistent. The sensation was that of a dream, where only his mind remained powered by his consciousness. Belmont could see blinding light without seeing. He could hear the vacuum of space without hearing. He could feel its freezing cold temperatures without touching it. The experience of moving through the portal was exhilarating. Alas, it did not last long, for within a moment a flash brought solid ground beneath Belmont’s feet as air filled his lungs. The king’s senses were all returning in an instant, and as soon as his ears could register decipherable sounds again, he heard John’s voice. “Welcome to Earth, King Belmont.”