RATHEGALIA: ENDOWMENT OF BLOOD
Written by Christopher Ikpoh
Illustrations by Junki Sakuraba
The King’s Arrival
The wood floors creaked underneath King Belmont’s feet as he continued to gather his bearings. The distinct scent of Earth and John Damascene’s home cascaded into the vampire’s nostrils. Light pulsated through the pupils of his eyes, illuminating his surroundings with bright outlines and vivid colors. The priest’s massive book collection shone with greens, browns, blues, reds, whites, and black. Candles burned brightly all around, the flames dancing with joy at Belmont’s sudden presence. Wooden furniture and common cloth linens comprised the décor; worn metals adorned all of John’s visible home fixtures and eating utensils. The air was frigid against the king’s skin, immediately alerting him to the season. It was the priest’s ornate, magnificent staff which struck Belmont’s senses, snapping him to orientation, though.
Gleaming Frikian metal reflected the orange-red tint from the candle fire as the rune etchings on the staff rippled fantastically with white waves of magical energy intertwined with gold highlights. “Belmont…” John’s voice was heard once more by the king. “Easy there.”
Belmont remained motionless for a few more seconds before returning to full mental capacity. “The elderly are not built for portal travel,” the king joked.
“Elderly? That is preposterous. You’re only, what, 4,049 years old?” John facetiously replied.
“It’s been a rough 4 millennia, friend.” Both men laughed heartily while embracing one another with fervor.
“It is great to see you, Belmont!”
“Likewise, John! Likewise!”
The priest’s staff was washed over with another wave of magic as the etched runes sent energy flowing through the shimmering metal once more. Belmont and John witnessed the happening before the priest peered at the vampire. Something seemed different about the king. “Intriguing…”
“What is it?” Belmont inquired.
“My staff… it reacts as if it is in the presence of magic.”
“You are a wielder of such, are you not?”
“No. I mean, yes. I am. Yet, my staff does not autonomously react to magic. Only when I engage with it.”
“If I possess any magic it is supernatural stress. Or maybe it is that I’m not the only one getting too old for things.” John reacted with a subdued chuckle amidst Belmont’s more enthused laugh from the king’s quip they both may be suffering from post-intergalactic travel complications. Then, Belmont continued, “I see you have increased your collection of texts. I take it your knowledge continues to grow as your study material expands.”
“Indeed. I was blessed to have bestowed upon me a set of tomes and recordings of mystical arts originating in the far east. They were gifted by one of the greatest magic practitioners I have ever encountered,” the priest replied.
The king retorted, “Anything in there which will aid us on our quest?”
“All knowledge aids one on all quests, Belmont.”
“Let us hope so, my friend.” Belmont continues to circle John’s home taking in the changes since the last time he visited before returning to the conversation. “This person you mentioned who might be capable of aiding us in our quest…”
John moved to retrieve his items for their departure as he explained, “Yes. Her name is Khawla bint Al-Azwar. She is a legendary Arab warrior who has led numerous successful military campaigns against the Byzantines.”
“How is it you came about her acquaintance?” Belmont queried.
John continued to gather vials of alchemical potions and solutions, placing them securely in his waist belt as he stated, “She was dispatched to Constantinople to gather intel for a Muslim invasion. Something went awry, though, and the covert identity she used to conceal her true origin was compromised. When I met her, she was being heavily pursued by a troop of Byzantine soldiers. She was beaten and disheveled. The soldiers were violating Khawla during her captivity. Torture… rape… they committed their atrocities with vigor until she was able to free herself. Khawla stumbled across my secluded abode desperate for help. At once, I casted a cloaking spell making her and the trail of blood she left behind invisible to the soldiers who quickly followed. The men aggressively questioned me and searched my home. Upon finding no evidence of her presence, they departed and never returned.”
Belmont wore an expression of sympathy. He knew of mankind’s savagery, and his heart felt for the Arab warrior’s horrific experience. “I am sensing her story of recovery overpowers her harrowing experience.”
“You seem to be gaining an understanding of Khawla.” The priest walked towards Belmont as he unveiled more of the past. “Her injuries were severe. It was a miracle she even had the ability to escape and make it to me while evading capture. Her spirit was exponentially resilient; she refused to resign her life to defeat at the hands of her captors. Alas, her body could no longer use her indominable will to cling to life. Though free, she would die in my home at that very moment. Thus, I immediately began implementing every magical healing spell I know, and I administered every restorative alchemical potion I possessed to save her. The process was arduous. The meticulousness required was painstaking. The mystical enchantments essential to complete the procedure were the most ancient and difficult to cast. Yet, after two days of continuous application she recovered to a place where her natural healing process could do the rest.”
“Incredible.” Belmont was supremely impressed, both with the priest’s magical abilities, as well as Khawla’s resilience of body, mind, and spirit.
John walked near the door to his home while proceeding to conclude his recount. “From the moment Khawla could speak, she insisted on repaying me for saving her life. I informed her a promise to live righteously and according to God’s will was repayment enough. She replied she already lived her life dedicated to serving Allah and her debt to me was separate from that. Realizing there would be no dissuading the warrior, I agreed to an exchange of knowledge. For saving her life, I sequestered Khawla’s prowess and expertise as a combatant and strategist to help increase my own skill set. Over the next few years, she trained me in the martial ways of the staff and educated me to military tactics.”
“This is the first I am hearing of this. Why have you never told me before?” Belmont asked.
The priest answered, “She requested I tell no man or woman about her. Despite my magical abilities, she feared placing me in danger with the Byzantines. She also expressed her desire to not return to her home country. She wished to stay nearby for the remainder of her days to start a new life away from war. This was only possible if everyone thought she was dead. Thus, I committed to a blood oath, and once one is made it is an eternal promise kept without exception.”
“Yet you are telling me.”
“You are no man or woman. You are Frikian. You are vampire, and I had no reason to disclose any of this until now.”
“I see,” Belmont replied with a hint of recognition at John’s semantical thought process.
“Before I end the story, though, I must divulge one more thing. It is the reason I believe Khawla can assist us on our journey.”
“Well, my curiosity is piqued. Please, continue.”
“Over time, Khawla and I noticed some interesting developments. As she trained me in combat, her physical abilities progressed beyond that of any human; a most fortunate residual effect of all the spells and potions I used on her. Khawla’s speed, strength, agility, endurance, and durability all increased to phenomenal levels. She declared I made her an nsf ‘iilah or demigod.”
The king perked up. “Let us go find this demigod then,” Belmont declared before the two departed John’s home. Not long after they walked outside, though, John abruptly stopped. “Is something wrong?” the king inquired.
“Khawla lives near the Carpathian Mountains to the east.”
“How long is that journey?”
“About eight or nine days of continuous travel by foot.”
Slightly concerned, Belmont stated, “Tell me you have something to circumvent that amount of distance.”
“Indeed, I do.” John moved his attire aside and extended his arm lifting the magical staff. As the priest began saying a prayer, the words of enchantment illuminated the runes. Their entire surroundings warped, becoming a haze of light from the moon above, the night sky, and the forest surroundings near John’s abode. Belmont then felt a tug on his body as if he were being ushered through a vacuum. The sensation was disorienting. However, before he knew it both were standing outside a village with a massive mountain range in the distance.