Book 3, Page3
Point of No Return: The Forbidden Kingdom
John used his magic to rapidly open a hole in the ground just outside of the village for a communal grave. The dirt and grass shook as the earth split in two, creating a massive pit. Then, the priest used an incantation to move all the bodies and their severed parts into it. Next, he closed the earth once again over the dead. When he finished, Belmont and Khawla joined the priest as he said a funeral prayer over the grave to honor those who were slaughtered at the hands of the rogue vampires. Finally, when the priest concluded, the three heroes began to plan their next steps.
John inquired, “Khawla, do you have an idea of which direction the rogue vampires may have gone?”
The warrior shook her head. She did not have an inclination as to where they departed. However, Belmont had a lead. “They headed north towards the mountains.”
“How do you know this?” the warrior inquired.
“I can smell the trailing scent of blood. Do you not with your enhancements?”
The warrior inhaled deeply and answered, “I cannot, though blood is not on my menu like it is yours.”
Belmont paused for a moment. Then, he replied, “I would beg to differ. We are all out for blood now.”
“North, then,” John stated.
“North,” Khawla confirmed, and with that they began their journey towards the mountains.
As the trio journeyed through the Byzantine Empire in search of the rogue vampires, John used a spell to help them visibly see the blood-scented trail Belmont was following by nose. This aided in their travels, not just in keeping the heroes on course, but it also uncovered additional locations their enemies decimated, as well.
Village after village, the dead bodies continued to pile up. The few survivors they encountered all spoke of the same terrors to the priest and warrior – demonic creatures in the armor of men attacking the innocent and drinking the blood of their captives. Some believed the presence of the vampires was the fault of Emperor Constantine V and his crusade of iconoclasm. Others proclaimed it was the fault of the Roman Catholic Church for their disobedience of the Byzantine ruler’s iconoclastic decree, which they said he received directly from God. And while John and Khawla gathered the villagers’ stories, Belmont used stealth to remain out of sight as he investigated the scenes. After gathering all the testimonies and intel they could, one thing was abundantly certain: a war on multiple fronts was about to explode.
All the survivors were intent on taking their experiences to their respective ruling entities – the Byzantines or the Catholics – and telling them of what occurred. John and Khawla knew their mission was already perilous. Thus, having soldiers swarming the lands would only complicate things, which would certainly happen after they witnessed the devastation in the villages matched multiple reports. The villagers’ testimony would be fanning the flames of supernatural speculation and belief regarding monsters in the night, and that would only exasperate things. Therefore, John used an incantation to wipe the survivors’ memories of the events they witnessed, replacing their knowledge of the rogue vampires with visions of raiders and thieves ransacking their homes.
The trio observed the same tragedies all the way to the area near the Carpathian Mountains. The trail of bodies stopped there, though, for no more civilization existed close to the dense forest at the base of the mountain range. The people believed with every fiber of their body the woods were infested with the demons, and they were correct, for the blood-scented trail led the heroes into the forest.
The air became noticeably colder amidst the trees. There was no wildlife. Nary a bird nor a deer could be heard or seen. The woods were silent. Death lingered in the air, and each footstep, each brush against the bark, branches and leaves were mortal sirens of sound ejected into the night sky. Therefore, John cast a spell which would conceal any noise the trio made. However, what was normally achieved with a simple prayer was exceedingly difficult to accomplish. The priest knew something was awry, and the forest they were traversing was no ordinary one. Evil was alive and thriving there.
The heroes forged on, plunging themselves further into the abyss of grave danger. It was not long, though, before the blood-scented trail dissipated into nothing. “Impossible,” Belmont declared with a whisper.
“The trail, I do not see it anymore,” Khawla added softly.
“And I do not smell it,” the king retorted.
The warrior responded, “I have not seen a footstep or mark made in the forest since we crossed the tree line, either. We should have seen something by now.”
The two heroes were dumbfounded. Yet, John was not. “I realize why I labored to cast a simple concealment spell after we entered these woods. We are surrounded by intense magic.”
“What kind of magic?” Belmont inquired.
The priest paused for a moment. He was taking in their surroundings with every sense in his body, including his sixth one. “It is foreign to me. I have not experienced this type of magic before. It is powerful. It is, I dare say, ancient from a time long forgotten.”
Khawla queried the priest, “Has a spell been placed on us? A curse?”
“No,” John answered, “not on us, but the forest.” The priest then stepped forward towards the mountain and stared up at the peak. Belmont and Khawla watched in anticipation, for it was clear John was aware of something. The priest planted the bottom of his staff into the ground, standing it upright. Then, he tilted his head back and began chanting prayers in Aramaic, an ancient, unspoken language of Earth. The runes on his staff burst with energy and vibrated as white and gold light swirled all around it. Belmont and Khawla could feel trembling, but nothing moved. Their surroundings were unfazed. The two were further bewildered, so they returned their focus to John.
The priest continued to chant, and as he did the air rippled erratically. Pressure encompassed the heroes, forcing them to stand firm and brace themselves to stop the force from knocking them over. John’s chanting became more intense, and as it grew so did the pressure. Beams of light flashed in the air around them as if it were being ripped apart to reveal a new reality, which is indeed what occurred, for as John finished his chanting his staff burst with a wave of energy that blinded the trio momentarily before revealing an unfathomable sight.
John dropped to his knees from fatigue, prompting Belmont and Khawla to run to his side. The priest grabbed his staff to pull himself up as his friends aided him. Once to his feet, John gazed ahead with Belmont and Khawla. The moon shone brighter than ever above them and illuminated beneath its glowing umbrella was an enormous mountain with a long, winding path leading up its side. On the trail were innumerable humans chained together being forced to walk in a line. Rogue vampires swarmed the side of the mountain. They whipped the humans, prodding them to increase their slow pace and continue to trek up the path.
The sight of men, women and children reached high, and the trio saw they were being led into a massive gateway carved out of the stone; it was akin to a castle entrance. The location of the rogue vampires, and the source of the illegal human trafficking, was before them.
The heroes quickly took cover. “A-udhu billahi minash-Shaitan nir-rajim,” Khawla stated in her mother tongue with utter despair.
John replied in explanation to Belmont. “She is praying, seeking refuge with God from Satan, the accursed.”
“Only the purest evil could do this,” she responded.
Belmont studied the ghastly scene before them. The humans were battered and bruised. Many had already been fed upon and were weak from the blood loss. “This is beyond unsanctioned trafficking. Every single Frikian law in place for the humane treatment of mankind that I fought to have instilled is being egregiously violated.”
The priest said, “Vampires and werewolves have secretly come to our world before to satisfy their gluttonous appetites, but this is unprecedented. Whoever is behind this has established their own kingdom on Earth; a kingdom of killers fueling their shadow enterprise.”
Khawla asked, “How is it something of this magnitude was able to be done without anyone on Friki or Earth knowing?”
As John and the warrior exchanged theories, Belmont’s attention became fixated on the massive entrance in the mountainside. Above the center of the arch was the mysterious sigil he saw on the members of the caravan on Friki. Noticing the king’s captivation, the priest inquired, “Belmont, what is it?”
Suddenly, voices cascaded into the king’s mind. Whispers rambled secrets beheld by no one in the universe. At that moment, the runes on John’s staff began to ripple with magical energy once more. The priest was perplexed again, for whatever it was inside of Belmont that his staff detected was beyond even the priest’s comprehension. Khawla noticed the king was lost somewhere between consciousness and hypnosis, too. “Belmont, are you alright?” she asked.
The voices continued to rage on. The king’s mind was flooded with voices. He closed his eyes to try and make sense of it all. His efforts were for naught, though, and as the barrage of words all began to form a miasma of knowledge, a singular quote reverberated through his mind. “Evil never dies quietly…” he muttered.
“What?” Khawla curiously queried.
Belmont responded with words befitting a harrowing prophecy. “The symbol at the crest of the archway leading into the mountain, it is the mysterious sigil I witnessed with the caravan on Friki. It is the same symbol John attested to seeing on the rogue vampires he encountered before on Earth. The sigil is a design utilizing an ancient vampire script, an outlawed language. It is the language of Frikian magic; sorcery which has been residing in eternal oblivion. I do not know how I have just come to know this. What I do know is that darkness has emerged from the annals of cosmic history, and its oppressive shadow is now cast over both of our worlds, carrying the most malevolent of intent.”