Book 4, Chapter 3
The Burden and the Privilege
As the king and the warrior arrived near the humans, they immediately engaged in combat. Khawla led with a wave of throwing knives, exploding entire sections of rogue vampire bodies upon contact. Belmont initiated battle with his trademark shield smash technique, folding several rogues instantly, leaving their bodies limp and lifeless on the ground. “Go!” he shouted as he fought. “Free yourselves while we cover you!”
The matriarch was battling with all her might when she witnessed the vampires near her disengage and rush to attack the two heroes. She heard the words of the vampire king and immediately sprang into action. “Hurry! While we can, run to the bottom of the mountain! We can undo the chains once we are free! Move!”
As the humans fled, the two heroes occupied the rogue vampires. Khawla and Belmont fought side-by-side, centralizing their attack as one unit to move through the enemy crowd like a boulder during an avalanche. All that were in their way were hacked, bludgeoned, dismembered, and beheaded.
The king and the warrior rolled off one another in perfect harmony, providing offense and defense in synchronicity as if they had fought together for thousands of years. This provided both great insight and knowledge of the other’s techniques, as well, quickening Khawla’s step and livening Belmont’s spirit.
Realizing she could utilize the king’s movements to enhance her own, she would lock arms with him once sensing he was going to spin around her position, and when she reached her desired angle, she would release her hold, catapulting herself into enemies. The sheer impact obliterated the bodies of the vampires she collided with, and employing her advanced quickness and dexterity, she was able to plant her feet and propel herself back to Belmont in the blink of eye to protect his flank.
Once Belmont realized Khawla’s ability to do this, he reached out and grabbed her arm during the seconds they had space. Then, in one sweeping motion, he would swing her around in a circle while she extended her sword, creating a spinning wheel of metal which sliced through vampire flesh without resistance, felling dozens of enemies at once.
Their harmony in combat resulted in utter domination, as they eliminated the entire group of rogue vampires from the bottom of the mountain. “Look,” Khawla said after the last enemy from that group fell. “They are free.”
Belmont took a deep breath. Yes, he needed to gather himself, but he also was greatly relieved the humans were able to begin their descent down the mountain unimpeded. There remained a few vampires left to guard them, but once the large group of unbound, armed humans swarmed, the enemies did not stand a chance. They were able to gather the remaining people and run away without harm. At least, for the moment.
“They are not free yet,” the king replied.
Khawla and Belmont turned to face the reinforcements approaching from within the stronghold. It was two facing hundreds, and the heroes had no idea how they were going to approach the obstacle ahead of them. Khawla remained steadfast in her observation from moments ago, though. “No, Belmont. They are free, for neither you nor I are going to let the reinforcements reach them.”
Belmont replied, “We will hold them off until John can complete his prayer.”
“Yes.” The warrior then looked at the king. The two shared another gaze; this time a much more familiar and intimate one. Their bond had grown beyond a shared mission over the course of the epic battle they were waging. “In my culture,” Khawla continued, “it is said the best way to know someone is to engage in combat with them. Whether with or against, amidst battle all that a person is, is revealed,” she added.
“And what is it that you have come to know about me?” Belmont queried.
Khawla smiled and said, “That a king who believes sacrifice is their greatest burden, but also their greatest privilege, is the grandest king of all.”
Her words flowed through the air, entering their ears as the strongest adhesive to already pliable materials. In one sentence, Belmont and Khawla became more than fellow warriors, and a new bond was born between the two. The heroes grabbed one another’s forearms in the universal, traditional warrior handshake. Yet, the look they shared was home to a tiny spark of an unexpected, deeper connection.
“It has been an honor, Khawla bint Al-Azwar,” Belmont said.
Khawla replied, “The honor has been all mine, King Belmont Rathegalia.”
“As we make our last stand, let us make it one both of our worlds will tell for endless ages to come.” And with that, Belmont and Khawla prepared themselves to engage the reinforcements.
As the hundreds of rogue vampires descended the path upon them, the king and the warrior assumed their fight stances. Then, Belmont had an idea. “You said the infinity spell gives you an endless supply of throwing knives, right?” The king made his inquiry as he bent his knee and tilted his shield toward a ledge on the near mountainside, glancing at the shield, towards the reinforcements, and then back at Khawla. The warrior intuitively knew what to do, and she jumped on to the shield. Next, Belmont launched her to the ledge. While in mid-air, she sheathed both of her weapons to free her hands. Then, the moment the warrior’s feet hit the ground, she turned and used her supernatural speed to launch a steady stream of throwing knives at Belmont. The king used his powerful shield to deflect the knives toward the incoming reinforcements. The harmonious technique created a wave of projectiles causing immense damage to the frontline of the enemy!
Belmont tilted his shield from left to right, redirecting the stream of knives to cover the entire group. By the dozens, rogues had their torsos and limbs impaled, bursting their body parts into globs of blood and mush. However, once the enemy ranks from the rear realized what was transpiring, they launched arrows at Khawla’s position. Her supernatural quickness allowed her to weave out of the way, avoiding injury. However, she was not able to continue throwing knives while simultaneously dodging arrows. It is then she took her weapons in hand and prepared to leap back down by Belmont’s side.
Noticing this, the king yelled out, “No! Climb the mountain to John! Protect him!”
Khawla looked confused as she replied, “His magic will shield him!”
Belmont began being barraged with arrows. “Just go!” he said, as he crouched behind his shield to completely cover himself. “We both do not need to die for my failures!”
The arrows ceased as the reinforcements reached the king’s position. Belmont stood in a flash and began cutting down rogue vampires while moving back, and to the side, in a series of blindingly quick defensive maneuvers. He was felling the enemy, but it was apparent in a matter of minutes he would be overwhelmed. Thus, upon hearing his words and seeing this, Khawla grew emotional. She refused to let Belmont die alone, so she leapt down to him.
When she reached Belmont, the king knew to take advantage of her entrance into the fray. Therefore, he locked an arm with her in mid-fall and swung her in a circle. As Khawla faced the mountainside, she released her grip and launched herself to the wall of rock. As she landed horizontal to the ground, she used her supernatural strength to launch herself at the enemy’s frontline pressing down on the king. While flying by, she extended her sword, cutting open the group of vampires closest to Belmont. Amidst ducking to avoid Khawla, he raised his shield in anticipation of the ubiquitous downpour of flesh and blood. Finally, as the vampire remains slid off his shield, and Khawla had landed by his side, Belmont rose to his feet and began pulverizing enemies with shield smashes between striking down vampires with his sword. The two great warriors forged on in their impossible battle to stave off the reinforcements to save the humans… together.
Meanwhile, John floated above on the mountain ledge praying. The amount of magic he had conjured at this point was massive, and as the light around him continued to grow, so did the number of arrows bouncing off his energy shield. The priest was struggling to hold the surge of immense power under control, as fear ravaged his mind; fear of failing, fear of killing Belmont and Khawla, fear of killing himself. Doubt crept into his mind. He contemplated using the energy he had amassed and channeling it to teleport the three heroes to the bottom of the mountain to a safe distance, allowing them a chance to escape along with the humans. John knew the rogue vampires would only hunt them down, though, and they would certainly retain the escaped victims. Once again, there was no turning back.
Below, Belmont and Khawla were becoming overwhelmed by the forces. Their coordinated attacks, along with their superior individual skills, were no longer enough to overcome being so greatly outnumbered. Their range of motion was limited, and they could not fall back as many of the reinforcements had worked their way around the two heroes on the path, boxing them in against the mountainside while some pursued the escaping humans.
The king and the warrior fought with intense defiance. They refused to be dominated. In their last moments, they mustered more strength and ferocity than ever before. Their strikes became truer. Their weapons were wielded with deadlier precision. More enemies fell by the second than at any point in the battle. Nevertheless, there were just too many rogue vampires. Before Khawla and Belmont met their demise, though, something else occurred; the king began experiencing the same perplexing sensation he did while fighting the megathirio, as well as when he first battled against Khawla in her home. A massive surge of power emanated from within him. This time, though, it did not cause him to become weak or to blackout. This time, it exploded in a flash of god-like ability.
“AAAHHHH!” Belmont roared as he exploded with power. Utilizing his shield, he cleared their immediate area, forcing the rogue vampires to be pushed back several feet. The entire mob of reinforcements was toppled, with those closest to Belmont and Khawla being battered to a pulp by the force exuded toward them. And though Belmont’s power was sent away from Khawla, the reverberation of his maneuver knocked her back into the mountainside and down to the ground.
With the moment of space and pause, the warrior shook her head and cleared the blurred vision she suffered. When Khawla fully restored her bearings, she noticed Belmont’s eyes were glowing with magic. The sight dumbfounded her, but before she could dwell on it, the king was able to obtain a line of sight to the distance at the base of the mountain. It appeared most of the humans were clear and safe. “John! Now!” Belmont screamed.
Khawla looked up at John, noticing the incredible orb of magical energy he had become. However, nothing was occurring. Then, as the warrior stood to her feet, she was forced to immediately ready herself as another wave of reinforcements were upon her and Belmont once more. “JOHN!”
“God, forgive me,” John said before he released all the magical energy in him…
BOOM! CRACK! FLASH! WOOSH!
The sky above John tore open as the energy inside of him exploded! The mountaintop nearby disintegrated immediately, vanishing into thin air. The entire area shook, causing boulders to fall on all sides. Belmont quickly pulled Khawla in close as he hid them beneath his giant shield.
The humans running away from the scene were toppled by the force of the explosion and thrusted into the ground. As they quickly came to, they turned and witnessed what appeared to be a star-like object exploding in the sky right before their eyes. The trees in the area were uprooted and snapped into pieces as they flew away on the gusts of tornado-strength winds. Thunder cracked, shaking the Earth, as lightning struck the mountain and the trees in numerous places, setting fires ablaze. The most magnificent sight of all, though, was the thick orb of light that radiated around the entire mountain for seconds on end. The entire land, for as far as the eye could see, was blinded by light. Then, just as the prayer came, it went in a powerful burst of energy.
Rocks continued to fall upon Belmont and Khawla. The king’s supernatural strength enabled him to remain steadfast in his protection of them, though, and as the last of the rocks seemingly landed and rolled off the shield, Belmont and Khawla slowly rose to their feet. When they looked before them, they witnessed a shining silhouette of John. The priest saved the day once more with his magic.
Silence rested over the three heroes for a while as they collected themselves and worked to control their breathing. None of them were able to speak, as neither the king, the priest, nor the warrior could find the words to say. Khawla eventually broke the silence, though, and asked, “You couldn’t have led with that one?!”
The trio shared a hearty laugh and walked toward the edge of the mountain path. There, they witnessed the large group of humans helping one another up to continue their escape back to their homes. As the three looked down upon the land, the matriarch stood and faced them. She could not see the heroes, but she knew their general whereabouts and slowly raised her hand to wave in gratitude for saving their lives. Belmont and Khawla could see her – the king with his vampire vision and Khawla with her enhanced senses – while John noticed their gazes being fixed upon something.
“What is it?” the priest inquired.
“The woman,” Khawla answered, “she is thanking us for saving them.”
The heroes basked in their victory for a little while longer. In the same moments, though, Belmont was scanning the surroundings at the base of the mountain to make sure no vampires survived and could follow the humans. Once clear, he turned his head to the stronghold entrance.
“We should make our way inside before more reinforcements arrive. Once in the castle, we will be able to move around in stealth and make this quest much easier,” Belmont stated.
“Let’s go,” Khawla replied as she placed her weapons in their sheaths.
The trio walked up the path with haste, and as they did, Belmont said, “That prayer should give us enough time to really assess the layout of what’s ahead.”
“I knew you could do it, John,” Khawla reiterated.
The priest responded, “That makes one of us.”
Belmont, John, and Khawla continued to quietly plan their next steps as they cautiously turned the corner and entered the humungous castle entrance. After crossing the threshold, the trio entered a massive courtyard. At the other end in the far distance was another giant gate leading further into the mountain. Surrounding them were enormous stone statues of ancient vampire figures. The air was still, as if no life existed anywhere beyond the gates, and bright rays of moonlight illuminated the area through the gaping holes created in the mountain ceiling above them by John’s prayer. Extinguished torches were seen lining the walls, too, also a result of John’s prayer.
“What are they?” Khawla inquired of Belmont.
“Vampires”, the king answered. “Ancient mythological demigods believed by my people to have birthed magic on Friki, delving my home world into the darkest of ages known to the universe.”
“The rogue vampires… during the battle, they referred to John as a dark practitioner,” Khawla replied.
The priest spoke. “Frikians have outlawed all magic. They believe it to be a source of the most malevolent evil imaginable.”
Belmont added, “Grave acts are said to have been committed by these demigods in their quests to steal magic from one another, in order to empower their own houses and clans above the rest.”
“A tale as old as time. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” the warrior retorted.
“To the left,” John said to the trio as he sent a magical ball of light to further illuminate what was in the distance.
Khawla spoke next, saying, “It appears to be a massive mural… depicting a past event? A triumph of some sort… the rogue vampire clan celebrating on a battlefield surrounding a fallen vampire warrior at the feet of another… both women. I’m glad to see your kind realize the power us women have.”
“Do you see the inscription? I cannot read it from here,” John replied.
As the trio moved closer to the mural on the other side of the courtyard, the words at the bottom became clear to the king. Belmont, upon seeing the words, froze in his tracks.
“Belmont, what is it?” John asked.
The king remained silent for a long moment, and then answered, “It is not a mural of a past event.”
“What does it depict?” the warrior queried.
Belmont paused again and then replied, “The inscription is in ancient Vrykolakan – the language of my ancestors, which has been dead for tens of thousands of years. It is captioned The Death of Adelfi Rathegalia.”
Khawla turned to the king and said, “Your ancestor.”
“Yes,” Belmont retorted, “and it appears whoever this rogue clan is has a deep hatred for my House. So much so, they saw fit to create a massive mural depicting what they wish happened to Queen Adelfi Rathegalia many eons ago.”
“Do you have any idea who could be behind everything after seeing this mural?” John asked.
Belmont answered, “The Rathegalias have had our fair share of feuds over the millennia. My ancestors’ desire to forge a better Friki for all was always seen, by some, as a power play to gain control of the kingdom; all they wanted to do was help others; our bloodline’s inherent altruism being a burden, as well as a privilege. It was not until I led my house to victory on the battlefields, though, over all the other clans thousands of years ago, and willingly shared control of the portals to Earth while creating a unified governing body including elders from all the vampire houses, that the Rathegalia desire to make a better Friki for all was believed.”
“Well, someone still doesn’t believe it,” Khawla said as she walked closer to the mural.
“Creating fictional realities out of hatred in murals is one thing,” Belmont replied, “but killing a Rathegalia in real life is a complete other, and I look forward to continuing to educate these vampires on that lesson.”
Khawla and John sensed Belmont’s determination in their quest. He was emboldened by the sight of the mural after achieving victory on the mountainside, and he was ready more than ever to continue.
“Let us honor your House, and Queen Adelfi, by helping educate these vampires alongside you,” John said. Khawla nodded to second the priest’s notion, an expression welcomed by the king as they turned from the mural to proceed into the courtyard toward the other gate.
“We’ve sent our first message. I’m sure whoever is behind this knows we are the greatest threat they…” Khawla’s words were interrupted by a rumbling.
“Did you hear that?” John inquired, pensively.
Another rumbling occurred, this time much louder and stronger than the last. The cadence of the disturbance was rhythmic, and it was growing in intensity.
“Someone is running. Or something…” Belmont quickly brandished his shield and sword. Khawla did the same with her weapons, and John clutched his staff. Then, as they frantically surveyed their surroundings…
A hole in the mountain ceiling above them was crushed as an enormous monster jumped through it! The creature landed in front of the three heroes, and when it stood from its crouched position, it roared with such ferocity that it shook the entire courtyard. The heroes looked at one another in disbelief before instilling their resolve once more.
“Looks like we aren’t welcome,” the warrior said with grit in her voice.
Belmont banged his sword against his shield as the monster roared again, an action signaling his readiness for combat. Khawla and John made similar gestures – the warrior sliding the blades of her swords against one another in a sharpening motion, and the priest stomping the bottom of his staff into the ground before igniting it with magical energy. Finally, Belmont followed their actions by saying, “Then, let’s invite ourselves in.”