THE NUMINOUS STORM
A supernatural tale
adapted, and co-authored, from a short story by Vince Postaro.
My name is Peter J Blattch and I have been involved in journalism for some thirty years or more. One of the first lessons I learnt as an investigative journalist is, being there on the front lines as a story unfolds in order to get an accurate account of the events. Ever since then I have travelled extensively throughout the world and have been at the forefront of civil unrests, marched with protesters against totalitarian regimes and, most recently, went undercover to expose governmental and corporate corruption; an assignment which unexpectedly segued me into chronicling drug trafficking and the seedy underbelly of the sex trade. These assignments were instrumental in the furthering of my career.
But fortunes change, and the capricious Fates who had woven the tapestry of my life now had other things in mind for me. In the course of my work I had made many powerful enemies, men who would stop at nothing to silence me. They almost succeeded. It would take months before I recuperated sufficiently from the gunshot wounds I had sustained during the drive-by shooting that left me fighting for my life. Though many suspected the hit was sanctioned by one of the Mexican drug cartels I had exposed earlier in the year, the subsequent investigation into them led nowhere. It did, however, have a serious knock-on effect to my career; insofar as no-one would hire me for fear of being caught up in further reprisals. I had in effect become persona non-grata. My days as a feature writer and undercover investigative reporter had, to all intents and purposes, come to an end and I found myself covering fringe stories normally doled out to rookie reporters. But what the hell! At least they paid the bills.
I was not embittered by the events that overtook me. I went into this business knowing full well the dangers involved. Nor was I resentful towards those colleagues who had given me a wide berth – most of whom had families to consider. I was already contemplating early retirement at around this period. Now, I reasoned, was as good a time as any to bow out gracefully. But a string of events was about to unfold that would rekindle my journalistic instincts, and my retirement plans were put on an indefinite hold.
About six weeks ago, I received a package through the post that anyone else would have ignored or thrown out with the garbage. Getting ‘snail mail’ is rare, and when I do it’s usually from the fringe elements of society who claim to have dated Bigfoot, seen alien bases on the Moon, and the like. A UK nursing home listed on the return address caught my attention. On opening the package, I discovered a hand-written letter and a voluminous journal; attached to which was a first-class, round-trip ticket to Britain and two thousand US dollars in cash. This was uncommon to say the least. Intrigued, I began reading the attached letter.
In the latter part of my waning career I had met and interviewed more than my share of crazies, weirdos, and conspiracy theorists, but what I read in the letter and journal went beyond the pale. If this was a hoax it was a very expensive one on behalf of the perpetrator. Was it the ramblings of an unsound mind? Possibly. What the letter and journal divulged was inconceivable to say the least, but my journalistic instinct and curiosity got the better of me and so I determined to look further into it to see how far this particular rabbit hole went.
They were written by one Lucian Dragomir. The introductory letter was merely a precis of what I would find in his journal, in which he recounted the history of his battle against malevolent forces whose activities went largely undetected and unopposed. He has entrusted me to share this knowledge with the world and has assured me that were I to accept his offer irrefutable evidence awaited me in the UK to remove any doubts I had regarding the veracity of his tale.
According to what he had written, Lucian was born into a large family of humble origins on a small farm in Romania shortly after the hostilities of the Great War had come to an end. Life was challenging for the poverty-stricken Dragomir family during the post-war years, but they confronted each test with an unwavering fealty borne of a close-knit family. Despite their impoverishment, he grew up to be a happy child. With the passing of the seasons, however, he had his first confrontation with death. A harsh and prolonged winter held the country in an icy grip. Enfeebled by a long illness, his mother finally succumbed to her infirmity and passed away. Her passing was to have a profound effect on the carefree Lucian whom, in his naivety, had believed she would always be there for him. As the years passed the harsh realities of life struck yet again with the untimely death of his childhood sweetheart, Ileana Ardelean.
Romania is home to many myths and legends concerning all manners of assorted horrors that are said to hide in the shadows. Almost from the time they could walk Lucian and Ileana had been versed in their country’s traditions and folklore, and as children heeded the warnings never to go into the forest unaccompanied by an adult. But things took an unexpected turn on reaching adolescence when their long-term friendship changed course and they became lovers. Following a brief courtship, they were betrothed to one another and the date for their wedding was set well in advance of the expected happy event.
For Ileana and Lucian that date seemed an eternity away and, as is the case in many love affairs, they were feeling an overpowering and ever-present need to consummate their relationship. That opportunity was to present itself at an annual folk dance festival being held in the village that year. Motivated by powerful hormonal changes, Lucian snuck from the celebrations into the forest and waited for Ileana. It was an ill-fated assignation from the outset and one which would alter the course of Lucian’s life forever. For Ileana, they would be the last horrifying moments of her life.
Here, in Lucian’s own words, is an extract taken from his journal of that fateful night.
Resting beneath the beech tree where we had carved our names, I closed my eyes and listened to the sprightly tones of the fiddle and backing accompaniment rising up from the village. Time seemed to slow as I waited patiently beneath a full moon for Ileana to appear at our designated rendezvous spot in the forest. She was late, and I began to wonder if she had been waylaid by someone at the festival and was waiting for an opportune moment to slip away unnoticed.
There are many different scents in the forest; most of which I was accustomed to on a daily basis. That night, however, I smelt a strong musty odour drifting on the night breeze. I knew instantly what it was. Born with an eidetic memory, I recalled with crystal clarity an incident that had taken place when I was no more than five years old. The event involved the shooting of a wolf that had attacked and killed one of my father’s sheep. Having shot the animal, he dragged its carcass back to the farm to show to family and friends. Its pelt bore the same pungent smell; like that of a wet dog. Shortly thereafter a hunting party was quickly set up by neighbouring farmers who had suffered similar attacks on their livestock. Over the next four days the entire wolf pack was hunted down and killed.
Though I knew wolf attacks on humans were rare, I wasn’t about to take the risk of Ileana accidentally coming upon them. Fearing for her safety, I hurriedly began retracing my steps to the village in the hope of meeting her along the way. I hadn’t gotten far when I heard a commotion in the undergrowth and a familiar voice scream my name.
Plunging wildly through the underbrush, I entered a small clearing and came across her. The look on her face was one of unbridled terror. Seizing me by the arms she screamed for me to run. Before I could respond I heard a deep-throated growl coming from the treeline. Just beyond the clearing I could make out a dark, ill-defined silhouette and a pair of bright yellow eyes that made my skin crawl. Momentarily paralysed with fear, I watched as it rose up on its hind legs. Only when it stepped out into the open did I fully comprehend why Ileana was so terrified – I was gazing into the bestial eyes of a werewolf.
Instinctively, I looked around for a weapon. Less than ten yards from where I stood lay a fallen branch. Releasing my grip on Ileana, I made a frantic dash for it. With phenomenal speed the creature bounded across the clearing, hurtling headlong into Ileana and dragging her deeper into the forest. Caring little for my own safety, and with club in hand, I pursued the beast.
To my dying day, I will never forget the scene I came across on reaching the bridal path: slumped against a felled tree lay Ileana’s body, her life’s blood oozing from multiple savage wounds. Of the beast, there was no sign. Cradling her in my arms I tried desperately to staunch the flow of blood, but her injuries were far too many. For one brief moment, she regained consciousness, her hand reaching to my cheek and stroking it feebly. She smiled and mouthed an ‘I love you’ before succumbing to her wounds. With bitter tears, I held her one last time to my breast.
Then I caught the odor of the foul beast again. It was skulking nearby, watching, waiting in the darkness. Off to my left I heard a menacing throaty growl. An adrenalin fuelled rage began swelling in my breast. Laying Ileana gently to the ground, I stood and turned to face the hirsute abomination.
It crouched low and snarled, exposing its blood-soaked teeth. Caring little whether I lived or died, I raised the makeshift club and waited. Those few brief seconds before its attack felt like an eternity to me. The eyes which had regarded me unwaveringly suddenly narrowed. The moment was at hand. Screaming like a banshee, I rushed forward determined to give a good account of myself. What next happened came so suddenly that my brain was barely able to register it.
A shot rang out and the creature crashed to the ground. Spinning on my heels in the direction it had come from I saw a figure emerge from behind a tree. This was my first encounter with Francisc Servruasa – and it wasn’t to be my last. Without uttering a word, he strode forward with a woodman’s axe in hand and severed the creature’s head from its body in one powerful blow. Stuffing it into a hessian sack hanging from his waistband, he walked over to Ileana and knelt by her side. Finding no signs of life, he rose to his feet and crossed himself.
‘During the Great War I was witness to many acts of bravery’, he said, turning to me and wiping the gore from his axe, ‘but rarely have I seen such courage from one so young. This girl obviously meant a great deal to you; enough for you to put yourself in harm’s way.’
Holding back the tears that threatened to engulf me, I spoke briefly of our love and betrothal.
‘You showed great courage boy. If we had more like you among our ranks, we could rid the world of these godforsaken monsters’, he said.
At the time his words were of little consolation to me. I wished that I too had died that night; as did Ileana’s parents who, in their grief, blamed me for her untimely death. Had they not heard the gunshot that drew them into the forest and seen with their own eyes the decapitated corpse revert to its human form, I would have undoubtedly found myself at the end of a rope before sunrise.
Reading further into Lucian’s journal, I came upon a further seminal moment in his life. In the aftermath of Ileana’s tragic death, he became increasingly morose. Consumed by an overwhelming sense of guilt he hid himself away from the reproachful expressions of the villagers. In his darkest moments, he had begun to consider taking his own life and would have done so had not Francisc intervened.
It was the day of Ileana’s funeral and many of her family and friends were in attendance. Given the circumstances of her passing, Lucian was not. Embittered by her death, and his involvement in it, her family had warned against his presence. Forced to watch from his hiding place in the forest, he wept pitifully as they lowered her into the sodden earth. Unaware that he too was being watched, he withdrew the hunting knife from its sheath. What next transpired was recorded in his journal. It was a moment that was to irrevocably change the course of his life.
The taking of one’s own life is no easy thing; but as I sat by the tree on that wet August afternoon I could see only one way out of the dark melancholy that tormented me. I longed to be free of the unbearable sense of guilt that weighed heavily on my mind. Soon, it would all be over and I would be re-united with my beloved Ileana. Pulling up my sleeve I held the keen blade of my hunting knife over my wrist. It was then I heard the gruff voice of Francisc Servruasa call out to me.
‘You’re doing it all wrong, boy! If you’re really determined to go through with it’, he said, snatching the blade from my hand and laying it against the side of my neck, ‘then I suggest you cut here, at the carotid artery. You’ll bleed out much faster that way.’ Handing over the knife, he stood back and waited.
Was he really going to stand by and watch me kill myself?
‘You know, I had you pegged all wrong’, he told me, squatting low on his hunkers, ‘I thought you had guts. I guess I’m not as good at reading folk as I thought.’ With that, he stood up and began walking away.
I called out to him, ‘Then what the hell am I supposed to do?’
‘Drop the self-pity’, he called back, ‘and maybe – just maybe- we could discuss a proposition I have in mind!’
Over the ensuing days, Lucian was to learn much about Francisc and his alleged affiliation with a mysterious and ancient brotherhood known as the Blade Divină, ‘The Divine Blade’. Despite my best research efforts, I have yet to uncover any organization bearing that name. Then again, it’s hardly surprising given the ultra-secretive nature of their work in fighting a centuries-old, covert war against supernatural forces seeking to bring about the enslavement of mankind.
I began to wonder what had motivated Francisc Servruasa to reveal the secret to Lucian. Was it pity, or perhaps the courage he had shown during the encounter with the lycanthrope? Had he seen in the boy the makings of a formidable warrior whom he could recruit to the cause? As I was to learn later, it was a combination of all the above.
Inevitably, the day came when Lucian had to make a decision, and Francisc repeated his warning of the dangers and threats he would encounter should he choose to follow in his footsteps – adding to it the caveat that his encounter with the werewolf would not have gone unnoticed by the Intunecatii, who might well seek retribution for his involvement in the death of one of their own.
That afternoon Lucian stood by Ileana’s graveside. He had made his decision to leave and never return to the village for fear of possible reprisals against himself and those he loved. The following day he and Francisc boarded a train for Budapest, where Lucian would be schooled and trained in a variety of martial disciplines over the next two years. It was during this journey that Francisc revealed more about the Dark Ones and the brotherhood of the Divine Blade.
The Dark Ones, he told Lucian, were known by many diverse cultures throughout antiquity, each bearing a different appellation according to the cultural background from which they sprang. In essence however they were one and the same; an evil cabal plotting the downfall and subjugation of God’s creations. Werewolves, vampires, daemons – call them what you will – had existed from time immemorial. They were more than mere myths and legends. They were the harbingers, the foreshadowers of things yet to come. And come they did. Among them were the blood-sucking lilitu, precursors to the modern vampire, who spread out across the world from their homeland in Mesopotamia. Many humans who fell prey to them would themselves become blood-suckers and so the contagion was passed on, ad infinitum, until their numbers swelled to epidemic proportions. Francisc himself laid claim to dispatching five of their ilk in the aftermath of the battle of Turtucaia during The Great War, when he came upon them feeding from the corpses of fallen soldiers. But not all vampiri were hapless victims, he told Lucian. There were those who willingly chose their fate; depraved individuals who were eager to forego their humanity in favour of the false promises of immortality and power; both of which would ultimately prove to be transitory.
According to Lucian’s account, the Divine Blade is composed of ordinary men and women; (‘Sisters of the Brotherhood’). Though highly skilled warriors, they are not endowed with supernatural abilities that can be called upon when confronting an immortal. So how then, you may ask, could they possibly hope to kill one? The answer, according to Francisc, lies in the unique weaponry they use. In order to fully understand how this ‘unique weaponry’ came into being you need first to be familiarised with the ancient origins of the Divine Blade, which hark back to the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great.
In 326 A.D., during Constantine’s reign, the Roman Empire was converted to Christianity and Constantine tasked a cohort of legionnaires to set out for Palestine with his mother Empress Helena in the search and gathering of Christian holy relics. Having accomplished their two-year assignment, the cohort was then entrusted with the task of safeguarding them. Among their many acquisitions was the Crown of Thorns, the Nails of the Cross, and the Holy Lance of Longinus. Whether by design or pure happenstance, these relics were found to possess divine mystical qualities that would prove lethal to the Dark Ones. The circumstances behind this discovery however remain unknown; lost forever in the pages of history.
Many years later, during the fall of the Roman Empire, encounters with the Intunecatii began to increase dramatically and Pope Leo the Great, knowing of the mystical powers contained within the relics, authorised their guardians to form a secret Order to deal with the threat. And so it was that the first Divine Blade brotherhood came into being, their weapons forged and embedded with fragments of the divine artefacts from the Roman reliquary in which they had been originally stored. In an attempt to hide their depletion Leo decreed they be replaced with forgeries.
For more than a thousand years the Divine Blade fought the Intunecatii, who’s influences had by now expanded into 15th century Europe. It was during this period that a schism occurred between the Holy Church and the brotherhood. Following the death of Pope Gregory XII, a two-year interregnum took place in which no valid pope was elected. From what Francisc had told Lucian of this secret history, the Dark Ones had either taken advantage of this or were instrumental in bringing it about. A Papal draft document, purportedly written by Gregory just before his death, was allegedly unearthed from amongst his private papers in which he declared the brotherhood to be ‘heretical’ and a ‘threat to the Holy See’. Whether his successor acted upon this is not recorded. What is certain, however, is that shortly thereafter the brotherhood was persecuted for their supposed crimes and were forced to go into hiding following the disbandment of the Order. Undaunted by this turn of events they fled to the four corners of the Earth, taking with them their celestial arsenal.
Since then, successive generations of the brotherhood had honed their martial skills and taught them to others who would follow in their stead. Lucian was but the latest in a long line of warriors who would take up the cause against an assortment of merciless adversaries.
The Making of a Warrior.
Following a brief stopover in the city of Pest, on the banks of the Danube, Francisc and Lucian moved on to Badacsony, an isolated mountain in the Transdanubian Hills. Hidden deep within its dense forest lay Francisc’s home base and the training camp where Lucian would begin his arduous two-year schooling in the multi-disciplined arts of warfare. Despite being the youngest in a group of seven new recruits, Lucian quickly surpassed his peers in trials of combat, fortitude and intelligence; qualities that Francisc admired and respected in one so young. One can only guess at the sense of pride he must have felt on presenting his protégé with the divine weapon he had proven himself more than capable of wielding, namely: a gladius, This Roman short sword would prove instrumental in many future encounters with the Intunecatii.
Several weeks were to pass following the return of the recruits to their respective homes, leaving Francisc and Lucian behind. Occasionally, Francisc would travel into the nearest town to stock up when food supplies were running low. During the course of one of these shopping expeditions he learnt of the disappearances of four children from the region. On reading the newspaper’s front page article he was left in no doubt that the four missing children mentioned therein was the work of a Dark One – all having been taken in the dead of night or shortly after sunset. This was somewhat at odds with the normal modus operandi of the modern vampire who would choose his or her victims from the outcasts of society: people who would not be missed by anyone. He noted also that all of the children were of Jewish extraction.
Lucian best sums up what was to take place in the wake of these terrible events.
Francisc threw down the newspaper in front of me and asked what I thought of the front-page article. On reading it I looked up and spoke only one word: ‘vampir?’.
Francisc nodded, saying, ‘The evidence seems point in that direction. Given that all of the missing kids are Jewish suggests to me that we could be dealing with an anti-Semitic vampir. It could be coincidental, but I doubt it. Either way, we’d best make preparations.’
The following day, we set out for the market town of Bicske, in the district of Vál, where the disappearances had taken place. Not wishing to draw unwanted attention on ourselves we kept a low profile whilst visiting the sites from where the children were taken. All of them were within a five-mile radius of each other. Falling within that radius was a 15th-century temple ruin containing several tombs. Given that such places were often associated with vámpíri we decided to check it out.
As we entered the temple grounds an hour before sunset my heart began to race wildly. This was my first assignment and I didn’t want to screw it up. My mouth was dry, and there was a slight trembling of my hands which hadn’t gone unnoticed by Francisc.
‘Nervous?’ he asked.
‘Is it that obvious?’
‘Don’t worry about it. You’ll get accustomed to it after a while’, he said, ‘Just remember your training and you’ll be fine.’
Taking a generous swig from my canteen to counter the dryness of my mouth, we walked on towards the ramshackle temple. It didn’t take long to realise that the condition of the crumbling structure offered little in the way of hiding places for a vampir, and so we moved on to the surrounding tombs. With considerable effort, we pried open the heavy stone lids and peered inside, only to discover desiccated human remains. Time was running out, and the sun was sinking lower in the sky.
Francis cursed beneath his breath, ‘Dam it! It has to be here somewhere. We haven’t the time to search every tomb like this.’
‘Maybe we don’t need to,’ I told him, pointing over to the western corner of the graveyard. There, hidden beneath a grove of trees and obscured by the glare of the setting sun, I’d caught sight of a family mausoleum. With renewed hope, we set off toward it.
Having a photographic memory is both a blessing and a curse. There are some things that are better off forgotten. What we encountered on breaking into the mausoleum was one of them.
Once inside its murky confines, Francisc lit his kerosene lamp and I closed the heavy oak door to prevent its light giving away our presence to any passer-by. What we discovered there was three stone sarcophagi. Bizarrely, the central sarcophagus had been wedged up between the rear wall and the plinth it had once rested upon. The other two had also been disturbed; their lids slightly ajar. Scattered around them were the fragments of bone and the crumbling shrouds of their previous occupants. A closer inspection of the two sarcophagi revealed several specks of congealed blood on the lids. Opening them, we came across the mutilated corpses of three of the children: a girl and two boys. The wounds on their necks and their eviscerated bodies left us in little doubt we were dealing with a vampir. But where was the fourth child – the second girl who had gone missing? A faint, distressed murmur coming from the upright sarcophagus gave us the answer.
I instinctively ran toward the faint cries, but Francisc grabbed me by the shoulders and pushed me back. ‘Don’t be a bloody fool, lad,’ he whispered harshly, ‘You’re letting your emotions get in the way of your training. It might not be what you think it is.’
He was right of course. In my emotionally charged state I had forgotten that many vampiri had the ability to mimic the distress calls of their victims to draw other prey to them.
‘Take the gladius from the kit bag and ready yourself’, he ordered.
I faced the sarcophagus with sword in hand, ready to strike at the heart of anything that wasn’t human.
I had never seen a man so possessed with immense strength as I did that night. Locking the heel of the axe head against the edge of the sarcophagus lid, Francisc began tugging at it. It started to give. Inch by inch it slid across the floor. When it was approximately one-third of the way open, a tiny hand reached out. I looked to Francisc. ‘Get her the hell out of there!’ he cried. Dropping the gladius, I began tugging frantically at her arm. Slowly, her pathetic body slipped free from its confines. In doing so, I caught the briefest glimpse of another figure within the sarcophagus and alerted Francisc of its presence.
‘Take the girl outside and return as quickly as you can’, he commanded.
Wrapping her in my greatcoat, I carried her out. As I returned to the mausoleum I heard what appeared to be the muffled sounds of a conversation taking place. On entering I was greeted by the sight of Francisc gazing at the gaunt, sallow-faced, figure he had exposed. I made my way toward him and picked up the gladius from the floor. In the lantern light, I could now see the coal-black, soulless eyes of the vile creature.
Francisc stepped back. I raised the gladius in readiness to stab the vampir through the heart. Before I could do so it spoke to him in language I recognised as Latin but didn’t fully understand at the time.
“Egone moreretur in manu proximi?”
Francisc lowered his head and replied, “Es, Deus, miserere animae tuae Caius.”
A simple nod from Francisc was all it took, and I drove the blade deep into the foul monster’s heart. It fell dead to the floor, its body putrefying and turning to dust before our eyes.
As the tension drained from me I asked, ‘You knew him?’
‘Yes, lad’, he said, rifling through the pile of empty clothing, ‘We’ve crossed swords on a few occasions. His name’s Caius. It’s believed he was one of the original legionnaires who were tasked to guard over the relics. Legend has it he made a deal with a powerful vampir in order to save his own skin. In return, he was charged to steal a particular relic for him. He failed in that regard, and fled the country.’
‘We don’t have time for this right now, Lucian’, he said somewhat brusquely, ‘Go check on the girl. If she’s infected, you know what has to be done. I’ll look through this clothing to see what I can find.’
Out of a sense of propriety I limited my examination to the areas of the child’s body I could see, to determine whether she’d been bitten or not. It appeared she hadn’t. But appearances could be deceptive and so I chose another means to see if she tested positive for signs of vampiric infection. I prayed to God she didn’t, and that I’d be spared the ghastly necessity of having to dismember her frail body to prevent her from rising as one of the undead. I called out to Francisc to bring his kerosene lamp. Hauling her up against the wall, I leant her forward as he held the lamp in front of her. To my great relief, she was casting a shadow against the wall; something true vampiri couldn’t do.
‘Stay with her’, he said, walking back to the mausoleum. ‘I want to show you something I uncovered in there.’
Moments later he returned, carrying a large portmanteau that had been hidden behind the standing sarcophagus. Among the assorted items, we came across a German passport and business suit. Attached to the jacket’s lapel was a swastika symbol, which prompted me to ask what a Dark One was doing working for the Nazi party.
‘Caius was a notorious anti-Semite. We know from intelligence reports we’ve received from our German brothers that he was an agent provocateur for the Ministry of Propaganda’, he said. ‘Maybe his assignment here was to stir up dissent against the Jewish population. Hell, he could well have been working toward that goal with the Hungarian government’s blessing.’
Somewhat naively I asked if the Nazis knew what he was.
‘I doubt it, lad. There are rumours that Hitler has a fascination with the occult. It’s believed by some that he has a secret programme devoted to the acquirement of holy relics. My gut instinct tells me that Caius’ main purpose was to keep a watchful eye out, in the hope of getting his hands on whatever was acquired.’
The child’s sudden whimpering brought an end to our discussion. Though still in shock, she was coherent enough to tell us her name was Aliz and that she lived a mere four miles east of our location. Packing up our gear, we began the hike to her village. We had no idea at the time why she kept referring to Caius as the “black bubble man”; his features being demonstrably European. Why she used the term “bubble” was also beyond us, as was her story of being somewhere else when he was feeding from the other children.
We watched from a safe distance as she entered her home into the welcoming arms of her tearful parents before we scurried off into the darkness, little knowing at the time that this child would have a profound influence on events that had yet to come about.
Following their encounter with Caius, Lucian became aware of some disturbing changes in Francisc’s demeanour. Back at the base camp he noticed his friend had become less communicative and increasingly withdrawn. Something was troubling him. When asked what, he would evade the subject. When pressed further for answers concerning the history between himself and Caius he became angry. Storming out of the cabin, he told Lucian to mind his own damned business.
After their quarrel, Lucian decided to give Francisc some time-out in the hope he would resolve whatever issues he had going on inside his head regarding Caius. Clearly, there was a history between them – a history that Lucian suspected was more than adversarial.
Over the ensuing days his mentor appeared to distance himself even further. For hours at a stretch he would disappear into the forest without explanation or a by your leave. The tension escalated. Finally, Lucian snapped and confronted Francisc on his return from one of his jaunts – an incident he faithfully recorded in his journal:
Grabbing him by the arm, I spun him round to face me. ‘What the hell is wrong with you?’
‘Nothing’, he snapped, wrenching loose from my grip.
‘Then why are you avoiding me? What have I done to piss you off?’
‘Nothing!’ he growled, making his way to the cabin.
‘Don’t fucking walk away from me when I’m talking to you!’ I hollered.
He spun on his heels to face me. ‘Don’t push your luck, boy’.
‘What is it between Caius and you anyhow?’
For the briefest of moments, it looked as though he was about to unburden his secret on me. It wasn’t to be.
Miklos Tamas’ arrival into the camp at that very moment couldn’t have happened at a more inopportune time.
This is the first mention of Miklos Tamas in Lucian’s journal. In it, he describes him as being a middle-aged, officious man with a proclivity towards grand entrances. His arrival into the camp on a white stallion and a small entourage of men in tow that morning must certainly have lived up to Lucian’s expectations.
As a Regional Director of the Divine Blade, Miklos was responsible for assigning the brothers and sisters into their respective branches; they being the ‘Sword’, the ‘Fox’, and the ‘Shield’. Each division served a different function. Kill missions were carried out by the Sword division. The Fox division was the eyes and ears of the Divine Blade; the intelligence gatherers. Last, but not least, came the logistical division; the Shield. Their responsibilities included the detailed organisation and implementation of complex operations.
Lucian had fully expected, given his martial skills, to be assigned to the Sword unit. It came as a great shock to him, therefore, to hear he had been assigned to the Fox unit on Francisc’s recommendation.
Under the pretext of having to go out and cut timber for the base camp’s wood burners, Lucian left the group to their discussions and went out into the forest. He was as angry as hell and needed to vent his anger on something, rather than someone.
With the departure of Miklos and his men Lucian wasted no time in confronting Francisc.
‘Bullshit!’ I told him, after hearing his lame explanation as to why he had put me forward as a candidate for the Fox division. ‘You know as well as I do my skills would be better served in the Sword unit’.
‘You think two encounters make you a seasoned warrior, boy? Think again! Besides, your eidetic memory would make you a perfect candidate for intelligence gathering. That’s why I put your name forward’.
I’d listened long enough to his hogwash and double-talk. ‘Why don’t you just tell the truth? The reason you’re getting rid of me is because I’ve been asking too many uncomfortable questions about you and Caius, isn’t it?’
‘Whatever history we had is none of your bloody business, and you’d best keep your nose out of it! Discovering the truth of it would open a Pandora’s box that could bring about the downfall of the Divine Blade.’
On the day of their departure for Tihanyi, Lucian prepared the horses for their journey. It was a trek he wasn’t looking forward to, given the recent volatile events between himself and Francisc. He was, therefore, taken aback when his mentor unexpectedly approached him and apologised for his sour behaviour.
Lucian tactfully accepted his apology, but could not rid himself of the warning Francisc had given about the possible downfall of the Divine Blade and how it was connected to his relationship with Caius should he delve deeper into it.
On the penultimate day of their journey’s end they arrived in the village of Lovas. Wearied from their journey and sleeping under canvas, they sought to spend their last night in the comfort of a warm tavern. During their stop-over they learnt of a series of grave desecrations that had taken place in and around the locale. In each case the recently interred had been exhumed and spirited away in the dead of night. The more they listened in on the accounts of the locals, the less certain both Francisc and Lucian were that the defilements were the work of body-snatchers. There was an element to the tales that suggested otherwise. Before leaving for Tihanyi the following day, they visited the nearest graveyard where the most recent interment and exhumation had occurred. Though barely visible, due to the inclement weather of the previous evening, they discovered the partially washed-out symbols of a necromantic ritual.
It was late afternoon when Francisc and Lucian arrived at their journey’s end; an isolated lodge set deep within a dense forest on the outskirts of the town. There, they were greeted by the rotund Miklos Tamas and several agents of the Fox division. Following brief introductions, they entered the lodge to discuss Lucian’s training and responsibilities. After finalising their business, Francisc took the opportunity to inform them of the events in Lovas.
Lucian faithfully recorded the event in his diary.
Miklos rose to his feet on hearing Francisc’s account. Looking to his brethren, he told them grimly, ‘Things are far worse than we feared, brothers. We must expand our mission further afield and nip this in the bud before it gets out of hand.’
‘You know about this?’ Francisc asked.
‘We do, brother. Our intelligence network brought it to my attention a week ago. Several villages are involved; Lovas being the latest. Four of the brothers present here today have been investigating them, but with little success. They too have come to the same conclusion as you – that it is the work of a necromancer.’
The unprecedented scale of the operation bewildered Francisc. The ‘weavers’, as they were known by the brotherhood, were humans who rarely moved beyond the boundaries of their respective locations. Theirs was a solitary life dedicated to the resurrection of the deceased in their spiritual or bodily forms for the purpose of divination. More frighteningly, they could resurrect an individual to use as blindly obedient assassin.
Francisc was the only one present with experience of Necromancers. That, in combination with his tracking skills, made him the perfect candidate to head the mission. Lucian, too, was to be enlisted in the undertaking as an observer and information gatherer. Four of the warrior class were called upon to aid them. It was to be a time-consuming and arduous mission for the team.
Given the dozens of graveyards yet to be explored within the district, Francisc and his five-man team had almost given up hope of finding their prey when they stumbled upon a smallholder’s house. Beneath its un-plastered, basalt gable stood a funeral cortège. Realising they had nothing to lose, the group held back and shadowed the procession to the deceased’s last resting place. With the departure of the mourners, the team settled into their night vigil.
Shortly after 2 a.m. they were alerted to faint, indistinguishable sounds coming from the far end of the cemetery. The moon was now completely obscured behind a thick blanket of cloud that stretched from horizon to horizon; maddeningly hiding from view whatever was approaching. Then, all went deathly quiet.
Concealed behind the dry-stone wall bordering the cemetery, and with flashlight in hand, Francisc and his men prepared themselves. What they saw illuminated in the torchlight as they crested the wall both horrified and staggered them. Caught in its glare, and dressed in necromantic regalia, stood the priest who had officiated at the funeral. He was not alone. With him stood the resurrected corpses of men in varying states of decomposition. Each was carrying a makeshift weapon.
The following is Lucian’s account of what took place on that momentous night.
‘The priest is mine!’ Lucian shouted as we leapt into the fray.
The priest, too, gave an order. Other than for Francisc, we were all to be slaughtered.
As did the ancient Norse warriors of old, we crashed headlong into the undead with the ferocity of Berserkers. We slashed, hacked, bayoneted and bludgeoned them for all our worth, but with little effect. They seemed impervious to our weapons.
One of the brothers was the first to fall in the melee, his skull cleaved in two with a trench shovel. We were fighting a losing battle. How in God’s name could we even hope to kill a creature that was already dead? No sooner had the thought left my mind when a cry went up from another brother. ‘Go for their heads. It’s their weak spot!’
Side stepping a deadly blow from my adversary, I swung the gladius around and struck him on the nape of his neck, severing his head from his body. Another foe fell to the ground moments later, a crossbow bolt sticking from his temple. With renewed hope, we targeted their weak point and ultimately won the fight we’d thought was lost.
In the heat of battle, it is easy to lose sight of a comrade-at-arms and we hadn’t noticed that Francisc was no longer among us. We called out to him, but without answer. Picking the flashlight he had dropped during the skirmish, I scanned the cemetery. There was no sign of him. Several yards from my position a brother called out to me. I ran to his side, half expecting to see my friend lying dead at his feet. What he showed me was a trail of salt leading off into the darkness toward the cemetery’s memorial chapel.
Once again, my unwavering memory came to the fore. Salt was often used to protect the necromancer during summoning rituals. I also recalled that hanging from the priest’s belt was a black pouch. Could this have been the source from where the trail had originated? Had the pouch been damaged in his struggle with Francisc?
We followed the trail to its terminal point; at the end of which was an empty and expansive circle of salt. My companions looked at one another in confusion. Only I was aware of its significance, and what possibly lay within it. I ordered them to surround the circle and ready their weapons. This they did without question, as I withdrew my water canteen from my belt and poured its contents onto the circle, breaking its continuity and thereby revealing what lay within.
Kneeling on the ground, with a ritual dagger held to his throat, was Francisc. Towering over him was the necromantic priest. ‘One wrong move, and I’ll slit his throat!’ he warned.
An unexpected peal of thunder rolled across the night sky.
Looking to the heavens, the necromancer threatened, ‘The Dark Ones have waited for a thousand years for this moment. If you know what’s good for you you’ll leave here now, while you still can.’
‘Kill the fucker, Lucian, and have done with it’, Francisc growled.
‘Shut your mouth, before I shut it for you’, the priest hissed in his ear.
Raising his ritual athame dagger to the heavens, he called upon the Dark Ones. ‘To your purpose I have bent my will, and brought before you that which you seek. Fulfill the bargain we have struck and render unto me my just reward!’ The clouds churned, and scintillating light crackled earthward.
In that instant, our crossbowman let fly with a bolt, striking the necromancer through the eye and penetrating his brain. ‘There’s your fucking reward priest’ he said.
As I ran forward to help Francisc to his feet, a bolt of lightning struck a nearby tree and blew it apart in a super-heated outburst of steam. A secondary streamer arced from it and hit Francisc squarely in the chest, throwing him into the air. He landed several feet away, his tunic smoldering from the intense heat.
Not knowing whether he was alive or dead, we grabbed him by the heels and dragged him unceremoniously out of the storm and into the shelter of the memorial chapel. There, we looked for signs of life. There was no discernible pulse, or constriction of his pupils when I shone the flashlight into his eyes. His skin was cold and clammy, and had a bluish tinge to it. All the indicators pointed to the unassailable fact that Francisc was dead.
As we waited out the storm’s passing in a state of despondency, we took stock of our situation. We had been lured into an elaborate trap, designed solely for the purpose of capturing Francisc. But for what reason? What could the Dark One’s have possibly wanted from him? Cleary, they had expected to take him alive. Killing the priest who had conjured and, more importantly, controlled the storm was a costly mistake. Unfocused, the lightning bolts struck arbitrarily, accidentally killing my friend and mentor.
Our mission wasn’t over. We had yet to gather intelligence on the necromantic priest and dispose of the resurrected bodies outside. We had already passed the priest’s clergy house on the way to the cemetery. If there was any intelligence to be gathered on him, then that was the most likely place to find it. Retrieving a bunch of keys from his body, myself and Andor Balogh, who was to become my Fox division mentor, set out in search of it.
We found nothing of relevance on the upper floors, and so we descended into the bowels of an expansive basement. There we came upon a black altar, atop of which lay the tools of the necromancer’s dreadful art. Between two tapered, purple candles lay a book of spells, rituals, and invocations. Stuffing it into a kit bag, I pried upon the doors to see what lay within the altar. Sitting beneath a human skull lay the necromancer’s diary. What we learnt on reading it merely confirmed what we already suspected; the whole scenario had been an elaborate trap to ensnare Francisc. Whatever the Dark Ones were after was still a mystery to us. There was one cryptic entry in the diary, however, that caught our attention and hinted that the Dark Ones were in search of an ancient artefact of ‘major significance.’
It was an hour before sunrise when we entered the memorial chapel to discover Francisc’s body had vanished. On disposing of the other bodies, the brothers who had stayed behind returned to the memorial chapel. To their great consternation all that remained was the horse blanket they had wrapped Francisc in. They had come to the conclusion that the Dark Ones must have spirited him away. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it seemed the most likely explanation.
A Serendipitous Encounter.
In the wake of Francisc’s death, Lucian had immersed himself in Fox division operations; his missions providing brief distractions from the sombre thoughts of his former mentor and friend. Almost a year had passed since their last fateful mission together, and during that period Hungary had signed the Tripartite Pact that allied their country with Germany, Italy and Japan, thereby ensuring their participation in World War II and allowing German troops to transit the country on their way to Romania. It was during this same momentous time that Lucian and Andor were assigned to a case in Belgrade, Serbia, where two brutal killings had been reported. In each case the victims had been ripped apart and partially consumed. Furthermore, the assailant had seemingly evaded capture by paranormal means.
This latest mission brought with it further complications: the strife-torn country was now under German military occupation and one of the victims was a high-ranking SS officer, the other an inveterate alcoholic. However, at the time, the district military commander had very limited German garrison troops and police detachments to maintain order. Naturally, he concentrated his efforts and resources on the murder of the SS officer, thereby giving Lucian and Andor a relatively free hand to investigate the other.
During their inquiries one name, Jovan Begović, cropped up repeatedly. By all accounts Begović, was an arrogant, and brutish antisocial character who visited the city on rare occasions from his home on the outskirts of the city. It was, therefore, somewhat unusual for him to have been seen by independent witnesses, over several consecutive nights, prowling the streets of Belgrade; particularly on the evening of the inebriate’s homicide in which the killer was said to have evaded capture by leaping thirty feet onto a rooftop. These, and other elements of the story, Lucian recognised and became the foundation stones on which he built his theory that Begović was a pricolici – a werewolf/vampir hybrid.
Andor wasn’t so sure. There was one irregularity in Lucian’s theory, that did not match the normal modus operandi of a pricolici, it being that they never left behind their kill to be discovered. Recalling that Begović was noted for his arrogance, Lucian put forward the idea that it was perhaps his overblown sense of invulnerability and superiority that had made him reckless. There was only one way to discover the truth of the matter; they would have to stake out his home.
Furnished with a map from one of the eyewitnesses, Lucian and Andor set out for Begović’s cabin situated in the northern section of the outlying forest. Several hundred yards from the cabin stood a rocky crag that overlooked the area. It was an ideal vantage point from which to monitor Begović’s comings and goings. Having set up a rudimentary camp, Andor and Lucian settled into their vigil. A few hours passed, in which they saw neither hide-or-hair of their quarry.
Nightfall was setting in, and still there was no sign of Begović. Feeling an overpowering urge to relieve himself, Andor sloped off further uphill. From his elevated position, he noticed what appeared to be a large pile of animal bones stacked behind the cabin. In close proximity to them was a well. He related these findings to Lucian on his return.
Lucian records this, and the subsequent events that took place, in his journal.
We set off down the ridge under a blood-red crescent moon, and entered the clearing at the rear of the cabin. There were no lights visible at the windows. To all intents and purposes, the place was unoccupied. Despite this, we approached the boneyard with great caution. Much to our relief, none of the bones were human. Nevertheless, knowing that pricolici also had a liking for cattle flesh kept us on our toes.
As we were about to make our way to the front of the cabin, Andor noticed something that made him stop in his tracks. He knelt down and began feeling the ground. Looking up he said, grimly, ‘Wolf tracks. And they’re bipedal.’
My blood ran cold, and my heart began to race. What I knew of these terrifying creatures was learnt from manuscripts during my training days. I had yet to come across one in real life. Composing myself, I asked, ‘What now?’
‘We gather as much evidence as we can, and get the hell out of here before it returns’, he told me.
His words shocked me. ‘We’re not going to take it on?’
‘It’s not within our remit’, he said, ‘Our mission is to gather intelligence.’ Rising to his feet, he made for the cabin’s front entrance.
I was about to question his judgement when a faint sound from within alerted us of a presence. We stood on either side of the door, weapons drawn. Andor cautiously lifted the latch and gently pushed the door open, his Radom semi-automatic pistol in hand. What we saw bathed in the faint glow of a wood burning stove was far from what we had expected. Dominating the centre of the room was a large wooden table and four chairs. Sitting at one of them was a grey-haired female.
‘Is that you, Jovan? I wasn’t expecting you to be up so early’, she called out feebly, ‘You must be hungry.’
Andor and I looked at each other in mute surprise. The last thing we had expected to come across was a frail and blind old woman.
She rose gingerly to her feet and asked, “Can I get you something to eat, dear?’
What next took place caught us completely off guard.
‘No, Majka. I already have what I want right hear’, a voice snarled from behind.
We turned. Standing in the doorway we saw the naked form of Jovan Begović in mid transformation, his shredding flesh falling to the floor to reveal the monster within. Andor raised his semi-automatic, but was too late in taking the shot. With incredible speed the pricolici side-stepped into the night. Mere seconds later we followed him, only to discover he had vanished completely.
Regardless of his phenomenal speed, there was no way in hell he could have crossed the expansive tract of open land into the safety of the forest in such a short time. Andor motioned to the roof. Backing away from the cabin, we looked up. There was nothing there. He then motioned to split up and go around the building to check out the other side.
As I rounded the side gable, Begović blindsided me. Leaping from the roof, he crashed down onto me, knocking me to the ground. Instinctively, I lashed out wildly with the gladius. Dodging the sweeping blow, he knocked it from my grasp and tore flesh from my arm in the process. In his all-consuming blood lust, however, he had forgotten one thing – Andor.
As Begović crouched over me, ears drawn back against his head and spittle dripping from his jaws, he let out an agonizing scream. Looking down, I saw the gladius’ blade tear through his chest. He struggled desperately to dislodge it, but to no avail. Seconds later, he exploded in a cloud of ash. Wiping it from my eyes and tunic, I looked up and there stood my companion with sword in hand.
Hauling myself from the ground, and dusting off the remaining ash from my clothes, I began thanking him for his timely intervention. On looking up, I found myself staring down the muzzle of his semi-automatic. ‘Tell me you weren’t bitten’, he said. I understood his caution and rolled up my tunic sleeve, revealing the claw marks. He breathed a heavy sigh of relief and lowered the pistol. Though my injuries were relatively superficial, he insisted on having them dressed to prevent possible infection. To that end, we returned to the cabin to bathe and dress the wound.
Much to our disquiet, the cabin’s interior was not as we had left it. The stove was cold, the old woman had vanished, and the place was overlaid with a fine layer of dust and cobwebs. Apart from our own footprints, the evidence pointed to it not having being occupied for some time. Unquestionably, we had fallen prey to a glamour, a vampirical illusion cast by the pricolici to distract us.
Andor dressed my arm with strips of bed sheeting and made a rudimentary sling. Thereafter, we searched the place from top to bottom but found nothing in the way of useful intelligence. It was time to return to our camp on the outcrop.
Andor, who was by nature fastidious, decided to check out the well before returning to the camp. It was the only place we hadn’t looked for evidence. I held out little prospect of finding anything there. I was wrong. What we uncovered was both grim and informative. Caught up on the water bucket was a mouldering arm. Attached to its wrist was an attaché case bearing the Nazi insignia. Inside were official documents addressed to one Adalbrecht Neumann, the SS officer who had been slaughtered several days earlier and who was, we presumed, the owner of the limb. The contents of one document in particular immediately caught our attention. On reading it, we returned post-haste to division headquarters with unforeseen, vital intelligence.
A week later, in Budapest, a secret gathering of the Balkan states’ Regional Directors took place. There, Andor and Lucian presented their case to their speechless superiors. The documents they had uncovered presented a serious threat to them, and the continuation of their fight against the Intunecatii.
Among the recovered papers was a list of names and addresses of active members and associates of the Divine Blade within the Balkans. They were to be arrested and interrogated, their ‘assets of interest’ seized and transported to Berlin. A description of these assets followed, leaving little doubt that the communiqué was referring to the holy relics and divine weaponry.
A heated debate ensued, in which an idea was proposed that either the brotherhood and/or the Nazi Party had been infiltrated by an agent or agents of the Dark Ones. Lucian dismissed the former theory. Had it been one of their own passing on information to the Nazis, he would surely have given them the names and locations of the Divine Blade’s elite, who had far greater knowledge regarding the deployment and activities of their men. By cutting the head from the serpent they would have ensured a speedy and successful outcome. As it was, they were struggling to achieve that goal. The latter theory that the upper echelons of the Nazi Party had been infiltrated by elements of the Intunecatii seemed the more likely of the two.
A respectful silence settled in over the gathering as Lucian reminded them that a similar incident, recorded in the historical records of the Divine Blade, had occurred after the death of Pope Gregory XII. The events that followed his passing had resulted in the persecution of the founding members of the brotherhood. But for their actions the Divine Blade would have faded into antiquity, and the world would have succumbed to the intrigues of the Dark Ones. This latest debacle, insofar as Lucian was concerned, was merely a revamped continuation of their original concept to bring about the downfall of the Divine Blade.
Not everyone present accepted his hypothesis. Nevertheless, by the end of their deliberations they had agreed upon on several issues. First and foremost, the relics had to be moved to a safe haven in a neutral country. Secondly; all operations were to be put on temporary hold and anyone on the Nazi hit list was to go into hiding. Thirdly; all branches of the divine Blade throughout Europe were to be alerted to the latest threat.
By a majority vote, the USA was chosen as the safest haven for their apportioned divine relics. Their deposition and protection fell upon a small contingency chosen from the brotherhood to watch over them as they waited out the war. Andor, being the senior brother, was elected to lead the mission and Lucian to act as his second-in-command. Two weeks later they set sail for America with forged documents in hand and sufficient funds to see them through a prolonged period.
As the war raged throughout Europe, Lucian and his companions had found gainful employment as longshoremen in Baltimore Harbour, Maryland. Here, they would occasionally hear stories from merchant seamen entering the docks to offload their freight. What they heard was unsettling. But worse was to follow when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, bringing an end to America’s neutrality policy.
A period of great social, political and economic upheaval followed in the wake of these events, during which Lucian and the brothers weathered the storm as best they could. It was shortly after the war’s cessation that Lucian received a message from Miklos Tamas informing him of the murder of his family, a year earlier, by a faction of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party for aiding and abetting Jews in their escape from persecution and death.
Returning to his war-torn homeland was not an option for Lucian, as it was now under allied Soviet occupation and would remain so for the next thirteen years. He continued his missions in the US, disregarding Andor’s advice that he should take a leave of absence from his duties.
Over the ensuing decades, the American brotherhood’s numbers began to swell dramatically; as did encounters with the Dark Ones. A period of expansion was initiated by Andor and Lucian; who worked tirelessly to establish a network throughout the States in response to the Intunecatii threat.
The ‘Shadow Man’
In the Fall of 1970, Lucian wrote of his growing optimism for the American brotherhood. In the same entry, he also mentioned a new and conceivable danger to it. This threat he dubbed as the ‘shadow man’; a fleeting figure he had witnessed observing them during several missions. At first, he shook off his sightings as battle stress anxieties. Then others of the brotherhood’s rank and file also began catching glimpses of the enigmatic stalker.
To quell the endless conjectures regarding the shadow man’s identity and motives Andor ordered Lucian to put together a team to hunt down and capture or eliminate the will-o’-the-wisp entity, using any resources at their disposal to do so. Having noted the shadow man was frequently seen during missions, Lucian came up with a plan to surveil Andor’s men at a discreet distance throughout their missions. Should his quarry take the bait and put in an appearance they would approach from the rear, effectively ensnaring him in a pincer movement action.
Near the town of Sykesville, Carroll County, Maryland, sightings of a Bakaak – a skeletal-like creature with translucent skin and glowing red eyes – had been reported. Andor saw this as a golden opportunity to put their plan into operation, and possibly kill two birds with one stone. On researching the area, he came across an abandoned southern colonial building, situated atop a hill and overlooking rolling pastures, trees, and a fenced meadow. Strategically, it was an excellent vantage point for his team. The question now was whether or not the shadow man would put in an appearance?
An hour after Andor’s arrival at the deserted house, Lucian radioed in his arrival at the lookout point in the forest, a quarter-mile east of the site. Unpacking their equipment from the Jeeps, he and his nine-man team settled into their vigil. From their position, they had an unrestricted view of the house and its surroundings. Nothing could get in or out without their knowing it.
Two days and nights passed without incident. Then, on the third night, a cry went out from a lookout on the third floor of the house. He had seen something that he described as ‘kinda scrawny and human-like’ moving around on the edge of the forest. Limited though his description was, Andor was in no doubt that he had seen the Bakaak and radioed in the sighting to Lucian.
As Andor’s men made their way down the meadow to the forest, Lucian’s team were vectoring in on the last known location of the Bakaak via a circuitous route that they hoped would place the creature between the two converging groups.
Lucian and his team crept forward through the pitch-black forest interior, their night vision goggles enabling them to navigate the treacherous terrain. Over the creaking boughs and branches of the windswept canopy a shrill cry went out, bringing them to an abrupt standstill. Lucian scanned the area He could see nothing in their immediate vicinity to account for the blood-curdling scream. Suddenly, his two-way radio crackled into life. It was Andor, warning him that the Bakaak had taken one of his team and was advancing rapidly on Lucian’s position through the tree canopy. Instinctively, Lucian ordered his men to take up defensive positions.
Lucian takes up their encounter with the creature in his journal.
Of all the beasts I had encountered the Bakaak was, to date, the most hideous and bizarre. Twenty-yards ahead of us, it had latched onto a tree trunk by one of a pair of elongated arms, terminating in an oversized, clawed hand. From the other hung the limp body of Brother Castillo. There was no way of telling if he was alive or dead. To open fire on the creature now could have serious consequences for our comrade. If he wasn’t already dead, the fall from the tree would certainly kill him. Having signaled for the team to hold fire, we watched to see what it would do next.
On sniffing the air, it began a slow descent to the forest floor, its cicadan-like legs taking the strain. Through its translucent flesh. we could make out the creature’s skeletal frame, internal organs, and sinews. As it drew to within five-feet of the ground, we targeted its barreled chest and opened fire, penetrating the fine membrane of flesh and blowing apart the organs within. Dropping its prey, it crashed to the ground.
In the short time it took us to arrive at the site the creature had almost regenerated itself, and had set about tearing open Castillo’s abdomen to eat his liver, as is the wont of all Bakaak. Another round of bullets ripped into its body. I was the last to empty my magazine into it. In doing so, one of the rounds passed clean through it and struck Brother Castillo. The creature fell to one side, temporarily disabled. Two of my team immediately dragged Castillo from the scene and began tending to his wounds. Andor and his men arrived moments later. They quickly doused the Bakaak in petrol and set fire to it adding kindling to maintain the inferno – a similar method to that chronicled in the ancient writings as the only way to destroy the unholy creature.
Come sunrise, only I and Andor remained at the scene. The others had returned to the colonial house hours earlier. By now, only ash and pulverized bone remained of the Bakaak. This, we took to the river at the foot of the meadow and scattered the remains into the fast-flowing waters. On doing so, we caught sight of a lone figure donned in a hooded poncho standing beneath the shade of a Chestnut Oak. It was the ‘shadow man’. I called out angrily to him. Annoyingly, he turned and walked away into the forest without uttering a single word.
As we made our way back to the house, a call came over the radio informing us Brother Morgan Castillo had died as a result of his wounds. Despite the assurances of the medics that he would most probably have died of the injuries inflicted on him by the Bakaak, I couldn’t help but wonder whether my action had helped to seal his fate. Plagued by an unbending sense of guilt, failing health, and never having discovered the identity of the shadow man over the years, I made the painful decision to sever all links with the brotherhood and go into hiding.
The End Game.
Little is written in Lucian’s journal over the proceeding four decades, other than he now resided in a care home in the UK, his waning health and advanced years having taken their toll on his frail body. Now in his nineties, he recalled vividly the far-flung and incredible exploits of his youth, and the friends he had known and lost. He had never married and, as I was to discover, lead a reclusive life on the border of a small village on the Cornish coastline.
Sadly, Lucian died the day before I arrived in the UK. What awaited me on reaching the care home, however, was a revealing letter he had written a week prior to his passing. This, he had entrusted to his primary care nurse with explicit instructions to hand it to me on my arrival. Here, in its entirety, is the letter he had written to me.
Dear Mr. Blattch,
It is with deep regret that I could not be here to greet you in person, as I have long been an admirer of your work. I know you to be a man of honor and courage and a seeker of truth and justice. It was because of these qualities that I sent you the package containing my journal.
You are probably wondering how I could possibly have known that our paths would not meet, and that I would die before your arrival. The simple answer is, I was told by someone. That ‘someone’ visited me recently, accompanied by a man who introduced himself as Matheus Pereira, a Brazilian brother of the Divine Blade. He went on to introduce his female companion as Aliz Elek, the child Francisc and I had rescued from the vampire, Caius.
To say I was taken aback would be an understatement; not least because the woman standing before me was no more than thirty-years-old. The Aliz we had rescued would now be in her mid-eighties. But greater revelations were yet to come during our reunion, in which I learnt of her involvement and, more crucially, her role within the Divine Blade. She is no ordinary sister, to the brotherhood, Mr. Blattch, as you are about to learn. She is an intelligent and psychically gifted individual; and it was through one of these gifts they had managed to locate me.
I believe that it is through her abilities, and others like her, that the Divine Blade will weather the tide of the Intunecatii’s latest onslaught against the brotherhood, whose numbers are decreasing alarmingly throughout the globe. Under Aliz’s aegis, and in response to this threat, the Divine Blade have created a sub-branch of the Fox division, which they call ‘the Numinous’. This sub-branch is made up of others like Aliz. Imagine it, Mr. Blattch; an entire unit of psychically gifted spies!
Aliz outlined her own particular gifts to me. The first was her ability to read auric fields. These invisible energy fields, she told me, surround all living things. They are structured and can be deciphered by a trained auric reader. From an examination of their color, density, and bioplasmic composition they can deduce many things, including the true nature of an individual; be they good or evil.
It began to dawn on me how powerful an ability like this is. For centuries, the Divine Blade have feared the penetration of the brotherhood by agents of the Dark Ones. Having the ability to vet individuals in this manner would effectively subvert the danger of infiltration.
The second gift she possesses is her seemingly innate ability to project her spirit to anywhere she chooses. I believe the term for this is known as astral projection. This, she admitted, was how she had managed to locate me.
As you may recall from my journal, Mr. Blattch, on the night Francisc and I rescued Aliz from the vampire, Caius, she referred to him as ‘the black bubble man’ and of being ‘somewhere else’ when Caius was feeding from the other children. It would seem that what she was describing was the negative energy field surrounding Caius’ body. Her remark of being ‘somewhere else’ was undoubtedly her ingenuous way of telling us her spirit had vacated her body, either voluntarily or involuntarily, to escape the horrors of her confinement.
The question uppermost in my mind at the time was why they were telling me, a man not long for this world, of these things? That’s when she told me of an even greater power in their possession; an artefact so incredibly powerful it could bestow immortality on those who drank from it; a gift, she told me, she had accepted from a most unlikely source. I understood now the reason behind her youthful appearance. She offered this endowment of eternal life to me – a gift I refused. I have lived my life in the belief I would one day be reunited with my beloved Ileana, and no inducement could ever keep me from that goal.
You are no doubt wondering, as did I, what this incredible artefact is, and from where it came. It is the Holy Grail, Mr. Blattch, the vessel from which Christ’s disciples drank at the last supper and into which His blood flowed at His crucifixion. Moreover, it has been held in secret by a brother of the Divine Blade. That brother’s identity, and more besides, will be revealed to you on the day of my funeral.
May God go with you.
In keeping with the funerary rites of the Divine Blade, Lucian’s body was cremated and his ashes were to be taken back to his homeland. I later learnt that this custom of immolation in the brotherhood was a preventative measure against being resurrected by the Dark Ones.
I had expected many to be in attendance at Lucian’s funeral, and wasn’t disappointed by the turn out. They were from all walks of life; many owing their continuing existence to Lucian’s bravery and fortitude in the fight against the Dark Ones. Their eulogies were, at times, heart-rending affairs. Now, more than ever, I knew his incredible story had to be told to a far wider audience, and to reveal to an unsuspecting world the threat posed by the Intunecatii.
I had almost given up hope of making contact with Aliz Elek and the mysterious brother Lucian had alluded to in his final letter, when I was approached by the soft-spoken Aliz. Then came the unexpected bombshell; the man accompanying her introduced himself as none other than Francisc Servruasa.
As a journalist, I had developed an instinct to read the subtle signs given off by people who were handing me a line. It wasn’t the case here. This man believed and meant every word he said. As further proof of his identity, he produced a worn photograph from his coat pocket and passed it to me. It showed what he professed to be himself and Lucian posing outside the training ground in Hungary on the day he received the gladius. Aliz assured me that these were indeed the heroes she remembered rescuing her from the vampire, Caius.
As our talk progressed into the afternoon I learnt of the secrets that Francisc had so assiduously hidden from Lucian and the brotherhood; they being that he was an immortal, and that Caius was his sibling brother. If Lucian had uncovered these truths, questions would have inevitably arisen as to how Francisc had become an immortal, and why he hadn’t shared this with the brotherhood. Sensing that I, too, was intrigued by his motives for remaining silent on these matters, he opened up.
His life as an eternal, he told me, was something of a curse. Due to his unchanging and ageless nature, he was forced to live a relatively solitary and nomadic life. Long-term relationships were out of the question for that very same reason. For nearly two-thousand years he had lived as a wanderer, rarely allowing himself the luxury of developing meaningful relationships with the people he had encountered on his journeys. The one constant which gave meaning to his life was the brotherhood and his unending conviction to bring about the downfall of the Dark Ones.
I asked him why he had kept his secret from the Divine Blade. In response, he paraphrased the words of John Emerich Acton, “Power corrupts”, Mr. Blattch, he said, “and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He was right of course, and he feared the consequences of an immortalized brother being corrupted by his god-like status.
‘Then why did you chose to take on the mantle of an eternal, Francisc?’ I enquired. He responded by saying that it had been forced upon him by circumstance. This circumstance, he told me, began when he caught Caius in the act of stealing an artefact from the reliquary which he had been tasked to guard. During the confrontation, Francisc learnt that his younger sibling had been approached by a Dark One who had offered him immortality in exchange for one of the relics. In the ensuing argument, Caius stabbed him and fled, leaving him lying in a pool of blood. Near to the point of death, and wishing to avenge himself and restore his family honor, Francisc poured water from his waterskin pouch into the Grail and drank from it, thereby sealing his destiny.
I quizzed him about what he knew of the enigmatic ‘shadow man’. He smiled knowingly and looked me in the eyes. ‘Everything.’ he said, matter-of-factly, ‘You see, I’m the shadow man.’ Pre-empting my next question, he confessed a paternal feeling towards Lucian. He saw in him the kind of son he could never have. But, like any father, he wanted to see the kind of man he would become. On several occasions, he knew he had been spotted. Knowing that it was only a matter of time before he would be caught out, he stood beneath the Chestnut Oak in Maryland, and made the painful decision to walk away from Lucian for the very last time.
If my career has taught me anything, it’s always check your facts and never take anything for granted. With that in mind, I asked Aliz if she would give me an impromptu demonstration of her auric reading abilities. She happily obliged me. After staring at me for a moment, she held her hand close to my chest and told me, ‘There’s something lodged near your heart that shouldn’t be there.’ She was right; it was a Glock 9mm round from the drive-by shooting that almost cost me my life. The surgeon had thought it far too risky to try and remove it. There was no way she could have known this without access to my private medical records.
Inevitably, the matter of the physical evidence Lucian had promised came to the fore. To gain access to it, involved a twenty-minute journey up the coastline to Lucian’s home. On our arrival, I was shown a hermetically sealed container inside of which was a late 4th-century manuscript purportedly covering the history of the Divine Blade. These were eventually sent off to the University of Westminster’s Research Lab for multispectral analysis. They proved to be the genuine article.
Further disclosures came during my brief stay at Lucian’s home. During a conversation between myself and Aliz, Francisc slipped out of the room. Moments later, he returned. In his hand, he held a Roman short sword; the very weapon Lucian had used to slay Caius. Inserted into its ivory pommel was a dowel of dark wood, a relic that Francisc assured me was taken from the cross of Christ and which gave the blade its power of indestructibility. To demonstrate its capabilities, he took me into the garden where lay a section of steel railway track that Francisc had procured for the demonstration. With a single blow, he cleaved it in two. Remarkably, the shortsword’s blade was completely unscathed by it.
By now I knew Francisc was the guardian of the Grail, but no amount of inducements could dissuade him from keeping its location a secret. I asked for photographic evidence of it. He turned down my request on the grounds that the no-one but himself knew what the Grail actually looked like, and it was this uncertainty that afforded it some protection against those who coveted it.
Despite all I had seen and read, doubts still lingered. Was I being drawn into an elaborate hoax? If so, to what purpose? I had tried to maintain an open-mindedness throughout, but now my sense of objectivity was being put to the test. The truths and principles I held regarding the nature of reality were being inexorably eroded. Like a drowning man, I clung to the straw I thought would keep me afloat in a sea of infinitely disturbing possibilities.
It is often said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Thus far, I had not been presented with any truly unequivocal evidence to quell the doubts in my mind. In a dramatic and spine-tingling act, however, Francisc ultimately provided that which I sought.
As he, Aliz and I walked along the lofty promontory on the morning of my departure, Francisc sensed my unease and asked what was troubling me. On telling him, he paused for a moment and walked to the edge of the cliff. Looking out to sea, he turned and smiled before leaping from the headland to the rocks seventy-feet below. My stomach churned as I peered over the edge and saw his shattered body lying at the foot of the cliff face. ‘Don’t worry’, Aliz said, ‘He’ll be back soon.’ With that, she took me by the arm and lead me back to the cottage in a state of shock. Ten minutes later, Francisc entered the cottage, his body completely unscathed. Apologizing for his dramatic display, he went to change out of his wet clothes.
To my readers, I submit this warning: There are things in this world beyond our limited comprehension. They are the stuff of legend; the arcane personifications of our fears and the terrors that haunt our dreams. We disavow or ignore them at our own peril. I have committed myself to taking up the clarion call of the Divine Blade, who stand as a stronghold against the gathering storm that threatens to overwhelm us all. Who among you, I ask, will do the same?
A revised version of this tale can be found on Amazon Books.