The Birth of Vengeance
by Slawomir Rapala
|Table of Contents|
|Part 1: Rain, Blood and the Serpent|
Dispossessed at an early age, Aezubah has wandered the world in search of vengeance. On arid mountaintops, remote glaciers and burning deserts he has conquered demons from the edge of creation, wicked sorcerers, and evil kings. As a General, he is beloved of all the warriors who follow him.
But his victories are never final; he goes forth again and again with nothing but his horse, spear and sword, in loneliness and solitude, seeking the treasure that always eludes him: peace.
A goddess told me in my dreams
That my heart may stop before I die,
That my soul may soar amidst the trees,
That death may force my eyes to cry.
Today I know that she was right:
A man may die yet walk the earth.
Today I know, through gods’ design
Some men are cursed from when they’re birthed...
— penned by Aezubah on the eve of the battle of Knoss
A great flash of lightning slipped through the heavy clouds that hung low over Oyan. A moment later a distant thunder rolled through the countryside and many shuddered in the darkness of their homesteads where they cowered in fear of the gods.
Women gathered crying children and hugged them to their breasts while throwing frightened glances toward their silent husbands who gazed outside of the rain-washed windows with all the calmness expected of them as heads of families. Water poured down on the scorched earth with such fury that even the eldest could not explain.
The Kingdom of Bandikoy was known for many things, but rain was surely not one of them. Nowhere else would one find as many marvelously decorated temples, skilled theologians, thinkers, brilliant philosophers, professional engravers and talented artists than in this cultural and spiritual Capital of the post-Azmattic World.
Nowhere else would one find such libraries and museums, beautiful palaces and ingenious gardens, complicated networks of viaducts and streets adorned with rows of awe-inspiring statues, as well as awesome lyceums and theatres, and many other structures of such architectural merit that they eclipsed the achievements of the Ancients.
For those who thirsted knowledge and wisdom, Bandikoy and its grandest city, Oyan, was the ultimate destination, as for those who sought artistic or spiritual enlightenment. Treasure-seekers and adventurers flocked from all over the world as well, drawn by the legends of the mythic gold of Azmattia’s last King, who had supposedly hidden it in one of the ancient cities, now buried by sands and forgotten by gods.
Many came and then remained, unable to bid farewell to this most egalitarian of all Kingdoms, though they shuddered at the thought of empty deserts where nothing but perpetual sands lay. One could not find a stalk of grass or the smallest cactus, nor a lizard or mosquito even on the vast stretches of sand that extended far into the interior of the Kingdom. Bandikoy was the driest place on earth, and water here was priced over gold. Until this night, when the sky was torn open by the hands of the gods.
Thunder roared repeatedly and quick flashes of lightning scarred the dark sky, turning night into day and bringing fear into the hearts of all people. Deserted streets turned into savage streams of water that raced through the city towards the plains where they seeped into the cracked soil. No one dared light a torch for fear of further angering the gods and Oyan, where no one slept and everyone prayed on this most terrible night, was plunged into such darkness that never before visited this vibrant and exciting city.
Taverns and brothels that donned the streets by the dozens were today closed and barricaded for fear of water bursting in. The entire city was on its feet, sober for the first time perhaps, praying and watching as the immortal gods punished the earth with so much water that though at first she eagerly swallowed the moisture, now she gasped and swayed under its burden.
Some of Oyan’s inhabitants, however, were unafraid and relished in the rain that claimed the city. Gathered in a small and inconspicuous temple near the city walls, they raised their arms to the sky and bowed their heads before a great serpent goddess Sonya who had sent the rains to punish the unclean.
Fires were lit inside the temple and they illuminated several dozen worshipers as they extended their arms and then lowered them to the floor in humble gestures. Several cloaked men tended the fires and from time to time they added a hand-full of herbs to them.
Heavy smoke rose to the high ceiling and spread over the heads of those gathered. A sweet and intoxicating smell filled the building and the worshipers’ blank eyes were drawn wide open. They shone like great torches when they lifted them to the many stained-glass windows that littered the ceiling and through which they watched the power of their god.
Young women moved between the worshipers and handed out great jugs of strong wine to those who bid them closer. Their naked, oiled bodies shone like golden statues of ancient goddesses, but their eyes were blank just the same and their movements slow and unsure, as if strings attached to their marionette bodies were not fixed properly and the master had difficulty controlling his puppets.
The small figure of a priest was barely visible from behind the clouds of smoke that hung beneath the temple roof, but his voice was strong when he lifted his face to the invisible sky and cried, “Great mistress! Punish the soiled and the impure! Let us serve you, great goddess!”
He stood alone atop a staircase, his face painted white and his arms spread open as if to receive a lover. The flames of the fires blazing below did not reach him and he was clad in darkness, except for those times when another flash of lightning lashed out on the sky and its light penetrated the temple.
His face could then be seen for a split moment and it was the face of a demon, long and pale, with eyes deeply seated in the skull and burning with fanatical intensity. Black hair hung loose around his face in long and thin strings that dripped with oil. Beads of sweat glistened on his forehead indicating an inhuman almost effort that it took to keep his body open to receive the goddess, should she choose to come tonight.
The sound of his prayer, solemnly repeated by those gathered below, echoed throughout the temple. Repeated over and over again, it turned into a low hum in which the words were inaudible and the overall effect was that of a serpent-like hiss. It rose slowly to the roof of the structure and filled the blackened heart of the priest with a diabolical joy. He cried again and again, and his voice was lifted to the sky by the strong winds and carried to the ears of the gods alongside roaring thunders.
The priest turned to face the worshipers and looked down on their bowed heads. A statue of the serpent goddess, chiseled out of black granite and placed in the middle of the temple, loomed over them. Her great ruby eyes were fixed on him.
Even through the heavy clouds of intoxicating smoke the priest could see his mistress’ growing rage. Sonya was hungry, and her hunger was that of a snake that had not eaten in days and was now ready to swallow its prey whole. The priest sensed her power as it seeped into his heart and coursed through his veins, poisoning his mind and spirit with savage and blood-drenched thoughts. He felt her hunger too, physically almost, and it gnawed away at his stomach sending jolts of pain throughout his slim body. He had fasted along with the goddess and now, at the height of the ceremony, he was ready to eat.
“Brothers and sisters!” the priest cried. worshipers raised their heads and watched him from beneath their black hoods, their blank eyes reflecting a drugged state of mind. “The time has come now, brothers and sisters! Our mistress is hungry!”
He motioned for his acolytes to bring forth the victims who were to be slain on the altar of his most terrible lover, the black goddess of the Underworld, the mother of all snakes, serpents and dragons, and all those who followed her commandments. He slowly descended the steps, while his acolytes, a group of young students of the black arts, drugged by the herbs and drunk on the wine, brought forth three young women and ushered them before the statue.
A blood-stained altar rested at the lizard feet of the goddess, a misshapen structure which could only be gazed upon by those with a spoiled mind, for all others would run away screaming, away from this primordial and illogical shape that was not of this realm.
The three women, naked and beautiful, approached the altar with no fear. Aided by the acolytes they stretched their slim bodies on its smooth surface with obvious pleasure, shivering with demonic delight at the touch of the black stone. Their blank eyes mirrored the terrible paintings of the temple’s walls. They twisted their bodies and teased each other playfully, giggling girlishly and smiling to the goddess that loomed over them.
Their every motion was watched by the expressionless eyes of those gathered, by the crimson eyes of the goddess above them, and the hungry eyes of the diabolical priest, who now approached the altar with a long poniard in hand.
He watched the drunk women as they pleased one another and then he reached with his hand, his body tense and excited by the drug, the wine, and the naked bodies outstretched before him. His hand gripped one of the women’s hair and he pulled her head back to expose her silky throat.
Her eyes locked with his and he saw in them only pleasure, terrible pleasure of dark origin. She moaned when he pulled her hair harder and her lips opened as if begging for a kiss. The priest’s face twisted into a savage smile. The thunder roared once more as if the great goddess urged him to carry on with the deed. Lightning flashed and in its instant all eyes saw the priest’s blade-wielding arm extend over the woman’s bare throat.
His hand moved slowly and the woman gasped when the blood gushed forward. She gasped for air and looked around frantically. Her arms fluttered pathetically and she gasped again, but the priest held her down hard. Her back lifted off the black stone in a beautiful arch as she attempted with all her strength to throw off the weight of his body. No one moved to aid her in this impossible task. All she saw were the crimson eyes of the goddess above her and the vicious smile of the demon-priest who now leaned in, placed his lips over the open wound and eagerly quenched the terrible thirst.
The remaining two girls continued their play on the altar, oblivious to their companion’s horrible fate and moaning under each others’ soft caresses. The victim’s eyes slowly dimmed, in the meantime, and soon, as the priest continued to drink and the blood continued to flow, they were blank once more, glazed over by the cold hand of death.
The priest lifted his blood-smeared face to the sky. A triumphant yell sounded throughout the temple. The sky thundered in response and the rain came pounding down on the roof of the structure with such savage force that everyone looked up. The acolytes added more herbs to the fires and the sweet smoke once again filled the temple, numbing the senses and emptying the minds.
In the next moment the priest, decisively now and with a steady hand, slashed the throats of the two remaining victims. Blood gushed forward and spilled on the black stone, while he moved away to make room for other worshipers. They closed in on the dying women, each wanting to taste the godly drink and to quench the hunger. Painful cries soon died as dozens of blank-eyed figures hovered over the women, draining the precious blood out of their veins, still warm, still red.
The priest moved back and laughed, he laughed like a demon, and his hoarse voice was once more lifted to the sky where the gods turned away with distaste at the sight of such horror. The priest cared not for the gods. His mistress was Sonya and she smiled to him now.
Her ruby eyes watched him from behind a cloud of sweet smoke and he felt her gaze penetrating the depths of his blackened soul. He felt her poison reach his heart and he laughed like a crazed demon of hatred and death, because he now saw that no one could stand in his way.
Perhaps he was only a priest, but with Sonya’s help, he would soon be so much more. In his twisted and drugged mind he already saw himself surrounded by an army numbering in thousands, dark knights of the Underworld, riding forward to crush the Kingdoms of men. The drug gnawed away at his mind, bringing forth hectic, corrupt visions, and he continued laughing diabolically.
Thunder roared outside as the savage storm continued, bringing rain to the scorched earth.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2007 by Slawomir Rapala