A Carnal Grudge Spawned
THE ABANDONED MONASTERY OUTSIDE VERKHOTURYE, RUSSIA
"Grigory," the voice hissed through the air, loud even though it was far away, "It is time. Come to me."
"Yes, Master," the young man with the unkempt hair and growing beard rose up from his kneeling position in a run-down monastic cell. A strong smile crossed his face. It was time to claim what he had worked for for the last decade.
He strode into the hall and walked briskly towards what had once been the chapel area. Time had gone by so quickly. It had seemed just yesterday that he'd been living as a transient on the country roads, robbing passersby to sustain himself. It was all he could have done to support himself after the villagers back in Pokrovskoe had expelled him from their village. Even then he had been aware he'd had something powerful inside himself. It had been clear whenever he'd started a fire without explanation or managed to create a thunderstorm on a sunny day. The villagers, though, had seen him only as a menace to themselves-of course the fact that he'd often retaliated against those who'd dared to mock him by stealing their prized possessions or attacking them after dark hadn't helped either-and had been quick to shove him out when he had reached his teenage years. And for a while he had wandered without purpose, without hope.
But then Makary had found him. Wise old Makary, who had appeared to him one day by the side of the road and told him he was in fact the Chosen One. That prophesy and fate had dictated that it would be he who would be the next leader of the Khlyst.
The Khlyst-the Whippers. The name was still only whispered in hushed and frightened tones all over Russia. The sect of some of the most powerful sorcerers to ever live may not have been what it had been at its zenith when Makary was in his prime three hundred years ago, but it was still alive and beating, contrary to what the tsars seemed to have thought lately. And Grigory Yefimovich had realized finally what he was meant to do: to become to the ruler of one-sixth of the Earth's surface once the Khlyst finally seized power yet again.
And so Makary had taken him away and trained him rigorously over the last ten years, teaching him everything about the sinister Dark Forces that existed outside of the realm of human understanding from which the Khlysts derived much of their power, teaching him how to use hatred to increase his natural powers, teaching him so many other aspects of the Khlyst way to prepare him for the fate that lay before him. Just last night, he had passed his final test-he'd returned to Pokrovskoe and burned the village to the ground with his powers. And so now the time to take the mantle of absolute power had come at last.
"Come in, Grigory," came Makary's voice again as he entered the chapel. Hunched over and nearly blind after a life of four hundred and eleven years-kept alive all that time by many frightful spells-Makary, despite his age and weakness, still burned with the desire for absolute power that had been driving him since the Khlyst's founding over three hundred years ago. "You have done well, Grigory," Makary commended him as his pupil knelt at his feet, "You are everything the prophesy said you would be as revealed to me. Thus, you are ready to assume what has been yours for the taking. From this moment forward, Grigory Yefimovich shall no longer exist. When you rise, you shall be-Rasputin, the Unholy One. Arise, Rasputin."
"Yes, Master Makary," the newly anointed Khlyst rose to his feet, "I am grateful for you showing me all you have. To know that my destiny in life is so great, that I will rule over millions of people once we bring the Khlyst back together..."
"But be warned, Rasputin, do not make the mistakes we once made when the Khlyst ruled Russia with an iron fist," Makary warned him, "These mistakes cost us the absolute power we had sought, and I doubt the order will have another chance if they are made again. You do remember well our history, of course?"
He pulled a strange object from under his robes, a greenish cylinder with an impaled skull at the top, a talon at the bottom, and a snake encircling it entirely. A strange green mist wafted out of the skull's mouth as he began speaking again and swirled until an image formed in the center: "In the year 1598, I and five other dark sorcerers, each leaders of powerful dark sects in our own rights, gathered at the top of Ipatiev Mountain in the Urals and swore an oath that we would not rest until Russia was ours. And we appealed to the Dark Forces to aid us, and they delivered us this dark reliquary," he held the object high, "Forged in pure evil, it gave unlimited power to he who wielded it. And so, we murdered the last Muscovite tsar, made pacts with foreign armies to come in and help conquer the land for us, and achieved our dream of total domination of the pathetic people. They may call it The Time of Troubles now, but it was our finest hour, and for almost twenty years we were invincible."
"But then, the Master Khlysts all started maneuvering to each seize total control for themselves," Rasputin recited the story he'd learned after first coming under Makary's wing, "Each wanted to be the sole ruler, and their fight fatally divided the Khlyst."
"Indeed, Rasputin, and I'll concede I fell into that trap too," Makary admitted grimly, "And so, it was, in this time of civil war amongst ourselves, in the year 1616 that the boyar Michael Romanov rose up and rallied the people against us. I alone among the Master Khlysts saw the danger and tried to get my colleagues to stop their fighting, but they refused to listen to me until it was too late. We were too divided to stop the people, who drove us from Moscow and executed us in droves, then expelled the enemy armies and proclaimed a new monarchy."
"And the accursed Romanovs have ruled Russia since then, usurping what is rightfully the Khlyst's throne," Rasputin grumbled bitterly.
"We have tried occasionally since then to dislodge them, but we were still too divided, even though I was the only Master Khlyst to escape the people's wrath with my life and with the reliquary," Makary told him, "But after so many years, my powers have grown too weak. Thus, it is time a younger, stronger sorcerer assumes control. And so, Rasputin, I hereby present a great legacy to you."
With one last solemn look at the reliquary, he gingerly handed it to his apprentice. Rasputin fingered it eagerly. "It will obey only your commands, Rasputin," Makary told him, "And it will do anything your heart desires. But remember my lesson from almost three hundred years ago well: share the title of Master Khlyst with no one else. If we give in to infighting as we did before, the sect could collapse again, perhaps for good this time."
"Do not worry, Master, no one will take what you have bestowed on me away," Rasputin stared greedily at what was his reliquary, "What shall I do first now that I am in charge?"
"Your first task must be to reunite all the scattered remaining members of the Khlyst from all over Russia," Makary advised him, "The movement has grown too splintered into separate sects since we were thrown from power, with each sect looking out only for its own ends. Only when we move as one behind a sole leader can we truly succeed, I can see now from experience. Then you will return to Ipatiev Mountain and restore the great Khlyst citadel, which holds far more magical spells and dark potions for our benefits. It was cursed to impenetrable rubble by one of our surviving bands at the end of the Time of Troubles so the Romanovs would not get the powerful magic inside. Only the true leader of the movement can undo the curse and restore the citadel, and that is now you. I would have done it myself years ago, but that area of the mountains has long since been held by a very powerful sect of Khlyst that has been hostile to me since our fall, and my powers have grown weaker by the years, so the odds were ever against me as time passed. Slaughter them all if you must; whatever it takes to restore the citadel and give our movement a..."
Suddenly the reliquary started flashing bright green, as if it were giving a warning. "What is this!?" Makary seized it back. More green mist spilled from the reliquary, showing an image of several hundred imperial troops marching up the mountain towards the monastery, looking grim and determined. "So, they have come for me at last," Makary mumbled fatalistically.
"How did they find out we were here!?" Rasputin demanded almost to himself, "Well, regardless, we will fight them to the last man, Master; we will show them what the Khlyst can...!"
"I will fight them, Rasputin, alone," Makary told him as the sound of heavy footsteps could be heard outside the monastery walls, getting closer and closer, "You must leave, now."
"No, Master, we are meant to do this together...!"
"I said go, Rasputin," Makary admonished him, shoving the reliquary back into his apprentice's hands, "It will do the Khlyst no good if you die here and now."
Before Rasputin could answer, the marching stopped right outside. "Makary the Merciless!" demanded an authoritative voice from outside, "In the name of his sovereign highness Nicholas II, surrender or die, traitor to the Russian people!"
Makary grabbed a staff off the wall and fired a magical blast out the nearest window. "Go, now!" he commanded his apprentice one last time, firing a blast in Rasputin's direction to make his point clear. Bullets ripped through the windows and walls, giving the young Master Khlyst another incentive to reluctantly run towards the monastery's rear entrance. Luckily the surrounding hillside was overgrown, and there were no imperial troops staked out behind the building. He crawled through the shrubbery until he was a good distance away. He watched a pitched battle unfold below as Makary fired magical bursts at his enemies from inside the monastery. But the imperial soldiers continued firing back, and no sooner did Rasputin come to a decision to open fire with the reliquary from the hillside than the magical blasts stopped coming out the windows. "Cease fire!" the general in charge of the detachment ordered his men, "Lieutenant, make sure he's dead."
A squad of troops nervously walked into the monastery. Moments later, a shout came out from inside: "He's dead, General Volkov, Makary the Merciless is finally dead!"
A loud cheer rang up from the troops. A blinding hot rage, hot as the Earth's core, seared through Rasputin's veins. The new tsar had stolen away his master right at the defining moment of his young life. From this point on, he swore to himself furiously, Nicholas II wouldn't just be overthrown once the Khlyst were reassembled into a dangerous force; the tsar would suffer beyond words...
"Bring him out," General Volkov ordered his men. Makary's bullet-riddled corpse was dumped like a sack of potatoes in front of the monastery. "That's him all right," the general nodded in satisfaction. "Colonel, notify the tsar immediately that the last leader of the Khlyst is dead at last," he ordered his main adjutant, "And bring forth those who gave us this tip; it is time they receive their reward."
Rasputin twitched, livid; who would have the gall to betray the great Makary!? His eyelids narrowed as a pair of peasants were led forward to the general. "Mr. and Mrs. Yussel Oldenstein, is it?" Volkov asked the couple, who nodded, "I'm told you received a traveler last week who wanted shelter before he went up this mountain, and you got suspicious?"
"Indeed, General," the man bowed humbly, "My wife and I decided to follow him up the mountain last week, since no one goes up here, and saw some flashes of green light coming from inside the monastery. We knew that was the trademark of the Khlyst, so we informed the local authorities that we felt something was amiss up here."
"Well, you two have done well; here is your reward of one hundred thousand rubles," General Volkov waved several adjutants with heavy bags in hand, "Spend it well, for you have rid Russia of a terrible curse. Lieutenant," he called to the leader of the body retrieval unit, "Prepare to burn the building the ground; I want no chance anyone else might use anything in here for evil purposes."
"Yes sir. Get the torches ready, men," the lieutenant ordered those under his command. Rasputin was livid beyond words. His master had been betrayed by commoners-a pair of wretched Jews at that-and all because that incompetent fool Mitya, one of Makary's remaining trusted men, couldn't have kept his mouth shut when he'd stopped in for a status report the previous week! His fingers gripped hard on the reliquary. He'd be well within his rights to slaughter everyone around the monastery right now.
But he wouldn't, he decided to himself. It would be better for his purposes if the tsar thought the Khlyst permanently broken. Then he could work his revenge undetected. He could build up his power to optimum levels before he struck, he knew. In the meantime, it would be best to leave before he was discovered and the movement truly crushed. But one day, he swore to himself as he slipped silently through the bushes away from the now-burning monastery, he would return and enact a horrible revenge on Makary's betrayers before turning his sights to St. Petersburg and the eventual destruction of the Romanovs who'd taken his master from him and suppressed the Khlyst for so long...