This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
The Carpathian Mountains - 1528
There were twenty of them.
Twenty men of god.
Twenty... of the men of Rome.
They had travelled hundreds of miles, for week upon week to work their way around the Ottoman lines. Finally arriving here, at Entreschau Castle, in the dark foothills of the snowcapped Carpathians.
The village peasants peered out from the gloom of their hovels at the foreign garb of the passing twenty. Their sallow eyes tracked the glint of the weapons and ornately embroidered crosses that adorned the front of every Vatican Knight’s robes.
The knights trudged wearily upward, toward the dark towers that overlooked the valley. They couldn’t help but notice how the highest points of the castle rose out of the rock like a specter of jagged shards, an unholy blade, stabbing furiously at the world.
More of the villagers emerged from the shadows as the men of Rome passed their damp and broken shacks, they continued through the village and marched ever higher and nearer to the castle. As they left the small settlement behind them, a crowd of the boldest peasants had gathered on the roadside, they watched aghast as the small band made their way further up the path.
Even by the grace of the almighty, how could only twenty knights hope to survive until dawn?
The man leading the group wore no sword, but carried a long iron crucifix, he was taller and older than the rest. His pale blue eyes scanned the tall black walls surrounding Entreschau. Arrow-slits were arranged randomly across the rough black façade. And he saw, with a shudder of doubt, that every one of the slits and every window on the tower walls was bricked up and permanently sealed.
He was only too aware of the reason for this, and it made his blood turn cold.
No army in Europe had dared to approach Entreschau for over two hundred years. Most fighting men, from veterans to generals would go days out of their way to keep clear of the dark valley.
The leader halted before the black, oak door. It was five times taller than the highest war-horse and each of the sharp studs on its pockmarked face were the size of a clenched fist. He lifted the sturdy metal cross from his side and heaved it back, holding it high for a moment, before bringing the crucifix down in an arc to hammer against the door three loud times. The deep thuds echoed behind the thick shield of wood and metal, but went unanswered. The knights watched their leader as he turned, looked around at their readied weapons and then turned back to the door. He waited.
To the West, the sun was setting over the Papal lands. And in the East, smoke from the raiding Ottoman hordes snaked up into the blackened sky. Even the heavens above where stained by the approach of the godless army from the desert hells.
The knights waited patiently as the sun crept low behind the mountains, until suddenly, they were alerted by a scraping sound from behind the door. The door was being unbolted, it groaned at first, and then… it screamed, screams like a hundred years of agony as it opened to reveal a cloaked figure in the gloom of the great hall. The skeletal form spoke from the shadows.
“You are Benoit Zanetti de Bologna chief at arms of the order of the unsainted Joshua. Why do you come?”
The leader moved to the threshold and confidently answered.
“We seek audience with your masters. We offer them armistice with the soldiers of the Vatican if they will accept terms.”
The figure in the cloak slowly surveyed their numbers, nodded and turned to the shadows.
Zanetti paused and looked round at his men, each one, a hand lingering over a sheathed sword. He stood tall and called into the darkness in a confident, commanding voice.
“We shall disarm as a mark of respect for your masters.”
But his face fell when he heard the return of laughter and a mocking voice.
“My masters require no such meager gestures.”
The proud soldiers of the Papal States, a brotherhood with over half a millennia of heritage, a group of men that had led the charges and sieges of the crusades and the greatest European wars… felt fear. A type of visceral fear none of them had really felt since infancy, when cowering under bed sheets from wild storms and the spirits of the night.
They steadied themselves and followed their leader into the throat of the castle.
As they made their way through the black corridor their eyes began to adjust to glimpses of movement in the darkness.
Silent, pale figures marked their every move. But none of the men spoke of what they saw, they couldn’t believe it themselves. There were flashes of alabaster flesh cloaked in black silk, slender hands moving against the dark rock and the quiet pad of bare feet keeping pace with the group every step of the way.
The servant halted and threw open a pair of braced doors. The room beyond was almost as dark as the corridor, but high up on the inner walls, boarded over windows allowed small shafts of light to burn the cold stone floor. Per Valois of Berne, the last of the twenty looked back into the gloom and as the door closed behind them, he saw the cloaked figures who had tracked their progress through the castle. Their skin was pale and drawn like marble, and every single one of them, in the light of a summer’s day, could have been one of the most beautiful maidens in Venice. The women in the shadows covered their faces in their cowls as the doors closed and Per Valois of Berne turned to follow the gaze of his comrades.
The group stood before a long table, spotted with thick candles, the figure of a man sat motionless in the center, his head bowed. The servant approached his master at the table. He placed a hand on the master’s shoulder to rouse him. The dark figure looked up at the knights. His eyes were black as ink under a furrowed brow and framed by a straggle of thin grey beard.
Benoit Zanetti de Firenze stepped forward, the cross clutched tightly in both hands at the center of his chest. He addressed the man at the table.
“Sir, you know who we are, you know the oath we live by. And we in turn know what evil you live by...”
The seated man spoke in an echoing whisper.
“You know us? Of course you do, every one of you has committed a lifetime to our destruction.”
“But now you come to us in your darkest hour… your time of desperation.”
Another voice came from high in the eaves of the room, it was mocking in a singsong tone.
“The men of Rome fearing the godless, come to the damned for salvation? Ha!”
Benoit Zanetti look up into the room’s dizzying heights. He answered the voice.
“The Ottoman are coming. Suleiman is coming. And he will destroy your kind completely, just as he threatens ours. You are with us or against…”
Before he could finish his words he saw a figure leap from high in the shadows. A man in smoke and blood blackened armor with long dark hair swooped into the middle of the room to land with a metallic thud on the long thick table.
He rose to his full muscular height and surveyed the knights as their hands twitched nervously over the hilts of their weapons.
Benoit Zanetti looked to the older, still seated man.
“I am sanctioned to extend to you the sacred word of the holy pontiff that the army of the Papal States shall not bear arms against you.”
He looked up at the snarling younger man.
“Or your brethren.”
The young man growled down at them
“We will never trust the men of Rome your order of Joshua have hunted and…”
The older man halted his sibling with a whisper.
The younger brother began pacing proudly along the table before the twenty. The elder continued.
“We know of the approaching army, we know their numbers and we know their objective is here, at Entreschau. The surrounding valley provides passage to the west, to Venice and then, to your lands.”
He leaned forward and his black eyes widened glowing in the candlelight as he spoke directly to the trembling churchman.
“Yes, we will fight them. But I promise you this, betray us… and you will suffer for eternity in a hell no man living can imagine.”
Night fell on the castle and the valley beneath began filling with the hordes of the Islamic army. Two thousand Janissary foot soldiers of Constantinople led the way up the steep slope. Behind them, five hundred curved blades of the Timariot cavalry, the Spahis of the Sultan’s household, a nomadic army of swift Arabian horses and riders and then the infamous spearmen of Erzerum. The engineers of Anatolia and their caravans of Siege equipment and heavy cannons followed in reserve, then, still more and more numbers from the heart of the Ottoman Empire to the edges of the desert swarmed across the abandoned lands toward the castle.
The dark doors of Entreschau opened. The Ottoman vanguard paused, waiting for the imminent charge. They had witnessed many vain charges and repelled as many again, nothing would still their blades, they were ready for anything. Anything under the skies. But what they got, was born of darkness.
In the vastness of the great doorway stood two solitary figures, both men wore heavy black plate armor, both held a gleaming, sharp sword in each hand and both for some twisted reason that none of the Ottoman soldiers could comprehend... was smiling.
There was a heartbeat of confusion from the forward ranks of spears and blades. Every man was filled with the thought that he might be the first to fall to these two demons, and it chilled them to the bone.
The brothers pulled their helms down and the sharp black faces of devils stared out at the massed army, for an instant a glint of red flashed in the black devils’ eyes, then they charged.
Deep into the midst of the waiting wall of soldiers, they charged. And blood arced high behind them like the spray of a ship as the ocean of gore opened up in their path.
Hours passed and the first light of dawn began to break over the spine of eastern mountains. The valley floor was littered with corpses. A bloody path of carnage stretched from the castle to the heart of the scarred fields beneath. The Ottoman forces were scattered. Hundreds had fallen but the two men at the center of the carnivorous melee would not be beaten. The word had quickly spread, that it could only be the agents of Satan himself, risen from the depths of this dark hellish land. Every man in the Ottoman army had turned and fled. Every route available had been taken from the whirlwind of death that had been unleashed on them
The brothers surveyed the mound of gristle and bone and then turned back up toward their sanctuary. The older of the brothers was slumped. Both bore deep battle-wounds and were pockmarked by arrows that had found gaps in the black armor, at the shoulders, neck, waist and knees. The arrow shafts had been swiftly snapped as the slaughter continued, the wounds ignored, but now that the battle had ended, the damage was beginning to take its toll.
They staggered up the slope over the disemboweled remains of the Ottoman soldiers to the castle door. They supported each other as they moved to their sanctuary, dropping their chipped, dripping swords to ease their passage over the sinking morass of bodies. The younger brother smiled to himself, and wheezed:
“Today we changed history my brother… and colored our land.”
The elder replied.
“It is a very fine color.”
They came to the doorway of the fortress as the sun touched its high towers, dropping their battered armor breastplates they shuffled across the black stone floor and through the corridor to the sanctum of the great hall.
Benoit Zanetti was waiting. He sat at the long table, a goblet of wine before him. The brothers looked around the room, there was no sign of the soldiers, and there were no shapes in the shadows. The older brother spoke.
“And now men of Rome… Our betrayal?”
Benoit Zanetti sipped the wine and smiled.
“The Church will never accept your presence in these lands.”
“Then do it…. Show us how twenty Vatican knights would dare to challenge the greatest warriors of a thousand years!”
Zanetti was calm and rose as he spoke.
“Yes I watched from the ramparts. But know this, an army of heathen is nothing to the glorious might of the lord himself!”
With this, light blasted into every corner of the room. Boards sealing the windows had been broken open then disguised with blankets which where swept away in an instant. Long mirrors filled the great hall’s dusty corners, pointing and amplifying the burning blasts of sunlight that now streamed through the highest windows into the middle of the room, blinding the brothers in a firestorm. The men of Rome drew their swords and closed in. In moments, they had put a final end to the last bloodline of the Vampyr of Entreschau Castle.
Resting-Madness: I've been in love that strongly, that I could see myself in the same situation as Surgio. The slow crawl of desperation was well depicted, I could feel myself leaning close to the screen, like he and I were conspiring together on how to construct this Frankenstein of Adela. And that's written thr...
Ben Gauger: Kudos to Bryan Laesch, author of Remnants of Chaos:Chaotic Omens for his use of the Gothic style of writing and in addition the footnotes and endnotes at the end of each chapter, a welcome accompaniment to be sure, though his use of grammar could use a little improving, but his use of punctuation...
AJDay: Hello JaimePAvane,So, this is my first review on this site, and I am glad I found your story. I like where you are going with it and I am curious to see what future chapters look like. Firstly, your narrator; I love that she is describing not just her life but the world around her. Obviously a wo...
Kiz16: After a truly shocking start to the story, I found the style and content slowed down as the author introduced a varied group of characters who I thought were fleshed out very well. After a slow couple of chapters, I found this story difficult to leave with the tension growing within the house. Yo...
Shelley Miller: The ideas and the set up and this are amazing! The feel of the story goes from science fiction to horror to suspense all in a big, thrilling ball. I really like your character so far and her powers and the idea of the ark being a person. The world is intense and gritty and clever as well. While a...
gunter1987: I just want to say here that this is my first review, but I really wanted to review this story. I apologize if I don't write English to well, I am French.Reading through the many science fiction stories posted here and other places in the world, I started to see a few linking themes: heavy-hande...
Ben Gauger: Kudos go to Karissa, author of Elements Of Engagement, an otherwise dark and twisted tale of love and workplace intrigue, very 'Fifty Shades of Grey' to be sure, her writing style being very graphic ad otherwise sexually-charged, hence the 'Fifty Shades of Grey' reference, and as for her use of g...
Alex Rushmer: I like the intrigue that you introduce from the very beginning of the story. The idea of the girl waking up in the alley with no memory of how she got there and with injuries is very interesting. It was very well done. There were a lot of grammatical errors that need to be fixed though. I think t...
Alex Reltin: This is a great story! I love how well you go into detail and emotions of Capri, and Mel. You have amazing dialogue and overall it's just a thrill to read!The only critique I could find is that some of the paragraphs should be separated. For example:-"If Nia would have just let me take the car an...
FreakyPoet: "you made me laugh, made me cry, both are hard to do. I spent most of the night reading your story, captivated. This is why you get full stars from me. Thanks for the great story!"
Sara Joy Bailey: "Full of depth and life. The plot was thrilling. The author's style flows naturally and the reader can easily slip into the pages of the story. Very well done."