The Devil's Gift

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IV 100 years later

I opened my eyes. It had been many years since the forest fire, yet I remembered that day as if it was yesterday. I sighed slowly, revelling in my memory.

‘What’s wrong, dear?’ asked Maria inquisitively.

‘Nothing, really,’ I admitted.

‘Do you remember the day we were turned?’ I asked her. I did not look into her eyes as I spoke.

‘Of course, the day I will never forget.’ Grief seeped into her face as she closed her eyes to the memory. Her voice echoed through the empty stone hall of Castle Blackmoor.

I looked around the vast, windowless room. The only light came from several sconces which adorned the walls. The ceiling was impressively high, giving the room a church-like appearance. Although the time I had spent in churches was gone, I could still remember the feeling of safety I had experienced within their walls. But that had ended when the roof of my own church had given way, killing my children, destroying my family. Though a century had passed, and the world had changed, I had not forgotten my vow.

Admittedly it had taken longer than expected, but that didn’t matter, I had eternity to fulfil my vision.

Maria and I had been the first vampires, turned by the Devil himself. The fact that I had been turned in order to destroy religion didn’t bother me. It mattered not that the Devil and I had different motives, our goals were the same, to shatter religion. Together, myself and Maria had searched all over the world and infected many people. These vampires, though weaker, served our as loyal subjects. Over the years, we had become vampire royalty and all who opposed us were killed; we could afford no risk of any rogue vampires turning against us.

The two of us sat on gold thrones, stone-like, at the end of the hall. Our bodies looked pale and gaunt. The only other furniture was six plain, wooden, benches which stood to one side, used only by the council during court sessions. I wore a long robe which closed around the chest. It was embroidered with golden stitching in the shape of two vampire teeth, encased in moonlight, the Romano Clan emblem. Maria’s robe was almost identical. Hers was more feminine, giving the impression that she was wearing an elegant dress.

‘It is time; bring in our guests.’

Though my voice was barely above a whisper, a tall, wide man appeared as if from nowhere, acknowledging my order with a nod. The man was dressed in an exquisite suit and sported a goatee on his chin. He strolled with confidence, the air of an important man, towards two huge wooden doors with thick metal locks. He grasped them both and pulled them open, his huge chest stretching against the fabric of his suit.

At once, a line of twelve cardinals, dressed in deep red clothing, and each one wearing an identical red hat with a large rim, filed in along red carpets that laid upon the stone floor. I had recruited them under the influence of blackmail and false promises; they were easily corrupted. It was beneficial to have men on the inside of the Vatican, men that could relay information and do my bidding. The sound of the door slamming shut reverberated through the hall, emphasising the silence. The twelve cardinals shuffled nervously towards us and bowed deeply.

‘What news have you?’ Maria asked, her voice cold; she did not care to speak to religious men. A short man, whose face was hidden in shadow, spoke first,

‘My lady, we have knowledge of a priest who is held in high esteem. He enjoys travel, as you commanded, we have created a false trail that will lure him here.’ Maria considered his words, she was not one to communicate with cardinals much, but she was grateful, still, when they assisted her.

‘Excellent, when will he arrive?’ She asked.

‘He will be arriving in a little under three hours, my lady. He is under the impression that a miracle has been witnessed. I’m sure you will conduct your business with him once he has arrived, my lady.’ The cardinal responded, his voice impassive. Though it was obvious he hated being under the service of vampires, he was smart enough to make sure he did not show this in our presence.

Maria noticed another cardinal, beside her feet, shuffle nervously and begin to shake.

‘Naturally. This information is most useful. I’m sure he will be of great help to our cause,’ I told the cardinal. I too, hated the religious, but I knew when someone could help. I made exceptions if they were beneficial.

‘You may return to your posts. Inform me of any further activity. I trust that if anyone should somehow learn of our plan, they will be immediately... taken care of?’ I said. The cardinal did not move, nor did his expression shift.

‘Of course, my lord.’

Maria stared at the quivering cardinal. None of the others had moved an inch. They remained motionless as Maria spoke.

‘You!’ She snapped, pointing a long finger at the cardinal.

‘Y-y-yes your highness?’ The cardinal stuttered nervously. Even without looking, he knew that she was addressing him.

‘What’s wrong? Do you not wish to serve us any longer? You know full well the price of treachery I’m sure,’ her voice was deadly sweet, a wry smile began to play around the corners of her mouth.

‘Of course, your highness. M-m-may I speak my mind?’ His high voice quivered.

’Please do.’ She agreed, her voice still heavy with the same sweet tone. I knew already the outcome of this conversation.

He stood up, facing Maria. The other cardinals looked at him and gasped, one even shook his head slightly.

‘Traitor!’ another whispered.

I was not taken aback at the sudden dismissal of authority. In fact, I was pleased.

‘Well?’ said Maria, pressing him.

The cardinal spoke at once, and from the tone of his voice, it was clear he had been wishing to say this for a while.

‘You force us to risk our lives and our afterlives for you, you have no respect for anyone’s lives but your own. You are arrogant, a royal pretender at that, and for what? You depend upon us to help you, you need us. Without us, you are nothing, and you treat us like dirt. I demand respect!’

Anger was evident on his face, which was a deep shade of purple. His high-set blue eyes stared without fear upon Maria. For a moment, his cleanly shaven face looked hopeful that he might be given all he desired. The other cardinals seemed to think this too, because two of them stood, joining him in his protest for respect. The remaining cardinals all looked shocked, sinking back into their bow as if they wished nothing more than to serve.

Maria, whose face was blank and impassive, had not moved a muscle during his rage.

‘You want respect, do you?’ She whispered softly, leaning forward in her throne, as if addressing a child.

The three cardinals now looked put out by her seemingly-genuine friendliness.

‘Yes! You claim to grant us a gift greater than any the Lord could give us. No gift is worth the risk you put on us every single day!’

Maria looked at me, I gave a small nod. She turned back to face the three cardinals and rose slowly from her throne. They retreated a few paces. Then, in a split second, she flew towards the cardinal that questioned her, and grabbed him by the throat. She held him firmly and raised him off the ground with one stone-like arm, his body dangling in mid-air. Without further warning, she gave his neck a violent twist and a loud snap echoed. She threw his body carelessly to the side and returned to her seat as if nothing had happened.

‘Does anyone else want my respect?’ She asked the remaining cardinals.

The remaining cardinals looked terrified and almost passed out with fear as they spoke,

‘No my lady.’ They said, voices quivering.

I stood up, all eyes turned to me but everyone remained motionless.

’You will do as you’re instructed, or suffer the same consequence. Go, return to your posts immediately.’ I said coldly, my voice raised.

They all got up and hurried towards the wooden doors. These were already being held open by the dark, strange man who, at my words, had once again appeared out of nowhere. The cardinals remained silent as they passed through the door way, each one unwilling to linger. The doors swung shut behind them. The strange man had gone once again, leaving us alone in the hall.

We walked, almost in unison, towards the dead body. I’d not fed in three days, it was beginning to take its toll. Though the first day, maybe two, you are stronger, quicker and much more of a foe, withdrawal begins to kick in on the end of the second day and the body then becomes drastically weaker, your speed deteriorates, your strength plummets until after a week, your body becomes blood-starved. The mask you wear when you’re around the citizens of the city slips, they see underneath, they see the monster you try to hide. It becomes difficult to separate from the hunt. Everything seems like the hunt until you feed once more. Many a vampire had attempted to go without blood, those who would not bend to the will of their instincts. They ended up driving themselves crazy and walked out in the sunlight.

‘Get rid of it.’ I said to the empty room.

As I turned around, the room was no longer empty; there stood the mysterious man named Reyjak. Now his face could be seen from the light of a nearby sconce, he looked impressive. Reyjak was very muscular, his squared face slightly unshaved. It suited him, giving him the look of a very powerful man. When he spoke, his voice was deep and intimidating, yet it filled with respect when he spoke to me.

‘It will be dealt with at once, my lord.’

‘Good. The priest will be here soon.’ I said. Maria nodded.

‘How did he find out?’ She asked, her voice concerned.

‘It is exactly that which I hope to uncover.’ I replied.

The priest arrived on time, just as the cardinal had predicted. I made a mental note to have a few small riches sent to the cardinal for services to my cause. I always rewarded those who were beneficial. An incentive to keep in line is how I saw it. Suddenly, a loud banging interrupted my thoughts and Reyjak reappeared out of nowhere. It was a skill only he seemed to have mastered. Somehow, he could adapt the darkness, bend it, and mould it to his will.

‘My lord, the priest has arrived. What shall I do with him?’ H asked at once.

‘Nothing, leave him to me and tell all the other council members not to approach the hall. We have... Business to attend to,’ I replied.

Reyjak gave me an inquisitive look, but when it was not answered, he simply said,

‘Yes, my lord,’ and disappeared.

I slowly strolled towards the front doors and noticed that Reyjak seemed to have swept the body away as he had departed. I was reminded of how and where I had found such a loyal servant.

It had been a cold winter night thirteen years after my own transformation. Reyjak was outside, tending to a stable. I had been following him for five nights and learnt that Reyjak had no home, nor any family, and he slept in the stables. I discovered, by means of bribery and blackmail, Reyjak worked away his days transporting heavy logs in exchange for food and water. I was not an unkind man, despite my vendetta against God. I was still a humble man at heart and as such, approached Reyjak just as the snow was starting to fall. Reyjak began to shiver in the haystack in which he had made his bed. A dirty cloth was shaped around his large muscular torso and he had appeared to have made himself a pair of shorts.

At one point, I had planned to feed on him, but when I approached the man and saw the way he laid there, almost like a helpless child, I took pity on him. I approached him and Reyjak looked up.

‘Yes sir? How can I help?’

Already, I could see this was a loyal man, one that would gladly assist in any way he could. This man would make a useful vampire. As I began to put my plan into practice, to establish a local clan that, with Maria, we could rule, this would ensure that vampires would not only survive, but thrive as well. We had never before turned a human, but it came to me almost instinctively.

‘Hello Reyjak, you are a hard worker. I have been watching you for some time now. You deserve a better life than this. I can give you a home, a family, anything you desire, even immortality. A new life.’ I wasted no time in relaying my offer, just as the Devil had once done to me.

Reyjak looked completely bewildered and at a loss for words. As if to try and convince him, the wind grew stronger until it howled. The snow fell thicker until it was almost a blizzard. Reyjak shivered further, wrapping his thick arms around his chest. My cloak billowing behind me, I remained silent whilst Reyjak thought about all this. The snow or the wind did not bother me. I was not affected by the weather, the temperature could not penetrate through the diamond-hard layer of skin.

‘What do you want in return?’ He replied at last.

‘Nothing but loyalty, total and unwavering. Give me this and I will reward you with a new life,’ I told him, ‘will you join me in my quest for vengeance?’

‘I will.’ He said through frozen lips. I could see he would do anything to be out of this life.

Reyjak didn’t see my face relax a fraction. I already knew that Reyjak would become the third vampire; more powerful than any other I would turn.

‘Sleep and you will awake as a vampire, a hunter of the night, like me. Before you go venture outside during daylight hours, know this; you will have certain weaknesses. Sunlight will be your biggest one and you will undoubtedly burn in a horrible death. Fire has the same effect, but it takes longer, the pain will be more unbearable.’

Reyjak obviously thought this was a joke, by the expression on his face, I doubted he believed in such monsters.

The next morning he awoke feeling strange. He gingerly took one step into the sunlight, his foot began to burn instantly; he withdrew it immediately. After lifting one of the stacks of straw, with ease, he had reached the conclusion it had not been a joke, he was indeed immortal, just like I had told him. Reyjak seemed, understandably, impressed at his new body which was stronger and undoubtedly faster. He would not come forget this generosity, the gift I gave him. He vowed to fulfil the agreed condition of this new life, or un-life as he sometimes wondered and would serve his master faithfully ever since. He seemed confused, but, soon he discovered that he was incredibly quick, and after returning to, and demonstrating to myself and Maria, he was also quicker than we were, but not as powerful. I soon became something of a father figure to him. Constantly training him, helping him hone his abilities, become better at everything that he did. I was the father who gave him everything he had desired for so long, more than Reyjak had seen his whole life.

Reyjak stayed with me during the daylight hours, preferring to keep out of my way at night, but soon, he became familiar with his new life. Maria was always warm and friendly to Reyjak, and had become a motherly figure towards him. It wasn’t until years later that he found out how the two of us had been created. He felt deep, sincere sympathy towards us and our cause.

Over time, Reyjak had been chosen to turn numerous people, who were like himself, into vampires, becoming their master just as I was his. Maria and I had recruited and turned a dozen people personally. These recruits formed a council, of which Reyjak was the highest ranking member, outranking all but us. We were never as devoted to the other members as we were to Reyjak. It did not seem the same with them as it did with Reyjak. We had wondered whether it was because he was the first person we could relate to since our transformation, the first vampire besides us. It still never made sense to us. All we knew is that Reyjak was dear to me and Maria, which was enough for us and for him, too.

Around twenty years after Reyjak was transformed, a clan of two-hundred strong had been created. All were completely devoted to their rulers. In their eyes, their rulers were royalty. This was how we became the clan-king and clan-queen. Our word was law.

I snapped back to the present as another three loud knocks sounded on the doors. The sound of an old man’s rasping voice followed.

‘I am High Priest and a personal friend to the Pope himself, I would ask that you let me in’

Maria appeared at my right shoulder and whispered,

‘We’ll soon show him the price of his faith.’

‘Of course, my love.’ I replied as I swung open the two, heavy, wooden doors. Before me stood an old, balding man. His wrinkled face was almost entirely obscured by a large quantity of bushy, grey, facial hair. He wore a familiar set of black robes with a white collar around his neck. In his right hand, he held an intricately detailed cane made from what appeared to be solid silver. The priest wore a surprised look at the site of us. He quickly arranged his face into what was supposed to be a smile. It was more of a snarl than anything.

‘Welcome to our home.’ I announced, ‘you have arrived in good time.’ I announced.

‘Thank you,’ said the priest. ‘I have been asked to come here because an unknown citizen claims to have witnessed a miracle right here in your... Home,’ he added, looking at the place with obvious distrust.

‘Yes Father, you were correctly informed. Follow me.’ I replied

At once, I turned on my heel and marched back down the long hall, Maria and the priest at my feet. The doors slammed shut behind us. Our footsteps echoed around the corridor that was lined with oil paintings. Some depicted faces, others were showing scenery of wondrous places, mountains and lakes.

For a priest, he did not seem overjoyed at the thought of seeing a miracle. Perhaps it was the building, for it had the look of a large, derelict castle on the exterior. A place where, I was sure, the priest did not expect to find any miracles.

‘Over here, Father,’ I said, turning to see a puzzled look on etched on the priest’s face.

I led Maria and priest to the council chamber where we took a seat on the golden thrones. The priest seemed confused as I gestured him to sit on a wooden bench not far from my watchful gaze. He did not question it at first, he obediently took a seat and stared up at the two of us.

‘May I ask who you are?’ He finally spoke, unable to hold back the question he’d been tempted to ask since he first laid eyes on us.

‘I am Roconn, and this is my wife, Maria,’ I spoke calmly to the high priest. His mouth hung open and he gasped as sudden realisation drew across his face.

‘You!’ He said, though he still remained seated. I watched his face as his expressions shifted impressively fast. First there was shock, then anger, followed by fear. His face flushed and his heart drummed rapidly against his chest. Beneath his dark clothing, his chest rose and fell quickly. The priest looked mortified. He was speechless with shock, continuously opening his mouth and closing it again. I waited patiently for him to say something. His eyes darted quickly to and from the doorway from which he’d just entered.

‘I would suggest you remain seated. You have no idea of the danger you’d face by leaving that door on your own.’ said Maria calmly. He did not move, following Maria’s orders undoubtedly through fear. It was apparent he’d hear much about us, though exactly how much, I was unsure.

‘How did you come to learn of us?’ I asked him, following my train of thought. ‘I know of a man, he says you are a danger, a blight on this world.’ He said, though his confidence level was falling with each word that he spoke.

‘And you are a vessel, one that does the Lord’s bidding like a loyal slave, never once questioning his orders. You cannot know the truth unless you were there that day.’ Maria spat at him, though she too, remained calm. The priest’s old face screwed up as he tried to fathom the meaning of her words. When he could not, he pressed her to explain further. It seemed possible that he was now beginning to question his faith. I leapt on this chance. The possibility of having an informant so close to the pope, would undoubtedly be beneficial.

‘You want to know the truth, do you?’ I asked softly. He seemed unsure, but nodded slowly.

‘Very well. It began in the winter of December, the year thirteen fifteen.’ I began. I proceeded to relay the story of our change, our enlightenment, to him. His face twisted in horror as I explained. Maria looked away; a tear has begun to fill in her eyes. After I’d finished, he looked horrified, but remained silent. I had expected to be labelled a blasphemer, a liar, a trickster. But the response I received couldn’t have been more different.

‘I always questioned the Lord’s motives. He’d let thousands die, turn a blind eye on the suffering of man. We’d prayed, oh how we’d prayed for him to send aid. But never did he do so, never did he help.’ The priest whispered. It seemed he’d been questioning his faith for some time. I found it difficult to accept what I was hearing, and apparently, so did Maria.

‘He tore apart our lives, he killed the innocent men, women and children that never showed any sign of sin. We lived peacefully, happily. I don’t know why he did these things, all I know, is that day we lost many good lives.’ Maria whispered, her voice catching.’ I was momentarily caught by the moment I almost forgot why we sat here, re-telling this story that hurt so much.

‘I am now laying two offers on the table. The first: You remain a servant of the Lord, aware of what he does, and die where you sit. The second: You agree to serve me, give me the information I want, and I will grant you the gift of immortality. Make your choice.’ The priest shuffled nervously in his seat, a bead of sweat ran down his balding head. He quickly wiped it away with the cuff of his sleeve.

‘I will serve… you.’ He said, though he did not seem entirely convinced. I did not afford him much of a choice, but I needed someone like him and I wasn’t going to let that show.

‘Very well. I believe you made the right choice. Maria?’ I added, turning my head. She walked slowly over to the priest, her footsteps echoed. She knelt down before him and he stared into her deep red eyes.

‘This is going to hurt. A lot.’ She said to him. Fear ripped across his aged face and Maria leant it close. She opened her mouth wide, her canines dripping, and punctured his carotid artery. The effect was almost instant. He writhed in pain as Maria withdrew from his neck. He cupped his neck, his silver cane falling to the ground with a clatter that was instantly drowned out by his screaming. He screwed up his eyes as the pain became unbearable. I knew what this was like, but to watch it, the first time since Reyjak, it was slightly unsettling; I had looked like this all those years ago. He wriggled on the ground, his body jerking and twitching. Then, the transformation took over. Though he would not take on a younger form; a feat only possible when changed by the Devil personally, his grey beard twitched as his face contorted in pain. His sagging skin wobbled slightly and his stomach, that was tight on his robes, drew in and his muscles contracted painfully. It was only moment later that he lay on the ground, his chest rising and falling rapidly as he regained his breath. His eyes flung open and I saw they’d become a deep scarlet, too. It was done, he was one of us. He looked down at himself and studied his new body.

‘This is unreal.’ He whispered in awe.

‘You will become used to it. Now, you must return to the Vatican, once there, you must inform the Pope you are no longer planning your trip away from the city. He must believe you’ve made peace with your troubles. You must be convincing, he will likely see if you are conspicuous about hiding something. We cannot afford any mistakes, do you understand?’ I asked him. He nodded quickly.

‘Yes, of course.’ He replied. His voice had become slightly stronger and was not as weak nor raspy as it was.

‘Good. You will be most useful, I’m sure. See to it that should you find anything at all that raises concern, you contact me as soon as possible. Do not speak of your plans with anyone else. Now, I need information, which I believe you hold right now.’ I pushed further to the point.

‘Information on what?’ He asked, puzzled.

‘You will address me as “my lord”.’ I told him sharply.

‘Apologies, my lord.’ He added hastily.

‘I believe you are aware of the Pope’s schedule. I must see him as soon as I can, when he is least protected.’ The priest thought for a second. His eyes lit up as the answer I sought came to him.

‘Of course, in two weeks from now, on this very day, when the sun sets, His Holiness is hosting a party for his cardinals and those select few others he has invited. I am pleased to tell you that I was one of them.’ I felt triumphant. Finally, there was a time and a place where I could strike, under the perfect cover of a party, everyone would be distracted. This what exactly what I needed.

‘Excellent news. Return to your post and keep me updated. You are dismissed.’ The priest gave an awkward bow and swept from the room. ‘This is perfect, we can finally turn the Pope. Soon Christianity will fall and along with it, God’s influence over man.’ I added to Maria, who looked for the first time, hopeful that we were finally going to see justice.

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