Chapter Two: The Darkening

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.

Chapter Three: The Making of a Warrior