3 The Anteroom of Hell

Template of the Rephaim

Danubian Principality of Moldavia,
September, 1859

“Doctor, have you read Darwin’s book?” Their host’s words again seemed to come from everywhere. They had followed his verbal instructions ever since they had entered the castle. The servant that had driven the carriage seemed to be the only servant in the household, and he did not speak, he merely obeyed. The bluish glaze in his eyes and the paucity of his blinking told Bernice Vedeen that the man was drugged.

“Yes I have,” she replied as she walked into the Library. The single three-armed candlestick on the table in the middle of the room seemed to cast more shadows than light in this immense chamber. A tall display cabinet, of oak with gold-gilded glass doors, was the only other piece of furniture on the floor. As her eyes adjusted she saw that, again as in the entrance hall and the dining room, there were elaborate and massive wood and iron scaffoldings erected throughout the room, supporting large wood-covered channels. These, at least four feet by four feet in cross section, spanned the walls all around at three levels, and then ramped down to connect at both ends of the room to two other channels crossing the floor.

There were no stairs or walkways by which to reach the upper story of bookshelves; but there were two doors up high at opposite ends of the room, suggesting that once there had been a second floor and perhaps a mezzanine up there. Dr. Vedeen rested her hand on the wooden cover of the channel closest to her. The vibrations that she felt matched the muffled sound of pumping that also seemed to come from everywhere. The sounds and the humidity in the air left only one conclusion; water was being pumped throughout the whole castle along those channels. What purpose they served remained a mystery. Approximately every six feet the wooden covers appeared to have hinged doors, with no external handles. With equal periodicity the wooden sides had, inlaid at their centers, letter-sized metal grills.

“He is wrong, you know.” The voice continued, evidently expecting to elicit an argument.

“He is most certainly wrong,” she surprised him. “Any man who would conclude that the very order of Nature implies the absence of an Ordainer sets himself up to be greatly deceived. Of course, there is a certain genius to his hypothesis. That kind of logic cannot be falsified.”

“Oh, but it is not his logic that is wrong. It is his mechanism. Natural selection working blindly could not possibly create the immense variety of life in this planet. Random changes would mean new starts over and over again, as likely to fail as to succeed. No, it is not changes; it is shuffling, shuffling of the successful of all species that leads to new species.”

Brighton was getting increasingly restless. The Russians were getting angry at being ignored. They demanded that their host show himself.

“In due time, gentlemen, in due time. You see, it may be to your advantage if one of you actually understood what I am about to offer you. What do you think, doctor, how do we inherit our progenitors’ gifts?” She started to name scientists and opinions but the voice interrupted her. “It’s in the blood, doctor; forget all you have learned.

“Let me tell you a story. In the Amazon jungles there is a poisonous frog. One drop of its venom will kill a horse. How come it doesn’t kill the frog itself? In the Amazon jungles there is a tribe of savages that poisons its darts with the skin of that frog. They are feared by all. They are also immune to the poison. Why?

“I lived among them, doctor. They were fascinated by my mangled body. And when I asked them to throw me into their river they even thought me divine. You see, they had driven all the other tribes away, staved off the white man, but they had never conquered the piraiba. The fences still remained. They manned the ropes as I sank to the lair of the god of that land. And it was still there, an immense creature of frightening beauty. I pulled myself towards its massive body as fast as I could, shutting out of my mind the flood of thoughts, the burning whispers that surround its being. I had come prepared that time. With barely a shrug, it let me plunge the syringe deep into its body and draw out the blood. And then they pulled me out.

“What would you do with the blood of a god, doctor? I worked for days, comparing it under the microscope with my own, with the savages’, with any blood I could get from anywhere. It was unlike any I had ever seen. I knew I had to get it inside my body. So I experimented and mixed drops of it into the other samples but it coagulated in every case. I tried injecting it into my veins anyway. I chose a surface vein on a useless leg, but it coagulated there too: The pain told me, the dark brown line of dying vein told me. I ended up having to cut it out.

“How? There had to be a way. I could almost hear it laughing from the depths at my ineptitude. Finally, I passed out in exhaustion; and then they came, while I slept. Buzzing in the night air they came and tasted the blood in that open dish, like the shades of Tartarus tasted the blood of Ulysses’ offering. And then they tasted mine. And in that sacred kiss they passed into my veins the essence of the ancient one, and took some of mine in exchange.

“That is how evolution works, Doctor. The blood drinkers… They mix the blood, the blood of man and man, of beast of burden and eagle; they drink of us all. And in their gullets, in their bellies, the fittest traits survive for another race. It has been this way since the beginning, doctor.”

What the voice described next was so bizarre that it surpassed Dr. Vedeen’s silent diagnosis of dementia. He claimed to have become immune to pain. He claimed that out of the dead stumps of amputated limbs new limbs sprouted, growing from a newborn’s texture and proportion into full size in a matter of weeks. He claimed Brighton knew it was true. And the Englishman nodded his sweat-covered face in agreement.

As the man continued his diatribe, Bernice Vedeen became acutely aware of the pounding of her own heart. Her mind finally had to acknowledge the coldness that had been slowly embracing her, the prickling of her skin. Every fiber of her being was sinking into a pit of panic except her mind, her stubborn, reckless mind that had disregarded the Spaniard’s instructions and come here and entered… the anteroom of hell.

“You are insane, Rabelaire!” The youngest of the Russians was as scared as she was.

“What did you summon us here for?” His brother kept him from running out the door.

“Think about it, gentlemen, a race of men with the strength of bears, the ability to regenerate like salamanders, the eyes of eagles, the hearing of owls, able to breathe water as well as air, able to live forever.”

A shadow moved at the other end of the room beyond the table. The Russians approached the table, fear still coloring their faces, but something else drawing them in.

“Does it sound familiar, doctor? The gods, the gods! Every race of mankind remembers them: Prometheus, his liver ever regenerating, Heimdall who could hear the sound of grass growing in a field, Zeus, the eternal, Gilgamesh, Hercules, Goliath.” He saw the reaction in her face to that last name. “Yes, doctor, even your precious Scriptures remember them. Doesn’t it say, in the sixth chapter of Genesis, that the sons of God took to themselves the daughters of men? And there were giants in the land! Oh yes, the flood almost killed them off, but the template was already in the blood. And they came back, to reclaim their ancient lands.”

“As I remember, King David exterminated them.”

“No, doctor, they can never be exterminated. As long as mankind lives, the template is there, ready to be called forth again.”

“You are insane.”

“Doctor, we were made from the animals, to be the crowning glory of the kingdom of beasts, destined to rule. And then they feared us. Yes, THEY, the ones who made us feared that we would ascend and take their thrones. Babel was not about the confusion of languages. It was about the dilution of the blood, scattering the template across a hundred races, across a thousand lands. But each race remembered in its ancient memories its rightful heritage. Some preserved those memories as totems, others emblazoned them on their flags; but none could bring them all together… until now. I can, and I will!

“What do you want from us, Rabelaire?” The elder Russian took a step towards the shadow.

The voice took on a threatening tone that kept him from going any farther. “Oh, do not worry gentlemen, I do not hold you responsible for my mutilation at the hands of your army. It was in the midst of that agony and despair that I saw the light.” He paused and something opened somewhere. “I called you here to make you an offer, an offer that you are to take to your Tsar. This peace agreement we forced on you must be maddening. Russia should never be hemmed in. No, you have the potential to become the greatest kingdom in the world, the kingdom that should rule the world. Think about it, gentlemen. Is this not the holy calling of your royal house? Babylon, Persia, Rome will pale by comparison. Britain wouldn’t dare. France wouldn’t dare; but your Tsar would. I offer you the power to conquer the world.”

A gong sounded from beyond the corridor, unbearably loud. The sound seemed to press in on Bernice Vedeen’s face from all directions at the same time. The doctor shielded her eyes against the blast of light that followed and, all of a sudden, all was calm, eerily calm. The same stubborn mind that had brought her here without regard for consequence, that defied the panic in her heart in order to accomplish her purpose, that would willingly challenge the madman to recover her precious supplies, was now screaming at the scenes parading before her eyes. But her heart could not race. The voice wouldn’t let it.

The voice was gentle. It said so. And as it spoke (or did it narrate?) she saw all that it told her to see. Indeed the room was beautiful and so were the ladies. They entered, almost glided, into the ballroom, each eyeing a Russian officer. They ran their hands over the men’s now decorated chests. One playfully took off the tall Colonel’s helmet. The other one caressed the younger soldier’s face. And then, coyly, they settled on Brighton.

The Russian officers protested mildly. Brighton adjusted his dinner jacket and told them to accept their ill luck like gentlemen. And then they kissed him. Bernice Vedeen found herself averting her eyes, but her mind latched on to a reflection they caught on the door of the display cabinet that was not there anymore, and she screamed.

[Template of the Rephaim appears in the Crossover Alliance’s Second Anthology. If you like this story, you may want to read the Anthology for stories by other authors too.]

Template of the Rephaim

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