The Holy Order, by Matthew C. Seams
“Here’s the throne room. We’ve been having ant problems for a while, no food here…ignore the stains. My daughter, Esfir, likes to play here. He allows it,” Yuri says. He opens the doors, which hit the wall. The sound fills the ominous room. Yuri makes the sign of the cross before entering. Imposing statues stand in front of pillars placed in between giant tapestries displaying epic battles and sacred ikonography. Pavel, a new servant, cringes at the sight of scattered blood stains on the royal carpet. A red prayer rope rests around Pavel’s wrist.
He stares at the stains. “What happened? An assassination attempt?”
“No.” Yuri leads Pavel around pointing out a dusty tapestry displaying Isaiah of Rostov burning pagans at the stake.
“Are you going to clean that?”
“No, it’s a reminder of what happened.” They step around the stains.
Pavel looks back at it. A faint scream cries out beneath them. “Did you hear that?”
“It’s been happening for a while. He told us to ignore it.”
“So, what happened?”
“Don’t ask that again.” Yuri leads him to the gold-plated throne, the three tiered Byzantine cross engraved in it. “Only I am trusted to maintain this. Sometimes my wife, Anya, helps but she’s been busy with Esfir. She turned six today.” He looks over the throne. ”This was his father’s, Vasili III, after he took over. Everything needs to be clean for that Swede, John III. We haven’t had many visitors recently. This is a big deal.” Pavel stares at a tapestry. Jesus with the crown of thorns, drenched in sweat and blood. “I thought you wanted this job.”
“I need your help me moving this, don’t drag it. This is his favorite.” A formidable statue of Ivan IV holds a severed head in one hand and cross in the other. They lift and move it. Unveiling an out of place stone. Yuri shifts it. Something opens nearby. The throne room doors are unmoved. Shifting the stone again. Something closes. “Pavel, move the stone.” Yuri outlines the room.
He stops at a tapestry of Xenia of Tarusa holding her husband’s bloody body.
Behind it is a narrow spiral staircase, illuminated by torches. A troop of ants crawl out, into the throne room. A small flock of bats escape. Blood stains the walls; it’s heavier as the stairs descend. Yuri feels an energy seep into his soul.
“Daddy! I’m lost.” A child screams. Yuri enters the staircase.
“What’re you doing?”
“I think Esfir is down here. Did you just hear her?”
“No, are you sure you heard that?”
“Yes! If you want this job you’re helping.”
Descending, every step echoes burrowing deeper into the castle. They hear a rustling deep in the staircase. It’s getting louder. Pavel retreats but Yuri stops him. Pavel grabs his prayer rope as they inch further. An overpowering stench wafts their way. There’s a thump from the throne room Yuri doesn’t notice. An energy oozes into Pavel’s soul.
“What was that?” Pavel asks, wiping sweat from his brow.
“It was nothing.”
Around the corner a platoon of rats rushes between them. They screech in terror. Yuri ignores it and keeps moving deeper into the stench, deeper into the mystery.
The smell of death leaks through a wooden door. A metallic emblem displays a strange symbol. Dried blood’s crusted on the doorknob. A metallic crash followed by wet steps. Yuri opens it. A figure enters the staircase.
Pavel hears footsteps, “Who’s that?”
“I don’t care.”
They’re in a long dim hallway. The carpet’s littered with stains like the throne room. Pavel looks around, “I think someone’s watching us.” Yuri ignores him. Pillars edge the wall with torches planted in the floor. The flicker of torches welcome them. The smell of rotting corpses consume their senses. Bloody footprints are scattered around. There’s a dark, cramped cell in the wall. A pile of chains and shackles lie at the center. The hallway branches out into two dark paths. Marking the fork, an ikon of Christ crying blood from black, inhuman eyes greets them with a crooked smile. An odd figure watches from darkness in right path.
“Dad, are you there?” She cries out.
“Esfir, I’ll find you.”
“Who are you talking to?” Pavel asks.
“Esfir, she just spoke didn’t you it?” Yuri picks up a dead rat. “This is her doll.” Pavel recoils.
They take the left path. Light evaporates replaced with a void of pitch black. The door shuts. Yuri doesn’t notice, Esfir is the only thing on his mind. Pavel grips his prayer rope, muttering prayers. Footsteps echo into the darkness.
“I’m going back.”
“My daughter is lost. You’re helping.”
Emerging from the path Yuri and Pavel sense a strange aura lingering about. They stand before a colossal stone leviathan with crooked wings and scaly skin. Wild tentacles are topped with a pointed head. Arms apart, ancient claws stained with blood. Its two ruby eyes have an intense glare. On the side, columns hold up a second floor of balcony rafters. A series of rooms along the chamber’s side are marked with esoteric symbols. The odd figure watches from darkness.
Yuri and Pavel freeze under the gaze of the statue. Footsteps echo from the chamber behind them.
“Go back to your cell,” A deep voice says. Wet footsteps fade out. “He told me you’d be here.”
They turn around. A balding man with a greying beard approaches. He’s wearing a royal coat with the Byzantine cross and eagle. A wooden scepter with a steel eagle head rests in his hand. The eagle is dented and red.
“Ivan, your highness, I’m sorry,” Yuri mumbles.
“You’re one of them. You’ve been here for years. It had to be you.” Ivan smiles and hugs him.
“What are you talking about?” Yuri asks.
“God brought you here. You are one of the chosen to see his true, glorious form.” Ivan notices Pavel. “Who’s that?”
Pavel releases his prayer rope, “I’m-.”
“You speak when spoken to, I’m your Czar, protector, the reason you exist.” Ivan glares, walks towards Pavel. “You shouldn’t be here…Look me in the eye.” The color fades from Pavel’s face. Ivan seizes Pavel’s chin, lifting it.
“Your highness, he’s one of the new servants. We’ve been understaffed for the last few months.” Yuri looks at the ground. Ivan releases Pavel. He’s as pale a ghost.
“I remember, I punished my son.”
“Sir, I’m sincerely sorry about this.”
“Calm down, I need to know one thing. Are you ready to join the holy order?”
Ivan lays his hand on his shoulder, Yuri looks up. “He told me this would happen.” Ivan laughs. A pleasant grin forms. “You’ll change. John’s arriving soon. Get back to work.”
A full moon rises over Moscow illuminating the landscape. People depart the Imperial estate after a feast. Ivan leads John and others to his throne room. Everyone has returned to their quarters. Yuri puts Esfir to bed. He lies next to Anya, and passes out.
He awakes in a dim hallway. His vision fades in, it looks familiar. After a sluggish pursuit he stands and freezes. The thunderous flapping of gargantuan wings boom his way. Far off, two glowing red eyes appear. In groups of two, torches in the ground light up a path, splitting into two tunnels after six sets of torches. The paths are pitch black. An unnatural energy consumes him. It pulses through his body.
A primal growl shakes his soul. The eyes are closer. Yuri walks down the path and stops at the fork. A pile of human remains, sword, and clothing. A low humming emits from the pile. Yuri backs up. The pile builds layer by layer into Czar Ivan IV.
“Have you changed your mind yet?”
Yuri sweats fear and confusion. Another roar frightens him. Ivan is delighted.
“What’s your choice?” Ivan picks up the sword.
Yuri turns around and sees the outline of something unearthly.
Ivan lifts the blade to Yuri’s throat. “Make up your mind or I will.” Ivan slashes Yuri’s gut. Ivan deconstructs back into the pile.
Yuri covers the gash and runs down the left tunnel. At the other end the creature lands mere feet away from him. He’s trapped in its gaze. His vision blurs. He collapses.
Screaming, he jumps out of bed. Everything’s normal.
“Anya, I just had a horrible, Anya?”
He checks her bed, no one’s there. His mind racing, he ransacks everything but to no avail. The room is dead silent, even the crickets are asleep. A door closes nearby, followed by heavy clinking armor. Light sneaks under the door. Three heavy knocks quake the door, beneath it shadows of two sets of feet appear.
“Our Czar requests your presence.”
Yuri opens the door. Two black guards in full armor tower over him. They take him to the throne room. Ivan’s in his throne in between black guards, John, stroking his red beard, and assorted clergy and nobility are waiting. Anya and Esfir are chained to the wall. They light up seeing Yuri. Ivan leers at Yuri, tapping his scepter on the ground. Each tap injects more terror in him.
“You’re one of the chosen. John embraces his fate. Will you?”
“I’ll make sure of that. Are you sure?”
“Yes, your highness.”
Ivan signals for his guard, who releases Anya. The instant the shackles unhinge, she rushes to her Czar and kisses his feet. Ivan looks at a guard and he hands him his sword. She looks up at Ivan and rises. He stands and turns her facing Yuri. He teases the blade across her throat, laughing. Yuri’s stomach collapses. Ivan slashes her neck. It doesn’t cut through leaving a bloody gash. Ivan drops her. Yuri runs through and holds her. He rips part of his tunic and wraps the gash. Her heartbeats gets fewer and far between as she bleeds out. She reaches for his hand as her heart stops. He looks up at his Czar clouded with tears.
“Leave the child, we’ll use her later. Yuri, it’s time.”
A guard throws a black bag over Yuri’s head. They tie his hands behind him and carry him down the stairs.
At the bottom of the stairs, they open the door but something is odd. The bag is lifted off his head. He’s in the hallway from earlier. Everyone but John is in red and black robes with a strange symbol outlined in white on the chest and back. Ivan hands Yuri and John red robes with the same symbol but an outline of the symbol. The disciples proceed into the chamber Esfir looks back at her dad. Ivan raises his hand and walks into the tunnel. Yuri struggles to loosen the knot. It’s too tight.
“What’re you doing?” John asks.
“My wife is dead and daughter is in danger, I need to-.” Yuri says.
“You have no idea what you got yourselves into,” A scratchy voice says. “I saw you earlier but father saw me.”
Chained to the wall in the darkened cell is a teenager in tattered royal clothes with rotting skin, eye missing, and a wound on its skull bleeding nonstop. It walks up to the cell’s bars. “I thought you were dead.” Yuri says.
“I was until father brought me back. He felt sorry for killing me. You were there, you did nothing.” A tentacle squirms out of his eye socket.
“How?” Yuri asks. His voice quivers.
“That thing in there brought me back. They call it God but it’s something evil.” The tentacle wraps around his face.
“Blasphemy!” John shouts.
“You’ll see.” They hear screaming from the chamber but it stops with a piercing slash. Followed by a low rumbling growl. “Have fun.” Tentacles emerge from the wall pulling him back into the darkness.
Ivan with one of his guards returns to the hallway. His eyes are black. In the chamber, twelve torches are around the stone monstrosity. A stone tub with a chain latch lies in front of it. Inside, Pavel cradles his head. A shackle’s around his ankle. Watching from on the upper rafters, groups of four disciples on each side. Ivan’s on the floor left of the statue and another on the right. Guards are stationed at the tunnels. Esfir is nowhere to be seen but Yuri hears her crying. A guard leads the initiates to the edge of the tub.
“What happens,” Yuri asks.
“Silence!” Ivan roars.
Yuri and John kneel before the demon. Pavel stares at Yuri. The disciples bow their heads and fold their hands in unison. The disciples chant in Latin but it morphs into something unrecognizable. John’s ecstatic. A low rumbling erupts beneath them, the torches start flickering as the chanting grows louder. Yuri gazes into the statue’s eyes. They gleam a faint light. The monument glows a green aura. The torches blow out. The disciples dissipate into the darkness. The chanting fades out. A tremor rocks the chamber. Yuri tries to look over at John but he’s paralyzed. Sound disappears for a moment. An ear-piercing screech rings out. The ruby eyes emanate a magnetic light. Yuri’s frozen in the light. A voice invades his mind. It’s delicate but disruptive.
“Small one…I’ve been waiting.”
Yuri’s body compresses with each word, it ruptures his mind and body.
“You rejected my will.”
Yuri feels an insidious surge spread through his body. He wants to vomit everything but can’t. His head throbs like an earthquake. Seizures of pain and nausea assault him. His senses black out but mind still intact.
The statue turns from grey to green. Its ruby eyes blink into life. Stretching its wings and arms, the creature surveys the chamber. Eyeing the corpse in the tub, it picks it up with a dark claw. The creature devours the body. The creature looks at Ivan, they stop chanting. Yuri and John are entranced.
The creature speaks, “Wake.”
Yuri and John are thrown back to reality and stand. They blink. Their eyes are black.
The creature speaks, “Ivan…bring the young one.” He goes into a room. He drags out Esfir, on a leash.
“Dad,” She runs to him but Ivan yanks her back. Yuri does nothing.
The creature speaks, “Silence child.” She cowers. The creature points at a guard. The guard unties and gives his sword to Yuri. “Prove your devotion.”
Ivan chains Esfir to the tub. She curls up and cries. Yuri lifts the blade and stops. His eyes morph black to green for a moment. She looks up at him. He runs his hand through her hair.
“Close your eyes. It’ll be over soon. Stand up.” He says.
Yuri holds her hand. He stabs her in the neck. She smiles as her life fades. Yuri removes the blade. He lifts Esfir to the creature. It devours her.
The creature speaks, “Welcome to my holy order.” The creature blesses them with its mark. The insidious energy consumes Yuri and John. Their robes change red to black. The disciples bow their heads and fold their hands in unison. The chant resumes. The creature returns to stone.
Posted on January 20, 2014, in Issue 12: The Shadows Only Hide the Monsters: Poe & Lovecraft Tribute and tagged e-zine, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, horror, monsters, The Were-Traveler, Tribute. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.