As the threat of war between humans and vampires looms, a priestess searches for answers.
The Test of Faith
“It’s a quiet night.” Zarya muttered under her breath as she looked at the moon. “But yet, the air is thick with the smell of blood. Something is not right.” Sighing softly, the woman removed her veil. Vampire and human blood, I can smell them clearly. Somewhere, humans and vampires have began to fight one another. How long before this war enters these lands?” Strands of her silver hair fell loosely in front of her face as she crumpled the veil in her hand. “What should I do?” She threw the habit to the ground as a red glow consumed her eyes. “Please gods, give me a sign!”
“The gods don’t answer prayers given in anger.” said an old man as he approached her.
The young woman said nothing as she continued to look up at the moon. “Are the children in bed?”
“Yes, although some were asking where you were.” He tapped his cane on the ground as strands of his greying hair moved with the wind. “To be honest, many of the children are scared. They seems to be nervous about the changes in your behavior.”
“I apologize if my behavior have scared the children. Its just…. “ She closed her eyes as she spoke. “In other lands, vampires and humans are fighting each other and spilling blood. More children will lose their parents and more lives will be ruined by a never ending cycle of violence. I’ve lived in this world for over two hundred years. Not only does the cycle of violence continue, it grows worse.” Her eyes shifted to the old man. “Father Delore, what do you think?”
Father Delore sighed softly as he walked past her. “Wars will never end, that is the lot of all living creatures. To fight among themselves for their own reasons. Before I joined the church, I fought in wars among the kingdoms of man.” He looked at his wrinkled hands. “My hands are stained with the blood of other men. Many of them guilty of no other sin than loyal to a king or a lord. Many of them had no choice of if they wanted to fight.”
Zarya saw the troubled look in his eyes. “Do the deaths of these men still haunt you today Father?”
He nodded as he spoke. “Everyday in my prayers, I speak for the souls that I killed in my blind loyalty to my lord. I pray for their families that struggled to carry on after the deaths of their fathers.” Father Delore looked up at the sky. “The gods made me answer for my sins when they took my wife and son away from me.”
“You had a son?” Zarya asked. “Why have you never told me about him before?”
“Because that was another life that I lived so long ago.” Delore sighed as he looked at the scar on his right hand. “As a young man, I finally grew tired of the fighting and fled a battlefield. In my mind, I wanted nothing more than to be free of the death, of the blood and screams that had been my life up to that point. I was a poor farmer’s child who lived on the lands my lord gave my father. The world around me, I knew nothing about it. I could not even read. My life was to aspire to be nothing more than a slave to my master, either fighting in his name or toiling away on his lands. I was covered in wounds, and I knew that if I were caught by my master’s men, I would be killed.
But I wanted another life. For the first time, I felt the desire to break free from the chains that the fates had bound me with. Wounded, I collapsed in front of small church. I was found by a priestess who tended to my wounds. Over time, she taught me to read, what the world around me was.” He looked at Zarya. “Even about your kind, that were the masters of human lords and kings.”
“This priestess, was she mother of your son?”
“Of course….” he replied. “We would eventually marry and she would give me a son. But, she died in childbirth. That was the first time that I realized the gods were forcing me to answer for the sins that I had committed in the past. The second was when I lost my son during the Demon Wars.
I became a priest after my wife died. In my arrogance, I thought that helping people as a servant of the gods would absolve me of my sins. When my son died, I allowed the darkness to consume me. At first, I was confused, angry, and bitter. In my mind, I felt the gods had forsaken me despite my life of being a priest who helped the poor. My inability to accept my loss led me down a dark path. I trifled with the dead, broke the laws of nature, even attempted to sell my soul to Death himself all in an attempt to right a perceived wrong.”
“What happened?” asked the woman.
I had finally mastered the spell to bring my son back to life. But as I stared at his decaying body, I realized the cost. To bring my son back, I would have to kill another innocent person. The spell required a sacrifice. A fog finally lifted, and I realized that the gods had tested my faith. They wanted me to see how far I would go, if I would break my oaths to satisfy my personal desires.” Delore put his hand on her shoulder. “I realized that my place in this world was helping the children who lost their parents and their homes in the Great Demon War. The gods had tested my faith, and I saw the light.”
“Are you saying this is all a test?” Zarya scoffed at his words. ‘That the gods make us fight pointless wars so we can be tested? For what reason might I ask do we need to be tested.”
Delore looked up at the moon as he spoke. “The gods test our ability to persevere even as the fates tempt us to follow a dark path. The true test of a person’s character is how they react to loss or tragedy. Do they let such horrible events consume them, or do they try to forge a better world so others won’t suffer as they did?”
“Is that why you opened this orphanage?” Nathelshia asked.
“Yes.” Delore replied. “Even as I mourned for my own child, I saw other children on the street starving for even the smallest scraps of food, fighting for poor shelters to escape the weather, and most of all, children who were forgotten by the world around them. I felt that it was my duty to help the poor, lost souls.”
“Poor lost souls.” whispered Zarya as she put her hand on her chest. “That is what drove me here. I could not bare to see innocent people suffer any further. I was part of my father’s inner circle when the Vampire Lords for the various regions met. Their anger at humans no longer wishing to pay tribute was to punish them. What I heard sickened me. They wanted to kill the adults and burn their villages and towns the the ground. Children would be spared, but they were to be enslaved to serve the vampires.”
“The actions of the other Vampire Lords caused you to lose faith in your kind. It should be no surprise, the balance between both races was always delicate, although destined to eventually fail.’’ Delore tapped his cane on the ground. “Vampires always viewed humanity as weak children that needed to be guided and protected from demons. In exchange for tribute in the form of sacrifices, they would protect humans. But the balance has become disrupted. Humans have grown more powerful as they develop new weapons and some of them even master the mystic arts.”
“It was always assumed humans would eventually find their own destiny. But I think the other Vampire Lords were caught off guard by how quickly it happened. Rather than the trickle of knowledge that the lords allowed, humans discovered it on their own and developed quickly. Zarya spoke with a sad tone in her voice. “The losses of so many humans during the Demon Wars forced them to act to defend themselves, and once they realized they could kill demons, the concept of paying tribute to vampires became something that human leaders questioned."
"The world has changed. With the discovery of the new lands, things will only get worse." Delore said as he looked at her. “More bloodshed, as humans struggle to find their destiny.”
“Tell me something. Who do you think is wrong in this war? Should humans free themselves from the control of vampires?” Zarya asked. “Or are vampires only protecting humanity from itself?”
“Neither side is wrong.” Delore sat down on a stone wall. “The gods intend all living creatures to find their own path. For many years, the fates of vampires and humans intertwined. Vampires offered protection and guidance, while humanity grew in size and numbers. But I think the mistake of your kind was your inability to let humans develop their own society. “ Delore glanced at the orphanage. “Think of it this way. When the children come here, they are lost souls, desperate for protection, love, and the basic needs to survive. I guide them, raise them, teach them that the gods have a place for them. That the loss of their parents is not the end, but rather, a test of their faith. But I understand that they will one day develop their talents and leave here. Perhaps they will be craftsmen, or soldiers in an army, or perhaps even a man of the church who will take the seeds that I gave them, and create a better world.”
Zarya nodded as she sat down beside him. “Perhaps that is the issue. The world is changing. Every single day, new lands are discovered across the oceans, and with it, the fortunes of men change as well. But I fear the fighting will only continue. Humans will escape to the new world to build their own destiny, while my kind will hope to control those lands.”
“As long as vampire lords like you and your father exist, there is hope for this world.” Delore said as he stood up. “I suppose it is time for me to check on the children and offer my prayers to the gods before I go to sleep.” He looked at her. “What do you intend to do?” Asked the elderly priest.
“I need to go speak with someone.” Zarya said as she looked at Father Delore. “An old friend of mine, a woman who has studied ancient texts.”
“You won’t find peace with my answers, will you? Even asking you to have faith is not enough to soothe your soul?” Delore asked.
“I have faith. But I have also been alive to know not to allow my faith to blind me to the rest of the world. Everything about this war bothers me. I need to find more answers. Take care of the children. I should be back soon.”
Father Delore said nothing as he saw her take the form of a bat and fly away. “Be careful Zarya, there are certain answers the gods never intended mortals to answer. He looked at the ring that he wore on his right hand, nothing the soft glow that emitted from the blue gem “And certain powers, the gods never intended us to have.”