The Blood of Greed:
Our tale begins in the 16th century in Venice, in the age of masquerades. A time where parties of masks and dancing were popular. In a mansion near the sea, a prince sat alone in his chair. His name was Benoval, and he was a prince of wealth. His rooms were filled with luxurious items from the four corners of the world, his tables were made of gold, so were his statues, swords and outfits had gold threaded into them. One day, this Prince wanted more. He wanted attention.
His man servant, who he hired because he had come with the palace and knew everything about it, approached through the door. “Yes sire”?
“Prepare the palace for a celebration. I am throwing the biggest masquerade in history”!
“As you wish my lord”.
Thousands of men were pulled from their daily duties to prepare the palace for the celebrations. Banners were hung, foods from across the world were brought in. The guard numbers quadrupled in size to prevent the peasantry from entering the party. Benoval wanted to show the world there was no one more powerful than him.
This Prince had the rooms decorated in a whole swath of color. From red to green, and purple. The one room where no one went to though was the black room. Its walls were solid black steel. The outline was covered in black plaited redwood. The floor was outlined images of bones, and the swords which likely belonged to powerful knights. At the end of the room was a dark pedestal were a golden medallion rested, always emitting a whispery blue glow. The room terrified Benoval. When he inherited the palace, he had wanted to destroy the room, but no metal or fire could even scratch anything in the black room. He had closed the doors and pretended the room didn’t exist, but the gold medallion called to him, and he wanted it; one more thing to possess and own.
It was so intricate! It had golden lines that zipped around, and the center was fitted with a round black gem with ancient Greek writing around it.
His advisors gave him many jewels to try on. They told him that the medallion was cursed. It was bad luck to wear at a celebration.
“What nonsense!” replied the Prince to this.
“There are no such things as curses! Where did this old wife’s tale sprout from”?!
“It sprouted”. Said a voice in the back. “From ancient Greece”.
Halifax was at the back. He held with him a tray of different types of cheese with him. “The legend goes, that the founder of this household was named Artabanus. The legend goes that he was a demigod of Hades, the God of the dead. In his wake for power and immortality, he worked his magic and poured his hatred and his malice into that medallion in exchange for all the riches that Hades had to offer. The deed cost him his life. It should contain its spirit, but every generation was told stories of how it rotted away; how it was molded into something more potent and... evil”.
There was a dead silence in the room. The Prince scoffed, breaking it.
“There are no such things. Uncle Hangrom was mad anyway! I will have that medallion, and I don’t care what any fairy tale says”.
The men bowed and left the room. Benoval called his advisors to him who had been working on how to remove the medallion. They had found through the royal records that a man of magic, a mage, had helped to contain the medallion. Hunting the hillside for him, Benoval and his captain found the old man sitting under a makeshift camp with scrolls piled all around him. When asked if he would remove the medallion, the man refused. Benoval flew into a rage. “Find what is precious to the man and burn it all!” he roared. Reluctantly, the solders began burning the scrolls. The old man loved his scrolls, and as he was held down, he begged and pleaded for them to stop. Finally, when Benoval had turned around, the old man relented. The captain ordered his men to stop as the old man rose up, but his spine was no longer bent. His once sagged face was now replaced with a stern young face of a man with brown hair and cold blue eyes. The captain was startled.
“Do you know what you are asking of me, captain”? His deep voice ushered. The captain only shuddered. “Uh…Uhh”.
“Consider the deed done” replied the man. The captain was never sure about this order to find this man, but not following orders meant death. He listened with alert ears on what to do.
The party was filled with guests. In the middle of the palace was a large throne room. The Prince, dressed in gold and purple robes, sat on his golden chair toasting his guests. The ‘cursed’ golden medallion dangling from his neck. Behind him were his armed entourage of palace guards. Their armor embedded with the symbol of the Princes house, a figure of a man with his hands raised. On one hand he held money, on another he held a sword.
Outside, a crowd of the rich had gathered as they entered by presenting golden gifts as their token to enter the famed palace. Peasantry and common folk had amassed on the outside, protesting their Princes waste of money. How his rich friends were taxing them just to get gifts to enter parties. The Palace guards had Spanish muskets at the ready, waiting for someone to make a wrong move.
While the party continued, the Prince noticed a group of people parting for someone. The crowd moved until the Prince saw him, and his stomach clenched.
The figure was dressed in a black outfit. His chest was decorated with white skulls and bones, his pants had ripped cloth attached to it so when he walked, the cloth moved in the air. His boots were tipped with iron, clicking on the marble floors he slowly walked towards Benoval. His black gloves were overlaid with metal claws on each finger. His face was covered with a white mask of despair, with black tear marks streaking down the eyeholes. He wore a hat like what the plague doctors wore. A black cape moved around and billowed like mist as he walked.
He came up to the throne and bowed slowly.
“My Prince”. A voice echoed from the mask. It was raspy and deep. When he spoke, The Prince felt like the room was amplifying his voice.
He forced a smile. “Welcome stranger!...What gifts do you bring”?
The figure looked up at the Prince. He noticed with a shudder that the eyes that looked back at him were not human,
they were murky white.
“I bring you…” the figure replied slowly as he lifted up his left hand and twirled his fingers rotating a bright red object in his fingers. He opened his palm, and the ruby, hovered over his palm.
“...riches beyond your understanding”.
The crowd gasped at this. The Prince was pleased, but the ice cold look he was getting from his new guest was making him nervous. His greed though was stronger, and he held out his hand. His guest placed it on his palm. The prince looked at the biggest, brightest ruby he had ever seen. The crowd around him gasped. No one had seen anything like it before. The prince looked up and smiled.
“Welcome, to the greatest party in the world”, he said smiling at the awed guests, and forgetting the robed man who had stepped aside.
Suddenly a small headache hit the Prince. He looked at the figure and saw the tears on the figure’s mask was actually...moving. It dripped off the mask in slow drops of inky darkness. His gaze was then fixed upon his eyes. The figures murky white eyes were now blood red. Red veins spread across from the red pupils across the retina. It didn’t stop there, it spread to the forehead and around the eye, cracking and sizzling with so much hate.
His captain had tapped his shoulder.
“Are you all right”?
The prince looked back at his guest. The eyes were now murky white again. The black tears were just art drawings again. There was not a stain on the floor.
“Yes. Yes.” the prince hasty replied.
“You may go”.
A small voice then began to whisper. The Prince could not make it out.
“ Wear it, live it, then die with it. Wear it, Live it, Die with it. Wear it, live with it, die with it. Wear it, live with it, die with it”.
The Prince turned to the Captain. “Do you hear that”?
“Nothing.” he quickly replied.
He stood up and walked away, leaving his guests whispering and headed towards the robed man. He always seemed so far away. Each time the Prince caught up, the figure vanished in the crowds and reappeared farther away. Eventually, he caught up with him and found himself inside the Black Room.
The prince hesitated. He hated this room. He had not asked how the old sorcerer had removed the medallion. His captain had looked ashen when he brought it to him, and tried to speak, but the Prince had waived him off. Had the captain said the wizard died? He couldn’t remember, but he didn’t care. He looked towards the masked robe and saw him standing there. His cape barely moving as if no wind entered the room. He shook off his doubts. He was the Prince! Everyone else should be afraid of him! He was not afraid of this conjuror of tricks!
He marched into the room.
“You in the white mask! Halt”!
The figure turned. The air got suspiciously colder. The black room seemed even blacker now. The empty sockets of the painted skulls seemed to stare at him.
“Who are you? Take off that mask! '' The Prince demanded.
The figure’s gnarled voice filled the room. “I was once like you”.
The Prince frowned, angered by this comment. “You make no sense, take off your mask!”
The figure turned around slowly. “How far are you willing to go to become the richest man in the world”?
The medallion felt like a weight on the Princes neck.
“I am not afraid of you weak man!”
The figure’s eyes came into view, they were now pure blood red. The black tears were now streaming down the mask’s cheeks.
“You, should, be”.
Like lighting, the figure advanced up to the Prince, and when he tried to move backwards, his muscles were paralyzed, held up by a force that made him stand still. The robed figure drew his clawed hand and traced a figure on Benovals forehead and down into his chest. The Prince screamed in pain but he couldn’t move. When he opened his eyes, the figure had vanished.
“You wish for riches, young Prince? a voice echoed in the room. “Well now, you will become it”.
From the figures drawing on his forehead and chest, crystals began to grow. He watched his paralyzed body began to glow purple as his skin steamed. He screamed, but no sound was heard.
“You wear the medallion of Hades” the voice of the robed figure whispered in his head. The voice continued, contemplative almost. “As I once lived, I craved riches like a man craves food. When I bargained my soul for Hades, he gave me all the riches in the world….”. The robed figure appeared in front of him and removed his mask, which now covered in ink black gunk. The Prince recoiled. He wanted to run but couldn’t. He felt like his spine was held by a fist, immobilizing him. Gasping in pain, he looked at the face of the robed figure.
The figures flesh was horribly burnt like he had been sleeping in a forest fire. From his eyes down, his skin had been burnt off and his skeletal bones showed. Some muscle was left on the jaws, but it hanged and sagged like dried meat. The bones were not white, but ash grey and black oil slowly dripped from his perfect white teeth.
“...But took my life in return” he continued. His voice whispered in Benoval’s head.
The crystals were growing everywhere now. On his arms, on his back, it felt like he was being butchered alive from the inside out. The prince’s eyes glowed purple. His body continued to let out steam. Soon, gems shot out like shrapnel and embedded themselves on the sides of the walls. When it hit, it continued to grow. The foundations began to shake, the walls began to fall.
From outside the entire place was crumbling. Giant shards of gems and jewels grew on the building like a fungus. Planting itself like a tree plants its roots in the soil. The party-goers had fled with the first rumblings in the palace. Only Halifax stood calmly under an arch which seemed to be standing still. No palace guards, no servants. Just Halifax, calmly waiting. His old eyes, seeming to have seen this once before.
Just as fast as it started, the rumbling and the shaking stopped. A human shaped figure was sprawled on the floor, his body rigid and embedded with precious metals. Halifax moved wearily up to now dead figure and bent down. He knew what he was going to find next to the body. He saw the medallion and the black gemstone still embedded in it with gold overlays surrounding it. He spoke the words written on it in his native Greek.
Wear it. Live with it. Die with it.
As he walked out with the medallion, his slow walk turned into a warrior’s stride, with his eyes glinting the coldest shade of blue as the full moon hit the quiet ruins of the palace.