Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dillon's SAW #3 Finale: Temple & Comic

I never saw the desert until I was 21, and God willing I never will again. It was the second day of Autumn in the year of our Lord, 1191, exactly a month after the Siege of Acre was won and the Christians took Acre back from the Muslims. I was a fresh knight, fighting for the Knight's Templar with King Richard for the Pope; for God. I was taught that knights were an honorable and noble caste, but I had learned otherwise about knights, about corruption, about castes. Knights were bound to the Code of Chivalry, a humble promise, though a man can always find a way through a promise. A knight was pious, humble, a protector of the weak; the women and children, but to many knights, those who were not nobles were not worth protecting. Rapes, looting, defiling of holy grounds such as churches and graveyards. Many did not deserve being called a servant of God. I frequently wondered why any God would allow being represented by such "subjects".

A messenger from the King arrived with new orders, so we withdrew form Acre and headed into the middle of the harsh desert. The message told of an object of great importance, held within a temple, eight days travel from Acre. The travel was possibly the most boring thing a man could do. We crossed the empty desert. We charged into nowhere. We shouted at nothing. We looked towards the East, to our objective, the Temple.

We had arrived after our stint in the sun. I do not know quite what I expected, but it wasn’t we got, that thick, heavy silence. Behind the wind of the canyon and the sand hitting the stone, there was… nothing, no birds, no insects. Just deathly stillness. The place had an eerie tranquility to it. The message's directions were very specific so we had no trouble finding our way. We had made our way into the canyon. It was a slot canyon, so we left our horses behind, the way was only wide enough to go single file through. The light shone through from the narrow and wide openings at the top of the canyon. I had noticed most had been shaped as crosses or arrows, pointing the way, implying some religious importance. We came to a clearing in the valley. The Temple loomed over us like an ominous cloud.

The Temple was hard to describe, it was held up by pillars, but they were neither round nor fluted, just an odd, smooth, flowing pattern. There was no sign of individual pieces in the masonry, it appeared to have been carved out of a single immense block of white rock into a flowing and rounded shape. It was slick, glimmering from the light around it, almost as if it held a thin sheet of water. There was not a spot on the face of the temple that was without covered with an inscription or an image. The shapes and figures carved on the trim and open spaces were of the most amazing craftsmanship, they looked truly real, with perfect proportions and depth, as if the people and objects were turned to stone and placed as the decorations. The steps leading to its pure white porch had the length of two feet, one in front of the other, and there were at least two hundred of them. They were the only things that looked mildly out of place, there was a huge, magnificent temple, whose steps were dwarfed in comparison. The Temple looked as if it was made for a giant, and the steps were for nothing more than servants.

Once we had gotten over our awe-struck state, we had collected ourselves and entered the temple. The inside was as grand as the outside, with the same style of pillars, inscriptions, and figures, with only one difference. On the far side of the room, there was a wall with a large carving of the three crosses and above them a large goblet, with stone drops falling to the ground below the crosses. The entire building was pure white, not a single imperfection of grey or black. No dust, no sand or any other debris from the desert, the whole monument was immaculate, as if the place was just built; but that couldn’t be right. The whole structure felt incalculably old to me. It was lit by lamps burning a golden ore, producing a dim yellow light. It was cold and unnerving, yet the light was mildly reassuring. There was a set of stairs leading down deeper into the temple.

Our eight man chapter had split, I and three other men went down the stairs, taking with us one of the glimmering lamps, to investigate, while the rest stood guard and tried to interpret the pearly scripture. The carvings led us to believe this place held an artifact of great religious importance. We were not sure what it was this Temple protected, we had narrowed it to the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant, the True Cross, the Crown of Thorns, and the Titulus Crucis, the title nailed above Jesus' head, proclaiming him King of the Jews.

The stairs ended at a crossroad, each path leading down a glazed white stairwell. The three of us each took a set, with the extra coming with me. We descended the gradation to the right, it was sparkling magnificently from the golden light. Every few levels in no real pattern there was a stone door which was, unlike the rest of the Temple, made of granite. Unable to get them to budge in the slightest bit, we left the doors alone and continued down. The stairs finally ended with one last stone door, and the walls simply sloped away into a darkness. I tossed down a coin, waiting for a sound, but heard nothing. Deathly stillness. I pulled a torch from my belt, lit it with the lamp, and flung it down, but to no avail. The light was quickly swallowed, the walls did not have the glimmer the floor held. Neither of us spoke, we just turned to ascend back to the top when we saw the dried blood, our light glimmering off it. The blood led just a few feet and showed what was barely recognizable as the corpse of a man, leaning his back on the door. His chainmail had been ripped to shreds, he was riddled with gashes, his tabard was in tatters, and I barely recognized it as being of the kind French knights wore during the First Crusade, with a golden cross on a white background. We only had a few seconds to look at him before a sharp abrupt scream rang through the shaft. It echoed like the buzzing of far away insects in the desert, swallowed almost instantly, as if shushed. Even the echo rang only once.

We rushed quickly to the top, swords drawn. My friend led the way, holding up his shield as I held the lamp. We met the other two who went to investigate and, in a wedge formation, moved swiftly, shields drawn, except for me. I had sheathed my sword to move quicker and held the lamp. The Temple was deathly quiet around, there was not a trace of the four other men that had come on this pilgrimage with us. I could taste bile rising in my throat as panic threatened to cripple me; I felt crushed between the stairs to the darkness on one side and the dead canyon and harsh desert on the other. The silence rang in my ears and I struggled to still myself.

What approached us, I can barely describe. The thing, the first one that caught my eye, was wearing the skin of a French knight, mottled and rotted. The head lolled, limp on the shoulders and flailed when the monstrosity moved, tongue swollen and eyes cloudy. I could see where it was coming apart at the ill-defined joints, with ragged holes in the drying flesh. At the bottom of each of these raw pits was a darkness that seemed to churn and froth like an angry cloud.

The horror moved suddenly, the head snapping and rolling backwards as it dashed towards us. I had the lamp gripped tightly in my hands, but it simply did not occur to me to draw my sword or shield. All I could do was gape silently at the macabre sight bearing down on us, and think absurdly of marionettes.

A warcry from the man beside me, and I turned to see a dozen more of the horrors darting silently in on us. Among them were a few more rotten French forms, but the majority wore the same red cross as us, and were pale, fresh, and soaked in blood. I caught a glimpse of the Knight Captain's glassy eyes as his head dangled limp from his shoulders; I saw the great ragged wound in his back and the shuddering darkness that inhabited his corpse when he leapt just past me without a sound, landing like a graceful predator onto the man beside me. The others around me began to drop in a silent dance of kinetic energy and blurred motion.

I had no orders, no one needed to tell me. I just ran. I sprinted through the winding canyon pressing closer to the desert. The end of the canyon hit another note of fear in me, the horses were gone. My bow, my mace, my hope. Gone. I knew I would die in the desert. I had no hope. But, when I turned back to the opening, I saw one of the rotting monsters emerge, running on all fours, the hands splayed wide and the back contorted and cracked in an impossible angle. I no longer controlled my body, I ran mechanically farther into the desert. I began to feel the wind pick up and saw a monolithic wall in the distance. It was moving towards me as I ran for it. A sandstorm, moving at a blistering pace, roaring as it approached me. I saw it as a bastion of hope. I let it embrace me.

I awoke days later, covered in sand, by a caravan of merchants. They led me back to Acre. I arrived on August 31, 1191. I made my report. I was called crazy, suffering of heatstroke, gone mad from the sun. I never saw the Saladin defeated at the Battle of Arsuf. I never saw Jaffa taken by the Christians. I did not go home with the others a year later. I was sent back to the green hills of England. Perhaps God decided that he should no longer be represented by servants such as knights. Perhaps the Devil himself did not want us to gain something that would increase faith in God. Whatever it was, I suppose there are things man is not to know, and damn if it is not true that this is for the best.

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