The Templars Survive Beneath Us
(From the Archives of the Rahtio Foundation)
By Sam B. Sears
The speed of the pursuit did not allow me to examine our location properly. The construction seemed to indicate some sort of castle or fort. We ran past large stone bricks that seemed precisely cut and most were littered with carvings of various languages and pictures as I mentioned before. None of them were meaningful or at all familiar until we happened upon a depiction of a winged creature with a central eye and additional eyes on the wings, a near replica of a heavenly creature I had seen in religious art.
I don’t know who made the structure but I knew it was beyond the Spaniards of the region, especially considering the likely era of construction. From my studies, I knew of no ancient empire possessing the technology for such workmanship. My thoughts raced as I ran, and they race now as I write. My fear is that whoever is responsible for that construction, and of the crafting of the chest which I have sent with this account, which I pray you have not opened, may have made other subterranean fortresses, which may hide other treasures, dangers, or abominations.
This fortress was not all corridors. Well after we were confident Xaiver had escaped, we came to a large arch, opening to a great chasm. We walked through specially shaped bricks of that same shiny black material. We walked through the arch onto a bridge which spanned nothing but deep darkness below us. We saw a pulley system rigged up outside the arch on rough earth walls. It had buckets full of dirt. The crew we encountered was no doubt tasked with moving that dirt, and they were able to work in total darkness.
The way before us was a path of smaller bricks of the same shiny black material as wide as the corridor floor. There was no railing, only drop offs to oblivion. The contrast between reflective black, and dull darkness was unlike anything else I have seen in this world. Here the floor had been more thoroughly cleared, unlike the corridor, but I suspect the same brick layout existed in the corridor we exited from. I had taken my place behind Sir Gerard with the torch. As we moved forward a cave wall came into view, a break from blackness, but so did sets of stairs on both sides of the floor.
“Thomas” Sir Gerard began, “You proved yourself with that attack on Xavier, or whatever he is now. I must ask you to be more knight than squire now, and push yourself further.” He nodded in response.
“Bear your torch for Andre and Hugues, take the left and be ready to use your blade again. Look for places where you might set your torch down, without letting it go out this time. Baruch, Jacques, follow me, we take the right, while they take the left.”
As we split up and descended the stairs, we confirmed we had been on a bridge, supported by seemingly endless square pillars. Large bricks similar to those in the walls of the previous corridor were part of the structure, as well as huge blocks that seemed impossible to have been moved by any human effort I can fathom. The stairs, made of the same smaller bricks as the bridge floor, wrapped around the edge of the cavern chamber, and as we descended single-file down those extremely narrow stairs, we caught glimpses of Thomas’s light through gaps in the pillars.
The chamber seemed to be a near complete cylinder. Though I can’t be sure how wide, we passed underneath where we entered from above, indicating much of the area we had passed through was situated above this deep cylindrical chasm. After some time descending, curving around and away from each other, the stairs turned, and we saw they would lead us back to meet. We also saw we weren’t alone.
Xavier was nowhere in sight, but boldly naked skeletons were pouring up from a single united staircase, dividing to meet us in files before we could reunite. At Sir Gerard’s whispered command, I allowed Sir Jacques to very carefully slip in front of me, keenly aware of dirt and dust dislodged from the very narrow steps into the dark depths below.
Sir Gerard met the hoard’s leader with a tactically aimed hack of his blade. The skeleton sacrificed an arm to prevent a blow to the neck. A second blow lodged his sword into the skeleton’s other forearm. A kick both dislodged the blade and sent the Skeleton crashing back into its fellow fiends, ultimately forcing one to fall off the stairs as they all stumbled back.
“We too should have brought our maces” Jacques reflected in envy of Andre’s fortunate weapon selection.Though unable to see how our brothers were doing on the other side of the chasm, Sir Gerard, nevertheless, was determined to set an example, resolutely leading the way. I was as close as possible to the action without really being a part of it, tensely weaving my head to carefully peer over his shoulders to observe unceasingly horrific combat.
Eight skeletons remained. Sir Gerard changed his attack method, driving them
down, rather than swinging for their heads or necks. I knew no self-respecting Templar
would deign to use a bow, because of some higher up’s declaration that they were dishonorable, but I would have welcomed such a weapon in my own hands. Forgive my bold tongue, but I see no logic in that view. Even better would have been the support of allied Turkish archers who had assisted us on prior missions. It was frustrating to be so close and yet unable to participate, and for Jacques, compelled to wait in the ready position, it must have been even more so.
However, our commander’s method of forcing them downward was working. Retreating, another slipped and fell, providing an opportunity for Gerard to land a blow to the temple of the closest skeleton, caving in the skull. The top of the cranium exploded, hurtling its rider to the bottom of the dark shaft. Flailing tentacles, like that of a sea beast, seemed to stretch impossibly far from its body, but missed gaining a hold. I was able to see a mouth at the base of the faux brain circled by the tentacles, and a plummeting blur of purplish color gave evidence of varieties in their kind.
It occurs to me now as I write that it was likely not Xaiver vomiting, but his own rider had likely ejected the chewed up partially digested remnants of his brain and whatever other tissue it encountered on his journey into Xaiver’s skull. He had been dead even earlier than I realized.
Fallen bones on a narrow stairway imposed another obstacle as we approached the end of the flight of stairs. Though I was forced to watch in tense terror, Sir Gerard’s battle tactics resulted in repeated success. I’ll spare you the tedium of a blow by blow description, but must again implore you to consider well what you have read thus far, and what I will continue to relate, that you may fully realize the danger represented by the contents of the chest– what evils that vile skull and its rider are capable of.
As we drew nearer to the base of the stairs, I could make out more detail of how Andre, Hugues and Thomas were fairing. As my eyes darted between Sir Andre’s smashing mace and Sir Gerard’s chopping sword, I could see the mace was proving the more fatal weapon. However, the pile of bones at Andre’s feet provided cover for one of the skeletons, and despite Andre’s slow and deliberate steps, the camouflaged bone body pulled itself between the legs of another particularly stubborn skeleton, that by bobbing and weaving had managed to evade a fatal blow to the skull. My warning call was too late. Andre looked down as skeletal hands wrapped around his boots, and as the still-standing skeleton charged. The impact combined with a fierce yank on his ankle caused Andre to lose his balance.
I wasn’t close enough to see his face, but judging by the scream, he knew what was happening. He didn’t let go of the mace, and connected one last time as the skeletons controlled his fall, and pushed him off of the edge. Sir Hugues quickly plunged his sword directly between the eye sockets of the skeleton standing before him. Sir Andre’s scream echoed in the chamber as he plummeted. Silence and finality engulfed us as our brother in arms went home to meet his maker.
We had no choice but to press forward and we wedged the skeletons between the two groups, finally reuniting on a pile of bones. Seeing that the two large staircases became one, I had wondered why they split at all, but Thomas provided the answer. “We saw a few spots where they had started to dig in, there were rooms they were beginning to excavate.” Thinking back, not all the steps were even in length, there were a few extended flat portions, but I didn’t recall seeing any openings.
“They hadn’t done much yet, and one of them had remnants on the wall around it, they were hidden.” Thomas answered my next question before it even passed my lips.
“They were not excavated enough for Xavier to hide in.”
“His rider” I cut Thomas off.
“Whatever it was” he continued “our fallen brother, must still be down that way.” He motioned toward the descending single staircase. “Perhaps he sent his friends to slow us down?”
Where the staircase had met, was a pulley system with buckets for dirt as well. It was no doubt connected to the one above. It also continued downward. Other than Xavier, these creatures had all been silent, but the excavation indicated they were certainly clever, and capable of communicating. Thus far they had only cleared stairs, evened out the tunnels, and begun on the rooms, but it was clear they were looking for something.
They had slowed us down, and we delayed further as we made sure all the riders were stomped and killed, our boots left gore soaked footprints on the old steps as we descended further.
The single staircase was wider, and built into the support pillars of the original bridge. It had slits cut along the way, as if for archers. Perhaps the place was once a well guarded passageway. It split again at the end of the cave wall, and we got onto another duo of spiral stairs. We decided to split up again despite the danger.
We descended in alternate spirals like a corkscrew, going further down than any tower or mountain path I had ever followed. I kept a close eye out, and did notice indents that might have been partially hidden rooms. I also saw additional carved images and words, and even what appeared to be fire braziers, though containing no oil or fuel to light. The air began to change as we descended, somehow becoming less stale, as if there were fresh air was coming up from beneath us. As we came together again at the top of a wider single set of steps, Thomas pressed concern for the horses he loved so much.
“We have been away from the horses for hours now. I hope they are okay. Even Big Sebastian will be hungry by now.” I, too, thought of my horse, Spot, and I hoped I would ride with him again.
I’m not sure how far we had gone, or even how long the journey took, but we did at last descend to a floor. It was made of the same mysterious bricks, and Sir Gerard stopped to pray over Sir Andre’s fallen body. We spotted the splatter that had marked the landing place of at least one rider. Gerard ordered us to smash the skulls of the skeletons, and any rider we saw, while he accepted a grim duty for himself. He picked up Andre’s mace, and smashed in his skull eliminating the risk of a second templar possession.
We found a single exit at the bottom floor, yet another staircase, which descended into a more natural cavern. The floor there consisted of smoothed and flattened dirt. It had an almost purple tint, and the same for the walls. Beyond the steps, there was a path made of those familiar seemingly wet, but clearly dry, reflective bricks that lead to an arch built into the natural cave wall.
The fortress, we had come through, is perhaps better described as an inverted tower, descending into the earth. After exiting it, we found ourselves in a maze “These piles seem undisturbed, our fallen brother likely did not enter any of them. We must press forward.” he paused for a moment before adding further instruction, “There are twists here, watch the turns carefully.”
Despite the warnings, I confess my mind was wandering. I longed for the time to pause so that Jacques, far better at cooking than our squire, could make something of the items Thomas carried in his pack. I was spending far too much energy and adrenaline only carried me so far. I should have been more in the moment. I was bearing a torch that was essential to our survival, but I was struggling to turn my mind away from a particularly flavorful steak Jacques had prepared just a few weeks prior. I recalled how Hugues had lead us in song as we waited for the savory meat. My belly held my thoughts captive, thus I was taken by surprise, when a sudden blackness engulfed my view.
As I felt myself being pushed to the ground, I realized both torches had been put out. Terror filled me, as I remembered previously concluding, our skeletal foes did not share our need for light.
Sudden loss of vision can disorient all the senses. As my mind reeled from the lack of visual stimulation, understanding the distorted noises around me took additional effort. There were two major sources of sound, two distinct scrimishes. Blinking to assure myself that my eyes were intact, I pushed up off my hands into a kneeled position where I hoped to further orient myself.
The skeletons had ambushed us. The danger of swinging in the dark among allies is obvious. I didn’t seek my weapon, but after a few seconds stood up right with my recovered torch in one hand. I raised it as I would a shield. Even in the pitch blackness it was clear there was wrestling in front of me, and then I heard a shattering sound followed by a moist plop.
“Cracked and smashed it with my helmet” Cried Hugues. He had saved me from my attacker, but the darkness demonstrated Thomas had been tackled as well. Similar sounds followed.
“Any more?” asked sir Gerad after a moment of silence. No one, and no thing, answered.
We knew we were vulnerable in the dark, but to our astonishment, our eyes slowly adjusted, and we saw faint light in the distance. “What is that other light?” asked Thomas. “And why is it slightly … blue?” We made our way towards it, stopping before a natural passage into another section of the cave system. Thomas retrieved flint and steel from his gear, and we relit our torches. We also chose to leave his pack behind, so that he could travel faster and be more free to engage if necessary.
Sir Gerad led the way through a tight tunnel, the entrance to which was surrounded by loose dirt and rock. It was as if excavation was performed roughly, hastily and recently. We had to squeeze through in a single file, and the rocks scraped against our chain mail as we turned sideways. When we emerged, my entire perspective on our journey was changed.
Initially I had theorized their quest had led them downward, but now I conclude it was almost the opposite. These creatures had dug their way up from the deeper earth, excavating it along the way for treasure. Perhaps, they had come through one of the other tunnels in the last chamber and it was among those blocked off. It appeared they had been digging toward the surface, while at the same time, hunting a specific treasure we would soon encounter.
As the tunnel gradually opened up and we emerged into a large cavern, our heads collectively tilted up to what resembled an early daylight above us. Knowing we had not returned to the surface, I surmised some sort of created light. Aristotle had once written of creatures that could make their own light, but once again I am left to theorize without being able to confirm. I believe that high above us was a kind of cave algae or moss that produced light which functioned as an underground sky.
Aided by that mysterious light, we could see a much more open cavern, and in the distance a building that looked like a ziggurat. I had seen drawings of them before, once worship buildings and centers of commerce for much of Mesopotamia. The paved path leading directly to the structure, confirmed it was our destination.
I can recall journeying to the ruins of the Roman coliseum for the first time, a magnificent experience. At the time, I was conscious of the people along the way trying diligently to eke out an existence, selling foodstuffs and their wares, making contact, trying to catch the attention of the Templars. Here, in contrast, the rodents scurried away. We passed only dirt, rocks, and fungus, some in the form of large glowing mushrooms. Though the architecture was also spectacular, and the path shiny, unlike the vibrant road to the Coliseum, I was acutely aware of a musty odor, and that my current destination seemed filled with a sense of desolation, an abandoned emptiness.
As we neared the Ziggurat, figures in front of the structure came clearer into view. The structure resembled an Egyptian pyramid, with the top peak sliced off, but unlike drawings of old, it was topped with Roman-like pillars. It had a long section of stairs to come up its side, at least the side we were facing, and of course it was made of those slick looking black bricks. I instinctively felt that it was a place of dark worship, an idea from which the following events failed to dissuade me of.
As we drew near, figures in front of the structure came into view, and we realized a battle was taking place at the base of the stairs. Skeletons, as many as a full battalion, were assaulting a single giant who had the features of a man.
“They must have pushed through, and pressed an attack once they became aware of us.” I told Sir Gerard. “It explains the state of the tunnel, and even why they sent a less equipped squid to slow us, it was because they needed their best for…”
“This nephilim” Sir Hugues finished my sentence. He seemed to be right. The huge figure brought to mind the biblical giants of old, like Goliath or his brothers, Og of Bashan, or the pre-flood “mighty men of renown.” A black loin cloth of some unknown animal fur covered its manhood. The rest of his massive body was bare and muscular and his red hair and beard left wild.
The conflict allowed us to approach unheeded to where we could clearly see the
powerful swings of a gigantic cudgel, made of what appeared to be gold. We heard the gnashing of teeth, as the giant roared in an incomprehensible language, and a number of skeletal adversaries responded, possibly in the same language, seemingly taunting their foe. Shattered bones flew everywhere, but the weaponless attackers continued to bite and claw, while those armed with tools or weapons, hammered and stabbed.
“Do we … aid him?” Sir Jacques wanted orders.
“No.” The answer came with heavy breathing, reflecting all the energy each of us had spent so far. “We let this play out.” Sir Gerard continued. “Then we deal with whatever is left standing, if we can.” Our commander was not one to have a negative tone, but there must have been 50 or more skeletons, he had to be realistic, we all did. My hope was roused when he added, “Unless I see an opportunity to do otherwise, stay ready.”
We approached, at a slower pace, so we could save and possibly recover some of our energy. We came within 100 feet of the intense battle. Holding our position there we were able to not only observe the creature closely but to smell the worst odor imaginable emanating from its body. Being closer we could see he had six fingers on each hand. As he continued to yell, at the skeletons, we could see he had 2 rows of teeth. We realized the reason for the absence of tools in the mine, as some skeletons were trying to implement tools as weapons, though others were better armed. Some wore a mishmash of clothing and armor, and some wore nothing at all. Judging from the battle, we were thankful to have fought only the weakest thus far.
We watched the war of attrition, a fallen skeleton here, a small wound on the giant there. He was about 12 feet tall, with astonishing strength. With his mace, he was shattering skeletons with the impact of powerful blows whenever he managed to make direct contact.
Though their forces were greatly depleted, one skeleton finally scored a critical blow. Working like a mob of ants, crawling over one another to ascend the giant, one wicked creature aimed its sword upward, piercing into his eye. The now cyclopian creature roared in a deep tone that rattled us on the inside. Its impact was like hearing both a lion’s roar at my back and an assassin’s whisper in my ears. He swatted the offending skeleton with his empty left hand, but only knocked him to the ground. The Skeleton quickly leapt up, and ran up the stairs of the ziggurat.
“He is up to something, follow!” We were quick to follow the orders of our commander, and were in pursuit once more.