The Templars Survive Beneath Us Chapter 3 The Black Ziggurat

For Chapter 1: Click Here (Includes intro and prologue)

For Chapter 2: Click Here

Chapter 3:

The Black Ziggurat

Sir Gerard led the pursuit of the fleeing skeleton. We gave the continuing battle between the skeleton’s kin and the nephilim giant, a wide girth. The distance was not enough to spare us from the intensifying stench of the giant.

As we approached the ziggurat stairs in pursuit, they were lined with braziers, full of coals. Thomas and I both deposited torches into them as we climbed, expecting to need our blades and now benefiting from the illumination of the algae above. It may not have been as bright as a midday’s sun, but it was bright enough for combat. 

Reaching the flat upper level of the ziggurat, we found a central stage surrounded by the tall decorated pillars I had spotted from afar. Set in the center was the same blue chest with silver reinforcements now in your custody. Xavier stood amongst several sets of walking bones, including the target of our pursuit. We saw our quarry, clothed in commoners’ garb, pass a sword, used commonly among Spanish town guardsmen, to a figure of obviously higher rank. Clad in a blue tunic, blue pants, black gloves, and boots, it supported itself with a silver, skull-topped staff. I wondered how much weight bare bones could bring to bear.

Taking the sword, it touched the tip of the blade to the front of the chest, which bore something like a lock, but with a small green gem in the place of a keyhole. On contact with the gore-covered sword, the lock glowed briefly and then fell away, leaving a loop we would later use to secure the chest.

After opening the chest, this haughty being shifted its grip on the sword and turned towards us, pivoting on the staff, as we paused in our approach. Its blue tunic, hood, and pants, were all lined with a striking yellow, and despite the dirtiness of the cave, this commanding figure appeared clean, with a regal presence. The hood, which was pointed in the back, was open in the front. His skull was revealed when he turned to face us. 

“Well, I guess the prophecies were true.” He spoke in Spanish. “Of course they were, and it is like Him to send his followers to do his work, and just at the last minute too.” 

 I suspect he was speaking of our red crosses, and the holy nature of our order. While his jaw moved, he had no tongue or lips, yet we heard the words formed perfectly. Each one dripped with the kind of contempt born from familiarity and long held bitterness.

“We have learned much from your friend Xavier,” He bragged. The body of our old friend stood beside him, along with several skeletal warriors. 

“That’s not, Xavier.” I couldn’t help myself, I had to cry out and defend the legacy of our friend. He would not betray us like this, and he hadn’t, for he was long since gone.

We stood at a stalemate. I counted 10 skeletons, clothed and armed with swords, and that’s beside Xavier himself and this leader. Talking in the midst of the stalemate bought us time, but I knew that a winning strategy would depend on a miracle. 

“Indeed it is not. He is one of my kind now, but we know his mind now, my brother says it was delicious.” 

The creature in Xavier’s body laughed. “The more pure they are, the sweeter the taste, my lord.” The words came from within Xavier’s skull, and confirmed the elegantly dressed skeleton was their commander. 

“You’re way over your head. Templar knights, a squire, and a translator, are no match for us, and you can’t possibly stop us now.” The sockets of his skull maintained “eye contact” with us, as Xavier opened the chest.

“What is it you seek here?” Jacques demanded intent on stalling as long as

possible before combat was renewed.

“Something that could only be made with others of our kind. We were the equivalent of miners and smiths of our … let’s call it our realm. When working with the minerals of your world, we made the delightful discovery that elements in your bones can be molded to our liking, fashioning suits of armor for ourselves out of your remains.”

Realm, minerals of this world? In my mind, I asked, “what were these things?” 

Somehow it knew my thoughts, and answered. “You call us fallen angels, imprecise, but close enough”

Its jaws moved again, but with no lips to form the sound into words. I knew the words were somehow in our heads, and yet also coming from the rider in the skull. 

“After our punishment, we found a way for each of us to take small physical forms. It took some time to tunnel up here from the porous earth which served as our prison, but now that we are on the verge of our first victory, care to join us?”

The offer gave us pause because of its unexpectedness. “Why would we join you, a demon?” Sir Gerard asked, blade at the ready. 

“Because you want to live. Your kind was made after ours, it is only logical for you to service us. We have a need for ambassadors, and breeders to grow us more bones. If you are obedient, we would treat our pets well.”

“We will…” Hugues began a threat, but it was cut off.

“Oh, squishing us will do little. Those are just entry points to this world. Each of us can gather enough energy to give our spirit brethren a body, again and again. We are immortal, but unlike you, we have power in both realms.”

 I prayed he was lying. To think that squishing those riders only banished them temporarily depresses my soul. 

“So, what will it be?” The leader asked. “Be our pets? I’ll give you poor

chaste boys some good women, and you can spend your lives in blissful procreation. I can promise you a happiness no other human has known, joys only found in this corporeal realm, as long as you are useful, productive, and obedient. The alternative, of course, should you decide to cling to your hopeless church order, is death. If you choose the latter course, be assured your bodies will be used in the most profane ways conceivable to spite you and the one you are allegiant to.”

Having endured enough, Sir Gerard charged. I wasn’t prepared, but drew my

own blade as he made contact. Of all the supernatural events of my saga, the fact that I wielded a blade and lived may be the greatest miracle among them.

The echoes of the battle of the giant at the foot of the steps provided the atmosphere of our engagement. 12 skeletons, Sirs Gerard, Jacques, Hugues, squire Thomas and myself, a translator who had never parried a thrust other than in practice.

Sir Gerard made heavy use of the mace he picked up from Sir Andre, and I tried to fight with my wits as much as my blade. Realizing these creatures depended on the connection between skull and body, I pushed myself to the limit, and thankfully, my blade seemed guided through the vertebrae of my first opponent. While on to my second, my eyes glanced over his shoulder and I was disheartened by what I saw.

Sir Jacques fell first. With three skeletons upon him, he fell to a cheap wound to the back. My eyes refocused on my efforts and did not have time to process the grief. Sir Hugues, came into view only moments later, saving me from my second

opponent who was gaining an upper hand. He took a thrust that punctured his armor and cut into his ribs, from a foe that became my 3rd opponent. He turned to aid our commander, as he was drawing the aggression of more or our foes. 

Sir Gerard worked as a man divinely anointed. He worked his way with fiery intent towards their commander, who was pulling a satchel from the chest. As Gerard confronted that personification of evil, Thomas was able to parry a blow, defending our commander from a protector of their malevolent leader. It had laid sword aside to retrieve the satchel, holding only the ornate staff as defense against Gerard’s powerful mace. The staff was easily knocked away; Xavier’s rider rushed to defend its leader, and Sir Hugues intervened, ultimately falling to the blade of his former brother, but providing time for his own leader. Sir Gerard, singularly focused, wielded the mace with the deft strokes of an artist, instinctual, fluid, unrestrained. He rendered final judgment with a blow that knocked the vile creature’s skull out of the open, hooded robe, to roll on the ground separated from its body.

Sadly, the feeling of victory was brief. As with all armies, and all wars, battlefield promotions come swiftly by necessity. The body of our old friend assumed leadership, picking up the satchel that had flown from his leader’s hands. Xavier’s own hands soon emerged from the satchel clutching a scroll of dark leather parchment, wrapped around metal rods at each end. It very much resembled ancient scrolls I had seen in Rome, and those counted among the most precious treasures of a monastery. He grasped the bottom rod with his left hand and began to unroll the scroll, twisting the upper rod with his right hand.

As a scribe who pursues truth, digging as deeply as I can, it is no surprise to me the sought-after treasure was knowledge, or, more accurately, abilities gained from knowledge. However, I was not prepared for what happened next, as it was unlike anything of this earth, or perhaps I should say, of the surface of this earth. I’m still trying to process what I saw, as Xavier’s rider was not the only one to see what appeared as the scroll opened. 

An outline of an eye emerged with the text, non-physical, formed from miniscule fragments of light. Though not in my direct line of sight, the eye became visible to me. An imperfect analogy might be to imagine oneself as a flat character in a painting suddenly encountering 3-dimensional objects of the real world. It had extra dimensionality, and, for a moment, shared a taste of its nature, an indescribable beyondness. I found myself able to not only see from its own perspective, but from Xavier’s as well … in fact, from that of every set of eyes near me all at once. Still stranger than an overwhelming flood of consciousness from multiple beings, I saw beyond the present.

I expect Xavier’s controller saw more, and got the full intended effect. One might expect such visions to be only experienced by the most devout priests, or written of in the Holy books. It was different from learning that takes place naturally, over time, it seemed a kind of revelation or epiphany. A torrent of knowledge poured directly into my mind, though not in an organized fashion, and I believe that since I was not the intended recipient, the knowledge did not remain, fading like a dream moments after waking. However, I will attempt to bring some order to what I saw and the little I was able to retain.

A river of light flowing through total blackness seemed to have a will of its own,

by its very nature wanting to branch off, and attempting to diverge at several points. However, guiding hands, like those of a careful gardener, emerged at key places, blocking access to certain uncharted courses, allowing full freedom to flow in designed channels, but protecting against heading off unseen cliffs or into other dangers. My eyes grew wide in increased astonishment as I discovered a multitude of moving strands within the stream, bouncing around and controlling their own movement, but unable to escape the general flow controlled within the boundaries of the stream as a whole.

Iridescent creatures, beautiful to behold, though only silhouettes of that same light, spoke together in words I was unable to understand. I could, however, perceive ideas and feelings; jealousy, desire for power, rebellion. I sensed a family tearing apart, some, out of pride, not valuing the natural order, unable to foresee the perils of breaking off on their own course. Others were afraid to intervene, despite the natural desire to keep the stream growing, healthy and united, bowing to strong wills, even while sensing the consequences spilling out and spreading too thin. I, too, instinctively knew the resulting thinness would mean coldness and a type of death. The stream needed to connect, to be intertwined.

I saw the plan that had resulted from that jealousy, desire for power, and rebellion. It seemed a small part of a bigger puzzle, and I suspected some sort of heavenly alchemy had produced the scroll they had hidden in the underground temple. The blue chest now in your possession was formed from wood I have never seen, soaked in a mysterious mixture to construct a chest lighter than one would ever imagine. They needed the treasure inside to ripen like a growing fruit, to be consumed only after rigorous preparation. A number of the iridescent beings had developed a repetitive shrinking process, allowing themselves to become smaller and smaller until reduced to the most elemental status of being, from which they were able to eventually reemerge and take on the form of those horrible brain-like riders who steal the skulls of dead men.

I had great difficulty following the ever-changing scenes before me, a constantly changing environment that flickered illusions of continuous running, falling, and blinking. As I struggled vainly to orient myself, I witnessed other caverns, and flashes of what must have been a truncated history, with wars, a great flood, multiple rebellions, downfalls, and finally a deep darkness that had separated them from their treasure throughout its ripening process.

I sensed a higher power affixing a lock to the blue chest and then intervening to allow the giant we saw to live. Though willfully evil itself, out of fear and the desire for self-preservation that gargantuan creature accepted his new role. He could keep his body as long as it guarded the creation from those that would seek to use it. Like the chest, I somehow knew the giant itself was made by rebellious iridescent beings. Perhaps its origins played a role in the mercy given to it. 

This was all in the past, but the present was becoming more clear too. They had dug up to where we stood, and there was much more to explore in what I heard called “the porous earth” as I saw the face of their skeletal commander. They had dug up onto the surface, to find more bodies, more soldiers and workers. I could see one of the riders, I could almost feel its body as if it was my own. Between the tentacles, it had a circular mouth full of sharp triangular teeth, but it was more than a mouth. Like a cloaca of a bird or lizard, it birthed something too. More of its own. As it produced it, an iridescent crawled into it. I was seeing different worlds layered overtop of each other, intertwined and interacting. 

I saw again, the now fallen Andre, smashing the very first one we encountered. Then the world went gray, and I saw a small little wisp of an iridescent being exit the defeated rider. The horrifying truth is that these beings lived beyond the physical realm and can be rebirthed by another. Their commander, fully capable of deception, had spoken a truth more terrifying than any lie.

I saw the future, myself writing even now, as if looking over my own shoulder. I saw the potential twists and turns of that living stream of so many light tendrils, and a dark, foreboding shadow beyond the edge. It dawned on me that part of their preparation process while the “treasure” reached maturity, was scouting each turn, including the potential movements of the strands within. They intended to wrest control from the Gardner of Light, directing the stream for their own rebellious purposes.

As I watched the shadow, it spewed wildly in different directions. All at once I could see a myriad of variations in these walking skeletons–different armor, different weapons, but all conquering. One, wearing a hard green shell helmet with a white star, carried what seemed to be a metal weapon, emitting small points of fire. Another was covered all in white, with some type of bubble over its skull. One had donned a crown, and turned itself into gold. Another chose bright flowery colors as decoration, while others seemed to find pleasure in transforming themselves in even more imaginative ways. Some even opted to wear the flesh they hated as an additional covering and tried to walk among men.

Though obviously pleasing to them, the variations of forms they might assume terrified me, especially with their interest in mankind. They sought to know every move an enemy might make, attempting to attain the perfect strategy on any battlefield. Their satisfaction from merging their true selves with physical bodies was made evident by their mockery of the intended pure union of our overlapping worlds. They went so far as to persecute other iridescent beings attached to, or possibly inside other creatures. These Skeletons and their riders were not the only things hiding in our world, nor the only beings that had attempted to twist the Gardener’s stream in rebellion against their original purposes.

Concerned about Xavier, and what would become of his body, I traced its path upstream through the flow of what I perceived to be time. Still controlled by one of these foul riders, and now riding on a skeletal beast that could only have been a dragon of legend, Xavier was followed by winged skeletons spilling out onto the earth’s surface. This was tied, via a string of light, to a prior event. This eruption onto the surface was somehow set to motion by a gathering in a room on the surface sometime between now and that assault.There, to my horror, it appeared members of our order had gathered round a skull and its rider, and seemed to be worshiping it. 

Upstream were also branches providing glimmers of hope. Templars beneath the ground we now stand upon, fighting these things. Faithful priests and scholars studying this wretched creature I have sent you, to learn, and to guard mankind from its kind and other ilk. Facing the darkness, but not to worship it, to confront it, to defeat it.

Alas, it remained unclear which courses would remain dry, and which the stream of time and life would flow through. I am not sure what men will choose, or the impact from interference or guidance from beyond our human realm. It certainly seems the master of this stream is the Almighty, but these creatures reveal our great ignorance of many aspects of the great battle between design and chaos.

As that mysterious “eye of lights” vanished, I realized we had all been knocked

to the ground. Xavier’s body had seemingly sucked in the eye like a breath of vapor, and consumed the scroll like a hungry child eating the sweetest cake. 

“AH!” He sounded satisfied. “The eye of Anilom, as destined.” He named the creation which now empowered him. “I now see how this must go. One of you must escape, and my next steps lie elsewhere.”

He picked up the staff of his former master, and descended slowly into the porous earth. Our bodies, failing at first to function, were prevented from pursuit. It required considerable effort just to begin to twitch my fingers, and it was some time before a sense of feeling had worked through my other members. We were still moving like half-frozen sluggards when Sir Gerard began to issue orders, knowing we would need to spring into action quickly.

Rolling onto my side, I could see that most of the riders were climbing into the mouth of the slain giant. I rocked to the other and was able to see no slime trail from the skull of the fallen leader. Somehow enough of the effect of the eye remained. And I knew, I think we all knew, it was still in there.

“Thomas, live, even if for a few minutes as the Sir Thomas you were meant to be. Delay the giant” Sir Gerad ordered, as we recovered and stood. “I must chase after Xavier. Baruch put the head of their leader, including the sinister slithering thing within it, in the satchel, then the chest. I saw that it was impossibly light, it must be you who tells our tale, and sends others after these servants of hell. ”It seems we each had absorbed information from our encounter with what was called the Eye of Anilom.

There are moments in a battlefield where time does not pace itself as it does elsewhere. I longed to discuss our unique experience. Despite my wishes, and even without Andre there to tell me, I knew it wasn’t the time for scholarship, I had to choose self-control. “Soli Deo Gloria,” I said solemnly, knowing the moment was passing too quickly.

“Goodbye brothers.” Sir Gerard had stood, and began limping towards the end of the cavern we had not yet traversed. As he followed Xavier, he picked up speed regaining full control of his body. His sword was in hand as he vanished from sight. 

 The giant had failed at his task, but gave his life in an attempt to guard the creation I had learned was the Eye of Anilom. Without his presence, we may not have been able to witness what we had. He had fallen to the skeletons, but now rose once more. He appeared to be finishing an aggressive assault on his own body. Just as I could somehow sense the rider present in the leader’s skull, I could sense multiple riders pushing together against each other, filling up the giant’s skull, to control it. Their different colored bodies pulsing against one another, and their tentacles wrapped around each other in knots, they became as one. I had to work quickly. 

Thomas was emboldened with fresh zeal and approached the reborn horror. I quickly scooped up the satchel and used it to grab the skull, rider still inside, and place it in the satchel, and then the chest. I heard Thomas taunt the now skeletal giant. “You may have taken my friends, but you have yet to take Sir Thomas.” He was sacrificing himself for me, and relishing his unofficial promotion to knighthood.

The chest was indeed light, I could carry it under one arm, and once I rushed down the steps, I used my free hand to pick up my torch, still resting in the now burning brazier. It would be needed for the tunnels and staircase back to the surface. 

I turned back to see Thomas already in the arms of the skeletal giant. He was able to stab his sword upward into the mouth of the beast, but unable to stop the life-ending crunch of those huge jaws. I had seen the size of that double row of teeth, and did not need the eye of Anilom to know Thomas’s fate, or any transitory vision to know that in the past this giant had crushed other human bones in the same way.

The journey to the surface was difficult and long, but I encountered no further skeletons, or other abominations. I did not pause to read or explore, but ran on what felt like a supernatural gift of energy, possibly a lingering effect from the eye. Finally finding myself above ground, I was greeted by a welcoming whinny from Big Sebastian. Freeing him and the other horses, I mounted my own steed, Spot, and bid them to follow. To my surprise, even without Templar riders, they fell into line, with Big Sebastian leading the way. I gained a greater understanding of why Thomas had loved that horse so, and vowed, If I had the time, to treat him, and my own with a bit more love.

Later, I was met with considerable skepticism when relating the events of our expedition to the knights Alfonso served. Those doubts were largely overcome by a brief glimpse into the chest, seeing with their own eyes writhing tentacles emerge from the mouth of a shaking skull. Fearful the creature would manage to lure someone in for closer inspection and access a new body to ride, I quickly shut the lid. I gained more of their trust when various Templars lifted the impossibly light chest, with me closely watching of course. The magical seal was gone, but the Templars provided me with a standard lock. 

I have kept the chest beside me, Alfonso with me, graciously sharing his quarters. While additional Templars, as well as hired archers were being recruited to follow after Sir Gerard, I feverishly began writing so as to finish this letter before leaving to guide them on their mission. It has taken more time than I hoped, as I had to break for sleep; whatever supernatural energy I may have enjoyed is now totally depleted. I wish I had time to write additional details down, but must send Alfonso with the chest and letter now, for those assembled are nearly ready to depart.

Despite the evidence, skeptics remain here who seem to consider my account mere insane ravings brought on by the trauma of battle. Even having witnessed the strange tentacles emerge from a skull in an impossibly light chest, knowing no sea creature could have survived out of water that long, has not brought them all on board. Thankfully, after my arrival leading riderless horses, hearing my story, and seeing the chest, which I only opened for the briefest of moments, most are convinced of the veracity of my fantastic account. They need to be, and it is essential other responsible men are as well. I’ve heard whispers from the chest, and a guard down the hall, swore he heard his friend who fell in battle over a year ago, pleading for rescue. Sleeping near it, I have been plagued by nightmares. If it whispers to you, I pray you choose to believe this honest account and are able to resist its wiles.

Sincerely Baruch, 

Scribe and translator of the Knights Templar