“Finish it already !” the barritonal voice commanded, “I can’t hold them off much longer”.
“Just one more minute !”, I said. The mechanism that lay before me resembled a canteen, but nothing could have been further away from the truth.
“Come on ! We have another one to go”, the voice replied, “and I don’t want to keep my brethren waiting for their prey”. Sounds of slashing and the occasional roaring thunder permeated the walls of the delapidated building in which I was working my magic, connecting wires and setting the remote detonation device. The small, flattened cylinder was aflame with runes etched into the material, giving it an unearthly glow. I only hoped that the demons would not be able to find it before it was time for the fireworks.
“I’m done, Thibault”. The sounds of the battle had already ceased.
“Were you waiting for the second coming, Templar Michaels ?”, Thibault asked while entering the gloomy room in which I had been toiling for the past fifteen minutes. He was a giant in black armor with blood red patterns carved into the plate. He carried a bastard sword and a shortened tempest rifle with which he dispatched demons with the utmost prejudice.
“Come on Templar ! It’s time to move to the last site and tighten the noose around the necks of our enemies”. I followed him out of the room, passing a broken mirror on the way. I saw myself for the first time after the months of constant battling that followed my joining the Order. I wore a light palladium armor, much more revealing than that of Thibault, but also more flexible and and adapted to my role as field engineer and gunner. My unshaven face had developed deep worry lines which, coupled with my sallow cheeks, gave me a fierce and harsh look. I struggled not to smile in front of my superior.
For the next 15 minutes, we walked through the ruins of what was once proud London, now a hunting ground for demons and Templars alike. We sticked to the very middle of the road, so as to avoid ambushes from within the dark and decaying buildings that one could find everywhere in London these days. Thank God for my little corner of heaven, Jubilee Station, home to hundreds of people, military personnel and scientists. It was from there that the Templars had initiated a huge mopping up operation that would clear the area of 90 % of the demon infestation. The plan was simple : two man teams would plant explosive charges heightened with enchantments in well chosen buildings. When detonated, the magic contained within the bombs would repel demons, routing entire “herds” into a bottleneck were dozens of templars were waiting for their prey. There was one more charge to set before the finale.
Finally, our destination appeared out of the dark night, like a crumbling giant kneeling to be decapitated. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why they had picked a building which could be toppled by a single rocket or a Templar with strength enchantments. As I made my way to the very top, the 7th floor, and started working on setting up the last of our presents for the hellsuckers, I found myself thinking about the man that had remained below to stand guard.
Thibault de Payens was an imposing man, standing 2 meters tall, with dark blonde hair and nordic fair skin. His face was a crisscross of scars and wrinkles, revealing the domineering side of his persona, an impression further accentuated by his piercing blue eyes, a blue similar to that of the sea right before one enters a storm, if I remember it correctly. It’s been so long … those times seem far away. We were all young then, even though we didn’t feel it. We basked in our own ignorance and were as lambs to that which is Legion. The Templars were the ones who offered to help and, after we refused them, they were the ones who were left to pick up the pieces. And Thibault was one of them. Not one of the hopeless, borderline suicidal, men and women who wanted revenge and whom the Order had adopted, trained and called templars, but a true descendant of the Grand Masters. Born and raised a knight in the service of good, he himself throw himself into battle like the Lionheart at Accra, his very being convulsing with righteous anger towards the beasts. I, for one, like to call it hate, as it is in my case, but the Templars consider themselves enlightened and, while we don’t see the real McCoy too often these days, they are still the ones who call the shots.
As I finished my work, I stood up to gaze at the city. The sight took my breath away. It was as if Hell itself had materialized itself in the distance, where the main Hellgate resided and columns of fire reached for the sky, covered by a sulfurous myst that few could withstand for more than a few minutes. As bitter tears started treakling down my cheek, I remembered the death of my wife and daughter, how they had been eviscerated in front of me and used to open a new hellrift. I am one of those who seek vengeance, for there is nothing left for me on this world other than the fleeting sense of relief and satisfaction that accompanies the death of a beast from Hell.
As I pondered these, I noticed something odd : I recognized the buildings which had been rigged to blow and found that they were in a semicircular pattern, which was nothing new, but that the opening of the cavity was lined up directly with Jubilee Station. That meant that the demonic herds would be steered directly toward the outpost, something that not even the powerful point drfense lasers couldn’t stop. The station itself would be overrun. As I raced downstairs, I started screaming in my helmet’s radio.
“Armsmaster Payens !”, I screamed.
“What is it ? Blood angels ?”
“No, sir, I fear it’s much worse : the blast is slated to send every demon in the area straight at Jubilee Station. Our calculations were wrong … we must abort the operation !”
“It’s too late now … We must find shelter from the deluge of demons”
“But, all those people !”
“None worthy among them, I can assure you. All of them are sinners that cower at our bossom after rejecting us for so many years. We will be better of without them. It is a hard lesson, one that you must learn, about making sacrifices for the greater good”. He turned to leave.
“What do you mean, you fucking wanker ?”, I screamed in my old vocabulary and my thick Cockney accent. “There are good PEOPLE there ! You can’t just abandon them without trying to correct our mis …”. And, suddenly, it hit me. There was no Templar squad waiting to make the kills, this had been his … their plan all along. I grabbed him by the shoulder and yanked him back and, in return, received a gauntlet straight in the helmet.
“I and MY people are tired of the endless struggle against the demons and human nature ! We have been pushing the boulder up the hill for the past three thousand years, only to have our efforts undermined by your greed, selfishness and debauchery. Our goal was to rid the world of demons, not to become eternal slaves to a whole race that pushes away from the truth with every breath it draws.”
“So you’re going to kill innocent …”
“There are no innocents ! The sins of the fathers are inherited by the children. The hundreds of years of persecution and hiding have left humanity to grow like a cancer and forget the old ways, the respect towards my people. This (and he gestures towards the Hellgate and takes off his helmet) is all your fault and it is us who have to clean up the mess.”
“But, why the bloodshed ?”
“We accepted you because we thought that you are not as blind as your people towards the ultimate goal, that you would understand our great ambition. The outposts aren’t ruled by a strong hand. Your military continues to manage them as if they were their personal domain, and people take for granted that which we have spent years building. The death of those people, while regrettable, is necessary in order to convince the others of the necessity to unite under the guiding hand of the Templars. We are through with merely influencing and suggesting. With humanity’s forces fully under our control, we will eventually drive back the demons and start rebuilding the world in our vision.”
“And what would that be ? ”, I asked, while slowly reaching for my firestarter.
“The demons came here because of the hatred, the technology that killed people and your ignorance towards the spiritual world. We intend to purge the world of any possible source of power for the demons, so they will never again be able to open a Hellgate on this world. Humanity will return to a simpler, agrarian life, devoid of any technology and magic. The ruins of the past shall either be destroyed in the war, torn down after, or engulfed by the forests. No more petty ambitions, no more distructive energies made apparent by the thirst for information and technology. The world shall once again be pure and without the need for us. Then, we too shall set aside tha arcane arts and technology and be absorbed by the new bloodline. The horrors of the past shall live on only as a nightmare in our collective subconscious.”
I had often wondered what the Templars thought about humanity in the last century or so, how they viewed our petty politics and struggle to reach new technological heights. Although I had anticipated their disgust towards humanity’s “downfall”, I couldn’t have predicted how much they hated our society. Having it torn to shreds by the demons was probably mana from Heaven for them, it made it easier to insinuate themselves into our lives.
“What about the Cabbalists ?”
“Their numbers are few and dwindling. We shall exterminate them when the time comes.”
“You realize that we are not going to take it lying down !”, I halfheartedly threatened.
“And who will oppose us ? The scientists cowering in the outposts ? The women weeping for their spouses ? The children who have seen the old world dying without ever understanding it ? They will welcome us as their saviors, just as they do now, and gladly accept the loss of their past, their heritage, in order to lead better lives.”
“There are others like me !”
“And all of them are fighting against the unclean ones. They will all die for it is their wish. They live solely for their vengeance and we shall see to it that they have it in abundance, at the cost of their lives. The brave are always the first to die, and they shall make no exception. Besides, we both know that the light from Heaven comes from the fires of Hell ! The demons are necessary for the cleansing, as are the pain and suffering. Let’s go !”
I couldn’t bare it. My face and hands went numb from the shock of such horror, and I felt as if I were to drown on my own vomit and tears. I opened my mouth to scream and lament, but no sound came out. My face was distorted in a grotesque manner, reflecting the magnitude of the despair which had enveloped me. I took out my Zeus rifle and shot Thybault in the back at point blank range. He fell on his knees and I could tell he had not expected something like that. But then, as quick as lightning, he pulled out his sword and swung it, missing my helmet by only a couple of centimeters. I fired again and missed, but the shockwave gave him the sprint to hide behind a wall. I did the same and our duel began.
For the next twenty minutes, we battled each other furiously. I was the better shot, but he had more magical abilities and also more stamina. His armor was barely recognizable from all the damage it had taken, but it was still holding. I took a Vulcan round in the helmet that totaled it
Realising I couldn’t beat him, I decided to try and make my way to Jubilee Station and warn everyone about the impending disaster. I could see the demons in the crippled old buildings, holding back, waiting to see who would win. They had been lured here by the scent of death, like carrion and, perhaps, they even amused themselves at our battle. I shot my Zeus Rifle at a wall above him and made it collapse. Not waiting to see what happened, I started running. After 20 meters, I felt an intense burning sensation on my leg and fell to the ground. I could smell my burning flesh and I dared not look at my leg. Thybault caught up with me, picked me up like a rag doll and slammed me into a nearby wall. He took out a thick-bladed hunting knife and stabbed me where the pieces of my armor were joined. The blade went straight up through my ribs and punctured my lungs, which began to fill with blood.
As my breathing started to become difficult and erratic, he grinned and used a bolt caster to nail me to the wall : one “stake” under each collar bone. The pain was excruciating, but I did not want to give him the satisfaction of seeing me. He muttered:
“Mongrel ! Son of a whore ! Did you think you could best me, who can trace his proud lineage back to Charlemagne ? I shall leave you here for the demonstp rip you to pieces”.
I saw his face and wondered how I did not realize before how hideous he was : he was as monstrous as any demon I have ever seen. His hair was the color pestilence and drought; the scar on his face was the river Styx; his eyes, an icy blue which froze the blood within my veins; his mouth, a deep slash on his face, with a demented grin which revealed the fangs of a predator. I wanted to claw at his face, to leave marks that no healer can remove, marks that would be recognized as human, so that all may see the demon lurking among them, the wolf between the sheep, and slay him like St George slayed the dragon. “Monster !” I want them to scream, “Demons in our midst !”, “MURDERERS !”.
It was becoming harder and harder to stay awake and Thybault knew that he would not receiveany satisfaction. He looked at me and , for a moment, I could see admiration and pity in his eyes. But only for a moment.
He took out a Shockwave pistol, put it in my hand, and said : “Leave this world as you intended to : fighting the unholy ones ! That is all the pity I can show you !”
And he turned around and left.
Minutes later, Thybault had just exited the danger zone, when he heard a yell of pain and of despair, coupled with the sound of a shockwave going off. Again and again, until there was no more. He carried on, and when it was time, he looked back and saw a light brighter and more beautiful than he had seen in many, many years, a light that spelled victory for the Order … and for humanity.
“For flies are we to wanton gods,
They kill us for their sport.” (MacBeth by Shakespeare)