Faith and Knighthood
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"A Templar Knight is truly a fearless knight, and secure on every side, for his soul is protected by the armour of faith, just as his body is protected by the armour of steel. He is thus doubly armed, and need fear neither demons nor men."

Bernard de Clairvaux, c. 1135, De Laude Novae Militae—In Praise of the New Knighthood

It wasn’t long after setting out that the old familiar fear began to sink in. Long ago, his mentor had said that after facing darkness and succeeding, a man’s fear is replaced with courage. Sebastian Rodrigues, Knight Templar, knew this was untrue. He had faced darkness before, many times. Fear never goes away. You only get better at dealing with it.

Sebastian allowed himself a moment to reflect. He mentally checked his supplies and equipment, making sure he had everything he would need. His armor and weapons, though battered by time and usage, were still tough. His horse, Endo, with whom he had survived many trials, was still strong. His faith, which had kept him from faltering, it was…

The smoke was still thick enough to obscure Sebastian’s vision, even this far from the infected area. He was making his way out, to the nearest Templar fortress. He would be examined, and his possessions likely burned to prevent the infection’s spread.

With him was the town’s only survivor, a young, incredibly fortunate plague doctor. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time, attending to the sick in the dungeons. He hid himself within the stone walls as men became monsters.

On the journey back, Sebastian expected the standard questions. The questions that every survivor asked after this kind of event. “How could this happen?” “What other things like this are you hiding from us?” “How can you be a Templar? They were disbanded long ago!” But the doctor did not ask these questions. Their journey was mostly in silence.

They passed the ring of fellow Templars, tasked with controlling the spread of the blaze. Seeing them there, dressed in full holy regalia, finally prompted the doctor to speak. But he asked a question that Sebastian did not expect.

“How is it that you still believe in God?”

Sebastian hesitated a beat. “The world exists as a combination of opposites. Night and day, earth and sky, life and death. There is so much evil, so many terrible things in the world, that there must exist an equal amount of good in the world as well. That makes sense to me.”

Even through the mask, Sebastian could see the hollow expression in the doctor’s eyes. “Does that really make sense to you? Or, do you believe it because that is the only way you can stay sane?”

Sebastian couldn’t respond to that.

He shook himself out of his memories. This was no time for idle thoughts. On this mission, the last thing he needed was doubt.

In an effort to focus, Sebastian reviewed his current task. Messages had come from the south about a monster that consumed everything in its path. The Templars of that region claimed the monster was unstoppable; as ferocious as it was powerful. As the oldest surviving Knight in the country, Sebastian was personally requested by the Master to investigate. As resources for the Order dwindled, a lone Knight was a common way to investigate new threats. His report would determine a better way to deal with the threat.

Since this thing was supposedly unstoppable, Sebastian knew he could not confront the problem head on. But how was this possible? Even if he could stop it, was there any point? There was so much wrong in the world, what difference could his few good actions really make?

The soup was incredibly bland. It was clear that its maker could not afford quality spices or meats. But it was hot, and at that moment, that was everything Sebastian could ask for.

He was huddled with two fellow knights in a small, hidden room at the edge of the castle. There was barely enough room for a table and a few stools. Even if a fireplace would have fit, none of the knights would have been foolish enough to use it. Being a Knight Templar was still very much illegal, especially in this country. Some warmth would have been nice, but not nice enough to risk burning at the stake.

The other two were traveling companions, already well acquainted. The three had talked a little, but Sebastian wasn’t feeling social, and was soon left out of the conversation. A few key words brought Sebastian out of his thoughts.

The dark-haired knight was staring intently at his companion, as if searching for something. “…impossible moral decision. There’s no way to justify the alternative.”

His light-haired companion looked uncomfortable. “I don’t know. It seems like there has to be a better way. I couldn’t possibly decide.”

Dark-hair shook his head. “But, see, that’s still making a choice. Your very inaction would be a decision.”

“I don’t think I could bring myself to harm an innocent. It’s not right. There has to be a way to prevent the worst outcome without sacrificing our own souls.”

As the argument got more intense, Sebastian thought about the problem himself. He knew what they were talking about. Everyone who was a member of the Templar Order long enough knew of the awful things often necessary to safeguard mankind. So far, the Knights had been lucky. Though their actions were for the greater good, many knights questioned if they were doing the right thing. It was a question that Sebastian constantly asked himself, yet he still had not found an answer.

The two were almost shouting now. “It is our mission to protect our fellow man. At any cost!” “Our mission is also to serve God, surely he wouldn’t have us sin in his name!” “And instead cause the violent deaths of all living things He created?”

Sebastian knew the argument needed to stop before it escalated any further. There were plenty of men hostile to the Templar Order in the castle that would become curious if they overheard. So, Sebastian spoke. “Listen, brothers. Both of your arguments are valid, but your shouting them risks our capture. Please save this debate for another time.”

The dark-haired knight turned on Sebastian, “Well then, brother, what is your opinion on the matter?”

Sebastian sighed. “A long time ago, I would have given a definite response. But now, I’m not so sure. To be perfectly honest, I am starting to wonder if that is a question that can be answered at all.”

The decimation proved he was getting close. Great tears had been ripped into the earth, and both plant and animal life was broken and scattered around. The area was completely still, even devoid of insects. Sebastian had seen the effects of great storms before, and this was almost similar, but with one nagging key difference that Sebastian couldn’t quite place.

Sebastian dismounted, and guided Endo around the broken terrain. This also gave Sebastian the opportunity to investigate, and perhaps learn more about the creature he was facing. At first, the lack of actual evidence was surprising, until he deduced that the creature must be consuming most of what it destroyed. Because of this, he could not learn anything other than the initial reports had suggested.

After some time, Sebastian found himself in a small farming village at the base of an old volcano. The damage seemed to suggest that the creature was here very recently. Everything in the village was destroyed. Every structure and every plot of land showed extensive damage. There weren’t even any corpses left behind. Suddenly, Sebastian realized what made this devastation different from a simple storm. It was the deliberation. The thoroughness of the damage showed that the creature must have intelligently, methodically worked its way through the village, allowing nothing to escape destruction.

A mix of emotions welled up in him, but at the forefront of these was indignation. These people hadn’t deserved this. Logically, the best thing to do would be follow the creature and observe it, hopefully finding a safe way to destroy it. But no, he couldn’t. He had to stop this thing as soon as possible.

The path of the destruction led into the mountains. Like most poor farming villages, Sebastian suspected that a secret storehouse allowed the village to keep some of their money and supplies safe from thieves and corrupt tax-collectors. Likely, many of the villagers had fled there, and the creature had pursued them.

Sebastian began to formulate a plan. He gathered some of the heavy packs Endo was carrying. The packs contained a deadly weapon, one that the church had once claimed was sinful. It was his only hope now. Sebastian sent off Endo, and began making his way to the volcano.

Could he really go through with this, though? If he made his move now, it was likely that he wouldn’t return. He could just leave. Run away.

There was no sound now but his own sobbing. His hands hurt from holding the cabinet door closed. He didn’t know how long he had been hiding there. He knew it was only a matter of time before that thing found him.

Sebastian had always been a small child, and was easily able to fit in the cabinet. He had barely been able to find it, as his vision had been almost completely obscured by his own tears.

Everyone else was dead. They had tried to run, but as soon as they did, it tore them apart. While they were dying, he had hid. But now, he was the only one left, and it was only a matter of time. The thing was just outside the cabinet door.

“Hello? Is anyone still alive?”

Sebastian suppressed a gasp. He dared not make a sound while that thing was still out there.

“If anyone can hear me, please call out. That demon cannot hear, it can only see.”

Sebastian hesitated. He was still too scared to cry for help. But if he just sat here, he would be dead soon anyway. Maybe this was his only chance. Still choking on tears, Sebastian called out, “Yes. I’m here. I’m trapped. I can’t get out or it will see me.”

The other person cursed under his breath, but it seemed loud in the unnatural quiet of the village. “Don’t fear. I am a Knight of Christ, and I swear I will do whatever it takes to protect you. Give me a moment to think.”

After what seemed like an eternity, the Knight called out, “It seems like there is only one option. Child, can you ride a horse, and do you know where the Monastery near Campo is?” Sebastian said yes. “Excellent,” the knight continued. “When I give you the word, I want you to calmly exit your hiding place. I will give you a letter, and you will leave this house as quickly as you can. Outside you will find my horse. Take him to Campo, it give the letter to Abbot there. Can you do all this for me?” Sebastian choked out another yes.

A few moments later the knight called. Sebastian crawled out of the cabinet, his muscles aching. As he looked up, the horrific scene froze him. The stone demon was standing, unnaturally still, in the room’s center. It was covered in filth, and was standing on the mangled corpses of what was once Sebastian’s family.

“Please, child, you must hurry.” Sebastian forced his attention away from the creature and towards the knight. He seemed like some kind of angel, dressed in shining mail underneath a white cloak; the only thing in the room not touched by blood and grime. The knight was staring intently at the demon, and to Sebastian it seemed like he had frozen the thing with only his will. Seeing him filled Sebastian with courage. He hurriedly took the letter from the knight and made his way to the exit.

As he crossed the threshold to the outdoors, Sebastian had a sudden thought. He turned back to the knight and asked, “Will you be alright?”

The knight smiled, “I have faced worse things than this, child. I go in peace. Now hurry.”

Sebastian ran. He never looked back.

As he descended through the caves, the heat became more and more oppressive. However, Sebastian walked confidently. He knew what he had to do now.

Finally, the narrow tunnel opened into a much larger chamber. And there, at the center, was the creature.

Calling it a reptile would be like calling the sky a breath of air. It was similar, but so wholly different as to make the similarities inconsequential. The creature was devouring what was left of the village’s secret supplies, and as it did its flesh squirmed and rippled like liquid. It noticed Sebastian’s presence almost immediately. Without pretense, it charged.

Sebastian was a Knight Templar. He was at peak physical condition, and heavily armed and armored. He had faced countless threats beyond imagining, and lived.

It mattered little in the face of this unstoppable beast. Its charge threw Sebastian heavily against the wall. As its open mouth descended, Sebastian stabbed at the monster with as much force as he could muster. He managed to cut deep into the creature’s bottom jaw, but it was no use. The severed wound began to heal itself almost instantly. Sebastian dodged to the side, but the monster was able to catch his left arm in his jaws, and crushed it out with no effort.

As Sebastian backed away, the creature seemed to hesitate. The battle had only lasted a few moments, but already Sebastian knew he wouldn’t be able to last much longer. His ribs were cracked, likely at least one broken, and his left arm dangled uselessly at his side. Hopefully, he could last just a little bit longer. Just long enough.

The creature seemed to hesitate. Sebastian could almost feel the intensity of the monster’s attention like a physical weight. Then, the creature’s claws began to lengthen, and its flesh began to thicken and harden. It stalked towards Sebastian, much more slowly.

Sebastian had guessed that the creature was intelligent, but seeing it adjust its strategy was chilling. Though he was hopelessly losing, Sebastian had taken blows that would have killed him if it wasn’t for his armor. The monster had realized this, and was changing its attack pattern from brute force to precise strikes. One hit from those claws could kill Sebastian, armor or no armor.

A claw lashed out, as quickly as any snake or scorpion. It caught Sebastian in the shoulder, puncturing through his armor like it was smoke. With the claw still embedded in him, Sebastian struck at the creature’s arm with all his remaining strength. The blade did nothing against the creature’s newly hardened skin. Another claw strike hit Sebastian in the gut, and the fight was over.

The monster’s mouth began to shift as it prepared to consume Sebastian. Its teeth lengthened, and grew sharper and stronger. During this transformation, Sebastian managed to look at the entrance of the cave. Sebastian smiled.

The narrow tunnel entrance was full of magma. Long before the fight, Sebastian’s secret weapon had started it flowing. He had only needed to distract the creature long enough that it would still be underground when lava filled the chamber. Even if the creature did not burn, the lava would eventually cool and encase the creature in stone.

Noticing Sebastian’s smile the creature turned its attention to the flowing lava. The flow of lava was building speed as the pressure from the tunnel forced the magma through more and more quickly. Surprisingly, the monster did not react to this new development. It simply began to shift again. Its skin became much tougher. Its long body began to shrink, becoming thicker. Its appendages became squatter, and its claws became short and blunt. As the claws retracted, Sebastian fell to the ground, laughing now.

This, finally, seemed to get the monster. It turned back to Sebastian, and in sounds of severing skin and scraping stone, began to speak. “FAILURE. THIS WILL NOT HOLD ME LONG. THROUGH MY PATIENCE OR PERSISTENCE, I WILL ESCAPE.”

Sebastian coughed, “Not long. But maybe long enough.” The creature turned and met the lava, now pouring through the entrance in a torrent.

Sebastian realized now, what it all meant. His sacrifice would keep this monster imprisoned, at least for a little while. It would prevent more deaths, and maybe give his brothers time to find a permanent solution.

Finally, he was at peace.

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