Part One of Four
I couldn’t resist, little Buffone, the conditions were so perfect that it seemed like an invitation: you had obviously fallen asleep while drawing, pencils and paper ready to use; a storm was happening, lightning was flashing, providing my nebulous spirit a little charge of Earthlevel static electricity. So I touched your mind.
Still sleeping, your hand moved into position for writing, blank paper waiting for words. I knew what you wanted, you have asked me so many questions since that first time you saw me haunting these halls: Who was I? How did I become a Ghost? Why did I have no eyes? Why couldn’t I speak? What’s it like being a Ghost? You were not afraid of me, only curious.
Unable to speak, I could not answer, but if you will now allow me to steer your hand, you could write my answers yourself. Would you like for me to tell my story? Of course you would, everyone likes a ghost story.
I am a Ghost now because my string of lives has been dedicated to a ferocious ongoing conflict with that evil Satanic device known as The Head of Baphomet. We are traditional adversaries, going way back. But the last time we clashed, over 700 years ago, The Head would not be satisfied by my death, instead cursing me to be undead. Brilliant move, actually. But more about that later, I want to have fun telling this story, so I don’t want to spoil it by giving away all the surprises. Fun can be hard to come by when you’re a Ghost.
1308: ruins of Babylon
I was with a band of 66 Templars who rode into the ruins of ancient Babylon, trying to shake off the army of 300 Saracens hard on our trail. We were calling it a tactical retreat, but were desperate enough to flee eastward into the desert of Mesopotamia. We almost died of thirst before we reached the Euphrates River. Following the river north would eventually lead us toward Christendom once again, a route that took us past the ancient ruins of Babylon. It was as if we had been driven that way.
Most of my fellow knights were religious men, perhaps not all as devoted as I, but we had a good camaraderie and could still laugh together even through all the adversities we had suffered that last year. My closest friend was Gregory of Bath, an Englander. He was a good Christian but entertainingly irreverent anyway and was always ready with a joke. I do believe it was he who had coined the famous English phrase "Phuque 'em if they cannot abide a jest!"
But there was also within our ranks a knight named Ettorino Malatesta, who was universally disliked. Considering that we were supposedly devout Christians all, he had to be the worst Templar I’d even known. He was from a wealthy family in Rimini and had never really entertained any concept of poverty, chastity or humility. He was instead arrogant, selfish and scandalous, but his behavior was tolerated because he was one of our most formidable warriors in battle.
Malatesta was singularly obsessed with the myth of Baphomet, a pagan idol with supposed magical powers that would endow vast riches and power. He claimed to have translated a Sumerian clay tablet revealing that the original idol had been cast into the “tar pits of Babylon” and was insisting that we stop to find it. Our Captain, Guillaume le Breton, reminded him that a very large army was chasing us at the moment and we really should just keep moving right along.
Malatesta scoffed at the Saracen threat, as well as the fact that previous Templar expeditions had tried to find Baphomet without success. Or that if the idol was indeed at the bottom of a deep well of tar, no man could ever find it. “I shall,” he insisted, “I am destined to find Baphomet!” He was a believer.
I did mention to him that most of the descriptions of Baphomet were warnings about how absolutely dangerous it was, an artifact somehow capable of great evil. “And great power,” Malatesta countered, “it is written that he who possesses Baphomet can conquer the World!”
Looking back now, I wonder who Malatesta had been during his own previous incarnations: Alexander the Great, Atilla the Hun?
But as we approached the ruined walls of what had once been Mighty Babylon along the east bank of the Euphrates River, we were all intrigued to see the place, so famous from Biblical lore. We had kept watch behind us and had seen no sign of the Saracen army for two days by then.
We were deathly weary of fleeing from enemies, indeed we had been running for months. Ever since October of 1307, when King Philip the Fair of France had decreed all Knights Templar under arrest in the name of the Inquisition. He had levied charges of apostasy, obscene rituals, corruption, sodomy, heresy—every falseness he could invent—really because King Philip was so deeply indebted to our banks that he decided to get rid of us—and his debt.
Soon after Philip’s lackey, Pope Clement, issued a papal bull to arrest all Templars and seize their assets. Our members were being tortured and burned at the stake, our properties and wealth confiscated, and our old rivals the Knights Hospitaller came eagerly running to rob and kill us. We had always been considered heroes but now we were moving targets; it was unjust, it was dangerous and it was time to get out of town.
We had been 94 men when we sailed from Arwad Island and rode into Syria with 200 Hospitallers from Tripoli on their way to arrest us. After a few skirmishes we lost them by dashing into the desert. We had lost 28 fellows by the time Saracens got wind of our passing and sent an entire army after us across the desert. We spent over a week trying to escape them. Babylon would be a nice diversion.
So we went into the ruins, deciding it better to make camp hidden by the walls than being exposed out on the desert. We had been riding for days, needed a break and there was water for the horses. We pitched camp, then played tourist.
Downtown Babylon was disappointing: the famous Hanging Gardens should have been one of the Seven Wonders of the World but we couldn’t find them among the rubble; the once-great city was nothing but piles of broken bricks, truncated walls, impassable streets. Some of the larger buildings and monuments basically existed still: the Ishtar Gate; most of the Great Ziggurat; the Main Palace; the Lion of Babylon. However, the Tower of Babel was only a hole in the ground.
We really had no idea what we were looking at, it was all just rubble-- it is only now as a Ghost that I can compare my Guy d'Angouleme memories with those of Sassim Azharrz, whom I had been while living in the once thriving metropolis of Babylon 2500 years before. But as Guy I had no sense of déjà vu whatsoever, no awareness of having been there before, he was as ignorant and unknowing as the rest of them--except for perhaps Malatesta. Knowing what I know now I would have tried to lead those Templars far away from where the tar pits had once been. But then we'd have no story.
While Sir Gregory and I amused ourselves by exploring the famous ruins, Malatesta had no patience for anything but finding those “tar pits”. But he couldn’t. Uncertain if they had actually ever existed, or simply dried up over the last 2500 years, he was quite frustrated.
As night fell and we settled into camp most of us were satisfied with our short stay in Babylon, still keeping a nervous watch for an army approaching from the south, ready to leave in the morning. Not Malatesta, tirelessly wandering through ihe ruined streets, desperate to find his fabled Baphomet, ruthlessly cajoling his poor squire and several other semi-interested treasure seekers to help him.
Then he lost patience with it all. He stood up on the highest wall he could find, dragging his squire to stand beside him, pulled an ancient clay tablet from under his mantle, and began to read up a magical spell in some unknown language. This was shocking behavior to every Templar: magical spells being witchcraft, anathema to Christianity, punishable by the Roman Inquisition.
Even more shocking: that spell required a human sacrifice, which Malatesta performed by turning and plunging a knife into his squire’s heart. In that same second the old clay tablet in his hand shattered into a fine powder and was gone.
It was so brutal and shocking that every witness cried out, even though we were all hardened from killing enemies on the battlefield. This was not an enemy but one of our own folk.
Captain le Breton called out to arrest Malatesta, who did not resist. He had finished his spell and was now docile. He was in fact, exhausted, after having been frantically running around the ruins for so many frustrating hours, and few minutes later was sleeping like an innocent baby.
In the morning we saw that we, and everything around us, were smeared with black droplets of sticky bitumen. It was a mess—our hair, armor, weapons, horses. All of our once-white Templar tunics were spotted and ruined, we looked like a band of bums.
All except for Malatesta, who had been put into a tent, his “jail” for the night. Although stripped of his weapons and chain-mail, he was not shackled or bound while we were still out in the desert. It was enough to be considered under arrest, where could he go? So he came out of his tent, saw tar spattered everywhere and shouted with a grin on his face, “My vision has come true! The tar pit awaits us!”
It was easy to find: just follow the black streaks as they became thicker and closer together, until tar covered everything in a vast radius around a gaping hole in the earth. The erupted tar pit was just beyond the remnants of the east wall.
Malatesta strode into that circle—if one can say “strode” about wallowing through black glue, one sucking step after another—no one had even contemplated reminding him that he was not free to go where he wished. In fact he turned to us and commanded, “Come on, you bastards, we’re going to find Baphomet right now!”
We were loath to follow him into that sticky mess, it was going to be hard enough to clean the tar from ourselves without wading through more of it, but Malatesta had a way of taking command, and three of us found ourselves stumbling through the oily slag toward the pit itself.
If there was anything to find it was buried under a thick coat of glistening blackness, we could see nothing else. It was a dead landscape, nothing moving but us, the silence heavy. Until we heard a sound. A faint buzzing.
Like an insect, desperately trying to come free, although no living creature could have survived being sealed and smothered under that gooey carpet. We followed the sound until we stood above it, still unable to see anything.
Except for a set of horns sticking up through the tar.
We could not make out what it was but Malatesta grabbed it and pulled at it, the buzzing intensified tenfold. The other horn surfaced and Sir Alfonso took that and helped lift. An unidentifiable clump of something was ripped free of the clinging mire, heavy and hard as stone, the size of a large melon. We all four bore the weight and stumbled back to camp with it, not really certain what we had found.
All we could see up to then was a black clump of tar with two horns. Every man in camp witnessed in wonder as we cleaned the tar from the object, revealing the sculpture of a goat’s head with beard and horns. It buzzed contentedly as we worked, as if it were trying to speak, which caused many speculations. But the crowd became uneasy when the eyes were wiped clean enough to see that it was looking back at us!
There were angry murmurings when the Pentagram etched into the brow was revealed, a well-know sign of Satanism. Although Templars were accustomed to coming in contact with foreign cultures and symbols from other religions, a blatantly Satanic icon was almost too much to accept. “What IS that thing?” And, “Perhaps we should put it back,” could be heard among the troops. Most of them were becoming uneasy.
But not Malatesta, who was enthusiastically cleaning the tar away, leaning The Head backwards to get at the last plug of tar in the goat’s mouth. The buzzing came from there, but all we could see was a thin metal blade mounted inside the otherwise featureless wedge-shaped hole. It vibrated, making a buzzing sound, but we could see no machinery or clockwork to drive it. Malatesta swabbed it clean with olive oil and a splinter of wood, being careful not to damage it. When he was done he set The Head upright and stood back to admire it.
“Fellow Knights, behold Baphomet!”
There was a moment of awed silence, we looked at it, it seemed to look at us.
And then it said, “Hal-le-lu-jah,” with an inhuman mechanical voice, but quite distinctly, “2463-years, 257-days-and-7390-seconds-of-immolation-are-ended.”
Even Malatesta was surprised. Someone, several said, “It speaks!” Others crossed themselves.
“Of-course-it-speaks,” (in fluent Occitan, the Latin dialect spoken from Spain to Italy in those years, which we all could understand) “I-was-designed-to-convey-the-wisdom-and-instructions-of-my-Lord-Satan.”
There were cries of fear and outrage: “Did it say SATAN?” “God protect us!” “Abomination!” “Destroy that thing!”
Captain Guillaume le Breton took charge, “This is clearly witchcraft and that is an demonic idol! Sir Malatesta, quickly put some tar back into its mouth before we become seduced by evil magic words!”
But Malatesta ignored that order and The Head spoke an incomprehensible word (a paralytic curse from the era of Poseidonus). Guillaume le Breton was frozen in place, unable to speak more, or ever again.
“I thank you, Oh Baphomet, I have yearned for this day.”
“This-day-is-not-yet-done. That-army-from-which-you-flee-will-arrive-at-noon-to-destroy-you-all. They-are-quite-dedicated.”
The knights looked at one another, concerned, disbelieving, unsure. One of them climbed a wall and looked out over the desert to the south and reported that he could see no sign of an army. The Head commanded him to look north. “Wait--I do see a dust cloud…” the man reported.
It was a surprise, we would have ridden north, unready to meet an army of Saracens. They had outsmarted us, if that cloud was them. The knights were worried, but also suspicious.
Sir Alfonso dared to ask, “All right, er…Monsieur Baphomet, how can you know about that army?”
“Just-as-I-know-that-you-are-Alfonso-de-Vence-and-that-you-have-joined-the-Crusades-to-avoid-prosecution-for-the-murder-of-your-wife. That-Pietro-beside-you-is-your-sodomist-lover. That-the-leader-of-the-approaching-Saracen-army-is-Achmet-da’Ballah-and-a-far-better-man-than-you. And-that-the-man-beside-him, Urama-bin-Sharif, is-going-to-betray-him-and-join-us-when-we-defeat-them. I-know-all-of-that, because-I-know-everything.”
Sir Alfonso paled and stepped back, hopefully into anonymity, as did Pietro.
Another man, noble old Sir Theobald, spoke out. “You say we shall defeat that army? They are 300, we are 66..nay, only 64 now. We must retreat.”
“No. To-flee-would-assure-your-doom. But-if-you-ride-out-to-meet-them-with-me-in-advance, I-shall-undo-them. Then-for-me, shall-you-slay-them-all-as-a-sacrifice-to-Satan.”
“But we are Christian Knights of the Temple Mount, not Satanists!”
“And-yet-your-beloved-Christian-Church-has-betrayed-you-all. The-faithful-and-noble-Knights-Templar-are-declared-Outlaw, your-properties-and-wealth-stolen-from-you-by-a-corrupt-and-greedy-Pope-serving-a-lying-King.”
“All that is due to the sins of other men, not our own! We remain true to our Lord!” old Theobald proclaimed.
“Indeed, you-shall-remain-true: you-consider-yourselves-the-champions-of-Christ, but-have-been-serving-Satan-all-along. Your-corrupt-“Holy-Church”-has-spawned-the-Inquisition-and-the-Crusades: do-you-really-believe-that-your-Good-Christ-would-have-ever-participated-in-those-atrocities-committed-in-His-Name?“
Every man stood silent, knowing the answer but unwilling to admit it. This is what The Head of Baphomet does best: seducing with a Truth.
“But-Satan-respects-atrocity-and-corruption. No-more-begging-on-bloody-knees-for-the-forgiveness-of-your-sins, instead-shall-Satan-bequeath-you-DOMINATION-over-others. And-if-you-follow-me, that-shall-transpire-this-very-day.”
“Never!” asserted noble old Theobald, drawing and raising his sword in defiance, ever true to his Christian faith, “nor shall we follow this bastard Malatesta, who is a murderer and Satanist.” Theobald advanced resolutely.
Malatesta would have stepped in his way, even without a sword of his own, but The Head said, “Let-him-pass. Here-is-a-lesson-to-be-learned.” By then old Theobald was above the idol, swinging his shining steel sword down between the horns with all the considerable strength that stalwart old warrior possessed.
The blade hit with a ringing clang, sparks flew, the sword shattered even as many more sparks were conducted up the metal to the knight’s two hands and lightning consumed him with sizzling and smoke. All that remained was a charred skeleton inside a suit of chain mail welded into an upright statue.
Malatesta made his move, speaking like a leader: “You can resist the words of Baphomet and die, as old Theobald has demonstrated. You can also lay down and allow the Saracens to kill us all. Or we can heed The Head’s advice and become Masters of the World. Who’s with me?”
The Head instructed us: “Stay-behind-me, every-man, or-you-too-shall-fall. Now: charge.”
Three hundred men and horses were riding briskly toward us across the flat desert, but once they had seen us coming at them they slowed their pace. Not because they feared us, they had a smart leader and were saving their strength until we clashed. We, however, were charging like madmen at full speed, wearing our horses out, only 64 men--and a stone idol. The Saracens began hooting and laughing about the easy kill offered them, scimitars waving merrily. When we were close enough to make out the teeth in their smiles they could no longer contain their enthusiasm and also broke into a charge straight at us.
We were hardly so jovial, we were afraid—at least I was. Malatesta, however, was laughing all the way. He seemed insane, shouting “The Power, the power!“
Then we were among the Saracens, two armies a second away from crashing together in mortal combat.
The Head spoke a word no one could hear and the army before us folded and fell, sprawling in a tangle of horses and riders. All of them at once. We had to reign in our own horses to keep from becoming part of that tangle; the entire field was impassible with prone bodies.
They were not dead, both men and horses had simply lost their balance (Baphomet’s metal tongue had projected an ultrasonic shriek that stunned their ears, which at the time seemed like sorcery to me). Some had been killed in the fall or crushed under horses, but most were squirming and churning, trying to get up and fight, but without success. They were helpless.
We had won! We had survived! We all cheered for The Head of Baphomet. But what happened next was truly horrendous. The Head commanded us to build an altar in the middle of the battlefield and upon it sacrifice the Saracens to Satan one by one in pompous ceremony. It was pathetic: those men could not even walk, we had to drag them to the altar and stick them with our swords while The Head ranted an evil litany about The Glory of High Lord Satan. They had been our enemies, but were also warriors, knights like us and we murdered them like dogs. Except for those few who swore to join us as Dark Templars—and just as The Head had predicted, one of those converts was named Urama bin Sharif. A few noble knights took umbrage at this atrocity, could not bring themselves to praise Satan, and they too ended up as sacrifices to the Dark Lord. By far the most of us were confused by the ethical dilemma we found ourselves in, but were afraid to challenge the obvious power of The Head.
My friend Sir Gregory confided in me, his voice thick with disgust: “That was ghastly, mate, I don’t think I can do that again. It’s nice to win the battle, but we’ll end up losing our souls if we do stuff like this!” Other knights were saying very much the same thing, but there we were, out in an endless desert inside enemy territory.
The Head knew that and also knew how to use our uncertainty to its own advantage. When the sacrifices were done he spoke to us who remained alive on that battlefield: “We-have-committed-these-sacrifices-to-achieve-an-end: we-have-earned-the-gratitude-of-High-Lord-Satan, who-shall-now-reward-us-in-turn. You-Templars-have-been-running-from-enemies-for-long-enough, now-it-is-your-enemies-who-must-flee. The-old-Order-of-Knights-Templar-no-longer-exists, you-have-become-the-new-Order-of-Dark-Templars, with-the-power-to-exact-REVENGE-over-your-persecutors.”
That part of it appealed to us all-- we HAD been unjustly accused of Satanism, so why not embrace it? We had taken vows of poverty, chastity and humility and been ridiculed for them, so why not reverse them? The Head of Baphomet seduced us, just as our Captain Guillaume le Breton said it would.
However, over the months we traveled toward the Christian lands, Ettorino Malatesta hardly became beloved as our leader, but rather a constantly irritating dictator with absurd new regulations and mandatory drills. One day he demonstrated his official new Dark Templar Salute: a striking fist, straight-armed jab, shouting “Ave Satanas!” We were to repeat it and did so 1000 times before he was satisfied.
Afterwards Gregory commented, “What a stupid salute! Malatesta is such a boob, he pisses me right bloody off!” Everyone agreed, but no one dared respond to that, Malatesta was The Head’s chosen Grand Master and that was that.
However, The Head also commanded loyalty with fear. It knew what every man was thinking and how subservient he was—or was not. Any dissension, spoken or silent, resulted in a “personal audience” with The Head and hardened warriors were known to crap their pants under such a session.
There you were, facing a rock that looked like a horned goat, spoke strict words and killed with lightning. Glassy eyes devoid of emotion stared right through you, knowing everything about you and deciding whether to kill you or not. Every man experienced it at least once.
“Guy-d’Angouleme, you-have-refrained-from-partaking-of-any-slave-woman, although-required-to-break-your-vow-of-chastity.”
“Yes, head, sorry,” I apologized, ”I am only waiting for some woman whom I actually desire.”
“Beware-of-what-you-wait-for,” it warned me with no emotional inflection, “Human-Love-is-an-INSULT-to-Satan and-would-be-sternly-disciplined.”
We arrived at Rimini, where Malatesta’s family ruled. His uncle was Malatesta da Verucchio, a famous Guelf leader and quite rich. We were given a palace and had every kind of unnecessary comfort and decadent pleasure at our disposal, but the Dark Templers were to be far more secretive than the Knights of the Temple Mount had ever been and the city of Rimini was far too public for the kind of operations the Head was planning.
La Destinazione, 1309
The Dark Templars had grown to be about 120 men strong at that time, other ex-Templars we met were aching to strike back at King Philip and his puppet Pope, and if Satanism was the way to achieve power over a Holy Church which had so corrupted Christianity, then so be it. We rode up to the villa in small groups at night to avoid revealing the location of our secret society, now uniformed in black rather than white mantels, passing through the Italian countryside as if almost invisible.
The villa had been abandoned for centuries when we arrived, even though it was structurally sound and the townspeople knew about it, evidently kept away by some kind of spell. The Head commanded that we were never to trouble the townsfolk of that shabby little village down the road, but protect them and make them rich: we needed them to provide us with supplies and motivate them keep our presence a secret. If they betrayed us, however, we were to kill them, so they tended to be quite loyal.
I thought this villa very enchanting: the perfect geometries of the squared walls, the round dome, the jutting tower with pyramid atop. I had a simple room in the middle hall of the main building. Good thing I liked the place: over 700 years later I’m still haunting it.
But the evil fates of men we had to sacrifice and women we kept as sex-slaves weighed heavy on my conscience—I knew what we were doing went far beyond “sin”, and my Guilt grew every day. But I had learned that if one surrendered to regret and prayed to God for Forgiveness, the Head would know, as it knew everything else, and that one would become the next sacrifice. The rules were strict: obey absolutely or die. I endured my guilt, as did most of us.
But it was evidently even harder on my friend Gregory: “I can’t do this shite any more,” he confessed, “I have to escape this evil place, Guy, let’s get out of here--tonight!”
“Gregory, don’t say any more!” I whispered, “The Head knows everything we say—everything we think! It may already be too late…”
And already it was-- Malatesta was standing in the doorway with an escort of his special cadre. “Sir Gregory, come with me,” he said strictly, “The Head is awaiting a private audience with you.” As he was taken away Gregory sent me a final look of dismay.
I did not see my friend for two days. No one could—or would—tell me where he was, or if he was even alive. And then, there he was, looking good, relieved, smiling for the first time in months. “What has happened?” I had to ask, not certain if I dared to.
“Oh, I had a good talk with Our Wondrous Lord Baphomet, everything is all right now. Verily, everything is fabulous!”
“You were not punished?”
“I was rewarded! Baphomet commended me for my self-discipline and then let me hold its horns. What a feeling! I was tingling with lightning, filled up with so much vital power and strength that I have spent the last two days with the slave girls. I had them ALL, one after another, until they begged me to stop, I was like a satyr! It was fantastic!” After that Gregory seemed quite content being a Dark Templar. And he no longer confided in me.
Later, on a peaceful mission to procure provisions in the nearby town of Montevecchio, Sir Gregory suddenly commanded that every desirable woman in town was to be raped, and did so himself. When I asked why, he shrugged and said with a nasty grin, "Just following orders." I got a premonition he’d coined another phrase.
That was Gregory’s way of dealing with his moral crisis. I was disappointed in him, but every Dark Templar was required to be Evil—we had to accept that or perish. Death was the only escape, for those who tried to flee were always brought back—The Head knew where to find them--and sacrificed to Satan with extra special pomp and ceremony. But there comes a moment when you would rather die than commit the next atrocity demanded of you, and for me that moment arrived.
Tree virgins, sisters, young and innocent, heartbreakingly beautiful. The Head would have them captured in Verona and brought to the villa. They were to be a special sacrifice to Satan and it was finally my turn to officiate—to perform the murders. I knew that I could never do it. I also knew that I could not save them, Baphomet was not to be denied. There would be four sacrifices--one of them me--but so be it, I would simply have to accept…my…my…
Ah, you awaken now Buffone, I can no longer steeeer your hand. Perhaps you will allow me to finish my story later if...
So does Guy die there and become the Ghost? Well, this being Part One of Four, it might not be that simple. The only way to know is to CLICK to Part Two!
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