I am a Knight of the Dark Templars. Yes, one of those sinister & mysterious agents of evil, devotees of the Great Satanic Plan, henchmen of the Grand Master Lord Anton Himself. A seemingly faceless and nameless minion in a rather smart black uniform, that’s me.

You would probably regard me as a heartless villain, a thug that does the dirty work for the most ruthless organization in the world—and it’s true, Templars do nasty stuff. But we see ourselves as Knights dedicated to a noble cause. Someone has to break the eggs to make the omelet. Someone has to Shape the World.

Our current project, for example, is the fostering of the Antichrist. After a false start and cancellation the call came in that the Baby Beast Project was back on. This took us all by surprise: I had been at the Conception Ceremony held at la Villa della Strega two weeks before, when everything had gone wrong and the project had been aborted —so to speak.

It had all turned around so fast—from flawless procedure to absolute fiasco. High Lord Anton had been raping the Virgin Nun as planned, we Templars chanting to cheer him on. But somehow Ulfo broke loose-- during his most bestial moon-phase, just about to become The Demon-- and attacked Lord Anton, interrupting the ceremony. And while they fought arose the smell of the Virgin Nun in heat, and we 300 Templars HAD to have her. Not that we were raping her, she was ravaging US! Of course, none of us minded at the time, but the meticulously planned conception of the Beast of the Apocalypse was a mess.

And once the Ulfæ’s Demon manifested itself we all had to run away, even Lord Anton Himself. From his helicopter we saw the Nun Mother leap from the tower to her certain death. And that was that, or so it seemed, we abandoned the project and left the villa empty once again. Only the Ulfæ remained.

The Ulfæ has been a problem for the Templars for well over 200 years. The Villa della Strega had been the original Headquarters of the Dark Templars for centuries, culminating with the inspired rule of il Barone Grottesco as Grand Master. Until the apotheosis of the Ulfæ, who became One With God and threw us all out in 1792. The Conception Ceremony was the first time the Templars had been here since then, and the Ulfæ was still a problem.

A few weeks after we had fled the villa Templar psychics began to sense a new energy, a powerful Urr-force rising up out of the Earth. They finally traced it back to la Villa della Strega and found that the Nun Mother was alive after all, and evidently pregnant with a very cosmic fetus. So we had to return and occupy la Villa again.

We returned as an army of 500 men this time, troops and equipment, helicopters and trucks, scientific equipment. The sleepy little town of La Destinazione shook with our passing through. Many of us yearned to stop in that nice little town and plunder the women—or the boys, we can be perverse bastards—but it was absolutely off limits for us, under the protection of High Lord Anton Himself. It was HIS town and only HE might plunder there. So the townsfolk were safe, but they looked at us with fear as we passed because they knew who we were from stories passed down for generations, you know.

High Lord Anton had gone on before us and had organized the logistics of our occupation. There were over a thousand rooms in that ancient villa, so we weren’t cramped for space, although everything was simple and primitive. No electricity or running water when we arrived, but we had generators and there was a bountiful spring of the most delicious water to draw from. Local supply trucks ran to and from La Destinazione for food and necessities, certainly making the town rich, so they gladly kept our presence a secret from the outside world.

The villa itself may well be the most ancient building site in the world, said to have been built by the Priests of Early Atlantis at least 12,000 years ago. Who knows, maybe so? It’s still intact and useable, has a classic correctness of proportions—walls, tower, dome, block, central fountain/pool—very impressive looking and a very useable largeness to it. It’s green with grass and vines growing everywhere, the buildings are weathered. It’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever been assigned to.

A hundred men were quartered on each floor the main building and we each had a room to ourselves. I’ve been assigned a room on the 4th floor with a view of the central fountain. Spartan, but that’s how I like it, just a stone box with an open window and door. Vines grow up the walls outside and into my window, like having flowers but without the bother. There was no furniture but we were supplied wood with which to build beds and chairs and desks, bookshelves, cabinets. We would be here for years.

This assignment was a great honor, to participate in the Birth of the Antichrist was to become a Shaper of History. More explicitly: the Ultimate Moment of History Itself, the End of the World, the Apocalypse. Our assignment was to protect and raise the newborn Beast. Or to control him, if necessary, until the time was right to unleash him upon the world. It might be dangerous, but every man there was willing to sacrifice his life for the Great Satanic Plan.

After a week of setting up, establishing routines, bringing this new city to life, we had nothing to do but entertain ourselves and wait. The Beast was nine months away from being born. Sometimes we were sent on missions outside the walls of the villa, but would always return, for that was our station and headquarters now.

The scientific department, however, had plenty to do: they were analyzing the energies emanating from the fetus in the Nun Mother’s womb. There was evidently a very powerful Avatar growing in there, a God about to become Incarnate.

As for the Nun Mother herself, Mariangela, she was perfectly healthy, having miraculously survived her plunge from the tower and three days being buried alive. It is said she had been in Hell those three days, and I believe it, her eyes were haunted and dark. She had met Our Great Lord Satan, so we respected her. Our primary assignment was to keep her from escaping, but she seemed resigned to being where she was. Especially after the other women arrived, one of them an old friend of hers, Lord Anton’s own tantric witch Eva.

It’s a good thing our 150 slave women arrived early on, the Nun Mother was not only beautiful enough to arouse any man’s lust, there was also always that wonderful smell about her, which I remember from the Conception Ceremony: it had driven every man crazy with desire. We all remembered that and all wanted more of her, but that was forbidden now, of course, so every man there was desperately horny. Chastity was what we had NOT vowed. The slave women were very welcome and very busy.

The Ulfæ could still have been a problem, but it seemed that he/she also intended to cooperate with our project—even the Demon. Lucky for us. Normally we Templars simply kill anyone in our way, but it did no good to kill Ulfo or Ulfa, the phases of the moon would bring him/her back as either God or Demon with more than enough power to destroy us all, one way or another. We were an army of scary guys, but he/she was a lot scarier than any of us, even when being nice and polite because we knew what was coming later. We didn’t fuck with the Ulfæ.

Actually, we got along pretty well with the monster-versions of the Ulfæ, since we were monsters too. But it became problematic as Ulfa approached her holy phase. Just as the Nun Mother affected our sex drive, the proximity of the holy Ulfa made us feel more spiritual, good, even Holy—which will generate a crucial conflict in the mind of any truly devoted agent of Evil.

But the nine months of waiting for the Beast to be born passed… pleasantly. It’s not often we Templars have time to live a normal life of peace and quiet, routines and chores, leisure time. We’re usually involved in some kind of war somewhere, some kind of violent conflict. In the villa everyone was polite to one another, even Happy to be part of the most significant historical event ever, which was effortlessly coming along with the swelling of the Nun Mother’s pregnant belly.

But then Theron was born and everything changed.

No one knew what to expect: scans and X-rays couldn’t reveal the embryo during the pregnancy, it was protected by some kind of firewall of energy that was driving the scientists crazy. They claimed it was distorting reality, whatever that means. But everyone assumed that the child would at least LOOK human, so it was a surprise to meet that rat-like, reptilian, ugly little BEAST that could walk and talk and began shouting coherent commands to everyone from the very minute he was born.

We had wanted the Beast of Revelations, and now we had him. Or more precisely, he had US. His commands were absolutely irresistible and he was equally irresponsible, out of control from Day One. He was a wild animal, a mean kid, a bad little baby with unlimited power over every adult around him. He could—and did --kill with a scream. He even caused an earthquake when Lord Anton tried to chastise him.

Oh yes, we all learned to fear Little Lord Theron and with good reason, many Templars died gruesome deaths at his merest whim. He considered us quite expendable, playthings for his entertainment. He was also angry that we were keeping him contained inside the villa walls at Lord Anton’s command, so we never knew when he would kill one of us to appease his wrath. Or just for fun. But we are Satan’s Agents and had to accept that danger as our duty.

Believe me, doing evil is always much more fun for the perpetrator than the victim. Something we Templars are prone to forget, since it is usually us doing the evil.

We could only serve him and hope he wouldn’t take special notice of us as individuals, it was deadly to awaken his interest and there was no defense against his power. Lord Anton could perhaps have won a fight to the death with the child, but he too had to serve Satan’s Will, and Lord Theron seemed to be it. The little shit actually loved his mother, but she was enslaved to him and had no authority. The only one who had any control whatsoever over Theron was the Ulfæ.

Lord Anton went away often, putting Captain Achmet in charge. It was he who had to negotiate with Theron every day. I knew Achmet well, we are both of Arabic descent and had worked together in the Beirut wars. He is afraid every time he meets with the little monster, but bravely does his duty.

I was lucky. Several times, while standing in formation, men right next to me were selected by Theron to play some little game of hide-and-seek, always fatal. Or they were suddenly attacked by him for no apparent reason, with claws and teeth and superhuman strength, also fatal. I always avoided his eyes.

But I couldn’t avoid him forever, and just the other day it was my turn.

I was walking through the courtyard on my way to combat training, when I heard his voice behind me: “You, Templar.”

I knew his voice, everyone does, but hoped it was not me he was speaking to. But when I turned there he was, that little shit, looking directly up at me with his lizard eyes. I was doomed, I knew it.

“I want to go up to top of the tower. Carry me piggyback.”

“Yes, Lord,” was all I could say, and he hopped up on my back. He wasn’t heavy, just a one-year-old child after all, but he gripped me with clawed fingers, like having a cat clinging to you from behind. I knew better than to complain about the stinging, it was better than being dead, which I assumed would happen soon enough.

I carried him up the tower steps, feeling fear, but also feeling his energy seeping in to me. I knew about the energy-auras of Avatars, I’ve served Lord Anton for many years and just being around his energy keeps us Templars from ageing, but this was another level of supercharge (of course I had never piggybacked Lord Anton). I found myself skipping up the stairs with power to spare.

Theron liked that, “Faster!” he yelled, so I ran up those stairs. I’m in very fit form, but that tower is almost a hundred meters high, normally I’d have to slow down before the top. But not this time, I was running on Avatar power! Theron shouted “faster faster faster” and I did. Then he started laughing.

Not a wise-beyond-his-years laugh nor his usual cruel cackle, but the innocent giggle of a child having fun. I had never heard him do that before, but then, no one had ever dared to treat him as a normal child. When I realized that I might have a chance to survive this, I started laughing too. We were both laughing as we arrived up at the top, and burst into the room. Having fun together, I hoped.

We were in the Nun Mother’s room, as far above and isolated from the Satanic rank and file as she could get, although she was not home at that moment. It was a simple room, much as my own. There’s not so much difference between the life style of a Templar or a nun.

“That was fun,” Theron said, still on my back, “Let’s do something else— I know, take me up on the roof!”

I laughed too, “Yes, that sounds like fun all right!” But looking around I could see that there were no stairs to the roof. The only way to get there was to go out the window and up the wall, then pull yourself up over the edge of the roof. We were a hundred meters up, so it WAS pretty funny.

Well, I did it, with Little Lord Theron on my back. Figured I might die trying, but disappointing the Beast of the Apocalypse would be certain death anyway. Also figured: if we do fall at least I’ve rid the world of this little monster.

Actually, we almost did fall. I’d gone out the window and found a few finger/toe- holds to climb up the sheer wall. The hardest part was reaching up to the edge of the roof while clinging to almost nothing. Basically, it was impossible, but I have climbed walls before in various assignments—mountains too—and there often comes a passage when you have to risk everything or go back…if you can. I had to be fast.

And I WAS fast, thrust my right hand up to grab the gutter before we toppled backwards, and caught it just as I lost my purchase on the wall. All our weight was hanging by one hand. Theron laughed again and so did I, yes, this was REAL fun! We dangled for a second while I was reaching up to get a grip with my other hand.

I never reached the next grip: the gutter broke, snapped off in my hand.

It happened so fast, as those things do, that time slowed to zero for me. We seemed to float a moment before we began to drop those hundred meters to the ground below. Even so, I had time to watch and wonder how little Theron could move so FAST.

He sprang from my back, zipped up my right arm and reached the edge of the roof, clamping both hands onto the tiles and digging the claws of his feet into the wall. I was beginning to fall, assumed he could only save himself, my arm brushing his backside on the way down. I did not try to grab him, Templar duty, you know.

But I was stopped quite solidly by something firmly wrapping around my wrist. I looked up and was amazed to see that Theron had caught me with his TAIL!

Even more amazing, he went up over the edge of the roof with ease, dragging my dead weight behind him as if I were the child and he the adult. His strength was prodigious. Well, I’d known that, but I’d never seen him use it in service of another. In a moment we were lying on the slope of the rooftop.

“Well. Thank you for saving my life, Lord Theron.”

“Yeah, sure. We were having fun, didn’t want to spoil it yet. Hey, pretty neat view from up here.” He was looking beyond the walls of the villa to the dry rolling hills of the outside world.

“Yes, we can almost see La Destinazione from here, just over that range of hills.”

“What’s the town like?”

“I don’t know,” I reluctantly admitted, “it’s forbidden for us Templars to go there.”

“Oh yeah, High Fucking Lord Anton’s private town. I’ll have to go there someday and screw with it just to piss him off.”

I judiciously avoided any comment to that, Theron hated our Grand Master and I would not say anything disloyal.

“Actually, I’d like to go anywhere outside these shitty walls,” Theron went on, “I’m tired of being a prisoner.”

“You are not a prisoner, Lord…”

“Not? You Templars are going to open the port for me?” He looked at me with anger flickering in his eyes, I could tell that this too was a dangerous subject.

“I’m sorry if you feel that way, Young Lord, but our orders…”

“Fuck Anton’s orders! I am the One Who Commands here, but no one obeys that one.”

“We cannot obey any command that conflicts with Our Grand Master’s. And the Ulfæ has made some kind of spell…”

“Yeah, yeah, I know all that. Irks me anyway.”

I tried to lighten the mood, “Besides, Lord, the world is not ready for you yet.”

He actually grinned, all those pointed little teeth. “No, I’ll bet it’s fucking not. But I’m ready for the world! I want to travel, see things, do stuff.”

“And you will, Lord. They say that you’ll be the Master of this Entire Planet someday.”

“Yeah, some day,” he said without enthusiasm.

“Well, neither one of us has been to La Destinazione, but I have been many other places, if you want to hear about them: Roma, Paris, Beirut…”

“Naw, I know all about them from these nonstop goddamn radios in my head, so never mind.” After a pause he said something that astounded me: “But thanks anyway. Nobody else ever talks to me.”

Suddenly I saw a tear in Theron’s eyes, and was reminded that he was only a child. “The radios never stop, do they?” I asked, although I knew the answer.

“No. And they drive me CRAZY! Do you know how AWFUL Italian Television can be? Game shows, talent shows, and all those endless fucking COMMERCIALS repeating forever and ever and ever…” Suddenly he sobbed.

I was shocked, wicked and cruel little Theron was actually crying! It was completely unexpected, probably as much for him as for me.

I am not one who comforts children. I’m a Templar assassin, a terrorist. I kill children along with entire families if that is my assignment. And when I do hold a child I become afraid that I will damage it. Of course the actual danger with this child was that he would damage ME, but I could deal with that.

I reached over and patted him on the back—very gently --said something stupid like: “There there.”

I was even more surprised when he responded by climbing into my lap. I instinctively hugged and rocked him for a minute and he accepted that.

Finally he looked up at me curiously, tears all gone. “What happened to your face? All those scars?”

“Smallpox, when I was quite young.”

“They make you about as ugly as me. Not many people are.”

“Oh Lord, you’re not…”

“Can it. I know how I look: scales, fur, dog nose, weird eyes and a mouthful of daggers. I’m a monster.”

“You are unique. Is that so bad?”

“How do you like YOUR face?”

I shrugged, “I’m used to it. But I was sad about it when I was a young man.”

“Ulfo says I have the power to change how I look, but I don’t know how to do it. It’s so fucking frustrating!”

“How do you want to look?”

“I want to be cute.”

I had to laugh. “Lord Theron, I assure you that you ARE cute! Right now at least.”

He frowned, nobody ever laughed AT him, but then he shrugged and laughed back. “You’re right, I am.”

I gave him a little squeeze-hug, he squeezed back, and we sat there for a while in silence, watching the sun set. It was nice.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Rashiid,” I told him.

“I like you, Templar. All the others are afraid of me.”

“Well…” you’re a pretty scary little shit, I almost said, but settled for “…you’ve been pretty rough on them.”

He smiled wickedly, “Yeah, I am a pretty scary little shit, aren’t I?”

I froze. Was he telepathic? Oh well, brazen it out. “Of course: you’re the Beast of the Apocalypse Himself.”

“Yeah, yeah, we’ll see…”

We went down from the roof together, a tricky maneuver getting back inside, involving swinging over the edge and aiming for the window. Risky once again, but we made it this time. I offered to piggyback Theron down the stairs at full speed, and he gladly hopped on. Down we went, laughing together, a man and a boy having fun.

When we reached bottom Theron hopped off, there was an awkward moment when neither of us knew what happens next, then he said, “Well, I’m going to go see my mom now. Later, I guess.”

And that was it, he walked away, and I went the other way. Trying not to run. I went up to my room on the 4th floor, collapsed on the bed and lay shivering for several hours.

A month has passed. I’ve not been that close to Theron again, nor has he sought me out. If he does, I’ll just have to go play with him, I certainly can’t refuse. And it was all right, really, I even enjoyed it, but it would be a risk every time. He has been playing “Werewolf” games lately and at least 10 Templars have been killed, torn apart by the monster.

I assume he saw in me a fellow monster. My ugly pockmarked face, my wicked history. Or perhaps he simply sensed that I was sympathetic to his condition: give any normal child that much power and torment him endlessly with a cacophony of radio waves he could not shut off, and I’ll bet you ALWAYS end up with an enfant terrible. Poor kid. But even so, I hope he doesn’t want to be playmates again.

Wait! Am I crazy? I have served Satan to bring the Antichrist into being, and here he is. Of course Theron is evil, cruel and dangerous —just as we wanted, he’s perfect! When he comes of age he will surely conquer the World, and I could be his only friend, his confidant, his Right Hand Man. I could have a share of all that wealth and power. I could Shape the World. I’m evil, I’m selfish-- so why am I hesitating to exploit this opportunity?

Because that little shit’s out of control and I’d rather avoid the crash.

(Templar Knight Rashiid is also featured in another AQ Short Story entitled MIDSUMMER KNIGHT, also found on this very collection.)

July 2009