In a lonely monastery nestled in the hills surrounding Rome, in the province of Salerno, a single window burns brightest under the gray and shivering
The monk creaks nearly as much as the tiny wooden desk he hunches over. His immense frame groans and shifts like an old house settling. Elderly
bones seem unable to support his girth, so he rests his weight on the frail desk before him. The sweat on his brow beads and slowly slides down his
face, past his pig nose and off the first of his chins. The tiny globe of water hangs suspended from a gossamer chain for a moment before descending
in a rush of mist and gravity to the page below. The bone-dry parchment soaks up the salty offering as a dying man in the desert might drink from a
well. It softens and swells as the water permeates the husk that encases it.
The monk curses under his breath and jabs furiously at the iridescent pool with the sleeve of his robe. The plainly dyed cotton can not tear the
moisture from the thirsty page, and after a few attempts he gives in and begins to write again.
The quill pen strains under his meaty hand, seeming ready to snap at any moment. He writes like a demon finally set free, as if the words run
from his mind even as he tries to bind them to the page. The nib slides over the wet spot, smudging the last word as he writes it. Again he curses
under his breath as the ink swirls and deforms in the moisture. The ink branches out along the wet fibers of the parchment, creating a spidery web.
After a time, the man gathers the page along with those below it, a stack that looks to be a few hundred pages at least. He straightens the
edges and slowly hoists his bulk from the chair. The monk walks in short labored steps across the small room to where an ancient wooden trunk rests,
and here he deposits the pages on a stack that numbers in the thousands. The pages shift and slide about, the entire trunk is covered in the
Walking back to the desk, the monk stops and looks up. His gaze falls on a wall cross that depicts the crucifixion. The monk crosses himself
quickly before touching his lips to the wooden cross that hangs about his neck.
"Abusus non tollit usum" He mutters under his breath, nearly brought to tears by the knowledge he bears like a mantle of stone.
The light from the wall sconces casts deep shadows around his eyes and mouth. He shudders once and shuffles back to the table, sits down
heavily, and begins to write again.
Moments later he stops, looking at the door breathlessly, trying to hear past the heavy oak. When no sound comes he again scribbles furiously at
the parchment, the shadows dancing about his face and in the folds of his robes. Then a sound comes. The sound of footsteps. The monk stops and
looks warily at the door. Then a knock. His quill snaps in two, splattering ink on the page and desk. He seems stunned, unsure.
"Cur tu me vexas?" His voice trembles, afraid that his time may already be up.
A young man of the cloth opens the door hesitantly. He peers around the edge of the door, viewing the room from behind oily spectacles that
enlarge his eyes. He looks down at his feet, then up again. There are tears in his eyes.
“They’re here monsignor.” The young man blurts the words out as if they pain him. It's as though he can’t bear to hold them in his
belly any longer. They burn his throat and sting his eyes.
The older man struggles to stand. The young friar runs to the table and helps the monsignor to his feet. The older man waddles across the small
room to the chest that supports the weight of so much parchment. The papers rest atop a piece of canvas, the ends of which drape over the side of the
chest and rest just above the floor. The monsignor gathers the ends up and twists them together, sealing the stacks of parchment within. The friar
binds the ends with a length of rope from around his waist and struggles to lift the heavy sack. He hoists it to his shoulders and looks to the
monsignor, pleading with him silently.
“Monsignor...what will you do.” The question is asked and answered in one breath, the young friar holding back tears as he looks upon his
mentor for the last time.
“Go, there is a carriage waiting at the foot of the hill that will take you to Florence. A man will meet you there. His name is Guiseppe, he
will help you.”
“But father..." The young man new this day would come, but had not been able to prepare himself for it.
“You must not be captured, or everything we have done here will have been for naught. Graviora manent. Now go!” The elder monk turns to
his desk, and after hearing the other man depart, kneels in front of the cross and begins to pray. He prays for the safety of his young friend on his
long journey, he prays for the future of the order to which he has dedicated his life, but most of all, he prays for the strength just to see the
Elsewhere, the clatter of footsteps on the weather beaten stone stairs that wind up the mountain to the monastery is lost in the wind's teeth as
it howls and hisses at the men who defy it. A tall, thick shadow leads the party of twenty or so up the mountain. His crimson robes flap violently
in the wind, tossing and turning like flames in the night. His muscular frame defies the wind that whips his men about like dolls. He doesn’t miss
a step, even as one of the smaller soldiers behind him loses his footing and plummets screaming into the darkness off the sheer cliff face.
The wind rips the hood from his head, revealing a long narrow face. The man’s thick black eyebrows are the only hair on his face, the rest of
his skull is shaved clean. His eyes are little more than sockets, being pushed so far back as to render them nearly invisible. He therefore appears
as a robed apparition, striding slowly but with menace up the steps that brave men fear in the sunny hours of the afternoon, let alone in the dead of
a howling winter night.
A crack of thunder resounds off the mountains, sending a low vibration through the earth. The robed man stops briefly and looks up to his
destination, and a momentary flash of lightning illuminates his eyes, those tiny black things so akin to the orbs nestled in the head of a rat. His
anger burns slow but hot behind the eyes that now see the path to the monastery is but a few steps away.
He turns and looks at his men, and as one they cower, for as much as they fear the night and the fury of the storm, they fear him more. He
motions to the gate, and the feet of the men grudgingly comply. The party creeps, like a centipede, through the last turn and up to the ancient gate.
The insignia of the Knights Templar is displayed on the oak doors, each the weight of ten men.
The monks gather nervously in the courtyard beyond the gate. They shift and look about, fighting the urge to run while they still can. The
knights being a warrior sect of the church, the heads of the chapter stand in the foreground, clad in ornate armor, each hefting a sword as tall as
himself. They stand silent and stern, the seven higher knights dressed for battle, the lesser acolytes dressed for bed.
The seven knights kneel as one and begin a prayer. The sudden sound of a steel gauntlet on the heavy wooden gate rouses them from their knees.
The eldest among them rises, and without hesitation throws the doors wide. The wind coming off the mountains tears into his face, momentarily
blinding him. When his eyes readjust, he sees the hulking form before him, surrounded by the windblown tendrils of crimson robes. For perhaps the
first time in their lives, these knights of the temple knew fear.
Unseen by all, a young monk slips out of the monastery and into the night, with nothing but a walking stick and a satchel strapped to his back.
He pushes his way through the wind, down the mountain, and into the inky blackness, carrying with him the secrets of a murdered god.
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