At a site called the mont, in some obscure space reserved in the Highlands of Scotland, a centuries-old order gathered for its last time. The first of their two men, Dessauer, glanced the second, L'Ordre, a motionless predator in the rain.

Both men were in the shadows of the hills, with the glare of the moon reflecting dimly from the loch. The others from the Order were scattered about, motionless, on the ground, their trail of death leading only back to the drops from the tip of L'Ordre's sword, which protruded slightly from an arm of dark monastic attire.

Enraged, Dessauer's eyes returned from his deceased brothers to the browrn-hooded figure of the young disciple, the assassin of his own fellow believers, L'Ordre. In this moment, civilization receded, and nothing else mattered for Dessauer but bringing this murderer L'Ordre to justice.

Outside all that is modern, outside all the dull politics and dedication to God that had come to define the daily life of the Mont Order, Dessauer had the will to forget everything but revenge. He allowed himself to fall outside the present year, 1999, and slip into that rage - a field of red drowning out his vision and reason - as had been the way of the knights of the orders such as his own when holy violence became necessary.

Finally, after Dessauer had instinctively pursued his shadowy shape, L'Ordre was within distance to speak. It came to no such dialogue as it began. Nothing needed to be said.

In a flash, Dessauer unsheathed his own sword and struck towards the younger assassin in a blow only meant to kill. Before he could accomplish that, however, his blade had been bested and blocked by the other's own sword, and a heavy counterblow came from above that surprised Dessauer with its ferocity.

Grasping that L'Ordre's young rage had matched his own, Dessauer retreated a few feet. In an adjustment, Dessauer found that deflecting L'Ordre's blade was sufficient to throw the murderous younger assassin off balance. Dessauer thrust his metal for the chest of the killer, but to no avail. His own blade was pushed down, into the wet grass and almost into the soil, before L'Ordre swung a counterattack to Dessauer's neck.

Retreating enough to avoid L'Ordre's counterattack, Dessauer now sought to unbalance the assassin by employing shoulder, fist and elbow to reduce the duel to a frenzied melee. L'Ordre had prepared for this.

A spiked knuckle-duster emerged from L'Ordre's robed arm, with an impaling punch thrown at Dessauer's face. His age weighing heavily on him compared with his younger opponent, Dessauer's attempt to swerve away from the spikes was only partially successful, leaving his cheek bloodied.

The two retreated from each other for a moment, and Dessauer finally spoke. "I will give you this chance. God may reserve mercy for you. Let me confess you and you may find peace before your merciful end."

"There is no peace," L'Ordre answered, "if peace was the will of God and the Order, why the sword?"

All through the night, their duel went on. The pair climbed towards the shoulder of the mountain, tiredness not overtaking either knight, the creeping battle pushing both through a cyclone punctuated only by flashes of dim moonlight on their steel.

Neither had underestimated the other. Their holy battle consumed countless hours, with error interrupting their occasional sword-strokes but never the slightest sign of fatigue in their movement. As the blade protected his body and searched for weaknesses in the growing tornado of L'Ordre's strength and metal, Dessauer's mind searched desperately for a clue to his motives for such destruction and cruelty.

What had motivated such heresy, such treason against the gentlest and noblest religious brotherhood in the world? For centuries, the Order had sat upon knowledge it would never reveal, ancient keys to abilities long forgotten and later weathered down only into rumour. The elements of human ignorance had battered and broken the sway of the Order long before the turning of this one disciple to mindless violence and greed. Core knowledge had remained, if fragmented.

The immeasurably aged Master Qom had known the secret to an ancient power of manipulation over fire and light, and it was something L'Ordre had childishly sought since his scorned entry into the secret Order. Qom, it was assumed, had taken the last of that knowledge into exile when he had foreseen the capricious behaviour and treason of the Order's assassin youth.

Qom's disappearance had been without explanation for years, Dessauer remembered as he ducked a vicious slash from the unhinged youth's sword. L'Ordre could very well have found Qom and killed him, too, in attempting to extract the secret from him. Dessauer had no proof of that, but the possibility fuelled his rage against the youth.

Now seeing the overzealous strength and frustration in L'Ordre's efforts, as the rain ceased and a red, bloodlike glow began to emerge amidst the clouds of the horizon, Dessauer sensed his chance. Feigning fatigue, he recoiled, and L'Ordre plunged ahead to finish him. As L'Ordre fell towards him, he subtly struck the tendon in the murderer's left leg, and L'Ordre gasped in a breath more of shock than of pain.

The blade seemed to tumble weakly in surrender from L'Ordre's pale hand, but Dessauer's seconds of victory quickly turned bitter with what was to follow. In an entire life of devotion to faith and knowledge, never had he discovered something so shocking.

Although solemnly on his knees, as if just waiting in shame to be beheaded, L'Ordre regained a look of strength and composure, and it was upon the palm of his dueling hand that Dessauer's own gaze fell. There, blisters, swellings and even a shallow lick of bloody fluid had assembled from those blisters that had already burst, and Dessauer knew the meaning of it.

L'Ordre, surely, knew the ancient sorcery of fire. Qom's secret. The very craft of the first member of the Order. All the past hours, all the tiresome combat upon these slippery slopes, had been nothing but a needless game to L'Ordre. Until, that is, he had been bested and injured.

No sooner had Dessauer taken three paces in retreat down the mountain, than a flare of light erupted from that same scalded hand of the monk and glowed ever brighter and more wrathful. The hand that summoned the ball of flame seemed to be even more withered now, almost a skeleton to Dessauer's eyes. L'Ordre, with the reserve and zeal of a true believer everywhere on his grim face, threw that sphere against his foe. Driven by this dark lord, neither angel nor demon but of equal power to either, the flames pursued Dessauer.

Dessauer held his blade against the fire, if only to show a last demonstration of faith, but it was not enough. An evil fury consumed him. It was restless, with spinning and agony beyond comprehension as the fire drove through his robes and his skin, dragging him into the most tortured and forgotten of all heaps L'Ordre had created that day.

Leaving ashes and bone, scars and blood, thousands of years in the transmission of knowledge had ended. Centuries in servitude to the creator of the Universe had drawn to a violent and untimely close. The Mont Order was extinct. What remained was a shadow, a solitary dark lord, filled with hate, alien to peace, gifted only with a will to spread torment and fire.