MARS AETERNUM

Tim Tucker

The Crusaders were slaughtered like cattle.

The Templar knight could not believe his eyes. His men, hardened Christians who had survived numerous campaigns being cut down by savage Muslims. Bodies lay trampled in the mud under a great deluge of rain from the blackened sky. Around him the sounds of battle raged as fiercely as the torrential rain, drowning the world out in a cacophony of horror.

As he fought against the relentless pain and fatigue that assailed his body, his mind raced to make sense of what had happened. The Muslims had been clever, luring them out into the open to take advantage of their weaker numbers and lack of supplies. The Crusader army took heavy casualties until they were pinned down on the Horn of Hattin, what was sure to be their final resting place.

The Muslims continued their forward attack, appearing and reappearing like ghost through the drenching downfall. They were formidable foes, attacking the Crusaders on horseback and at a distance with bow and arrows, screeching in their heathen tongue for all to hear.

There is no use thinking about how it started. He decided. There is only the now, what should – what could – be done in this very moment.

He studied the battlefield, looking for something, anything, that could guide them towards victory. And then he saw it: a plume of smoke rising from the tent of his king.

Instinctively the Templar weaved his way through the throngs of battle and flung himself inside of the tent. The king was nowhere to be found, only a raging fire that consumed the Crusaders Holy Cross. The Templar dropped to his knees before the fire and did the only thing he could.

He prayed.

He prayed not only to the Christian God but to any God that would hear his prayers. A small voice in the back of his mind raged at his heresy, his faltering conviction, but before he could intone further a face appeared amongst the flames. It roiled between the contorting blaze, vaguely human and when it spoke, it spoke with the oily inflection of darkness itself.

"You pray for salvation, but you care not which God answers your prayers?"

The Templar thought himself mad, crazed and weary to the point where he was hearing voices and hallucinating. Composing himself, he answered the voice against his better judgment.

"I care not who hears my prayers, only that my men and I are given the strength to crush our enemies!"

"I will grant you and your men the strength and so much more…for a price."

"Anything!"

Suddenly the fire erupted in an inferno that engulfed the Templar. The tent was gone, the rain was gone, the battle was gone, only the flames remained, brighter than 1,000 suns but strangely did not burn, instead they imbued the Templar with a power so encompassing he radiated violence. He had not just become a harbinger for war.

He became war itself.

"You are now my vassal!" the voice said. "Do with your enemies as you will, but know this: there souls are mine, as is yours, and as are the souls of countless warriors to come!"

The Templars flames raged across the Battle of Hattin and throughout history. When a nation spilled its blood in Civil War he was there, when birds of steel rained death upon entire cities and young men lost their lives upon desert sands he was ever present, a grim specter of war whose bloodlust knows no bounds.

And when the machinations of man carve a bloody trail through the heavens and make the very stars quake he will be there, because war is imprinted in the very fabric of our species, and only the dead are free from his cold embrace.

WAR ETERNAL