From Beyond The Tomb

The Brighter The Light, The Deeper The Shadow - Jay Kristoff

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Connar Valdor
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Pain and Punishment

Post by Connar Valdor » Sat Apr 13, 2019 5:02 pm

Connar stirred from his slumber with the rising of the sun; his breath hanging in crystals in the cold mountain air. He had found an empty woodsman's cabin on the Italian slopes of the Alps and had fallen asleep next to a fire built in the meager hearth.

He knew he was more on the mend because hunger was not gnawing at him as it had been the previous week. The aches shouting for attention from all over his body reminded him that there was much healing left to do. He rolled up his sleeves as he headed out into the winter landscape surrounding the small wooden shack; the long handle of the woodsman's axe gripped in his hand. It was time to work his pain and angst into submission.

The first few swings of the axe against the logs stole his breath from his lungs, such were the sharp protests from his ailing ribs. He chopped at the fire wood left handed to better engage his shoulder. He had cut out the remaining stitches which hadn't already been broken the day before. With each downward strike of the axe, he looked over to see if the crimson stain on his white shirt was growing. He had one last shirt gifted him by Eless. This one he kept cached near the inn to help him be somewhat more presentable whenever he might see her next.

The more the images of their encounter the previous night replayed in his thoughts, the harder he drove the axe blade into the wood. He was punishing himself for ruining their night, the one respite in weeks that they both needed so badly to carry them through another week or more of trials and pain. He couldn't hide his injuries from her, even if he tried, and their presence changed the couple's normal playful exchanges. It was time wasted and love lost, and he blamed himself. He gripped the axe handle more tightly, clenching his teeth as the blade split the log, sending shards of wood onto the snow.

A trickle of sweat ran down his brow and into the cut running the length of his eyebrow; the sting in the wound letting him know the refueling of his body was helping him mend. Life, death, heaven, hell, love, hate...emotions and thoughts flashed before eyes with each stroke. I cannot, I will not be her ghost, haunting her dreams as she wonders for my safety and my return. There's only so much her heart can take.

The final arc of the axe buried the blade deep in the chopping stump. He surveyed the scattered split logs spread out on the snow-covered ground. He had replaced the logs he burned the night before more than five-fold. As his hand hung at his side, a small trickle of blood left a thin line down his forearm; the wound in his shoulder making its presence known.

After stacking the wood inside the cabin and along the small overhang of a porch, Connar pulled the gray wool cloak over his shoulders and mounted onto the horse's saddle. He had a day's ride out of the mountains into the fertile vineyards below. He hoped he was bidding farewell to winter for another season, though he would walk through fire and ice just to have another night with Eless. He wasn't ready to run into the abyss awaiting him.


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The Shores of Ancona

Post by Connar Valdor » Tue Apr 16, 2019 12:40 am

The sun was just beginning to cast its golden light across the calm waters of the Adriatic Sea. Connar was sitting on a small beach a stone's throw from the Italian port of Ancona. The Adriatic was oil calm and smooth. The rising sun would soon reveal brilliant shimmers of intoxicating blue. The color reminded him of Elessaria's eyes, the calming depths of azure crystal. As beautiful and peaceful the scene before him was, he could only think about how much he hated being here, on his way to a distant island, instead of next to her. He wanted to quit; quit the journey, forget the signs of the Templars, distance himself from anything that reminded him of gods, duty, or honor.

And yet, when he was with her, the beauty, love, and warmth that surrounded him couldn't keep his soul from begging him to return to his rightful place back on Earth. It ached and pulled at him every moment spent in Rhydin. His world left him physically battered and emotionally drained; he knew nothing else but duty, allegiance, and servitude. It had been a very long time since he could see the beauty or hope in his world. It was a place devoid of love, understanding, and peace. Anger simmered always just under the surface; he relished its release and the power it yielded to his private war.

The hood that had been concealing him in shadows was pushed to his shoulders to allow the cascading rays of the morning sun to warm his skin and hair. He ran his fingers through the thin beard lining his chin. In another few days, he would look just like the workers assigned to the marble quarries on the island exiles. The clashes between Christians, Ottomans, and Muslims made the isle a dangerous place for strangers.

He was pushing to get to Patmos days ahead of the secret assembly of the Templars; if it was a trap, as he feared, he wanted to give himself every advantage extra time would afford. He had been imprisoned and tortured for being part of the Templar Knights, and now, three hundred years later, the shadows of the ancient order were calling him to return once more.

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A Savage in Sheep's Clothing

Post by Connar Valdor » Fri Apr 19, 2019 12:35 am

The merchant ship glided silently through the sea, cutting its way along the coast of Greece. The boat was loaded with spice traders, mercenaries, religious pilgrims, and an assortment of over travelers seeking to leave their troubles on the shores of Italy.

Connar had traded in his finer clothes and cloak for a simple laborer's shirt and pants; his feet now clad in deerskin boots. His sword was concealed within his bedroll which he kept slung across his back. The only visible weapon was a long fisherman's knife tucked under his belt. He sat near the windy bow of the boat, his back against a stack of netted cargo.

Despite his attempts to blend in, he had captured the attention of a trio of men who had spent the better part of the afternoon looking across the boat's deck at the lone traveler. As day slowly turned to eve, the men approached Connar, convinced that he was, in fact, alone.

The first of them, a wirey man with dark, deep-set eyes crouched in front of Connar. His ragged teeth were partially hidden beneath a mustache and beard which hung well past his lips and chin. "Buonasera...My friends and I were wondering," the man began speaking Italian with a heavy Turkish accent, "if you have anything of value you might like to sell to pay for the rest of your journey."

Connar's Italian, learned while serving at the height of the Holy Roman Empire, was proper, if not ancient sounding, "Vorrei essere lasciato solo. Ye would be best served to forget ye ever saw me." He looked up to the two men standing and then to the man crouching before him. Connar had one chance left to see Eless before the meeting of the Templars, assuming the portal on Greece was still there and functioning. He wasn't about to let a band of thieves put that in jeopardy.

"Vedi," the man began, with breath that wreaked of rot and garlic, "you need to pay for the rest of your voyage if you wish to arrive in...well, this boat. We're here to collect our fee."

He looked up to his companions, one of whom spoke in Greek, "Eínai énas arouraíos...he his running from something. Look at his face; someone has already softened him up for us. Let's gut him now and be done with it."

Connar looked up at the man, responding in Greek first, "Prosochí fílo, the stars are not in your favor tonight. Ye best quit while you're still able." The men looked at each other in surprise before Connar spoke again, "Veya kendi dilinizde...or in Turkish, if ye prefer to speak in your mother's tongue."

As the crouching man stood, Connar rose to his feet as well. The three men tightened the circle around him, the leader grabbing Connar by the shirt. "We know who you are, mon ami."

Connar snarled back at him, "Ye have no idea of the trouble ye are stirring, friend. If ye truly knew me for what I am, ye would have stayed very far away."

One of the other men, speaking to his companions in Turkish, chimed in, "He probably got those scars falling from his horse. Our sisters can grow thicker beards than what he wears. He's a prissy nobleman hiding from his pampered life."

"Ben bir barbar," Connar answered him back through clenched teeth, "I am a savage, a barbarian. The only thing ye will find here tonight is death."

The leader laughed as he glanced to his companions and then pointed to the slender knife in Connar's belt. "With this? You think you can kill us all with a grandmother's knife?" The men behind him had their hands on sword hilts as the taunting escalated.

"When it's over, Connar began as he raised his voice and tightened the strap securing the bedroll to his back, "ye will wish I had used the knife." His words were drawing the attention of the other passengers nearby. "Ye best walk away now or start praying to Kayra for deliverance."





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Precious Gift of Time

Post by Connar Valdor » Tue Apr 23, 2019 2:02 am

The port city of Ermoupoli faded into the distance as the small merchant ship set sail once more heading East into the maze of islands dotting the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey. There were a few new passengers on the ship and a few others whose journey ended in one of the previous Greecian ports. Connar sat alone near the ship's bow gazing into the shimmering distance ahead. He glanced down at the blood stains on his deerskin boots and was somewhat grateful that he didn't have to fully make good on his threats; the wirey leader of the trio had to be helped from the ship being barely able to breathe with a crushed larynx and broken eye socket. The other two men were at least able to walk away under their own power, though just barely so.

Connar had the good fortune to spend several hours with Elessaria; he was able to find a portal on Greece while the boat was docked for the night. It was precious time to him, more valuable than any treasure Earth could bestow upon him. The empath was carrying worries and burdens which taxed her energy. He tried his best to be the diversion she needed. He found, however, that there were other distractions for her as well; a subtle reminder that he was ever the stranger in the distant realm. Melancholy would serve as his travel companion for the final leg of the voyage to Patmos and the reunion of the Templar Knights.

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Island of Exiles

Post by Connar Valdor » Thu Apr 25, 2019 3:01 am

The island of Patmos was a tiny dot of white and gray stone jutting up from the bottom of the Aegean Sea. Its harsh and barren landscape offered little protection from the beating rays of the sun or the wind which always seemed to be blowing. Like most of the small islands littering the sea off the coast of Turkey, one could walk the entire isle in half a day or less. There was nothing appealing about the place; even the small outcropping of a tiny village appeared to be leaning toward the sea, seeking its escape.

During the reign of the Roman empire over the area, Patmos served as the place enemies of the emperor were sent to live in exile. Most were forced to work in the mines scarring the small island's surface. John, the brother of James and a disciple then apostle of the early Christian church, was just such an exile. It was here that the last remaining member of Jesus' ordained leaders penned the script known as Revelations. A small cave dug out of the limestone and marble quarry where he wrote the manuscript had become a shrine to the man now call John the Revelator. Pilgrims the world over came to the small grotto to pay their devotions and seek their own divine inspiration.

In the years following the Crusades in the Holy Land, the Knights had used some of their spoils to build a fortress-like monastery dedicated to the Revelator on one of the taller hills on Patmos; its white alabaster walls shimmering like a beacon to travelers far and wide. The visitors to the holy sites, along with those seeking trade in the products of the mines, were the only reason anyone would choose to live here. The permanent residents of Patmos were as hard and calloused as the desolate, unforgiving island.

Connar arrived three days before the foreordained meeting of the Templar Knights. He blended in with the merchants and pilgrims filing off the ship and onto the rocky shore of the island. He felt eyes upon him at every turn, but he couldn't discover the source of his malaise. He moved slowly through the streets of the tiny village, purchasing dried meat, firewood, and a crust of bread from an elderly shopkeeper. People moved with deliberate haste, not making eye contact as they moved past each other on the narrow, dusty cobbled paths. There were no children to be seen anywhere; Patmos was a prison without walls or bars.

Small tents and camps occupied any flat ground near the famous grotto, which had taken on the name the Cave of the Apocalypse. Connar, like the other less-fortunate travels, found a small niche among the rocks on the sloping hillside a short distance away. As the sun began to set, the air took on a sharp chill, and he busied himself making a small stone enclosure in which to build a fire. His thoughts turned to the warmth of a stone hearth so very far away and the woman who safeguarded his heart. Like a ship anchored in an angry storm, his dream of being with her had become a jagged wall upon which he was battered and broken. As the breeze lifted dust and ash into the air, he closed his eyes, imaging her fingers brushing his skin and moving through his wind-swept hair. He didn't deserve her and her love, at least that is what he told himself. Connar felt like he was living on borrowed time, that any moment the reckoning for their love would be required at his hand, an atonement for the debt amassed over years lost in her embrace.


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Fire in the Wind

Post by Connar Valdor » Fri Apr 26, 2019 2:30 am

The jewel-like stars hanging thick in the night sky made up for the beauty lacking on the rock-strewn ground on Patmos. The stars reached on forever. It made Connar wish he could share the awe-inspiring view with Eless. It also caused him to wonder why they rarely ventured outside of the inn to enjoy star-lit skies in Rhydin during the warmer weather. He finished the rest of his dried meat and bread as he stoked the fire at his feet, the flames casting warmth and a golden glow across his face and skin.

The wind was whipping through the rocks, stirring up ash and glowing embers into the air. Temperatures fell during the night, robbing the ground of any heat it once held. Connar looked out over the small campfires scattered across the hillside as the wind caused some flames to burn brighter while other campfires were snuffed out. One meager campfire had captured Connar's attention. He watched as a huddled form struggled in vain to shield his fire from the unrelenting wind. The campfire went out, sinking the man into inky blackness.

Connar gathered up his bedroll along with a small bundle of firewood and navigated the rock-strewn hillside toward the man who was leaning over his smoldering twigs and sticks. The man looked up at Connar's silhouette against the night sky, "Yardım et. Please...can you help me?" the man spoke in Turkish with a voice feebled by age and fatigue. Connar could not see his face or make out any more than the rough outline of the man's tattered, hooded robe.

"Barış, I am here to help," Connar said as he set the bedroll and logs to the ground and began moving rocks around the small firepit to provide a break from the wind. He used a bit of cloth to produce a flame from the few embers that remained lit and soon had the beginnings of a small fire.

The man sat up slowly, having to brace himself against a large stone to keep from falling over. As the fire grew in brightness, Connar looked at the man's hands. They were ghastly white and festered with boils. The pasty skin seemed to barely cling to the bone. The man was a leper; Connar had seen the manifestations of the disease many times before. It was a merciless affliction that tormented its victims until their last breath.

As the fire crackled to life, Connar added a few larger logs which immediately brightened and warmed the area. The man tried to conceal his hands and pulled at the hood covering his face. "I have been pronounced clean, kind sir. Do not fear me." His voice rasped with advanced age and the ravages of the disease as he spoke, the air wheezing from his chest with each breath.

Connar reached over and placed his hand lightly on the man's arm. "God's speed; I do not fear you."

The man studied Connar's face in the light cast from the fire. "My name is Klaus. I have come to pay my devotions to St. John..." he motioned to a long candle lying near his bundled feet, "...and then I die."

Connar gave a soft chuckle. "My name is Connar. We seem to be on a similar quest," he said as he turned his attention to the fire and the items scattered about Klaus' encampment. A small metal pot and cup along with a flask made from a goat's bladder were lying on the ground next to a few bundles of dried leaves. "Can I help you with your tea?"

The man leaned forward, gazing up at Connar. "Oh, kind sir, I would be most pleased. You know Turkish tea...how to fashion it?" Given the advanced state of the man's disease, his sense of taste might be the only bit of humanity left to him.

"I have seen it made a time or two. You let me know if I err from the correct path in its making, very well?" Klaus gave an eager nod and coughed, covering his mouth with his sleeve. Connar poured water from the flask into the small pot and a tinier portion into the cup and set them on a stone near the fire. He took a pinch of the dried tea leaves and crushed them in the palm of his hand with his fingers.

As he was looking for something on the ground, Klaus extended his hand toward him, an ornate silver ball dangled from a thin chain. "You will need this."

Connar smiled and took the ornately carved strainer, holding it up to the firelight. "This is very beautiful. Tis almost a shame to put tea in it."

Klaus laughed through sputtered coughs. "It was made to perform just that duty, Connar. You wouldn't rob it of its destiny, would you?"

Connar gave a slow nod as he slid the tiny clasp, opening the silver strainer and placing the tea leaves inside. "I have learned that it is futile to fight against duty. We best let it serve its purpose with honor."

As the tea in the silver ball was added to the boiling water in the small cup, Connar watched it tumble and roll until the water turned a rich, deep red. Without having to ask, Klaus spoke, telling Connar just how he liked his tea, "Kuvvetli...I take it strong, if you please."

With a chuckle and nod, Connar removed the ball and added water from the pot to the cup, the rich aroma of the tea rising to his nose. He wrapped a cloth around the cup, and extended the steaming vessel into Klaus' trembling hands. Connar steadied the cup until Klaus held it securely, seeing a smile come to the man's festering face as the steam radiated from the tea. He looked at Connar with deep brown eyes which were defiant of the disease robbing his body of life, "Teşekkür ederim...thank you."

Connar leaned his back against a large stone and watched Klaus savor the tea sip by sip like a condemned man making the most of his last meal. The two men talked into the night, sharing stories of their travels, their loves, and their faith.

Klaus laid on the ground close to the fire, begging Connar for another story. His breathing was slow and labored belying the peaceful expression on his face. Connar told him about the wonders of the new world, the pristine beauty and majesty of a land yet unspoiled by man's touch filled with giant trees, deep canyons, and towering mountains.

"I very much would like to see this land. We shall share tea there together," Klaus said as he drifted off to his final slumber.

Connar spoke softly, looking from the man's motionless form up into the star-filled sky, "We shall, my friend, we shall."

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Cave of the Apocalypse

Post by Connar Valdor » Sun Apr 28, 2019 12:01 am

Black smoke billowed from a small campfire, staining the early morning sky. Connar’s sword had been coated in a thin liquid film which dripped onto the fire, each drop drawing sooty smoke and flames from the pit. He slowly turned the blade over the fire causing the weapon to be covered in a solid black coat from tip to hilt. It was an ancient process once used to preserve metals from rust and corrosion when stored in the earth. It was also employed to conceal gold and silver treasures from prying eyes.

As the liquid coating on the sword hardened over the fire’s smoke, it hardly resembled its true form. Connar leaned the blackened steel against a stone allowing it to finish curing as busied himself crushing bits of limestone into a coarse powder within a makeshift marble bowl. Beads of sweat ran down his face, streaking through the soot covering his skin. The sun would be high in the cloudless blue sky before he had finished his labors.

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A lone figure in a tattered brown robe shuffled slowly up the worn path toward the cave of the Revelator, a thin candle clutched in his hand. His hands were bone white and covered in lumps and festering flesh. The hood saved onlookers from the diseased head they imagined to be hiding underneath. His bandaged feet stirred up clouds of dust as he approached the entrance of the cave. At sunset, just before the shrine was closed for the day, the infirm and diseased were allowed to enter. On this eve, the afflicted man walked through the double doors and into the small cavern alone; there were none wanting to share the confined space with him.

Over the centuries, the Cave of the Apocalypse had been converted into a small church and shrine in the memory of the apostle named John. What was formally the starting of a marble quarry, was now a modest dugout in the stone face of the hillside. A facade had been added to the outer walls, and the opening of the cave now had doors and archway. Once inside, most people could not walk upright; the ceiling was low with rock and marble slabs appearing as if ready to fall upon the heads of visitors.

It was a cave in every sense of the word. There was only one way in and out of the long narrow room. Candles lined every wall and every corner was covered in golden candelabras and years of melted wax. The ceiling and walls were charred black by a millennia of soot from oil lanterns and candles. A long wooden table filled the center of the room. A dozen ornate chairs carved from dark wood surrounded the table; like many of the precious items filling the cave, they were souvenirs from the multiple crusades to the east. An alter had been constructed at the far end of the cave where a large mosaic paid homage to the Revelator and the scripture he penned within the small grotto.

The clergy assigned to maintaining the cave waited patiently for the last visitor of the day the exit the shrine. After several minutes, the man's hunched form and shuffling bandage feet reappeared at the entrance; his candle having been added to the dozens of tiny flames casting flickering light inside the otherwise darkened cavern. He offered rasping words of thanks in Greek to the attending friars as he ambled slowly back down the path to the pilgrim camps below.

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Death of a Templar

Post by Connar Valdor » Wed May 01, 2019 11:06 pm

Connar watched the sun slip slowly below this distant western horizon. The Aegean Sea was calm and the air was deathly still. Midnight and the appointment with the Templars was still several hours away which only added to the malaise growing inside him. Scattered campfires flickered all around on the hillside, but he chose to sit in the growing darkness, struggling to focus despite the thoughts darting in and out of his mind.

The last such time he had answered the veiled invitation to a meeting of the Templar Knights it had been a trap orchestrated by the Vatican and King Philip of France. A handful of the Templars had taken the trust and power given them for personal gain and to exploit their own vices and deviant desires. The taint had spread to the entire brotherhood. The Church and rulers had captured a few of the unscrupulous knights and extracted the secrets of the order from them. Their tongues, like their adherence to the high standards of the Templars, were easily loosed.

As the men gathered in a small church, an army assembled by Philip and Pope Clement V, descended from the shadows and arrested every Templar Knight in sight. Seeking to create a reason to disband the Knights and incite public contempt for the order, the tortures began. Many of the men confessed to crimes against God and the church to save their lives. King Philip and the Pope pressured other kings and governments to arrest any known Templars and remit them to torture, trial, and swift judgment.

Connar turned his hands slowly, looking down at his wrists remembering his treatment as a prisoner of the church and state. A long spike had been driven into his wrists and passed through the end of a chain, enabling his captors to hang him from the ceiling of the prison cell. His body was cut with knives, seared by hot irons, and beaten with rods and whips. He yielded to them only his sweat and blood over the days and weeks in their care. Like all the Knights who refused to confess to alleged crimes, he was sentenced to die.

Fire burned in his hazel eyes as he looked up at the brilliant blanket of stars hanging in the night sky. He desperately wished to see the Lady of Evandar in the heavenly lights above. He yearned for any excuse to abandon his futile quest and flee to her side. Every instinct in his body affirmed his fear that he was walking into another trap, but the unspoken questions would not go away: Why, after 300 years, did the secret call go out for the order to assemble and who was its messenger?

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Flesh and Bones

Post by Connar Valdor » Sat May 04, 2019 4:17 am

The midnight hour came on a quiet breeze. Connar stood on the hillside looking down upon the entrance to the Cave of the Apocolypse. No one had stirred outside the closed doors since day turned to night. He decided to tarry a little while longer; if he were walking into a trap, the prey could stand to await his arrival.

He wished there were hilts at his side upon which to rest his hands, but Templar rules forbade weapons of any kind to be carried into their secret meetings. It was an ancient edict of trust among the brotherhood, but one that left them vulnerable as well. Men, like the Knights Templar, lived life on a knife's edge.

There were no guards posted at the doors, no sentries keeping unwanted visitors away. As he pulled at the handle, the door swung effortlessly open. The entryway to the cavern was dark; the only light coming from the main chamber at the heart of the cave. The room, customarily lit by the glow of hundreds of burning candles was now eerily dark.

He stepped under the large, soot-stained wooden beam separating the entryway from the main sanctuary. A lone figure sat at the end of the long table in the center of the room. The air was heavy with the smell of incense and oils; the only light coming from the candles burning at the center of the table. The lack of illumination draped the cave in dark, dense shadows.

As Connar neared the table, a ghostly hand with long, gnarly pointed fingernails invited him to take the only other chair at the table positioned at the opposite end of the table. Connar squinted through the smoke and dancing flames at his host. The man had long gray-white hair which fell past bony shoulders protruding through a crimson robe. His beard was long, wiry, and unkept. The thin, pale, and sagging flesh along with shallow-set eyes were the only things that kept the man from appearing as a living skeleton.

He motioned to Connar once more to take the offered seat. "You are late, brother. We were beginning to think you might not have received our invitation." The man's voice was strong and clear, defying the frailty of his form.

"What are a few minutes between friends after three hundred years?" Connar said as he pulled the chair away from the table, casting a wary gaze into the shadows all around before sitting down.

"Indeed, but what are minutes or years compared to the millennia you have spent waging God's war upon this world?" The man leaned forward, the candlelight casting deep shadows into his features.

Connar sat back in the ornate chair, resting his elbows on the smooth wooden arms as he looked across the length of the table at the specter at the other end. "I wouldn't go as far as calling it a war, tis more of a skirmish in my view."

The man cackled a laugh without bringing a smile to his lips. "Tsk, tsk...your wit and sharp tongue have not changed. I had hoped you might have grown up after all this time...Connar-ki," he said, adding emphasis to the familiar form of Connar's name - a form used only by his family. It was their way of reminding him that he was their little brother.

Connar tried not to let hearing his familiar name unsettle his voice, "It is a hallmark of the family. I come by it through heredity." He straightened a bit in the chair, trying to see the man more clearly through the flickering light. "But, surely, we haven't come all this way just to talk about little old me."

"On the contrary, Connar-ki, this is precisely why we are here," the figure said as he raised his hand and tapped his fingertips together slowly. "I must say, it pains me that you do not recognize me."

"I've put far too many men into the ground to remember faces or names...I evidently did not finish the job properly in your case."

The man offered a slow shake of his head. "You have never bested me, Connar-ki. The last time we fought, our mother had to come to your rescue." His words hung like smoke in the thick chamber air. "Even in this mortal state, can you not recognize your brother, flesh of your flesh, bone of your bone?"

Connar struggled to swallow as he looked into the man's eyes, seeing for the first time familiarity in his face and bony features. "I would say it is good to see you, Enkidu, but that would be a lie."

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Waging War Against Heaven

Post by Connar Valdor » Sun May 05, 2019 2:03 am

Connar stared across the length of the table at a decrepit version of his eldest brother, Enkidu, who he hadn't seen since Babylonia ruled the Eastern world. Enkidu had been a Valdor, one of the legendary sons of Enoch preserved by the hand God to be instruments in his hands. Enkidu's fame and legend peaked when he aided Gilgamesh, the king of the Sumerian city-state of Uruk, to defeat the enemies of the throne. The two men shared a lust of power and ruled the empire with tyranny and fear. Over the eons, bards and storytellers altered the stories of their rule and exploits, creating legendary mythical demigods in their places.

"So, why are we here, Enkidu? Surely, you didn't go to all this effort just for a family reunion." Connar blinked hard, trying to see through the weak light and lines of soot and heat separating his brother from his view.

"Always in a hurry, aren't you, Connar-ki?" Enkidu smirked as he placed his palms on the ancient wooden table, pointing his fingers toward his youngest brother as his long, yellow fingernails tapped on the wood. "I am building an army...an empire, if you must know, one that is destined to rule this fallen world. And I want you to be a part of it. What good is family if not for sharing our spoils?"

"I have heard better pitches from the bearded woman selling kisses in the gypsy carnivals," Connar said as he folded his arms and leaned his back into the wooden chair. "You are wasting your time and mine."

"I once thought as you do, brother, but my eyes were opened to the reality of this world and our pious duty. You've been lied to for centuries on end, Connar, as was I. The reward you seek for your devotion and service does not exist nor will it ever."

Connar gave a slow shake of his head as he unfolded his arms and pressed his palms to the edge of the table and pushed away against the wood as he stood. "I've heard this all before, my elder brother. If they be lies as you say, I choose to learn of them myself. I am stubborn that way."

"You get that from our father. Before you leave in your know-it-all huff, I suggest you hear what I have to say on the matter. Now, sit down," Enkidu command was spoken in a manner only an older brother could deliver.

Connar gave Enkidu a heated glare. "You were my brother once, but that bloodline has long since gone dry. I have no more patience for this."

"Is that so?" Enkidu sneered, raising his hand, motioning to the shadows behind him with a wave of his fingers. "You don't have time even for her?"

A woman with long golden hair emerged from the shadows behind Enkidu's chair. Her elegant dress was stained and dirty, and one of her sleeves was torn away at the shoulder. Her bare feet padded lightly upon the stone floor as she stepped into the light. Connar struggled to draw in a breath as he looked across the room into the eyes of Elessaria.

"I thought that might garner your attention," Enkidu said as he reached up and drew his hand slowly down her long slender arm. "I must admit, I do see what draws you away from your duty. Your careless whispers in distant realms will be your undoing."

As he looked on in disbelief, Connar fumbled for something under the table's edge.

"Tsk, tsk, Connar. Is this what you seek?" Enkidu held up a slender fishing knife. "Have you forgotten our rules already?" He regarded the blade before setting it before him. "Not exactly a formidable of weapon."

Connar looked eye to eye with Elessaria from across the room, to the woman who had cared for him more than any other. She trembled as she tried to keep her fear at bay. He turned his attention to Enkidu, "The rules state no knight shall enter the meeting of the Templars armed. As you can plainly see, I came here empty-handed."

Enkidu's graveled laughter echoed off the walls. "Yes... but I had hoped to see the marvelous sword you had crafted and that I have heard so much about. Life is full of disappointments, isn't it? Now that I have your full attention, shall we continue?"

Connar gave a moment's reflection to his brother's words as he looked back at Eless. In an instant, his expression changed, concern being replaced by steely resolve. "There is no other place I need to be than right here, right now," he said calmly as he sat back down.

A grin spread across Enkidu's face, the smile of victory. "Connar, God has abandoned this place to us. His once cherished footstool has been forgotten. We are the gods of this world. We place kings on thrones...men are so readily corrupted and so quick to do evil. There is no army or nation we cannot command."

For his part, Connar offered no words. He remained silent, his gaze fixed steadily upon his brother.

"I know what you are thinking, Connar. You still cling to the ancient faith, to the promises of His return. It has been more than a thousand years. What if it's a thousand or more? What if He never comes at all? I do not intend to waste away waiting for that which may never arrive."

Connar's silence and lack of emotion kindled rage inside Enkidu, and his voice grew more angry with each passing moment. "What have you been training for all these years? What is your destiny if not to be the ultimate weapon? Why be just God's Hammer when we can rule this wretched world in his stead? Don't you see this is what he has prepared us to be? We are meant to rule - it is our destiny. Bring an end to the tyranny of men and join us!"

The shadows stirred all around the room as Enkidu made his impassioned plea; his eyes glowing red as pairs of other eyes appeared behind Eless, pulling her into the shadows. "I am waging war with heaven, Connar. We will be taking our Templar treasures and our secrets to the new world. You know of the prophecies of this land...it is perfect soil for us to grow a nation fit to destroy God's throne."

"I've heard quite enough," Connar said as he rose suddenly to his feet. "I do not know who is the puppet and who be the master here, but I will not be joining your army nor playing this game any longer."

Enkidu's anger shook the chamber as he screamed at Connar, "YOU FOOL! With one snap from my fingers, your woman is dead! I will not extend the offer again, brother. Join me now or die!"

Connar turned quickly toward the door, the shadows lurching toward him from all sides. He reached above his head into the darkness against the blackened beam spanning the chamber and pulled down a long black object. In a continuous downward motion, the object struck the stone floor causing fragments of black to break away. One more forceful strike freed the sword from its casing with a ringing clang. Connar spun the blade through the shadows encroaching upon him. Shrieks filled the grotto, and the floor ran wet with blackened blood and ooze.

The shadows surged toward Connar once more as Enkidu raised his bony, withered hand, staying the shadows in their places. "Let him be. Time is yet on our side. There may be other ways to help our wayward brother see the error in his decision. We know where to find his weakness."

Connar turned and faced his brother, hurling the sword end over end across the room, piercing the blackness where Eless once stood. The sound of steel was not heard striking the wall nor falling to the ground.

A form emerged from the blackness behind Enkidu; Connar's sword buried deep into its chest. Friar Sebastien - eyes the color of blood - stumbled into the candlelight, his bloody hands gripping the blade, unable to remove the weapon. He gasped for air as he stared wide-eyed at Connar who was moving toward him from across the room. Connar glared at the man as he took the hilt in his hand, shoving the friar backward into the shadows, the body falling into a heap upon the ground.

"This is not over...all the promises made this night shall be fulfilled...there is nowhere you will find peace..." Enkidu screeched as his bony hand gripped Connar's sleeve before he slumped to the table, his body turning to ash and smoke.


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Anger's Seething Venom

Post by Connar Valdor » Wed May 08, 2019 12:32 am

As the shadows choking the cavern began to withdraw, Connar could see the Friar struggling to crawl on the floor, his breaths gurgling with blood as he clawed at the ground in front of him. Connar bent down and grabbed the Friar's shoulder, rolling him onto his back only to see his brother, Enkidu, staring up at him.

Blood trickled from the corner of the elder Valdor's mouth as he leaned on an elbow and looked up at his younger brother and then to the oozing wound in his chest. "Goddammit, Connar, you are such an impatient bastard...always have been." He sucked at the air, trying to force his lungs to expand despite the blood pooling within them.

"I hope you aren't waiting on an apology, because you won't be getting one from me." Connar had not loosened the grip upon the hilt of his sword which hung at his side poised to be called into action if required.

"Is this what your solitary wandering through time has garnered you? You go from life to life and leave only anger and bitterness in your wake. You have no friends, no one to guard your back. What kind of life is that - is that what you want for your legacy?" Enkidu wiped at the blood running down his chin with the back of a hand as he looked at Connar. "I may have abandoned our sacred duty but at least I am not alone. I have a purpose."

"Do you expect me to believe this elaborate charade was your way of looking after my wellbeing and happiness? You could have just sent a note by courier and saved us both a lot of grief."

"We have been watching you for a long time, Connar. You have fallen so far from the path, and yet God offers you every chance to redeem yourself, and you throw each one back in his face, literally." Enkidu extended a bloody hand at his brother as he raised his voice. "Return to us...return to the brotherhood. We are bringing forth a mighty work, and we need you...we need you to lead us into the next thousand years."

Connar shook head and was about to speak when his brother's roaring voice filled the chamber, "I am not finished! How you see me now is what awaits you in your rebellion against your duty and oaths. I am offering you an opportunity and a voice of warning, Connar!

Enkidu resembled a living corpse...a corpse that was centuries old. The resolve in Connar's voice was unchanged. "The opportunity, I have clearly declined. I'll take the warning under advisement. The path I walk may not be perfect, and if it does not measure up to God's expectations for me, then perhaps I am not meant for a place in heaven."

This time, it was Enkidu shaking his head. "You're so selfish...reckless and arrogant. Your seething venom will be your undoing. What of your dear Elessaria? You will drag her to hell right along with you. Do you even think before you act? What if your sword had struck her instead of me?"

"Unless you also hold the keys to Hades, I suggest you reserve your scathing judgment for yourself," Connar's voice simmered in frustration and anger; the truth in his brother's words cutting him deeply. "I am not a fool. I knew it wasn't her; the apparition was too tall. And when you made mention of the sword I had crafted, I knew I had been betrayed...that I was being played."

Muffled laughter rattled from Enkidu's chest, "She was conjured based on how you see her in your mind."

Connar forced out a chuckle through a clenched jaw, "She'll be tickled to know that she is tall, at least in my mind. And what of Sebastien the Friar?

A sneer came across, Enkidu's lips, "Oh, he'll be along presently..."

Connar turned around too late to see the Friar coming up behind him, driving the base of a massive gold candelabra into the back of his head.

There was a flash of light, and then he fell into blackness.


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Dreams and Nightmares

Post by Connar Valdor » Fri May 10, 2019 2:18 am

From the bottom of a black pit, Connar clawed at the smooth walls, trying to reach the faint light far above his head. What he could only guess were rats scurried about on the floor, splitting his ears with their high-pitched screeching. Hundreds of firey needles burned his neck and chest. His arms ached, and his body seemed to be drained of all its strength. He slumped to the cold, damp floor, feeling the weight of the darkness pressing relentlessly down upon him.

Through the pounding in his head and the screeching of the vermin, he caught hold of a soft voice calling to him through the thick abyss. Though barely perceptible, the words struck every fibre of his being like lightning and thunder. "Leve-toi...leve-toi, cher. Breathe. Rise."

Connar pressed his eyes shut and then opened them to flashes of light all around him. He closed his eyes again and drew in a desperate gasp of air. When he opened his eyes, he found himself lying on a bed in a small room, daylight streaming in through a single window. Leeches, fat with his blood, were biting into his neck, throat, and chest. He tore the creatures from his flesh, casting them to the floor. He sat up quickly, and the room began to spin violently. He caught his head in his hands and felt the fabric of a bandage wrapped around his head. On the floor at his feet, a metal basin was filled with blood, his blood. His forearms were cut and bruised from the repeated bleedings. He pressed his fingers over the cut above his eye; it felt fresh and sore.

"You must take care not to undo the stitching...your wounds are quite deep." Connar looked up to see a Friar standing in the doorway, his hands tucked within the sleeves of his brown robe. "I am so pleased to see you awake. We feared you might never recover from your injuries. Tis rare for any man to return from death once, but you have done it twice."

"I've been here since the attack on the road, is that what you are saying?" Connar squinted at the Friar, recognizing him as Thomas, one of the clergy who had been with him during his brush with death protecting the Bishop de Reims.

Another Friar poked his head in the door, and Thomas turned to greet him. "Good news, frére, our patient has awakened. Run, go tell the others." Thomas turned back to Connar. "You've had us on pins and needles ever since that awful day. It appears the blood-letting finally worked."

Connar was shirtless, wearing only a pair of black pants, and his feet were bare. He looked down at his tanned arms and hands. He turned his palms up, looking at his fingers and the black under his nails. His jaw tightened as he glanced up at the Friar, "Where's my sword?"

Friar Thomas pressed his fingertips together nervously. "I'm afraid Captain Fortier took it with him when he left you for dead. You mustn't blame him; we all thought you to be dead."

"And Friar Sebastien?" Connar asked as he rose unsteadily to his feet.

Thomas smiled and eagerly replied, "Oh, he will be along presently."


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Secrets and Shadows

Post by Connar Valdor » Fri May 17, 2019 10:17 pm

The south face of the Alps rising up behind the abbey provided the only escape Connar could find. The monastery lacked a forge; the stables were empty, and the only contact with humanity was miles below in the valley of Annecy. Connar plodded through the knee-deep snow to the jagged granite rocks exposed by the spring-time sun where he could look out over the slumbering landscape and contemplate his past and his future.

All of the possessions that Connar owned while journeying to Patmos were gone; his bedroll, clothing, even his sword had disappeared along with the days and weeks he spent suspended between life and death. The blood-letting provided an ideal way to imprison his body and provide cover for those who were weaving the tale of deceit. All he had now were the clothes on his back – handed-down garments scrounged up by his caretakers.

The monks and friars in the abbey all held fast to the assertion that Connar, the man they knew as Devabriel the Musketeer, had been brought to their doorstep following an attack on the escort taking the Bishop de Reims from Paris to the south of France. Whether they were in on the ruse or were only acting on what they had been told, it was difficult to discern. The black soot under Connar's nails, the hair that had been singed from his knuckles and forearms, and his tanned skin were all the evidence he needed to affirm in his mind that the journey to the Cave of the Apocalypse and his fated reunion with the Templars was real.

Frere Sebastien was absent as well; the friars attesting that he had left on an urgent church matter and had been gone for weeks. For all Connar knew, Sebastien could very well be his brother in disguise, or worse; he could be using his ability to masquerade as other people to pretend to be Connar in different places or realms. What troubled him more was that they knew about Eless and his forays into Rhydin; he confided that part of his life to no one. Even when it that distant place, his openess and the sentiments of his heart are guarded and private. And yet, his secrets seem to be out there for the taking. He was beginning to rethink the notion that he could rest at ease while in Rhydin.

The more he wrestled with the questions and visions in his mind, the more the malaise grew within him. If Sebastien or his brother or whoever was behind the resurgence of the Templars could conjour Eless to Patmos, even if it were just a hallucination aided by the smoke, incense, and oils, what else were they capable of doing? His enemies wore a thousand faces; everywhere he looked, even to the peaceful abbey and the valley beyond, the shadows of his adversaries loomed.

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Vengeance Calls

Post by Connar Valdor » Wed Aug 21, 2019 3:21 am

"I wondered when your shadow would cross our humble abbey," the elderly friar said as Connar entered the upper chamber of the ancient stone building. What hair remained on the friar's head was a dusting of gray stubble. His wrinkled flesh framed blue eyes that had seen their fair share of trials and tribulations over the decades.

The upper tower of the Abbey de Baume had been converted into a library, one of the few places in all the world where ancient scripture and historical scrolls were safeguarded from those who sought their destruction. The truths inked onto their parchments over the eons were the only check against the fables and lies spread to manipulate the past and place power in the hearts and hands of despots and tyrants.

As Connar stepped over the threshold into the library, he paused to look at the vast collection of books and scrolls tucked into every open corner of the room; the shelves extending to the lofty wood-beamed ceiling. The large wooded table where the friar sat was also covered in scrolls along with a large book, which was splayed open in front of the friar. He appeared to be reading from its pages when the warrior interrupted his studies.

"Milles pardon, mon frère, if I have intruded upon your solitude and study," Connar said as he approached the table.

The friar raised his hand to wave off the assertion. "My boy, I can pour over these scribbles any time, but it is not every day that I have a visitor of your...reputation." The friar paused as he looked up at his visitor, studying the hazel eyes framed by sun-darkened skin. "The legend of Devabriel has spread even to our tiny secluded corner of the world. But Devabriel isn't what they call you now, is it?"

Connar looked at the friar with a raised eyebrow, questioning his assertion.

"Oh, don't be so modest, mon fils. All of France whispers the destruction and wrath which follows Jacques Le Vengeur."
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The hunted becomes the hunter

Post by Connar Valdor » Wed Aug 21, 2019 3:29 am

In the days and weeks following Connar's journey to Patmos, he had set about finding the truth behind the shadows within the grotto of John the Revelator. His elder brother, or a conjured apparition of the man, had appeared to him attempting to lure Connar back into the banished order of the Templars. After being rendered unconscious, Connar awoke in the Abbey d'Annecy where his journey had begun, his wounds rendered new once more - as if the weeks spent traveling to Patmos and his experience there being nothing but a bad dream. It took some time and reasoning (Connar was known to have wooden gears where his brain should be), he came to the conclusion that his brother or those working under his direction, had managed to manipulate the many portals dotting the land to not only cover distances between worlds and realms but to manipulate time as well.

The Templars were taking their order and treasures to the new world for fertile soil to sew their seeds of control and corruption. Connar imagined they had altered the portals to travel back in time to mark the hiding places of the Templar treasure so they could recover it in the future, leaving them clues only the secret order could follow. Even as traveling between realms came at a physical cost with each passage, using them to reach back and forth in time exacted a devastating price. As a Valdor, Connar and his brother's quickened state persevered them from the ravages of time, but stepping through the portals of time caused those years to be heaped as great stones. His brother's time-ravaged features were evidence of his treacherous time passages.

Jacques Devabriel, Connar's Musketeer alias, had been thought killed while upholding his duty to protect the Bishop of Reims. The friars who remained behind to tend after his body were the only ones who knew of his survival. When he awoke from the dream that was Patmos, he decided to bring Devabrial back from the grave. He headed to the south of France after the captain of the Cardinal's elite Musketeers who had left him for dead and taken his sword in the process. In his travels, he learned that Captain Fortier had been given orders to keep the Bishop of Reims from his scheduled meeting with the emissaries from Rome in Nice. Whether they wanted the Bishop's coffers of gold or if the assassination was politically motivated, Fortier had orchestrated every attack on the Musketeer caravan - the attacks which were all but thwarted by Devabriel and the other Musketeers. Devabriel the hunted became the hunter.

When Fortier learned of Devabriel's return, he put a generous bounty on the fallen Musketeer’s head with the charge of heresy and desertion. The streets ran red wherever those seeking the reward encountered the former Musketeer. Connar hunted Fortier to Nice only to discover that the man had fled to Toulouse seeking reinforcements from Paris. Stories of the fallen Musketeer turned vengeance-seeking marauder spread from village to village, giving rise to Jacques Le Vengeur.
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