9 October 1997
In retrospect, I don't know what we really expected to happen.
We had talked about the investigation of the site as though violence would be a last resort, only used if absolutely necessary. The stated goal had been investigation and, if possible, capture. Bring the Barzai to justice for his murders, let the police crack down on the rest of the organization. The Church had learned long ago that we needed to limit the amount of direct justice we carried out; its why my organization was no longer referred to as an inquisition. But I had also made clear to Tadzio that this was a dangerous force, and I had been sent specifically because I was capable of meeting the violence they could pour out. I had described it as a war, I had prepared for battle, I had let my anger at the Barzai and his little band of murderous zealots and the clergy that fed their cause show and had never sought to temper it. And this was why, when I saw the flash of Tadzio's blade in the candlelight and time seemed to slow to a crawl, I knew I had done this. Every soul that died in this place today was, to some degree, my responsibility. Even the very existence, and therefore the actions, of the Barzai were driven at least partly by my own actions years ago.
I wanted to hate them. I wanted to view them as inferior, as foolish lost souls that bought into lies and had no real chance at redemption. I could see the hate in their eyes, and I knew that no mortal would find my rage against them unjust. They sought to destroy the good in humanity, to tear down every institution that had build society, to burn and kill and rampage until the Earth was reduced to a ruin, and they believed fully that this would be the only true freedom for mankind. They were everything I stood against in this world, and they wanted nothing more in this moment to kill us both and carry on their dread work unhindered.
"You must never forget this, Bene," Father had told me, as I stood in the doorway to leave for seminary. His hands were on my shoulders, his eyes barely holding back tears. "The people that you serve, the souls you shepherd, every one of them has a chance. Every one of them is doing the best they can with what they have and what they know."
The Barzai was charging forward. Tadzio's sword was fully drawn and he was moving forward, flowing like water, hundreds of years of training showing in the smallest movement of every muscle. The small crowd of cultists were drawing knives and moving in.
"If there is hope for you, there is hope for them," Father said, "there is hope for us all." I knew he was right. I knew where my kind stood in the order of things. If there was a redemption offered for me...
I held out my arms. Fire is easy, but this, I had never tried this. I needed to get it just right and didn't have much time to experiment. I exhaled sharply, cleared my mind, focused on every bit of heat in the room. In an arc around Tadzio and I, the air rapidly began to cool as I drew the heat into myself. Let it build. Add to it. Act fast. Don't let it spark.
How foolish I was to lose sight of that. Father was old, dying, battling delusions and a loss of memory. He told me in his final days that he would carry his sin to the grave, but I knew he was wrong. I should have known he was wrong, instead of wondering, dwelling, letting myself believe that maybe all of this was for nothing. Maybe there was, in the end, no hope for him, or for me. I forgot what it meant to receive forgiveness. I let myself believe in judgment so much more strongly than redemption that I had killed a man of the cloth in my rage and now stood poised to slaughter an entire room. But I knew better.
As I reheated that air well above room temperature, there was an audible crack that echoed through the room. The rapidly expanding air sent Tadzio and the cultists flying backward. They were injured, all of them, but they'd live long enough to get medical help. Tadzio was going to be furious.
I snapped my eyes open as the Barzai, undeterred by the blast, threw himself forward and drove me into the stone floor. I used the momentum and threw him back off of me into the wall, and rolled over onto my knees. He crashed to the ground and slithered back to his feet, his body moving unnaturally like a snake's without fully changing form. We each lunged forward and went on the attack. Fists flying, occasionally making contact with ribs, occasionally being deflected. He was fast, angry, and driven to kill, and soon I was finding myself on the defensive more often than not. He was trying to draw my attacks away to get a bite in, and I had to occasionally fend him off with a blast of fire when my hands were occupied. I couldn't get to my gun, despite a part of me screaming in my mind that I needed to. Was capture even a realistic goal here? Could the Barzai ever be stopped while he still lived?
I finally managed to get a hold of him and throw him off me. I reached down for my gun, but before I could grab it, Tadzio's sword plunged into the Barzai's side. He screamed and stumbled backward, and I glanced over to see Tadzio standing where he had fallen from the blast. His left arm was hanging limp and his head was bleeding, but his right arm was apparently still in a suitable condition to throw. It was only then I managed to notice the cultists, moaning on the floor, a couple trying to roll over. I stormed forward and pulled the sword from the Barzai's body, causing him to scream again. Putting the sword to his throat, I pushed him back against the wall.
"It's over. Come with me," I said. He laughed.
"Oh, Father. Next time you underestimate me like that, you'll surely die!" He snapped his fingers and became a mist that suddenly vanished into itself. I fell forward and caught myself against the wall, before spinning around to survey the room. Tadzio was limping toward me.
"Well, that didn't go as planned," he said, reaching out for his sword. I returned it to him as soon as he was close enough.
"The plan was...revised," I answered.
"I noticed. We need to have a chat about that, but first," he turned and pointed at the cultists with his sword, "we need to decide what happens with them."
"Don't worry, I know exactly what to do. But first, we need to leave." He stared at me for a moment, then sighed and put his sword away.
3 february 1990
Until heading off to study for the priesthood, Tettnang was the only home I ever knew. Father had been installed as the priest in a church outside of town after a period of review following his return from Hörselberg. He was permitted to raise me, at least partly so his superiors wouldn't have to deal with any complications someone else would face with my nature.
The Church was too occupied with the war and the difficulties surrounding a divided Germany to pay much mind to a quiet, out-of-the-way priest, and aside from occasional checks to ensure he hadn't fallen into sin again and that I wasn't causing problems we were left largely to ourselves. By the time things calmed down, he was established and old and there was little need to change things. When he died on Wednesday morning, we knew the service would be at the church to which he had devoted over forty of his years.
None of my peers here had seen me since I left for school, and we were never very open about my nature, so there was a great deal of confusion over why I still looked like I was in my twenties. While there was some brief talk about me handling the service, or even of me being installed as the next priest here, I knew the questions raised by my appearance were ultimately going to prevent either. I didn't mind. This type of work hadn't been part of my usual practice for seven years. Aside from that, I was officially on sabbatical and not working, and with Eastern Germany opening again I had somewhere important to visit.
The service this morning was beautiful, and attendance was encouraging. After an uncomfortable supper with friends, I climbed into my rented car and pulled up to the church. I stared at it for a long while with the radio off, just remembering. I don't know if I'll see Tettnang or this building again, so I took it all in, one last time, before wiping my eyes and driving north.
7 July 1989
“Benedict,” he gasped, reaching out to rest his hand on mine, “how are your studies?” I smiled weakly, trying not to remind him. The doctor told me he was starting to forget, and while it went unsaid, I think we both knew the youth in my face would almost certainly make it harder for him. But I had to see him, and no one seemed interested in denying me that much.
“They’re well, father. I am...learning much.” He slowly nodded.
“Yes. And my books, they are helping?” I returned those books over a decade ago. I saw a couple of them in this very room as I entered.
“They have been a guiding light.”
“As they should be.” He began to cough; hoarse, dry bursts of thunder from a body too frail to hold still while they erupted from him. I tried to steady him as he began to sit forward, but once the fit had passed it was time to help him recline again. I waited as he caught his breath.
“You should get some rest. I can-”
“Bene,” he said, grasping my hand tight. “Hear me, son. While you are in school you may be safe. But out there, where they know--you must be better than them if you are to earn their respect. Far better than me.”
“You have been a great man.”
“Pah! I know my sins, child, do not think I forget them, not when they look into my face.”
“Papa, please. You have been absolved, Hörselberg need no longer haunt you.”
“I will carry it until it is stripped of me in Purgatory.” Another coughing fit. I tried to comfort him until it passed. He closed his eyes as he tried to regain his composure, the years etched into his face catching the shadows and displaying a mottled sort of serenity. We sat in silence for about five minutes before he opened his eyes again. “Benedict! I have longed to see you. You have not missed your studies to visit an old man, have you?” I briefly hid my face, then turned back to him.
“No, father. I’m where I need to be right now.”
Evidence compiled for use during the trial of Father Benedict de Monte.