Matthias was confused and angry by the report sent to the inquisition. He knew that most of the staff working for Gareth suffered from one sin or another, but the report just sat there, mocking him. Perhaps it was prideful? The pile of vellum certainly looked prideful.
According to his former assistant, it detailed in great depth how the Tyban, Rosewood, and Stallswarth families had only paid a portion of their taxes. Apparently, a review of the industries they managed revealed profit margins almost three times greater than they reported to the imperial tax collectors, and the total amount of savings upon which they had not paid taxes was huge. High Priest Aster had assured him that even if the money was acquired legitimately, simply possessing that much wealth and not giving it to the Church was sinful, and Matthias tended to agree. Unfortunately, he would have to look for a new assistant as the old one understood Gareth’s financial report to a sinful degree.
It truly was a shame, Paul had seemed like a nice chap until he started trying to explain the difference between the squiggles on the page and the pictures. Apparently the squiggles were the words and the pictures were something else called ‘graphs.’ According to Paul, the graphs were meant to show what the words said in an easier to understand format. After the young man tried to explain what everything meant to him three times with little success, Matthias concluded that the entire matter was sinful and had the man put to the question.
As the High Priest Benidine the Just once said, ‘the divine will surrounds the faithful and protects them from untruths like a shepherd protects the sheep and goats of the field from the rampages of the wyvern. The righteous shall hear the lies of deceivers but not understand them, instead only the truths of Al’Shazan shall sound like the notes of a harp in their ears.’ Given that he was righteous and shielded by the divine will of Al’Shazan, anything that he didn’t understand must be the lies of the deceiver. It really was the only interpretation for why the accounting didn’t make sense. The entire matter was so steeped in sin that the God of All itself protected him from being tainted by the foul matter. Of course, that meant that the nobles, Gareth’s workers, and Paul were all guilty of some brand of sin, it was just a matter of torturing them until they figured out which sin it was. If they could understand the report well enough to write it down or explain it to him, they must be guilty of something. Otherwise, they would have remained righteously ignorant of the entire matter, just like him.
The philosophy had served Matthias well. If he didn’t understand a concept or wasn’t able to perform a task, it was because the veil of Al’Shazan’s protection shielded him from it. If Al’Shazan shielded him from something, that thing was clearly sinful. At first, a couple of his assistants and sub commanders had tried to convince him that his reasoning was wrong, something called a tautology. They claimed that many of the people being questioned by the inquisition were innocent and that he needed to stop. After they tried to explain to him what a tautology was, Matthias quickly realized that the concept was impossible to understand, obviously another invention of sinful deceivers. He took great pride in wrenching the confessions from his former assistants. It took some time in the Chamber of Truth, but eventually they all admitted to trying to sinfully lead him astray. They should have known better, the sins of fraud and deceit were specialties of his.
The only downside of that incident is that it began his long and troubled relationship with the sin of pride. Matthias knew that it was righteous to take satisfaction from one’s work, but to go further and actively be proud was a sin. It was important that the Knight-Commander treat his own sins seriously, the office existed in large part to prevent corruption and sin from infiltrating the Church. Every time he felt proud of himself or his work, he made a note and would punish himself in his chambers. The entire process was frankly exhausting, especially as lately the punishments grew more elaborate and tiring to match the swelling of his sin of pride.
A knock at his door interrupted Matthias’ thoughts. He stopped glowering at the report and briefly tidied up his desk before turning his attention to the door.
“Come in,” he said, marveling once again at the richness of his baritone voice. It truly was worth paying the flesh sculptors to improve his vocal cords while they worked on his skin blemishes and hairline. After all, the Knight-Commander had to look perfect, a paragon and an example to the people of the Empire. He was pretty sure some Bishop or High Priest and said such during some ancient war or another.
The door opened and a young man, maybe twenty to twenty five stepped into the room nervously. He was wearing a brown robe and clutching a sheaf of vellum. He licked his lips briefly before announcing himself.
“The name is Williard Ser Knight-Commander,” Matthias took note of his anxiety. Only the guilty had reason to fear him, so it stood to reason that those who feared him were guilty. Given the vellum he carried, undoubtedly covered in deceptive and possibly sinful words, this Williard kid would need watching to ensure that the embers of his sin didn’t grow into a roaring bonfire of heresy. “The office said that you needed a new assistant because your last one was being tortured on account of him being sinful.”
“We live in a sinful world Williard,” Matthias replied, shaking his head sadly, a half-smile on his face. “I thought Paul could avoid sin better than Manuel, Alicia, Jaleen, and Tomas before him, but unfortunately I was wrong. I believe the deceiver realizes that I am getting close to its designs, and seeks to thwart my investigations by placing the sinful in my office. Not to worry, I have always found the sinful before the weight of their sins has managed to slow down the operations of my office and so long as you are innocent of sin, I will protect you from the deceiver’s many lies.”
“I’m sorry Ser, but did you just say that all of your previous assistants were found guilty of sin?” The young scribe questioned nervously.
“I am exceptionally good at finding sin Williard,” Matthais said with a brief nod. “If you are guilty of sin, I will find it. Sometimes the sinners don’t even know that they have sinned. Sometimes the sin hasn’t even been named yet, but the deceiver and I are constantly locked in an unending battle of wits. It tries to surround me with sin to thwart my office and my investigations, but I always see through its artifice and deception.”
“Ser, what did Paul do?” Williard was shaking under his robe.
“Paul committed the sin of Fraud young Williard,” Matthias stated slowly, eyeing up the terrified young man. “He tried to explain the depth of another’s sin to me despite it being obvious that the One True Flame protects his truly faithful from the dangers of understanding sin. Simply by understanding that which the God of All protected the righteous from understanding, he tipped his hand as to his sinful nature.”
Williard was sweating visibly and Matthias couldn’t help but shake his head. The entire room was filled with the acrid scent of fear, something Matthias was much more used to finding on the battlefield or in the Chamber of Truth. If the man was this terrified already, he must be guilty of something serious, maybe even a full blown heresy. Matthias began idley planning the young man’s inquest. Something straightforward involving glass shards, whips, and acid.
“I must say Williard,” Matthias’ smooth baritone had a sinister edge to it, “only the guilty respond with fear before the inquisitor. Is it possible that you are guilty? If so, it might be for the best for us to send you to the Chamber of Truth right away. Find your sin and treat it before it puts your entire soul in jeopardy.”
“S-s-er,” the scribe stuttered, dropping his vellum. “It is not you that I am afraid of but your words. I did not realize that the deceiver was so active in trying to thwart your office when I was force… when I accepted this appointment. I am but a humble scribe and I do not have your ability to detect sin. I am simply afraid that the deceiver will attack me due to my proximity to you, its prime enemy, my Lord Knight-Commander.”
“Ah well, that makes complete sense actually,” Matthias demeanor shifted to his usual cheerful self. “Just be sure to to report anything strange to me and I will investigate it. Remember, if you can’t understand something, it’s probably sinful.”
“Thank you for the advice Ser,” the young man replied, picking up the scattered vellum. “I was told that you needed something and that I should report to you.”
“Yes,” Matthias answered with an energetic nod as he got up from his chair. “Before Paul succumbed to sin, we were about to put the Tyban, Rosewood, and Stallswarth families to the question on suspicion of sin. I need someone to draft up the order before I can put my mark on it.”
“All of those families?” Williard asked, his face blanching slightly. “I’m sure that there must be some mistake. Those families form the backbone of the nobility and they have been loyal servants of the Empire for centuries.”
“I’m afraid it’s true young Williard,” Matthias shook his head mournfully. “Now I need you to write the order for me so we can ensure a swift resolution to this problem.”
“Ser Samuels, is it possible that you don’t write?” Confusion replaced the fear on Williard’s young face.
“Damn Straight Williard!” Matthias slapped the scribe on the back hard enough to jar him forward a step. “Reading and writing are a gateway to sin. If you can’t read, you can’t be corrupted by forbidden texts. Plus, books hide all sort of treachery and deceit. Sometimes they even describe events that never happened. Downright suspicious if you ask me.”
“Are you talking about fiction Ser?” The scribe asked nervously.
“That’s the stuff!” Matthias replied with a laugh. “I was planning on having all of the authors rounded up but according to High Priest Aster, Al’Shanan is obsessed with the ‘Lady Heavingbosom’s Secret Lover’ series and the God of All issued an edict that the authors were to be left alone unless they committed another sin. I’m still suspicious of them, but as the Godking wills it, eh?”
“Yes Ser.” The scribe fidgeted slightly before continuing. “As for the order on the noble houses, who do you want it to order arrested? Just the heads of the family? A specific person? Everyone?”
“Now there’s the right thinking Williard,” Matthias said, smiling down at the terrified scribe. “I hadn’t even thought of arresting everyone, but you’re right. Originally we were just going to arrest the family heads and investigate the sin of miserliness from there, but you make a good point. The rest of the family is equally complicit. They could have reported the earnings. They could have ensured that their family’s donated more money to the Church, but instead all of them are equally complicit in the sin of not spending the money, down to the smallest child who didn’t demand an extra honey sweet of their caregiver at the festival of lights.”
“So,” Williard said hesitantly, “it sounds like you want the order to be written for all of them?”
“Yes all of them!” Matthias shouted gleefully, a smile beaming on his face. “I am unsure how exactly they committed the sin, but that is proof positive of its severity. Every man, woman, child, and pet in those families needs to be seized and put to the question. Every piece of gold, holding, and object of value needs to be impounded, evidence of their sinful miserliness. We must dive deep to root this sin out before it infects the other noble houses. Ensure that a full complement of crusaders travel with the inquisitors and that all properties are raided simultaneously at noon. We will send a message to the corrupt and sinful in this city that their depravity will be put on full display and it will not be tolerated. The inquisition will be the consuming flame that lights the way for Al’Shazan’s eternal truth.”
“But what should we do if they resist Ser? Williard asked slowly. “Some of them might be innocent?”
“Oh don’t fret so much,” Matthias replied with a laugh. “I don’t make a habit of arresting innocent men. After all, they’ve all confessed to their sins in the end.”