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Matthias Samuels glared at his armor like it had betrayed him. He had clearly informed Williard that it would need to be polished nightly, but visible on the left pauldron was a large thumbprint. It wasn’t a difficult task, Matthias himself often enjoyed going over his armor with vinegar and a rag for hours on end when he had the time to do so. He found that it really helped to center him. There was nothing like polishing your armor for hours after a full day of dealing with the sinful underbelly of humanity, pausing occasionally only to look at your winsome reflection in the breastplate.

It really was unforgivable. Sinful and unforgivable. Williard clearly didn’t know how to take pride in his work and saw nothing wrong with sullying Matthias’ appearance. It was only a minor sin, but the man would have to be flogged, rules were rules after all. Well, clearly the rules weren’t written down. Writing down the laws was the mistake of the previous Knight-Commander. If the populace knows what the laws are, they’ll find ways to bend and twist them. Before long the Chamber of Truth was bogged down in sinners making half-hearted excuses for why their sins technically didn’t count. No, it was much more efficient for the laws to only be known by the Knight-Commander.

He rang the bell on his desk and waited for Williard to arrive. The last couple weeks had put him on edge, and Matthias just couldn’t have disorder in his personal life. Where he had sought the isolated sin of miserliness, instead he found the entire noble class to be sinful, surly and disobedient. Luckily he had High Priest Aster’s support as he sought to purge their ranks, but the task still seemed overwhelming. Every name that landed on his desk was involved in some brand of perfidy. With any luck, the extra revenue from transitioning their slaves to Church control would be sufficient to fund the extensive investigations and rehabilitative torture that all of them so dearly needed.

It wasn’t all stress and work though. The thought of finally eliminating so many sinners at the same time filled him with a swell of pride. No other Knight-Commander had tortured as many admitted sinners as him before this purge of the nobility, and now it wouldn’t even be close. He would go down in the histories as the most pious and capable Knight-Commander that had ever run the inquisition. He had explained the sins of fraud and deceit to the inquisition chronicler in great detail in order to ensure it.

The door opened and Williard stepped in, his usual sniveling expression of terror on his face. Matthias had given the man a chance, but the more he talked to him the more he acted and looked like that sinful wretch, Gareth. Matthias didn’t quite understand the connection, but he was sure there was one, what with the ink staining his hands from writing all of those words that could be concealing any number of sins. Just like Gareth.

“Williard,” he began, motioning the scribe over to where he stood by the rack holding his brilliantly gleaming silver armor. “Can you explain to me what this is?” He pointed at the thumbprint marring the armor’s sleek beauty.

“It’s your armor Ser?” the cowering man managed to turn the statement into a question.

“But what is this on my armor Williard?” Matthias asked again, this time grabbing the back of the man’s head and pulling his face right up next to the sullied pauldron. The scribe began panting and crying, his breath fogging on the otherwise pristine armor.

“I don’t know!” Williard squealed, trying to pull himself from Matthias’ grip. “Is there some dirt on it? Is it my breath? I honestly don’t know Ser, please just tell me!” Matthias threw the smaller man to the ground with a disgusted grunt. His sin was so strong that he even dared lie to Matthias about the glaring thumbprint. Mentally, he doubled the man’s punishment.

“Look at the smudge Williard,” Matthias screamed at the squirming man as he picked him up by the collar of his tunic, powerful muscles holding him in place. “There is so much sin outside the Palace. The nobles conspire with the very animals of the fields against our Lord Al’Shazan, and here when I simply want clean armor, I can’t even get that. How DARE you stand here in this office and pretend that your sin of negligence and jealousy didn’t lead you to do a poor job. You mean for me to look like a fool, and by the One True Flame, we will beat the sinful disobedience out of you.”

Matthias dropped the sobbing man feeling strangely cleansed. Truly the source of sin plaguing him over the last couple days must have been Williard. There was no other explanation for why he felt so much better after verbally abusing the wretched man. He glanced down at where Williard tried to pull himself together. Maybe he had been a little harsh with the man, but he should have known how stressful the past weeks had been for Matthias. It wasn’t a good time to aggravate him and really, a proper assistant would have known that.

“It really isn’t the end of the world Williard,” Matthias continued, his voice much gentler. “Many people sin. Even I have been guilty of the sin of pride and wrath in dealing with the noble houses. I do expect you to make an appointment for me to take my punishment later in my chambers. The flesh is weak, but only through constant tempering can we become something greater than the sinful wretches we were all born as.”

“Ser,” Williard blubbered as he pulled himself to his feat, tears still staining his cheeks, “I’ll make the appointment right away.” Williard made for the door only to be stopped by Matthias calling out once more.

“Remember to check yourself into the Chamber of Truth Williard,” Matthias said softly, ignoring the blood draining from his assistant’s face. “Every man sins, we just must be sure to correct that sin to prevent it from happening again. I think two hours of flogging should be sufficient to remind you to avoid being slovenly with my belongings again in the future.”

After Williard hurried out of his office, Matthias settled into his chair. It always struck him as strange that sinners saw their torture as something negative. That was never the purpose of the inquisition. The inquisition had a much more noble purpose, to try and teach fallible human flesh to emulate the perfection of the divine Al’Shazan as closely as possible by using pain to negatively reinforce sin. With enough monitoring and corrective torture, it was Matthias’ sincere hope that one day the Empire could entirely free itself from sin.

Still, being treated like he was a sadist rankled Matthias. After all, he regularly recognized his own sins and saved the most serious punishments for himself. He wasn’t like some of the corrupt and hypocritical Knight-Commander’s of the past. Any punishment he levied on a sinner, he would ensure that he suffered twice as much. His punishments weren’t just merely exercises of physical pain. No, instead he focused on spiritual punishments so severe that the high priests of old banned them.

Matthias shivered as he put on his armor, despite the damning stain. Sometimes he wondered if there was a reason why the punishments were banned. More and more he found himself looking forward to being punished for his sin. This unnatural and masochistic desired worried him. Perhaps the punishments themselves could twist and warp the soul, a concerning thought. The point of his self-punishment was to try and force the sin of pride out of his body through torment of the body and spirit, but if his punishment were to corrupt that model and make him crave more punishment, it hardly would serve its purpose of making him avoid further pride. Regardless, the texts were clear. The weight of sin was punishment, and the penalty for heresy was death. He simply needed to bottle up and ignore that indecision as acting on it was tantamount to questioning the teachings of Al’Shazan itself. No, instead of questioning, what he needed was to double the punishment.

He smiled as he exited his office, fully clad in gleaming armor, and began walking towards the Chamber of Truth. Even the most complex of problems had simple solutions through faith. That was the foundation of the belief in the One True Flame that ‘intellectuals’ like Gareth Theones missed out on with their constant whining and complaints about ‘unforeseen consequences,’ ‘mitigating factors,’ and ‘collateral damage.’ The High Priests of old said that sin should be punished with torture, so you tortured the sinners. Al’Shazan demanded that every tenth day be devoted to braiding reeds into a mat and then burning that mat, so you did it. Questions and complaints were counterproductive. It didn’t matter that Al’Shazan was drunk when that edict was made, and that devoting time to the holy reed burning during harvest was tremendously wasteful in time and resources, an order was an order.

Fifteen minutes later and in a much better mood, Matthias stepped into the Chamber of Truth. Immediately the temperature raised by almost ten degrees. One of the inquisitors must be using the Fires of the Faithful to put a recently captures noble to the question. Already, Matthias could hear the man in question screams as his extremities were consumed by flame and then healed by attending priests. A truly ingenious invention, before Matthias had assumed the position of Knight-Commander the Fires of the Faithful had been reserved only for those accused of the most serious crimes: dark magic, treason, and promulgating spoilers about the ‘Lady Heavingbosom’s Secret Lover’ series of books. Upon assuming the office of Knight-Commander, Matthias had opened the punishment up for general use. After all what was more fitting than the use of flame to punish the flesh of those who sinned against the One True Flame?

Wrinkling his nose against the smell of charred flesh, Matthias walked past the inquisitors manning the flames, nodding professionally to them. Good men and women all, he had vetted them closely to eliminate the worrying modern trends of introspection and literacy. They knew their duty, and they performed it gleefully. Torture the potential sinners and then heal the wounds with priestly magic until eventually they confessed. Sometimes it took years of a sinner proclaiming their innocence and trying to sway the stalwart minds of the inquisition with extraneous factors like evidence and logical proof. Nevertheless, a proper inquisitor must persist no matter the facts. After all, diligence was a virtue, one that the inquisition as a whole modeled its service upon.

He still didn’t understand why the sinners that came to the Chamber of Truth tried to prove their innocence. No matter how much evidence they presented, they all still confessed eventually. After all, they wouldn’t have been arrested and brought to the Chamber of Truth unless they were guilty of something. The mere idea of wasting the inquisition’s time with witnesses and evidence was a foolish beyond belief. Denying sinful behavior was almost as bad as sinful behavior in the eyes of Al’Shazan. He was pretty sure the God had said that at some point. It certainly seemed as bad to Matthias.

Finally he reached his destination, a private cell housing one of the inquisition’s very important prisoners. Matthias nodded to the inquisitor standing guard and she unlocked the door for him before stepping into the room behind him. In the cell, Gregor Stallswarth, patriarch of the former Stallswarth noble house, lay bolted to a metal table. A pet project of the Knight-Commander, Gregor had almost escaped twice before Matthias had the genius idea to literally pin the bones of the man’s arms and legs to the table with metal spikes before healing the flesh around them. The wounds seemed tremendously painful and required frequent cleansing spells to keep the infection from killing the middle-aged man, but with any luck that pain would help to reinforce the gravity of the sin of disobedience.

“Are you here to gloat more about what you’ve done to my Sons and Daughters you fucking monster,” Gregor spat at Matthias.

“We’ve been over this Gregor,” Matthias made a note of the man’s continuing sin of disobedience and anger, “none of this is about your children. You insist on making our interactions personal, but I have nothing against you. I simply hope that by our interactions you can be cured of your sin.”

“Cured?” The bound man winced in pain as he involuntarily pulled against the stakes in his laughter. “You aren’t curing shit and we both know it. This is just about you getting your little dagger hard enough to sheathe it in a woman. Eventually I’ll confess to something, we both know that. If you hurt a man enough he’ll admit that the sky is green to make the pain stop, but I’m just sick and tired of you making this about Al’Shazan. We both know that it doesn’t care about a couple coins here or there. You just wanted my money plain and simple. You’re nothing more than a highwayman with a holy symbol.”

“Gregor,” Matthias shook his head while clicking his tongue at the older man. “Why do you insist on making this about me. We’re here right now to help you. All you have to do is admit to your sins and we will put together an appropriate rehabilitation plan for you. Of course, your money will be forfeited to the Church for the sin of miserliness where we will put it to good use. I do have to say, your concern about the money does concern me. It says that you are still suffering from the sin of miserliness even now rather than realizing that true submission to the One True God involves giving up the hold on such earthly things.”

“Miserliness?” Gregor asked, disgust on his face. “Since when is miserliness a sin? At least three High Priests have praised the virtue of thrift. Pontheel the Wise even exhorted members of the Church to save money against future need. We were never warned that Al’Shazan had changed its mind on the issue. If the Church wanted the money spent on public works, it only needed to issue such an edict. Instead you stormed into my home and killed my children and my brother with no warning. Afterwards, you read a proclamation claiming that we were resisting even after you didn’t announce your presence. We thought you were a rival house attacking in the dead of the night! Almost half of the people killed your cursed inquisitors were still in bed. They were unarmed. How does a man in his bedclothes going to the privy to take a leak resist a crusader clad in chain and wielding a sword?”

“Even now your sin deepens Gregor,” Matthias replied evenly, picking up a coal with a long handled metal spoon from a nearby brazier. “Weeks after your arrest, rather than admit your fault you continue to try and twist your words to confuse me. Each day you try to draw me away from my holy duty only adds to your inevitable rehabilitation. Plus, you should know by now that Al’Shazan doesn’t change its mind. You simply have misinterpreted the words of the priests. Twisted them to allow yourself to sink deeper into your pit of self indulgence and sin.”

Matthias dropped the coal, cherry red with heat, onto Gregor’s unprotected stomach, watching in fascination as he convulsed uncontrollably, trying to twist his body away from the heat only to aggravate the injuries caused by the stakes driven through his bones. Perhaps later he would flay the man. A very traditional method to extract a confession. Sinners did seem to overly connected to their skin.

That night, Matthias returned to his chambers with a well earned look of satisfaction on his face. Gregor would break soon. Matthias could always tell when they were at their limits, and Gregor was almost there. Soon he would admit to his sins and implicate his co-conspirators in order to begin his rehabilitation. Of course, to rehabilitate someone as sinful as him it might take years of carefully managed punishment. Most of the serious sinners came out of their rehabilitation programs changed. Less sinful, less talkative, and more obedient to the Church’s authority. Really, given the state of the general populace, a rehabilitation program could benefit all of them. He had suggested it to Balthus once. The priest had been horrified and asked if he was joking. An obvious farce, Matthias never joked.

Despite their degeneracy and sinfulness, for some reason the masses accused HIM of corruption. Matthias Samuels, the greatest investigator that ever lived, corrupt. The thought was laughable. And sinful. Unfortunately he hadn’t been able to convince High Priest Aster that he wasn’t joking about the general rehabilitation program and get it put into place yet. Hopefully the man would come around given enough time.

Matthias removed his armor lovingly, gently placing each piece on the mannequin for it to be polished overnight. Or not, he shrugged. Williard was probably too busy getting flogged to actually polish it. Another dereliction of duty to punish him for. He would either learn to do his job soon, or go the way of Paul. Finally, he removed his greaves and stretched, his well muscled body’s reflection on the armor immaculate in the candlelight. Admiring the flow of his muscles was an exercise in the sin of pride, but his punishment was mere minutes away so he indulged. Nodding contentedly, he removed his remaining clothing and walked into his personal chambers to begin the night’s exacting punishment.

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About the author

CoCop

  • United States
  • Founding Member of the Zard Skwad

Bio: I read a lot and for the last couple of years I've tried my hand at writing. Mostly fantasy and science fiction.

I generally try to respond to comments/direct messages.

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