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“I must disagree with you, Father Bennett.” As much as I did not want to point out the parishioner’s shortcomings, when the man was wrong he was wrong.
I felt the six other students in the small closet of a room focus their attention on me. Father Bennett, the resident expert on demons in the parish school of St. Xavier, was not one to be corrected and the other students in the class knew it. The aged scholar held himself in the highest regard, and to trespass on his pristine self-esteem, it is regarded amongst the students as intelligent as trespassing through a bonfire.
“Excuse me, Brother Borelli? You what?” Father Bennett had that tone in his voice again; the one that damned a soul to Hell just for speaking against the balding man’s conviction.
Father Bennett’s anger broke on me in vein as I voiced the question that had been playing on my mind about the nature of demons. “Well Father,” I began as if Father Bennett had addressed me cordially, “if demons, like man, do not have to follow God’s example then do they not have a free will of their own?”
The old man nodded his head. “We went over this, Brother Borelli. When the Evil One betrayed God’s trust and fell he forfeited all claims on divinity and serenity. He and his spawn are able to wreak evil on the earth exactly opposite as Angels do good.”
“If Satan and his demons,” I ventured daring to speak the name of the Father of Lies, “are free to defy God then can they, like man, choose their own fate?”
“Do not invoke his name!” Father Bennett scolded harshly.
But I paid his intervention no heed. “Wouldn’t that mean that demons possess Free Will and therefore can choose to be good just like man can choose to be evil?”
“That is preposterous,” the esteemed Father Bennett roared his face scarlet with indignation. “Who ever heard of a good demon? It simply cannot happen. Demons are beings from Hell and ultimately end up there.” His tone was patronizing and I could feel the anger bubble away inside me, like bile dangerously close to the surface.
But he would not goad me off of my course. I had yet to receive my answer, or at least a suitable answer from the ‘learned’ man of the church before me. “You misunderstand my question,” I stated. I did not want to shame the esteemed educator in front of the class but I really wanted my question answered.
“I misunderstand nothing!” Father Bennett roared from the front of the class. “Angels are beings from Heaven and will always be of divine perfection. Demons are beings from Hell and will always be corrupted with an insatiable hunger for sin. Humans, well any altar boy can tell you the nature of humans.”
I didn’t believe Father Bennett to be so stupid as to trap himself like he just had. He was teaching to a select group of students in the diocese, those destined to fight against evil in the horrific yet necessary post of exorcist. Yet he continues to treat us like mindless imbeciles who are unable to read the scripture let alone preach it. “But Father,” I knew I would be scolded for this next comment because I felt the smile dance at the corners of my lips, “isn’t the Prince of Lies of Angel stock? Was he not once one of the Lord’s most trusted angels?” Father Bennett’s face turned a deeper crimson and I knew that because of this I would have not only Father Bennett to deal with but also his Excellency Bishop Torres keeping an eye on me. But it had to be asked. Were we not supposed to be the ones to rid the world of evil? And is it right to deny us information simply because it could darken a longstanding belief? I continued with full conscious of the coming consequences. “Surely Father, if Angels are always of divine nature than are not the Fallen Ones of Hell also divine in their own right? And if they are divine then do they not hold the capacity for good?”
The old man was speechless. Before he said a word I started to pack up my things. It would not be the first time he ordered me out of the class for asking questions. But I knew. I knew what this job would entail, the unspeakable horrors an exorcist had to face. My mentor, Father Wiggen, had been an exorcist and he often recounted for me some of the more tame experiences he had fighting evil. Father Wiggen was a good exorcist, one of the best until it nearly killed him and he retired a crippled burned out soul left to tend to Mass and other more mundane rituals.
But not I. I have heard his stories and have prepared myself for the trials to come. Yet if I am unable to obtain necessary and relevant information how can the Church expect me to do my job?
Father Bennett ordered me from the class. It was his typical action and would be followed up no doubt by a severe penance to be paid to the Church and to Father Bennett himself. But I could say my Hail Mary’s, take my fasts, and swear my oaths. He could call my actions sinful pride all he wanted, but to me it was nothing more than a thirst for righteousness.
Father De Aguisse was in his office when I knocked. The look on his face as I entered told me he knew exactly why I was there, and my sly crooked smile confirmed it. Father De Aguisse, although not happy with my constant “misdemeanor” found an entertaining bemusement as to both why Father Bennett put up with me and why I, as the top student in the academy, put up with him. He told me many times that I could, if I applied myself to the fullest, rise in the church and become in time a Bishop or even Archbishop. But he knew of my lingering attachment to Father Wiggen and so allowed me to continue in my studies much to the disgust of Father Bennett. “My dear Brother Borelli, I must assume that you have once again earned the scorn of Brother Bennett?”
“Yes Father,” I replied. “I disagreed with him and asked him whether or not–”
But Father De Aguisse’s uplifted hand halted my explanation. “I must say it matters not why you were dismissed for the day, but that you were dismissed. As for your penance you must confess, say–”
I cut Father De Aguisse off. I had been through this many times. “Say twenty Hail Mary’s, fast for a day, and write an apology to Father Bennett and the Church detailing why I was wrong.”
A crooked smile lingered on the elderly man’s face before fading into blankness.
Again I knew what I was to do, but I still did not have an answer to my question. “Father, may I ask you my question?”
“I do not see why,” he replied.
“I implore you please Father,” my plea echoed off of the old stone masonry in Father De Aguisse’s chamber.
He considered for a moment before saying “go ahead. But I must tell you that I may not answer.”
It was fair enough. I knew that Father De Aguisse would answer if he thought my question valid enough or if he was able. He had never been an exorcist but instead tended to the overseeing of the school his entire life. “Father,” I began. “I had asked Father Bennett if demons had the ability to follow the Will of the Lord. I reason that since demons have the ability to defy the Heavenly Father, then they also have the ability to defy the Father of Lies. Is this true? Do demons have a will of their own?”
The elderly man was silent for a whole minute. I sat nervously awaiting his answer. I was sure that demons have a free will like that of man. While they may tend to ally themselves with the forces of Evil surely they must have the ability to choose.
“I have never been an exorcist,” Father De Aguisse replied. “Officially, demons are bred from the most wicked and evil acts of man; from sorcery and necromancy. These atrocities manifest themselves into spirits in our realm and take hold in the world, trying to undo the work of the Heavenly Father. As you know, some of these dark spirits infest the beasts of the forest outside our very gates. These spirits take hold of a man’s soul and drag him to Hell. Others take hold of worldly possessions in order to work their mischief and mayhem. As to if these spirits have a will or not, one must look at their history. Can one ever trust a turncoat?”
His response was clouded in nothing more than basics for any Christian scholar. The only part of his response with any meaning in it was the last sentence. Anyone overhearing our conversation would instantly know what the old man meant. If an angel was able to turn against the Lord, could any mortal ever trust such a spirit? But the true meaning of this piece of advice would only be known to those who could see Father De Aguisse’s twinkling azure eyes. By gazing into their depths I was able to see the deeper meaning; to understand that anyone who turned against the Almighty Lord could surely turn back.
I left the chambers of Father De Aguisse’s office with a morose look on my face. The stance that Father De Aguisse was suggesting was, after all, against official church doctrine and by stating otherwise would be a serious offense. So I had to pretend to have been scolded and reprimanded by the sagely scholar while hiding my joy at finally knowing my answer.
A scarlet sun was glimmering just above the trees of the forest. Father Bennett’s scolding was still swirling in my mind and I just had to clear it. Shadows had stretched themselves across the monastery grounds but I decided to go for a walk down to the village apothecary for some medicinal herbs.
I had traveled this route many times day and night and knew the way by heart. The wood was thick on either side of the road and stretched for the length of the three mile trek from the monastery gate to the town gate.
I put the queer feeling the woods gave me out of my mind. We were running low on supplies in the medical ward and as I walked I made an inventory of what we needed. We were low on sage and ginger and completely out of a few other items. I paid little attention to the scenery; I had seen it all many times before and in better light. At this time of night I could hardly see past the trees that lined the road.
My senses alerted me to a presence behind me. It was not uncommon for villagers to travel the road at night, but an even more likely explanation would be bandits. I have had a few experiences with bandits before. When they ascertain my lifestyle they normally leave me alone. A poverty stricken priest living in a monastery never had any large amounts of money to steal. In fact more than once had I been approached by highway men for clerical duties.
“What can I do for you gentlemen?” I asked turning around to face the men behind me. Their faces where hidden in the long shadows of the trees but judging by their ripped and dirt stained clothes they were both common bandits.
“Look Hadrial, it’s a priest. What should we do with him?” Said the smaller of the two men.
“I don’t know, Azmir. What should we do with him?” The second man had a snicker in his voice that sounded menacing.
My mind told me something was wrong. “Kind men, do you need my assistance with anything?”
They looked at each other and shared a quick chuckle. “Tell me Father,” the man called Azmir said, “are you perhaps a student up at the monastery?”
“I am,” I replied. “Do you need me to help someone?”
“He is Azmir he is,” the larger man said, “just like you said.”
It would be longer to run to the village than it would be back to the monastery, but these two ruffians stood between me and my home. “If I can aid you in something please speak up, otherwise if you please I am in a hurry.”
I backed away, hoping to leave while keeping these two highwaymen in my sight. But my luck was not with me. Slowly and confidently they strode closer, their faces emerging from the shadows. Both men had curious yet noticeable yellow tints to their faces and dull golden irises.
“There is something you can do for us Father,” Azmir sneered.
“A-and what is that?” My voice broke, betraying the fear I desperately tried to hold in.
“Die,” Hadrial finished his partner’s sentence. They had closed in to within arms reach of me. I could smell the rank and sickly stench of ale mixed with vomit every time either of the two exhaled.
Priests are not typically trained in fighting. The only combat I was ready for was exorcisms, not a feat of strength and especially not while outnumbered. I knew I couldn’t out run them and didn’t bother trying. In a time like this all I could do is pray. “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name,” I started to pray under my breath.
Azmir and Hadrial drowned out the rest of my prayer with ghastly hissing and a roar of growls more suited to the forest’s beasts.
Their reaction seemed queer to me. These two bandits with oddly sallow yellow skin and yellowed eyes to match were reacting rather violently to the Lord’s Prayer. No mortal should act in such a way to the divine praise of the Lord on high. There was something otherworldly dwelling in these flesh vessels.
“Thou art not from this world. What manner of spirit be you?” My speech had out of unprecedented terror receded into the archaic words of the books and scholars long past.
The figure of Azmir smoothed himself upright with the end of my prayer. My feet rooted themselves to the ground when his piercing smile met my eyes. “You know our kind very well, Father Borelli. We are the children of the night. We are the servants of the Unholy Father. We are Legion.”
“You…you are demons, possessing those men.”
Hadrial closed in on me. For every step he took toward me I took one back, trying to keep some sort of distance between myself and the abomination infesting the body of the hapless man. I kept in sync with Hadrial’s slinking movements. Before I knew what he was doing he had managed to circle around to the other side of the path, trapping myself between him and Azmir.
I was trapped between these two demons that were hell bent on killing me. “Our, our Father…” I tried to pray, but my voice as well as my confidence had left me. My body knew I was finished; my feet weren’t moving and my voice was faltering too much. I couldn’t move and I couldn’t speak; all I could do was watch my assassins stalk closer.
And then it was over. I had been raised with the teachings of the glory of Heaven and knew I had nothing to fear. All too soon I would be with the Holy Father. The relief began to slowly melt the icy fear holding me to the spot. I couldn’t run, I couldn’t fight; so instead I smiled.
My two assailants were standing next to me now. I could smell their rotting breath polluting the air around me. My mind pulsed as I wondered how they would kill me. Azmir was brandishing an old rusty dagger while Hadrial wielded a menacing looking tree limb turned cudgel. I tried to debate which of the two would be preferable. I decided that with one good blow Hadrial could knock me unconscious. I took a step toward the bigger figure and hoped for the best.
The malicious grin on the possessed man’s face was oddly reassuring. It looked like he was going to do what I had hoped. I didn’t even try to block or dodge the thick club as he lofted it over his head and sliced it downwards.
But the blow was not what I had hoped it would be. It hurt, that was for sure. It hurt like nothing I had ever felt before. The solid wooden instrument bypassed my head and in one arcing swoop collided with my ribcage instead. A series of sickly pops informed me that my ribs were thoroughly smashed. I lay on the ground in intense pain watching the two figures as they stood over me, their dull yellow teeth matching their oddly yellow eyes.
The waiting became harder to bear than the blow that had come or the one that I know would follow suit. They were toying with me; there was no doubt about it. I was completely in their mercy and did not expect any sympathy from them. We were holy enemies sworn to destroy each other; I a priest studying to become an exorcist and they two demons possessing lowly men.
Nothing hurts more than waiting for an inevitable destruction. I relished the pain in my chest as a final celebration of being alive. As terrible the agony was, I clung to every fractional second I could retain. All too soon I felt a presence above me. I didn’t want to open my eyes for fear of losing the last shreds of my human self.
I said a silent prayer hoping it was Hadrial who was standing over me ready to bash in my brains rather than Azmir with his dull and rusty dagger. “Looks like he’s ready for death,” Azmir rasped, inevitably relishing in the moment before he kills.
Only one thought passed through my mind. I knew I was going to die and would soon be in front of St. Peter at the Gates of Heaven. So the least I could do was deny these demons the pleasure of my fear as they toyed with me. If I was going to die, then I’d rather die with dignity than beg in disgrace for my life. “Kill me demon,” I commanded, “either kill me or let me be.”
“Brave man you pretend to be,” Azmir scoffed his voice full of menacing mirth. “But you cannot command me to do what I had already planned. You, lowly priest, hold no power over me. I shall kill you by my own will.”
A fierce and feral growl retorted Azmir, compounding on my fears. I knew it wasn’t Hadrial for he was standing opposite the noise. That would only mean that in this forest of possessed creatures a third had joined our party.
It appeared that my original two assassins were as surprised as I was at the new arrival. “Mazuras the cowardly bear,” scoffed Azmir in his raspy tone. “Why do you appear before us now?”
“You have a mortal, do you not?” The deep drawl of the voice was an oddity. I was confused as to why I could hear the voice at all. Wasn’t it a bear who was talking?
Azmir replied, “Yes you insufferable cur. Can’t you tell by his dress he is an exorcist from the church?”
“And you plan to kill him now?” Mazuras questioned.
“Yes,” Hadrial grunted at the other demon, “now leave. We don’t want you here.”
A pause ensued. I knew not the amount of contempt my assassins felt toward the newcomer. I knew not their feelings; instead I relished in the few extra moments which extended my life on this Earth. Azmir was still pinning me to the Earth but the confusion created by the new demon’s arrival paralyzed his action.
Hadrial shuffled toward the newcomer out of my sight. “We told you to leave,” he threatened.
“Get out or we’ll make ya.” The brasher of my two original foes repeated his command.
Again silence ensued. A piece inside of me, I know not its origins, feared for the intruder to our affair. Demon he might be, his arrival had permitted me to live just that much longer and to that I had some gratitude.
I could not see around Azmir what was happening. From the exchange between Hadrial and the new arrival I guessed at the origins of the loud thump. It was not until the large, decrepit, and decaying corpse which Hadrial possessed fell to the ground next to me that I ascertained what happened.
Azmir was enraged by his partner’s felling. To my benefit and bemusement Azmir leapt off my breast. Now that the chief obstacle to my vision had disappeared I could fully see my, for the time being, savior. Encompassing the greater share of the dimly lit path standing on its hind legs with the majesty of the Holy Father himself was a bear with thick fur as black as deepest night.
I watched in awe as the corpse that the demon Azmir possessed flung itself repeatedly at the massive bear with ghastly yellow eyes. I was battered and unable to give assistance to my newfound friend, but from watching their bout I perceived that my intervention would be more of a hindrance than a help. The small blade of the now outnumbered foe was of no use against the thick fur and rippling muscles of the larger combatant.
Their bout did not last long. Mazuras had the bodies of Azmir and Hadrial broken and restrained with his beefy paws. But no matter how critical the wounds inflected on the two bodies were, the nature of the beings would not allow them to die.
This was my cue. Slowly I rose to stand, wincing as my own battered body creaked in agony. Mazuras watched my progress with a weary eye. I made slow progress over to the trio of demons.
When I finally reached the three demons I stopped short before them. “Ma-Mazuras,” I said. My voice quaked with the absurdity of my situation. I, an exorcist, was about to thank a demon for saving my life. So I took a deep breath and restarted. “Mazuras,” I repeated, “thank you for saving me.” I bowed painfully to the massive figure before me. It was odd; despite knowing I should not take my eyes off the being in front of me I felt no anxiety towards the creature.
The great bear sunk low on his forelegs returning his bow. “Priest,” Mazuras’s deep voice heaved, “if you do not destroy these two, they will rally against the monastery all the beasts of the wood and town. They might not win, but surely some of your friends would perish.”
“Do you wish to be purged as well?” I asked the demon in front of me.
Mazuras took a moment’s pause. “No, not yet. Although I am a demon, I wish not the life of damnation condemned to my kind. If you permit me to stay, I will aid you for my redemption. Please priest, tell me your name.”
“My name is Brother Borelli. When I tell you, release the demons and seek refuge behind me.” With an understanding between us I gingerly paced my way over to the massive creature. I drew my cross from around my neck and took from my pocket a vial of Holy Water, saying a silent prayer of thanks that it survived the beating I took.
When I reached the trio of demons I uncorked the vial and wet my fingers with the sacred solution. The chill of the water against my skin invigorated me and gave me the Lord’s strength. Swiftly I drew a cross on the foreheads of the two trapped demons, which immediately sizzled their flesh. “Alright Mazuras,” I called over the screams of the two writhing on the ground. “Seek refuge!”
When Mazuras was safely hidden I started the first prayer of the ritual. “Our Father,” I prayed. “Who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come…”
By the time the “Our Father” was complete, the two demons had a black cross scorched into their foreheads. With the hand that clutched my necklace I made the sign of the cross over each in turn. I then switched to my vial of Holy Water and made the sign of the cross with the liquid. “In the beginning was the Word,” I made another sign of the cross over the two, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” After this second segment the two bodies lay motionless, pinned down by the might of the Lord.
My ribs ached, my head hurt, and my breath came in uneven stitches. I summoned everything I had into the final rite. “I demand you Azmir,” I commanded, “by the name of the almighty Lord that you leave this realm. Azmir, you condemned being, by the word and the power of God may you leave this Earth! The power of Christ compels you!” I accented this last commandment with a splash of Holy Water.
From where the water touched the body of the demon a purple flame burst forth, with a sickly sweet aroma puffing from the odd flames. Not a noise was made, but in the smoke that billowed from the corpse a shadow appeared. A face etched with all the horrors of Hell silently cackled back at me. Instinctively I guarded myself with my cross and in that moment a glorious blue light erupted from the gem at the center and dissipated the malevolent smoke.
Once more I preformed this rite this time on Hadrial. Again the same evil shade showed itself and once more the glorious blue light from the gem on my cross cast the evil away.
A rustling from the bushes behind me startled me from my transfixed state and without thinking I turned the cross on the intruder. Mazuras, standing before me, was bathed in the same blue light that had eradicated the two shades previously. “Mazuras!” I exclaimed, hastily shielding the bear from the light of my cross. “I’m sorry my friend. Are you hurt?”
The great bear said nothing but simply stood as if transfixed where he stood. I had to make it up to the demon. “Mazuras I–”
But he cut off my apology. “It’s alright Priest Borelli. That light, that light is surely the glory of God.”
“But why were you not purified?” I exclaimed in excitement.
“I do not know,” Mazuras replied simply, “but I am still in this world.”
Mazuras accompanied me silently to the gates of town. It was only when we arrived that we finally spoke. “Perhaps it is a sign?” I guessed. “Perhaps the Lord has recognized your wish. Perhaps not all demons are destined for Hell. ”
“Perhaps,” was the last thing he said before returning to the wilderness.
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