James’s Note: I am a huge fan of subverted expectations. I always like when the monster gets to be the hero. So I asked myself, what if we look at the torturer from a different direction. Also, I came up with the story to match the title, which is wonderful metal.
I don’t approve of the whip. I never have.
True, there is nothing like it for inflicting unbearable agony in a hurry. There’s also nothing like it for leaving scars and infected wounds. The fever alone after a lashing will kill as likely as not.
When I joined the order, I apprenticed under Inquisitor Culpeper. If the man had a soul, you couldn’t prove it by me. What he did have was a keen analytical mind and an astounding knowledge of anatomy. It was under his brutal tutelage that I learned the craft I would come to perfect.
By the time I was inducted as a full Inquisitor, I had already revolutionized the field of exorcism. I still remember my first mission. I was sent to this little backwater village in the Blackwoods Barony. The local priest swore blind they had two cases of demonic possession. I rode for a day and a night, sleeping on my horse. Sir Logan, the knight they sent with me for protection, never complained. Not that he could. He was a hulking brute whose mad father had silenced forever when he cut out his tongue. He was no company at all on the trail, but very comforting to have at my back.
When we rode into the village, I realized we weren’t a moment too soon. The priest was unseemly in his excitement. He informed me he had his own whip that he was ready to use. I managed not to spit at his feet in disgust. I demanded the subjects be brought before me at once.
They were both boys, neither one of them could have been over fourteen. I started with the younger, and began my examination. I spoke to him calmly, soothing him as much as I could. He laughed when I accused him of just being tired from chasing all the village girls. Before the Inquisition, anyone acting strangely was assumed to be possessed. Luckily, we were here to apply scientific reason.
I felt the boy’s brow, and he was burning up. Demons make the body run chill and clammy. Just to be safe, I used my best diagnostic tool. My studies have revealed that no wound treated with fire could cause a fever. I heated a thin steel needle in the hearth until it glowed, and drove it under the nail of his smallest finger. The boy screamed and thrashed, but showed no signs of demonic power. I almost felt guilty seeing the look of betrayal in his eyes.
That was all the proof I needed. Demons are primal by nature, and cannot help but react defensively to paint. I told them that the boy most likely had a brain fever. He might or might not live, but he definitely wasn’t possessed. The priest stepped forward to object, claiming he knew a demon when he saw one. When I called him an ignorant sadist, he tried to hit me.
The crashing backhand from Sir Logan sent the priest to the ground like a bundle of old laundry. I ignored him and turned to the other boy.
His eyes were full of terror as I laid my hands on him. I tried to calm him, but he would have none of it. His father had to hold him tight to the bed. When I felt his brow, he was cold as the grave. When I applied the needle, all hell broke loose.
His eyes glowed like fresh forged iron, and his teeth elongated in the fangs. A forked tongue like a serpent’s lashed out of his mouth. I deftly pinned his head to the bed, careful not to let the blasphemous tongue touch me. Those are usually dripping with poison. That was all the proof I needed. There was at least one demon in this village.
Sir Logan helped me tie the boy to a chair with his head pinned back, staring at the ceiling. I felt sorry for the boy, but this was the only way to save him. In the days before the Inquisition, the possessed were just executed. All those wasted lives still saddened me. But it was okay, I was here to help.
This is where some inquisitors would reach for the whip. I will never use such barbaric practices. You see, the trick is to make the demon feel enough pain that it will reflexively flee its host. They can’t help it. It’s their instinct, because if the host dies while they’re possessing it, they die as well.
That was the first time I ever tried the Drowning Chair. I know, there’s nothing new about controlled drowning. The problem is, when you actually put someone under water, there’s a chance they will actually drown. If fluid gets in their lungs, they can drown hours after you remove them from the water. My way is ingenious, if I do say so myself.
I wrapped the boys head in cloth tightly. He could still get breath, but only barely. I then precisely poured water over his face. When the water soaked the cloth, it cut off all but the barest trickle of air. If you do it carefully, the subject won’t even lose consciousness.
That made the demon rage. Its skin rippled, talons burst from its fingers, but I am an expert with knots, and all its strength couldn’t even strain the ropes. I think that in whatever form is natural to Demons, they don’t have to breathe. The lack of air seems to frighten them more than actual pain.
This demon was particularly stubborn, and we had to apply the drowning for almost an hour. Finally, the boy’s body convulsed, and a fiery smoke poured out of his mouth. I laughed hysterically and clutched the boy to my chest. It had been my first exorcism, and it had worked.
That was years ago now, but I still think of that boy fondly. I’m sure he doesn’t think of me the same way. I still remember the fear in his eyes as I rode out of town. But that’s fine. I hear he has a pretty wife now, and two sons. And that’s all because of me.
That’s why I can do the hard things. That’s why I can stand the accusatory looks. The people who won’t meet my eyes in the street.
I hope I will be remembered for the good I have done, and judged by the tools I have used.
I’ll let the other Inquisitors be judged by the whip.