The messiah had been born. He had lived and died for us, hung upon a tree. We should have been healed. We should have been pure.
Yet there was still rot within us, still a canker gnawing at the hearts of men. We still sinned. Innocents were slaughtered, greedy hands stole from the poor. Every man with the power built his own small Babylon, gave in to his baser instincts. We had been purified, and yet we were unclean.
There were discussions, debates, arguments. We searched for a solution, pored over ancient texts and crossed the globe in search of foreign wisdom. Nothing helped.
Two main schools of thought formed, despite our lack of knowledge. One group held that the foulness grew from the hearts of men, that we tainted ourselves by merely existing. They held that purity was unattainable, than mankind should be satisfied with his lot.
We put them to the sword. We cut out the rot from our society, the rot that bloomed unrestricted in their hearts and words. We burnt their books, purged them from the world.
The other group, those who had not been seduced into impurity, searched. If sin had been removed by the messiah, and if sin did not spring eternally from human souls, then there was only one conclusion: somehow, more sin was being given to us. From outside ourselves, the foul grime seeped in.
And so we looked. Every forest was cut back, every field burnt down to the stubble. We scoured the world, looking for the taint, for the sources of corruption.
We found plenty. The villages sheltered witches, the cities thronged with hellspawn. We burnt what we found – burnt them in giant pyres, the holy fire cleansing their impure flesh. The smoke hung heavy across the world, a pall for the iniquitous.
Those in league with darkness were burnt, and then those who defended them. Those who gave succour to the evil, who denied and protested at our holy work.
Our scourge was just. It fell on the rich and poor alike, on the beautiful and the ugly. We fought the enemy in courtrooms, then village squares, and finally battlefields.
We triumphed. Those given to the shadow perished in droves, sent to their eternal judgement. Humanity was pruned – a hard, bloody task, but a necessary one.
We knew that our salvation was worth the cost we paid.
Still, though, we were not pure. Even when the last witch screamed out, when the last false king was flung into the pits with his followers, there was sin.
Holy men, bent on holy work, took up the power dropped by the false-hearted, the corrupt and the weak. We gave no opportunity for sin, tabulated and recorded every act, every idle thought. Food, tools, even people, were at our disposition. We allocated our resources where we thought best, that none might be tempted to fall into the sin of greed.
It was not enough.
Weak folk stole, snatching grain from the granaries that fed the holy soldiers. Young men and women still fell into the lure of the flesh. Even holy men, good souls who had done much for the cause, fell from grace. They gorged themselves, lusting after the venal pleasures of the sinning world. They – those we had held in highest trust – took for themselves that which they wanted – wealth, women, even land and power.
Again, we took up the sword. We killed and burnt and purified until peace was restored, but we knew it was not enough. No amount of blood could cleanse our souls.
We searched once more, everywhere. We delved into the earth, looking for some strange ore that breathed corruption into the world. We dissected plants and trees, looking for the roots of evil deeds. We filtered the air a thousand times, ground lenses to see the smallest of things, all searching for the stain that must be somewhere, the vileness that corrupted all.
At last, there was but one place to look. One place that has been beyond our reach until now. One place that may – must – hold the final evil, the last thing that taints us and drives us into sin.
We have burnt the land, scoured the fertile earth away in our search for evil. We have plucked the leaves from plants and the roots from the ground. We have kept only that which we need to survive, in covered gardens watched for impurities with burning zeal. The land has been sanctified; the grey dust holds no secrets.
The oceans are deep and dark. They hold untold mysteries, life that has never known the touch of the sun, or the warmth of divine grace. Down there, squatting in the murk, must be the root cause. The originator of sin. The foulness that still, even now, besets our lives. The oceans must hold the last corrupter.
We shall purify them.
A hundred thousand holy men will chant, sending the message of salvation into the deep. Thousands upon thousands of sinners, their forfeit lives pressed into the service of our holy cause, will crew the boats.
We will sow the seas with psalms and poison, cleansing what can be cleansed and destroying that which cannot. No fire burns beneath the sea, but the powders and potions that take life above the waves take life below it too.
And finally, when the last secret abomination sickens and dies, when the last slimy thing stills on the ocean floor, it will be done. There will be nowhere left for sin to hide, no more source of corruption to lead us astray.
We will be pure.
I was aiming for frothing zeal with this story, a monologue from an alternate history where the inquisition never stopped. That was the aim – I’m not sure how well it comes across, and how much sense this makes. Feedback is very welcome.