The Trial by Fire (or, Fury in Flames)
By Dana W. Jones
"Do you know why you were brought before us
The question hung in the air, greeted only by silence. Candles burned on a long wooden table, their smoke trails rising lazily towards the high ceiling of the small room. Behind the table sat five figures adorned in the garbs of the Holy Office. They wore shining rings upon their fingers and golden crosses around their necks. One of the figures, the second from the right, coughed nervously and shuffled the stack of papers in front of him, breaking the seemingly impenetrable silence. The figure in the middle, who wore the most rings and had a scar across his left cheek, repeated his question.
"I will ask you once more: do you know why you are here?"
In the middle of the room sat a young woman. Her hands were bound in rope and were placed uncomfortably in her lap. She kept her head lowered and her gaze upon the floor, making sure to avoid the looks of the seated figures. Her long black hair fell in locks in front of her face. She wore a simple, dirty beige dress that was stained in multiple places. Cuts and bruises shined between tears in the fabric. She looked like she hadn't slept or eaten in days. This was a result of her stubbornness, which now manifested itself in her lack of a response.
The middle figure chuckled and shook his head. "Silence will not help you here. The Lord has heard and seen your crimes, even if you will not admit to them yourself." The figure to his left unrolled a piece of parchment and began to read aloud.
"Isabella González de Elche aged twenty and seven…green eyes, black hair…moved to the village of Elche a year and a half ago...no living family known. Isabella, you stand accused of heresy against the Catholic Church of Spain. You have been charged with seven counts of witchcraft, three counts of demon worship, and one count of murder. Known and highly regarded informants have given testimony to all of these charges. The last time we brought you here you denied everything. Do you still claim innocence?"
Isabella continued to stare at the floor. She refused to speak. The last time she was brought before the inquisitors, she vehemently voiced her opinions about the charges. She claimed that the testimonies were false and the sources were not trustworthy and, in between calling the Inquisitors a number of colourful names, tried to explain how the village was out to get her.
The village of Elche had seen great misfortune ever since Isabella moved to town a year ago. On the night of her arrival, a family was burned to death in a mysterious house fire. Three months after that, two small children accidentally drowned in the nearby lake. Tragedy after tragedy caused the village women to become suspicious of Isabella, and they would take any opportunity to slander her name. Soon the entire village was convinced she was a witch, and not long after that the Inquisition began their trial against her.
No matter how hard she tried, Isabella just couldn't turn things in her favour. She was always the first to help her neighbours, but they constantly scorned her. It was true that she didn't attend church as often as she should, which she admitted did seem a little suspicious, and it probably didn't help that two weeks ago she was found in the smoldering ruins of the Arch-Bishop Diego Trujillo's house, completely unharmed and naked as the day she was born. When the Inquisitors asked her about that, well…she didn't really have an answer.
Her refusal to plead guilty to the murder of the Arch-Bishop led to a week in solitary confinement and a daily visit from the Inquisition's torturer. Her cuts and bruises hurt just from the thought of his bloody work. She rubbed a bruise on her thigh when she heard a familiar voice begin to whisper.
Hurry up and finish this. You are taking too long.
Isabella raised her head, trying to find the source of the voice. It felt as though it was insider her head, yet came from every corner of the room. The Inquisitors appeared to have not heard the voice. They simply stared at her, awaiting her response.
Oh no, she thought to herself. He's back.
"Ms. González," began the figure at the right end of the table, "you were found among the ruins of Arch-Bishop Trujillo's home. His body has still not been found, and we still do not know how the fire was started. You have yet to give any evidence as to prove you were not involved in what appears to be the murder of a man of the cloth, a heinous crime against the Church."
Isabella gave the man a cold stare, still refusing to speak. She tried to think how she could've gotten into this situation in the first place. Isabella often had trouble remembering things. She couldn't remember how she first arrived in Elche, or much before that. She couldn't remember how she got to the Arch-Bishop's house, or what happened there that night; she wanted the answer as badly as the Inquisitors did.
What if I just tell them that, she thought. It's the truth.
As Isabella opened her mouth to reply, a great gust of wind blew out the candles on the table. The wind whipped up the robes of the Inquisitors and ruffled their papers while they sat stoically and unmoving. Isabella's hair whipped about in front of her face, and the force of the wind was so great she was nearly swept off of her chair.
Just as soon as the wind came, it left. The candles sparked back to life and all of the Inquisitor's papers were neatly stacked in front of them on the table: it was almost as if the small hurricane didn't just pass through the room. The middle Inquisitor began to speak, but Isabella didn't hear a word he was saying: behind his head, deep in the shadows cast by the candles' flickering flames, were two eyes staring at her.
Isabella was instantly struck with fear. That pair of eyes was not one she could ever forget. They were filled with unbridled wrath and furious anger. The pupils were blacker than a starless sky and the irises burned with actual flames. A long, gaunt face soon began to take shape around the eyes. It looked like a wooden black mask, grainy and vertically lined from top to bottom. A pair of ram's horns protruded from the top of the head and long raven black hair framed the face. The face lacked a nose and mouth, but two piercing, burning eyes sent waves of fear through Isabella's body.
Look, said the face. We are finally alone.
Isabella looked away from the face and saw that He was right. The room was now empty save for her, the face, and the middle Inquisitor, who was now making his way around to her side of the table.
"Isabella, you cannot continue to fight us like this," he said. "It will get you nowhere." He walked behind the chair Isabella was sitting in and placed his hands on her shoulders. "A beautiful girl like you does not deserve a fate like this. I can save you. Just admit to the charges, and I can save you." He began to massage her shoulders.
You are so close now, said the face. Do it. The face floated out of the shadows and His body began to take shape. His torso was that of a man, naked and muscled, and His lower half was composed of coarse, dark fur. His large arms ended in monstrous hands with sharp claws, and His legs were those of a goat. In the candlelight His jet black skin gleamed.
Isabella struggled to find her voice: fear consumed her entire being. Tears began to well in her eyes.
"I…I can't…" she stammered.
What do you mean you can't, screamed the voice. You cannot turn back now. Remember the carvings in the floor, the oath in blood you made to me. Everything you have done has led to this moment. The revenge you seek lies in front of you, and I have brought you here.
"What do you mean you can't?" asked the Inquisitor. "You'd rather burn at the stake? I am offering you life. Well, being my concubine won't be much of a life, but it's better than death. You can be my little secret. Saving you could be our little secret. You seem as though you would know what to do."
Isabella could no longer hold back her tears. As she began to cry, the creature started towards her, completely phasing through the Inquisitor's table. The Inquisitor circled around the chair to Isabella's front and grasped her chin firmly in his hand.
You know what must be done, He hissed, His voice enveloping her. It is because of him that you had to watch Catalina die. He and Trujillo used her and left her. What they did to her was inhuman. Remember her screams, the pain she felt. Trujillo met his fate, and now this bastard must as well. You always wanted him to pay. Take your revenge.
"Wait," the Inquisitor snarled into Isabella's face. "I have seen you before. You're that little whore from Toledo. Yes, I remember you. You and your sister." A wicked grin spread across his face. "Did Catalina ever recover from the beating I gave her? She gave me this in return." He pointed to the scar on his cheek. "Look at what that bitch did to my face! I hope she's rotting in hell. And you can rot with her. I'll enjoy watching you burn on the stake like the witch you are."
Isabella screamed and cried as the Inquisitor griped her face harder and harder. The creature now stood right behind the Inquisitor. The Inquisitor brought up his free hand, as though he was going to hit her.
Now, the time is now. You know what to do.
The rope bonds around Isabella's hands began to smolder and her skin began to glow. Where at first she felt an uncontrollable fear, she now felt indescribable warmth. For the first time since Catalina died, she felt at peace. She could feel the warmth spreading through her body, turning into a great heat. It was finally ending.
The Inquisitor's hand connected with her cheek, sending a shockwave of pain across her face.
Then the flames burst forth.