A stone chapel sat atop a small rise in the middle of an otherwise flat field. Dusk had begun to throw long shadows of the building across the wind swept grass.
Inside, a middle aged monk in the plain brown robe sat at his desk. One hand fidgeted with the rope sash that wrapped his waist as a belt while the other hand held a long feathered quill hovering above an ink well. He was lost in contemplation over the words that he had just read from the ancient script. The words were in Latin. Some things just do not translate well from Latin to German. Even worse, the manuscript was worn and faded parchment.
Moments passed, and the frustration of moving words from one language to another began to wear on him. He sat in the hard wooden chair with his brow furrowed and his teeth clenched, willing the words to obey and reveal their translation.
He jumped at the sudden banging on the door. The startle caused his heart to skipped a beat or two…
“What?!” His temper burned below the surface. For the past two hours, the monk had stared at the words on the page, but nothing seemed to make sense. He didn’t need an interruption.
The response was muffled.
This time it was the snarling lions head door knocker.
He jumped from his chair, knocking it backwards, banging his knee against the table and spilling the inkwell that held the feather pen. Cursing softly, he righted the ink well but the spilled ink was ignored until after he could properly reprimand the impatient person at the door for disturbing him.
The monk shouted “If only the bishop would have granted my wish for a gargoyle on my front stoop, I would beckon him to devour you that I might return to my study!”
“Ha ha ha ha ha!” came an unrestrained laugh from the other side of the door. “They say the sacred beasts do not dine on monks,” said smooth deep voice.
The man outside yanked door open. Wind rushed through the small room carrying leaves with it, scattering them along the wood floor. The glow from the fireplace flickered and cast angry shadows against the wall. He wore a black monks robe with the hood pulled over his head that revealing nothing about his appearance, rope belt at the waist, black leather sandals. He stood at least a foot taller than the monk.
The monk in the brown robe paused and reflexively stroked the top of his shaved head with his hand. “Rothmann,” he said now understanding the rude interruption.
“Yes Martin.” Again the deep voice carried across the threshold.
“I think my gargoyle would have a belly full by now. You are no monk.”
Rothmann pulled back the cowl and let it drop to rest on his broad shoulders. His most commanding feature was his dark visage. Close cropped dark black hair in a widow’s peak accented dark brown eyes and heavy brows. His beard was smooth, starting at the corner of his mouth and ending in a point where his neck ended at the top of his chest.
“And you? Do you still claim yourself to be a monk? You should venture more from your sequester. You should behold the mess you have made.”
Martin stared at the man through the doorway, and finally sighed “Ivan, please forgive me my manners, come in and warm yourself by the fire.”
“Thank you, Martin. Could you spare some tea?”
”Yes, of course. I was just going to prepare some for myself, the water is already heating on the stove. What brings you here?”
“The time is approaching. Many have read your Ninety-Five Theses. A gathering is beginning. You would be remiss not to be among the throng.”
“And why is that?”
“Surely you don’t deny, you are the horizon upon which the light of truth has risen.”
“Your smooth words are persuasive. However, I will not be part of your madness. Never have my words given creed to your actions.”
“I believe that you will change your mind. I believe that presently, you will be grateful for my actions.”
“Ivan, it is good to make your acquaintance once again, can we not talk of peaceful things. Here, sit,” he said pointing at an empty chair at the table where the spilled ink was still seeping into the papers.
“Bah ha ha ha ha,” Rothman laughed loudly. His voice boomed through the room, dominating the space. “Peaceful things such as tea? Martin, you have stirred a troublesome pot in more than one place. Not only does the church wish you gone, but there are darker forces plotting your imminent demise.”
Martin rose and fidgeted with the boiling pot of water. Neither man talked while he dropped the tea into two cups to steep. The silence grew heavy and accented the increasing sound of the wind battering the shutters.
“Ivan, you are a long way from home. What brings you to this part of the world?” Martin asked as he set the cups of tea on the table.
Rothmann sighed, recognizing the monk would not be rushed. He grabbed a stool far too small for a man of his size and sat. His knees pressed toward his chin. “I felt a pressing need to check in on you,” he said uncomfortably. A few moments passed as the two men shared stories of the most recent news, until both cups of tea were empty.
“Would you like more?”
Rothmann held up his hand, indicating that Martin should remain quiet. He said calmly, “No my friend, do not trouble yourself any longer. Thank you for the offer, but I regret that duty beckons with immediacy. I will depart. There is someone that demands my attention.”
Without a backward glance, Ivan Rothmann pulled the door open again and stepped through. The wind from outside sent the papers in the room swirling into a frenzy.
“Lock the door behind you,” Martin called, but Rothmann did not respond. He instead left the door swinging open.
“Rothmann!” yelled Martin. The monk ran across the room and looked outside. There was no sign of Ivan. Martin shook his head and pulled the heavy door closed. “There is nowhere to go, and yet he leaves without a trace,” he mumbled to himself.
Martin sighed as he turned to clean up the strewn papers. He bustled about, gathering parchment in one arm while chasing the unclaimed pages with the other. Every time he retrieved a piece of paper and added it to the pile, another dropped from his arm and fluttered to the floor. With most of the papers recovered, he set a stack of documents on the table and placed the inkwell on top of the pile. He then proceeded to collect the rest. Finally finished, he sat down once again and began rearranging the papers into their proper sequence.
Outside the gusting wind calmed down and gave way to an eerie silence. “Alright,” He said to himself. “Where was I?” He took a rag and cleaned the ink spill still puddled on the papers, and then returned his attention to the manuscript.
Clank! Clank! Bang! BANG! Clank!
Martin was startled again by the clamor at the door.
“I swear by all things holy, Ivan, you will be the death of me! Come in, will you?” Martin yelled without bothering to look up from his work. The door creaked open behind Martin. “Yes, Ivan, you have reconsidered, as expected, and have come back to discuss at length over more tea. The water is still warm. Go and help yourself.”
“No sir, I am no Rothmann, sir. Just a traveler wishing for guidance.” The voice was dark and barely audible.
Martin glanced up. A giant of a man stood in the doorway silhouetted by the fading sun. He wore a brown monk’s robe with the cowl pulled up. His head was bowed so his features could not be ascertained.
“Yes, yes. What can we discuss today?”
“You are Martin Luther? Composer of the Ninety-Five Theses?”
“One in the same.”
“Esteemed monk, I have read your documents and have issue with your writings. I wish to discuss them.”
“Pompous youngsters” Martin whispered under his breath. “Of course. What errors have you brought forth?”
Martin noticed the difference in the garb. This new monks robes were not tied at the waist, but hung loosely and draped the slatted floor of the church. The sleeves were long enough to completely cover the tips of the fingers.
“I have issue with the actions of others motivated by writings of which you are the source.”
“So you are here on behalf of the Church?”
“No, I am here on behalf of me.” Martin could hear the sneer in the man’s quiet rumble of a voice.
“You give me a great deal of trouble; I have no time for this. I have other business in hand that I should attend to. I bid you good day.” Martin motioned with both hands for the man to leave.
But the man did not budge. Rather, he lifted his eyes to meet Martin’s. The man’s skin was pale, as if the color had been drained from it. Where eyes should have resided, two pools of black liquid swirled. His teeth were sharp and hungry like a wolf’s.
For Martin, time froze in horror. “My God, Ivan was right,” Martin whispered breathlessly. “You are one of them.”
The visitor moved into the living space. “One of them? Believe me, there is only one of me,” he said with a grin that better revealed the white sabers in his mouth.
“You are nothing!” Martin commanded, recovering from the site of the beast. “You are but a shade of something greater!”
“Do NOT call me ‘shade’,” the creature said with quiet ferocity.
“I did, and will continue to do so,” Martin defied. “Listen to the sentence that I pronounce against you now, shade. The seed of the woman shall break the head of the serpent, and that includes the likes of you! Now leave me!” Enraged, Martin picked up his inkwell and hurled it at the beast.
The monster moved to the side. The inkwell crashed against the wall. Ink splattered on the floor and the beast’s robe. From within the sleeves of the robe, sharp talons extended below the cuff. The shade crouched low, both arms extended behind him. Martin stumbled up from the chair and fell, landing on his back. The creature pounced, clearing the distance between them in one leap. Martin rolled to the side as the claws from one of the beast’s hand ripped the folds of Martin’s robe. The Shades other hand swept up toward Martins face, claws extended for a killing strike.
Martin watched as if the world were moving in slow motion. He turned his head and cringed, waiting for the sharp edges to slice his throat. One claw caught his chin and opening a small, taunting gash.
Both Martin and the creature leapt to their feet. The pause in action gave them a chance to size one another up. The crouching demon monk smiled beneath the cowl. Martin reached a hand up to touch the cut on his face. It was clear the monk had no chance against the beast. The monster was toying with him, like a cat with a mouse.
But then Martin smiled a very out of place smile. The monster tilted his head sideways in curiosity.
Martin’s voice was oddly confident for a man about to die. Pointing at the monster, Martin declared, “Beast who dwells in the dregs of excrement, you are made of weakness and deceit. As a rat feeds on the garbage of the impoverished, you also feed on the sorrow of the suffering. Your muscles are made of twine and your fangs are but hollow molds of powder. You have no power here. You are the lowest, the least, and I have no fear of you. For you, despite your false appearance of physical might, are subject to a greater power. And that great power is the equalizer. And it has now come to claim you and return you to your rightful place! IN HELL!”
A voice boomed from the door behind the monster, “Mardock! Turn and face the force of justice. The Rothmann has come for you!”
The monster’s eyes grew wide in terror and its mouth hung open in surprise as it pivoted on its left foot to face the danger behind it. But before the beast could counter, a flash of metal swept in an arc and separated the Mardock’s head from his body. With a thud the monster’s heavy frame fell lifeless to the floor.
“Bah ha ha ha ha,” Ivan laughed loudly. “Fantastic speech Martin! A little over dramatic, but wonderfully done!” he declared loudly, stepping over the corpse of the beast and crossing the room to slap Martin on the back in congratulations.
“That’s what I like to hear. ‘Who dwells in dregs of excrement!’” Rothmann teased, mimicking Martin’s high pitched voice.
“‘Rightful place. IN HELL!’ Ba ha ha ha ha,” he laughed again. “It’s perfect. The perfect end to such a fowl thing.” Rothmann placed both hands on Martin Luther’s shoulders and looked him in the eye. “You are a most amazing man. Today I understand why you are wanted both here and across the veil.” Rothmann then turned, bent down, grabbed the body of the fallen beast, tossed it over his shoulder like a bag of flour, and began searching the room for the thing’s head.
“It’s over there. In the corner, by the spilled ink.” Martin said, pointing. Looking at the decapitated demon made his stomach turn.
“Ah, thank you. Very threatening, by the way, throwing an ink well. You could at least have hit him with it.”
“You were here the entire time?”
Rothmann smirked as he crossed the room and picked up the skull by its jaw. “We have to burn these you know. The stench of them is awful once the spirit’s been sent back across the veil.”
Martin did not need to be told. He stomach lurched again as the stench of the fallen beast began to fill the room. “Be safe” he said to Ivan, bidding him to leave.
“Be safe,” Rothman replied. Then the man turned and walked out the open door.
Martin sighed and moved to close it behind him.