Duo

Forgive me, Father. This is my first confession with you. It will not be my last.

I know you are new to our Order. I saw you ride with the other travelers through our gates one snowy night, two weeks ago. I studied you from the shadows. I watched your eyes, drinking in every detail of our forbidding fortress. You were innocent, fresh, eager to see everything and do your duty.

When men took up the sword against demons, centuries ago, the hellspawn were creatures of flesh and blood. We would strike them down with blessed blades, glowing with the radiance of God, and they would disintegrate into ash and screams.

The Mountain King declared a feast, at the end of our glorious campaign. The high priest announced a holy day. It was a hollow victory. We learned that the demons did not truly die. They were banished by our warriors, yes. Those bodies were drawn from the dead elements. Now they rose clad in bodies of our living brethren.

We changed tactics. Priests and magi enchanted runes, which we hung over doorways. Cities and manors were protected. The few unfortunate wretches who wandered the roads at night were the demons' only choice of vessel. So they grew crafty, and cunning, and patient. No longer content with blood and slaughter, they took to seduction and deceit. Whole downs would fall because the mayor's daughter trysted with a handsome farmer's son at night, not guessing he was in thrall to dark forces.

Even these demons would return if their human host were slain. They tormented the family and friends of their stolen flesh. They mocked the priests, the soldiers, calling us by name and naming us craven and powerless.

We changed tactics again. We would travel in pairs — the Duo. One of us would live a life of purity, simplicity, and virtuousness. He or she would be sinless in God's eyes. The other would be a warrior, merciless and pitiless. He or she must have the courage and skill to strike, no matter the cost.

The sacred soul would find a demon looking for a host, or mystically draw out a demon already possessing someone. The entity becomes drawn to the light of purity, but cannot escape it. One member of the Duo becomes possessed.

Well. You can imagine the rest. The other exists to strike their partner down. You see, a demon caged by one forgiven and blameless is drawn to Heaven when their host dies. There is no escape for the soldiers of hell in their enemy's camp, and no such demon has ever returned to plague us.

There is a risk, of course. If the possessed member of the Duo hides a secret sin, or allows regret or hate or fear to cloud their pure intent, they are drawn downwards, to Hell. Their demonic passenger will go too, but it will return in due course, and seek out to mockingly corrupt the killer. We, the warriors, must ceaselessly guard our own feelings for this reason.

One mortal life in exchange for a powerful demonic essence seems a low enough cost to pay, if you are the Mountain King or his high priest. And so it continues. The Duo is sent out. One is cursed to die. The other is cursed to live.

I have killed many of my fellows. The most recent one, Johan, fell only three weeks ago. A good man. I remember his last smile, his pale cheeks, the blood…

Once again, the scions of Hell come to plague us. Once more, I must join a Duo. I have been assigned the best partner the Order could find.

Keep your innocence, your freshness, your eagerness, Father. By Heaven, you will need them to the end.

Forgive me.