Chapter 0

Thousands of years ago, The Son of God was made man, and he stood before a child whose voice spoke in languages no human ear could decipher. The child would weep its misery to the dust, grind its pain into its fingernails, close its sins into its fists. The Man would unclench the child’s fingers to free the sins that clung to its heart, wiped the pain from the child’s body, unburdened the child of its anguish.

He merely spoke a few words, but they formed the basis of all ceremonies – all the rites – that would follow.

The world that surrounded that very first rite was one of war, of desert kingdoms whose rulers worshiped gods in the forms of beasts of prey, of palaces of the rich that lived on the backs of the silent poor.

The world changed after His death, as the faith that carried His name spread across continents, crossed rivers, sailed through oceans stirred by tempests, rode through mountains and hills in quiet disguise. And as for the wars – they continued. In the name of religion, of gods, of water, of food, of glory for this or that monarch, the wars waged.

There were wars that drove His followers into hiding, and wars that made His followers too bold, forgetful of their humble beginnings as the helpless seeking refuge. Some wars were mounted to chase the faithful out, others framed as an illumination of faith, a weeding out of warlocks and witches.

The wars were fought in trenches, with fire; then in constructed worlds, with words, acid, venom.

The rite, as the church from which it came, remained. Through wars both real and imagined, the words, prayers, and exhortations were the same. Latin, the language of the church, seemed to be as threatening a shroud as the crimson cloaks of the cardinals, so that the Ritual became a script, a chant, a long song that guaranteed salvation for anyone who heard it, power to anyone who spoke it.

The guarantees were false, a poor interpretation of the intent of the Ritual; words make fools of those who believe that they have nothing else.

As the world neared a new millennium, the Roman Ritual became a staple of fiction, and was buried beneath lectures for would-be priests. Evil was not material in its form, the lecturers said; Satan was not a creature, but an idea, a manifestation of sin. The Devil became a myth equal to Hades, with his fiery underworld and three-headed dog. Hell became a storybook place, a weapon to frighten wayward children.

Exorcism, by transference, became an outdated ceremony as trite as the dozen spoons and forks and knives that required a specific arrangement at the dinner tables of the elite. Possession became a joke that older seminarians played on their younger counterparts. No one could be inhabited by evil, or have their soul stolen by demons, or have their senses taken away. No mind could claim to be rational and yet believe in the drivel that the horror stories fed.

No rational mind enlightened by knowledge could ever be seized by an imaginary creature, was the claim.

But the priests, who had inherited the mantle of The Man, who worked in the farthest reaches of the faith or in the places where the so-called jokes were real – they could see that the lectures were incomplete, inaccurate, even untrue.

They could see that evil knew how to bury itself in the lie of rationalization. They could see how evil could strike in myriad ways, in children who suddenly glared back at the priest with adult eyes, in young men who became beasts, young women who turned into glowering creatures with fangs and scaly skin, old and frail men and women who had the strength of wrestlers and warriors. These priests, these ministers could see how their most fervent prayers truly worked miracles, and how their half-hearted chants garnered demonic giggles that emanated from victims who seemed to hold no joy.

Victims who no longer looked human, one priest said, on a visit to the Vatican.

The world was changing, another priest added.

But was it truly changing? Or had it always been a world of wars and contrasts, words and blood, darkness disguised as light?

Had the world truly changed, or had its constancy simply become clearer?

As the new millennium opened, then so did the Vatican implement a month-long exorcism course, which had been pioneered by a then Argentine bishop and an American priest – a course that had been skimmed through, shrugged at, mothballed. The course finally saw the light of day as the bishop became cardinal and the priest became exorcist. The course needed to be revised, and it needed grounding in research – and the course would get it, now that the Argentine Cardinal was the Pope, and the American priest was the church’s foremost adviser on exorcism.

And the world around this course – it was one of wars fought on battlefronts where the soldiers did not even see each other face to face. Oh, but the anger, and the rage, and the resentment – they all flowed out so easily into words, so readily into responses that were typed out so articulately by those who claimed to be awakened, rational, enlightened.

And in the midst of the wars, two brothers were flown to the Philippines, there to work with a research team of priests. The rise in cases was most pronounced, most accelerated, in the last bastion of Catholicism in the Far East. The cases were varied, entrenched in a culture that tottered among the worlds of the rational, the Catholic, the natural, the supernatural. People went to church on Sunday and wore amulets blessed by elves to keep them safe from assassins. Children would whisper to their parents about having little friends in their back garden, and their parents would leave out food for the “visitors” alongside images of the Christ child on their household altars. The old had their prayers; the young had their questions –

And there was pulsating, broiling, boiling anger, the likes of which had never been seen before.

The rage was warranted, when made in response to an issue that had to be taken to the streets. But at other times, the fury seemed to simply spring forth from its bounds at the slightest urging, the merest whisper of an almost imaginary offense – a word, a wrong brush, an adult supposedly unable to grasp the vision of youth, whatever the sentiment meant.

It all played into the faceless war of letters and words.

The brothers were ready to work, but…

The carefully-laid plans, so optimistic in their formulation by their uncle the Pope, dissipated in weeks: some priests gave up on the analysis of exorcism transcripts, others fell sick from the sessions, and yet others felt their passion for their vocation – even for their lives – drained out by a storm of fear and rage. Doctors and psychiatrists were excited at first, but stepped back and withdrew all correspondence when they sat in on interviews with victims. They might have appeared frightened, but in truth, they were insulted.

How could a stronghold of Catholicism be so overrun with demons? How could a country known for its happiness and hospitality be invaded by evil? How could a country so victimized and downtrodden and humbled (those who asked the questions used the word so loosely) by economics, and conquerors, and weather, and storms, and the very nature of a merciless planet – how could the country that still managed to be happy (this too, was a loosely used term) still have yet another burden on its already bent back?

Only a few priests believed in the cause and saw its need.

And the cases kept on rising.

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