"W hile you are with us, you will take your meals here, and sleep here, too. We shall provide you with clothing.”

They linger at the entrance of the Black House, where the inquisition is housed. Inquisitor Tomaso looks up and down at Ramon’s worn cassock.

“You’ll wear the uniform of the Inquisition. That everyone may know you are one of us.”

He turns and paces down a long, narrow corridor. Ramon follows, moving away from the blinding sunlight into the murky interior. Disoriented, Ramon reaches out and brushes his fingers against the stone walls. They are cold and damp. Something brushes between his legs, and Ramon startles. He looks down to see a scrawny cat, white fur, pink-glowing eyes. It could be a phantom.

The priory was cold in winter, certainly. But never damp. The large, sprawling stone building held itself like a lord, cold but dignified. Hushed but not subdued; dim but never murky. Something throbs in his chest, a sudden ache for home.

The corridor is twenty paces long, and at its end, Ramon follows Tomaso into a large, windowless room. Tomaso kindles a lamp, and in the puddle of light Ramon allows his eyes to flick from wall to wall. The place is bare, but for a large desk and the bookshelves that line the walls. Ramon’s eyes trace the spines. There are no titles, but each tome is stamped with a Roman numeral and a series of letters. Usually, the sight of a room filled with books would stir something in his blood, but all Ramon feels is a strange sense of having left his body behind. All that remains is his eyes, filching pictures of his surroundings.

Custom dictates that he wait for the friar to speak, but Ramon casts this aside. He folds his fingers into each other, trying to ground himself, and opens his mouth.

“What records are these?” he asks.

Tomaso looks up sharply.

Ramon bites back a satisfied smile. By initiating the conversation he has shown that he will not be the underling here.

Tomaso draws a long finger across the books’ spines. “These are the records of the Inquisition,” he says.

“Meaning?”

The question lies between them. The books are closed. The words inside them, stiff cadavers.

Tomaso’s lips are so thin that they have been swallowed inside his face. “The church shrinks from blood. And we do not dirty our hands with punishment. That we leave to the secular authorities.”

“But?”

“But we aim to elicit the truth.” His thin hands wave through the air, like spindles of winter trees. “What higher cause can there be than to find the truth among a tangled thorn bush of lies? Our only weapon is these words. Knowledge.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 588)