Not a Cult

“…and so it shall be, according to thine will. Hail Bas’fal!”

“Hail Bas’fal!” the one acolyte in attendance cried.

I closed the holy book with a thump. Truthfully, I could not even begin to see the words scrawled on the pages in the dim light of the cellar. Fortunately, it did not matter; I had written the book myself as Bas’fal’s high (and only) priest, and I knew its tenants and decrees by heart. I mostly kept the book around for a sense of authenticity, plus the closing thump added some gravitas and finality to the ceremony.

“Good work today, high priest,” Johann said as he approached the lectern. “I really felt as though Bas’fal was about to grace me with her divine darkness.”

“Just ‘presence’ is fine,” I chided him gently for what must have been the hundredth time. “Although Bas’fal thrives in the dark, she is not a servant of it, nor its master. She wears it as you or I wear a cloak.”

Johann frowned. “Am I not my cloak’s master, teacher?”

“No… well, yes, but… Look, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Bas’fal is not evil, nor malicious, nor anything associated with those concepts. She is not a personification of the dark.”

“Why does that matter?”

Above us, the cellar door slammed open, stunning both of us with the light of the rising sun. “Good morrow, servants of Bas’fal! I have come to join your dark brotherhood so that I might bring vengeance upon my enemies!”

I sighed. “That’s why.”

I could just barely make out the figure silhouetted against the sun’s rays as it climbed down the rickety, half-rotten ladder that served as our church’s threshold. “Which of you is the high dark priest of Bas’fal?”

“No, no, no,” I said, waving my hands as I rushed toward the intruder. “There is no ‘dark’ in my title. In fact, you can even leave out the ‘high’. We don’t really think of ourselves as better than anyone else.”

The man laughed. “Preposterous! Leave your silly theories for your lessons, student. I have no time for idle debate.” He turned to Johann, his bright blue eyes gleaming. “Master, do you let this pup speak for you? Discipline him!”

Johann started. “Uh…”

“Oh, my mistake, master, please forgive me!” the intruder said, bowing to one knee. “You must have taken an unholy vow of dark silence, and this acolyte has been designated to speak for you! Mind that you do not misspeak again, student, or the high dark evil priest will have your tongue out!”

“He’s not the high priest,” I snapped. “Nor is he dark, nor evil. And neither am I, and neither is Bas’fal, for that matter.”

“It’s true,” Johann finally added helpfully. “I’ve hardly been here a week.”

The intruder frowned. “But… mine enemies?”

“…will have to go unsmitten for now,” I said, taking the man’s arm and guiding him back to the ladder. “Bas’fal has no need for violence in her name, nor time for those who would mistake her purpose.”

“Which is what?”

I shrugged. “She hasn’t really told us, truthfully. I think she’s a bit—“

“RAARRRRRGH!”

I fell back, startled by the sudden loud noise, which was fortunate because a gleaming zweihander whipped through the space I had been occupying, cleaving the intruder in twain.

“Dear merciful goddess,” I blabbered, scrambling backwards away from the sword’s wielder. “Please, god, oh please, Bas’fal, please stay this warrior’s hand that I might live to worship your name!” The ground was slick with warm blood, and my hand slipped from under me as I tried to crawl away. I fell, and my head slammed against the hard stone floor.

Even before my vision returned, I could feel the cold prick of the sword tip pressing uncomfortably into my throat.

“Surrender, vile creature, and accept the cleansing light of Lusala so that I may spare your life! Else, speak now and hold to the evil teachings of your villainous Bas’fal so that I may take your head as a trophy!”

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” I exploded, both at the paladin staring me down and at Johann, who was standing in the corner, motionless, mouth agape.

“I am here to cleanse this town in the name of Lusala,” the paladin declared. “Word has spread of the evil teachings of Bas’fal, and I am here to free the towns people by the cleansing—“

“Yes, yes, the cleansing light of Lusala, I get it,” I growled. “We’re not evil, and that man you just murdered wasn’t even one of us, you hypocrite! The only terror here is you!”

The paladin paused, looking at the mauled corpse next to him.

“He…”

“…wasn’t a follower of Bas’fal,” I completed slowly, as though he were an idiot (evidence suggested he was). “Nor is that sniveling wimp in the corner. It’s really just me.”

“So you are the dark high pri—“

“NO! No dark, no evil, nothing!” I shouted. “I just want to worship my goddess in peace and solitude! Is that so much to ask for?”

The sword backed off an inch. “No evil?”

I rolled my eyes. “Finally, some movement in that thick skull of yours. No, no evil.”

“But what about all this blood?” the paladin asked, gesturing around. “Surely there must be some dark, arcane rituals happening here.”

No, that was you, you great buffoon!” I yelled. “We’re just—“

“I must consult my god,” the paladin declared. “Lusala, god of light and cleansing fire, reveal thyself and thy grand purpose to me that I might cleanse the world in your name!”

A light flashed, and in it, a man streaming with holy light became manifest.

“—and then I said, ‘Ambrosia? For a third date? You’re really going—‘“

The god stopped and looked around. “What in my name is happening here?“

“Lord Lusala,” the paladin said, bowing. “I have summoned you to determine the truth of this foul deceiver’s word. Is the evil goddess Bas’fal truly—“

“Who?” Lusala asked, annoyance creasing his brow.

“Bas’fal.”

“I don’t know any Bas’fal,” Lusala said. “And where did you get that sword? That was specifically a gift for the knight Andale.”

“Andale died six hundred and thirty two years ago, my lord,” the paladin said.

Lusala’s eyes narrowed. “Give me that,” he said, snatching the sword. He gazed around the room for a moment then recognition lit his eyes.

“Oh, you guys are worshiping Ellie? Oh, this is great news!” he said, pleasure obvious in his voice. “Ellie’s a sweetheart, truly, you’ll love her. I bet she’s so thrilled to have worshippers. But why call her… what was it, Basalt?”

“Bas’fal,” I muttered. “When I first heard her divine word, I did not know her name, only that she was a little… well… bashful.”

The paladin facepalmed.

“Yes, yes, well, she was probably too embarrassed to correct you, but she does prefer ‘Ellie’, you know. No harm done, I suppose.” He stared around the room again, his eyes settling on the mutilated corpse of the first intruder. “Well, not too much harm, anyway.”

The newly disarmed paladin kicked some dust on the floor. “Uh… so… can I have—“

“No, you absolutely can not have the sword back.” With a clap of thunder and a blinding flash of light, Lusala disappeared, and the cellar was silent.

I coughed. “Well…”

“Look, guys, I’m really embarrassed about this whole thing,” the paladin broke in. “This guy, and the sword… I think I should just leave.”

I nodded politely. “Would you mind…?”

“Of course, of course,” the paladin nodded. With great effort, he collected the two halves of the extremely lost man and disappeared up the ladder.

“That was exciting!” Johann said, clapping his hands together in excitement. “Another grand day in the service of her dark majesty!”

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