The narrow alleyways of the Armenian Quarter of Old Jerusalem were beginning to darken as twilight stretched the shadows of the ancient stone buildings over them. Henry De Montfort felt the age of the city bear down on him like a lead brick, the sheer magnitude of the events it has seen dwarfing his already unimpressive frame even further. As he approached a seemingly deserted building at the corner of the old market, he wanted nothing more than to turn away and leave. De Montfort cursed silently. Damn those foolish old men for choosing this place. They did it on purpose, he was sure, they knew how uncomfortable the memories of their joint history made him. Well, he wasn't about to give them the satisfaction of seeing him cower before a few piles of old bricks. Not when he finally won.
De Montfort knocked on the heavy iron door at the front of the building, and through a hatch appeared a pair of suspicious eyes.
"Where did you come from?"
"From the walls of Carcassonne, mighty and thick."
There was a sliding sound, and the door opened to reveal a heavyset man with a broken nose wearing the shift of a Cistercian monk.
"You can't rush progress, Brother Alberic."
"Tell that to the old men. You know how they get."
That he did. As he was ushered in by Brother Alberic he could hear the sounds of a heated argument from the inner chamber:
"… they still expect us to continue our funding after the fiasco with the honey? That's absurd!"
"The Manna Charitable Foundation has proved to be a valuable asset in the past. It would be prudent to-"
"Valuable? That honey of theirs killed thousands! More! If anyone discovers our connection with them we might as well bury our efforts in East Africa. No, from now on, they are on their own."
"I'm sorry, Bernard, but I have to side with Samuel here. They are a liability the Initiative can no longer afford to be associated with. The honey was simply the final straw in a haystack of failures."
De Montfort cleared his throat loudly.
"We shall continue this discussion later,” said the voice from within. "Come in, Henry. You said you had some important matters to discuss.”
“I should bloody well hope so,” grunted another. “If he insisted on meeting us in person to discuss them. We are busy men, De Montfort, this better be good.”
De Montfort entered the dim room. Most of it was taken by a wooden dais, on which three heavy leather chairs were stationed. The occupants of the chairs were shrouded in darkness, a pointless precautionary measure, since De Montfort knew perfectly well who they were. He didn’t care. Let the old men have their fun playing spies if they wished.
"I assure you, gentlemen, it is. I am here to inform you that the Montsegur Loyalists are no more. If the information we have is correct, the death of their final member should rid us of Bélibaste’s journal once and for all."
"Excellent work, De Montfort,” said the central chair. "The Cathars have been a thorn in our side for far too long, spreading their foul heresy, and that journal was one of their greatest tools. Might I ask how you disposed of him?"
“I’m afraid this is where things begin to get complicated. We found him using one of the relics, and disposed of him using another.”
This caused quite the commotion. De Montfort was surprised at the amount of noise three old men could produce.
When he next addressed him, the outrage in the voice of the left chair was obvious. "You dared to use one of the relics as a killing tool? The relics are sacred objects, De Montfort, as you of all people should know!"
"I had no choice. Someone informed the Foundation of the whereabouts of the last Cathar. We couldn’t risk them getting their hands on him, not considering what he knew. It had to be done."
The chamber was silent for a moment. Then, the central chair spoke. "How did they find out? The only way they could possibly… Oh no."
"A traitor. Someone within the Horizon Initiative must have informed them."
"Well, we all know which section of the Initiative this traitor most likely belongs to," said the right chair. "The journal was stolen from your archives, after all."
There was anger in the voice of the central chair. "What exactly are you accusing me of? The Initiative didn't even exist when the journal was stolen, and you know how the situation in Europe was in the years following the theft. The church had larger matters to deal with than an ancient heresy!"
"Oh, we all know how busy the church was," said the right chair, a dangerous undertone sneaking into his voice. "Yes, the wars kept it very busy indeed."
The left chair sighed. "Gentlemen, this isn’t the time. Allow De Montfort to finish his report."
"As I was saying, a relic was used to sabotage the Foundation’s attempt to retrieve the last Cathar, leading to his death. As far as we know, they remain unaware of our intervention."
"Very well, the matter is closed then. If that is all, I believe we can adjourn-"
"Not quite,” De Montfort interrupted. "There is one more subject I wished to discuss with you. Project Malleus. The Initiative has spent far too long fighting old enemies and burying even older secrets, while new and much more dire threats have arisen. The last Cathar showed us how dangerous inaction can be. It is time we take the fight to them."
This caught the old men by surprise. "Impossible!" said the central chair. "Confronting the Fifth Church and the Church of the Broken God directly?! It’s madness!"
The left chair seemed to agree. "We are still far too few, and far too young. Those groups hold many powerful relics, and who knows what else. The Initiative is still in its infancy, and our support structure is very limited. We must learn to crawl before we can run."
De Montfort was somewhat surprised at the indignation in his voice when he spoke next: "Crawl? We are the leaders of man, the shepherds, the bearers of the sacred light, and you want us to grovel at the feet of pagans and idol worshipers? When will the Initiative be strong enough? When the pieces of the True Cross are burned to fuel a Fifth ritual? When the Menorah is smelted for gears? When the Kaaba is shattered by heathens? We cannot continue to rely on secular groups to stop a spiritual threat such as this. They do not understand, cannot understand. They think they are fighting to preserve normalcy, to defend humanity’s flesh. We know we are fighting for nothing less than its eternal soul."
Finally, the right chair spoke. "As much as I hate to admit it, you are right. You have the support of the Sons of Shamai. Let it never be said we have cowered before evil again."
The left chair spoke next. "Atibba al-Kitab are behind you as well. I have let our weakness cloud my judgment and shake my resolve. We must fight, regardless of the odds. It is our privilege and our duty."
The center chair was last. "It seems I have no choice. The Ordinis Occulti Luminis are with you as well. You may begin the first phase of Project Malleus. We will require additional reports before approving anything further. Leave us."
As De Montfort made his way through the now dark streets back to his hotel, a smile crept to his face. He knew informing the Foundation of the last Cathar was the right thing to do. With the old men finally stirred from their complacency, the world was about to find out just how terrible the Wrath of God could be.