—– Prologue —–
The reading room of the Munster Cathedral library was deserted; it had been so for weeks. Jan van Leiden, the Anabaptist King of Munster, stalked through the dusty rows of books, his black robes swishing across the fibers of the ornate rug that tied the room together with deep shades of blue, green and magenta. He hated this building, but the reading room was known to provide one of the city’s great views. Arriving at the row of lancet-shaped windows on its western wall, he noted that he could indeed see great portions of the municipality. His view was only marred by the smoke and flame that licked the air and billowed into the sky. Far below him, his city’s denizens ran about like mindless bugs to help extinguish the fires that were cropping up in various locales near the walls.
It was the late spring of the year fifteen hundred and thirty five. The siege had been on for weeks, and the situation was becoming dire. Food stuffs has been rationed. All spare metal had been melted down, and it was unclear how much longer the city could last. The Prince-Bishop, Count Franz von Waldeck, had been unsparing in his assault of New Jerusalem, battering the city to an inch of its life. Leiden had entertained the masses with bloody spectacle and religious ecstasy, executing mercilessly, with wanton cruelty, and having his queen, Divara, and his other wives preside over mass communions for scores upon scores of followers. Through God’s grace, they would overcome this adversity, triumph over what seemed to be nearly impossible odds. A new world, a better world was possible, that much Jan knew. And ever since his mentor, his brother in arms, his baptizer, Jan Matthys, had fallen outside the city’s walls during his Easter Sunday attack, van Leiden had also known that it was his responsibility to deliver it.
Turning away from the window, Jan reached for a chair and pulled it away from the room’s central table. Although only 25, he could feel the immense strain his body had been under since the start of the campaign. He had driven himself with never-ending passion and zeal. Collapsing into the chair, he could at last fully register his fatigue. His head drooped forward, searching unconsciously for a reprieve from the concerns of both this world and the next.
The table was covered in books, heavy volumes that had been written by men very much unlike van Leiden. Learned men. Wealthy men. Men who would never understand what they had sought to build in Munster and what they had hoped to destroy. They would have balked at how van Leiden and his followers had reduced the city’s gluttony, been horrified at the wide-scale iconoclasm that occurred within its limits. But their time was over now.
Van Leiden shoved the books away from him, his arms filled with a violence that was born from something deep inside. He wanted to rest his head on the table. But before he did, a strange text caught his eye. The inside cover was dominated by the singular image of a muscular man in a full sprint, his barrel chest jutting outward, trailed by an enveloping sash that whirled over his head and tucked itself underneath his right armpit. In his left hand, a heavy book lay open, while his right grasped a flamboyant quill that was poised at the ready.
Above the illustration, densely-packed Latin was scrawled from one side of the page to the next, and capping it all off, dominating the entirety of the upper third of the page, was the book’s title: Malleus Maleficarum. Van Leiden had heard of the Malleus before, and had even seen a copy of it back when he was a boy in Zvenhoven. He began to flip through the book’s opening volume. Although his literacy was limited, and although the authors were clearly part of the same oppressive structures that had brought him to Munster, the moral rectitude, the clarity of vision that emanated off the pages spoke to and impressed him. It described a world that felt recognizable, a world overrun with demonic influence and under real threat of total annihilation.
Just then, an explosion rocked against Munster’s secondary wall, sending jagged and blackened shards of rubble into the moat where they sizzled and steamed. The Prince-Bishop’s forces were beginning to break through. Jan could almost feel the heat even from reading room. But as his people screamed, he sighed to himself with a mixture of both anxiety and excitement, knowing full well that the last judgement was finally at hand.