22 June 1989
Finding traces of the cult was surprisingly easy. Ensuring no one knew that I was doing so was the difficult part.
The little things helped quite a lot, really. Bits of graffiti in ancient scripts hidden in underpasses, whispers in the right bars just before last call, and local folklore all played a role in pointing me to some small islands off the coast. I was able to call Flitwick every few days with what information I had gathered, and usually by that time he had researched what I found the time before and would give me the information I needed. Last night, we were able to narrow down a date. The evidence suggested that the ritual was going to happen on June 29, late at night. We knew the location would be somewhere on the islands around Southport, and I have a week to figure out which one. Flitwick informed me that he had to take a trip for work, some summer training in his field, and he would not be available before the date of the ritual to help me any more. He wished me luck, and I prayed for safe travels. I am on my own now, but I believe I have all that I need.
1 June 1989
When I woke again, the sun was bearing down hard on me, in long strips broken apart by the shadows of trees, from near the western horizon. The only noise were the cicadas, early crickets, and the late birds, and the soft tone of a river further down the slope where I had passed out. My notes and clothes were scattered all around me, and the marks from the sheriff's fangs ached. The grass around me looked like it had been singed, but never caught fire.
I gathered my things, got dressed, and made my way down to what I found was actually a creek. The water hissed and steamed when I placed my hands in it, so I stopped and began to focus. I had to get my body back under control, I couldn't return to my superiors like this. When I was finally ready to drink, I began to wonder if I could return to them at all yet. I determined that Flitwick would be the best place to start. I had not yet made contact with him, so there was no reason for the cult to watch for me there; and his relationship with the Church meant that he could get a quiet message sent along. I wanted to rest some more but had no desire to test the limits of providence that prevented me from being found already. It was time to move.
It was late into the night before I found the professor's house. He was, thankfully, a light sleeper and I was able to rouse him enough to be welcomed in with little fuss that would alert his neighbors. When I tried to convince him of the urgency of my mission, he patted me on the shoulder and informed me that no one was coming here and that he would be useless to me without at least a little more sleep. Satisfied at his own answer, he returned to his bed, leaving me with permission to make myself comfortable. The only comfort I could find in that moment, however, was understanding the nature of this cult.
I took over his dining room, spreading my notes around the table and jotting down new ones based on my encounter the night before. For hours I poured over the connections and the gaps, trying to understand what event they were preparing for and how to stop it. They were planning to gather victims for sacrifice, and I had no idea how to stop them from doing that. As I attempted to piece everything together, I didn't notice the sun rise, or Flitwick preparing coffee or rejoining me. I leapt when his hand casually reached over and lifted my drawing of the circle in the basement of the inn.
"This is very old magic," he muttered, sitting down and resting his mug on the nearest clear space. I took a deep breath and reclaimed my seat opposite him.
"Seemed lively as ever."
"You know well enough that magic does not age." He set the page down and began looking over my scattered notes, taking a particular interest in the drawings. "What do you know about this cult?"
"They are not a minor nuisance, as we expected. The cell I encountered is part of a larger organization, led by a Barzai, with plans to 'free' mankind of the influence of gods and religion. They are violent, they perform human sacrifices, and their leaders at the very least have access to dangerous magic."
"Fascinating. What do you know about this plan?" I leaned forward, resting my forehead on my hand.
"Less than I would like. It seems to be a summoning, they appear to believe that the serpent of Eden is a singular being, a Great Serpent, who they can call upon to finish corrupting mankind. I don't know what, exactly, they will summon if they succeed, but I fear they will certainly be able to summon something. And I know whatever is coming, is coming soon." He picked up my drawings of the markings in the cave.
"Wait," he said, grabbing the other circle from the inn. "I think there's a clue here. Do you know the geographic orientation of these markings?"
"Oh," I said, sitting up, "No, I don't. Why?" He went into the next room and returned with a stacks of road atlases, shoving a section of papers aside to lay it down and open the first to a map of Tennessee.
"Show me where the inn is, and the cave, if you can." I rose and stood over the map, scanning for anything I knew. I pointed out the town where the inn was and was able to identify the general area of the cave. He noted the county, and then dug through the stack until he found a more detailed county road map. We found both locations, and after a discussion about the orientation of the basement compared to the front door, and the way the cave angled, he felt he had an idea on how everything was laid out.
"This has been very interesting, professor, but will it help us?"
"Yes! Okay, look here. The circle in the inn is a summoning circle. It has these markings around the outside, here, see? One of them, and only one, matches markings you identified in the cave. If the geographic orientation is important, and they usually are for things like this, then there should be more sites at each of these symbols. We just have to determine the scale."
"How do we do that?"
"I have no idea. Something attempting to summon a creature to oppose God Himself would have to be huge so it could collect a lot of energy. But if the scale is too large, then some places would have to be in the ocean. Which...well, there's this large empty area here..." He began tracing out the circle, and then pulled out an atlas of North America and started trying to match up locations. "The largest I think this could be, since there is an area with no sites that would probably be in the ocean, would be if this lower site is in Bermuda, and this other site in the Bahamas, and that would put the central site somewhere here in North or South Carolina, near the border, on the coast. I think that needs to be your next destination."
"The sheriff talked about gathering people for sacrifice, though. I need to stop him before I can just drive off to the beach." Flitwick waved his hand dismissively.
"I'll call the state police, they can handle a murderous sheriff. My guess is that there won't be any record of this...Jimmy's death on their official rolls, and that alone should raise reason to investigate. You have bigger problems, Father de Monte. I suggest you address them." I was hesitant to admit he was right, but there was little more I could do here. I needed to track down the ritual and learn how to counter the magic they would be using, and had very little time to do so. Flitwick drove me to the nearest Greyhound station and bought me a ticket to Wilmington to begin my search. I was only on the bus a few minutes before I drifted off.
30 May 1989
When the sheriff turned, I saw that his eyes were faintly glowing and more resembled those of a serpent than a man. He looked directly at me, and smiled with a mouth that seemed to be growing larger. I saw the fangs begin to appear from his upper jaw as he tossed the gun aside and lunged forward.
I dodged but he followed, his features slowly losing any semblance of humanity. He moved almost like a snake, weaving and bobbing with supernatural grace. I would punch, he would parry; he would lunge, I would just avoid it. I slipped back into the physical realm to gain traction and caught him with a right hook. As he recoiled, the cloaked figures saw their chance and dove at me with the knives. I slipped back into the spiritual and was knocked down by a strike to my leg from the sheriff. He bit down but I managed to get enough of my left arm into his mouth that the fangs just missed. I used the leverage I had to throw him to his back and roll onto him, and heard his ribs crack as my right fist made contact. He screamed, releasing my arm, and threw me hard through the ceiling. When I had passed through, I went physical again, crashing against the next ceiling but landing on the first floor instead of back in the basement.
Plaster rained down around me as I forced myself to my feet, and the few staff that were available screamed and ran. I knew my attackers would not wait very long for my return. The staff were almost certainly going to call for more police, if the sheriff hadn't already ensured he had backup. I clutched my bleeding arm; there was no venom in it, but the teeth were sharp enough to cause considerable damage. Before I got very far in leaving the scene, the sheriff bolted out of the basement door and pinned me against a wall. God, he was so much faster than I expected.
He bit hard into my shoulder and I screamed. While he was busy with that, however, I noticed a pail of water near me. I managed to reach it and mutter a quick prayer of blessing before dumping it over the both of us. Steam rose thick from his head as he let out an unearthly noise and released me. As he lay writhing on the floor, the holy water seared his scales, I knelt beside him and pressed my hand between his eyes, quickly performing an exorcism. If there was anything human left of him, it put up no resistance and I never saw it. What lay broken and burned under me when I stood was an avatar of whatever serpent spirit they revered. It was then that I heard the other figures ascending the basement stairs, so I turned immediately and ran back to my room. I grabbed my notes and my clothes and leapt from the window.
The world was beginning to grow fuzzy and spin. The venom was taking hold. I had to get just a little farther, just to where they wouldn't find me, just a little more. I tore through the woods, branches I couldn't see snapping or leaving small cuts across me as I fell through them. I couldn't wait any longer. I had no idea where I was or if it was enough, but I was running out of time. My vision was growing dim. I dropped all that I was carrying and allowed my glamour to drop. My body knew what to do if I just let it. My blood nearly boiled as it burned away the venom, and when it was all over, I collapsed.
30 May 1989
I sighed as I knelt down to close the boy's eyes.
"They never repent. Why do they never repent?" Nevertheless, I always pray for the soul. Maybe it will have found its way to Purgatory after all, and from there, who knows? One can hope. I was in the middle of giving last rites when the door was kicked open and the sheriff charged in, pointing a gun at me. I tried to explain what I was doing.
"Luke is free of your God now, priest," he barked, training the gun on me. "Now I'm gonna need you to stand up nice and quiet." I raised my hands and stood.
"You should know that he came in here to kill me." I motioned toward the axe laying on the remains of the bed. "That is your jurisdiction, is it not?"
"I know you Frenchy types think you know so damn much, but don't you think I'll be taking work orders from you!" I wanted to be surprised that this man did not know the difference between a German and a French accent, but it seemed there was little benefit to exploring that now.
"Officer, I'm simply trying-"
"Shut your hole and come with me!" I took a deep breath and nodded. "That's more like it. Now, move!" I walked out of the room as he followed me, gun aimed at me the whole way. He gave me directions, and it was a short time before I found myself staring down a stone stairway leading into what seemed to be a basement.
"This seems highly irregular, officer." I felt the gun press into the back of my head.
"I told you to shut up and move, priest." I descended the stairs, and found myself in a rough-hewn room with a large red spiral engraved into the floor and a small drain set into the center. Two cloaked figures stood on opposite sides of it. Whatever this place was, the wall between worlds was certainly more thin than the surrounding area, so I braced myself.
"I suppose this explains the reaction time in this town. You knew Luke was coming."
"Luke was a good kid, but he weren't gonna think of this on his own."
"Was?" one of the cloaked figures asked in a feminine voice. "What happened?"
"Seems the Pope ain't all nice and gentle after all. He sent us a damn killer," the sheriff replied. "We knew there was something off about you when we sensed you in the cave, priest, but I must say I was surprised to find you standing over a dead body."
"He...he killed Luke?!"
"Nevermind that now, woman! We got a situation!" The woman pulled out a dagger, and the other figure copied her. "Now, you, priest, there's something weird about your blood. We can smell it. And I think it's gonna be even more useful for our needs than the people we'd been planning on."
"Good to know," I said, "but I really must decline." There was little need to hide my gifts from these people. They may not know exactly what I am, but they knew enough. It had been a while since I'd stepped into the spiritual realm, but I knew the way, and I only had to get there before the sheriff thought to pull his trigger. As far as they saw, however, I was standing before their spiral and then I was gone. While the cloaked figures began rushing around and demanding to know what was happening, the sheriff lowered his gun and began muttering in a language I had never heard. I felt the power in the air and knew things were about to get complicated.
Evidence compiled for use during the trial of Father Benedict de Monte.