1 March 2006
There was some back-and-forth before we pieced together that we had a shared connection in Henry. The young, annoyed man standing before us was, in fact, Henry's son. I knew Henry had a son, as the matter had been discussed when I first met him and he was dealing with his divorce and the prospect of being a single father; but Henry, I suddenly realized, was so quiet about his personal life that I didn't even know the boy's name. When he introduced himself only as Matteson, I resisted the temptation to sigh and ask if this was what everyone in his family was like.
The initial concern was something to do with a bet Matteson had with some friends that meant we could not be seen by them, but once that was resolved I asked how Henry was doing. He went quiet for a moment.
"What's the last thing you heard?" he asked. We explained that we hadn't seen or heard from him since December 2004, because we were not exactly near a phone. He grunted. "He recovered fine from that," he said, before turning to the doorway. "What're you doing here?"
"We're on the trail of a cult."
"And you're here because of the presence in this place?" Akshainie and I stopped and looked at each other. I had been so thrown off by Matteson that I hadn't even taken the time to register that there was a presence here with us, and I gathered from her look that she hadn't, either. But it was certainly there, strong and malevolent, weighing down the air like a thick fog. We turned back to him.
"You can feel that?"
"It's a thing of mine. And if you have anything magic you'd like to keep, maybe don't bring it too close." Akshainie's eyes grew wide. She said something in, I presume, the language of Iravati as her hand reached for a sword. Matteson raised a brow curiously and I reached over to stop her.
"What are you doing!?"
"We know of his kind! They unravel the powers of spirits and tear the world apart!" She yelled.
"Huh," he said, softly. "I guess I never thought about how spirits would view it."
"He cannot be allowed to interfere!" She drew her swords and I stepped in front of her.
"Wait! Wait. Henry has always been on our side, maybe give us just a moment," I said. She exhaled, hard, and glared at him for a moment before scowling and giving a quick nod. She did not put the swords away.
"Matteson, what exactly are your intentions here?"
"I was just here to make some money off a bunch of people," he answered, lighting another cigarette. "But, once I noticed there was something off about the place, I thought I'd look around and see what it was."
"Whatever it is you do to spirits, could you promise not to do it to us?"
"Yeah, sure." I turned to Akshainie.
"Can you just give him a chance, see if we can work together?" She growled and put her swords away.
"Do you not know of his kind where you come from?" she asked, bitterly, in Enochian. I sighed.
"I wasn't raised with spirits, Akshainie," I told her. "I only ever heard the Church's view of most of this until very recently." She rolled her eyes.
"The division between the worlds is maintained by his kind. They break down magic, drive spirits out of the physical realm, and destroy anything they touch. They say some can bring ruin to us with just a look." I glanced over to him to find he was halfway out of the room already and looking down the hall.
"We'll keep an eye out, okay? Just give him a chance." She agreed, and I gave her the Book of Shadows. "Please put this somewhere safe." She slipped away toward the broken wall behind her, and came back after a moment without it. With that settled, we went to find Matteson and see what he was getting into.
1 March 2006
I was encouraged to take my human form again before climbing the worldtree. The branches can handle the flames of fire giants, Yggdrasil explained, but there was no need to test its resilience to hellfire if we didn't need to. I think it was largely entertaining my own discomfort with having worn no flesh for over a year, but made no indication of my suspicion. I packed the book into my bag, after a reminder that it may not recognize its master in the face of a priest, and walked to the base of the tree. I have never before noticed the way the bark on one side resembled a stairway, but once I looked more closely I couldn't help but see it winding around and around the trunk all the way up, always meeting branches right where one could easily step onto them. Akshainie retained her natural form, slithering up the edge of the tree following a route of minute irregularities I could barely make out as she slipped over them.
I had no idea that the tree could be used to travel within Midgard, but Yggdrasil walked us through how to decide where we emerged on Earth instead of just popping up right outside. We tried to keep the track well, but it took a couple hours to get from the ground to the twig that opened to the world of man, and by then we realized we had forgotten some of the details. We tried to work it out, not desiring to make our way back down and up again, and lightly argued about bits we remembered differently.
"You could just ask," a female-sounding voice said. We both stopped and looked up, our gaze met by two ravens sitting on a branch over us. They were both far larger than normal ravens, almost as large as me; one looked otherwise normal, while the other had shifting blueish runes glowing in and under black feathers.
"I do hope you mean asking you," I said, glancing at Yggdrasil resting far below.
"It's worth a shot," the blue raven replied, connecting the voice we'd already heard to a face. Akshainie slid forward.
"Would you help us find our way? There's a place on the other side of the human world we must find, called Ohio."
"Vienna, Ohio," the raven answered. "An abandoned mental hospital." The black raven nodded silently. I turned to them.
"How do you know that?"
"It is time." She turned and cawed at the twig, and the image through the portal shifted and warped until we saw a dark room, a small amount of pale moonlight shining through the broken and barred window, the walls cracked and crumbling and covered in bits of graffiti, the ground covered in old leaves and broken bits of junk. We looked to the ravens, who nodded. We looked to each other, then Akshainie shrugged, and we walked through.
Once we were fully in the room, we looked back and found no evidence of the opening ever existing. Akshainie had to coil herself low to avoid bumping her head on the ceiling, which was only a foot over my head. It took me a moment to get used to being human-sized again, and as we both looked around and adjusted to the world of man, we heard footsteps crunching through the detritus in the hallway. We braced ourselves and turned, watching, when a young black man entered and pointed a flashlight at us. He looked us each over, with disinterest where I would have expected surprise, and there was silence for a few minutes until he groaned, lowered the flashlight, and lit a cigarette.
"What are you, a naga?" he asked.
"I...yes," Akshainie answered. The young man nodded and exhaled a long string of smoke.
"Always fucking something," he muttered.
27 February 2006
The Book of Shadows is in constant flux, but when the code was broken it largely began to obey the ways I now knew to read it in. It still took us some days to work through it, as even once we knew how to read it we had to figure out what we were even looking for. If there was ever a being named Nachash, it no longer went by such a name, or maybe it originally had no name. We didn't yet know enough of the book to know whether the names used were original or current, or something between.
The point of the book was to track the activities of demonic forces, that much was passed along to me by Tadzio on our way up from Germany. As we worked through, we came to understand that the text would change to show shifting alliances, locations, and even names. There seemed to be ways to use it to see the way things were in the past, but we had no time to dig into that different, and currently unnecessary, mess. What finally gave us a hint was when I began to find connections that lined up with my notes of some of the Brood's network. Some of them were dead ends, other bits were things I knew were being handled, but as I traced the network beyond the strands I knew I found reference to a Mother-in-the-Deep, a being who seemed central to some aspects of the Brood that I hadn't yet uncovered. The locations weren't always perfectly lined up with the human systems of marking them, but we were sure it was a location on the physical plane. It was another day of comparing notes and discussions with Yggdrasil before we were able to track it to a place in North America; when we lined it up with a map in my bag, we found it to be somewhere near the line between Pennsylvania and Ohio, likely on the Ohio side.
"Do you know any paths there?" I asked Akshainie, dreading the odds of her saying she did. But she shook her head.
"I could, through the River Network, probably get there. But without knowing what river we need, or what terms the Network would use for that region, it could take some wandering and guessing." I groaned and leaned back, scratching my chin.
"If it is passage you seek," Yggdrasil said, standing from the dirt, "you may wish to remember where you begin." We looked at it for a moment, then past it to the worldtree itself.
"I hope you've some skill at climbing," Akshainie whispered, looking at the tree's branches.
"Me, too," I answered.
25 February 2006
After a couple months, Benedict and Akshainie stopped keeping track of the time. The day/night cycle was strange in this place anyway, with a sun just orbiting the worldtree and casting light on the realms as it passed, and they had no idea how well it related to the world outside. They would work on translating for as long as they could stand, with Akshainie usually leaving to meditate what felt like a couple hours before Benedict was done. They would sleep when it felt appropriate; sometimes he would find her coiled up next to him when he woke, sometimes she was already up and training, sometimes she was half hidden away under a root. He wasn't even sure if she needed sleep or was just entertaining him. In this form, he mostly did it out of habit, but she was fully spirit and therefore might need even less. It never seemed sensible to ask if naga were a race with something approaching a biological cycle, though, so he never did.
This morning was one in which she was under a root when Benedict rose and went to begin his work, and he absently noticed her when she woke and slipped away toward the river. She returned some time later, still wringing water out of her hair and wrapped in one of the large leaves she had taken to using as towels.
"How's the book today?" she asked, settling down to what passed for sitting in her habit.
"If I was not assured of success," he said, turning a page and comparing to the assorted notes he had next to to, "I would think we were making no progress at all." She sighed.
"I suppose I should get dressed, then."
"I should think that was going to be part of your plan either way."
"Well, yes, of course. But I didn't want to leave you hanging if you were close to something." He nodded but didn't look up, and she waited a moment before rolling her eyes and leaving to gather her outfit. As she was slipping her shirt on, a large shadow began to loom over her.
"I am not equipped to know whether your playful attitude with him is born of amusement or desire," Yggdrasil said. Akshainie gasped and spun around, sword in hand. "But as your time here is nearly finished, I feel it my responsibility to inform you that if it is the latter, he cannot reciprocate."
"I certainly never said it was," she grumbled, putting her sword away. "But what do you mean, cannot?"
"You know how our kind are bound by our vows." She nodded, and it continued. "His priesthood requires some number of vows, one of which includes restraint from romantic or sexual attachments."
"Isn't it a mortal priesthood?" It nodded. "And aren't mortals pretty big on romantic and sexual attachments?"
"Generally. It is considered a sacrifice, in this case."
"Well, thanks for the tip, but don't worry. I'm not about to make any attachments with a joyless fire spirit, anyway." Yggdrasil slowly nodded, then turned away as she began to move toward Benedict. She stopped, suddenly, then turned back. "What do you mean, our time is almost finished." Yggdrasil didn't answer, but did stop and look toward Benedict. She watched it for a moment, then groaned and turned just in time to see Benedict jump up.
"I've got it!" he yelled. A massive smile spread across her face, and she looked to Yggdrasil, who had turned its back to her and continued walking toward its spot at the foot of the worldtree. She turned back and rushed over to see the book.
Evidence compiled for use during the trial of Father Benedict de Monte.