15 August 1997
"Father Genovese and I tracked down the cult, like we were asked. We thought we had been careful, but somehow, they...I don't know how they found us, but as we entered the building, I just remember everything going black.
I woke up with a splitting headache and quickly realized I was bound. We were in a damp basement, poorly lit, and Genovese was only barely starting to wake up. He looked...God, he looked terrible. Cuts and bruises, a black eye, his clothes were torn. I don't know what happened to him. I just hope he took some of them down before they got him.
Before I could ask him what he knew, a young man stepped into the light. He had a strange blotch, a large discolored area, on the left side of his face. And his eyes...they were slit, like a snake's. The room felt colder and darker with him in it, and I felt myself shudder as he drew close.
He called himself the Barzai. He seemed to think he had already encountered the Church, once before, and was amused that we were still interested in him. But he promised me it didn't matter. I tried demanding to know what was going on, where we were, what his plans were, but he had no interest in explaining much to me.
'You're going to be a message,' he finally explained. 'I was born in fire your precious church brought to me,' he said, with a sneer. He sounded disgusted at the very thought of us, Cardinal. It was...it was sinister, hateful. He told me, 'You will be a message. You will go to your church, so blind to the real needs of this world, to the bondage they endure and spread. You will show them what they are, and you will tell them their end.' I asked what he meant, but he just turned and looked at Genovese, who was trying to look at him. I could tell he could barely open his eyes.
This Barzai, he just...he just waved his hand, he just looked at Genovese and waved his hand and suddenly Genovese was on fire. The screams. Oh God, the screaming, the sound of him burning, I...
'The last thing you ever see,' he said, 'will be the last thing your church ever knows.' Then he turned to the darkness, and I cried out, I don't know what I thought it would do, but I tried desperately to offer Genovese some kind of comfort, some kind of help, but he wasn't...
'Take his eyes,' he said, and I turned and saw two men emerge with knives."
At this point, witness breaks down sobbing. Cardinal decided he had enough and ended interview.
I set the transcript down and looked across the desk at the Cardinal. His face betrayed nothing.
"It's the kid. I saw this kid, in North Carolina," I said.
"I remember your report, de Monte."
"This...this priest. Is he--"
"Short of a miracle, he will never see again. I don't know whether or not he will ever be mentally prepared to return to duty, but if so, it will be some time." He steepled his fingers on the desk and leaned forward. "Look, Benedict. After what you did, burning down that island, we had a lot of backpedaling and a lot of work to do to keep it from becoming an incident. We recognized that your report showed them to be a greater concern than we expected, but we thought we could take a more...nuanced approach."
"You were wrong."
"Let's not get prideful, Father." I nodded.
"But you're right. Whatever this cult is, it's too much of a risk to send another mission like this one." He tapped the folder from which he had pulled the transcript. "It is now officially your duty to find, assess, and eliminate this threat." He slid the folder over to me. "I expect you to return, and I expect you to bring me results. Understood?"
"Yes, sir," I said, taking the folder and standing. He sighed and leaned back in his chair.
12 August 1997
I had finished the weekday Mass and was resting in my chamber when I heard a knock on the door. I set my book down next to my half-finished coffee and made my way across the room. When I opened the door, I was surprised to see another priest, an older man I'd never met, carrying a small suitcase.
"Oh! Please, come in, can I take your bag?" I asked, reaching out to help him. With his free hand, he reached into his jacket.
"No, no, no need for that." German. Northern German accent, if I remembered correctly. "But you can take this." He produced from his pocket an envelope, addressed to me. As I took the paper and stood upright, the priest stepped around me and made his way to the chair I had just vacated.
"Would you like some coffee?" I asked, closing the door.
"There will be time for that, my son. If that letter is anything like the one I received, you'll want to open it quickly." I nodded and carefully tore it open as I made my way across the room to the other armchair.
Benedict, it read, You are hereby relieved of your current charge effective immediately. Come to the Vatican. Pack light, your things will be moved on your behalf.
Do not delay.
I recognized the seal. I was being called back into the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I read over it again and then turned to look at my guest. He was smiling.
"Don't worry, my son. I'll take good care of the place. Let's not keep our betters waiting."
"Yes, yes. Of course," I said, standing. I hurried to my room and picked out my suitcase, laying a few changes of clothes inside as well as some necessities, before running back out to grab my book. I skimmed through the bookcase, grabbing a few others I hoped I would need. When I turned around again, the other priest had opened his suitcase and was slowly packing a pipe. "What did your letter say? Did they tell you what this is all about?" He shook his head, then struck a match and took a few puffs to get his pipe going.
"All will be known in Heaven, young man. I did not reach my age by snooping into business that does not concern me." I nodded, somewhat envious of his calculated ignorance, then ran back into my room to finish packing the books. When I emerged, he looked as though he had barely even moved. My coffee was gone. And, shortly thereafter, so was I.
17 June 1993
The trail has gone cold. The isolation of my new posting means I hear very little even from my most trustworthy contacts. I've heard whispers the cult is stirring again, and even that the Vatican may be keeping an eye on them. But nothing more.
There's nothing I can do now. I have to move on. I will keep my research, just in case, but it has become evident that the Church will not allow me any more contact with this case. And I, in all things, serve my God through His Church.
15 April 1991
We were standing around my table, which was covered in open books and notes. Over the weekend we had touched on all of this as much as we could, but I also had mass to tend to and the church's expectations for my Sunday afternoons, so this was the first time we could really spend a large chunk of time picking at what we knew. It would also probably be the last; we would keep in touch about anything we found, but Henry was flying back to the United States early the next day. In the course of our discussions, I had pieced together that he had met Tadzio while doing fieldwork, the exact nature of which he never explained but seemed related to the half-human child of a water spirit that was particularly important to him. Having never actually met another nephil in my life, I was hoping he would be more talkative about this other one he knew. Sadly, this was a matter he was not interested in discussing.
"This is the earliest reference to Nachash as an actual being that I own," he said, resting his hand on the reprint of a book originally printed during the Spanish Inquisition as I entered the room. "I know of an earlier reference, a mysterious book so rare I get conflicting accounts of what it's even called, printed around 1270. But nothing earlier."
"So this is a relatively new religious order?" I asked, setting a mug of coffee in front of him and then taking a sip from my own. He absently lifted it to his lips and then set it aside again, looking over to a page of notes he had nearby.
"To a European Catholic, sure."
"So we know when the Brood of Nachash was formed?"
"No. We know that there are no surviving records of any reference to Nachash as an actual being from before the late thirteenth century. It does seem somewhat unlikely that the cult existed very long by that date, given the complete silence in the record, but we can't really know. The most likely alternative is that they existed but called their god something different."
"But before then, Nachash was just...what?"
"An Anglicized version of the Hebrew word for 'serpent' used in the Fall narrative of Genesis 3. Outside of language studies of that actual passage, I have found little evidence to believe it had any use outside of Hebrew until either the cult or the spirit appropriated it."
"Is is possible that other groups that center on serpents are related to it?" I sat down and picked up one book, which included a brief reference to Nachash among a number of chaotic deities.
"It's worth looking into, I guess. It is, at least, possible that the cult will have borrowed imagery from other serpentine orders or even folklore, even if there's no direct relationship." As we looked over the information we had, it was decided that we needed to expand the scope of our studies. Henry had other matters to address, so he agreed to be available for the occasional bit of research, but had to keep his focus elsewhere. I knew that my resources were going to be limited as long as the Vatican had me off the case, so I thanked him for the help and admitted that it may be a while before I can contact him with anything new. I hated to put the matter aside, but I was growing concerned that I would soon have no other choice.
Evidence compiled for use during the trial of Father Benedict de Monte.