24 February 2005
The weather was fierce as we made our way inland, and although I was able to keep the area around me warm enough to travel through, I could not adequately fight off the snow without causing incredible discomfort for Akshainie. She had difficulty with the extreme cold, as well, but at least the snow didn't dry her out the way my heat did. The first few days we barely made any progress as we worked out a balance that allowed us to travel and gave her the warmth she needed, but didn't damage her. Thankfully she gave up on a human form fairly quickly, and her serpentine body moved through the snow much more gracefully than my legs; still, it ended up taking us far longer than I expected to reach the entrance to Yggdrasil.
The chamber of Yggdrasil felt like summer on the coast, and she immediately perked up once we entered. She laid on her back in the grass, driving herself forward with her powerful lower portion and enjoying the feel of the warm, humid grass on her arms and head and scales.
"You should try it, Benedict!" she called as she slithered along beside me on my way to speak to the guardian.
"I'm afraid my body doesn't quite move that way."
"Oh, but you can enjoy the grass! It's fun, after all that snow."
"I suppose we have fun in different ways." She laughed and started winding in circles around me, finally rising up behind me and resting her arms on my shoulders.
"I'm not sure I believe you've ever cracked even the tiniest smile in your life. Is this what that church of yours does to people?"
"There are some who say it does, yes. But you've also only seen me on business." I stopped as the great wooden being rose from the shadow of the Worldtree and stepped forward.
"You have returned," it said. It glanced to Akshainie, who let go of my shoulders and slid over to stand beside me. "It has been some ages since we have welcomed a naga to these lands, and never quite on purpose." She gave a low bow and then offered the introduction I had told her was customary in this realm.
"I am Akshainie, member of the Iravati guard, under commission by the Great Naga."
"Well met, Akshainie. What business draws you to the Worldtree?"
"Oh," she said with a brief laugh, then pointed at me, "I'm here with him."
"Indeed. Do make yourself comfortable." It turned to me. "What is your business?"
"I have come for the Book of Shadows," I announced.
"The Book of Shadows has an owner. I am merely caring for it."
"I am the owner of the Book of Shadows by right."
"You have not yet introduced yourself in this place to confirm such an identity." I frowned, then straightened up.
"I am Father Benedict Michael de Monte, ordained priest in-"
"The Book does not belong to a mortal," it said, before leveling its gaze intently at me, "not by right." We stared at each other for a moment, then I grumbled and turned to Akshainie.
"You may wish to back up." She raised a brow, but moved aside until I seemed satisfied. I turned back to Yggdrasil, who straightened up and crossed its many arms to wait. For the first time since childhood, I dropped my human guise. I heard Akshainie gasp as I became an eight-foot-tall demon, fire burning across all of my cracked and charred skin and forming something like a corrupted halo around my head, great wings stretching out to snap open and then slowly close. "I was born Telial of the Broken Oath; heir of Babylon the Great, son of Babylon the whore, seventh horn of the Scarlet Beast, king of a land not yet risen. And rightful owner of the Book of Shadows."* Yggdrasil nodded slowly, then reached one hand to the bark of the Worldtree and pulled the Book of Shadows as if from thin air.
"You are welcome to use this chamber to aid you in your quest, Telial of the Broken Oath." It handed me the book, then turned and returned to its place of rest in the shade of the Worldtree. I was looking at the book when I felt a hand rest against my chest. When I moved the book I saw Akshainie, at her full height and still looking up at me, her hand pressed against me with concern in her eyes.
"Why do you hide this?" she asked.
"It...it is not the life I chose," I said.
"All the way here, though. When no one could see you, even then?" I hesitated, then turned away.
"I could see me." I walked over to a table and seats formed from one of Yggdrasil's roots and set the book down. When I looked back, she had crossed her arms and turned aside to look at the tree and very pointedly not at me.
*- See the Book of Revelation (The Apocalypse of John), chapter 17.
Evidence compiled for use during the trial of Father Benedict de Monte.