We had to split up for the last two raid locations, with Michael identifying a group of cultists in a building for me to take out before they could react, while he dealt with picking off the individuals scattered around the area.
The cultists who held vantage points, it turned out, were also relying more on weapons than on magic. Allowing enough heat to escape my body reduced their attacks to mere annoyances, and that in turn caused them to yield quickly. Which was quite good, as I fear what would have happened to the structure of the buildings if I had kept my heat up much longer. I am convinced at least one of them was already compromised from my brief burst; when I raised the matter to Michael, he promised to have someone look into it.
The lack of magic concerned me, however. In every other instance of encountering the Brood of Nachash, they relied heavily on the power of their dark gods. Here, they relied heavily on illegal weapons. I considered the possibility that the people I was facing were not actually part of the cult, but I could find little reason for him to have otherwise been able to identify them the way he did, and their weapons were still illegal. If they were part of the cult, it suggests that either they’re branching out, or that their recruitment in Britain did not allow them time to properly initiate these cells. Such a rush cannot be looked upon lightly.
After everyone was arrested and safely transported to the prison, we stepped through the gate and I was formally introduced to Lord Hudson. I checked with him and with Michael, and there was no sign of anyone matching the Barzai’s description at any of the raid sites. It was possible he would have been at the attack on the bishop, we were still waiting for Akshainie and Matteson to return, but I was growing concerned. If the Brood is in enough of a rush that they’re suddenly getting sloppy in training, and the Barzai is occupied elsewhere, something big was in the works. We would have to be vigilant against that, and I was concerned we were running out of time.
There was little else for me to do, however, so I was shown back upstairs while the Hudsons began to process their suspects. I reminded them that I was available if any last rites were needed, with a stern look reminding them I did not want them to be needed, but I left all the same. The fact is that I had no real authority here, and it was beginning to appear my work was complete. I took a walk around the grounds to think, and stopped when I found the work site where the corner of the estate was being rebuilt. Alice was there, as well, and I walked to her.
“You seem bothered,” I said. I noticed she was shivering, so I allowed a little more heat to escape my form.
“It’s…it’s nothing, Benedict. But thank you,” she answered, softly. She soon noticed the heat, and shifted closer to me. We both stared at the wall for a long moment.
“Did Matteson really do that?”
“I don’t know. Melinda said the place was so infused with magic that he might have, but we weren’t able to see exactly what happened. The cult priest was also calling on some spell or another at the time, it may have been him.”
“I see.” We stood in silence for another length of time, and when I glanced down to her I noticed a tear on her cheek. “Are you sure you don’t want to talk about something? As someone who hears confessions, I understand how to keep it between us.”
“I appreciate that, but no. I think it would be best if I didn’t. I guess this trip just didn’t go how I expected it to.”
“You have seen very little of the supernatural before now, have you not?” I asked. She nodded. “I imagine it must be quite the shock.”
“That’s one way to put it. I just…” She faded out, then paused before looking up at me. Her eyes were welling up with tears now. “What do I do, father? I love Matteson, but if this is what his life is like, am I really ready for it? Is this really want I want for my life?” I wrapped my arm around her shoulders.
“Every life has different challenges than you expect going into a relationship,” I said. “No one can decide if those challenges are worth it to you but you.” She buried her face in my chest and cried, and I held her and waited. I wasn’t tracking the time, but it must have been some minutes before she finally pulled back and looked into my eyes again.
“Thank you. I think I just needed to get some of that out.”
“Well,” I said, wiping the hair from her face and giving my best comforting smile, “just make sure you don’t hold the rest in too long, okay?” She nodded, and slipped away back inside the house. I gave the house work one more look before continuing my walk.
From the journal of Father Benedict de Monte
Matteson had given us his location and that he was following a ley line, which was enough for us to get started in the right path. So Michael paid the tab and asked Aslaug about the ley network nearby, as he hadn’t thought to bring any maps into town with us, and she took us into the back room where she had her own information on the matter. After some review of what line Matteson would be following and some of the key points along it, we loaded into the car and started looking. I don’t know what we were really looking for; none of us could, in the physical realm, track the energy signature nearly as well as Matteson apparently could, so I suppose we must have been seeking something that would stand out as being a ritual site. We never found it, at any rate; but we were not far from the location when Matteson called to tell us he’d found it.
We sorted out the plan quickly, or as much of a plan as we could. Matteson would cut off the ley line from outside, and we would apprehend the four cultists inside. Akshainie and Michael were certain we would know when he cut the ley line off, and that he could reopen it when we were done, but I was not sure how any of that would happen. Shortly after we arrived, however, I felt it. It was as if the air was suddenly drained of some vitality, and a part of me recoiled and knew that it was what we were looking for. The look on Akshainie’s face told me she felt the same thing, and without further ado we threw the door open and charged in.
Akshainie never dropped her human form, but moved with a grace and power that betrayed her serpentine nature. In a flash, she was past the foyer, and then a jump and flip put her on the other side of the four robed figures, cutting off the other exit. One figure tried to get around us, and I sent him flying back into the room with a kick as Michael called on spectral chains that shot from his wrist and wrapped around another’s ankles. The three who had not felt my boot yet began trying to call on their own offensive spells, one hitting me with fire that burned off a sleeve but managed no other harm. It was weak, I could feel how mundane the fire was when it met my skin, and I wondered if Matteson’s work would limit us all.
Michael, for one, did not seem affected, at least not to any degree I could recognize. Akshainie, aware we aimed to arrest and not kill, did not draw her swords, and I saw for the first time just how dangerous she was at her weakest, no magic, no weapons, and no powerful form. Just decades of training and a body that could execute a move before most people could even think of it. A single punch to the figure I’d kicked knocked them out, and I turned my attention to the round mirror in the center of their ritual circle. Whatever they had been looking at was gone, probably lost when their extra magical energy dried up, but I grabbed the mirror in case we could use it to learn anything of their activities.
The battle was over quickly, and Akshainie darted off to check the rest of the building while Michael and I bound the figures, who we now learned were three men and a woman. She found no one, and around the time she returned we felt energy surge back into the area. Matteson and Alice walked in shortly afterward, but Michael told him to stay back a bit. He had a difficult spell he could do to bring the cultists in for questioning, he explained, and absolutely would not be able to do it with an Anchor hovering around. So Matteson shrugged and went outside, lighting a cigarette as he went, and Alice hesitated. Michael waved her over, and she entered the room and watched as the ritual was carried out. A glowing door finally appeared in the wall, and when Michael opened it we could see a dungeon on the other side.
“Where is that?” I asked, concerned about the look of the place.
“It’s a secret wing of the estate,” Michael answered. “Not every crime is something that gets turned over to police, so we were given clearance to carry out our work in privacy when needed. Would you be so kind as to help me with these?” I lifted three of the unconscious cultists as Michael carried the other, and Alice watched me with a noted curiosity. When we returned, Michael stopped in the doorway. “Do any of you know how to drive on the proper side of the road?”
“I’ve had some practice,” I answered. He nodded and handed me the keys and told me to bring the rest of the party back to the estate, then returned to the dungeon. As soon as the door closed behind him, it vanished, and we made our way outside to gather our Anchor and head back.
From the journal of Michael Hudson
On returning to the estate, it took Mr. Matteson most of the day to coordinate information with this Jackie and begin to draw answers. In the meantime, I was informed Roderick had come home, and I convinced Akshainie to come with me and discuss the nature of the family work in Iravati with someone who knew what wasn’t written down. Benedict came as something of a bodyguard, though it was difficult to tell who he thought he was protecting.
Roderick was able to give our guest more insight into the Iravati case. It was under the order of the crown, he explained, on the grounds that native religions and magic were seen as a threat to the stability of the empire. The orders still stood, of course, but the Queen hardly has jurisdiction in Pakistan anymore, so he agreed that even if she would disapprove of my reversing the spell, there was little she could do about it. Nevertheless, I decided it would be best to simply not tell her.
While the records I had found focused on the Anchor’s work in severing Iravati from the fabric of the region, it was Roderick who remembered the process by which the task was actually accomplished. It turns out, the work of Mr. Lysander was instrumental, but was not done alone. The actual work of stabilizing the division was done through a spell cast by Lord Hudson himself, after Mr. Lysander was done and safely away from the site. So Roderick, Benedict, Akshainie, and I began to work out a counterspell that would render the division unstable. At that point, another bit of magic would need to be used to safely guide the realm back into alignment. Each component was actually less difficult than I expected; I could probably do the counterspell myself, and the Queen of Heaven could surely do the alignment without my help. The difficult part was determining the counterspell, which may have been nearly impossible without accurate memory of the original spell, and the timing. Making the position of Iravati unstable was incredibly dangerous, and the work to realign it would need to begin even before my counterspell was cast. We worked out a plan for me to present to the Queen of Heaven, and for the first time, I got the impression Akshainie was actually, though barely, beginning to appreciate my efforts.
Alice came to collect us shortly before we actually completed our plan, telling us Mr. Matteson had something for us. We followed her back to the library, where he had pulled a few tables together and laid out an assortment of papers and printouts of photographs. I recognized how heavy the tables were and asked how they had been moved, and he simply said he had slid them over. I determined to consider that matter later and focused on the images.
It turns out his personal library did, in fact, have records of these runes, and after some digging from his contact in the States he was able to determine that the script was True Enochian, the language of angels and spirits that had been lost and allegedly rediscovered in the 1970s. He briefly explained that the thing people called Enochian was mostly a farce, but offered no means of confirming that this was the real thing except for its age. At any rate, he claimed that the runes were actually an amplification rite, and would not have been used in the same place as a great spirit was trapped. In fact, he argued, it shouldn’t even be active unless someone was tapping into it in that very moment, which suggested that we had actually found evidence the Brood was actively preparing to do something in Britain and had reactivated the site in their attempts to access old channels of power.
This case is not simply a matter of sorting out the owners and their intentions any longer. We must learn what they’re doing and assess the threat it poses to the United Kingdom.
From the records of Michael Hudson, dated 12 February 2007
I was waiting at the airstrip with the drivers when the plane landed. We had made sure to bring a vehicle capable of holding the four people I was told to expect, and another to handle baggage. Once the plane came to rest, we made our way forward, the drivers focusing on receiving baggage from the crew on the plane as I waited by the stairs. It was some surprise when the first person to emerge was an American cousin.
“Alice!” I called, and she ran down to give me a hug. As she pulled away and we both looked over each other, a black man stepped off the stairs and came alongside her.
“Michael, it’s so good to see you! How have you been?”
“I’ve been well, of course. You’re involved in this?”
“Well,” she said, grabbing the man’s arm and pulling him closer. “I’m involved with John Matteson here, and when he said he was coming to do work for your family I just had to come along.”
“I’m glad you did. Mr. Matteson, I believe you’re expecting some pay for your services?”
“That’s what I was told,” he said.
“And what, exactly, are your services?”
“I do some investigation and break magic.”
“An Anchor?” I asked. He nodded. “Well! I don’t think we’ve known one of your ilk in—”
“Hudson!” a woman shouted. I looked past Alice and John to a woman who looked to be of Indian descent, storming out of the plane with her hands on the hilts of swords.
“You must be the associate of Father de Monte,” I offered, smiling hopefully. “So glad you agreed to come.”
“Benedict convinced me that the Brood was enough of a problem,” she said, stopping next to Alice but not moving her hands from her weapons, “that I should at least hear you out about your offer before I kill you.”
“Very encouraging. I’ll have to thank him for that.”
“I am not known for my patience,” she said, her eyes narrowing. Behind her, the priest descended from the plane.
“Yes, I see. I did look into what happened at Iravati. Nasty business, that. However, I think I know how to repair it, with your Queen’s permission, of course.”
“You expect me to believe you’re willing to stoop so low as to ask permission of a spirit?”
“If you will spare my life long enough to see this job through, I think you’ll find I’m not quite so bad as my dear old ancestor.” We stared at each other for a long minute, then she said something under her breath in another language that I assume was a curse of some sort.
“Fine,” she said, finally, as if it was painful to say it. “But only because the Brood really is a big enough problem to warrant it. I’ll be keeping my eye on you.”
“I would expect nothing less. Father de Monte, I presume?”
“Mr. Hudson,” the priest answered, offering a handshake. I accepted it, and then directed them all to the waiting car.
“What happened in Iravati?” Matteson asked as we walked.
“Well, that’s actually to do with the last Anchor we had pass through the estate,” I answered. “Man named Jules Lysander. He was employed by one of my great-grandfathers, the Lord Hudson when the empire first established rule in the Indus Valley. It seems Mr. Lysander was tasked with dealing with what was then considered unsavoury spiritual practices and entities.”
“Unsavoury?” Alice asked. The other woman growled.
“They were far more rude about it, of course, but I think it conveys the general view they had. At any rate, Iravati is something of a key site for the naga in the region, and Mr. Lysander and the Lord Hudson determined that the way to stifle their activities would be to cut the city off from the physical realm.” We climbed into the car and waited as the driver closed the doors and made his way around to his station.
“They didn’t care about the damage they did to us all when they cut us off,” the other woman practically spat the words out.
“That is true. I would like, while you’re here, to learn more about that. Then-Lord Hudson didn’t bother writing any speculation on the matter, and it would be most helpful in knowing exactly what I need to do to make things right.”
“You can’t make things right.”
“As close as we can get, then.”
“You said you had a way to reverse it?” John asked. “How do you undo the work of an Anchor?”
“Well, normally, we don’t. Your kind are very thorough, when you choose to be. But maintaining a wall like that takes a lot of energy, and there has not been much active reinforcement of it for at least a generation. I believe it will be weak enough now that it can be brought down, with sufficient force. Which, having my magic focus the will of Iravati itself in a specific way, I think we can muster.”
“You do magic?” Alice asked. “Why was this never brought up before?”
“That,” I said, “is something you will have to ask Mother.”
Evidence compiled for use during the trial of Father Benedict de Monte.