9 October 1997
In retrospect, I don't know what we really expected to happen.
We had talked about the investigation of the site as though violence would be a last resort, only used if absolutely necessary. The stated goal had been investigation and, if possible, capture. Bring the Barzai to justice for his murders, let the police crack down on the rest of the organization. The Church had learned long ago that we needed to limit the amount of direct justice we carried out; its why my organization was no longer referred to as an inquisition. But I had also made clear to Tadzio that this was a dangerous force, and I had been sent specifically because I was capable of meeting the violence they could pour out. I had described it as a war, I had prepared for battle, I had let my anger at the Barzai and his little band of murderous zealots and the clergy that fed their cause show and had never sought to temper it. And this was why, when I saw the flash of Tadzio's blade in the candlelight and time seemed to slow to a crawl, I knew I had done this. Every soul that died in this place today was, to some degree, my responsibility. Even the very existence, and therefore the actions, of the Barzai were driven at least partly by my own actions years ago.
I wanted to hate them. I wanted to view them as inferior, as foolish lost souls that bought into lies and had no real chance at redemption. I could see the hate in their eyes, and I knew that no mortal would find my rage against them unjust. They sought to destroy the good in humanity, to tear down every institution that had build society, to burn and kill and rampage until the Earth was reduced to a ruin, and they believed fully that this would be the only true freedom for mankind. They were everything I stood against in this world, and they wanted nothing more in this moment to kill us both and carry on their dread work unhindered.
"You must never forget this, Bene," Father had told me, as I stood in the doorway to leave for seminary. His hands were on my shoulders, his eyes barely holding back tears. "The people that you serve, the souls you shepherd, every one of them has a chance. Every one of them is doing the best they can with what they have and what they know."
The Barzai was charging forward. Tadzio's sword was fully drawn and he was moving forward, flowing like water, hundreds of years of training showing in the smallest movement of every muscle. The small crowd of cultists were drawing knives and moving in.
"If there is hope for you, there is hope for them," Father said, "there is hope for us all." I knew he was right. I knew where my kind stood in the order of things. If there was a redemption offered for me...
I held out my arms. Fire is easy, but this, I had never tried this. I needed to get it just right and didn't have much time to experiment. I exhaled sharply, cleared my mind, focused on every bit of heat in the room. In an arc around Tadzio and I, the air rapidly began to cool as I drew the heat into myself. Let it build. Add to it. Act fast. Don't let it spark.
How foolish I was to lose sight of that. Father was old, dying, battling delusions and a loss of memory. He told me in his final days that he would carry his sin to the grave, but I knew he was wrong. I should have known he was wrong, instead of wondering, dwelling, letting myself believe that maybe all of this was for nothing. Maybe there was, in the end, no hope for him, or for me. I forgot what it meant to receive forgiveness. I let myself believe in judgment so much more strongly than redemption that I had killed a man of the cloth in my rage and now stood poised to slaughter an entire room. But I knew better.
As I reheated that air well above room temperature, there was an audible crack that echoed through the room. The rapidly expanding air sent Tadzio and the cultists flying backward. They were injured, all of them, but they'd live long enough to get medical help. Tadzio was going to be furious.
I snapped my eyes open as the Barzai, undeterred by the blast, threw himself forward and drove me into the stone floor. I used the momentum and threw him back off of me into the wall, and rolled over onto my knees. He crashed to the ground and slithered back to his feet, his body moving unnaturally like a snake's without fully changing form. We each lunged forward and went on the attack. Fists flying, occasionally making contact with ribs, occasionally being deflected. He was fast, angry, and driven to kill, and soon I was finding myself on the defensive more often than not. He was trying to draw my attacks away to get a bite in, and I had to occasionally fend him off with a blast of fire when my hands were occupied. I couldn't get to my gun, despite a part of me screaming in my mind that I needed to. Was capture even a realistic goal here? Could the Barzai ever be stopped while he still lived?
I finally managed to get a hold of him and throw him off me. I reached down for my gun, but before I could grab it, Tadzio's sword plunged into the Barzai's side. He screamed and stumbled backward, and I glanced over to see Tadzio standing where he had fallen from the blast. His left arm was hanging limp and his head was bleeding, but his right arm was apparently still in a suitable condition to throw. It was only then I managed to notice the cultists, moaning on the floor, a couple trying to roll over. I stormed forward and pulled the sword from the Barzai's body, causing him to scream again. Putting the sword to his throat, I pushed him back against the wall.
"It's over. Come with me," I said. He laughed.
"Oh, Father. Next time you underestimate me like that, you'll surely die!" He snapped his fingers and became a mist that suddenly vanished into itself. I fell forward and caught myself against the wall, before spinning around to survey the room. Tadzio was limping toward me.
"Well, that didn't go as planned," he said, reaching out for his sword. I returned it to him as soon as he was close enough.
"The plan was...revised," I answered.
"I noticed. We need to have a chat about that, but first," he turned and pointed at the cultists with his sword, "we need to decide what happens with them."
"Don't worry, I know exactly what to do. But first, we need to leave." He stared at me for a moment, then sighed and put his sword away.
9 October 1997
"I can't believe you killed a bishop," Tadzio whispered in German as we were laying in the woods, watching the cult site through binoculars.
"It wasn't on purpose."
"But do you regret it?" There was a long pause, then I lowered the binoculars and rolled onto my back to check my gun.
"I'm surprised you care, given your distaste for the Church."
"They tried to kill me, Bene! Repeatedly, for years!"
"It was an inquisition and you were literally under the constant influence of demonic power."
"Yeah, well, torture still sours the relationship. But you're dodging the question."
"I don't want to talk about it. You ready?" Tadzio smiled as if he was certain he'd won some argument, then put his binoculars away.
"Lead the way, inquisitor," he said, resting his hand on the hilt of his sword.
The ground floor of the building was dark and damp, having sat undisturbed in the humid air for decades. The rusted frames of hospital beds, broken glass, bits of fallen plaster, and the occasional bit of graffiti or pile of beer bottles and cigarette butts were the only markers still available to trace our path. Occasional holes in the ceiling gave us glimpses that the upper floors were no better, but the floor beneath our feet was as solid as it was filthy. It was probably not enough to tip off the local youth that something was amiss about the location, but Tadzio and I recognized it as evidence that someone was maintaining the lower levels and keeping them hidden from sight. The trick was finding how they got down there.
We scoured the entire ground floor; though we were sure from observation that the cult members who frequent the site used a hidden exterior entrance directly to the basement, we suspected there was still a method for reaching the lower levels from the main structure. If we could find such an entrance, especially a forgotten entrance, we could hopefully catch the people below by surprise. When we found nothing, we debated trying to find the main entrance, but ended up deciding to check the other floors just to be safe before we took that step.
It was on the second floor, in what appeared to have been an administrator's office, that we had our discovery. One desk was attached to the floor and couldn't be moved, and under it we found a secret switch. On activating it, we watched a rusty and likely forgotten part of the wall hesitantly open to reveal a door marked with the red spiral of the Brood of Nachash. We had our entrance.
The elevator that used to connect the office to the subbasement appeared inoperable at a glance, so rather than poke at it and risk alerting the people below, we took to climbing. That much worked, and when we arrived at our destination no one was waiting for us. We agreed on a search pattern, and I stepped into the spiritual realm to take my path as he turned away to find his. As a spirit, I slipped past about a dozen people milling about or praying to their dread gods. In one room I found an assortment of weapons and explosives, with a handful of maps marked with targets. Being that I was alone in the room, I went physical again to gather the maps for future reference and rest my hand on the hinges and latch until they melted. Once the metal hardened behind me, no one was getting in there without magic or running the risk of blowing the whole place. I hoped it would be enough. When I met Tadzio again, he was wiping blood off one of his swords, slipped away in a crevice where I nearly missed him.
"Did you run into trouble?" I whispered. He shook his head.
"No trouble for me." He briefly explained that he had found a passageway that seemed to lead into catacombs, styled to look old and European, but with the wrong stonework. He'd seen enough of the real thing to recognize it, he said. It was the only clue we had to suggest an inner sanctum, so we went back to follow it. We descended into the dark and narrow passage, feeling our way through winding corners and down precarious stairs. I could have done something to help myself see better, but the turns were frequent enough that I wouldn't see much at a time. I probably should have. We saw light seeping in a side passage ahead, and slowly approached it. We paused while still in shadow, he readying his sword and I offering a quick prayer, before we stepped out together.
Spread before us was a large, cave-like room, with rough hewn walls and a vaulted ceiling. From the ground rose a number of jagged pillars, appearing like stalagmites, but flattened about five feet up with idols perched atop. They were scattered around the room in what appeared to our perspective as having no system at all. Among them were about two dozen robed figures with oversized hoods, who all turned to face us as soon as we emerged.
"Father!" one cried out, raising his arms. "Have you come to hear our confessions?"
"I'm sure they would be among the most interesting in my career," I replied. He laughed, lowering his hands to the sides of his hood.
"I didn't get the chance to notice last time that you have a sense of humor," he said, drawing back the hood. I recognized him immediately, the scarred side of his face and his serpentine eye raising every hair on my body. "We were so busy that night, weren't we? Barely got introduced at all. Why, I bet you have all kinds of surprises waiting for me." He smiled and pointed to Tadzio. "Like, you have friends! I wouldn't have expected that." The other figures began to slowly walk toward us.
"And I suppose your friends just want to get to know us, too?"
"Them? They'll leave you alone, don't worry." His smile grew larger, distorting his face and stretching until two fangs began to emerge from his upper jaw. "Your penance will be special."
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.
29 June 1989
Flitwick was approaching me with the knife as a chant spread through the room. I whispered a prayer.
"What a fascinating specimen. I had no idea the Vatican had stooped so low as to use nephilim," he said, placing the edge of the blade against my neck. He leaned in close to my ear. "Tell me, do they know?" I closed my eyes and continued my prayer. "Doesn't matter, of course. Once I have your blood, Nachash will rise, and all these religious trappings will fall." I opened my eyes and looked at him.
"Is that what you think? That my blood will help you?"
"Oh, now you want to chat?" he asked, slowly digging the blade into my skin. I hissed as a small trickle of blood began to flow. "I'm sorry, but we are on something of a schedule."
"Don't you know what it means to be a priest?" He reached out and touched the blood, then recoiled and screamed as smoke rose from his finger. The blade dropped and I regained control of my body. I clenched my fist and stepped forward, closing the distance between myself and Flitwick as he backed up. "Whatever I was born as, I'm a holy vessel now." The young man opened his eyes and snapped his head up to stare at me. I had a brief glimpse of his slit pupils before I was thrown backward, cracking the wall behind me.
The rest of the attendees stood, drawing weapons and lunging at me. Those outside entered the house to help. The boy screamed and grabbed his face, collapsing into a heap on the floor. As I was trying to avoid the blows from the others, I saw Flitwick move for the knife and I dove forward to stop him. As the boy screamed again, the markings on the floor began to glow and everyone was thrown, the knife crashing through a window. The markings continued to glow, and energy from them was spinning around the boy, who was working his way to his feet. I knew I didn't have much time, whatever it was that was happening needed to be stopped.
I reached out, placing my hand on one of the circles. Fire shot from my palm, burning away the marking and making the floor smolder. There was a disruption in the energy that upset the boy's balance, and he turned to face me. I felt hands all over my body as the cultists tried to drag me away. A pair of massive yellow eyes were opening in the floor. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, feeling the heat build within me.
Flames erupted from my entire body, and I heard the cultists scream as they let go. I stood, aflame, staring at the boy who floated slightly above the ground over the eyes and surrounded by swirling energy. He raised a hand toward me, and I felt the energy try to push me away. Slowly, I stepped forward, pointing my hands at the eyes and blasting them with fire. A loud, otherworldly scream reverberated through the building, and the boy jerked back. I could hear the crackle of the fires behind me spreading to the house and cultists scrambling around, but kept my eyes on the boy. He went to charge toward me, and I pulled my fists in and drew all the fire into a sphere around me. Just before he made contact, I threw my arms out, emitting a blast of flame in every direction.
The house collapsed in flames, with the cultists inside. As the fire licked at the trees around it, I walked out of the rubble and brushed ash off my shoulder. The fire on my body faded out while I continued, stopping only briefly when I found a large towel to wrap around myself to replace the cassock that had burned off. I climbed into the boat Flitwick had used to reach the site, and rowed back to the mainland as the island burned.
29 June 1989
Those attending the ritual arrived shortly after dark, already cloaked and focused on the work at hand. They didn't seem to notice me, as they gathered in the house to light candles and find their positions. There were around two dozen people in attendance, some stationed at the circle on the floor of the house and others scattered around outside. As I made my way around, I saw a pair of more ornately cloaked figures arrive on a boat and begin making their way to the house. I slipped inside to monitor the activity.
On reaching the center of the circle, one of the figures knelt while the other was given a dagger and a large fang. The one with the implements was clearly in charge, master of this event. As the master lifted the fang up and slowly turned, the others gathered began to chant and kneel. The master suddenly lowered their arms and the island went silent.
"Tonight," the master announced in a voice that was amplified and clearly augmented to sound like a chorus, "the time has come! Nachash shall rise and finish its great work!" Muttered approvals rose from the kneeling crowd. "The goats are gathered. One," pointing the fang at the figure kneeling in the center, "shall take on the sin of mankind and give himself fully to Nachash. The other shall be sacrificed to call it forth!" I looked around and didn't see anyone else with a similar robe, and no one seemed to be stepping forward as the sacrifice. "Show yourself."
I turned in surprise but found the master was indicating the one kneeling at their side. This one lowered his hood, and I saw the face of a young man, somewhere near his late teens. He had long blonde hair and stern green eyes, fixed resolutely on the one standing before him.
"Take the venom," the master said. The boy nodded, and the point of the fang was pressed into his cheek until it drew blood. I began to pace, praying for wisdom about whether or not I needed to interfere. The boy screamed out as that side of his face began to discolor, like a rash spreading along his skin, his eyes closed tight as he took deep breaths to try to stop himself from crying out. I took a step forward to act when the master turned their attention in my direction. "Show yourself," they said, pointing at me with the dagger. I immediately felt myself tugged into the physical realm, my arms and legs frozen in place, and everyone in the house turned to look at me. The master lowered his hood with the edge of the blade and I growled.
"So glad you followed my trail," Professor Flitwick said, pointing the dagger at me again. "It just wouldn't be the same without you."
Evidence compiled for use during the trial of Father Benedict de Monte.