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.
12 november 2004
As the first rays of daylight hit the water of the Ravi north of Lahore, Benedict waited on the south shore, watching the water. He carried his bag, filled with his notes and evidence, and was silently working out the most efficient way to hit the major points. The moment the light reached Benedict, the water before him began to churn. He took a deep breath and watched as the water began to swirl, then rise, until it formed an arched pathway that led down into a brightly-lit chamber. Two naga rushed to the doorway, pointing long spears at Benedict. One looked him over, then sneered.
"State your business, English," he said in a strong accent. Benedict raised his hands slowly.
"I have come by invitation, to discuss a shared enemy," Benedict replied. That guard spoke quickly to the other, in another language, and the other rushed back down the path. The two remaining men stood silent for a few minutes, before that guard returned and passed a message along. The first guard grumbled, then lowered his spear and waved for Benedict to step forward.
The river closed behind them and Benedict found himself in a large chamber that appeared to be constructed of clay bricks, painted with a limited but vibrant palate. He knew from the sense of the air that they were no longer in the physical realm, but very close to it. He was led down a long hall, with doorways dotting the walls. Various naga were bustling about, or peeking out of doorways, but all avoided him. The doors at the end of the hall were opened, and Benedict was led into a massive circular chamber. It had no visible ceiling, the walls just appeared to stretch up and support the night sky itself. It was full of stars, the Milky Way visible in extreme detail, stars completely invisible to the unaided human eye burning bright and shifting clouds of interstellar gas dispersing their light into the whole room.
Opposite the door was a throne, housing the Great Naga. There were two feminine humanoid forms emerging from a single serpentine body, which was itself at least twenty feet thick and circled the entire room multiple times. Benedict walked through a stone archway that lifted the coils up and allowed entrance to the room, and glanced up at the large scales as he passed. Every color seemed to shimmer from them, shifting as they caught the light in different ways, casting spots of color all around the room that moved in response to the restless body. An assortment of courtesans and servants were scattered through the chamber, some rushing on some task or another, others lounging and discussing some matter or another. Benedict was directed to the center of the room, where he stood silently and waited as the Great Naga continued whatever business they were doing when he arrived. Finally, another naga slid forward.
"Welcome to Iravati, Flameborn," he announced, in Enochian. "The Queen of Heaven will now hear you!" Benedict visibly flinched at the title, but straightened up and looked between the two large faces now fixed on him.
"I thank you for the welcome," he called out, using the same language and offering a shallow bow. "I am here on business concerning the Brood of Nachash, who have been active in your domain." The room fell silent and all eyes turned to him. One half of the Queen raised their hand to their chin, as if considering his words, while the other crossed their arms and glared at him.
"And what do you know of them?" they asked.
"I have been actively opposing them for nearly 30 years. I first encountered them on the other side of the world, in the United States, but have since been given reason to believe they do not originate there. Or, for that matter, here." The room erupted into shouts of surprise or arguments among bystanders, but neither Benedict nor the Great Naga averted their gaze to acknowledge it. After a minute of that, the contemplative half raised their hand and the room fell silent again.
"Call for Akshainie," they said to the page, who nodded and rushed out of the chamber. "And what is your name, again?"
"Father Benedict de Monte."
"'Father' is your title, I presume?" Benedict nodded. "Very well. Father, there has been speculation that this cult was an external force attempting to access Iravati, though we have not had solid evidence to support this idea until you arrived. Do you bring us anything of more consequence than a passing observation?"
"I do," he answered, offering his bag. "You will find here my collected notes on the Brood, details of my encounters with them, and the evidence I've collected of their ongoing activities." Another page came forward and accepted the bag, and just as he turned to carry it back Benedict said, "mind that I will need that back. With or without your input on the matter, I must resume hunting them when I leave this place." The Great Naga nodded, and Benedict turned to look when he heard another door open. Akshainie and the first page entered, and she slithered past the crowd to stand beside Benedict.
"You came at dawn. Truly a man of your word," she whispered, as they watched the second page take the bag to the side of the throne and begin talking to some scribes. The Great Naga was watching the page and scribes.
"I am a man of oath, Akshainie," he whispered back. "If I cannot keep my word about a simple meeting, how could I ever keep that oath?"
"What is this oath?"
"These records will take some time to review," the Great Naga announced. "Father, if it is not too much trouble, we would like to offer you accommodations here in Iravati as we process them." Akshainie raised an eyebrow and glanced over to him.
"Father?" she asked, still as a whisper. He smirked but did not look away from the throne.
"If it pleases you, O Queen, I would offer my services in compiling the information during my stay."
"It does. When you are not so occupied, I want you to spend time with Akshainie. She is our resident expert on this cult, perhaps you each may have some information and training that will benefit the other."
"As you wish, my queen," Akshainie replied with a bow.
"I will try not to impose," Benedict said.
"You are both dismissed. Akshainie, show him to some quarters. You will serve as his escort as long as he is within our realm." Both Akshainie and Benedict gave a bow, then headed for the door.
11 November 2004
The market was packed with people and stalls, fresh meat and produce as far as the eye could see and a crowd ready to take all of it home. I was weaving my way through the space, looking for a man I was told had some of the best lamb around. As I slipped from one cluster of stalls to another, I felt a familiar presence. It took me a moment of focus to remember it, but it felt like Akshainie, or maybe like naga in general. It was hard to tell, when I could only confirm meeting one.
I stopped and looked around the market, but no one looked familiar, and the crowds were too thick and busy to focus on details beyond the people closest to me. Once I had to give up, I continued on my quest, but the presence never seemed far from me. It was five minutes of this, all through the market, the presence hanging close to me, with me occasionally stopping to try and find it. Finally, I heard her voice in my ear, ever so briefly.
"Fishmonger to your right." I spun around, but she was gone. Figuring I had nothing else to go on, I went looking for the fishmonger that had been to my right.
His booth was behind a stall, up against the wall of a building. He had a variety of fish from the local river, a gracious smile, and surprisingly few customers. As I approached, he was hanging a fish in a small line of them hanging from the top of the booth. When I stopped and pretended to admire his wares, he turned to me and waved his hand over his stock.
"English! What kind of fish do you seek?"
"I suspect it's very rare," I answered.
"Oh, nothing to rare for me, sir. You tell me, does it have a name?"
"Akshainie," I said, softly, as I glanced around.
"Very rare indeed! But have no fear, you are close." He stepped to the side and pulled a curtain aside slightly, revealing an illuminated room inside the building. "Perhaps you would be so kind as to check in the back for me." I nodded and slipped into the doorway as the curtain closed behind me. Akshainie was there, in her true naga form, in a pose that I must assume would be considered lounging. She was spread out over a number of cushions, wearing a sari, her swords laying in arm's reach. The room looked used, but not lived in, as if it was a place for the man to rest during his work or briefly entertain but with no cooking area or evidence of additional rooms. The tapestries on the walls all displayed life on the river.
"It's rude to stare, English," she said, picking up a bunch of grapes from a bowl of fruit and plucking some off. "Sit down." I moved further into the room and lowered myself onto a large cushion near the low table with the fruit.
"I'm German, for the record." She waved her hand dismissively.
"You're not of us." I indicated the fruit with my hand, as if to ask, and she nodded. I picked out a mango and leaned back against the wall. "But I asked around, and your story sounds true. This Brood of Nachash is not unknown to the rest of the world. And one especially eager water spirit near North America seemed to recognize you from some incident involving a burning island?"
"The island is fine. The cult members gathered there, largely, were not," I said, pulling out a knife and beginning to cut the mango.
"The story was hard to decipher by the time it reached me, but yes. It did sound like you were very active in your opposition to the Brood."
"Is that why you left? To verify my story?"
"And what reason did I have to stay? To suffer your magic further?" I stopped, then set the knife down.
"I'm sorry, but I needed answers, and it was apparent you were not interested in giving them."
"Oh, make no mistake, I appreciated your style. Right up until you apologized for it." I chuckled, shook my head, then picked up the knife and resumed my work.
"I'll be sure not to apologize to you again." She smiled, then popped a grape into her mouth.
"You're doing that wrong, you know."
"I'm doing it in a way that works." She shrugged.
"Suit yourself, English. The fact is that this Brood of Nachash is a problem, one that I thought had been handled. You need to inform the Great Naga that it is not a local issue."
"Will they not listen to you?"
"I would sound...opportunistic. But to you, the cult here was just one stop on a much longer journey. A journey we are invested in seeing complete."
"Why should this cult be your concern, if you've removed them from Pakistan?"
"I think you know full well how the impression of mankind shapes the world of spirits." I stopped, then nodded. "Hm. And tell me, did you come here because you knew the cult was here?"
"No. I came to investigate the legend of the naga, find out if it was connected."
"And what do you suppose happens to the naga, when the whole world thinks as you have? That we should be understood through the lens of those who corrupt the image of the serpent?"
"You're fighting for your very nature." I set the mango and the knife down. "Tell me how I can help."
"Be at the river, at dawn. North of the city. Be ready to tell your story."
10 November 2004
Two more sites, both slaughtered before I arrived. Whatever it was that drew the cult here, they were insistent on getting a foothold, and someone was insistent on stopping them.
I had to assume it was my mystery woman. Once I knew what to look for, I had managed to spot her at both sites, but only briefly. She was always just a step or two ahead, always ready to vanish in the tiniest bit of water, but I had been working on a trick I'd learned back in North America. This time, I was hoping I'd be ready for her. It would have to be enough, if I wanted any answers this way. For all of my searching, I couldn't find evidence of any more cult sites in the area.
I wandered this last site in the spiritual realm before investigating. I don't know if she knows what I am, or what I can do, but I had no reason to think she would assume I could slip by her. I did not find her, but I did locate the water source I was certain she would use to escape. I made a note of its location, found the fastest route from the central chamber to it, then went back to the entrance to carry out my work as usual. I was taking notes on the fatal wounds on the last body when I saw her from the corner of my eye. She was watching, from a crevice above me and to the right. I quickly ran through the map in my head, and determined that if I played it just right I could reach the water just before her. I stood, jotted down the last of my notes, then tucked the notebook away.
"You know, we could try talking about this." I didn't know if she knew English, but I was certain I knew what she'd do the moment she realized I was speaking to her. Sure enough, she dove down the passageway behind her. I smiled, turned, and took off down the path I'd determined. I leapt over rocks and slid under a narrow passage, trying as best I could to reach the end of our race first. "Saint Hubert," I prayed softly in Latin, "please let me have estimated her speed correctly."
As she rounded the last corner and came within sight of the water, she began to change. Her legs gave way to a single, long, serpentine body, and the water started to open. Just as she was about to lunge forward, the water froze and the air in the room dropped to nearly arctic temperatures. Her body grew stiff and she hit the ground hard, gasping in the sharp air. I stepped out from the end of my path, catching my breath as well. She hissed and pulled out her swords.
"Do what you came to do, Colonizer," she practically growled in heavily accented English, "but know it will not be easy for you."
"I've been hunting this cult for a very long time. Well, long in human years, but I suspect you work on a very different scale."
"You...hunt them?" She was breathing very heavy, and I could tell she was having difficulty.
"They're a threat. I want to know what you've learned about them."
"What do you care? Some ridiculous little group of white people show up in my land and start corrupting the name of our serpents, and you expect me to believe this is somehow a problem for you?"
"This is not a local event. I've been tracking them all over the world. Whatever they are, they mean to impose their will everywhere." Her eyes widened for a moment, then narrowed as they fixed on me.
"I will consider it. If you let me breathe."
"You seem to be talking just fine as we are."
"For now. But you want to chat." We watched each other for a long moment, before I sighed.
"Give me something. Anything to know you're serious."
"It is my name. I am Akshainie, of the guard of Iravati." We stared at each other for another moment until I was certain I would get no further assurance, and then I opened my hand and allowed the temperature in the chamber to slowly return to normal.
"Now, you said you would talk."
"No," she replied with a smile, "I said I would consider it. I never said where." Before I could react, she vanished into the water. I screamed, the rocks around me starting to slightly melt as the water quickly evaporated. After I took some deep breaths and centered myself, I turned and made my way back to the hotel.
6 November 2004
The spiral on the ground was crude and shallow. Benedict knelt and ran his fingers along it, feeling the jagged edges. It was composed of short straight lines, five or six abreast, with each set slightly angled from the one next to it. From a distance, it could give the illusion of a smooth curve, but it was clearly unfinished. The scratches suggested it had been scraped in quickly, almost frantically. They hadn’t had time to finish it to the state of the others he’d found around the world, and probably never got to the point where it could be painted red. Not that it mattered. The blood that had flowed into it took care of that.
Seven bodies in all were scattered around the room. Four of them could probably have been identified by family, a couple years ago when they first died. The gashes across their chests and throats betrayed the use of a sword; a sword that was no longer in the room. The heads of the other three were crushed in. Every one of them smelled like sulfur, a sign of their connection to Nachash that he had picked up ever since waking at Yggdrasil a year and a day after arriving there. Benedict stood and slowly stepped around the corpses to the broken and bloody idol that appeared the likely murder weapon. He picked the idol up, a bust emerging from a pillar, and examined it.
It was broken off about three inches below the shoulders, so he carried it over to the disfigured idols and pillars and began testing the fit until he found the one it belonged to. Having found it he looked down at the name engraved on the post and scowled. He didn’t know the language and couldn’t understand what name the idol had, so he set the bust down and pulled his bag around to the front and dug through until he pulled out a notebook and pencil. His superiors had been concerned about his lengthy absence in the Arctic, and now he knew he would need to bring more samples back to justify his globetrotting. As he was taking a rubbing of the engraving, he heard a stone drag across the floor behind him. He turned quickly and looked around, but saw nothing.
He'd been tracking information around the world ever since he left Yggdrasil, looking for any lore related to serpents that may give some indication on a source for the Brood of Nachash or at least an idea of what they were seeking. His search had brought him to the region around Lahore, Pakistan, where he had now found three ritual sites claimed by the Brood, all of them filled with dead cultists.
He finished his work and then began exploring the rest of the cavern, which had multiple branches cutting off into the rock. As he approached the second side passage, something further down the chamber scraped against the rock. He ran down the passage, following the faint noise of very light footsteps ahead of him. He rounded one corner and got a brief glimpse of her, a woman with twin swords and a movement that flowed like water. She was quick, but he saw enough of her face and arms to recognize her as a local. When he rounded the corner she had disappeared around, he found no evidence of her passing. Just a small stream of water, flowing through the stone, not large enough to hide a person or allow one to escape. He slipped into the spiritual realm and looked around, but found little more than a faint trace that led into the water. He scowled, then turned and headed back to finish his report.
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."
26 August 1997
Last month, the Diocese of Dallas, Texas lost what was apparently a famous lawsuit over sexual misconduct carried out by one of its priests. It seems there are more monsters in robes than I knew. I had not heard about this matter in rural Germany, but the people of South Carolina have. The lack of trust right now has greatly hindered my investigations. When I went to the police department where the last priest had been found after his encounter with the Brood of Nachash to ask what they knew about the assailant, and admitted that I was not associated with a specific local church on being asked, I was detained and questioned about my credentials and mission and knowledge of misconduct for nearly twenty hours. After that, I decided to be more quiet about my work.
I had to abandon my cassock and opt for street clothes in order to accomplish anything, and even then the trail was hard to find. The local diocese knew about my predecessors arriving and beginning their work, but did not receive regular updates that would help me track their location. The non-Catholics in town seemed disinterested at best in the murder of one priest and mutilation of another, and the Catholics were waiting for news of priestly misconduct to die down before they really spoke to anyone about matters of the Church. When I asked the Cardinal for the records of the previous investigation, he informed me that the priest who had been picked up was too traumatized to tell them where his notes were and very few reports had come in. I am on my own, and must retrace the investigation that came before me to find anything.
I believe I'm close, however. The national news suggests that the case in Dallas is not as well-remembered in the rest of the nation as it is here. I suspect someone has used it to encourage animosity toward the Church. My best bet may be to trace that word rather than imitate those who came before me.
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.
29 June 1989
I arrived in Southport having already stepped out of the physical reality. I knew that the sheriff was likely not the only member of the cult who could see into the spiritual realm, the effort involved seemed unlikely they would be doing so without some reason to believe I was there. It was, therefore, necessary that I not be seen arriving in the town.
My day was largely spent bartering with a water spirit for access to the island without using a mortal ferry, which required significant discussion as such beings have a general distaste for my kind. By the time I made it to the island, it was late afternoon, and no one had yet arrived. After some hunting around, I found what I believed was the location of the ritual, marked with a similar circle to the one I'd seen in the basement of the hotel. There were only a couple buildings on the island, and all of them seemed temporary, and the circle occupied almost the entirety of one of them. I found a place outside the window where I could keep an eye on things, and waited.
Evidence compiled for use during the trial of Father Benedict de Monte.