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.
Evidence compiled for use during the trial of Father Benedict de Monte.