19 March 2007
Michael set out for England yesterday, and we were brought before the Queen of Heaven to update her about our progress. Akshainie did most of the talking, since she was the one actually answering to this authority, and I mostly just answered questions when asked. It took some explanation to demonstrate why we were shifting our focus to the Brood sites rather than attacking the cult members themselves, but the Queen understood the gravity of the situation when we talked about them corrupting locus points to trap ancient entities and siphon their power. The Queen didn’t seem entirely convinced I needed Akshainie’s help for this, however, and we spent the night trying to locate our next target and worrying about whether or not she would even have clearance to leave Iravati.
It was nearing dawn when we finally managed to trace the web of connections to the actual entry on Nachash. Knowing that we were on a time limit and we’d used connections to find him in the first place, we skipped right past the pages of people affiliated with him and went straight to locations. We picked out the first few and decided we would go to whichever of those was closest to a river to begin, but before we could begin determining which that was we were brought back before the Queen. It was a grueling encounter, in which we argued for our approach and Akshainie’s involvement in it for hours. In the end, the Queen agreed that the work was important enough to see finished and that Iravati was invested enough to send a warrior, and Akshainie was sent out again on the condition that she check in more frequently and that I be open to input from Iravati about future targets. We agreed to these terms.
We presented the locations we had picked out, and granted the aid of the court staff to find the best route between them. It took some digging, as Iravati’s map collection was outdated and never particularly concerned with the human world beyond the Indus Valley region. We ended up needing to travel with a couple scribes to the river and seek information from travelers to fill in the gaps, and this at least helped us with two of the three sites we were seeking. The third was much more difficult to nail down, so we split up, with one scribe and Akshainie continuing to seek information from travelers while I took the other scribe out of the city to the physical world, where my phone would work and I could try to reach some contacts with modern maps. My initial attempts failed to yield any results, but then I reached Dr. Harris.
“Look,” she told me, “I’m rather busy at the moment. But listen, we have this situation, got this promising girl looking into it, but it sounds like she’ll need help.”
“I suppose you’d have time to look into my question if I can offer support,” I said.
“That’s the short of it, yeah.”
“Well, tell me what you know about it, and I’ll see what I can do.”
She gave me a brief overview of the situation and promised to have a case file available for me when I arrived, which I assured her I would do quickly if I could get there. She told me to let her know, and we returned to Iravati. There, I learned that Akshainie had no better fortune finding the site than I did, so we returned to the Queen and I told her about the proposal from Dr. Harris. After a conversation about the nature of Harris’ work, the Queen conceded that it sounded like the best option available. We’ve been urged to rest and gather supplies for the remainder of the day and set out first thing in the morning. After a brief conversation to inform Dr. Harris we will be arriving tomorrow and a trip through the market, Akshainie and I have returned to her family’s estate to prepare for our next mission.
12 October 1997
When I arrived, Dr. Harris was sitting in a local coffee shop, with a half-eaten panini getting cold next to an empty mug as she read a worn copy of The Hobbit. I went straight to the counter and ordered a muffin and coffee, and waited for each before sitting down opposite her. She didn't look up from her book, and we sat in silence for a moment as I stirred my coffee and unwrapped the muffin.
"I was questioned about Mr. Withenow," she finally said.
"About why they found him in a site of human ritual sacrifice?"
"About his money and connections, mostly. It seems the FBI is interested in anything with his name attached."
"Perhaps they were warned that his financial advice was in the service of a specific, and questionable, cause."
"Perhaps." I began to eat my muffin as we continued sitting quietly; my eyes wandering around the room, hers fixed to her reading. After about five minutes, she slid a bookmark between the pages and set the book down. She looked at me, as though sizing me up for the first time
"How is it so far?"
"As good was it was the last four times. How much of this stuff is real, Benedict?"
"Everything is real, somewhere. The spiritual plane contains all of mankind's dreams."
"And nightmares." I nodded. "And sometimes, these things really come through? This cult was really able to bring harm to the world?"
"They still are, Dr. Harris. This was just one small part of their network." She scowled, drumming her fingers on the table.
"And you, you go around hunting the things that go bump in the night?"
"Something like that."
"What happens to us?" I stopped, and slowly set my mug down.
"I try, you know," I said, softly. "I try to help people, to comfort them. It's part of my training as a priest. But I can't stick around, and if they don't go to a priest when I refer them-"
"Not everyone wants the help of another priest."
"I know. But that's why I wanted to talk to you before I leave. And the fact that you saw the problem yourself convinces me you're the right person." She stared at me for a moment, then slowly shook her head and leaned forward.
"You want me to start some kind of...mystics anonymous group? Therapy for the haunted?"
"That's a good name for it. And I've already secured you some initial funding, hopefully enough to get you going." I reached into my pocket and produced a cheque, which I slid across the table to her. She glanced down at it, then back to me.
"And what? You just leave some money behind and go traipsing off to kill more monsters?"
"No. I want to be an active part of this. The world needs people who care, Dr. Harris. I care, and you care, and together I hope we can help people who would be dismissed by anyone who doesn't know what we know."
"I know very little so far." She sat upright, pocketing the cheque and then folding her arms. "You'll need to explain a lot more to me before I can do much good here."
"My flight isn't for two days," I said. "If you're free, I can answer as many questions as possible before then."
"I'm never free," she said, putting her book away and grabbing her sandwich, "but I suppose you have already paid for my services." I nodded and we both stood and headed for the door. "If we're going to be partners, you can call me Francesca."
"If we're partners?"
"If you ever back out of this, I expect the more formal title from you." I chuckled as I held the door open for her.
23 September 1997
"You seemed distracted," Dr. Harris said. I was sitting in her office, having stopped in to discuss the therapy groups with her. I had taken to wearing street clothes to avoid notice for my cassock, ever since the locals had grown concerned about a priest sniffing around. I was already driven out of town once, I knew I was on borrowed time at this point. It was concerning how much Dr. Harris would know of me, if she was not on my side; but I had to find out. "Almost as if you weren't really there for therapy." I leaned forward in my chair.
"Is that your professional opinion?"
"You know, my first thought was press. Figured I'd have to confront someone about what they are and aren't allowed to publish from confidential gatherings. But then you showed up here. Problem is, I know everyone at the local paper, and neither television nor radio around here tends to hire someone with a European accent."
"It's my job to know people. So what's your interest in our groups?" I paused, trying to read her face. She was giving nothing away. Finally, I sat up and straightened my shirt.
"I wasn't. Not at first. I had reason to suspect someone was using your groups for their own agenda, an agenda that I happen to be investigating."
"There are a lot of hurting people around here. If I can help them in any way while I'm here, I would like to."
"While you're here."
"You must understand, my duties-"
"Duties to who? Who do you work for?"
"I'm a Roman Catholic priest." She took a deep breath in through her nose as she leaned back, and her eye twitched just a bit. "But my job is primarily in dealing with heresies and threats to the Church."
"My concern at the moment is a specific body that has violent aims toward the Vatican and has already killed one priest and maimed another. But I am of the opinion that abusive priests are a distinct, and much more real than I knew, threat to the Church as well."
"I'm sorry, did you say killed?" She asked, leaning forward and resting her hands on her desk.
"There are dark forces at work around here, doctor. And I fear your groups are being used as recruiting tools aimed at the most angry victims of church abuse."
"You're concerned about Mr. Withenow."
"The other observer at the meeting?" She nodded. "Yes."
"He's my sponsor. Or more of a liaison, I suppose. Works with a special interest group. He does gather some vague information, more statistical than anything, to bolster their lobbying and lawsuits. This is all covered in the release form. In exchange, they fund the groups."
"He seemed a bit more proactive than that after the meeting."
"Did you witness something?"
"I'm still investigating that."
"Well then. Father, I appreciate your concern, and I assure you that if Mr. Withenow or his group are in any way connected with the things you're investigating I will immediately cut ties and willingly turn over anything that helps hold them accountable. But until you have evidence to support that claim, I must ask that you let me help these people in peace." I nodded and began to leave, but stopped before opening the door.
"When is your next group meeting?"
"Doesn't matter. I would thank you to not be there." I gave a vague sound of affirmation and left.
Evidence compiled for use during the trial of Father Benedict de Monte.