7 March 2006
I had called 911 and told them about the collapsed building as soon as we found a payphone, but when they wanted me to keep talking to them I let the phone hang off the hook. We slipped into the spiritual realm together, now that we could, and made our way back to the site and watched as emergency services arrived and began searching for people. When Akshainie determined the number of broken bodies being pulled out was getting to me too much, we left. I don’t remember much of the walk away. I don’t remember much of that night, mostly just the feeling of her stroking my hair as I fell asleep.
Now here we were, standing in front of a two-story house on a small side road, on the corner of a broken alley. The house was grey, or at least had been made grey by the elements and age, the paint peeling off the porch and various parts of the walls. The fence running along the edge of they alley was rusted, and the grass under it was longer than the neighbors kept theirs. The neighbors were so close. I always thought American homes had more space between them. I stared at it for a long time.
“Are you okay?” Akshainie asked.
“I…I don’t think I expected it to look like this.”
“Are you telling me you’ve been this man’s friend for decades, and you’ve never seen his house?”
“It hasn’t been that kind of friendship.” She huffed. I wondered if maybe it should have been. “Well, come on, then.” We walked up the stone stairs set into the small hill of the front yard, if it could be called a yard, and then onto the porch, where we could hear music coming from inside. There was no doorbell, so I just knocked on the solid wooden door loudly. After a moment I heard a faint shuffling, then the door opened to reveal Henry. He smiled and stepped back, urging us to come in.
The room was much better than the exterior. There was a recliner that looked fairly worn, but otherwise the couch was nice and the hardwood floors were beautiful. The television was off, sitting in a cabinet next to a component stereo system the likes of which I hadn’t seen in probably twenty years. This had a record going, which he turned down as we entered and I later learned was by an artist named Lionel Richie. He waved us toward the couch, then sat down in the recliner.
“What brings you guys here?” he asked, reaching for his glass of water on the end table next to his chair.
“A couple things, really,” I said. I cleared my throat. “So, for one, we met your son.”
“Yeah, he mentioned that. Hell of a night you guys had. I said he should’ve got more money out of those friends of his.”
“Did he mention telling us about your condition?” He paused, then set his glass back down.
“No. No, he didn’t.”
“Don’t. I appreciate the visit, but I sure as hell don’t need reminding what I got.”
“Right. I just, I guess I wanted to check on you.”
“You said there were a few things?” I looked to Akshainie, who pulled the folded map out of her bag and walked over to hand it to him. He began opening it as I continued.
“We found a site the Brood had managed to occupy. They took everyone, Henry. Kept them in some kind of stasis, or death, or something. I don’t know, we weren’t…we didn’t manage to save them. But the whole place had a lot of weirdness to it, and I can’t help but think we’d know a lot more if we could read the symbols on this map.”
“I think you’re right about that,” he muttered, looking it over. “Come with me.” We followed as he made his way into the kitchen, then down the stairs into the basement. This was his library, walls covered in books on shelves, a large table, and assorted smaller ones next to armchairs. He laid out the map on the large table, then went to the shelves and pulled out a couple books before returning. “Let’s see what we have here.” He started talking to himself softly, never quite finishing his sentences, as he ran his fingers over each symbol. He would occasionally pause over one, flip through a book until he found something that apparently satisfied him, and then continue on.
“I thought maybe this was familiar,” I said, pointing at one symbol that I remembered from an alchemy text I’d skimmed through once, “but I don’t know if position means anything.”
“It does,” he said, looking at the symbol over the rim of his glasses.
“So, being here at, what, about five o’clock, that—”
“Wrong,” he snapped. He reached across the table and pointed to a different symbol. “This is your key mark. The structure is aligned to the south, not the north.”
“Now let me finish this before you tell me any other theories.” He continued as I looked to Akshainie, who was beaming. I couldn’t tell if she really enjoyed the things he said, or just the way he was saying them to me. I turned my attention back to the table and waited for Henry to finish. When he finally did, he sat down in one of the chairs and swore.
“What? What is it?” He grumbled and stood back up, making his way past us to a cabinet on the wall, which he opened to reveal a small collection of glasses and liquors.
“You guys want something to drink?”
“I’ll take whatever you’re making,” Akshainie answered. He nodded.
“No, thank you.” He poured two glasses of whiskey on ice, handed one to Akshainie, then returned to his chair before knocking back about half of it.
“Bastards figured out how to do what Johnny does.”
“What?” I walked around the table and sat in the chair closest to him. Akshainie took a careful sip of her drink, nodded, then made her way to another chair near her.
“Look, this…thing they did, in that town. It breaks magic, like my son does. And it does more than that. More than I’ve ever been certain he could do, but now I’m not so sure.”
“Can you walk me through it a bit?” He waved his hand as if trying to form a thought in the air.
“It’s…okay, look. What did you guys experience while you were there?”
“I couldn’t cross over,” Akshainie said, “burned like hell when I tried.”
“Yeah, and neither of us could access anything that wasn’t normally human,” I added. Henry was nodding the whole time. “And there was a strange truck tracking me, but didn’t seem to notice her as much.”
“That’d be the enforcer they used, then,” he said. “John, he doesn’t really break magic. It’s easier to say he does, but that’s not quite what an Anchor does. It’d be more accurate to say that he enforces a certain set of rules on reality.” Akshainie growled slightly, downing the rest of her drink and then sternly making her way to the cabinet to pour another. Henry either didn’t notice or didn’t care. “The metaphysical realm doesn’t really make its own rules. It has rules, near as I can tell, but they’re ultimately decided by the way sapient physical creatures understand and imagine it. Somehow. I don’t understand exactly how that works, I don’t think anyone does, but it’s the best explanation we got. But the rules that keep all the physical stuff here and all the metaphysical stuff there don’t just exist. They’re maintained, passively by all of us, and actively by Anchors.”
“I don’t see how that means he doesn’t anything more than break magic.”
“Normally, it doesn’t. But that,” he said, pointing at the map, “does. And it uses a power very like his to do it.”
“So what does it do?”
“I redefines an area of spiritual reality,” Akshainie said, her hands balled into fists and her back to us. “It takes a place and it cuts it off, and then it gives it a new set of rules, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, it does.” Henry stood, setting his glass down. “Have you seen this before?”
“Once. But not like this.”
“Well, whoever did it, if they were powerful enough—or had enough raw magical energy to manipulate, like from a town’s population of captured minds—could basically make the rules in that bubble be whatever they want them to be. It’s to be expected that bubbles made by different people would look different in practice.”
“So they were making a pocket of reality that was different? Why?” I asked.
“It’s the Brood, Benedict. This was a practice run, and it probably wasn’t the only one. But that town, by your description and what I’m seeing here, would be completely cut off from the greater spiritual reality of the world. Remade in their image. Devoid of gods and spirits, completely sanitized.”
“Is this their big plan? To do this, what, to the world?”
“We have to consider that possibility. And with what I heard about them trapping and drawing power from dread gods, they may be well on their way to having the power to pull it off.” I stood and Akshainie turned to face us. “You guys need to find out if they have more of these gods, and if so, to break that flow of power. Any way you can. If this is where they’re going with this, they can’t be allowed even another chance to try it.” His hand was shaking, and I considered asking if he was okay, but decided he wouldn’t want me to.
“Of course. Is there anything you can give us to help us find these things?” He nodded, then turned back to the shelves. It took him a minute to dig around, but he finally pulled out a book and set it on the table.
“Did you ever get that Book of Shadows?” I nodded. “Good. That will get you far, but this,” he said, resting his hand on the worn leather cover, “this is basically an index for it. You can find out what you’re looking for with this, and hopefully where it is with your book. Won’t be perfect, things change over the span of a hundred years, but you ought to get some positive hits off it.” We thanked him, accepted the book, and wished him well. He walked us to the door, waved goodbye, and returned to his music as we slipped off down the street.
From the diary of one Sister Agatha, dated 3 March 2006
Today we began a week of work at St. Anthony RCC in Bessemer, Pennsylvania. Delightful country, I expect to find much peace walking the grounds. While we were doing our morning prayers, a priest came in with a woman, the latter waiting with obvious curiosity as the former took time in the confessional. She and her outfit looked foreign, and showed much more skin than I should expect from a parishioner. I attempted to greet her, but she was rather terse and I couldn’t help but notice she was armed with two swords. I kindly asked if she felt it appropriate to bring such things into a church, and she stated it was more appropriate than leaving them alone somewhere. She did quickly catch on that we were talking in hushed tones, but for the short time before she realized it she was certainly a distraction to the gathered faithful. She began to ask me about the candles and the icons, but before we got very far into that discussion the priest returned and thanked me for keeping her busy. The two of them went aside, where he prayed the rosary and she waited, somewhat impatiently, for him to finish. They talked briefly about getting back to work, and finding a path. I made a point to pray for her soul and the will of the priest once they left, and thanked Mother Mary for guiding a priest to someone so clearly in need of one.
The rest of the day was spent in the vestry, where we completed some painting on behalf of the church. Sister Salome told a fascinating local legend about a Protestant church that had gone evil some decades ago. Sister Margaret said that it sounded unbelievable, on the grounds that any Protestant church should hardly have need to succumb to more evil than being Protestant, and we had a good laugh about that.
2 March 2006
The main work floor of the factory was covered in burn marks and blood, and there was a massive amount of raw energy still lingering in the air. I could almost trace Matteson’s steps by the dead zones, areas he had apparently so strongly suppressed magic that the residual energy wouldn’t even seep back in. The existence of those made Akshainie uncomfortable, but she tried to hide it.
The whole site had been closed off by police when they had investigated the events here, and there were still signs of their going. We found a couple paper cups with dried coffee residue near the door, and Akshainie’s heightened senses picked up various scents related to their investigation. It seemed like no one had been in since then, however, and the company that owned the factory did not appear eager to restore it.
“Well, his story lines up, anyway,” Akshainie said, slithering over from the other side of the vast room. “Any idea yet who, or what, they were summoning?” I shook my head as I stood from examining the center of the site, and wiped dust off my trousers.
“It’s hard to tell. There was too much damage to the summoning circle, and any magical energy that I could have compared to the book has been too heavily degraded.”
“By time, or by Matteson?”
“Probably both.” She snorted disapprovingly and looked at the remnants of the circle drawn on the floor. It had been drawn in chalk, and all the activity and the little bit of rain and snow that probably leaked in from the ceiling had erased or warped almost all of it. “You don’t trust him.”
“It’s…” she sat back on her tail and crossed her arms, looking off into space. “It wasn’t just an Anchor, of course. The Anchor was working for someone else. But, you don’t understand how much damage they did to us. How hard it is to believe such a power can be used for anything but…that.”
“No, I don’t. But I might be able to understand you a bit better if you tell me about it.” She sighed and shook her head.
“Not here. We have work to do.”
“Well, I think we’ve got about as much as we’re going to get here.”
“That wasn’t much.”
“No,” I said, walking over and sitting on a metal case in front of her, “but it wasn’t the only part of that story that gave us something to look into.”
“You think we should look into this garbage truck?”
“That, and the city where they found it.” She rose from her position with a smile.
“Very good. Though I do have one question.”
“What is a ‘garbage truck?’”
Evidence compiled for use during the trial of Father Benedict de Monte.