12 August 1997
I had finished the weekday Mass and was resting in my chamber when I heard a knock on the door. I set my book down next to my half-finished coffee and made my way across the room. When I opened the door, I was surprised to see another priest, an older man I'd never met, carrying a small suitcase.
"Oh! Please, come in, can I take your bag?" I asked, reaching out to help him. With his free hand, he reached into his jacket.
"No, no, no need for that." German. Northern German accent, if I remembered correctly. "But you can take this." He produced from his pocket an envelope, addressed to me. As I took the paper and stood upright, the priest stepped around me and made his way to the chair I had just vacated.
"Would you like some coffee?" I asked, closing the door.
"There will be time for that, my son. If that letter is anything like the one I received, you'll want to open it quickly." I nodded and carefully tore it open as I made my way across the room to the other armchair.
Benedict, it read, You are hereby relieved of your current charge effective immediately. Come to the Vatican. Pack light, your things will be moved on your behalf.
Do not delay.
I recognized the seal. I was being called back into the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I read over it again and then turned to look at my guest. He was smiling.
"Don't worry, my son. I'll take good care of the place. Let's not keep our betters waiting."
"Yes, yes. Of course," I said, standing. I hurried to my room and picked out my suitcase, laying a few changes of clothes inside as well as some necessities, before running back out to grab my book. I skimmed through the bookcase, grabbing a few others I hoped I would need. When I turned around again, the other priest had opened his suitcase and was slowly packing a pipe. "What did your letter say? Did they tell you what this is all about?" He shook his head, then struck a match and took a few puffs to get his pipe going.
"All will be known in Heaven, young man. I did not reach my age by snooping into business that does not concern me." I nodded, somewhat envious of his calculated ignorance, then ran back into my room to finish packing the books. When I emerged, he looked as though he had barely even moved. My coffee was gone. And, shortly thereafter, so was I.
17 June 1993
The trail has gone cold. The isolation of my new posting means I hear very little even from my most trustworthy contacts. I've heard whispers the cult is stirring again, and even that the Vatican may be keeping an eye on them. But nothing more.
There's nothing I can do now. I have to move on. I will keep my research, just in case, but it has become evident that the Church will not allow me any more contact with this case. And I, in all things, serve my God through His Church.
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.
12 April 1991
When I initially called Henry Matteson, his wife had just filed for divorce and he was largely unavailable for about five months. By the time he was available to speak at any length, I had been reassigned as priest to a small church in the Alps, which almost felt like being filed away, and my access to a phone was limited. We spent the next few months working out basic introductions and what I already knew of the Brood of Nachash, and then he arranged a visit. I was sitting in my car in front of the small regional airport, reading a newspaper, when he arrived. I folded my newspaper and helped him load his two bags, one of clothes and one of selected books and photocopies, into the car. The beginning of the ride was largely small talk, about the flight and how his son was handling the divorce.
"Are you aware of any new activity from the Brood?" he asked in German, as we began to climb the mountain that hid my village. I shook my head.
"The leadership was killed two years ago and I don't know how organized they are about replacing it," I said. "And I have not exactly been privy to any intelligence the Church has gathered."
"Hm." He looked out the window as the rock to his side gave way to the view of a valley. "I've asked around about that town in Tennessee you mentioned. It sounds like there's some recent activity, but it's hard to nail down."
"How did you find out about the Brood, anyway? You never quite gave me an answer."
"Mostly old references. Honestly, I hadn't really pieced them together enough to realize the cult was out there until you asked. I'd be surprised Tadzio connected us if it wasn't him."
"How long have you known him?" He turned back to look out the windshield, thinking for a moment.
"I don't think anyone knows him, Benedict," he answered, softly. "But we've worked together on and off for about five years."
"He comes to you for research, I assume? I was under the impression your work is largely academic."
"Largely, yes." The sun was already behind the mountain as we rounded a bend to reveal my village. I explained that the accommodations I could provide were mostly just a secondary room in my own quarters, added by an abbot some generations ago who used the church as a base to preach throughout the region. We unloaded the car, had a light supper, and then he retired to sleep off the flight. He left me with one book, however, which he explained I was welcome to keep. It was the memories of a man who had wandered the Appalachian range in the 60s and 70s, dealing with a host of living superstitions and the odd monster. Henry told me there was a story in there that sounded very much like it may be connected to the Brood, but encouraged me to take my time and read it all. If ever I should find myself hunting the Brood in America again, he insisted, I should know what to expect. I took to my chair by the fireplace and kept company with that book until I fell asleep.
12 february 1990
I was sitting on a park bench in Frankfurt, reading a newspaper, when a man smoking a cigarette sat down next to me. I was certain I knew who it was, so I didn't bother looking up.
"They say now those things will kill you," I said, turning the page.
"I should be so lucky," he replied, in Spanish. I folded the paper down and turned to look at him.
"Tadzio. Come to see the new German state?" I switched to Spanish, as well.
"There's always a new German state." I snorted and lifted the newspaper again.
"You've always been miserable company in times of change."
"All times are times of change."
"I stand by my words." He laughed, extinguishing his cigarette.
"Bene, I hear you've caused quite the commotion in America."
"How do you hear about these things? Weren't you excommunicated?"
"Nearly five hundred years ago. You and I both know I have made other connections in that time." I folded my newspaper and tucked it into my bag.
"I suppose you have some thoughts on the matter, then?"
"Your style was inelegant, but I respect the need. I understand you were left with little choice." I grunted in agreement and reached back into my bag, pulling out a long American-style sandwich. I offered him half, and after looking at it for a moment he shrugged and held out his hand to take it. I took a bite from my half as I looked at the people walking by.
"Do you know who they are?"
"Did you not eliminate them all?" he asked between bites.
"Not everyone was there. And things like these are not so easily destroyed." He nodded, chewing.
"Is this why you continue to investigate something the Vatican told you to leave alone?"
"Do you know them?" He chuckled.
"I suppose I shouldn't pry yet. I don't know them, but I know someone who may." He reached into his jacket and produced a small card with an American phone number and the name 'Henry M.' on it. "Listen, I'm just passing through, but when I return, I will hear more about this, yes?" I nodded.
"Of course, old friend." He stood, straightened his jacket, and waved at me with the sandwich as he began to walk away.
"Thank you for lunch. See you soon."
"By your years, or by mine?" I called after him. He simply waved, disappearing into the crowd. I sighed and leaned back in my seat to finish my sandwich and watch the people pass.
7 february 1990
I arrived in the early afternoon, the sun still high and fighting against the late winter chill. Hörselberg Hill would be safe this time of day; the Ladies never sought prey in daylight, rarely even by moonlight. They liked the darkness, fog if they could get it, anything that made a weary traveler eager for company. They needed little help to draw in their victims, but seemed to only enjoy it that way. I knew they would emerge tonight, though, whatever the weather was. They would always come when I call. Having bought a late lunch, I found a nice place to sit and read as I waited for evening.
I had been back three times that I could remember. In the midst of puberty, Father brought me to the mountain to find out if I would still choose his path when I was vulnerable. He brought me again, another test, before I left for seminary. We barely avoided capture by the Soviets on that trip. Finally, when I was accepted into the priesthood, I came alone to see if the Ladies would view me differently. If anything, they seemed more hungry. It was my fear of another encounter with the East German police that prompted me to learn for the first time that I could step into the spiritual realm to avoid notice.
I don't know what I expected to accomplish tonight. But I had the nagging sense that I needed to find out.
As dusk began to fall on the town and I had finished my dinner, I set out toward the hill. There was no need to hurry, and it was dark by the time I stepped foot on the hill. A cleft in the rock glowed, as the open door of a house does at night, and four women stood before me. Each was more beautiful than humans can really match, barely clothed, and singing a song of welcome. I muttered a prayer as I walked toward them, steeling myself against what I knew lie ahead.
To say the Ladies move quickly would be inaccurate, but not because they move slow. They do not seem to move, they simply are wherever they desire to be, always when you're not quite watching them well enough to know how they did it. It's distracting, disorienting, designed to prevent their target from really processing who they are or what they're offering. The first time you encounter it, it's just enough to make you question your own observation, make you wonder if you were just wrong about where that one was standing just a moment ago, make you wonder if you really know anything, make you question yourself just enough that whatever resistance you think you have will be weakened.
The fourth time you see it, it feels like a cheap circus.
They began speaking to me, the voice traveling from one to another in no apparent sequence, one at a time in succession. Another of their little tricks. I began to wonder if they knew how to do anything differently when on the hillside.
"You've returned," they said, "have you finally come for us?" I fixed my eyes on the doorway as I felt their hands and bodies brush against me outside my field of vision.
"I've come to speak with your mistress." I blinked and one of them was directly in front of me, so close I could feel her breath as she rested her hand on my chest. It was enough to pull my eyes away from the doorway.
"There's no rush, my love. You have time to enjoy one of us."
"You have time to enjoy all of us," a voice whispered into one ear.
"You know our Mistress has promised us to you," another voice whispered in my other ear. Their smell was intoxicating. I fixed my eyes on the doorway again and took a step forward. The lady ahead of me pressed hard against my body.
"You're wasting your time. I'll do what I came to do and nothing more," I said, pushing past her. "You must realize that."
"On the contrary," they replied, "we are very patient, and you are your father's son." I tried to block out the scent, the sound of them singing again, and the feel of their hands on me as I continued forward into the doorway. When I entered, the Ladies were there, lounging on cushions along the wall. Their mistress stood in the center of the room, smiling at me.
"Benedict! It's been some time, look at you!" she called out, walking toward me with her arms out. She grabbed my shoulders, as if testing their strength, then touched at my face. "Nice strong jawline, just like your father. Oh, they must love you out there."
"I have no such attachments out there."
"You are welcome to find them here! The Ladies are so eager to know you, can't say I blame them."
"I am not interested in your Ladies."
"I have men, as well." She touched my collar, as if noticing it for the first time. "Or boys, if you prefer."
"I'm sure you do."
"Come, eat, relax! Tell me all about your life in the human world." She made her way over to a banquet table laid out with a feast. "What's new with you? How is your father?"
"He's dead. I've come from the funeral." She smiled, leaning on the table.
"So that's why you've returned? Are you ready to come home without his influence?" The Ladies perked up on their cushions. I thought for a moment, looking between them and her.
"You didn't know he was gone."
"You can't honestly blame me. I have my own matters to address."
"He spent his whole life fearing he'd never really gotten free of you, of this place. Always afraid you still had a hold of his soul. But you didn't. You don't have any claim on him, not even enough to know when he was dead." She waved her hand dismissively.
"Yes, yes. You always have a speech. What's your point this time?" I smiled.
"If he can be free of you, then maybe, someday, so can I." I turned and began walking back toward the doorway.
"It's not the same for you, Benedict," she yelled after me. "He was a visitor, but you belong here! You'll always come back!"
"Don't wait up, mother," I said, before stepping back out into the night.
3 february 1990
Until heading off to study for the priesthood, Tettnang was the only home I ever knew. Father had been installed as the priest in a church outside of town after a period of review following his return from Hörselberg. He was permitted to raise me, at least partly so his superiors wouldn't have to deal with any complications someone else would face with my nature.
The Church was too occupied with the war and the difficulties surrounding a divided Germany to pay much mind to a quiet, out-of-the-way priest, and aside from occasional checks to ensure he hadn't fallen into sin again and that I wasn't causing problems we were left largely to ourselves. By the time things calmed down, he was established and old and there was little need to change things. When he died on Wednesday morning, we knew the service would be at the church to which he had devoted over forty of his years.
None of my peers here had seen me since I left for school, and we were never very open about my nature, so there was a great deal of confusion over why I still looked like I was in my twenties. While there was some brief talk about me handling the service, or even of me being installed as the next priest here, I knew the questions raised by my appearance were ultimately going to prevent either. I didn't mind. This type of work hadn't been part of my usual practice for seven years. Aside from that, I was officially on sabbatical and not working, and with Eastern Germany opening again I had somewhere important to visit.
The service this morning was beautiful, and attendance was encouraging. After an uncomfortable supper with friends, I climbed into my rented car and pulled up to the church. I stared at it for a long while with the radio off, just remembering. I don't know if I'll see Tettnang or this building again, so I took it all in, one last time, before wiping my eyes and driving north.
7 July 1989
“Benedict,” he gasped, reaching out to rest his hand on mine, “how are your studies?” I smiled weakly, trying not to remind him. The doctor told me he was starting to forget, and while it went unsaid, I think we both knew the youth in my face would almost certainly make it harder for him. But I had to see him, and no one seemed interested in denying me that much.
“They’re well, father. I am...learning much.” He slowly nodded.
“Yes. And my books, they are helping?” I returned those books over a decade ago. I saw a couple of them in this very room as I entered.
“They have been a guiding light.”
“As they should be.” He began to cough; hoarse, dry bursts of thunder from a body too frail to hold still while they erupted from him. I tried to steady him as he began to sit forward, but once the fit had passed it was time to help him recline again. I waited as he caught his breath.
“You should get some rest. I can-”
“Bene,” he said, grasping my hand tight. “Hear me, son. While you are in school you may be safe. But out there, where they know--you must be better than them if you are to earn their respect. Far better than me.”
“You have been a great man.”
“Pah! I know my sins, child, do not think I forget them, not when they look into my face.”
“Papa, please. You have been absolved, Hörselberg need no longer haunt you.”
“I will carry it until it is stripped of me in Purgatory.” Another coughing fit. I tried to comfort him until it passed. He closed his eyes as he tried to regain his composure, the years etched into his face catching the shadows and displaying a mottled sort of serenity. We sat in silence for about five minutes before he opened his eyes again. “Benedict! I have longed to see you. You have not missed your studies to visit an old man, have you?” I briefly hid my face, then turned back to him.
“No, father. I’m where I need to be right now.”
Evidence compiled for use during the trial of Father Benedict de Monte.