From the records of Lord Hudson
One by one, the beacons were going dark.
I couldn’t contact Benedict or Akshainie while they were in the metaphysical realm, since phones didn’t exactly get reception there, but I could mark their progress by observing the order in which beacons on the other side of town were snuffed out. I didn’t know exactly what they were doing with the cultists—the result from my end would be the same whether the cultists were dead or unconscious—but it hardly seemed important. I was already able to ambush and arrest three lone cultists, but I was carefully watching the beacon on the move. One of them, it seemed, was staying a step ahead of me, and after the third ambush I stopped to study its direction. I checked it against my map when I got suspicious, and grew concerned that it was heading toward the estate.
The estate, of course, could probably defend itself. Roderick and mother were sufficient to handle most isolated threats, and the estate has its own defenses, and of course they had the option of recalling father from London. But I was still concerned, and kept an eye on it until I saw it go dark as well. There was still one more isolated cultist I was tracking, but by this point the line of the other team’s progress was leading directly to what seemed to be a hub of beacons, and I didn’t want to leave them without backup.
On the way there, I received a call from mother. She informed me that Matteson had taken down a cult priest, who was now in the dungeon, and Alice had delivered some paperwork from that priest that indicated the next steps of their plan. I agreed to collect Benedict and Akshainie as soon as we were done with our next strike and return to the estate to study those documents. I also asked how Matteson fared against the priest, and she hesitated before telling me to brace myself for seeing some collateral damage when we returned. I made a mental note of that and we disconnected.
I arrived at an abandoned warehouse outside of town and meditated to sense the presence of people in the metaphysical realm. I waited about ten minutes before I felt the others arrive, and then exited the car as a massive flaming demon and a naga, unmistakably Akshainie, stepped out of the metaphysical realm.
“Is this what you normally look like, Father?” I asked.
“Normally? No,” he replied. The fact that it was Benedict’s voice unnerved me but I couldn’t put my finger on why it should.
“Do you know how many are in there?” Akshainie asked.
“Looks like about thirteen,” I said, “but these things have room for error above five or so.” They both nodded, and Akshainie drew her swords. “What have you done with the others?”
“They’re waiting to be collected, in a shed over there,” she said, pointing back toward a few old houses. “Didn’t seem otherwise occupied.”
“What’s your play, boss?” Benedict asked.
“Do those wings work?” I asked. He nodded. “Then I would like you to start at the top. Stay out of sight until you’re inside, no need to worry the whole countryside with visions of the apocalypse.”
“Akshainie, you start at the loading area over there, and I’ll start at the front entrance. We can all move in toward the center until there’s no one left.”
“Results?” Akshainie asked. I considered that we already had their plans and someone reliable to interrogate, and that we had that information because they had attacked the estate.
“We don’t need any survivors,” I said. “If you want to bother with dragging them back, that’s your problem.” With that, Akshainie and I split up and Benedict vanished. As soon as I was reasonably sure we were all in position, I charged up some offense spells and blew the door open. Inside was a robed figure frantically shoving a pile of trinkets into a suitcase; I threw a bolt of lightning that fried them before they could react. I could hear commotion beginning to echo from other parts of the building, even some gunfire, and raised a mystic shield as I made my way forward.
The other front rooms were empty, and when I entered the large main room I intercepted three people running from Akshainie with another bolt of lightning that arced between them. Split up like that, it wasn’t enough to kill them, but I summoned a sword and finished them off as I passed. Akshainie already had five slain in her path and as I made my way forward she dispatched a sixth. Benedict crashed through the catwalk above us, two figures in each massive hand. They were unconscious, I realized as we all approached each other.
“You’re bringing those ones back to the estate?” I asked. Benedict confirmed he was. “Fine. We need to return, Alice and Matteson have information for us. I don’t suppose you’ll fit in the car with those,” I said, nodding toward the cultists, then turned to Akshainie. “Will you ride back with me, or accompany him?”
“I’ll grab the others and meet you there,” she said. I nodded, thanked them for a job well done, and walked back to the car alone.
From the records of Lord Hudson
The locus at the cult was corrupted, and feeding too much power to the cultists. It had to be decommissioned until this matter was under control. It simply couldn’t be allowed to continue playing a role in this investigation if we expected to resolve it effectively. I didn’t tell the others the plan, of course. Matteson knew his part, but he didn’t need to understand what I was going to do with it and I didn’t have time to explain anything unnecessary. And the others…well, I don’t know how much Alice even understands about magic yet, and I know how badly the other two would react to the idea of neutralizing a locus. I knew the damage from doing so would be much more widespread than we needed, but the ley network will recover in a matter of hours, drawing energy from other loci. It was a price worth paying, even if they wouldn’t see that.
I could sense the presence of Benedict and Akshainie as they lingered in the house for a minute or two after stepping into the spiritual realm, but I didn’t concern myself with them. Soon they were gone, and I was able to focus on the task at hand. The concept was simple enough; tracking spells usually look for some kind of trail to follow, and all I had to do was isolate the trail formed by the specific magic used by the cult. I drew from my pocket a trinket I’d pulled from the body of the cultist I’d interrogated. It was likely this small runic inscription was meant to be destroyed when his body was—it did appear to be made of a flammable material after all—but since he wasn’t clothed when he died I still had it. Once the ritual was set up, I used it to isolate the magical signature he’d been using and seek any trail it may have left.
At first, there was too much noise. Between the recent spell and all the magic flowing along the ley line, I could barely make out anything specific. But magic using this much power is uncommon, and if I could just get a lead in a direction different than the ley lines I would be able to track movement. So I waited, and focused, and after a while I started to get a vague sense of what I was looking for. I stepped outside of the house, and was able to see a fuzzy path. It was too fuzzy and wide to reliably trust for tracking, but it pointed me in a general direction, so I took a few steps along, checked my watch, and waited. If I had mapped out Matteson’s travel time properly, and my studies on what would be required for him to silence the locus were accurate, things would change within the next few minutes.
Sure enough, four minutes later, I felt the ambient magic in the air shatter, and the line before me suddenly came into focus in the lack of distracting energy. In the distance, I could see pillars of light, no doubt marking the location of concentrations of Nechashic magic; the cultists. I smiled, ran to the car, and made my way to the closest beacon. It would be hours before they would go dark, but only hours. Now was the time to strike.
After we separated from the other two, Akshainie, Michael, and I made our way back to the farmhouse where we had captured the cultists. The goal today was to track any connection we could find to other cultists. Michael had materials for a tracking spell to see if he could find where the cultists had come from before the farmhouse in the hopes he would find a hub of some sort; Akshainie and I were asked to slip into the spiritual realm and follow the ley lines connected to the site, splitting up if needed, to seek out any other ritual locations on the network. We entered the house, did a cursory investigation to make notes of anything particular to this branch of the cult that should stand out to us at other sites, and then stepped aside out of the physical realm. Both of us took our more spiritual forms once we crossed over, since they were able to cover ground more quickly than our human forms. We stood for a moment and watched Michael continue to take notes on the site, then turned our attention to the ley line and followed it away from the town.
“I think Alice has some legitimate concerns about our employer,” Akshainie finally said, after we were well out of earshot of the house. We didn’t know how much Michael’s spell would allow him to see or hear, and it seems we both felt it prudent to assume he could hear us while we were close.
“Are you saying that because you think something is off, or because you consistently haven’t trusted him?” I asked. She sighed, slithering slightly slower.
“Both, I suppose.”
“There is little we can do about the latter at this point. I doubt anything there will change until he actually has his audience with your queen.”
“If he seeks an audience.”
“If he seeks an audience,” I repeated. She gained pace and resumed her place at my side. “But about the former.”
“Yes,” she said. “I didn’t want to consider that Alice might be right about the capture of the cultists. I haven’t really thought of them as people we have reason to consider for some time now.”
“They have chosen a path of darkness.”
“So it suits our purposes to just wipe them out?” I stopped and rested my hands on my hips, looking at the sky. She turned back and rested in coils in front of me, holding her head just high enough that she could look me in the face.
“They have chosen a path of darkness,” I said again, slowly, trying to wrap my head around how to say the rest. “But it was a choice, and given reason, they may be willing to make a different one.”
“So we have to give them a chance.”
“I don’t know. But I think I need to. It’s pretty important to my religion, you know, getting another chance.”
“Important like your oaths? Or important like transparency with your supervisors?”
“Like my oaths.”
“So the death of the cultists during Michael’s interrogation, then, does not sit right with you?”
“I gather it doesn’t sit right with you, either.” I lowered my gaze to meet hers, and she frowned at me for a moment before turning and continuing along the line.
“I want the cult to be destroyed. I’m willing to kill every member if I need to.”
“But what if we don’t need to?” I asked. She paused.
“You have something better in mind?”
“I…I don’t know yet.”
“Then we can talk about it when you do.” With that, she continued, and I jogged to meet her. We walked in silence for a few more minutes. We were approaching another little town by this point, and I could see a nexus point just on the edge of it. As we approached, a sudden shudder rippled through the ley line, giving the air a faint metallic taste. Akshainie’s eyes grew wide. “Get off the line!” she yelled, diving to the side. I jumped the other way, and suddenly the line exploded with energy and then crumpled into a dark, frozen shard.
“What was that?” I demanded.
“Matteson,” she said, staring at the line. “What the hell did he have Matteson do?”
Evidence compiled for use during the trial of Father Benedict de Monte.