5 March 2006
“How are you here?” I asked as I knelt to check on Akshainie, who was reaching for one of her swords with a shaking hand. “We found no evidence that there was any spiritual activity in this town.”
“We’re still here because we’ve managed to stay out of the truck’s attention, until you led it right to us!” the young man answered, drawing his hands into fists. Akshainie stopped, and let her arm rest on her side as she listened to him.
“Tell us about the truck,” she hissed, rolling onto her back. She was breathing heavy, but I could see the wounds were healing faster now. Her clothes had been badly damaged as well as her skin, so as she began to reform and I realized some of the areas that had become exposed I pulled off my long jacket and held it out to her while I averted my eyes and looked back to the assembled ghosts.
“Are you…a spirit?” he asked, apparently seeing her for the first time.
“Yes,” I answered, drawing his gaze back to me, “and she’s a spirit that asked you something.” He straightened up, as if mustering the will to oppose me, but I narrowed by gaze on him and he briefly shuddered before exhaling hard and shoving his hands into his pockets.
“It cleans,” he said, quietly.
“And what does that mean?”
“It burns away everything the Caretaker does not approve of,” an old woman among the crowd said, stepping forward. The young man winced at the title.
“We don’t speak of him!” he said, sternly. She waved him off and continued forward until she was standing next to him.
“And where has that got us?” she asked. He crossed his arms and huffed, but she turned her attention to me. “Father, I am not inclined to believe you stumbled upon us by accident.”
“Nor am I,” I said. She nodded.
“I didn’t think you would be. What brings you here?”
“The Brood of Nachash. The red spiral on the truck is one of their markings.”
“Is that what they’re called?” She hummed to herself for a moment, staring off into space, then looked back to me. “It sounds like you’ve had some experience with them, then. There is little we know, really, except that they promised us a new start. We…we did not realize what that would look like, in the end.”
“What happened here?” I finally felt the coat leave my hand, and as I looked over Akshainie was donning it and sitting up. She left it open, and one of her breasts was showing, so I shielded my vision and cleared my throat. She looked at me with confusion, then down at herself, before she sighed and rolled her eyes.
“Is that a man thing or just a priest thing?” Akshainie asked, gruffly, as she closed the jacket.
“Yes,” I answered. She looked to the old woman as I lowered my hand.
“Please, continue.” The old woman nodded.
“If you aren’t busy with your own issues,” the young man snapped. The old woman rested a hand on his shoulder.
“This whole area was hit pretty bad by the loss of the steel industry,” she began. “Our little town had some people doing that work, but mostly we had support industry for the steel towns around us. As their economies began to dry up, ours completely collapsed. They had to tighten belts, and we provided the things they had to drop.” She sighed and sat down as though there was a chair behind her, though I saw none. “We got desperate before they did. That’s when the Caretaker arrived. He said he was on a religious mission to free people from various forms of physical and mental bondage, and we wanted to know more.”
“He promised he could see to it that our needs were met, if we allowed him to make a few changes around town,” the young man said, casting his eyes to the floor. “We didn’t ask very many questions about what changes he wanted to make, and if I’m honest, we probably wouldn’t have believed him if we had.”
“What did he do?” Akshainie asked.
“He brought people in,” the woman answered. “They started doing basic infrastructure work, fixing things and so on. It was a year before we noticed anyone going missing, and when we did, we didn’t associate it with them.” The whole room fell silent, and in the quiet I could hear the truck rumbling around outside.
“It’s still searching for you,” the man said, “and it knows you’re nearby.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. “The cult, largely, wants to corrupt mankind, not destroy it. What would it have to gain by any of this?”
“Well I don’t know much about their big picture,” the old woman said, leaning back against the chair I couldn’t see. “What I do know is that they cut us off. I didn’t know that until I died, of course, but this whole city has no connection to the rest of the spiritual reality. We can’t even cross over. Whatever they’re doing, it requires complete isolation.”
“Benedict,” Akshainie said, leaning toward me, “didn’t you say the cult wishes to set mankind free from gods?” I nodded. “And you,” she said, looking to the old woman, “said they offered you a new start.”
“You think this was a test site?” I asked. Akshainie nodded.
“I think they found a way to break the connection between the physical and spiritual realms,” Akshainie answered. She stood and straightened out the jacket. “But it’s sloppy, destructive, probably unreliable if you want to build something new in its place.”
“So the truck enforces the isolation from the ‘old’ spirits and gods by burning away anything that tries to encroach on this place, but they haven’t made it farther than that? But still, why kill people?”
“Oh, they haven’t killed anyone,” the woman said, “at least, not that we know of. Most of the people from this town are still alive, somewhere. We all died through other means. I had a half dozen heart attacks over my last decade, pretty sure it was another one that put me here.” I walked to a window facing the street and looked out at the truck, which was still patrolling the area.
“What are you thinking?” Akshainie asked.
“I think,” I said, slowly, as I watched the truck turn around and begin cruising past the building again, “we need to find out where this thing goes when it doesn’t pick up any threat.” I turned back, and she was already smiling and holding her swords.
Evidence compiled for use during the trial of Father Benedict de Monte.