12 november 2004
As the first rays of daylight hit the water of the Ravi north of Lahore, Benedict waited on the south shore, watching the water. He carried his bag, filled with his notes and evidence, and was silently working out the most efficient way to hit the major points. The moment the light reached Benedict, the water before him began to churn. He took a deep breath and watched as the water began to swirl, then rise, until it formed an arched pathway that led down into a brightly-lit chamber. Two naga rushed to the doorway, pointing long spears at Benedict. One looked him over, then sneered.
"State your business, English," he said in a strong accent. Benedict raised his hands slowly.
"I have come by invitation, to discuss a shared enemy," Benedict replied. That guard spoke quickly to the other, in another language, and the other rushed back down the path. The two remaining men stood silent for a few minutes, before that guard returned and passed a message along. The first guard grumbled, then lowered his spear and waved for Benedict to step forward.
The river closed behind them and Benedict found himself in a large chamber that appeared to be constructed of clay bricks, painted with a limited but vibrant palate. He knew from the sense of the air that they were no longer in the physical realm, but very close to it. He was led down a long hall, with doorways dotting the walls. Various naga were bustling about, or peeking out of doorways, but all avoided him. The doors at the end of the hall were opened, and Benedict was led into a massive circular chamber. It had no visible ceiling, the walls just appeared to stretch up and support the night sky itself. It was full of stars, the Milky Way visible in extreme detail, stars completely invisible to the unaided human eye burning bright and shifting clouds of interstellar gas dispersing their light into the whole room.
Opposite the door was a throne, housing the Great Naga. There were two feminine humanoid forms emerging from a single serpentine body, which was itself at least twenty feet thick and circled the entire room multiple times. Benedict walked through a stone archway that lifted the coils up and allowed entrance to the room, and glanced up at the large scales as he passed. Every color seemed to shimmer from them, shifting as they caught the light in different ways, casting spots of color all around the room that moved in response to the restless body. An assortment of courtesans and servants were scattered through the chamber, some rushing on some task or another, others lounging and discussing some matter or another. Benedict was directed to the center of the room, where he stood silently and waited as the Great Naga continued whatever business they were doing when he arrived. Finally, another naga slid forward.
"Welcome to Iravati, Flameborn," he announced, in Enochian. "The Queen of Heaven will now hear you!" Benedict visibly flinched at the title, but straightened up and looked between the two large faces now fixed on him.
"I thank you for the welcome," he called out, using the same language and offering a shallow bow. "I am here on business concerning the Brood of Nachash, who have been active in your domain." The room fell silent and all eyes turned to him. One half of the Queen raised their hand to their chin, as if considering his words, while the other crossed their arms and glared at him.
"And what do you know of them?" they asked.
"I have been actively opposing them for nearly 30 years. I first encountered them on the other side of the world, in the United States, but have since been given reason to believe they do not originate there. Or, for that matter, here." The room erupted into shouts of surprise or arguments among bystanders, but neither Benedict nor the Great Naga averted their gaze to acknowledge it. After a minute of that, the contemplative half raised their hand and the room fell silent again.
"Call for Akshainie," they said to the page, who nodded and rushed out of the chamber. "And what is your name, again?"
"Father Benedict de Monte."
"'Father' is your title, I presume?" Benedict nodded. "Very well. Father, there has been speculation that this cult was an external force attempting to access Iravati, though we have not had solid evidence to support this idea until you arrived. Do you bring us anything of more consequence than a passing observation?"
"I do," he answered, offering his bag. "You will find here my collected notes on the Brood, details of my encounters with them, and the evidence I've collected of their ongoing activities." Another page came forward and accepted the bag, and just as he turned to carry it back Benedict said, "mind that I will need that back. With or without your input on the matter, I must resume hunting them when I leave this place." The Great Naga nodded, and Benedict turned to look when he heard another door open. Akshainie and the first page entered, and she slithered past the crowd to stand beside Benedict.
"You came at dawn. Truly a man of your word," she whispered, as they watched the second page take the bag to the side of the throne and begin talking to some scribes. The Great Naga was watching the page and scribes.
"I am a man of oath, Akshainie," he whispered back. "If I cannot keep my word about a simple meeting, how could I ever keep that oath?"
"What is this oath?"
"These records will take some time to review," the Great Naga announced. "Father, if it is not too much trouble, we would like to offer you accommodations here in Iravati as we process them." Akshainie raised an eyebrow and glanced over to him.
"Father?" she asked, still as a whisper. He smirked but did not look away from the throne.
"If it pleases you, O Queen, I would offer my services in compiling the information during my stay."
"It does. When you are not so occupied, I want you to spend time with Akshainie. She is our resident expert on this cult, perhaps you each may have some information and training that will benefit the other."
"As you wish, my queen," Akshainie replied with a bow.
"I will try not to impose," Benedict said.
"You are both dismissed. Akshainie, show him to some quarters. You will serve as his escort as long as he is within our realm." Both Akshainie and Benedict gave a bow, then headed for the door.
Evidence compiled for use during the trial of Father Benedict de Monte.