11 November 2004
The market was packed with people and stalls, fresh meat and produce as far as the eye could see and a crowd ready to take all of it home. I was weaving my way through the space, looking for a man I was told had some of the best lamb around. As I slipped from one cluster of stalls to another, I felt a familiar presence. It took me a moment of focus to remember it, but it felt like Akshainie, or maybe like naga in general. It was hard to tell, when I could only confirm meeting one.
I stopped and looked around the market, but no one looked familiar, and the crowds were too thick and busy to focus on details beyond the people closest to me. Once I had to give up, I continued on my quest, but the presence never seemed far from me. It was five minutes of this, all through the market, the presence hanging close to me, with me occasionally stopping to try and find it. Finally, I heard her voice in my ear, ever so briefly.
"Fishmonger to your right." I spun around, but she was gone. Figuring I had nothing else to go on, I went looking for the fishmonger that had been to my right.
His booth was behind a stall, up against the wall of a building. He had a variety of fish from the local river, a gracious smile, and surprisingly few customers. As I approached, he was hanging a fish in a small line of them hanging from the top of the booth. When I stopped and pretended to admire his wares, he turned to me and waved his hand over his stock.
"English! What kind of fish do you seek?"
"I suspect it's very rare," I answered.
"Oh, nothing to rare for me, sir. You tell me, does it have a name?"
"Akshainie," I said, softly, as I glanced around.
"Very rare indeed! But have no fear, you are close." He stepped to the side and pulled a curtain aside slightly, revealing an illuminated room inside the building. "Perhaps you would be so kind as to check in the back for me." I nodded and slipped into the doorway as the curtain closed behind me. Akshainie was there, in her true naga form, in a pose that I must assume would be considered lounging. She was spread out over a number of cushions, wearing a sari, her swords laying in arm's reach. The room looked used, but not lived in, as if it was a place for the man to rest during his work or briefly entertain but with no cooking area or evidence of additional rooms. The tapestries on the walls all displayed life on the river.
"It's rude to stare, English," she said, picking up a bunch of grapes from a bowl of fruit and plucking some off. "Sit down." I moved further into the room and lowered myself onto a large cushion near the low table with the fruit.
"I'm German, for the record." She waved her hand dismissively.
"You're not of us." I indicated the fruit with my hand, as if to ask, and she nodded. I picked out a mango and leaned back against the wall. "But I asked around, and your story sounds true. This Brood of Nachash is not unknown to the rest of the world. And one especially eager water spirit near North America seemed to recognize you from some incident involving a burning island?"
"The island is fine. The cult members gathered there, largely, were not," I said, pulling out a knife and beginning to cut the mango.
"The story was hard to decipher by the time it reached me, but yes. It did sound like you were very active in your opposition to the Brood."
"Is that why you left? To verify my story?"
"And what reason did I have to stay? To suffer your magic further?" I stopped, then set the knife down.
"I'm sorry, but I needed answers, and it was apparent you were not interested in giving them."
"Oh, make no mistake, I appreciated your style. Right up until you apologized for it." I chuckled, shook my head, then picked up the knife and resumed my work.
"I'll be sure not to apologize to you again." She smiled, then popped a grape into her mouth.
"You're doing that wrong, you know."
"I'm doing it in a way that works." She shrugged.
"Suit yourself, English. The fact is that this Brood of Nachash is a problem, one that I thought had been handled. You need to inform the Great Naga that it is not a local issue."
"Will they not listen to you?"
"I would sound...opportunistic. But to you, the cult here was just one stop on a much longer journey. A journey we are invested in seeing complete."
"Why should this cult be your concern, if you've removed them from Pakistan?"
"I think you know full well how the impression of mankind shapes the world of spirits." I stopped, then nodded. "Hm. And tell me, did you come here because you knew the cult was here?"
"No. I came to investigate the legend of the naga, find out if it was connected."
"And what do you suppose happens to the naga, when the whole world thinks as you have? That we should be understood through the lens of those who corrupt the image of the serpent?"
"You're fighting for your very nature." I set the mango and the knife down. "Tell me how I can help."
"Be at the river, at dawn. North of the city. Be ready to tell your story."
Evidence compiled for use during the trial of Father Benedict de Monte.