Michael wanted to send a driver with me, but I insisted I could handle it myself. I ultimately had to take a quick spin around his estate with him to prove I could adapt to driving on the other side of the road, but then he gave me use of a car and left with Benedict and Akshainie. I dropped Alice off at a church and made arrangements for me to pick her up, and then I was off.
The drive to the ritual site he’d originally found was pretty uneventful, just a pleasant drive through the British countryside and down some highway of theirs. I guess they’re probably not called interstates here, but it was basically that. I was largely operating from memory of how Michael drove us there, with an atlas on the passenger seat just in case.
I passed the security check-in with the new ID from Michael, declined an escort, and made my way down to the site. We had settled that this was a locus point, and apparently a key one for the network the Brood was using, so I was sent to shut it down. I wasn’t entirely sure about the plan; Jackie had been very adamant that while I could do things like this, it was unwise to do so, especially for any notable length of time. And I was certain Akshainie was going to flip if and when she figured out what had happened, and unlike Jackie, she’s nearby and armed and somewhat murderous.
So I had concerns.
But Michael had made it very clear that, as a designated protector of the Crown, he was prepared to fully flex his authority as our employer in this matter to see a swift and decisive conclusion to the threat of the Brood. And, really, the plan was one that seemed like it would work well. Effective in the same way dropping a nuke on a city was bound to clear up a rat problem at one of the local restaurants, sure, but effective. It feels irresponsible, what I’ve heard of loci suggests that there will be a ton of side effects from blocking one for even a short time, but he wouldn’t hear it.
I walked to the center of the locus and sat down with my legs crossed, rested my palms on the floor in front of me, and closed my eyes. It was difficult enough last night trying to hold back the flow of energy along a ley line, this was going to be a hell of a thing to pull off. I focused on pressing down, exerting my will against the magical energy accumulating and passing beneath me, and could feel the tension as it pushed back. I pushed, and pushed, and soon felt almost weightless. Like the whole world had fallen away, and I was just suspended in the energy, which was trying to press in on me from every side. I was no longer pushing down, but out, trying to expand the area in which magic was stifled, fighting against a pressure that wanted to crush me. I felt it start to give, and I screamed as I made one last shove with all my will, and I felt the energy crack around me. The pressure exploded off me, and I felt gravity return, and opened my eyes just in time to see the ground rush back up to me. I rolled onto my back, holding my knee and swearing, until I started to feel a little better. I lit a cigarette and stared at the ceiling until it was gone, and felt nothing. There was no active energy in the locus anymore. Satisfied the task was done, I made my way back to the car and left to pick up Alice.
15 February 2007
We were all called to breakfast, and after we’d eaten Michael had Benedict, Akshainie, Alice, and me stay behind and sent the staff out. Once we were alone, he stood and addressed us.
“They’re after the Church of England,” he announced. None of us visibly reacted to that and I got the impression he was a bit surprised at that. There was a moment of silence where he seemed to be processing it.
“So you got them to talk?” I asked. “How’d you do that?”
“Runic circle of truth.”
“That’s awfully convenient.”
“What did you learn about their plan?” Akshainie asked.
“Sadly, very little. They are waiting for a signal and are getting into position to attack both the crown and Canterbury.”
“So first step is to get more information,” Benedict said, rising from his seat. “If you could show me the way to this circle of truth—”
“The cultists are dead,” Michael said, flatly. Benedict stopped, then leaned forward with his palms on the table.
“I must request a bit more information on that one.”
“It appears to have been a defense against interrogation. Not unlike a poison pill, but in this case, a self-immolation spell.”
“Self-immolation,” I said, leaning back and crossing my arms.
“We can discuss the matter more later. For now, we have a lot of work to do, and I think it would be best if we focused on that.” Michael looked around to each of us, and we grudgingly agreed. Michael produced identity cards he had made for each of us so we could split up and still operate with the authority of the estate, and included one for Alice. She was hesitant, but Michael reminded her that she had expressed a desire to get involved and that they needed someone who didn’t stand out as magical to check on a nearby church. He handed out assignments to each of us, and within the hour we were all on our way.
Once Alice told me the others were done inside, I released the pressure I was putting on the ley line and stepped aside. I was asked not to enter, and feeling pretty drained from the effort anyway, so I sat down on a large stone outside and smoked a cigarette while I waited. Eventually, Benedict, Akshainie, and Alice emerged from the house.
“Where’s everyone else?” I asked, flicking my smoke into the street and standing.
“Michael has taken the cultists in for questioning,” Benedict answered. He had a set of keys in his hand. “I’ll be driving us back to the estate. Would you two care for a ride?”
“Yes, please,” Alice answered. She looked a bit shaken, and I touched her arm to get her attention and give her a concerned look. She gave me a weak smile, shook her head, and made for the car. I followed. We took the back seat and let Akshainie ride up front with Benedict, and no one said much until we’d been driving for a couple minutes. Alice squeezed my hand a bit.
“Are you okay?” I asked. “What happened in there?”
“He took them to a secret dungeon under the estate through a magical door,” she said, softly. Then, louder and to the whole car, “Does that bother anyone else? That he can just…do that?”
“Wait he did what?” I demanded. Akshainie shrugged.
“I don’t see what else you expect him to do with them,” she said, turning to look at Alice and me.
“The police wouldn’t be able to handle them properly, and I’m not sure they actually broke any laws anyway,” Benedict said.
“That’s worse! Please tell me you see how that isn’t better!” Alice cried.
“It sounds an awful lot like kidnapping when you say it like that,” I said.
“I don’t trust the Hudson any more than you do, but this is the Brood of Nachash we’re talking about!” Akshainie was starting to sound tense.
“Okay but what about when it isn’t?” I asked. Alice pointed at me and nodded as I continued, “Is this just a thing they do? Take people whenever they feel justified about it? Do the people they take have any rights, is there any due process for people who deal with the supernatural? Isn’t that concerning to literally everyone in this car?” Akshainie turned back around and Alice leaned her head on my shoulder. There was silence in the car the rest of the way back.
We wandered into town, taking the time to have our first real look at the place and talk about the things we liked in the area. It was actually a pretty nice little town, bunch of buildings (and spirits) that looked older than my country. I needed to use the restroom after a bit, and she spotted some restaurant and suggested we dip in and she could ask if they had a table open while I handled that. They did, apparently, and by the time I got back to her they had pulled out a suit jacket that I needed to put on if we expected to eat there. I wasn’t super excited about the idea, but she seemed to be, so I accepted the jacket and we were led to our table.
“I thought places with rules like this take reservations,” I said, adjusting the jacket after we sat down and glancing around the room. It was nice, real nice, ‘blow my whole income from the trip on our dinner’ nice. I was having regrets.
“Yeah, well, they generally do,” she answered. She was beaming, and I suddenly realized how little time we spent in her world and how much time we spent in…or, I suppose is more accurate, adjacent to mine. This was probably a rare treat for her, which I should probably fix, and while I was pretty sure she had made arrangements ahead of time—no place like this just gives up a table to people walking in off the street, sure as hell not on Valentine’s Day—I decided to let her play her game and dropped the subject. God, she was beautiful when she smiled like that.
So dinner went well. When she realized that I was skipping past the most expensive parts of the menu she finally confessed that the whole thing, including the tab, had already been arranged and I didn’t have to worry about it. So we had a nice dinner and some wine and dessert and spent some time talking about something other than cults and magic, and it was really nice. By the time we left the restaurant, I had been able to completely clear my mind of the reason we were in Britain to begin with. Then, as we were walking kind of the long way back to look for souvenirs or something, I felt a surge in the air and dead stopped.
“John? Are you okay?” She asked, resting her hand on my shoulder. I stood for a moment, trying to parse what I was feeling, before it clicked.
“It’s the magic from that site,” I said. “I can feel it. It’s being activated.” We made our way to a park bench and I called the others.
“Matteson,” Benedict answered.
“The site’s been activated. I can track it. Where are you?” There was a sudden clinking sound and then I heard Benedict repeating what I’d said, but muffled as if he was trying and failing to cover the receiver, and then his voice dominated the background chatter and shuffling.
“We’re at a pub in town. Where are you?”
“In town. Heading,” I paused and pulled out my keys, which had a little compass ball on them, “Southwest, probably along a ley line.” He informed me they would head in that direction, and I promised to tell them if I had to change direction or where I ended up.
14 February 2007
The problem with knowing, or at least being pretty certain, that the Brood of Nachash is working in an area is that you then have to figure out what they’re doing there. And where they’re doing it.
I had only directly engaged with the cult either during a summoning or in the wake of a summoning, and Benedict had similar experiences but with the addition of that lost town. Akshainie knew more about their day-to-day operations, having spent a couple years hunting, and finding, them before meeting Benedict. We knew their larger goals involved the eradication of religion, or at least had that on good authority, but had never seen what that really looked like in action. So if they were doing a summoning, we had to figure out where. If they weren’t, we had to figure out what they were doing and what that would look like in time to stop it.
For the first time in a while, I really felt out of my depth.
But I was there partly as an investigator, so I was going to do my best with it. Alice helped on and off, sometimes slipping off to do something with family or call home. I spent the whole time in the library, even eating in there when I didn’t realize how long it had been and a servant showed up with a lunch for me. It felt weird having servants around, but I tried to not disrupt them too much with my concerns.
I had a map of the British Isles where I was attempting to draw a map that would hopefully show a target, but didn’t have enough to go on for that yet. The Church of England seemed a sensible target, but how would you even take that down? There was the Archbishop of Canterbury, or the Queen, but it didn’t seem like just killing one of them outright would do the trick, and I didn’t even know what they would need to have in place to aim for a larger scale attack than that.
Alice tried to teach me a trick for sensing magic she had learned from Jackie. She felt it was a logical option, given that I’d been learning how to recognize the trail of things like ghosts and that I was built to work against magic, I should be able to sense it in a way that allows tracking. So if I could track the network of power being amplified by the site we’d found, maybe I could find points of interest along it. We spent most of the afternoon working on that, and I finally did start to sense something, but the house itself was so loud with magic that I couldn’t make out anything else. So we had to drop that for the time being, and by that time we realized it was coming up on evening and we hadn’t even settled plans for Valentine’s Day, so we left the work behind and headed out to find somewhere we could do dinner and maybe have some time on the town.
13 February 2007
We had taken the rest of that first day off to get situated in the estate and adjust to the time difference. We had rooms in the Guest Wing, because these people have an entire fucking Guest Wing, and Alice and I slept in a room that looked like it had as much stuff in it as my entire house. I could barely sleep, the bed was so soft. Benedict and Akshainie were given different rooms, but kind of nearish each other and down a different hall than our room, but Lord knows if they even used them. They were still in the library when we went to bed, and by the time I saw them the next morning they were coming from the library.
So now we were in the car again, sans Alice who stayed behind from our “field trip,” as she called it, to talk to her family. Which makes sense, she hasn’t seen them in years, and didn’t think she had anything to offer for what we were doing. This time there wasn’t some staff driver taking us there, though. Michael was at the wheel, and I had shotgun. At least he let me smoke in the car. I don’t know if I was allowed to in that room or not, but I know for damn sure I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it if they got pissy about the sheets smelling like smoke and trying to charge me to replace some million threadcount Egyptian silk bullshit, so I refrained.
When we arrived, he led us through a work site and down through a hole in a wall that led to a chamber awfully similar to the one where I first met Benedict and Akshainie.
“We have got to stop having all our social functions in places like this,” I told them as I pulled out a flashlight. Michael moved his hand like he expected something to happen, looked at his hand confused for a moment, then glanced at me and sighed.
“What’s your radius?” he asked me.
“How far must I stand from you to use magic?”
“Oh,” I said, then thought for a moment and shrugged. “I dunno. Never really thought about it. Jackie can usually cast something if she’s like ten feet away or so?”
“You can restrain that, though, can you not?” Benedict asked.
“I mean, yeah, but it’s tiring.”
“I’m not paying you to come here and keep your power restrained,” Michael said, stepping away from me and trying the spell again every couple steps until it worked.
“How do you do that? Everyone I’ve known who does magic needs a focus.”
“Well, there is a certain family advantage to being in a line of powerful sorcerers, but also, I have tattoos that serve as foci for certain common spells.” He explained to us what he knew so far, about how the site was active and seemed to be connected to the Brood of Nachash, but he didn’t know what it was for. While he talked, I walked around looking at the symbols and taking pictures of them. They weren’t like the ones I’d seen in Ohio, but they looked familiar.
“What do you know about the Brood?” Benedict asked.
“Not much, I’m afraid. I only got the name when I got yours.”
“Well then,” Benedict said, summoning a large fire hovering in the center of the chamber, illuminating the whole place. I grumbled and turned my flashlight off. “Let’s not focus too much energy on your spell there.”
“I didn’t know the Pope was so permissive of magic,” Michael said, dispelling his light.
“It is debatable if what I do is magic.”
“It’s magic,” I said.
“Do you think everything a spirit does is magic?” Akshainie asked. “Do you think it’s magic when I use my swords?”
“Can I dispel your swords?” I asked. She grumbled and I smiled.
“Anyway,” Benedict continued, “in short, the Brood of Nachash is a cult devoted to their idea of the serpent of Eden. They believe mankind is enslaved to God or the gods, and that the freedom they began to receive in rebellion is just and incomplete. They use sites like this to summon and bind powerful entities, and then siphon off that power for their own purposes in attempting to remake mankind into a fully fallen race.”
“And you oppose them on, primarily, religious grounds, I presume?” Michael asked.
“That is a significant factor. But I fundamentally believe they are not only wrong, but dangerously so.”
“They are a danger to all spirits who use serpent iconography,” Akshainie said. “By associating their actions with serpents, they create an image in the minds of mankind that affects us.”
“And you?” Michael called over to me.
“They’re assholes,” I answered.
“I suppose that will do. What are you doing over there, anyway?”
“Taking pictures of this script.”
“Ah, yes. We’ve not been able to interpret that. It seems there are no surviving records that use it.”
“Well, not in your collection anyway. I’ve seen this before.”
“You must be joking.”
“His family has amassed quite the occult library,” Benedict said. “Its size is not comparable to your own, but I would argue its importance may be.”
“What, exactly, is the nature of your family’s involvement in the occult, Mr. Matteson?”
“It won’t leave us alone,” I said.
“You have a very peculiar manner of approaching these things,” Michael said. Akshainie laughed.
“At any rate, I can’t do anything with this information right now. I’ll have to send it to Jackie and ask her to check the books at the house, and she won’t be up for a couple hours yet.”
“Very well. Father de Monte, you said sites like this would be used for summoning and binding?”
“That has been my, admittedly limited, experience so far,” Benedict answered.
“So there is some chance we have a great spirit locked away somewhere on this site?”
“Some chance, yes.” Benedict pointed toward the collapsed remains of a large archway. “My guess would be down there.” We all walked over to the archway, and then Michael asked me to step a bit further from him. He produced a bit of pelt from his pack, pressed it to the stone as he closed his eyes, and began speaking in Latin or something very close to Latin. When his eyes opened again, they were glowing, and he lifted his hand to reveal a little blue mole. Its eyes were also glowing, and it looked around briefly before slipping between the rubble and vanishing. We all stood in silence for a few minutes, until the mole emerged again. Michael’s eyes returned to normal and the mole vanished, the bit of pelt dropping back into his hand from where the creature had been.
“Well. There certainly is a chamber that looks to have been intended for that purpose,” he said, putting the fur away, “but whatever it was meant to house either never arrived or eventually escaped. But then, how is this site still active?”
“It’s likely part of a network,” I said. “They can’t exactly have one of these things in every town, right? They probably cycle power around, and sites that lose their power generator would still be on the grid.”
“Well. Unless anyone else has anything to note,” Michael said, walking back toward the entrance, “I suppose we should regroup at the estate and discuss what we know so far.” We all agreed and followed, the fire in the center of the room disappearing as I went to pass through it.
I was laying on the couch, finishing off a fifth of Jack and staring at the ceiling, when the phone rang.
“Yeah?” I said, then checked the screen, hit the answer button again, and repeated myself.
“Matteson.” It was Benedict. “Are you free this week?”
“Depends on what you need.”
“Are you drunk? You sound drunk.”
“I’m sober enough. What do you need, priest?” I heard him sigh.
“I have a case that I think could use your particular skills. But it’s in England.”
“What the hell makes you think I can just up and fly to England? I don’t, like, own a plane.”
“No, but our benefactor does. And he can pay for your services.”
“Did he say that?”
“Would I tell you there will be payment if that was not true?” I had no idea what he’d say. But, to his credit, he had never promised me money before.
“And when would I be needing to do this?”
“We would leave in two days. I’m told his plane is occupied with something else this evening.”
“Yes, well. Look, Matteson, it’s the Brood. I get the impression they’re active, and I need to make sure we have whatever tools we need to shut them down. Are you in?”
“Let me talk to my boss. Can I call you back at this number?”
He said that I could, so we ended the conversation and I lit a cigarette. And then I realized that I was probably going to be out of the country for Valentine’s Day, and here I just picked up a new girlfriend. I grumbled for a bit and rolled off the couch, went to wash my face, and then made some coffee. Once I’d downed that, I went for the phone. First, the boss. No use getting Alice mad at me for leaving and then find out I couldn’t even go.
20 January 2020
It had taken me two weeks to find the key to the cipher. In one of the books I was studying, I found a letter that seemed at first to be nonsense, accompanied by a two of hearts. But something about it looked familiar, and I checked back in some of the other books where I thought I had seen something like it and where I had seen other cards marked, and started to piece together a code based on playing cards that I then used to decrypt the note. The note turned out to be a short letter written by Joanna, which explored the mortality of gods.
I had known, from some other scattered notes and statements by Dad, that she had taken an interest in learning how to kill spirits, especially very powerful ones, when Aaboukingon returned to the river. I had gathered from her own demeanor in telling me about that time that she was afraid, and ultimately was looking for a way to defend herself if the river gods turned against her for some reason. I never fully understood why she thought that was a possibility, but it did seem to be the reason this library exists today, so I’ll take her paranoia over any strain of sanity.
The letter didn’t offer much of anything new, really. She hadn’t found a way to kill a god, but felt that she was getting close, that there was something right at the very core of their being that could be exploited just right, if she could only find what that was. If she ever did, it’s in a note or a book I haven’t found yet.
But there was something interesting in the letter. She mentions two mysterious beings, her description vague and barely recognizable. I only suspected she was talking about King and Queen because I had personally met them and could see where she would get the terms she was using. She believed they would be the key, somehow the power they held could undo anything. This, it seems, was the power she was now searching for. She wanted to understand these two, to take hold of whatever they had that she didn’t, and use it as a weapon. I have no idea if that’s even possible, but more importantly, when did she meet them? I know they were there when my great-grandparents lost their home, but I had just learned she was unconscious the entire time they were involved. There are no other records that I’ve found that mention them. She didn’t say anything about them when she was haunting me. Was this letter written at the very end of her life, did she only see them when it was too late? If not, why did she keep it a secret?
Whatever encounter, or series of encounters, she had with them left her with a certain distrust. She describes their power as useful—though she never describes what she saw that made her think she knew what their power was—but described them more directly as questionable entities with unknowable motives and a possibility of being too much spirit to fully understand why a human would want to stand up to a god to begin with. She did not think she could call on them to defend her if it came to that; only that she could do it herself with access to their arsenal.
I set the letter down and read over the translation a couple more times to get it into my head, then took it and the document where I’d worked out the key upstairs and burned them. The original, with its card, was returned to its book and restored to the shelf. I made a mental note of where that book was, in case I ever needed that information, but honestly I can’t see what I would need with it. Killing a god is a fool’s errand, really, and I can’t imagine what it would even take for me to want to try.
More importantly, now I had some questions for King and Queen next time they decided to show up. There must be some reason they’re paying attention to my family. There must be some reason they slipped out of the memory of their involvement with Aaboukingon to talk to me last month. I need those answers so I know what to do with this information. Why didn’t Joanna trust them? What did she know that I don’t? Was she right?
I know Jackie’s been working on the mystery of these two. I’ll have to ask her for some input, and decide whether or not she needs to know about my great-grandmother’s opinion of them.
12 January 2007
Jackie had found a shop where she could get some incense, crystals, or whatever else she needed for her magic, and for whatever reason decided to invite Alice and me to come check it out with her. They entered, excitedly talking about some of the questions Alice had and heading straight upstairs, while I milled around the register area trying not to touch anything. I found a small altar off to the side, with a sign warning that it was neither for display nor sale, and to please leave it alone as the owners of the shop used it for their own purposes. The things that resided near it hissed as I stood there reading the sign.
“Fine, fine. I get it. Just give me a second.” I went upstairs and told them I was going to wait outside, then headed out and lit a cigarette. I was leaning on the window smoking when an older lady rounded the corner, walking her dog. They stopped in front of me and seemed to be reading the window.
“How much does it cost?” she asked. I narrowed my eyes and looked around.
“How much does what cost?”
“The tarot readings,” she said, pointing at some words I hadn’t noticed next to me. “Do you do those?”
“Oh, no. I don’t work here. I’m just waiting for some people inside,” I said, pointing vaguely toward the window with my cigarette.
“Oh. You looked like you work here. Why don’t you wait inside?”
“It’s...not really for me, in there. Why are you asking about the readings?”
“Well, I--I wanted to get one.”
“To, uh...to know the future, I guess.” I tossed the butt away.
“Where’s the adventure in that?!” She adjusted her grip on the leash and seemed to be holding it a little tighter.
“The...adventure?” she asked, taking a half step backward.
“What’s the point of knowing the future? What’s good about that? There’s no fun, there’s no surprise, just the same old crap. And that’s if you actually get told your future instead of scammed. Knowing the future is overrated, we as a species need to learn how to appreciate the mystery.” She opened her mouth, then watched me for a moment, closed it again, and led her dog briskly across the street and down the block. Alice and Jackie came out as I was lighting another cigarette.
“I hope you weren’t too bored,” Alice said as they approached.
“Nah,” I replied, “There’s always something to do.”
31 December 2006
The music was throbbing through the whole house, Alice was having a great time meeting the rest of my friends and no one was walking on eggshells around me as if they were trying to avoid reminding me of my father, which was a nice change. Jackie’s theater people were here and pitching the idea that some improv show they apparently did the year before could be a tradition. The New Year’s Eve party was going really well, and I was glad for it, but I was outside with a beer and a smoke, leaning on the porch railing that Dad and I had built, staring up at the stars.
What a fucking year. It seemed like the whole thing had been overshadowed by Dad’s cancer and death. I could barely put half of what happened this year in order in my head, and I knew that part of it was simply the fact that I hadn’t even had time to process what happened with Lori, or Alethea, or whatever before I was dealing with Dad, and I wasn’t entirely sure now that I ever did process it. And now some goddess is on my ass? I’d’ve completely forgotten that bit if Jackie hadn’t reminded me. What kind of a mess has this year been, that something like that would seem like a minor issue? I heard the door open and glanced over to see Alice peeking out.
“You okay?” she asked.
“Do you need to do that alone?” I smiled to her.
“I’ll be back inside in just a minute.” She gave me a weak smile back, but went inside. I flicked the butt of my cigarette into the street and finished off my beer. Hey, whatever else happened, this year also brought me into contact with proper allies in Benedict and Akshainie, and helped me learn more about my power and what my dad was training me for, and now there’s Alice. I don’t know where that’s going, but it feels good so far. I looked up to the stars again. “Let’s do this,” I muttered, before heading back inside.
The blog of John Matteson.