17 March 2007
I finished my shower and spent a little time checking my hair at the mirror before wrapping the towel around myself and heading down the hall to my room. When I passed the top of the stairs, I could hear Jackie and Alice chatting downstairs. I didn’t know Alice was here already, and made a mental note to hurry up a bit instead of leaving her waiting. She’d been a bit tense ever since England, and I was looking forward to taking her out to the St. Pat’s celebrations downtown with some friends. Hopefully a night of not thinking would help put her at ease. I entered my room and closed the door to find the woman from the alley island, naked, sprawled out on my bed.
“Didn’t you try this already?” I asked, walking past her to open my closet and look for a suitably green shirt.
“I was curious if it was really that useless. Maybe if circumstances were different, if you would react differently.”
“Hecate, was it?” I asked, grabbing a shirt and tossing it beside her on the bed as I went to my dresser. “If that was your goal, you should have tried it when my girlfriend wasn’t sitting downstairs waiting for me.”
“You know full well I can give us all the time in the world,” she said, standing up as a robe materialized on her. “Which I have done, by the way.” I looked at her for a moment, then out the window, where I saw a bird frozen in mid-flight.
“You like recycling your tricks.”
“I like not being rushed by mortals who think their agendas are more important than the will of a god.”
“I guess I could see where you’d get that.” I dropped the towel and grabbed a pair of boxers from the dresser. Hecate straightened up and took a sharp breath. “Oh don’t play coy now,” I groaned, pulling on the underwear and kneeling down to grab some pants from the lowest drawer.
“Is my presence such little concern for you?”
“I am a mortal with an agenda, remember.”
“John Matteson, I would remind you that I am offering you incredible power—”
“Yeah, yeah, power to stand even against gods.” I put on an undershirt and tucked it in before securing my pants. “I decided to start with you.” I brushed past her to grab my shirt, and she grabbed my shoulder and squeezed. It stung, but I refused to show that to her.
“You do not want me as an enemy, Anchor. I can make your life very painful.”
“Why? You think you have some right to boss me around?”
“I have every right!” she screamed, spinning me to face her. I met her gaze and silently slipped my shirt on as she continued. “I am the goddess of liminal beings! You are under my purview, your very existence hinges on my favor, and you dare question what authority I have to command your use of my gifts?”
“If you can take my power away, then do it.” I stood with my arms out, waiting, as she glared at me. “No?” I finally asked. She growled. “I think this story’s a bit more complicated than you want me to believe. And I think you need me more than I need you. Now, as for tonight?” I brought my hands together in a loud clap, focusing all my energy on it, and heard it ripple through the house. Hecate’s robe blew as if in a wind, and the air crackled, and the bird outside my window resumed its flight. “I have somewhere to be.” I turned away from her and reached for the door.
“Mark my words. You will have me, John Matteson, or you will have no one.”
“Next time, you should try something new. I’d be curious what you have to offer besides sex and parlor tricks.” I opened the door and headed downstairs.
The damage to the house was significant, especially in the kitchen, but it would have been far worse if the building hadn’t been made of stone. It was exhausting to even make Kastor visible to the bishop, so I didn’t bother doing it again when I thanked Kastor for his help and let him run back to whatever he was doing. I insisted on not knowing what that was. The bishop wanted to have a long chat about the nature of the supernatural, but I was antsy about getting back to check on Alice, so we gave him a very brief overview and reminded him about the Hudsons as specialists and I gave him my number before we left. On the way, though, Akshainie insisted we make one more stop, and I could hardly deny the request.
So I called Alice and she confirmed that everyone was back, and that she was okay, though she really sounded shaken. I didn’t press. But with assurance that it wouldn’t be a problem for anyone currently fighting, Akshainie and I made our way through the security checks and back to the locus I had silenced. She believed she could cleanse it now that the cult wasn’t actively using it, after I opened it again. I didn’t know how to open it again, I warned her, but she asked if I had known how to close it and I had to admit I didn’t until I tried. So she was comfortable assuming I would figure it out.
When we got to the locus, she stayed behind at the entrance of the chamber to give me room to work. We weren’t sure what was going to happen, but she wasn’t comfortable being close to me while I’m using a lot of energy to undo something magical.
“I doubt I would do anything very harmful to you,” I pointed out.
“Tell that to the Hudson estate,” she replied. There really wasn’t much argument to be made there.
So I went back to the center of the locus and focused, trying to feel what I had done to the flow of energy. It took a few moments, but I was able to identify that the locus was essentially an antimagic dam now, functionally blocking and absorbing all the energy that was coming to it. And it felt like me. I can’t really explain it, but the sense of interacting with it almost felt like interacting with my own arm or something. Whatever I had done here, I think I had left a piece of myself behind, and that was what was actually cutting off the locus. So all I had to do was take my piece back, right?
How do you even do that?
It took about a half hour of me trying things, and Akshainie giving her input, and me trying something else, before I finally felt like I’d connected with the blockage. And then it was a few minutes of focus and pulling and willing the locus to open before I was knocked on my back by a sudden tidal wave of magical energy and an audible popping sound. Akshainie rushed past me to the locus point, by now in her naga form, and wrapped her coils around the center of the site as she started her invocation. I dusted myself off and walked out of the chamber, to make sure I didn’t cause her any issues, and made my way back to the car. I made it through half a cigarette while leaning on the car before she came into view, human guise up, looking tired.
“You okay? Did it work?” I asked when she practically fell into the side of the car, leaning next to me.
“Let me get one of those,” she said. So I pulled out my pack and gave her a smoke and a light.
“I didn’t know you smoked.”
“I don’t usually. And I rarely smoke whatever the hell these are. But we have something similar in Iravati.”
“Lung cancer not a big concern for you, then?”
“I don’t have lungs. What’s your excuse?”
“I have it on good authority that won’t be what kills me,” I said. She grunted, and we both stayed there for a quiet moment.
“It worked,” she finally said. “Thank you.”
“Of course.” With that, she handed me the rest of her cigarette and walked around the car, I took a drag off it and then climbed in to take us back to the estate.
The initial strike wasn’t quite what we expected.
We were so used to the cult’s reliance on magic that we weren’t even thinking about the possibility of them using mundane means. Thankfully, between having noticed movement outside and Akshainie’s preternatural reflexes, she was in position to stop the first bullet from hitting the bishop.
“I need my armor!” she called as we all hit the floor, her arm bleeding where the shot had hit. I grabbed the bishop and shoved him out of the room. We ran down the hall and I heard shots begin and things in the kitchen breaking, hopeful most of that noise was Akshainie taking on her larger and more well-defended form. We made our way through the stone house, avoiding windows as much as possible, until we found a secure room to wait. I waited by the door, clenching my fists and trying to think through my options.
“That woman!” he cried, pacing behind me. “Oh God, she’s probably dead and they’re on their way to kill us…”
“She’s fine,” I said, “ Akshainie can handle her own. Now shut up before they find you.”
“You came to protect me, surely you have a gun or something?”
“I don’t carry a gun.”
“But you’re an American!”
“I’m a black American. I decided having a gun wasn’t worth the hassle of being seen with a gun.”
“Then what do we do?”
“What you do is shut up! Let me try something.” I closed my eyes and thought hard about what I’d learned concerning my relationship to the Metaphysical Realm. If what I actually did was set the rules in a given place, maybe I could use that somehow? I quickly considered and dismissed a handful of ideas before I settled on one that seemed worth a shot. I focused, I tried really hard to define my space, to make something specific true of the area that hadn’t been true a moment before.
“What the hell is this?” Kastor demanded. I opened my eyes and looked down at him.
“What worked?” the bishop asked. I held up a finger, telling him to wait, and he grunted and slumped into a chair.
“Did you summon me?” Kastor asked, hands on his hips. “I didn’t think you could do that!”
“I think I get to decide what I can do, within reason.”
“This isn’t within reason! I was with this dryad, Johnny, you never saw—”
“Listen, this is important!” I grabbed him by the shoulders and gave him a good shake. “There are cultists here trying to kill us and I’m not really armed to deal with them. Akshainie is out there alone right now. Can you get her some backup?”
“I don’t know! Whoever’s around, get them to help her stop the cultists!”
“Why would they do that?” he asked, pushing my hands off him.
“The cultists were corrupting the ley network.”
“Is that why it’s so…weird, right now? It feels like it got fucked up.”
“It’s…related to that. I’ll explain later. Can you do this, or not?”
“Yeah, yeah, let me see what I can do. But you owe me big for this!”
“Are you talking to yourself!?” the bishop demanded. Kastor and I both looked at him.
“Oh for crying out loud, look,” I said. I shifted the rules a bit, and soon the bishop jumped up from his seat.
“Is that a demon!?”
“I’m a faun,” Kastor answered, before turning to me again. “You can make people see me?”
“I think I know how you’re going to pay me back for this.”
“I’m not paying you back for shit if you don’t get moving!”
Kastor grumbled as he ran off, and I slumped against the wall and held my head. It was starting to throb, and I considered the possibility I had pushed too much too quickly. The bishop was praying under his breath and trying to control the look of shock on his face, but I decided it was best to leave him to it. Pretty soon I heard thunder, and screaming, and then the door flew open and Akshainie, covered in small wounds and fully in her naga form, shoved her upper body in.
“There you are!” She said. “Are you aware there’s a small army of weather spirits and some kind of goat man killing the cultists?”
“I’m aware I owe the goat man one hell of a favor,” I answered.
“And what are you!?” the bishop screamed. Akshainie and I both looked at him.
“Busy!” she yelled, before slipping back out of the room and rushing down the hall. There was a brief burst of gunshots, which were quickly silenced. I shrugged.
“She knows what she’s doing,” I said. “You should work on the way you introduce yourself to spirits.” He stared at me for a minute, then went back to praying as I closed the door.
16 February 2007
The papers we brought back from the church indicated a complex plan, but we were aided in our study of it by some interrogation of the cultists we recovered. There were a few cells scattered around, and they were all going to attack in unison once they received a specific sign. Thankfully, we were able to work out the nature of that sign: the priest we captured was supposed to kill a specific bishop some time today, with the help of a different local cell, and when he sent off a message confirming the deed the others would strike.
Of course, the priest was in no condition to actually carry out that step of the plan or to alert the others to his situation, and they were unlikely to realize he was out of commission. Alice’s claim that he was connected to at least some of the cultists gave us some pause, but we determined that with the ley network’s disruption it would take them longer to check on him than it would take us to act. So we set out.
Alice was left in Melinda’s care after she barely stopped me from ripping Michael to shreds for putting Alice in danger. She promised she would have words with him herself, and I trust that was why he was pulled aside as soon as our plan was made and I didn’t see him before we left in the morning. ‘We’ being Akshainie and me. We were tasked with protecting the bishop at any cost today, to ensure the signal to strike never went out. Meanwhile, Benedict and Michael would round up the cultists from the other cells, who should be gathered nice and tight in their positions.
We arrived at the bishop’s house early, and he greeted us and welcomed us in for breakfast. He had been told we were coming, but was given little more than that, so we roughly explained the situation and showed him our papers from the Hudsons confirming our work was under the auspices of the crown. But there was no activity while we were eating, so Akshainie made her way to an upper floor to watch for movement outside as I escorted the bishop in his duties. We made our way to his study, where he was planning to carry out a period of study. When we got there, he asked me about my faith, and I confessed that while I had a generally Christian understanding of the ultimate afterlife, thanks to my grandmother, my own relationship with the supernatural was a bit too complicated to fit into any religions I’d yet encountered. He pressed for more information on that, and while I hedged my answers a bit to avoid giving away too much detail about myself, we spent the next few hours talking about ghosts, natural spirits, and my function as an Anchor. He seemed fascinated by the idea, but was insistent that all of what I was saying could be explained with a Christian understanding of the mystical side of reality. I entertained his theories, but remained unconvinced.
I was growing antsy, and the increasing frequency of Akshainie poking in to check on us suggested she was, as well. But nothing was happening, and the bishop began urging her to stay and explain her experience of the supernatural. He didn’t know she was a naga, of course, and we didn’t tell him, but she did finally sit down and begin talking about Hinduism until we all returned to the kitchen for lunch. It was there, while we were cleaning up after eating, that we first noticed some movement in the shrubs outside.
The blog of John Matteson.
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