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.
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.
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.
Honestly, I missed most of what happened after Benedict attacked the Black Goat. I was fighting my own battle, trying not to get crushed to death while focusing on keeping the avatar separated from its source. I noticed, partway through, that it wasn’t just one connection I was severing, but many. I hadn’t even realized before that I could sense things like that, but there it was, once it was the only thing my mind was fixed on. I knew, somehow, that this creature wasn’t just summoned for the sake of being there, or whatever. Someone, some massive group of people, was siphoning its power for themselves. It was an intermediary, a means by which the dread power of an unknowable god was filtered and distributed to mortal practitioners. Were there any others of these out there? I suspected there were, though I couldn’t seem to identify that from this point in the power network.
Then I was falling, and I blacked out until Benedict woke me. Everything hurt. Then we were off again, him slowly helping me as I went along, unable to put weight on my right leg. My left hurt like hell, too, from the spear wound, but at least it would still push against the ground a bit.
“You disrupt magic, right?” Benedict asked me at one point, when we had stopped to rest partway up the stairs. I nodded, catching my breath. “Why am I able to keep this form around you, then? Why couldn’t I access my fire, which is just part of my natural form?”
“Is it not obvious?” I asked. He furrowed his brow as he watched me. I sighed. “It isn’t magic.”
“What do you mean?”
“Magic is…” I waved my hand in a circle a few times, trying to place the words. “It’s like, it’s something from one side influencing the other, is how Jackie describes it. It isn’t magic for you to look human, because on some basic level, you are human. I don’t even see the demon when you’re in this form. They’re just…ways for you to be, I guess?” He sat in silence for a while after that, before helping me up and continuing along the stairway.
We came eventually to a large rock blocking the way, and with some effort he managed to shove it just far enough out of the way for us to slip through. We were in the woods, and sat down again while we debated which direction the building would be based on the layout of the chambers and the curve of the stairway, and finally agreed on a way to go. He left me there to rest a bit longer as he ran off to check our chosen direction, and came back after about a half hour to tell me we were wrong. So we tried again, and he ran off again, and returned after ten minutes with news that we were wrong again, but close enough that he was able to see which way was right. So we set off again. We ended up on the road the military hospital was on, and as we approached I realized the cars my friends had been in were gone.
“Cowards,” I muttered as we made our way inside. We remembered that one room still had an intact bed, in highly questionable condition but much better for dealing with our injuries than the floor, and we made our way there. As we passed another room we heard a familiar voice.
“Took you boys long enough,” Akshainie said, putting a sword and a whetstone away. She helped Benedict get me to a bed and looked me over. She tried to use magic to heal me, but of course it didn’t work, and when she insisted I drop my power long enough for her to help me I had to explain that it didn’t quite work like that. Sure, I could prevent it from affecting another target, if I tried hard enough, but I knew of no way to allow magic to touch me. At least, not without granting them knowledge about, and power over, me that I wasn’t ready to just throw out there. While she went about tending my wounds in the normal fashion with the supplies from a first aid kit they had and whatever crap she found laying around, I explained the connections I sensed while making the Black Goat functionally mortal. Benedict theorized that it was the cult itself, that the Brood of Nachash had summoned an avatar of a dark god specifically for the purpose of binding its power to themselves. And if they had done it once, they very well may have done it many times over the years. The current cult members might not even know they were gaining power this way. I think I may have changed their entire approach, as they spent the rest of the night carrying on about the possibility of hunting down any other similar ritual sites and undermining the cult’s power before facing them directly again. The only break in the conversation was when Akshainie left to slip down the stairway we took and gather my bag and notebook I had lost during the fight. She reported that there was still no sign of the Black Goat regenerating, and that my friends hadn’t returned yet.
She never did tell me how she got through the horde.
They helped me make a cobbled-together crutch, and we exchanged contact information. Benedict said he was going to visit my dad, but first he wanted to follow up on that town we found back in fall. I told him what I knew, and they slipped off before morning. When I emerged from the hospital after dawn, as agreed, I was met by Tony and his coworkers. They ran out of the cars when they saw how messed up I was, and Tony hopped into Alpha’s driver seat and ran me to the hospital. I made sure to collect my money on the way there. I was admitted, as there was a lot of work to do, but I didn’t much care. As soon as I was in one of those nice, fancy hospital beds, I slipped right off to sleep.
I tried to turn my focus to the Black Goat, but there were too many creatures at the doorway now. I didn’t realize some were slipping past the other two until I felt a stab in my leg. I dropped down to my knee and screamed, then blocked another strike from the small spear the creature held and punched it repeatedly until its head burst. I looked over and saw more coming, and from my location I could see that the Black Goat was extending itself and reaching down to join the fight.
“There’s too many!” I called over. “We can’t do this and face the horde at the same time!”
“We need you at full strength, Benedict!” Akshainie yelled from the hallway. Benedict hesitated, but then sighed and stepped backward from the doorway a bit. I started attacking the other creatures that were slipping past him.
“Behind you!” I called, as the Black Goat extended a long, clawed tentacle toward him. Suddenly, his entire body caught fire and grew, quickly going from a white man a little over six feet tall to a huge, muscular, horned demon composed of flame and standing at least twelve feet tall. He growled and turned, grabbing the tentacle and breaking it off. The Black Goat roared and writhed in pain, shaking the whole chamber and sending more stones down into the doorway from the arch surrounding it. It recoiled what was left of the tentacle, reabsorbing it and shooting out what looked like a massive tiger paw at him. Benedict slammed his foot down and a burst of fire erupted around him, consuming the smaller creatures and pushing the paw back. It threw me, as well, and I lost my notebook as I hit the ground and rolled into the far wall.
The blow knocked the wind out of me, and for a moment everything went out of focus and I had a ringing in my ears. I rolled onto my stomach and groaned, before slowly pushing myself back up. I felt a sharp pain shoot up the leg that had been stabbed before it went out from under me and I crashed back onto the ground. As my senses started to focus, I pushed myself up again enough to look over and assess the situation. Benedict, or whatever he was now, was actively trying to fight the creatures and the Black Goat, but the horde showed no signs of slowing down and I could barely see Akshainie anymore. Then, much to my surprise, I saw her leap out of the mass of creatures. She shouted something to Benedict, I couldn’t make it out; whatever it was, he looked deeply concerned and turned, apparently to stop her. It was too late, though. She went up again, this time driving her swords into the ceiling.
The doorway collapsed entirely, crushing a host of the creatures and blocking the rest from entering. Benedict screamed and I started breathing heavy as I realized she was still on the other side. As he screamed, another burst of fire shot out from him, incinerating fully two-thirds of the creatures that had managed to make it through before the way was cut off. I tried to call over to him, but before the words were out of my throat I felt a heavy, wet thud crash into my chest and at least two ribs break. I was lifted up by a massive three-fingered hand, which began to sprout eyes looking at me and a sharp-toothed mouth near the wrist. I glanced over and saw Benedict, his fire growing in intensity, turning to the Black Goat. I smiled, turning my attention back to the entity, and grabbed its wrist with both hands.
“Oh, you’re fucked now,” I said, focusing my mind on severing the connection feeding the Black Goat.
There was a large set of doors a little ways down the main hallway, and we forced it open and then closed it behind us. Beyond that the hall tapered as it descended, eventually leading to a doorway that was only large enough for two people to pass through at a time. Must have been part of whatever ritual was happening down here. The structure was old and poorly-maintained; when Benedict sent fire up to see it, we were able to identify a number of structural weaknesses in the doorway and surrounding ceiling. I remembered the couple small earthquakes that had happened in the area during my lifetime, and figured another one would probably bring this whole chamber down.
From beyond that doorway, we could hear the roar and arrhythmic beating of whatever was in there hitting the ground. Each time, the ground shook, and the ceiling dropped a few small rocks or bits of dust. It wasn’t going to be safe to stay here, but going forward meant facing whatever was causing all of this trouble. And now, as we heard things hammering against the doors, we knew it was too late to go back. We pressed on.
As we passed into the inner chamber, we finally got to see what was causing all the noise. Embedded in the ceiling, probably fifty feet or so up, was a mass of black goo, with an assortment of eyes and mouths and legs, appearing and disappearing across its surface, each different in form and size from the others. It hung suspended above a pit, with the same diameter as the hole in the ceiling holding the mass; at a glance, I would have figured it about thirty feet across, with a ring of smooth floor stretching another fifteen feet from the edge of the pit to the walls. The ceiling was domed, beginning to curve just a little above Benedict’s head and rising gracefully to meet the edges of the entity’s housing. I frowned as I began to remember my dad’s books.
“The Black Goat of the Woods,” I muttered. Benedict and Akshainie turned to me.
“What was that?” she asked. I pointed at the elder god as it slammed a clawed fist against the ceiling.
“It’s a Lovecraftian monster. Dad has a book that theorized about the metaphysical implications of their place in pop culture.” Both of their faces seemed to glaze over, as if I was speaking a completely different language. “You guys…do you know who Lovecraft was?” They both shook their heads, and I sighed and pinched the bridge of my nose. “Okay, look, he wrote fiction stories, basically established the cosmic horror genre. His stories involved these entities of madness like the elder gods or outer gods. There’s some speculation that he was describing actual spirits tied to madness and the concept of an outer darkness from various mythologies, but the popularity of his stories in the minds of so many readers may have actually caused them to change to reflect his descriptions. I think we’re looking at confirmation of that theory.”
“Are you telling me that the Brood of Nachash found and built a temple around a god of madness from a horror story?” Benedict asked. The thing roared again, and we had to cover our ears from the noise. It took a moment for us to recover, but the beast did not seem to have noticed us yet. That, or it was expecting something from us and waiting to see if we would do it.
“No, well, maybe? I don’t know. But chances are this is just an avatar for one of the elder gods, specifically Shub-Niggurath, which they may have actually summoned here.”
“They do seem fond of summoning,” Akshainie noted.
“Does that make a difference?” Benedict growled. “We still have to deal with it.”
“Yeah,” I said, lighting a cigarette. I took a drag and blew out the smoke in the entity’s direction. “An avatar can be killed.” Both of them smiled at that and looked toward it. That’s when we heard the massive doors behind us finally drag open, and the sound of scurrying and tapping approaching.
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1 March 2006
Having made our way around the place, we ended up back at the office upstairs. The place was a mess, but there was one desk that seemed attached to the floor, and further investigation revealed a button that opened a secret passage in the wall. Behind it was a pair of doors, marked with a single large red spiral painted across their front.
"Oh," I muttered, "these guys again." I lit a cigarette as Benedict turned to me and Akshainie walked over to investigate the doors.
"You're familiar with the Brood of Nachash?" he asked me.
"Is that what they're called? We just called them The Red Spiral."
"How do you know about them? Who is 'we?' What happened?"
"Is this important?"
"They're why we're here!" he cried out, indicating the spiral with his outstretched hand. "They're a danger to the world and we're trying to find and stop them."
"Oh. Yeah, I guess that checks out."
"There is a button here, but no handles," Akshainie said. We both turned and looked just in time to see her press the button. There was a loud clunking noise followed by an electric whine as long-abandoned machinery debated whether to respond. After a few seconds of that, the doors jumped open a few inches, whined some more, and then opened in slow jerking motions. Beyond them was a large elevator car, which looked like it could house about a dozen people or a small team surrounding a hospital bed. The metal rail on the walls was rusted, the carpet worn thin and fraying, the light at the top faintly flickering and giving off a low hiss. The entire car looked to be slightly crooked, and there was an audible groan as it held itself in place. It took me a moment of looking at it to realize that no other part of the building so far had still been receiving any electricity; at that, I frowned and put out my cigarette on the bottom of my shoe.
"How mortal are you guys?" I asked. Benedict gave a non-committal grimace.
"I'm not entirely sure," he said.
"I am not mortal," Akshainie answered with a shrug. I tucked the short back into my pack and pointed at her as I walked into the elevator.
"Well I am. If this thing tries to kill us, you save my ass." She rolled her eyes and slithered in just ahead of the priest, who then pushed the bottom button on the panel. The doors complained, but eventually jerked their way closed. We stood in silence for another few seconds before the elevator suddenly dropped about a foot and then started descending in a more controlled, but clearly strained, fashion. I began wishing I hadn't snuffed my cigarette before climbing in.
"You never answered me," Benedict said, finally.
"Oh. Right. Well, okay, so back in September? October? I was driving around with a few friends, you know, and we stumble across this ghost town a bit south of here where we got chased by a black garbage truck with that spiral on it. We'd already seen it around a bit on some standing stones earlier that night, so it stood out. After a couple encounters with that over the next few days, and it trying to kill us, we came across a factory or something with the same logo and decided to check it out. Well, they were trying to summon something, it turns out, so Rick, Jackie, and I broke it up and undid the ritual and some of them got arrested on an anonymous tip."
"Did you see anything strange?"
"By whose definition?" He turned his head to give me a level glare. "Fine, fine. One guy had this, I dunno, snake eye? And some scars? He said I was an omen of the end of their mission, but he never really explained as I was kinda busy punching him in the face." The elevator came to a sudden stop, nearly throwing me and Benedict off our balance, and the doors began their slow ritual of trying to open.
"You met the Barzai."
"An omen?" Akshainie asked. I shrugged. The door finished opening, and we found ourselves staring into a little bit of stone floor dimly lit by the elevator that faded off into darkness. Benedict opened his hand as if he expected something to happen, then looked at his hand, looked at me, and grumbled. He lowered his hand and stepped forward into the darkness, followed by Akshainie. I stepped out and felt along the wall beside the elevator until I found a switch, which I flicked.
The lights flickered a bit at first before the filaments in them began to glow, weak but steady. As they warmed up and grew brighter, we started to make out the chamber ahead of us. It was massive; well over ten feet tall, and probably as large as my dad's entire property over on Oakland. The ceiling was rough and natural, like a cave, but the floor was smooth and carefully worked. Occasional spires reached from one to the other, and the room was dotted with idols about four feet tall. There were three passageways leading out of the room, small ones to either side and then a large, arched one straight ahead. The light did not reach into any of them. We all waited there a moment, then I pulled out my notebook and we began investigating the chamber.
1 March 2020
Being that we were going to be working together, and they clearly had access to magic of some sort, I warned them about bringing any magic too close to me and apparently that was enough to make Akshainie want to kill me. I had known some spirits liked me more than others; to some, I was a handy means to access the physical realm, and to others I was some kind of generalized danger, but the latter group never spoke to me enough to know what their problem was. I was thinking about what she'd said, about people like me being destructive, while Benedict tried to calm her down. As I was thinking this over and made my way toward the hallway door, I thought I heard crying.
When I looked back to tell them, they were having a heated conversation in some language I'd never heard, so I decided to leave them to it and head off to investigate. The noise was coming from somewhere down a side hall, so I crept along, trying to trace the echoes to a specific room. The hallway turned a corner, and I stopped to peek around the edge just in case before continuing. Right at the start of that hallway was a thick metal doorframe, as if this whole hallway had been closed off by strong doors at some point. There was what looked to have been a poorly-removed circuit panel next to the frame. Near the end of that hall, I found a closed door.
The rest of the rooms I'd seen so far had had doors at some point, of course. Most were gone, a few wooden ones were still attached to a hinge or two but clearly broken. This hall, however, still had almost all of its doors, and they were all metal. Only one of those doors was closed, however; and it was the one with the crying.
I glanced in the others as I passed. The mess of previous visitors was nearly impossible to distinguish from the mess that must have been left behind by occupants, especially with the drawings on the walls. But this area was less vandalized than others, and I suspected that other people who won the bet did so by deciding this hall was not worth looking into. As I got to the door, I noticed Benedict and Akshainie find the end of the hallway and follow me down. I tried to test the door before they got there, but it was locked. I explained that to them when they arrived, and Benedict focused for a moment and then walked right into the door and bounced back, rubbing his head.
"What the hell was that!?" I asked, pointing at the door.
"I usually...ow, usually I can make myself pass through stuff like that."
"It's him," Akshainie hissed, glaring at me. I raised my hands then backed away. Once I was about six feet or so from them, I lit a cigarette while Benedict took a breath and did it again, this time walking right past the door into the room.
"So," I said, "what do you do? Where are you from?"
"I kill things that need to die. And that is no concern of yours." I shrugged and leaned against the wall for a moment, before we heard a loud scream come from the room and the door was blown off and slammed into the wall across the hall from it, Benedict landing hard on it.
"Not this shit again!"
"It's been a rough year, murder hobo! Get those swords ready!" She drew her swords and I dropped my backpack, pulling out my notebook as the ghost of a man floated into the hallway. His face was twisted in pain and his body was covered in arcane markings. His arms bent the wrong way and in more places than they should have, and his legs hung limp from his body, waving in a way that looked like they had no bones. Which, admittedly, they didn't, but usually you can tell in ghosts that the person had bones when they were still alive. Benedict coughed and stood.
"Oh, what did they do to you?" he asked as he caught his breath. The ghost screamed again and a pulse of energy blew away all the debris on the floor and pushed Benedict and Akshainie back. I stood, flipping through my notebook, until I found the sigil page I was looking for. I waited until the shockwave had finished and the ghost was moving again as I held my hand over the page, then I threw the notebook onto the ground just in front of the ghost. It moved forward just a few inches until it was over the page, then the sigils began to glow and the ghost stopped like it had hit a brick wall. It screamed again, the air around it and above the notebook swirling wildly, but not reaching any of us. Akshainie screamed and lunged forward, slicing at the ghost in a series of rapid strikes I could barely keep up to watch. When she stopped, the ghost gasped and broke apart, fading into nothing. It was as I was watching it disappear that I was able to pay enough attention to it to realize that it was not, in fact, a ghost, but an echo.
"Let me just slip by you," I said, walking past Akshainie and picking my notebook up again. She mumbled a brief thing that sounded like a vague thanks as she put her swords away, and we all turned to look in the room.
The walls of the room were lined with arcane scribblings, not unlike those on the body of the echo. They were certainly more extensive, and I recognized some sets as showing up in various summoning rites I'd seen in my dad's books. These were mixed in with drawings, mostly of inhuman faces, with faces too long or with too many eyes or noses or ears, some of them completely alien, some of them serpentine. The cot was torn to shreds, and there was a blood-stained depression in the wall where it looked like someone had desperately tried to claw through the stone but hadn't made it all the way through. Under that was a body, largely decayed, but mostly human. Its two human arms were bent in a multitude of ways, its human legs shriveled and useless. It had four additional legs which resembled those of a spider, large and still generally intact. What was left of the face looked like it had been warped into a form that would have been terrible to behold while there was still flesh on it.
"I guess that supports the experimental testing theory," I muttered, taking notes.
The blog of John Matteson.