8 May 2007
When the phone rang, I almost didn’t answer. I had been half asleep, and I could ignore the noise of the phone vibrating on my night stand, and given how little I’d been able to sleep the last few days it was very tempting. Honestly, I only checked who it was out of some meager hope it was going to be Alice. It wasn’t, which wasn’t much of a surprise. I hadn’t heard from her since she asked for space and ran off to England. As if going halfway around the world wouldn’t be space enough if I didn’t know that that’s what it was. What did surprise me, however, was that it was Benedict. It shouldn’t have surprised me. I’d called him about the Brood of Nachash the day before we confronted them, hopeful that he and Akshainie would be able to help. But I had to leave a voice mail, and then everything happened, and I guess it wasn’t forefront in my mind anymore.
“Benedict,” I said, answering the call.
“You left me a voice mail that you had found the Brood preparing for a ritual?”
“That was a week ago, man.”
He cursed under his breath in German for a moment before returning to the call. “What happened?”
“We confronted them.”
“Me, Alice, Jackie, and Rick.”
“You met him at the funeral.”
“Oh, right. What happened?”
“We…I think we won.”
“What does that mean?”
“They opened a portal. The guy with the burned face was thrown into it. We…we lost Rick in the process.”
“What’s the closest body of water to you?”
“Uh…probably the Shenango River? It’s right downtown. But—”
“See you soon.” He hung up and I stared at the phone for a minute before rolling over.
I was nearly asleep when I heard a pounding on the front door. I grumbled and pulled one of the pillows over my head and tried to ignore it, until Jackie threw my door open a few minutes later.
“It’s Benedict and Akshainie,” she said. “Get dressed and come downstairs.”
“I’m supposed to be resting,” I reminded her.
“If you can come downstairs for a bottle of vodka you didn’t think I’d notice was missing, you can come down for this!” She slammed the door and I heard her go back down the stairs. She was right, of course. I was allowed to move around now, which is how I got up to my room in the first place, it just hurt like hell to be very active.
“You’re late,” I said when I was reaching the bottom of the stairs. “We had to fight the bastards without you.”
“We were dealing with a situation,” Benedict answered. In the time it’d taken me to get downstairs, he’d apparently managed to get his hands on a cup of coffee. He was alone in the living room.
“Where are the girls?”
“Downstairs, looking for information on a spell. What happened to you?”
“Got stabbed again. And some other shit.”
“I feel like you don’t take knives seriously enough until they’re in you.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” I sat down on my recliner and laid it back. “So what were you doing?”
“Something that wasn’t important enough to miss what you were doing, I’m afraid. I didn’t get your call until we were done. Tell me more about what happened. You said it was the Barzai?”
“It was the same guy that I saw at that warehouse. You’re the one who calls him the Barzai.”
“Me and his whole cult. Tell me about this portal.”
So I did. I told him about the ritual, and the things trying to come through the portal, and how Rick threw himself and the Barzai through and the portal closed behind them. He listened without interruption, and once I was done, he leaned back and thought for a little while.
“So we don’t know if the Barzai is actually neutralized?” he asked.
“Not unless we can find his body over wherever they landed,” I answered.
“I may have some thoughts on that,” Jackie said. I turned to look just as she entered the room from the kitchen carrying a book and her backpack. Akshainie was close behind. “Akshainie tells me there are paths through the metaphysical realm that we can use to reach the other end of the portal!”
“Really? And how will you know which road to take?”
“Roads,” Akshainie corrected. As Jackie sat down on the couch next to Benedict and checked the contents of her bag, Akshainie stood with her arms crossed and looked me over. “You look like shit.”
“I must be recovering, then.”
“Good. I’ll guide Jackie through the roads to the Deeper Realms. Benedict can stay here and keep an eye on you.”
“I don’t recall us discussing that,” Benedict said.
“We didn’t. But this is how it has to be. You would be hopelessly lost out there, and I’m told Matteson should not be alone.”
“I’m sure I’d manage,” I said.
“Barely. I’ll need two spells at least,” Jackie said. “One to step into the metaphysical realm, and another to track the energy signature of the portal spell.” She opened the book and showed me a page. “We found what we needed for those two already, and have them memorized. This one, and a couple others in this book, will keep me from starving or something if the realms get weird or we’re separated from crucial supplies.”
“The realms will absolutely get weird,” Akshainie added.
“Oh, good,” I said. “When are you doing this?”
“Rick can’t wait,” Jackie said, standing and closing the book. She slipped it into her backpack and put that on. “If we’re lucky, he landed or found his way to somewhere that had food and water, and got away from the Barzai. If not, he’s already going to be near death. Or worse.”
“We’re going to the river,” Akshainie said, “where your influence can’t ruin the spells. We’ll use the River Network to reach Iravati. I know the roads from there.”
“Be careful,” Benedict said.
“We will return.” With that, Akshainie and Jackie left, while Benedict and I sat in silence.
“Well,” I finally said, “what do you wanna do while they’re gone?”
“Worry,” Benedict answered. He knocked back the rest of his coffee and stood. “But I’m sure we can find a more productive use of our time.”
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.
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.
The blog of John Matteson.