12 May 2007
“Are you supposed to be doing that?” Benedict asked.
I groaned and set my mug down on the counter I was leaning against. “I can make my own tea once in a while, priest.”
“I didn’t ask if you can. I asked if you’re supposed to be.”
“I don’t know! They said to take it easy for a while. Are you suggesting this isn’t easy?”
“I’m just keeping an eye out.” He walked the rest of the way into the kitchen and started a pot of coffee as I resumed adding the sugar to my tea. “But since you’re up and we don’t have to focus on meeting needs for a moment, maybe we could talk.”
“Your father’s theories.”
“I thought maybe you wanted to talk about whether Jackie and Akshainie are okay.”
“I trust they’re fine. Akshainie is capable. Frustratingly so, at times. I get the impression Jackie is not an easy target, either.”
“Alright, fine. But I’m sitting down for this.”
“I would insist on it if you hadn’t,” he said as I made my way to the living room. I sat in the recliner and made myself as comfortable as I could. By the time he joined me with his cup of coffee in hand, I was halfway through a cigarette.
“So what did you want to know?” I asked as he sat on the couch.
“Well, when last we talked about it, I had informed you that he thought your power was more complex than simply breaking magic. And then we never explored that.”
“Okay, well, I have.” I adjusted my position to face him better. “I think he was right.”
So I told him about the first time I met Alice, how I managed to change the rules of the local Metaphysical Realm to make the echoes more visible and then clear them away. He sat silent as I spoke, his face only showing any change when he brought his coffee to his mouth.
“Fascinating,” he said, finally. “And Akshainie tells me you were able to close and then reopen a locus point while we were in Britain.”
“I fear what this means for us all, then.”
He sighed, then indicated he would be just a minute before making his way back to the kitchen. I lit another cigarette while he was gone, and he returned with more coffee. “Okay,” he said, before taking a sip and sitting down. “You said that the Barzai referred to you as ‘the omen?’ The sign their work was nearing completion?”
“Seemed to think I was the avenue through which their work would be concluded.”
“That’s a concern. Do you have any idea what they could do if they gained control over your power?”
“I don’t see how they would,” I said, adjusting again to avoid putting too much pressure on the stitches. “They’d have to gain some means of controlling me with magic, which I’m immune to.”
“Well. We assume you’re immune.”
“I seem pretty immune.”
“And yet you can do powerful magic effects, such as controlling the flow of a ley line and exorcising spirits.”
“What are you getting at?”
“If your power is more accurately described as setting the rules within an area, then it stands to reason you aren’t truly immune. It’s just very difficult to break the rules you enforce. With enough effort and a very clever approach, someone could slip a spell past you. Has that ever happened? Can you think of any time when someone found a way around your immunity?”
“Well. I didn’t really think about it in those terms…”
“Back in high school. I had broken a focusing crystal. The witch who owned it said I’d be cursed for doing so, which I didn’t think was a valid threat.”
“Well. I didn’t really get cursed. Whatever ill fate was supposed to befall me never happened. But, there was this supernatural beast that started following me around. I had to learn how to perform an exorcism just to get rid of it.”
“The curse bypassed your immunity by having a spirit act in your vicinity rather than directly affecting you.”
“Yeah, it was well played.”
“It also tells me there are ways around your magical resistance, if one approaches it properly. I don’t know what it would take to directly affect you, but we should probably operate on the assumption such an option exists. And that the Brood of Nachash is working on it.”
“So, what do I do about that? Add more protection? Avoid them? I don’t think I like any of this notion.”
“You’re too useful against them to ask you to stay on the side.” He sighed and leaned with his elbows on his knees. “We just need to be very mindful of how much access they have to you. Whatever it is they’re going to try, if you’re the key, they need to do something to or with you.” We sat in silence for a little bit as I considered that suggestion, and then after a few minutes he checked his watch. “Well, I better start making us some lunch. You don’t get up unless you absolutely have to.”
“Yes, mom,” I said as he made his way into the kitchen.
“No, I…ugh, nevermind.”
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 blog of John Matteson.