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Tales from the Borderlands, Part Five

For those new to the site, my first portions of this story are linked to at the end of this entry. This is not the usual non-fiction stuff, nor is it realistic fiction. That said, the kind of fantasy and sci-fi I write is meant to be world-building, imitating and thereby illuminating the complexities of current events, history, and other aspects of human experience. Don’t expect allegory.

This world relates to ours the way the Hobbit's Journey in Lord of the Rings echoes the lives of WWI and II veterans like J.R.R. Tolkien. I hope what I write speaks well to the moral and ethical problems of dealing with the problem of evil in today's world. I hope you all enjoy it.

East Texas, Near the Magelands
Agent Dominic Leonard would have expected more stares than this, sitting in a small town diner in the Big Thicket in light armor, but then the unexpected was expected in these parts nowadays. It was becoming the norm elsewhere, too.

The columns of light that marked the Planar Gates no longer caught so many people's eyes. At first, it wasn't unusual for people just to stand around looking at them. They were certainly beautiful, sparkling vertical rivers of energy. Dominic remembered a date bringing him to the top of her apartment building to look at it shine in the night sky. Now one shone out the window of the diner and only the daydreamers stared in awe. He liked to think he was still one of them.

It was fun for the first month. Then the real fun started. All of a sudden, America went from having just two borders to effectively having more than a hundred borders, all told, with the busiest of these gates arrayed in two lines. One, which ran down the spine of the Rockies, was known as the Sunfire Way. The other, which literally stretched from Sea to shining sea, was known as the Road of Souls. He asked why, and was surprised to learn that the answer had been lost to the Mages themselves.

The roads were a trade route, though a bit complicated. He had already traversed one segment of it, through the eery cavern world of Padzhir. Each segment was like that, leading from one gate to the next. You entered the world, travelled the segment, popped out the next gate, back here on earth. then you could enter the gate you came out of and continue down the next segment the same way. If you entered going in another direction, marked by the spirals on the gate platform, you could head in the other direction. That direction, though, featured another sequence of worlds John said was like a subway loop with different stops for the trains heading in different directions. Fine, Dominic thought, but try wrapping your head around those segments being parallel universes!

She sat down in front of him. Agent Norfolk. Dominic couldn't say he minded, though he knew that Langley would resent any advances he made. Dominic wouldn't blame him, knowing what he knew now. He had searched for Jacob Riley for at least a month now, completely unaware that Riley had been travelling with him the whole time, with his wife Sarah Cordell.

Or make that Dr. Sarah Cordell. Sarah was a rarity in both worlds, a Mender and a Surgeon, and that made here easy to narrow down. A wound given in a practice session had gotten infected, and this had drawn her notice. She chided him for not having brought it to her notice earlier, commenting that she could have taken care of it. The Menders, who healed by touch and will alone, could easily have healed a hurt like his, but they preferred fresh to festered, as healing a festered wound could seal in an infection that would spread. Then she wrote him a prescription for antibiotics after she cleaned things out.

A prescription. He knew from the latest information on the Menders that most lived as healers in out of the way places like the Gate towns or rural communities. Though devices with cystalline elements were common, they were considerably more sophisiticated than the pendants the New Age healers dangled over their clients. Menders who wished to prosper in medicine, especially before the exposure of the Gate cities, had to walk a more difficult path, mastering the difficult complexities of medicine from two different disciplines.

He inquired with a friend he had learned was a Mage, and he confirmed that Menders were as regulated as Doctors were in regular society. He acquired both sets of records, and cross referenced them, then removed all men from the list. He adjusted for her apparent age. She was in her thirties. Appearance.

Blonde, golden-brown eyes, about medium height. Her accent put her on the Eastern Seaboard. None of the others were even close on the birth place, which had her born in some obscure small town in Virginia. That nailed it. Dr. Sarah Cordell, a neurosurgical resident who worked a Waco area hospital before the Battle Hamilton City.

Recently married to Jacob Paul Riley.

Though movies often cast special forces as killing machines to justify elaborate fights and gun battles, Special forces were unconventional in more than just their ability to kill. Jake, A former Marine Lieutenant out of Force Reconnaissance, exemplified this. Records indicated he was fluent in Arabic, had a talent for calming tense situations. He worked several building projects and was well respected by both his immediate superiors and tribal leaders. He was a team player in the best sense of the word, level and cool-headed.

What ended his life as a Marine (and should have ended his life outright) was an attack on his convoy (or combat logistics patrols, they'd take to calling them). A bomb exploded right under the vehicle, killing three of his fellow soldiers instantly, and leaving him as good as dead. Accounts vary on what happened next, as well as how it could happen at all, but many saw a strange soldier come through and literally rip the door off its hinges.

What was dragged out, according to witnesses, was a burnt, shrapnel ridden piece of meat. At least that's what Dominic read. It was easy to guess where John and Sarah fit into this, but the quesiton was, "how?" John was obviously looking after him, but who told him to? Sarah must have been involved in saving Jake's life and bringing him back to the states apparently unscratched, but how?

A clue came from the release records that came after Jake's section eight. After his apparent perfect recovery from the attack, he had visions of incredible power. Although one such vision helped him calm a local rebellion, another one landed him in trouble when another convoy came under attack after he had warned the commanders not to take the route. The accusations first levelled were ones of treason. How could he have known of the attack? Unless he was in on it, he couldn't have. Had Jacob Riley gone too native, perhaps joined them, perhaps slipped the information on the sly? He of course denied it. The hardliners wanted to come down hard on him, but at the time they had worse problems to take care of, and little proof that Jacob had ever compromised operational security. The operation had been planned in mid-afternoon, while Riley himself was on an operation. According to his fellow squad members, the insight, whatever it was, had hit him on the way back to base. They were just leaving. The moderates had a problem, and nobody had very much will to try and put a soldier like Jacob Riley in Leavenwotth. It was the psychiatric counselors that came up with the solution that appeased the hardliners without causing much of a problem. PTSD, and a real bad case of it.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder could explain the powerful visions, perhaps as flashbacks. It could explain his desperation. Soldiers often saw both past events, and essentially confabulations of what they worse feared. coincidences happened. After three tours of duty, and little rest, not to mention the terrible attack on the convoy, they could imagine him snapping. Even more important was what had happened with Jacob Riley's brother, Isaac, when he was eight. It was a wonder he was stable when he joined. Regardless, the judgment was to send him home on psychiatric grounds.

When they told him that, it was the first time anybody could recall seeing Lt. Jacob Riley break down and weep, even after the death's of his team in the convoy attack. Some of Jake's friends in command wondered if it was truly the merciful way out. Some ass-coverer in command became concerned when a doctor suggested he might be suicidal, so when they transferred him stateside, and had him put in a secure psychiatric facility. Not the best from the complaints filed by commanding officers, who said it was unreasonable. He reportedly became more agitated, and this is where the chain of events that brought him into the battle of Hamilton City started.

Anyways, this would be where the link between all three came into focus. One of the complaints that came in had a surprising name attached to it: Thomas Rowan. Before Jacob Riley checked out of the establishment by walking past several guard and through three or four locked doors he did not have the key to, Rowan had begun proceeding to get him moved to a friendlier locale. It seemed rather unlikely to Dominic, but he checked again. It was hard to believe, but it made a certain kind of sense.

Thomas Rowan was Chancellor of the Southern State's Council of Magic Users. Arnokedic, the local Gate City, was his seat of administration. This made him Capt. Taylor's boss, and it was confirmed that Taylor had been given a number of missions on his behalf. He was a deal maker, a broker who traded in favors given and favors returned. As a result, he was patron for many young professionals. According to his source, Dr. Sarah Cordell, daughter of a prominent councilman on the Eastern Seaboard, was one of those beneficiaries of his largesse.

There was no documentation to that effect, but Dominic could piece it together. Sarah Cordell, with her healing powers, was the person or one of the persons who healed Jake. He had sent John to look over Jake. But why? He check Jake's file, looking for something simple. Something bugged him about the association. He had not been able to get anything but a short file on Jacob Riley. Nothing predated The Battle of Hamilton City.

Frustrated, he checked the biographical file. Violence marked it. His father was murdered not long after he was born. His brother killed his stepfather and mother, shot him, and had killed himself. His father, Peter Martin, was well known in Mage circles, for having defended Arnokedic in the last major conflict with the perpetrator of the bloodshed in Hamilton City, one that took place back in the 70's. There was even a statue in Arnokedic's main square of the fellow. His wife and children, though, lived apart from all that, and he, too, did not appear in Mage records before about age 25. Dominic would later discover why, but for now, it would be an unresolved coincidence. Having gone through the records, it occured to him that Jake might not have been aware of this hidden world of magic all that much longer than the rest of America.

It was the item that followed that though that indicated their relationship: Thomas Rowan was Jake's foster father. It was then that Dominic remembered a news item on Rowan. He had lead a double life. He had been the head of a securities firm, a very rich man, a pillar of two communities, one secret, one public. There were many who had known this dreamer and schemer only as one or the other. Jake could have conceivably grown up under this businessman and politician's wing and been none the wiser.

A web of connections, all leading to one man, the first among many casualties in the Battle of Hamilton City, who died at the hands of the terrorist known as Morningstar. Morningstar was believed by some to be a Nephilim, with more complex abilities than the single-ability Talents, or the Crafters, who conducted magical energy, but could only use it when that energy was fed through devices.

Two had been spotted, and two had been more than enough to plunge an entire city into chaos. One had been a man named David Sheffield, and he led the initial force of mercenaries and Seared (individuals enslaved by dark magic) against the city. He was suspected of having caused other deaths. The man had a talent for manipulating others against their will, even getting one man to dissect himself. Sheffield was found dead after the battle in one of the back alleys, decapitated by some weapon. It was reassuring to read that. A mere edged weapon had dealt him his fate. The other Nephilim was not so easy to defeat.

Morningstar tore through every defense the HCPD and the Huntsmen could throw up. Even the final battle between him and Jacob Riley had been close.

But Jacob Riley had won. Jacob Riley, it was rumored, was like his father: Elohim. Whatever darkness lay in the Nephilim who had nearly destroyed a city, it had met its match in the light that man carried. Confronted with evidence of another Nephilim, Agent Dominic Leonard sought out Jacob Riley.

The man, who had first approached him as Agent Langley, sat down in front of him.

The way Jake smiled, Dominic thought the man would start talking about the next trip, the one into Arnokedic proper.

"It seems we have a friend in common." Jake said.
"A couple from the looks of it." Dominic answered.
"That's not what I meant. I never properly introduced myself, did I?"


"Why the runaround?" Dominic pointedly asked, as they ate their food.
"I have a reputation, and some people have more use for that than they have for me. I needed to find out whether your need for my help was genuine." Jake related.
"And is it?" Dominic asked.
"Tricky question. You believe it is, at the very least. Tricky thing about my kind and theirs is telling the difference between one of us, and a Crafter with a good collection. Usually, I can tell if I'm up close. My source-yours as well- fed me some information on the incident. Certainly disturbing enough to deserve a look."
"I'm relieved to hear you say that." Dominic said.
"Don't be. If this Zarrach character is what you say he is, then there is some nasty stuff going down. It's bad enough considering this government's response to the Borderlands."
"Shouldn't we protect ourselves?"
"One way of protecting yourself is not making unnecessary enemies, not escalating situations carelessly. When they trained me in the military, part of what they taught me to do was get in good with the locals. You fail to do that, and you'll often have a knife at your back at every turn. The Mages have spent years cultivating their relationships with the Borderlanders for precisely that reason. If I had to guess one thing that the Nephilim might try to do, it would be to drive a wedge between them. It would give them greater freedom to operate, territory to work from, allies from the people we've alienated and enraged. We have no power from the Borderlands other than that they agree to give to us, freely or coerced. Coercion will cost us more dearly, and will never lend itself to a stable or healthy relationship ." Jake said.

"Agent Leonard, our mutual friend told me that you're very wary of your superiors in this. Capt. Taylor's pretty much told me the same. Yet I would think they would want to follow up on your lead to make sure Hamilton City doesn't happen again." Jake posed to him.

"There are some who believe that the Nephilim are a figment of your society's imagination, or worse a willing fiction to cover for internal dissension or conspiratorial intentions. There are folks who see the stain of their evil on all of you. They want to find out ways to keep tabs, screen you out, to keep the threat you represent to a minimum. I look at it and I see a defense that's going to be sleeping at the wheel when Morningstar's successor shows up. People don't understand how much information, how many leads there are, and how much effort it takes to separate the good info from the bad.", Dominic said. "That's why I'm here."

Sarah spoke up. "I have to be honest with you: Hamilton City caught us off-guard as well. There seemed to be an understanding between us and our enemies about being discreet with the rest of the world. It seems naive now, but up to that point, both sides had punished or silenced those who threatened that secrecy. I remember the kinds of tricks we were forced to do to hide our little touches when we did our work in the ER. Nobody was ready for this. Not this war, not dealing with the rest of the world in a new way all over again."

"Right now," Jake stated, "We're at a disadvantage. Neither Nephilim nor Elohim can just be trained. When and where they emerge is not under our control. Right now, dealing with those we know of, there's only a handful of Elohim in this world. We know of at least a couple dozen Nephilim."

"Can't you convince them to redeem themselves?"Dominic asked.
"The person they once were is dead inside or corrupted. The presence that makes them what they are rides what's left mercilessly. It does not tolerate its rivals well." Jake answered.
"What about the presence that makes you what you are?" Dominic asked.
"The relationship is more cooperative. I think the Sarah would call it 'symbiotic'. That's important, because he presence changes you in body and mind. If it's evil, like the presence in Morningstar or Sethbaura-"
"David Sheffield. The spirits often have titles. The one he bore meant 'Acolyte' in the old Arkelsa language. Others call mine Ausaka, or 'The Wanderer.' I know, it seems a little strange, but it's somehwhat necessary, given the fact that these things get passed down."
"Like yours from your father."
"That's right. But it went through my brother first." Jake said and paused. The thought gave Dominic pause, too.
"Anyways, there is a change that comes with being indwelt. With us, the changes are more balanced, subtle. What you were before is what you are after, only perhaps more so. The Nephilim often find greater strength in one or more of their talents, but at the expense of putting much more strain and pressure on the host. Whether we're talking changes inside or outside, what's there is no longer recognizably human." Jake explained.

"That fits the man I saw, what he could do." Dominic recalled.
"If its Zarrach the cutter-- He's a master swordsman and has a talent for taking vulnerable minds and removing parts of them the way you or I would peel an onion. There have been cases when he's reduced a person to nothing. And left them that way." Jake recounted.

Dominic felt a chill down his spine. He already knew what just such a violation looked like.

"What you should be after is not revenge for your friend." Jake stated.
"I don't see how it could hurt." Dominic said.
"Your fear, anger, and hatred will become weapons in their hands if you face the Nephilim without them under control. My brother learned that the hard way."

Regardless of Jake's intentions, mention of Isaac Riley, Jake's brother, scared Dominic worse. If an Elohim could be subverted and twisted by such power...
"Zarrach is not quite as powerful as Sethbaura, thank God, but no Nephilim is to be trifled with."
"Are you telling me I shouldn't be involved here?"
"Not really telling you anything, except what you need to know. What you decide from there is up to you. We probably agree here that Sarah and I should be the ones to deal with the Nephilim themselves, but plans like that have a way of unravelling." Jake told him.

"Tell me honestly, then. Am I going to be a help or hindrance here if I do anything more than just hand you a report?" Dominic asked.

Jake closed his eyes, and seemed on the verge of meditating on something then he opened his eyes, he spoke.

"I'm afraid," he answered," we're going to need your help."

Tales from the Borderlands Omnibus

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at September 25, 2006 12:00 PM
Comment #183836

Thank you Stephen,

I’m quite tired at the moment but I’ll review the earlier chapters within the next couple of days to refresh my memory and then read this in it’s entirety.

I do remember how my feelings about both your writing and the blend of fiction with current day events set me aback. I remember by chapter two saying, “wow”, and by chapter three saying, “oooooh”!

While my memory fails me on details I know that chapter four left me wanting more because your writing had just enough twists and turns that I never seemed to know what I thought I knew.

You do have true potential.


Posted by: KansasDem at September 25, 2006 10:19 PM
Comment #201154

This is my type of story and not just because my name is in it—-
I only came across this site after gogleing myself,I didn’t think anything would come up on me as I’m resently 15 years old but thought it would be interesting to learn about other Sarah Cordell’s then I found this and was absouletly delited because I have a thing for magic and si-fi (mostly magic). Then I was interested to find Sarah and I have similar charaistics, I’m med. heighth, blonde and of cource name- my eyes however are green, I’m from the east and don’t have the right brian to be a suregon. Though I do want to be a Doctor/ just a doctor of the mind
anyway- I like the story and I thought it was cool to find my name being used in such a cool character- I mean magic meets medicine how cool is that?

Posted by: Sarah Cordell at January 2, 2007 10:30 AM
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