Democrats & Liberals Archives

Tales from the Borderlands, Part Seven

New monsters roam Dominic Leonard’s world, villains cruel and alien in their ways. He struggles to learn the weapons and tactics of this new battlefield. His efforts have drawn the notice of both friend and foe. Some will seek to save him, others to trap him. None of them, though, truly understand the full, fearsome truth of his destiny.

All roads lead to the wilderness…

It was an honor for Dominic to train under this man, but that didn't quell the tremor in his heart at the sight of him. Edward Merrick, the Lion of Arnokedic, was the sort of man the people who he once investigated would nickname "Tiny". That is, over six foot six and built like a brick shithouse. He wore his long blond hair in dreadlocks, which framed a young, angular face whose most striking features bore down on him now: his eyes, with their golden irises. Dominic could see his reflection in the metal.

There were many people that Dominic had been told could see through people. In Edward Merrick's case, it was the literal truth. The man had lost his eyesight to a warded trap. These were implants made by the Aucethabi, the Elders, a race of Elf-like warriors whose natural, amethyst-purple eyes could achieve the same feat naturally. There were quite a few there, this being a gate city to that realm, the wild world of Darshiaro.

This man was one of the companions who had accompanied John, Jake, and Sarah through on their fateful journey to Hamiliton City. Considering that fact, Dominic couldn't argue with their logic. This man would send most bandits and small animals in his path running on sight.

And that was before he drew his sword. Merrick's sword was huge, a two hander, though for a man of Merrick's size and strength, that requirement was optional. Dominic's sword was what was called a hand-and-a-half sword. If he wanted to, he could wield it two handed, but Dominic used a round, medium-sized shield with it. Merrick joked that it was also called a bastard sword, but this was no judgment on him. Good thing he could joke. If Merrick had been grim and humorless, Dominic might have just taken the first flight home.

As it was, if somebody crept up behind him, he'd be taking flight himself.

He was fortunate to have first trained under Captain John Taylor, this man's former partner. With Taylor, who looked about half his size you had his inhuman strength to deal with, even as he held back. If you could keep from hiding behind the nearest large object after having fought Taylor, you probably wouldn't panic in the face of the weaker, slower giant.

Except you were measuring weak and slow from a Lobanhaki perspective, which meant Dominic was scrambling to keep up, dodging more than blocking.

"Your technique is good for an amateur, but I lament you had John as a teacher." Merrick commented.

A boombox played in the background. Modern music, despite all the swordplay and magic. Some nu-metal band he didn't care for.

The rings were gritty stone, wet with the rains of East Texas. The rings themselves were surrounded with megaliths, rough, rectangular, easily twenty feet tall and five wide. It was like dueling in Stonehenge.

There was some sense to them, though. Earlier, When one of Merrick's magic attacks went astray, a glowing shield flickered around the ring, and glowing symbols briefly flared on the rock's surface as the lethal force was channelled away.

"Because he had to be too careful?" Dominic asked, lunging at him with a series of fierce slashes.

With an elegant series of parries, Merrick regained the advantage. Dominic's blocks were dead ends and he struggled to get the weapon where it needed to be to keep the big blade from relieving him of a limb.

"Because he's no good with a sword. Why do you think he carries that weapon of his?"
"The Changeling?" Dominic asked.

Merrick lowered his sword, point to ground, and rested his arm on it.
"It has a name? I forgot. Wactho loves to give them names. Makes him feel like he's doing something legendary."
"Why is he no good with a sword? I'd expect he'd be an expert, like you."
"The trouble is, John breaks every sword he gets. He's an artist with that staff of his, he should stick to that."

Dominic thought better of telling him what modifications Captain Taylor had made to his weapon. Then he thought back to the man's brother. Mikhale Talderwis. A swordsman. Did he change his weapon because he was jealous of his brother's deadly skill, or did that sword represent a desire for something else?

"I was curious about something. Why didn't Captain Taylor follow his brother home?"
"Apart from the fact they were only recently trying to kill each other?"
"I suppose because he's an American."
"That's obvious."
"Serkal is a place he had no memory of. He doesn't know the language, doesn't know the customs. He knows this place, loves it. However he looks, he's an American at heart."
"Do you think he wants to go anyways?"
"Of course he does. No man wants to be born of nothing, son of nobody. You want to know where his loyalties lie, don't you?"
"Ah, nothing of the sort. Could be useful to have something to tell my superiors, though."
"You're thinking about whether you want to go off the reservation, if your bosses suddenly get cold feet."
"What do you think?"
"You made the effort to get into contact with me, so I could arrange for you to intercept John. You've contacted John, found Jacob Riley, who's taken a shine to you apparently, and you're now here, about to join them on your way to seeking out that Elder bastard Serketh, who's right hand man to a Nephilim psychopath who you've been told can warp people's minds. And you're asking me whether you're committed."
"Committed. Or about to be, if things don't start making more sense."
"Why should it make sense for you? Doesn't to anybody else."

Dominic looked at him.
"Is that so?"
"Now you got it. Laugh or go nuts. Your choice."


Laugh or go nuts. Easy for him to say. One day in the academy at Quantico, he was recounting a set of cases to a student in casual conversation. His friend asked, perhaps not so casually, "Do you ever take a break from this?" Dominic shrugged, said, "Sure," but he didn't say that looking him in the eye. The FBI had their share of people, ambitious not for position, but assignment, and then not for prestige but for the chance to match wits with the crooks, the terrorists, the serial killers. Dominic had been married once, divorced, and was content for now, with his ex-wife remarried, to just flirt with the occasional secretary or fellow female agent.

Even that felt like cheating. His ex-wife would agree. He was married to his job.

What are we now, separated? Or on our second honeymoon?
The shield shifted on his back, the sword at his belt as he walked. All that over the armor.

Cue Kathy Lee Gifford: If my friends could see me noooow!

Maybe this was the equivalent of lingerie... He cut that thought off, along with the feeling he was far too single for his own good. He shoved both thoughts back to the back of his mind.

The streets he walked, and the buildings around them varied as he walked through them. The oldest parts of the city were Aucethabi, flowing, graceful. Looking at them, one could see things under the surface, fleeting glimpses of complex structure in the the translucent crystal underneath. Other parts of the city seemed like old Europe, with cobblestones, and medieval fortifications. Going further, the architecture got stranger. It seemed modern, but it seemed like what some draftsman would come up with if only they had this that or the other thing. It was like Neoclassical got into a car wreck with modernist and Elizabethan. Some of it was obnoxious, some of it brilliant.

He bought a Seyochaba, a pear-like fruit, from a Ritulmidocha in the market.

When he first noticed the bark-skinned leafy-haired borderlanders selling the fruits and vegetables at their stands, he mused aloud to Jake that it seemed an almost macabre thing for them to do.

"Like selling cut up animals at the supermarket?" Jake responded.

Munching on the fruit, Dominic wondered: if people became vegetarians out of sympathy for the animals, Did Ritulmidocha show their solidarity with nature by going on the Atkins diet?

He waved to a couple crab-riding Padzhiri dwarves, who being polite as always, greeted him in return. A pair of Thojikyals-long limbed, gibbon-like creatures with the faces of old men-haggled with a Waurethewa smith, whose skin was black iron and eyes were furnace red. A patrol of Huntsmen walked by, their swords on their shoulders.

It did occur to him then, though, that by all rights he should be self-conscious about the Renaissance Festival get-up. He wasn't. He smiled. A knight in shining armor.

"Agent Leonard?"

He turned around, and his heart dropped to his stomach. Agent Petersen. Rachel Petersen. Dark-haired. Always beat him on the track, always knew some source he didn't. He was better at research. She was the people person in the unit. It typically took a lot to put a look like that on her face. She dealt with all kinds. Dealing with Dominic Leonard, a man some in his unit joked adjusted the cuffs on his suit with a ruler. That was easy.

In this kind of get up?

"A-a-gent Petersen."
"The SAC is not going to like hearing about this." She managed.
The laugh started small, like the smile.
"Oh no he's not," Dominic said.
She just sat there, looking at him funny, the thought going through her head: I never should have let this poor man out of my sight.


They stood in alleyway, Agent Leonard pacing, Petersen leaning against a wall.

"We leave you alone for five minutes and you turn into William Fricking Wallace." she sighed, taking inventory from the boots up. She hoped she could get him back into a suit and tie. He'd never live this down.

"I wish. I get the feeling that everybody here could kick my ass in two seconds." He griped.
"I told you, it's like wandering into Newark after dark. "
"Well, not that bad. I got some heavy hitters on my side here."

Rachel stared at him.

"Not just them. Better than that. I found him. I found Riley, he's here. He wasn't just some urban legend." He said, feeling a nice surge of vindication. "Hell, SAC Green found him, and he didn't even know it. He was the CIA agent who horned in on the interrogation."

Agent Petersen frowned. Jesus. He'd hit the roof if he knew that.
"Wait- that goofball? That's your Elohim?"
"He's Marine Recon. Iraq Veteran. If what they tell me about his abilities are right, he's a force to be reckoned with."
"Then let him reckon with this guy alone."
Dominic thought he heard a note of fear in her voice.

"I'm afraid I can't do that. Riley confirmed Mendelson's theory This guy Magnus is Nephilim."

Her face fell. In Pre-Hamilton City terms, it was like being told a Zarqawi was operating within US borders.

"Jesus, Dom, don't you remember what happened in Hamilton City? Forget that, back in New York?" she asked.

He stood there, his back to her. "We're going to lose the fight against the rackets, these nephilim freaks, if that is our response."

He turned around.
"Within a year, Ievery Mafia lord worth his salt will be wearing a sword, and packing a deflector. What will we do then? Smack them with Smith and Wessons, bean them with the Berettas? Their telepaths will be scouring for snitches, their clairvoyants playing look out... We can't keep doing this. We got to start cooperating with the Huntsmen, we got to start recruiting from the mage population. And yes, we have to start getting use to this kind of equipment. We're gonna be on the fast track to irrelevance if we don't." Agent Leonard summed up.

She looked down at her feet.
"The SAC wants you arrested."
"What for?"
"Protective custody. I"m not certain. He's drawing on the PATRIOT III provisions."
"He thinks these people are on that bastard's side?"
"Well you tell me."
"They've got a statue in the town square of Riley's father. The man defended this town against Morningstar, died fighting him years later. If there's one thing I know, its where their loyalties lie."
"Then come and explain this whole mess to them."
"i'll write it in my report. Serketh and Zarrach aren't going to wait for me to get done explaining this to headquarters."

With that, he walked off. She stared after him helplessly.
Next time I see him, will I have my gun pulled on him?


He knew Green wanted to destroy his career, but an arrest? Why? Even if he did have his suspicions. Even if he had succeeded. What was the point. What was the point?

He had been glad to see her. Much as he liked the people he'd met, she had been part of his team for years now. But damn it. Damn it. She had to show up here. She had to tell him that. He needed to think. He needed to find John. Jake. The others.

He found a convenient wall, and slid to the ground against it. He couldn't breath.

"Are you okay?"

The voice was rough but the tone was gentle. He wore blue jeans , a suit jacket and a dress shirt. Nothing fancy. He wore a full beard, a head of short, wooly hair, both dark. His skin was dusky. Middle East, but maybe a little strange. Brown eyes, peaceful, but no pained tension behind them.

"I'm in trouble." Dominic admitted.

"Of course you are, Dominic."

Dominic stared at him.

"I want you to listen closely. There are three people who are going to die if you don't help them. The first is your partner. The second is John Taylor. The third will be your boss. Their lives are in your hands."

He got up, and the man followed with him.

"Who are you and what do you want?" Dominic asked, the frost creeping around his words.
"My name is Joshua, and I want you to help them." Joshua said evenly.
"I don't know what that means."
"Yes you do. Find her before they do. Go, you have no time to lose." Joshua told him.

He ran, back toward the ancient core of Arnokedic.



Faded out. She could see them, but it was almost as if something in her brain rebelled agains seeing them. Regardless of what she could see, what she did see was enough to freeze her in her tracks. Others in the crowd did the same, backed away.

They faded all the way in. After that, if she had been asked, she would have said she preferred them invisible. It wasn't that they were all ugly, or all scary. They were all just wrong. Claws, teeth, fur, eyes borrowed from all over the animal kingdom, some with features that seemed alien to anything she knew.

Anybody who watched the footage from Hamilton city knew them, and most hated them.
"Seems like Jake was right to send me out."

She turned around, and saw John Taylor standing there, his weapon out in its compact form.
"Leave." He said.
She waited.

"That was not a suggestion, Agent Petersen." He said in a voice so even she took a step back without even realizing it. The loud snap as he extended his weapon sent her back another step.

The Seared. She could hardly believe her eyes. Most of the soldiers that stormed the city were mercenaries, but thousands of Morningstar's forces had been these creatures. The Mages said they were once human. Many had even been changed back by the Mages, particularly the being that most people knew simply by appearance.

The Lady of Golden Light. Some said she was a simply a powerful mage. Others said she was something more than that, that she intervened on behalf of a higher power. She was not the only mysterious being who showed up. There was also the being that faced Morningstar, and who many alleged closed up the wild gate he had opened in the middle of the city.

But neither was here. Her suspicion of what that meant was confirmed as the first Seared one pounce.

John moved so fast she almost didn't see it, smashing the creature to the ground. The blood that struck her face unfroze her, and she ran.

What she didn't stay to watch was interesting in its own right. John jumped shoulder-first into the next Seared warrior, lifting him off his feet and bashing him into a nearby wall. The Seared across the street though he had an opening. John swept his hand past a set of spikes he kept on his thigh, and threw the sharp, smooth, stainless steel weapon at his opponent. The spike chimed as it hit his head, inches of it through the man's skull. The next spike John threw passed through the neck of one poor target and into the face of the one behind him, knocking him off his feet.

He closed the distance in great strides, startling speed. His whirling staff lifted his targets off their feet and bashed them all over the street. He jump over the shoulder of another, grabbed armor with his left hand, and hurled the man over his shoulder. John jumped into the air about fifteen feet, spun, and laid out another soldier with a swing of his staff as he landed.

John was doing fine at this point, except he didn't know the full disposition of the Seared's forces. As he fought, several moved into positions behind him. Having no active magical talent besides his physical strength and power, he had no way of knowing of them, or the four creatures that were pursuing Agent Petersen, unknown to her.

John's attackers leaped from the rooftops and charged him. His current attackers were doing their job too well, could he turn in time? Dark thoughts ran through his head as his remaining attackers kept him from breaking through.

"Get away from him you ugly bastards!" came the cry.

The Seared turned around. Fortunately for Dominic, he didn't hesitate. He swung his sword in a sweeping upwards slash that laid out his first opponent before the creature was even fully turned.

He instantly felt queasy as the blood sprayed, but he had already had his shield out to protect his side and his sword around for the next attack. The club of the next creature glanced off the shield, and Dominic shoved the sword point into the Seared one's unprotected side. He spun around, yanking the sword out and swinging his round shield so the edge struck his next opponent in the jaw. The blow took the soldier from his feet, and he followed up with an overhead stab of his sword.

That was his first real mistake of the fight. The sword got stuck between the tightly fitted cobblestones A trollish beast of a Seared came at him swinging a war hammer. To both their surprise, a spike flew past Dominic and struck the creature in the chest.

Dominic looked back and saw John turn back to this fight.

He gave up the sword as lost, and took out the club he had been given on Padhzir. The Growler.

Before, he had hesitated to use it, but his enemies were close and picking up one of their fallen soldier's weapons would have given them an opening. He unsheathed the weapon from his back and stood at guard, breathing heavily. His next enemy came at him.

Here goes.

He blocked the Seared One's attack with his shield and whacked him across the head. The hit was awkward, and it shouldn't have been enought to kill him, but it did. The instant the Growler made contact, a shockwave slammed through his body, not like that which would have hit him had a bomb gone off next to him. There was no blast wind to shred his body, but blood poured from his ears, nose, throat and eyes as he dropped to the ground. The next attacker took advantage of his astonishment at the man's gooey fate and almost suprised him with an overhead axe strike. Almost. Still, it was enough of a shock that he fell from his feet dodging the slash. even then, has he lost his feet, though, he took the Growler and socked him in the stomach with its end.

He might as well have put both barrels of a shotgun into him. The force blasted him backward, with a hole blown in his stomach by the shockwave. It was an effective defensive attack, no doubt, but another soldier came up and he was still on his back.

A shot rang out. Of all things. But whoever had shot it, this Seared was obviously not wearing a deflector. He toppled like a tree-trunk.

John bashed the last two of his Seared down. He collapsed his weapon . He followed Dominic's eyeline. Agent Petersen held the still smoking handgun.

Dominic got up, looked at himself. Bloody all over. He looked around. He almost puked on the spot. He had shot men dead before, but this... He dropped the Growler. He would later put in back in its sheath, but he would never again use it on a human being.

John walked towards him, yanked. The sword came free from both man and stone.

"I don't want it." Dominic almost sobbed.
"You'll need it"
John took stock of Dominic's handiwork. Was this the man he'd been training days before?
The look on his face, the same he had seen when Dominic was visiting that diner in New York with Jake, told him yes. Rachel walked towards them. Dominic started walking towards her. Then he saw them.

"No!" He ran for her, and she ran from them. They were still too far apart. He saw a piece of metal flash past him, and hit one of the soldiers in the chest. Three more. Dominic heard John snap open his weapon. Out of throwing spikes. She turned, fired a volley of shots at her pursuers. One got hit, went down. The next one was wearing a deflector. Her gun went empty. She turned and ran again, but they had closed.

Then he remembered. He was still carrying his gun. He had not thought about it while facing enemies that he knew might be carrying deflectors. He took it out and shot at them.

The first few shots hit the deflector of the lead. Dominic felt the panic rise up.

Then a deflected shot grazed the next one's arm. Dominic immediately zeroed on that one and shot him dead. He dropped his gun, and caught a sword as John tossed it.

But they weren't going to make it.

She ran. He could see the fear in her eyes.

The golden light shining brightly came at the Seared from behind, .

Dominic and Agent Petersen met halfway, at arms length. She turned around. Crowds of people on the street looked at what was happening.

Rachel's last pursuer was collapsed on his back, and waves of energy shone around him in an enveloping shell. It seemed so familiar. There was the shape of a woman amidst that energy and she knelt at the Seared one's side. The wind blew around them.

All of a sudden, everything was still, everthing was silent.

Then a note, sung by a beautiful voice. Heartbreakingly beautiful. It rang out unusually. It didn't fade. The echoes seemed to gather back from elsewhere, and their energy concentrated back where they came from. Like a supernova, a shock of golden light washed over the scene.

When the light cleared, all the Seared who had managed to hang onto life where whole again.

More than that, human. The cyclone of light unravelled like a scroll being rolled back onto its holder, and into a woman who knelt over a newly healed and restored man.

Rachel knew this was an Elohim, what Dominic had gone on this awful search for. Both she and Dominic knew two things, the moment the light faded. This was Sarah Cordell, and Sarah was the one whose appearance had been a herald of grace in the midst of the catastrophe of Hamilton City.

Sarah was the Lady of Golden Light.


Jake came back not a few moments later.
"They're targeting your people. They mean to kill them within Arnokedic and blame the mess on the Huntsmen and the Mages." He flatly stated.
"Kill FBI agents. How did they know we were coming? We didn't plan this!" Rachel remarked.
"A mole, on the inside." Dominic intuited. "If it's Seared, it's Nephilim. But it's odd. Zarrach liked being on his own, doing a lot of his own killing."
"You're thinking Ba'alim?" Jake asked.
"What's that?" Dominic.
"These guys are corrupted version of us. Some Elohim, like myself, work off the spur of the moment, the chaos in the forces of nature. Zarrach and Sethbaura are like that. Very dangerous, but not necessarily all that powerful or invincible. Others are like Sarah, wield more of their power from the order in nature. The Ba'alim, of which Morningstar is one, use order-based magic, visions, and preparations in order to do their work. We know there are at least a handful of them out there. We know that on either side, those who work by order work closely with those who use the forces of chaos." Jake explained.

"So you suspect a Morningstar-like figure guiding Zarrach. Or at least keeping him in line." Rachel said.
"They call him the Prophet, and he's a real worrisome son of a bitch. He's got a talent for subverting people, exploiting their loyalties and beliefs. And it's not out of the question that he's the case officer running the mole" Jake told her.
"What do we do?" Dominic asked.
"Good question, why are we sitting here talking?"
"I get these hunches sometimes. Sometimes they're more than that. I followed one to your lodgings and found your team about to be attacked by another twenty Seared." Jake explained.
"I hope we were of help to you." Rachel said.
"Sorry. They don't know. At least the ones on our side. The Seared were split up into hit squads, and I took them out within the building. Sarah broked the enchantment on the survivors after I was done." Jake said.

Neither Rachel nor Dominic could believe that, after the fight they had been through. For the first time, Dominic got a sense of just who he had gone after. This man was as scary as Zarrach in his own way. Somehow, that seemed appropriate.

"So is it over? Do we just proceed as planned?" Dominic asked.
"It's not over. They will try again. Or maybe they'll let us create a political firestorm by putting your people under a security lockdown." Jake responded.
"Green would go ballistic. He'd say you were interfering with an investigation to protect Dom here." Rachel said.

Sarah spoke up.
"Let's not, then."
She smiled then, her golden brown eyes twinkling.


Dominic sat paging though a law book in the library. Agent Petersen sat down across from him.
"What are you reading... PATRIOT III?"
"Looking for some loopholes. Perhaps a way to challenge this whole mess." Dominic responded.
"I thought you hated it."
"It depends on the parts you're talking about. We needed some of these things. But a lot of it is vague, badly worded, badly thought out. Not to mention all the lightning rods for the Civil Liberties crowd. Nobody sat down on any of these versions and thought out just how things would work in the real world." Dominic complained.
"And now you're trying to use that to your advantage." she said, smiling.

He abruptly stood up and hurled the thick book across the room.

"Dom what's-"
"It's shit. If the law doesn't hang together, it can make things worse. Parts get challenged because they're unconstitutional, and we haven't thought up the alternative. They wrote this law with no perspective on events, no idea of the real world requirements, no investigation to guide them. Besides, even if its the best law in the world, they're not following up. They're not leading a change in the politics. They're trying to substitute attitude for aptitude here, and we're going to pay for it sooner or later." Dominic complained.
"But it's what we needed. If you're getting attacked, you can't wait to act. You can't wait until you've got everything perfect. How long will it take to understand these people? To get in good with them, understand them? We don't have that kind of time." She countered.

Dominic's face clouded up. She knew that look. He was hammering away at what she said in his head.

He went back to the book he had thrown and picked it up.

He looked at her with a half smile. "No, we don't. But our mistakes will count against us, may even cost us the game. We were caught off guard, and time is of the essence. But this is just costing us more time chasing our tails. We've learned a lot since then. We ought to be applying what we've learned, and giving the people we're expecting to protect us the material support they need to do that. But instead, we get this. A person practically has to become an outlaw, a traitor, to even suggest taking the fight to the enemy where they take the fight to us."

Rachel frowned, then said "When all the stuff came out after Hamilton city, I had these fantasies that the Mages would all come to our side and help us out in Iraq. Win that war for us. I never expected it to spread."

In the months after Hamilton City, all kinds of wars had broken out, now fought with magic and swords in addition to everything else. On top of that, al-Qaeda terrorists were now free to use their "Gifts from God". Iraq detonated like a bomb, all sides using their member's newly revealed powers to surge into surrounding nations like shrapnel.

"Technology feeds our wishes. It doesn't grant them. Magic has changed the battlefield. It hasn't changed much of who's fighting or why, or what makes a strategy work or not work." He observed.

"What do you think of this hare-brained plan of ours?" Agent Petersen asked.
"I think a lot depends on just what kind of a man Jacob Riley really is. He's going to have to really yank our fat out of the fire on this one." Dominic stated.
"In case we don't get a chance to talk after this, let me tell you thanks." Rachel said.

That got his attention. He looked up. "It was nothing. You saved my ass, I saved yours ."
"You saved John, too. He told me. You really did turn into William Wallace. What's wrong?"
"Nothing. You better report back to Green."

That expression. She'd seen it before, from guys right back from Iraq. The taste for glory gone. Before, he had tasted the fight from a distance. Now he'd been close enough to feel the hot blood, to feel the fear, the thrill, the guilt. And she had just made a joke out of it.

Was this the future of the fight? The horrors of war split between those who admire the grace and glory of the winners, and those who have to pay the price?

"Of course. Plan's not going to work if I don't show up." She said.

As she turned to leave, something occured to him. he grabbed her hand.

"Keep an eye on SAC Green. Somebody told me his life's in danger. Same person that told me about you and Captain Taylor." Seeing the look in his eyes, she knew he wasn't mad. It was good to know that.

"I'll do that."

He didn't watch her leave. He was in no mood to continue reading. He stood up from his chair and found Jacob Riley standing right there.
"Good Heavens."

Damn that guy was like a ghost.
"We're leaving."


It didn't take long for him to figure out that they weren't headed for the gate just yet.

"Where are we going?"
"Back to the diplomatic compound."
"Where the other agents are?"
"They've gotten the tip, and they've gathered around the gate. They've left a crew behind and that crew is going to be attacked."

Something in Dominic's gut sank.
"Defend yourself if necessary, but leave most of the fighting to me. Your job on this is to give these people a familiar face to latch onto."

They entered the compound and hurried through the hallways. Jake was walking, but Dominic found himself running to catch up to the man's pace.

The place was evidently constructed in Victorian times, and had that old world look and feel. The carpets were burgundy, the walls brown stained wood and reddish wall papers. The lamps, retrofitted with electric sockets in the last century, featured flourescent bulbs.

When they got to the room, there was an unusual cluster of agents in front of the door.

Jake didn't even break stride. He took his walking stick and held it out to his side like a sword. Then without much fanfare, the rune-covered wood became one, with the ease that one let a breath out.

What the hell was he planning to do? Then it hit him in the pit of his stomach. Suddenly, Dominic's vision shifted. It was almost like a shift of focus, but suddenly he saw who those in the cluster really were. Then he understood.

There were at least ten Seared there. They seemed to tense up as if to start a big noisy fight.

Too late. Jake's sword glowed green as stepped into the first one's guard, weaved the sword in and out of the man's defenses, and cut through him. Energy burned through the soldier, and he collapsed into a pile of ashes. Jake kicked another in the chest. slashed another through the gut whirled around, decapitated another. He stabbed his sword into the floor and clapped his hands together. He flung his hands apart and a shockwave of energy tore into the survivors, knocking them back against the walls. They collapsed, paralyzed, wierd glyphs of green light set on their chests.

Holy shit.

Jake turned back his way, and he saw the man's eyes. His eyes literally glowed like Emeralds. This was not the warm, humorous man he knew, this was something else. What was this spirit that inhabited this man? Was it good or evil? Was this even a tenth of what it was capable of?

He headed for the door and waved his hand over it, the lock clicking open.

"Go in, keep your fellow agents occupied. I'll take care of the rest."
"What do I say to them?"
"Tell them the truth. Won't have to explain as much later, then."

Dominic walked in.

Three agents, coats off, looked up. They only saw Dominic, and it took him a second to realize that.
"I don't have time to explain everything. We've been infiltrated. One of the people on our team is a spy connected to the group responsible for Hamilton City."

Agent Hudson, a short, middle aged man looked at him and walked over.
"Green's looking for you, you know that?"
"I'm well aware of what he wants. Agent Petersen was assaulted by a Seared Hit team. They were this close to getting her. They're coming after us. They want to provoke an intersociety incident."

"It looks like they succeeded."
Slim, tall, They called him Bones, which was preferable to being called Irwin. To everybody else, this young man was Agent Schlesinger.
"Succeeded in attacking, but not in striking their intended targets. They wanted your corpse lined up in a gate city."
"Look, Agent Leonard, I'm not going to believe that until I see-"

Jake drug a pair of paralyzed Seared past Agent Schlesinger, and dropped them in the middle of the carpet. Without a word or even a look at anybody in the room he went into the next room and drug out two more.

Schlesinger stared at Jake.
"Who the hell is this?"
"I'm Agent Leonard's consultant, Jacob Riley" After dropping the restrained soldiers, He walked over to the federal agents and shook their hands. He went to Dominic and whispered in his ear.
"I've taken care of eight of the ten I expected here. There are still two here somewhere."
"Can't you find them?"
"They don't always announce themselves. I'm going to go outside, see if they're hanging on the walls."

Standing off in the corner, Agent Rigetti skeptically looked on. He approached him and looked the armor up and down. "You know, I can understand him in that get up, but not you."

"Let me paint a picture for you. A guy's got a axe or a sword, he's wearing a deflector, so nothing's hitting him. And the fucker's charging at you. When he gets within reach of you, do you want to be wearing a silk suit and clubbing at him with your empty pistol ?" Rigetti backed off a bit, startled by the iron in his voice.

He stepped around to the Seared, restrained by whatever strange spell Riley had applied to them.

"Is that blood?" Schlesinger asked, looking at his armor.
"I'm afraid it is. Got into a fight with these gentlemen on the way here."
"What was it like?"
"I'd just as soon not talk about it right now." Dominic said.

Rigetti noticed him looking around. "What are you looking for?"
"Unpleasant surprises." Dominic replied.

Something nagged at him, a tickle in his gut. He felt something slipping and sliding around his perception. It was the same way he felt when he saw the counterfeit agents outside the quarters. He frowned. He should know better than to be this jumpy, but the sneakiness of these bastards was nothing short of extraordinary.


Agent Petersen found most of the Agents under Green's command holed up in the building that housed the Gate's guard garrison. There was a plaque near the entrance with the names of the twenty-two Huntsmen guards that many regarded as the first casualties of Hamiliton City.

This was the gate that lead to Darshiaro. To get to it, Mikhale went through about forty Huntsmen first.
Darshiaro led to Hamilton City, which is where the assassin Mikhale was last sighted, fighting his brother.

His brother; man she would meet here. John Taylor. The man who had just saved her life. To play her part correctly, she would have to treat him with a degree of gratitude, but also seems suitably distant. Green couldn't know that she had taken his side to the degree she had. He wouldn't tolerate it.

"You should know we object to this intrusion here. We will take it up with the Attorney General." John said
She was taken aback for a moment, then she remembered the parts they were to play.
"Once the Mages who have him cross over, he will be out of both of our jurisdictions until such time as they feel like bringing him back through the Hamilton City Gate. Which may be never." Standard line.
"I understand your concerns, but if he does end up in Darshiaro, we have greater experience in bringing people back, and the contacts with the Aucethabi and Baacasu community to make sure our reach extends beyond the limits of the Road's protective wards.

The Gate Roads, and individual Planar Gates set around the world lead to different worlds, known collectively as the Borderlands. The Borderlands, which constituted a menagerie of alternative versions of Earth, all had one thing in common: move beyond the protective wards built into the road's rock and crystal pavement stones, and within a day or so's time, the body and mind you once had would change to that of one of the humanoid colony races. In this case, one would become one of the Elders, the Aucethabi. They were elf-like, but their realm was a wild place, and so were they. These weren't safe, benevolent artisans, but unsentimental, near-immortal warriors whose skill in illusion and magical trickery were strong enough at times to confound even the wariest intruders.

Darshiaro itself, around the Gate Road, was going to be similar in climate and topography to the Pacific Northwest, a temperate Rainforest climate along the spine of a set of coastal mountain ranges. The trails criss-crossed these mountains, before coming out into the Chekthauf Nucghal, a windswept valley of golden grasslands, where the gate out would be found.

Wagons, beasts of burden, not all species she recognized. A few agents she recognized. Where was Green? She went over and talked to them. Green had gone out in the woods with some guide to inspect the fortifications. The agent point over towards a hill overlooking the walled approach to the gate.

The people who made the fortifications wanted to make it nearly impossible for a hostile army to march out of the gate and sack the nearby city. The walled approach formed a bottleneck that ensured that an army flooding out of the gate would find itself blocked from the approach, and shot up from the walls. This was fairly common Gate city feature. Interestingly enough, the walls were often fairly old. The stones here were quarried over five hundred years ago.

A Huntsman Guard let her out the back door of the Guardhouse.

She would be some ways out before John showed up and spoke to him.

She was told to follow the scenic path, which lead to a hill known as the Arnokedic Lookout. The place was thickly forested, so it was more by luck than any sense of direction that she found her way up to the top. True to its name, it was an impressive view. The evening sky was darkening, the glowing blue of the gate rippling up to the sky. To the west was the city itself, with the old city center, the wall around that, the outlying neighborhoods and districts, and the newer wall. Around that new wall flowed a local river, over which a long causeway stretched.

She tore her eyes from this picturesque landscape and focused on getting further down the trail. It didn't take long for here from there to find SAC Green. It just took her a minute to understand what she was seeing when she finally did.

He was kneeling in front of a disc of red crystal, and there was this man-sized image of some kind of being . A ghostly white aura burned around it, Bright, harsh, awful.

The being itself?

She had seen pictures of the sun in science programs, with the texture of all those cells of plasma boiling on the sun's surface. But where light boiled to surface of the sun, only darkness came up from within this being, and in the places where the light touched it, it was consumed by the being and its shadowy substance. The sight of it chilled her to the bone.

Her boss was kneeling in front of it.


That nagging feeling still gnawed at Dominic as he looked around. His hand settled on a paper weight. He saw it out of the corner of his eye. A fellow agent had a gun pulled. he turned. Agent Rigetti had a gun to his head Everything cleared. He threw the paper weight just as the agent fired, hitting him in the wrist. The shot went past Rigetti's ear.

His attention turned to the other guy as he shot Agent Hudson in the chest. The sword seemed to come out of its own accord and he charged the man. The man shot at him. The bullets went wide every time, even as he closed in on him.

Rigetti turned towards his attacker, who was bringing his gun back. It was a race between Rigetti's shot and his assailant's.

Hudson's shooter dropped his illusion; a groteque lizard-scaled man took his place, unsheathing his sword at the same time. The attacker swung at Dominic. The sword seemed to guide itself as he blocked it.

Rigetti got in his shot, fired. The man was spun off his feet by the shot. his features morphed, becoming like that of a wild boar, complete with that species' natural good looks.

Dominic swung his shield around and intercepted the next blow. He then stabbed the guy in the chest. Rigetti's attacker lay on the ground, the FBI agent standing over him, gun pointed at him. He turned around.

The Creature started to stand, but found itself paralyzed as Jake put his walking stick to the man's throat. He drew his hand up, gestured with his fingers. Glowing glyphs lit on his fingertips and he struck the man in the chest with them. The ward ignited on his chest, like on all the others. Rigetti looked on, a hand to a bleeding ear. The closeness of the shot had blasted his eardrum.

He strode over to the other, to Dominic.
"I apologize for that. Seems like they didn't go as far as I thought."

He knelt down and warded Dominic's defeated opponent.
"We need to call an ambulance-" he started. Jack knelt down, and spread his open left hand over Agent Hudson's chest. Hudson gasped, contorted in pain. The bullet whipped into Jake's left hand. Jake's right hand slid in underneath his left. the hand hovered over the wound Agent Hudson's breathing eased. Dominic saw the flesh below knit up. Then, as quick as it had started, it was done.

Hudson sat up, amazed. He was close enough to see Jake's face, the emerald glow of his eyes.

Energy gathered around Jake, a faint fractal trace weaving across the floor towards the other agent. Suddenly, the pained look on Rigetti's face was gone. His hand went down from his ear. The blood seeped back up into his ear.

Jake stood there, a peaceful look on his face. A proud look. Looking at the agents, Dominic knew the obvious: Jacob Riley could take Dominic out of this room, and nobody would stand in his way. If he asked, some might even come with him. For some reason, seeing this reassured Dominic about their confrontations with the Nephilim. The man who could stand against the Nephilim had to be more than just powerful.

"Lets get going, Agent Leonard. Darshiaro awaits."


What was it she just saw? What was that creeping dread she felt looking at that dreadful apparition? She ran when she got far enough away, the thought bouncing around in her head as she tried to wrap her mind around that madness. Then, all at once, she stopped, and the feeling was like a freight train had passed full-speed inches from her face. One word came to here mind.

Nephilim. Whether it was Zarrach or someone else, she was certain she had just seen one, in its raw form. There was no spy, no mole in the ranks. The infiltrator ran her unit. W

On further thought, she dismissed the idea that the being had been Zarrach. From all descriptions Dominic gave of the situation, Zarrach, while in charge of some, was little more than a very powerful foot-soldier, answering to someone else. No, this had to something else. The Prophet? She hoped not, but that being, given what Jake had said, was a prime suspect.

As she tried to catch her breath, calm her mind, a chilling thought entered her head: How many more men and women bowed before that creature? It was bad enough considering those who were forced to become soldiers for those monster. How could one serve a being like that and not sit down one day, and stick a gun in your mouth?

Evidently, the SAC had struck just that kind of bargain. For money? Prestige? Frustrated ambition?

Did it matter? Yes it did, Dominic would say. The motive gave you your handle on the suspect. But she knew that for the time being, that would be a moot point. She needed to get in and stay in. She needed to become the undercover agent in her own unit, running a sting on her boss. Then she could find out his direction, his intent, his involvement. She wondered how'd she do it on her own. Perhaps she'd need to recruit some others, but who would she take into her confidence?

Green walked up the hill. When she noticed him, she almost panicked, but then she realized, she had a perfectly good reason to be sweaty, out of breath, dissheveled, and out there in the woods.

She told him the truth about why she had ventured out this far. He told her everybody had been worried about her since they heard about the incident.

"It's good you're here. We got to get our boy back. He's fallen in with some bad folks."

Agent Petersen didn't like the sound of that.


She saw them coming down the path. She stood by Green, who peered grimly over the barricades, down the bottleneck of the Gate's fortifications.

Green knew she was up to something. He had seen the footprints from where she had run. He had to be careful, though. If he confronted her, he might inadvertantly tell here something she didn't know. Then he would have to let his master deal with her, and he liked her far too much to leave her to the tender mercies of the Shining Ones. He was already having to let them have that dear boy Dominic.

That hurt, but he wasn't the first sacrifice the man made. Nor, SAC Green thought, would he be the last man he'd betray. It had to be done. It all came down to this. The Prophet had told him that even the most powerful of the Elohim rebels had their limits. The same went for the deflectors. Shoot enough bullets at once, and the deflection would weaken. None of his men would have to do this; the Seared, devoted to their masters, would do the job.

They zeroed in on the two.

Dominic saw the guns out, the agents aiming at them. Even wearing the deflector, he didn't like the odds. The way that wily old dwarf Wactho had explained it, the angle of incidence was everything. A straight shot would barely be deflected. Such a shot was always unlikely, but given enough chances, the unlikely would occur. With Jake, he wasn't sure what kinds of charms were on the guy, but it was a sure bet that he couldn't stop speeding bullets.

Dominic had that nagging feeling again. Something seemed to be off about some of the agents. The thought lead to a terrible conclusion. Either one or both of them were targets. The arrest warrant was just meant to wrap them up in one nice convenient place.

"Got any ideas, Jake?" Dominic asked.
When he turned to catch Jake's response, which he thought was forthcoming, he was greeted by two things: Jake's silence, and the fact that he was on his knees.

"Get on the ground, with your hands behind your head!" a lead agent demanded.
"Whatever you do, don't do what they say." Jake whispered.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm praying."
"For what?"
"An answer."
"The answer? Like how the hell we get past them?"
"Quiet. Don't kneel or anything. Stand firm. Let me concentrate."

Dominic wondered how he was going to manage that.

The hammers pulled back, the clicks putting a thrill of fear through his heart. Agent Petersen looked frightened. Somehow his eyes found hers. It was alright. She couldn't have known. It wasn't an arrest, it was an assassination. It was alright, they'd done what they could.

Dominic found the calm seeping in from the edges of his awareness. He could not control everything. He would never do so. He would struggle, fight, and maybe sometimes win, but sooner or later, as if by a breaking wave, he would be swept from his feet. He was in other hands now.

High up above the wall, a Seared Sniper had him in his sights. The time was right, the minion decided. He pulled the trigger. The bullet screamed through the air and into Dominic's deflector. The Deflector did its job. The Sniper knew this would happen. That bullet was just the excuse for all the others.

Which would never come. The Sniper's ears were greeted with what sounded like a twenty guns jamming all at once. Which they had. Everybody's reaction was the same.

Dominic and Rachel let go of tense breaths.

The agents messed with their weapons, but it was too late.

A silent wave of pure white light came from Jake. Rachel, looking on. She recalled the harsher glow of that being she saw before, and felt this light to be its polar opposite. Energy rippled the air around him, and shimmering emerald light glimmered out of it.

He stood up, hands outwards, palms up, his head down, his eyes closed and the shimmering disturbances of energy flowed up in two breaking waves, curving around in front of him. Rachel's first thought looking at this is that it couldn't be what it looked like, that Jacob Riley couldn't be what he seemed to be.

He snapped his head up, eyes glowing. The waves of energy spreading outwards to his sides.

The Guns were hit, yanked out of their hands, instantly stripped to parts, left hanging in mid-air like technical drawings brought to life. Slowly all settled to the ground, and all eyes settled on Jacob Riley.

He glowed like a star on earth, light everywhere, his eyes Emeralds in the midst of pearl. incomprehensible letters played beneath the flesh of his exposed arms, like living tattoos. Around his head, a nimbus glowed.

Behind him, and to his sides, the wings of energy shimmered. They were not wings of flesh and blood, but the mind had to have some means to grasp what it saw, so that was what it settled on.

Dominic stood in the midst of all this, in the protection of this being. He knew where he had seen this before. He knew who it was in front of him. Most of the people who had seen the Battle of Hamilton City had glimpsed him, had seen him fight with the Nephilim over the devastated ruins of its skyline, and nearly every agent and witness knew what they were in the presence of.

Elohim. Spirit and man.

Angel and man.

"Stay sharp" Jake said, his voice whispered, yet resounding from the depths of time, "They still seek your life."

The Seared threw off their disguises, came after him with their swords drawn. They came for him, screaming, bounding past surprised agents. Jake took his brightly glowing staff and slammed its end into the ground. A blast of wind, like a tornado, tore away from him, knocking people off their feet.

it burned the creatures to ashes, leaving their shadows alone on the walls, while not singing a hair on anybody else's head.

Dominic lowered his arms. The light around Jake flared brighter.

The light swallowed him.

The being streaked down the walls towards the gate, and disappeared into it.


There was no trace whatsoever of Jacob Riley or Agent Dominic Leonard, of course. Nobody expected to find them there. What concerned Special Agent Green was that others like John Taylor and Sarah Cordell had left, too, in all the confusion.

If he had known to look for Joel Thobiksef, the Elder, or retired Huntsman Edward Merrick, he would have found them missing as well.

SAC Green had been outwitted. It would not reflect well on him towards his master. He had to find something to do, to somehow salvage this debacle. The more religious of his agents were calling it a miracle. The less religious were fearful of the power of a creature that could field strip dozens of weapons and vaporize men at will. Others? Others considered it a humiliation. Those he put in charge. He re-emphasized the need for people to be team players, to be loyal to the right cause. Some of them balked at pursuing Jacob Riley.

Those he introduced to some new friends.

And Agent Petersen? He had his eye on her. From the look on her face, it was obvious she had no idea this would happen. Nonetheless, Green knew she and Agent Leonard were good friends. He knew this would wear on her, that perhaps she had already been gotten to. No matter. He would keep her close. That's what you do with folks like her.

"We're headed down the Road of Souls. We're going to keep our pursuit of them up." He told her.
"Are these men trained for that? A Borderland world is nothing to screw around with, even with the right guides."
"We'll be fine, I've made arrangements." he told her.

Arrangments he had made, but unbeknownst to him, other arrangements had been made for him.

Author's Note
I've written seven of these stories already, and hope to continue writing them. My plans are to continue these stories on as near to a weekly basis as I can.

Some of you may wonder what the point of these stories are.

Partly it's for the sake of variety. Nonfiction is nice, but I have my fun doing this kind of stuff. I was well on my way to being a wannabe filmmaker before I became a wannabe political pundit. Part of it's a fictional experiment, using political issues of the time to form the backbone of richer science fiction and fantasy material, more real-world, despite the obvious departures.

But a large part of this is the examination that fiction allows of who we are, of what we yearn to be. Right now, we star in our own stories, facing the dilemmas that were just the stuff of fiction several years ago. Hollywood envisioned any number of terrorist hijackings in recent times, including the film Executive Decision, where Jihadist terrorists were trying to use a hijacked jet to fly a chemical bomb to the United States. In 1997's The Peacemaker a group of loners take a hijacked nuclear weapon and try to blow up Manhattan with it. Even Beavis and Butthead get into the act, with the two unwittingly becoming mules for a supersecret viral weapon.

America was saturated with movies and novels about terrorist attacks. Even one had eerie echoes of what happened on 9/11: Tom Clancy's Debt of Honor, where a Japanese general, having just lost a war with the United States, flies a jet into Capitol Hill.

If there's a point to what I write in these stories, its mainly about this: what does a country do in the wake of a terrible event like 9/11? What does it do when science and technology change the landscape of the fight between good and evil? How do we engage an enemy that strikes from the shadows, with seemingly little remorse? What hope is there for a society where we follow the better angels of our characters, even while trying to face a ruthless enemy?

Hopefully, I write these things well enough that you folks will enjoy the ride. If not? Well there's another motive behind all this: writing for an audience. I might argue a little with the feedback, but I certainly want to improve what I do. Writing is about communication, and I wish to communicate my stories well.

Until next time...

Tales from the Borderlands Omnibus

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at November 12, 2006 9:28 PM
Comment #194897

Steven Daugherty- I enjoyed your story a great
deal, an I believe the word bastards,
does not seem to fit the scheam of things.

Posted by: DAVID at November 13, 2006 5:13 PM
Comment #194909

If you’re talking about the weapon, there is a such category of sword. If my hunch is right, you’re likely talking about the word Dominic Leonard used when charging the Seared on the Arnokedic street.

If that’s the case, I don’t know. To me, it seem the right word for him.

The first story I wrote with the Jake, Sarah, and John in them began with Jake only beginning to wake up to his abilities, Sarah just a generic healer, and John pretty much what he is now. In the first battle Jake had against the Seared, I can tell you, his word for them was considerably saltier, preceded by the promise that he was going to drop ever last one of the [obscenity]s if they didn’t let Sarah go.

For the considerably more nerdy Dominic, calling somebody a bastard was something of a departure, but considering he was wading into a real battle for the first time, it almost made sense that he would make the two departures together.

For Jake, in my first work (a screenplay written before this series), the line was to be delivered deadpan, a threat by a recently returned Iraq War veteran trying to intimidate his enemy.

The last part, I think, is going to be the source of some delicious complication in terms of both the writing and the political sensibilities of the next parts of this work. The thing to consider there will be the following:

1)I intend to be realistic to how people act in the real world.

2)The hosts for these spirits, Elohim or Nephilim, are only human, and are fallible despite their stronger connection to divine, diabolical or supernatual forces.

3)I do intend to address many of the political issues of how religion, actions, and other factors feed into politics, into choices made.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 13, 2006 7:33 PM
Comment #194937


I very much enjoy every new chapter of “Tales” because of your writing. This may actually be somewhat of a new genre, part satirical novella, and part political allegory.

And yet it’s something else. I printed part three so I could read it in the “reading room” (OK, that means while I’m on the crapper) and while my son was visiting he said, “What game does this text go with”? Of course I explained that it was not a game text but since then he looks forward to every new chapter.

My son Robert thinks you have a damn good game text going here. Robert is quite intelligent but he suffered a severe brain injury when he was 12 years old and he’s now 26, but he’s very intelligent and grows bored very quickly.

Your writing stimulates his mind!

So, that’s two thumbs up from me and my son (who happens to think that X-Box is too slow). I think you have true potential and I appreciate your empathy for those less capable than yourself.

Posted by: KansasDem at November 13, 2006 11:32 PM
Comment #194944

Stephen- I enjoy your stories an I am amazed on
your recal,from past articals. let us know when you come out with your first book, unless
you already have one. thank for the good read.


Posted by: DAVID at November 14, 2006 12:15 AM
Comment #194945

-Stephen- I for got to ask you, what happened to
your next post? I posted on it an errored out. Then it Blew up, an then it was gone.

Posted by: DAVID at November 14, 2006 12:22 AM
Comment #194948

“then it was gone”

I was also trying to figure that out.

Posted by: KansasDem at November 14, 2006 1:10 AM
Comment #194955

-KansasDem- Stephen had posted a good article an
I was the first to make a post there. I had made
a few errors, after I had re-read his article, I
then changed my opinion an wrote a second post.
then I pushed the post button, an my screen lit up
with a variety of colours which then popped up a
fancy looking sign, saying ERROR with numbers on it.
At the bottom of the page, as I was scrolling, I
I came on Paul Segels Pre-written Post, I must have
been blown back in time! (yak yak he he )sort
of comical I was going to send an e-mail, but I guess they fixed the problem.

Posted by: DAVID at November 14, 2006 2:38 AM
Comment #194977

The Watchblog Editors have in place rules that space out the timing of the articles so that each may have some time at the top. My post unwittingly ran into that restriction, so they delayed it. It’s now posted again.

Thank you. It’s good to know I have a fan.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 14, 2006 10:11 AM
Comment #195076

-Stephen- Please add an S to fan on above post.

Posted by: DAVID at November 14, 2006 7:56 PM
Comment #195114

Thank you.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 15, 2006 1:00 AM
Post a comment