Democrats & Liberals Archives

Tales from the Borderland, Part Eight

The Forces of Darkness are strong in the world, but are the Forces of Light all that weak? As Agent Leonard ventures into the Wilderness of Darshiaro, the strength of the dark and the light will be pit against each other, with Dominic caught in between…

Dominic stood on the grass, having moments before left the hardpan of the Gate Approach. Jacob Riley stood on the edge of a cliff, arms out from his sides. Over the edge of the cliff, through a ring of mist, Dominic could see what looked like another world entirely, a lushly forested world, mountainous.

If Dominic's instincts served him right, that was Darshiaro. What was he doing here, though? He knew the rules. One gate, two worlds, one visited at a time.

A second look told him that the patch of ground was itself not that substantial, a few feet in either direction. All the rest was mist and cloud. He felt like asking Jake about it, but the Elohim was in no mood to be interrupted by the looks of it.

The ground within the ring of mist seemed to be coming closer, closer...

The window of the other world drew him sharply forward, and

Dominic stumbled out onto the ground.

He got up immediately, turning back towards Jake.

The glow was fading but you could still see the wings, the eyes, the weird designs on the skin. Little by little, breath by breath, the energy dissipated around him.

Dominic turned around and looked.

It was dusk, the sun setting in the east. The sky seemed a darker blue. The air seemed thinner, but from the looks of the mountains around him, there seemed to be ample reason for that. Scanning the horizon, Dominic could see the glow of the gate in the direction of the setting sun. It seemed quite a few miles away.

Mountains were familiar territory for him. He'd grown up in Colorado. If his guess was right, the gate could be as much as thirty miles away, perhaps even more. The next gate could also be seen, somewhat more distantly. A chain of reddish mountains.

And in the evening sky, two moons, one of reddish tint, barely visible in the light of the dying day.

One small step for a man...

The foliage of the nearby forests glittered in the light, but strangely. It occurred to him after a moment’s thought that the waves of glimmer from the shiny leaves were moving in a different direction than the movement of the canopy in the wind.

"We're there. We're in Darshiaro. What the hell happened?" Dominic stammered.
"I asked if I could pull off a miracle and He said yes." Jake said, looking him right in the eye.
Dominic shook his head. "You asked somebody for permission to do what you did back there? Why didn't you just sneak us past them? Why the confrontation?"
"They needed the fear of God put into them."
"God."
"The technical term for what I am is Malakim. I'm sure you know from what you just saw what that means in our language."
"An Angel of God.”
“I suppose I should say ‘fear not’. By the look on your face, you’d need to hear it. I am what I’ve been for the past few weeks: a friend and an ally. I simply have a bigger friend and ally on my side than you knew.”

Troubled, Dominic kicked at the ground, scuffing his boot heel on the rock. He turned to Jake. “And the people we face?”

“Worse than you think, as you already suspect.” Jake said, meeting his eyes.
“Demons. The forces of evil. The forces of ev- This- this is insane!” Dominic protested. His hands dropped to his sides. Then something occurred to him.

“Morningstar. The guy you fought…”

“The bright shining star of the heavens who fell from grace and took so much of the world with him” Jake said.

“You beat him, didn’t you?” He smiled. But the smile died as he saw the look in Jake’s eyes.

“Only by the Grace of God. I still don’t know how we did it… It took a lot of pain and suffering to reach that battlefield. Even when I did, his power… He was the strongest of all the Malakim before, and even weakened and twisted by his fall from grace, he is viciously powerful, and endlessly devious. Only a being like him could oppose God and not have fallen in the first battles. The blow I was allowed to land sent him screaming back to the Abyss, but he’s not staying there. He will come back, and his followers are preparing the way.”

Dominic sat down, the weight of Jake’s words dropping on him. “If he’s just going to come back—“

“We’re not going to stand idly by. The reason God put me in his way the first time, is that it’s exactly what we Cherubim are meant to do.” Jake reassured him. “We are the monkey in the wrench, the fly in the ointment
The Murphy’s whose law can never be broken.”

“I still don’t get how it works.” Dominic said.
“Not all order serves good. Not all disruption of order serves evil. Cherubs disrupt order that serves evil. We don’t even always realize what we’re being lead to do. We’re that spur of the moment.”

“And your wife?”
“A Seraph Malakim. The opposite. Not all chaos serves good. They bring order where chaos serves the cause of evil. They’re more powerful than us, but they’re also more reserved about using that power. They work more subtly, require more preparation and planning. She tells me that’s more due to our nature as human beings than its nature as a spirit.”

“Must make for an interesting marriage.” Dominic said. Jake smiled knowingly.
“You don’t know the half of it.” He responded.

“What are we doing, Mr. Riley?” Dominic asked.

“Waiting on a friend.”

Something nagged at Dominic’s gut. He turned towards a cleft in the rock.

Eyes. Open, irises like Amethyst, seemingly originating in the rock itself. The eyes were familiar. Bit by bit, his eyes discerned the illusion.

Jake turned towards him, regarded the agent. What was he looking at? He followed Jake’s line of sight. Jake didn’t see anything, but he sensed something.

“What do you see, Agent Leonard?”
“You seem familiar, stranger!” Dominic shouted.
The figure’s strange eyes widened, startled.

Finally, Jake saw him, down about twenty feet from them.

“Am I that rusty that a mortal like you can deprive me of a good entrance?”

Joel. Jake knew that voice in an instant. The illusion shimmered away, and the creature walked towards them. Jake was impressed. Few could spot an Aucethabi cloaked…

It suddenly occurred to him that positively no-one should have been able to spot Joel if he didn’t want to be seen, not without eyes like Merrick’s, or Joel’s own. Jake knew going in that there was something different about Dominic Leonard, from the start, but things had taken a very interesting turn here.

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There were two moons in the night sky, one a bright rust red, one grey, charcoal and glowing white like the moon everybody knew. Rachel knew she would have trouble sleeping with that rust red moon in the sky. The astronomers back home named the normal looking moon Artemis, the other Ares. They also confirmed from observations that the Planet Mars yet existed.

Rachel knew Dominic would get a kick out of a moon like Ares, hanging in the night sky. The moon, like its bigger brother, had the tint of dried blood to them, and being in three quarter’s darkness, it seemed to her the lidded eye of a great monster. As it was, it gave a reddish tint to the night that her senses did not approve of at all.

Like many of the agents, she shivered in the cold. Though Northeast Texas could get cold, it was nothing like this. They felt, inside and out, like they had just stepped into the Rockies or the Sierra Madres, which essentially they had. Darshiaro, being one of the Borderland worlds, was a parallel universe. In this one, instead being part of a thick and slowly subsiding wedge of mud and clay left behind by dirt that settled from the Mighty Mississippi’s waters, Gulf Coast Texas was a belt of mountains not unlike California’s.

The investigation that followed the Battle of Hamilton City, that far east Texas City initially had a theory that the events were the result of a diplomatic mission that the Chancellor of the Southern States Mage Council had undertaken, on the theory that he might have agitated some political element there. However, some more level heads were able to damp down that bit of anxiety by noting that the long-lived Aucethabi rarely reacted so precipitously.

It was a hard myth to beat down, in part because of the talent of the Aucethabi for illusion. Some extremists even wanted folks to believe that it all had been a sham, but the destruction around them, not part of the Aucethabi’s natural talents, would convince them otherwise.

Still, the very closed nature of Aucethabi society made it easy for some to distrust them, for them to believe that the Elder People of Darshiaro had some hand in things.

Special Agent in Charge James Green had refused the help of the Elders for what many assumed must have been similar reasons. Truth was, there were many among the twenty agents who had crossed over who still took the allegations seriously. But Rachel suspected a different reason, one that others would label paranoid, and even crazy, if she made it outright: SAC Green did not want to employ the services of the native guides of Darshiaro because he did not want every agent that came with him to survive.

Aided by the Elders, most parties that went through the wilds of Darshiaro survived intact, even the most vulnerable. It took the rare Aucethabi incompetent or ultra-adventurous idiot to shame that proud record. Both were thankfully rare. The Elders were very strict about who they let guide the tours through these lands.

Here, though, they might become victims of their own success. Because the Aucethabi were generally so good at keeping folks safe and secure, folks had gotten the impression that their world was good at the same, that Darshiaro was no more dangerous than a national park. Many of the agents she had crossed over with had the same dangerous misapprehension of the situation.

Not SAC Green, she suspected. It had taken her a few minutes after the confrontation to realize that Green’s confrontation had been intentional, and that Jacob Riley’s seemingly divine intervention had been quite the lucky stroke for her friend. Now, though, it seemed things were worse. Strike that: things were worse.

They were being lead into the wlderness of a dangerous alien world by a man who she had seen kneeling before a being of incredible darkness.

She still had trouble bringing herself around to calling what she saw a demon, the same way she had trouble acknowledging the angelic creature that had shown itself by the light of the Arnokedic Gate.

They milled among the other agents. She spotted them not long after the transit: Agents David Hudson, Irwin “Bones” Schlesinger, and Lawrence Rigetti. Part of her unit, which also included Dominic, and Agents Darius Silver, Terrence Hooper, and Elliot Roth. They were elsewhere.

They noticed her, ran up to her.

She was shocked to see them here. They had been left behind to hold down the fort. What were they doing here? She asked as much.

“They tried to attack us again. Dominic and this guy came in, took them out, and that’s not the least of it.” Schlesinger said

They talked about the man, and before long, she could give them the name. Jacob Riley. They told her about his defense of them. Something changed in their eyes as they described the healing. They had seen something truly extraordinary.

They asked about the incident at the gate and she gave them full detail, including the destruction of their weapons, and his full reveal in front of them. They were thoughtful about them.

“This is the man we’re supposed to hunt down? Can we really say we’re on the right side here?” Rigetti mused.

Could she tell them? That she knew the dark side to the luminous revelation they had witnessed? That she had essentially seen her boss worshipping a spirit of darkness? They wouldn’t be believed, not for a second. Most of these people were even now rationalizing away the intervention of a divine being, rationalizing away Jacob’s startling transfiguration.

“I think SAC Green’s being manipulated by higher ups, who might be in league with the Nephilim, the guys who attacked Hamilton City. Dominic found the man he was looking for. Jacob Riley’s the one, the Elohim. Now he’s got an ally to help to go after Alex Magnus. He came here to seek out one of the guy’s subordinates, the Aucethabi known as Serketh.” She told them.

“And they don’t want Magnus found or done away with.” Hudson said, nodding.

“I don’t think we have an awful lot of options here.” Rigetti stated.

He was right. If they tried to get in the way of finding Dominic, they’d lose credibility fast. But if they let Dominic get caught, God only knows what would happen to him. It was obvious from the get-go to both her and the three of them that their enemies laid the trap at the gate with lethal intent. There had to be some way to keep this manhunt from becoming…

She looked around her. She just noticed it, in the air.

Silence. No planes, no automobiles, no cities as they would recognize them. There were settlements nearby, but they would regard them as primitive. They had packed supplies, but none of them carried armor, shields or swords. From her personal experience having shot at the Seared, she knew that firearms could be literally hit or miss with attackers. Things would be bad if a few of these people had deflectors. If they all did, they were well and truly screwed.

And what about transportation? SAC Green sat on a stump thinking things over, and she imagined that detail would make even him have second thoughts.

You could sum up the deal with the gate road in one word: commitment. Your only way back home was through the next gate, at the end of the segment. These segments weren’t short, though. As the crow flies, the path was around seventy-two miles in length. Darshiaro would be a difficult slog, even if they only had the prospect of traveling on foot before them. The length of the actual track could be as much as eighty-five miles or even ninety miles. If they managed ten miles a day, it would take more than a week to make the trip.

And they weren’t even going to make the trip straight.

They had secured guides, but all were human. They could probably do the job, just as long as nobody strayed too far from the road. Unlikely given Green’s plans. They were giving lessons to the other agents, but they kept a wary eye on Green. They knew that this was an ill-prepared, hasty expedition, and it was only going to be made worse by the fact that they were actually looking for somebody.

The protective wards for the gate extended five miles to either side. One could estimate a search area of over 900 square miles. They had no helicopters, no highways or automobiles to use the highways. A search, on foot, through this world. The folks in Washington loved the boldness of it, Green had told her, loved the notion of telling those Borderlanders who was boss. He smiled as he said this.

It occurred to her then that he was serious about finding Dominic. He really thought he could do it. If so… what was the game plan? How much had Green known? To what extent was he doing their work, to what extent was he merely their pawn?

“Agent Petersen, are you okay?” Schlesinger asked.

The blond young man looked at her with those big eyes that had the secretaries giggling when he looked their way.

“Except for the massive headache I’m developing, I’m fine.” She quipped.

Then she noticed them, ringed around the camp. I took her a moment to be sure, given how well the cloaks blended in with the dark forest around them, but once she saw them, she counted about twenty.

Her surprise was shared around the camp. They had even managed to sneak up with in feet of them. But that wasn’t the neatest trick.

A shape rippled out of the wilderness like water down a stream, approaching Agent Green, who hastily got up and reached for his gun. It stopped, a clawed hand reaching out of the sleeve. It stopped, and pulled back its hood.

He looked only sixteen, but the dark skin, the white hair and the Amethyst eyes gave him away almost immediately. He was one of the Elders.

“Sepechis, Governor of Greywall, sends his warmest regards to his unexpected guests. We received word of your arrival with so little time to arrange proper escort. Please excuse, therefore, our arrival at this late hour.” Joel said, ending with a smile that ever so briefly revealed his sharp front teeth.

The SAC took a moment to digest this as the Elder stood still in a gesture of exaggerated welcome.

“What’s your name, young man?”

A few of the guides dropped their jaws at that remark.

“My name, young human, is Joel Thobiksef.” Joel said.
“Young human?” Green said.
“A courtesy, like yours. I was born shortly before your Civil War, born Aucethabi. I am more than twice your age. I come to you with an offer on my father’s behalf.” Joel clarified.

“We already turned you down on your services. What you’re doing here is illegal where we come from.” Green stated.

Joel stepped away, shrugging his shoulders in what seemed a rather stagy manner. He was having fun, Agent Petersen could tell.

“I guess the young FBI agent doesn’t interest you, then. Strange customs you have, humans of America.” Joel said in mock amazement.

“You have him?” Green exclaimed.

“We do not. He is escorted by a pair of Huntsmen. He has agreed, though, to come with you into your custody, to save your people the trouble of combing this dangerous wilderness for him, and our people the trouble of combing Darshiaro for those of you who would undoubtedly get lost trying to find him.” Joel explained.

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That plan was not what the young FBI agent originally had in mind.

“I thought the point was to avoid them, damn it!” Dominic said.
“No, the point is to save them. They want you dead, or party to the deaths of a number of agents. If we returned with such a body count on our hands, it would likely be the start of a war.” Jake explained.

Dominic looked at him. He hadn’t even realized.

“The woman is among them.” Joel said.

Dominic glanced at Joel and then shot a look Jake’s way.

“Very interesting. This complicates things nicely.” Jake said, as if it were a good thing.

“What do we do when it comes time to leave Darshiaro?” Dominic asked.

Jake looked at him and smiled impishly.
“Patience. We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.” Jake said.

Color Dominic reassured.

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Agent Anthony Mendelson made his way over to Rachel.

“I don’t suppose you know what’s going on, do you?” She asked him.

Tony Mendelson was young, dark haired, tanned skin, a Sephardic Jew born in London, brought to America at age eleven. He wore steel-rimmed glasses, and looked to all the world like one of those serious intellectuals. Truth was, he lived as a bachelor, with soccer trophies and jerseys decorating his apartment. He was easygoing, quick to smile, read trashy horror novels most of the time, serious stuff when the Bureau or the Order required it.

Mendelson. Huntsman and FBI agent. He was effectively the liaison between the two groups, which is why Green couldn’t dump him from a trip where they would chance interaction. The others avoided him, suspecting him of informing on them.

Nothing of the sort was true, but it was nice to be left alone. There was a certain liberating quality to having no prospects for further career advancement.
He was what the mages call a talent. He didn’t throw fireballs or lift things with his mind. He couldn’t beat the crap out of people like John Taylor, or see through walls and manipulate devices like Merrick.

He just happened to be clairvoyant. They called it a Dead Zone ability, but he did it with none of the televangelist theatrics that people saw in the movies, no body-rocking spasms or vacant stares of into space (unless he was thinking.)

It was his talent that had set Dominic on his fateful course, his advice, his relationship with John Taylor and Jacob Riley. He had done nothing more glorified than the escort of Thomas Rowan and Jacob Riley in the events just before the battle broke out. He then had fought with the Motorcycle Cav. You didn’t have to be super-strong with a sword when you came at people with the weapon at high speed. Here, though, he didn’t have a motorcycle with him.

“John was here a while back, scouting the area. Dr. Cordell is nearby, buying up supplies from one of the villages.”

“They knew we were coming.” She said, shocked.
“Of course they knew. Question is, are we on the good or bad side of their current situation? That’s what I’d like to know, Agent Petersen.” Mendelson mused.

Rachel shuddered at the thought. Thousands had died on the wrong side of the last such situation.

“I think we’re on the good side of it.” Hudson offered.

Anthony and Rachel looked his way.
“The healings. The protection. He could have just left with Dom, but he cleared our place of those shock troops the Nephilim use. He healed us, even healed the Seared we wounded, though he kept that mojo on them.”

Rigetti turned to him. “This crew we’re talking about came through for Hamiliton City. I think Tony here knows how difficult that was. I don’t know how they plan to deal with guarding the lot of us.”

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“I’m afraid that’s out of the question.” Green said.

“Agent Green, every man incapable of defending himself is a burden you cannot afford. He is willingly giving himself up. He has proven himself able with a weapon. He will not escape us, even if he changes his mind. You have our word on that.” Joel patiently explained.

“How do I know you…”
“I am very much for peaceful coexistence with your kind, but do not test this by taking the word or the honor of an Aucethabi lightly.” Joel interrupted.

SAC Green upgraded his estimation of the man. Well, the Elder. This was no effete fairy tale refugee here. He had some steel in his spine.

“Please, let’s be civil, good Elder.” Green said.
“Of course. But trust is essential to civility. You have no reason to distrust the word of an Aucethabi.” Joel replied.

“You will not attempt to spirit him away when we reach the Gate?” Green asked.
“The Aucethabi will ensure that Agent Dominic Leonard safely returns to Earth in the company of his fellow agents.”

Green nodded, seemingly pleased with the offer.
“Very well, I suppose I can’t talk you out of bringing all your men, I mean Aucethabi along, can I?” Green asked.
“I’m afraid not. My father would be fairly averse to allowing a good-sized armed force through Greywall’s territory without some minding.”
“We have no intention of starting any trouble.”
“That has not stop many from doing so anyways. You are unfamiliar with which creatures have which territories, with important customs, and other matters. If we knew you were so informed, like the Huntsmen who are sent into these areas, we would forgo the escort. I’m sure you want to return from this world with a minimum of trouble. We’ll help you manage that.” Joel told him.
“Is there anything else we should know?”
“On my advice, his companions are traveling with us to the gate. Is this a problem for you?” Joel asked.
“As long as they behave themselves, no. You said yourself we needed all the help we can get. Is it agreed then?”
“Agreed.”

At that point, Jake, Sarah, John, Dominic, and Merrick pulled back their hoods. Immediately some guns came up, pointed Jake’s way.

“Who wants to see how fast this Marine can field-strip a rifle?” Jake stated casually, a smile on his face.

The ends of the guns wavered, lowered. SAC Green gestured at them to put them down. He looked at Joel.

“I suppose we’re all in this together now.” Green said, an eyebrow raised.
“Right to the end.” Joel replied.

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Dominic stood in full armor, right in the middle of the clearing where the group was all camped out. John stood at his side. Mendelson approached, embraced Taylor. Dominic did not look that interested in that kind of friendly contact but he shook hands.

“I have to say, I never expected this to happen to you.” Mendelson.
“Which part?”
“Good question. Try all of it. But your fighting skill in particular. What kind of experience did you have going in?” Mendelson asked.
“Tony, the most I got was the Bureau’s CQB class.” Dominic said.

Something struck Taylor about that remark. He abruptly headed towards SAC Green. Green saw him coming, but did not meet him in the middle.

“Good evening, Captain Taylor. It’s good to see you again.”
“I don’t mean to pick a fight with you from the get-go, but there’s something we have to discuss.” John told him.
“What’s your concern, Sir Huntsman?”
“How much training do these men have on Borderland survival? With melee weapons in case their opponents are wearing deflectors?” Taylor bluntly asked.

“I’m afraid the Bureau doesn’t—“ Green started.
“Yeah, I was afraid you were going to say that. Other law enforcement agencies we’ve trained on this kind of thing have taken two months to get up to speed. We Huntsmen can skip the weapons training part of that and train for Borderland survival in a month. How long do you think you can wait before you set out here?”
“These men have been trained in wilderness survival.” Green said.
“On Earth. This place is a whole new ball of wax.” Taylor responded.
“Could some of that stuff be learned in transit?” Green asked
“Some of it could, but if we don’t teach some of it here, it’s going to be bitter experience out in the field.” Taylor advised.
“I don’t suppose you could persuade the Aucethabi to help in that. They know the territory, correct?” Green responded.

Taylor thought for a moment.
“Joel’s going to go over flora and fauna, charismatic and otherwise. Dr. Cordell’s going to go over the local diseases-” John started.

“Is she up to speed on them?” Green interrupted.
“She might even know about some the Aucethabi don’t.” John boasted on her behalf.

“The men aren’t going to trust a mere Mender, you know.” Green said.
John’s smile grew a little forced. “You don’t have to worry about that. She doesn’t call herself a doctor for her health.”

“What about weapons training? What do you suggest, Sir Huntsman?” Green asked. John grew more serious.
“That would be Merrick and Riley. I’ll teach those I think are worth the time special tactics.” John replied.
“Why not learn the bulk of it from you?” Green asked.
“There are certain things one can get away with if one is fast and strong, and I get away with a whole lot of them. They won’t.” John assessed.
“What are our chances of getting out of here in the next few days?”
“Not very good. But you’ll still save time, compared to what you’re trying to do.” John said.
“And what was I trying to do?” Green asked.
“March a small, lightly armed party ninety miles on foot through hostile, unfamiliar, mountainous terrain risking attack by mage bandits, rogue Aucethabi, and seven foot tall shapeshifting lizard-men.” John told him bluntly.

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Green didn’t like the idea of a crash course, but given what he was told by John Taylor, and others, he didn’t see much of a choice, unless he wanted a dead career along with other corpses dragging behind him. He’d much rather have avoided Darshiaro. He just wanted it over with quickly. This man was essentially telling him he’d have to put his men through boot camp.

The Prophet was the one who told him to go. He trusted the being implicitly. With its help, he had done great things, and been given the credit and advancement he deserved. America need good men to face the threats of the new world.

The threats of this world. Sacrifices had to be made. Not his men, though. It would be Dominic and Rachel who would be the sacrifices. He would do what was necessary to pull the rest out of this deathtrap of a realm alive and in one piece. But if those freaks thought they were going to bully his people into submission- no, they were going to win against this world their way. If the Huntsmen and Aucethabi wanted to help, they could be team players about it, not just force their ways on them.

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Merrick was dismayed to find that there were only a few practice swords left in Elbujtheyo, the town near the gate where he expected to find what he needed. He put a few on consignment, but cursed his luck, knowing this would slow things down. There were more than enough quarterstaffs, shields, spears and axes for that purpose.

He returned to the camp, the Tavejico, lizard like pack creatures, trailing behind him, the goods on their backs. He wasn’t optimistic. Basics. That was it. These men were likely in good condition, but for long exertion, hikes stretching for ten miles or more in mountains? He was uncertain. Perhaps he was doing this for their courage. If they wanted to get anywhere, they were going to have to move through some risky territory. There wasn’t another way out, so bad choices were all they had left.

He was familiar with bad choices. Hamilton City seethed with them. Morningstar’s brazen attack had put them on the defensive, trying to save a city with a few thousand Huntsmen, and with an open gate to Nocthiro open.

Nocthiro. The creatures that had poured from that place, Morningstar’s domain. Even before the rise of Morningstar, it was a world of sick, twisted forms, where reality constantly shifted, and the Abyss lurked beneath the very fabric of reality. The Shadow dragons, the lumbering, tentacled Idrallgu, The Hellhounds. It took more than two months to clear Hamilton City of the remnant of that demonic army. John had been bandaged and taped up from clearing out a nest of Kapajikal Lurkers when he took the flight that landed him in an interrogation room.

As for Merrick? He got the message in Muaalwarsh, just as he was settling in with his Ritulmidocha lover. It wasn’t too much of a problem to get to Arnokedic from there; Muaalwarsh’s section of the Gate Road exited at Arnokedic, the Forest World preceding Darshiaro in the sequence heading east.

Leaving Wacheal behind, after having made those promises, after saying he was through… that was another matter. He had wondered whether Dominic was worth it. After training him, he knew the answer to that, but it seemed cold comfort when he could not look into the golden amber of her eyes.

He was pretty sure that the comfort would be colder with these fellows. He didn’t know what to expect, but he was not optimistic. Not driven, not concerned, not caring. The were the kind of people who wanted the guided tour of the world, not preparation for the ordeal of their lives.

When Merrick got to camp, Jake had already started things.

“Let’s not pretend we’re friends right now. Me and Mr. Merrick are here for one reason, and I’m sure it’s one you’ll agree rather strongly with: to make sure you folks don’t leave a trail of bodies behind on your way out of this world.”

They were sitting in an ampitheatre, not unlike the kind one would see chipped out of the local hillside in Europe. They occupied a couple of the first rows. The Aucethabi were nowhere to be seen. They were in mostly safe territory, controlled by friendly Aucethabi. The need for an escort would not come until they were a few miles outside of town.

Dominic sat with Rachel, Schlesinger, Hudson, Rigetti and Mendelson.

“Now don’t you go kid yourselves. You go out as you are now, you’re dead meat. Don’t expect to be Conan the freaking Barbarian when you get out of this little boot camp, either. It will be hell for you. If you stick it out, though, you’ve got a fighting chance of surviving.”

He paced deliberately, slowly, as he talked. He wasn’t his usual Peter Pan self. Dominic saw the Marine in him expressing himself.

“We’re taking you out into the Wilderness in two weeks whether you are a bad-ass or a quivering mess. There will be no Washouts. There will be no walk of shame. There will be no transfers, no light duty, or any other easy way out for the uncommitted. There are no uncommitted now. You all committed yourselves the moment you crossed through the gate. There will be no turning back. This door is closed behind us.”

He pointed to the glowing column of energy behind them.

“Unless you are willing to acknowledge what a world of hurt you are in now, you will only find pain in this world.” He concluded.

“Any questions?” He asked.

Agent Darius Silver was the first to ask.
“We all appreciate how compassionate you are now, but you lead us here in the first place. Why should we follow you now?” Silver asked.

“Agent Silver, is it?” Jake guessed. “The thing to understand about this is what I’ve been telling you just now. You have a protective field of ten miles around the gate road, all leading down to a single gate. You didn’t have to follow him in here. You could have waited in Hamilton City. The only man I sought to bring to this world was Agent Leonard, and we had trained him at his request long before we brought him here”

Silver was not satisfied.
“There are other gates to Darshiaro.” Silver said.
“None of those are within three days travel of this one. I’m going to keep on warning you about this, because it bears repeating. This world will assimilate any living creature that strays outside the Gate Road’s field for three days, permanently change them after just a day. When the last day begins, all hope of return as human is over; the metamorphosis must be allowed to proceed, or the person dies. At the end of the Third day, you’re not human. You’re Aucethabi. After that, you can return to Earth, but it won’t change you, any more than it changes the Aucethabi. If you get more than a day’s travel outside the field, you will be given up. I’ll be sure to send your new relatives back for you.” Jake said.

It was Elliot Roth who spoke up next.
“If this is Aucethabi territory, and they’re as strong of fighters as you say they are, why have you been telling us that we’re going to get hit by bandits on this road?”

“Agent Roth, that is an excellent question, and it goes to the heart of what this training is about. First, they don’t have a centralized government or the kind of infrastructure we do. Their government is feudal in nature, with the basic unit being the Likuf, the local clan. Their holdings, called the Likufza Kuthek, are populated by relatively few Aucethabi. Being long-lived and hard to kill, they don’t have many children. They gain more members each year through the kind of metamorphosis I just described than through child birth. This makes for a comparatively sparse population, a rather loose government, and a shifting, changing selection of tribal laws we’ll have to deal with. We will end up crossing at least twelve different territories on our journey out.”

Jake stepped towards him, continuing.

“Another thing to take into account is the terrain of this road. Even with a committed effort it would be very difficult for our hosts to eradicate the bandit villages entirely, as they can hide many places in the mountains and valleys. Think Afghanistan. We can be fairly thankful that they keep up a certain schedule of patrols and provide folks like us with escorts, but they can’t be in all places at once or pay attention to everything in their environment, given their numbers. Also, Bandits aren’t their only or even greatest concern. They have to contend with the Ba’acasu. The territories of these seven feet tall lizard shapeshifters also intersect the road, and border on the Likufza. These territories are known to them as the Kuthekslukau.”

“Did you just say…” Rigetti started, taken aback
“Seven feet tall lizard shapeshifters, just like I said. It’s not something they can keep up for longer than a few minutes, but they can manage it long enough to make the confusion somebody’s fatal mistake. For the most part, the Baacasu have their own reasons not to impede traffic and commerce along the gate road, but nonetheless they and the Elders have a rather touchy relationship.”

“Tell me something, Mr. Riley,” Terrence Hooper interrupted. “Why do we need all this Kung-Fu medieval bullshit? Can’t we just shoot them?”

Jake smiled. It wasn’t an evil smile but anybody could look at it and see something was up. Dominic was one of them, and it took him a little while to figure out Jake was looking at him.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

The demonstration of the deflector was effective in its way. For Rigetti and the others, it was the final straw in deciding that Dominic had been right to take up arms.

And take up arms they did. The first arms, though, were not up to their high standards. John took pains to correct them.

“We’re teaching you the basics here: the staff, the spear, the club, and the axe. These are weapons you can find anywhere if you need them. The first two are essential for keeping an enemy distant. The second are good if they get close. They’re simple to learn, and those who do well with them will graduate to swords and other more complex weapons that require more finesse. You might not like it that you don’t get to be Aragorn or Legolas, but any weapon you don’t know how to handle likely endangers you than your opponent.” he explained.

The training began in earnest. Dominic practiced with his sword and shield a little bit, then grew bored. He walked off to explore the town.

The citizenry of Elbujtheyo, which numbered in the low triple digits, was mostly human. They were not as primitive as their surroundings. Dominic spotted solar panels on the roofs, and saw a small dam and generator assembly on the river. Not many wires to see. Elbujtheyo fit the Mage definition of an Entrypost, a town, city or village that catered to the needs of travelers looking for supplies to start out on their journeys. Most people tried to pack light going through the gate, saving time and trouble on the transit.

Most of the humans living in the town were not permanent residents. They stayed for a season, made their money, and then took an escorted caravan back to Earth. They skewed young, old, and eccentric, for obvious reasons: few wanted to bring a vulnerable family to this place. Consequently, few children could be seen.

The houses and buildings were masonry, for the most part, rock quarried from the local mountains. Other residents were log cabins, the dark iridescent crepe-paper bark shimmering like the inside of an oyster.

The restaurant he eventually ended up at had two men sitting at the table, one a young blonde man in his early thirties, the other about the same age, but…

He knew that man. It was Joshua.

“Would you care to sit with us, Agent Leonard?” The man asked.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The other man’s name, as given, was Timothy Redding. Pleasant enough fellow, asked about the expedition.

“You know,” Joshua observed, “It was the devil’s work they ended up here.”

Dominic didn’t know how to respond.

“I’m not saying your people are ‘agents’ of evil, if that’s what has you speechless. But it was the Nephilim’s plan that they be brought here. And Jimmy Green, your boss, has brought them here on their orders.” Joshua clarified. Having heard this, Dominic settled back in his seat.

“You told me to save his life. If he’s working for them, why do that?” Dominic asked.

“He’s worth more to us alive than dead.” Joshua stated.
“Who’s talking about ‘us’ Kemosabe?” Dominic asked pointedly.

Timothy smiled and said, “It seems like swordplay is not the only thing he’s learned from dear Jacob.” Leonard looked over at him and caught a wistful look in Redding’s averted eyes.

Joshua responded. “If you were to tell Jake or Sarah that you had spoken with a man named Joshua, they would likely ask you to describe him. If the likeness you described matched mine, they would be quite curious as to what I had to say, as to what I wanted with you.”

“Would they ask instructions?” Dominic asked.

Both men at the table smiled.

“At the moment, I’m not a very trusting man. Not a lot of what I see is what it seems to be, and this world, I’m told, is even nastier about such things. I need a sign from them and you that tells me that I can trust you, that you are who you say you are.” He told Joshua.

Gravely, Joshua nodded.
“Very well, when you and I are finished discussing the matters at hand, I will give you and them a sign, so that you should know me for who I am and believe in my words and your mission.” He said.

His tone seeming to say to Dominic Well, you asked for it.
“The previous necessity that I laid upon you still stands. Each of them is still in danger, your boss and Rachel especially. John is strong, but as before he needs somebody to watch his back. He can’t see all things, fight all enemies at once.”

Redding spoke up.

“John already knows you came through for him. He’s not one to forget that kind of help. Also, he values loyalty greatly, and holds in great respect those who do the same. It doesn’t have to be to him. Don’t be afraid to tell him the truth, tell him he’s wrong.” He said.

Joshua then said, “Your boss is an influential man, and his death would have terrible consequences for the Borderlands. He thinks he’s in control of the situation. He’s been assured by his contacts that only you and a few others are in danger. He is only now beginning to realize the truth.”

“That he’s trapped.” Dominic concluded for Joshua.

Redding added, “You are not the final judge of him, nor is he liable for judgment before his time. There will come a time when you feel tempted to act as the hand of God. Resist the temptation, for that hand moves of its own accord. Remember his will before your own.”

“I feel like I’m being prepared for something here.” Dominic said, worry on his features.

“You’re right. You are being prepared for something. As is Rachel. As are a number of your colleagues. She knows the truth. It is hers to reveal. She must survive to tell it.” Joshua said.

“And after she tells it?”

“She must survive having told it. Part of that survival is up to her. She will start the fight alone, but she must not end it as such. The truth will cost her, but it must not cost her everything. You must come to her aid when the need arises.” He finished.

Redding once again elaborated: “The path to success in your mission is not a simple one. Your choices, good or bad, will define what comes after. Remember, all these obligations must be balanced. Expedience now may come at the price of sorrow later. The road ahead will be a trial for you, and all involved. Do not be found wanting.”

“Does he always do that?” Dominic said, looking at Joshua, pointing at Tim with his thumb.

“It’s his job, actually. Don’t forget what he said. I didn’t bring him along merely for his charming personality.” Joshua explained.
“My Lord…” Redding began.
“I don’t think he was insulting you, Mr. Redding” Dominic clarified, with a smile he couldn’t help.
“You notice things, Agent Leonard, which others don’t.” Joshua observed.

For some reason, that statement didn’t seem to be merely a compliment.

“Talents like that are worth cultivating, don’t you agree?” He said, looking him right in the eye. It wasn’t a question. Dominic immediately felt like asking him quite a few in return, though. What did he mean?

Unnerved, though, he kept such concerns to himself.

“Go now. The others are looking for you.” Joshua said, then brought his fingers to his mouth, and touched Dominic on the forehead.

That was weird, Dominic thought. It wasn’t that the gesture had been sexual. The fingers hadn’t been kissed. Joshua had merely wet his fingertips, like someone sorting through mail or nursing a cut. It was nothing he could put a finger on, so to speak. One just wasn’t typically touched like that.

“My sign…” Dominic started.
“Don’t worry about it, it will be there when you need it.” Joshua reassured him.

Dominic got up and walked away. He looked back a few moments later, and only an empty table remained. He stopped walking away. For reasons he couldn’t quite get a solid hold on, he felt like running instead. And so he did.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

He got back to camp, soaked with sweat, out of breath.

The first thing he noticed was that all the Aucethabi were looking at him funny. At first he thought they might have been annoyed at him for his skipping out on them like that, but as he went on, the reactions showed more of a sense of awe and fear, and Dominic wasn’t nearly so egotistical as to consider that par for the course.

And they were all looking at his forehead. He ducked behind a tree, took his shield from his back and looked at its polished surface.

In the mirror: his nearly black hair hair, which needed cutting, his hazel eyes. The stubble, which would probably be a thick beard before he made it home. The tanned skin, picked up by all his practice in the sun. The glowing mark on—

On his forehead. Oh, he had his sign. Dominic’s hand trembled before it. He might as well have had a fricking billboard stuck on his noggin, for the love of all that was holy. It was not unlike one of those glyphs that had played over Jake’s arms as he had performed his miracle. He might have even marveled at its beauty had it not been right between his eyes, and not somebody else’s.

He just had to be a Doubting Thomas, didn’t he? He just had to question the man’s honesty. He knew exactly what this sign was going to say to all the other agents: KICK ME.

It was at that point that Dominic became supremely annoyed with himself. What did he have on him at this point, chopped liver? He was dressed head to toe in Huntsmen Armor. He was looking at this thing on his forehead with a shield he wore on his back, a sword at his side. Another thing to make his peace with? So be it. He was who he was now. If he had to parade around looking like an Indian deity, the rest of them were just going to have to live with it.

With that, he decided to march back. He ignored the rest of the Aucethabi on the path thereafter. The one thing that almost brought him up short was the thought of Rachel seeing it.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“What’s wrong with your head?” Schlesinger asked. Dominic felt the impulse at that moment, thankfully unpursued, to explain things at high volume to the young man with the man pulled close by his shirt front.

“My head?” he managed.
“You keep on rubbing it for some reason. Did you hit your head?”

Then there was Rachel. She had to pull the hand away. He told her a low hanging branch had swatted him. She quipped that it had the right idea. She was only joking she said, having felt it necessary because of the dark clouds on his face. He relaxed a little gave her a wan smile. He didn’t know whether it did any good. She took a good look at the spot. She clapped him on the shoulder She told him it was nothing, nothing save a bit of self-inflicted irritation.

He walked among them, gradually relaxing as he understood that his anxiety was drawing more attention than the mark itself.

He reached the training ring.

“Just the man I’m looking for. Merrick tells me he needs an assistant on shield combat-“ John started.

“Yeah, but he needs to get that mark checked out first.” Merrick said, a good-humored curiosity showing on his face.

“Oh no.” He said, quite disappointed he hadn’t merely imagined it, fingers feeling for it again. He turned away only to find Jake and Sarah standing there. They certainly noticed something.

“He’s here.” Jake said.

They sat him down, though he would have rather been pacing around. He would be thankful for that later.

“The man you met is essentially our boss. The mark is unmistakably his. But the fact that he’s intervening means that this situation is way more serious than we thought. Last time I saw him in the real world-“
“Real world?” Dominic asks.
“Since Hamilton City, we’ve just seen him in our dreams. That’s usually all he needs to do, but if he’s intervening, things are really bad.”

Then he told them what Joshua had told him to do, and when he had first talked to him. John sat up and took notice.

“What is he doing with you? What makes you so significant?” John asked. The tone indicated there was nothing snide or snobby about what the expert warrior was asking.

Then he told him about the man’s companion. Sarah put a hand on Jake’s shoulder. “What do you think?”

“They never found him, did they? If he wants to talk, he seems to know where I am.” He said, enigmatically. He got up, turned around. “The other guy was the Voice. He may have once been Thomas Rowan. Whether he’s the man I knew…”

“I don’t know. He seemed to know you, but this Joshua. Is he Elohim? He seemed to imply he gives you your marching orders, but he didn’t say anything explicit about that.” Dominic laid out.

“The man you spoke to is not Elohim. He’s so far beyond that, there’s no comparison. He is the first of a new kind, but even with that in mind, he’s unique among them. A being like no-one else ever seen on this planet. He died and crossed over many centuries ago, and came back from the dead, changed. The world’s never been the same since.” Jake said, leaning close to him, an uncharacteristic reverence in his eyes.

“Who are you talking about?” Dominic asked.

“You have met our king, Agent Leonard.” Jake said, a mischievous glint in his eye.

“The angels have a king?” Dominic questioned, confused.

“You sung about this king, sung about this man. And now you’ve met him.” Jake patiently explained.

“Met who? Just give me a straight answer!”

“The man you just met, as a human being, is just a little over two thousand years old. He was executed as an enemy of Rome at age thirty three. Before that, he had been a prophet, a carpenter. He is Joshua, son of Joseph. His mother was named Miriam, and never knew a man’s touch when she conceived him. Three days after he was taken down, he rose again in fulfillment of prophecy. We serve him, and the father who sent him.”

“Jesus Christ?” he asked and stated, his eyes wide, his voice weak.

It was good that he sat down. Less of a fall when he fainted.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

When he came to, he was in a castle tower, on a mountain, high above the surrounding plain. The place seemed dreamlike, and perhaps it was. Perhaps he hadn’t really come to. As his heart settled, he found he didn’t mind. The world around him was as strange as Darshiaro, but full of interesting things in view. He found himself, in this dream, strangely capable of zooming into these sites and seeing things happening.

He saw little animals, just like the creatures in the stories his mom use to tell, milling about living in what must be some kind of village. The mother he’d just lost five years ago. He could almost feel her near.

“Welcome to a small part of your heaven.” Joshua said.

He turned around, startled, but then not. There he was. The man from Galilee.

“Are you what they say you are? Are you the son of God?” Dominic asked.
“Ah, familiar words. Do you believe that I am?” Joshua asked.
“Oh, not this again.” Dominic complained.
“I suppose you have a right to be exasperated, but it’s a serious question. There aren’t a lot of certainties in life, and the truth, as men perceive it, is not one of them. Do you believe that I am the son of God?” Joshua posed the question to him.

“I believe. But if all this is true, why haven’t you been out there? Why let Hamilton City happen? Why let us tear this country apart in your name, or try to take it over? Should we be doing that? Or shouldn’t we? God, I wish I knew what you wanted, like some people.” Dominic fretted.

Dominic felt Joshua’s hand on his shoulder.

“It’s interesting to see people trying to grasp for my own behalf the power that I refused when it was offered to me. There is no power on Earth that is not mine already. These things happen because I chose not to negate the gift of free will. A man who turns to a religion because somebody put a gun to his head or a blade to his throat fears and obeys not me but the one with the weapon. You can’t force a person onto the path I offer. Only the willing heart truly follows the grace of God, and abides by his commandments.” he explained.

“If you don’t want us taking power, what do you want?” Dominic asked.
“Events have been coming together. A long time ago, a catastrophe was set in motion, one that could not be undone once chosen. That event, if you live out your years, will see its culmination in your lifetime, and when it does, all that you know will have come to an end.”

His heart sunk.

“Revelations is true. The end is coming.”
“You should be careful with that book. There’s a lot in it that has to be explained to people, that even the book says shouldn’t be taken literally. Many times the images and words stand in for things the writer could not say outright. A person speaking outright about destroying Rome could be tried and executed. A person speaking about the destruction of the Whore of Babylon might get some strange looks, but they wouldn’t end up like I did, nailed up on a cross for treason. Other things were just meant to effectively make points. Yet others might come to pass as written. It will take wisdom and experience to know the difference when the time comes.” He explained.

“How soon?” Dominic asked.
“It’s already started. How quickly things come to pass is the subject of our business here. Morningstar wants to hurry things along, before people have time to consider what approaches. He wants to hasten the end, hasten the destruction, make it as painful as he possibly can. We want time for the grace of God to touch people, for the movement against the Dark One and his forces to take shape. No child of God left behind, you could say. In the end, there will only be one chance to save the faithful. There will not be a second opportunity.” Joshua explained.

“Why am I here? Am I out cold back in Darshiaro?”
“Yes, you are. You took the shock of the revelation of who I was somewhat poorly. I decided at that point that this might be the time to acquaint you more fully with our circumstances, to give you a sense of your mission that you were not ready for beforehand.” Joshua told him.

In the distance, Dominic could see cities of gemstone, of trees and glass.
“I haven’t been the best representative of your peace just yet. I’ve killed people fulfilling your mission. Protecting John and Rachel.” Dominic confessed.

Joshua squeezed his shoulder.
“I’m not unrealistic about what kind of choices you might have to make in order to defend those you love, those you call friend. If you have no choice, then you have my understanding, but don’t live by the sword. If you have to draw that weapon, do your best to understand what it takes to put it back in its scabbard first. Ask Jacob and Sarah, concerning your situation. They will do their best to give you good advice on the subject.” He said.

“Where can I find you, if we need to talk?” Dominic asked.
“I will not be far, whichever route you wish to take to find me.” Joshua responded.

Then he awoke.

Jake, Sarah, John, Merrick, Rachel, and Joel crowded around him in the tent Then he got that nagging feeling again, the one that always got him into trouble. He turned and looked.

Joshua and Timothy, resting on a park bench. Jake and the others looked towards the two. Jake, seeing his master, couldn’t help but wonder: If his last encounter with Joshua preceded a battle, just what would happen this time?

******************************

Author’s note: This part of the Borderlands series, and the subsequent episodes of this arc are about leadership. That is the political side of this particular episode, and the one that probably lends itself to the easiest parallels to our current political situation.

What happens when a leader takes his people into the wilderness without the right preparation, the right approach, or even good idea of what they’re going to do once they get there? Some mistakes are worse than others, and mistakes with irreversible consequences and hard to back out of commitments can be some of the worst of the lot.

Invading Iraq committed us to certain things, whether we liked it or not, and carried certain risks with it concerning failure. Bush’s tax cuts did quite the same thing, only in this case it was a steep drop in revenue coupled with spending he knew was going to be greater. Our experience with past Tax Cuts was enough to illustrate that the basic premise didn’t work: the loss of revenue was not compensated, much less surpassed by any rise in revenues. Nonetheless, Bush cut the taxes right when he decided to start an expensive war and heap a load other spending on top as well. The consequences of that decision will be difficult to undo. So too will Bush’s judgments during Katrina. Failures of leadership in a time of crisis, whether Democrat, Republican, or third party, can have disastrous consequences.

So now, a bunch of FBI agents find themselves on the other side of a one way road to another world. It’s in their predicament that I present the conflict that we and they have in common. There’s no going back, obviously, but most importantly, there’s also no giving up. Whatever action is taken, there is a problem that cannot be ignored, cannot be pushed aside. In Iraq, there’s the obvious consequences of Iraq imploding. With the tax policy, there’s the consequences of growing debt. With Katrina, there’s the obvious need to rebuild from the storm damage against the obvious costs. It’s not merely an issue of acknowledging failure, but also acknowledging the need to get past that failure.

The path to redeeming these mistakes is difficult, but it will be no easier to face the consequences of doing nothing. Leadership is not about doing things the easy way, or forcing a society towards such difficult times on the basis of some self-righteous idea.

Of course, then there’s the elephant in the room. Why make Jesus of Nazareth a character in this story, with all the potential landmines his presence puts in place? First, to be a little irreverent, he showed up in the previous story, so it’d be kind of bad taste to cut him out of the sequel. However, that only punts the question a bit further down the field.

The reality is, it’s an apocalyptic work, in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Sooner or later, he has to come into the story. It was my preference that he be directing things, rather than be in the background, remote from events, removed from the human reality of what was happening.

Because of the nature of the work, its strong element of fantasy, I also felt that it was necessary to make his character’s role a meaty part of the goings on, to imbed his presence as strongly in the work as the Devil’s presence comes into the character of Morningstar. Since I wasn’t going to pull any punches on the depth of the evil, I wouldn’t neglect the strength of the good.

Another aspect is that Jesus is a natural mentor and leader, and having him be somewhat like a general giving out orders and a teacher giving out advice is fitting with the man we know from scripture. He’s not there to be mocked or revised away from his compelling presence in the gospel. He’s there to represent divine wisdom and understanding.

But is it irreverent to put him in a story like this? Well, others make movies with him, about him, taking him either far to the right, or far to the left. They make of him what they will. What’s rather rare is for a modern contemporary work, even one dealing with the apocalypse, to have any representation of one of the central figures of the whole drama, a figure, who by the representation of the gospels, could often move with great subtlety and discreetness, even among his own disciples. Why couldn’t he involve himself, moving among men quietly unnoticed, except where he chose to reveal himself? Why couldn’t he be friend and mentor to the people he sends to do his will?

As long as it’s done respectfully, I don’t see how there should be a problem in writing imaginatively with Jesus as a character, or having a robust, serious take on Christian Theology in a work. The more vocal of Christian critics of the secular media fail to realize a number of things about why its important to let people have their say in the media about Jesus and his religion.

First, it keeps the defenders of the faith on their toes. Rather than being able to bully everybody else out of the market, they’ll have to get good at being persuasive. Second, it lets Christianity penetrate further into the market. This tendency towards boycotts and picket lines does little to bring Christianity back into the mainstream; instead it has a chilling effect on those who would invest in films. The mainstream public isn’t all that offended by Christian values and virtues. Truth is, it’s the persistent offense of the Religious right to differing viewpoints that scares people off.

“Why risk offending some self-appointed guardian of public morality?” they say, “Make movies about Buddhists, about new age folks, about others who’ve got a better sense of humor and a less control freakiness about how they’re portrayed.” Or they simply make movies with religious hypocrites and others, whose treatment they can say doesn’t really represent those who sincerely believe these things. Or they put them in movies where they’re more stereotypes and stock characters than living breathing characters.

The religious right is so aggressive in its attempts to control the market, that it ends up strangling the discourse altogether, weakening their own religion as a competitor against far less publicly inhibited faiths.

The only solution, as far as I can see, is to respectfully and forcefully put forward my point of view. People can think for themselves. It’s better in this country that we let them, that we in turn point out the holes in their arguments and advance our own points of view as well.

America’s freedom of religion has done much to secure the place of religion in modern life. Any religion that wishes to endure must maintain a robust dialogue about its faith, both to keep its spiritual blood flowing, and to keep fire burning in the mass media. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. You can’t keep your religion removed from outside criticism without removing it from outside discussion. I think it’s time that we be willing to take the risk of offending others and being offended ourselves so that we can actually hold a civil discussion about these things. I put Joshua into this story hoping to get discussion going about what it means to be Christian, what it means to live by Jesus’ values in the real world. It will also provide an interesting set of opportunities to explore the relationship of Church and State, since the main character must deal with his duties as an agent, and his very much personal relationship with God.

I’m going to cross post this on it's own blog, and anybody wishing to have discussions of a more religious bent are welcome to go there. This will be the last chapter that I publish here. Those who like what they've read so far will find it on the new site, which is dedicated solely to the story itself.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at January 15, 2007 7:51 AM
Comments
Comment #203316

Obviously a lot of work Stephen. Great story. Keep it up, and I wish you luck.

Posted by: Max at January 15, 2007 11:12 AM
Comment #203494

Stephen:
Great story and a truly wonderful read.
Much luck to you.

Posted by: ziem at January 16, 2007 5:12 AM
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