The Fallen – full text

Originally Posted on April 17, 2019

The Fallen

A Story from the Borderlands

Douglas Mitchell

“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby becomes a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil. Aphorism 146

“The central, singular, core truth that our Creator through many incarnations has tried to make us understand is this; we have no enemies, we are all the children of our Creator. We are all on the same side, in the same boat, sharing the same condition: we live both in the darkness and in the light. We are all falling free over an infinite abyss, the light of our souls casting shadows among which we walk.

To our sorrow, there will always be those among us who love the darkness more than the light. When we fight one to another, no matter our intent, we are falling into darkness. When we withdraw from one another, we have fallen into darkness. Our joy is to be found in living into the truth of our unity with each other, no matter how fractious and difficult those relationships are.

It is in the study of our own darkness, our own fallen nature, that we can come to know the mind of our Creator, who created both the light and the darkness. How to accept, and how to forgive as our Creator accepts and forgives. How to feel the need to fight the darkness, and channel that impulse, that energy into acts of creation rather than acts of destruction.”

– John de Vieux, The 874th Congress of Wardens – From the talk, Conversations with a Daemon

As John de Vieux arrived in the room without doors he was greeted by screams. The days that start with screams are unusually interesting and always very long.

John had prepared well for his day. He had been using the Shorter Christian Prayer for his morning Lauds devotion these past few weeks, having recently received a new edition. He was enjoying the progression in the readings used in each days morning prayer. Most of his fellow wardens 1 were contemplatives of one type or another, who drew strength from their meditations into the nature of humanity and the divine. John himself after his morning prayer felt centered and focused and on good mornings had a sense of calm expectation. The lesson from his supplemental reading for this morning was particularly apropos – God’s redemption is always available for everyone. John felt relaxed, and at peace.

Today would be a day among days. After breakfast, he was ready for the trip to his work room, not a simple journey in itself, the place without doors where he kept the daemon.

1 The Wardens of the Worlds – Religious-Military order of monks who patrol the ways between the infinite parallel realities of the Earth.

John left his house by the back door. His house was at the end of the street on a cul de sac. The street was located in a rural subdivision near Zanesville, OH. There was a wooded hillside just behind his house, and bearing south through the woods a ravine, which led back between his subdivision and the one to the east. With the neighborhood children in school, he could start shifting between worlds as soon as he entered the woods.

He passed by a long lake, with what looked like a floating temple built of tarred logs with a steeply pitched roof, the tall gables adorned with carvings in the form of intertwined dragons.

He headed uphill and as he passed over the ridge he found himself in a lush tropical rain forest.

Passing through an archway made from a huge living tree it was now night over rolling pasture land, well lighted by a nearly full moon. There was a stone house surrounded by trees on the nearest hillside. John took out a flashlight and walked over to the house, unlocking the door with a very elaborately made key of wrought iron. He stepped into the dark house locking the front door behind him.

Using a different key he opened the back door through which morning sunlight greeted him. He stepped through and locked this door after him as well. Outside, the door was set in wall of solid granite, he was now in a narrow rocky valley running roughly north to south with high granite walls. Large boulders lay all around him and the stone walls had many fissures and cracks, while the ground beneath his feet was covered with shards of the same granite stone. John walked the short distance to the opposite side of the valley, to another stone wall of solid granite, this was the place of the final shift. He checked an app on his phone, then waited several minutes. As soon as it was time, he invoked a magickal weapon with several keywords and took a deep breath, before stepping directly into the solid granite wall in front of him.

The initial bloodcurdling screams increased in volume as John crossed the foyer which led to the work room proper. Master Leonard 2 when the mood suited him, could produce the most pitiable screams, gasps, cries, taunts, threats, and curses at ear splitting volume. John knew from the recorders that Leonard only kept up this caterwaul when he was present, but it was impressive all the same. Educational too. He passed through an archway into the work room. The room was circular, with a rough heavily scarred wooden floor and windowless walls of large dressed stones crudely mortared. The stone ceiling consisted of eight high arched vaults, between which eight brilliantly lit ship glass prisms conducted sunlight into the work room from somewhere above. This natural light only dimly illuminated the circular stage at the center of the room. At the center of the circular stage, Leonard stood with his arms upraised – his horned head tilted back – screaming piteously for all he was worth.

2 Leonard or “Master Leonard” is a demon or spirit in the Dictionnaire Infernal, grand-master of the nocturnal orgies of demons. He is represented as a three-horned goat, with a black human face. He marks his initiates with one of his horns. Dictionnaire Infernal – Jacques Auguste Simon Collin de Plancy – 1818

John entered the room and moved directly to a control panel mounted near the arched doorway to the right. He was careful not to turn his back to the central platform. He pressed a green button on the panel starting the generator, and electric light soon flooded the room. The circular stage was fully three meters in diameter and appeared to be made of a single slab of stone, inset with silver in several concentric circles. The center of the stage had a pentagram also inscribed into the stone in silver. John studied the stage, the state of the silver inlays, making sure that all the defensive barriers were intact; only then carefully restoring to a safe state a magical attack that would have released the equivalent energy of a hand grenade.

As soon as he had ‘safed’ this magical weapon, Leonard ceased his wailing and turned to face him. Leonard was tall, thin in the form of a man, with the face of a goat with three horns atop his head. He was dressed in a tailored button down dress shirt and slacks, with brown loafers on his feet. Other than his strangely shaped and horned head he would have looked right at home window-shopping in a mall, or walking on a golf course playing a round on a Saturday. There was nothing to show that John had kept the daemon Leonard pent in this room for hundreds of years, except for the weariness that John felt in spending long decades in the study of this creature.

“Release me John de Vieux, how can a man like you keep me here year after year, for decades unending.” Leonard said. His voice was rich, resonant and persuasive. “It is inhumane that you confine me in this place, leaving me for decades at a time.”

“You are not human.” countered John, “You do not hunger nor do you thirst in this place. Here you will stay until I can trust you to your parole. You know what I require of you. As soon as I have your oaths of dismissal I will allow you to leave.”

“Who is truly imprisoned here?” asked Leonard trying another argument, “I do not age. You are getting old John. Old and feeble. How unlike the young man who tricked me long ago. How weary you must be of keeping me here. Soon you will be dead, release me and I will be merciful and quick. God cares not for you or me, indeed God has forsaken you, for all your prayers and piety.”

“I do tire of your company, and that is a fact.” answered John, “But it never ceases to amaze me how little you understand me, or my fellow men and women. Countless ages have you plagued us, yet your thoughts are always about yourself. Even when you are seeking to empathize with me, all you can do is probe for weakness. It is not too late for you. It is not God who has forsaken us – it is we who refuse to turn to Him. You know this far better than I.”

John continued, “I can release you from here, I can release both us from this doom. All you have to do is let me live, so that I can allow you to escape this place I have created for your prison.” John gestured with both arms encompassing the room without doors. “If you were human, these wards would have no power to hold you. These wards can only hold you in your daemon form. If you would give up your daemon form, you will be mortal, and I will allow you to leave this place.”

This was yet another variation of their conversation from Johns’ many sessions with Leonard. Time in the room without doors runs many times what it does in most of the realms of man. To Leonard it had seemed as if at least fifty years had passed since John’s last visit. The ship glasses had conveyed the sunlight of each day into this room, each day the same; the weeks passing into months, the months into years, the years into decades. John heard a strange grinding sound and although Leonard made on outward sign of impatience he realized that he was hearing his prisoner gnashing his teeth.

“I have thought of little else.” Leonard said after some time had passed. “It has been so long since I have transformed, I am not sure that I still remember how. Perhaps you should release these wards that hold me fast in this form so I may practice my art?” His voice had softened, as in speaking to his friend instead of his jailer. He also gestured with both his arms to encompass the area within the pentagram. “When you released me from this pentagram of cursed silver, allowing me to stand, did I not pledge that I would not attempt escape? Have I not kept my word?”

“You have indeed. But I have not escaped your long ago promised retribution or today’s offer of ‘mercy’ by being any less careful. I was a young man when I brought you here, more reckless, knowing little of what you are capable. I will have your oaths to not harm any being, living or dead, before I permit you freedom of form. I believe that has been your favorite trick to slip the bonds of even very wary magi. Do not omit your pledges of your conduct in all your forms – know that this place has no doors for a reason. Even one such as yourself would have great difficulty in leaving this place unaided.” John said in a matter of fact way, as he had said similar things many times in the past.

“I am ready. I cannot stay in this room any longer if there is any escape, even if I must forgo my revenge on you… even if I must, give up my powers for a time.” Leonard started his oaths of conduct. He omitted none of the forms, including everyone in all the worlds, to bind him in any form he assumed. It took a very long time. John made sure that the recording devices captured the complete record. Leonard repeated the oaths thrice to bind himself.

John said, “Very good.” He called up the wards and arcane letters appeared glowing in the air in vertical groupings all about the center platform. He released the transformation bindings and immediately Leonard changed into the form of a handsome young man as he sprang from the central platform. He launched himself directly at John tackling him to the floor.

Leonard leaped back to his feet as John lay crumpled on the floor, “Fool, Idiot, you who were the most wise of your race – to release me thus. As a man, I cannot be bound by daemon oaths – you will suffer for your use of me!”

Several pistol shots rang out in the room, from a snub nosed revolver held up by John from his position on the floor. Bright red blood spread from many wounds in Leonard’s abdomen, completely soaking his shirt. Leonard looked truly surprised, “You knew… you were prepared… but, I will just transform…”, he gasped as he slowly crumpled to his knees, “I cannot change.” Leonard said as he completed his slow fall to the floor. He stiffened as he lay in the pooling blood and died.

John slowly rose to his feet while continuing to point the revolver at Leonard. “Yes, I knew.” John said quietly to himself. “It is true, you have not changed.” He was getting too old for this, daemon baiting is a young man’s game. Still, his face expressed great satisfaction. He still lived. It had taken many years, decades of work keeping this daemon pent to learn these techniques. To apply binding wards preferentially as he wished in different parts of this place. This room with no doors, no escape. The years spent in careful converse with a master of lies. Listening to the recordings, learning the languages of the many hells. Mastering his own fears, learning to use both his own darkness and light. Yet, John felt no triumph, he felt empty. John holstered the revolver. He paused for a moment, looking down at Leonard’s ruined body, he had ‘beaten’ Master Leonard today – but what had he won? If only Leonard had chosen if not forgiveness, then at least some forbearance from violence until some future time. It had been an interesting though depressing series of events. When Leonard was free to do so he immediately turned to violence, even when it profited him nothing but trouble.

John turned to the task at hand, caution and meticulous preparation had been his protection these many years. John spoke the words to isolate this room further from the many worlds. The walls themselves were now warded against daemon kind.

He carefully maneuvered Leonard’s body back within the platform onto the pentagram. Once again the air filled with glowing mystic symbols. John re-established the many wards on the platform. As he worked, he breathed the words, “O God make speed to save me.” He quickly erected a metal cage around the warded central platform which was anchored into both the floor and ceiling. He continued the prayers as he worked, “O Christ make haste to help me.” Each post supported cross members such that even a very small child would not be able to escape the platform, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon me.” He cleared the blood from the inscribed silver lines and spread sawdust on the pool of blood on the wooden floor, while repeating these payers over and over as he worked. John then painted obscure symbols on each of the vertical bars until the completed binding wards blazed as if back-lit in neon. John concluded the prayer while crossing himself, “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Among the many worlds we walk without end. Amen.” Only after all these preparations were complete, did John relax slightly, and release the wards on the outer walls.

John turned away momentarily to write some notes in a log book opened on one of the work tables. As he completed the entry, he felt a presence in the room. When he faced the caged and warded circle again, Leonard’s eyes were open, and he was sitting up, covered with gore. He was still in his completely human guise.

“You know John, you can’t get rid of me that easily.” He said quietly.

“Don’t I know it, Leonard.” John replied.

The Cross Roads – full text

Originally Posted on August 12, 2015

The Cross Roads

A Story from the Borderlands

Douglas Mitchell

It is perilous to walk, between the worlds…

-Chief of the Watch, Gregori 754 – 825 AD

“How delightful”, thought Martin sarcastically, while cold raindrops driven by a colder wind struck his poncho pitched around him as a makeshift tent. This thought was rather unfair – he had the least seniority of the Wardens, and this was the least dangerous of the roads to the worlds of the Fae. 1 He was just tired. At first it had been fun camping out. But the lack of sleep, general grubbiness of life in the wild, along with keeping alert in spite of absolutely no signs of anything threatening was getting on his nerves; especially after the first couple of weeks. On this, his first independent assignment, Martin was obsessed with doing everything by the book – he did not want to screw this up.

1 All references to Fairy Realms: there exist names of power that can attract attention if they are repeated too many times over short periods of time. Whenever this account must use names of power, variations of the names will be used to avoid unwanted attention from the powers themselves.

His campsite stood just off the top of a small hill over a crossroads; one of the four crossroads leading to the lands ruled by the Fair folk. 1 The land all around had the look of moorlands, rolling hills, large stones, low areas of boggy ground, and heath with patches of scrubby twisted trees making up the rest. A road extended to the horizon to the north and to the south-southeast. The cross road to the east leading to the lands of Fairy 1 led to a stand of forest five miles away, disappearing as it wound under mighty trees. The forest was forbidding, the trees in it appeared to be oaks but no oak tree ever grew to this size on Martin’s native Earth. The forest sometimes appeared to glow – it was no illusion – if one followed this road into the Morning Lands 1 at some point a bright and summer like sun would appear overhead and the weather would suddenly become like high summer. It might also suddenly become night, as time runs at differing rates between the worlds.

At Martin’s campsite there was a chill in the air, the sky overcast; on Earth it would be considered Fall-like weather in the American Midwest where Martin had grown up. Here in the Twilight lands it is ever thus, cold, wet, sun low on the horizon during the daylight hours.

Martin was dressed in a curious mix of the ancient and modern. Heavy military style boots, black pants, layers of sweaters, with a stained black hoodie as the outermost sweater. A long heavy leather coat pierced with linked rings covered him to his knees. Over this modern military style webbing with a knife sheath, pistol and holster, and other dangling camping utensils strategically placed for easy access. The only color to his drab and dark clothes was a pair of deerskin gloves, dyed to a bright Chinese red, tucked into his belt. The webbing also held a sword with a cupped hilt just visible behind his left shoulder. He sat hunched under his pitched poncho, mostly dry despite the weather, facing a small well-tended fire which was backed by a curved reflector wall of stone and mud to shield it’s presence from sight along all three roads which met near the base of the hill.

Around Martin’s camp, a circle had been cut down to the dirt through the sod, around his makeshift tent and fire, but inside the curved wall hiding his camp fire. Stones stood at the eight cardinal points, each with a particular rune-mark. Even in the light of day, the runes seemed to glow faintly.

Martin finished his supper and cleaned up, tended the fire and stood to address the genius loci – the local spirit of these hills. “I humbly apologize for intruding in your realm, and for imposing my poor magicks on your land. I do so only because I must. Please forgive my intrusion. If you cannot forgive – I will gladly move camp and trouble you no more.”

He felt amusement from the spirit, something akin to acknowledgment of his good manners, at any rate. And perhaps even approval – He would not have to move camp tonight. When Martin had first set up the camp on an adjacent hill, there had been malice, even some hostility – he had had to move his camp twice to demonstrate his good intent. The spirit of the land seemed to have become used to him over the past couple of weeks. It occurred to Martin again that the genius loci had caused him to move his camp closer to It’s center of power – which seemed to correspond to the crossroad below. He and the spirit of the hills seemed to have much more in common than he had at first believed – both watchers of the paths between the worlds.

His apology to the local power complete – Martin stepped outside the circle and walked down behind ‘his’ hill away from the roads. He walked into a sparsely wooded area in the ravine between his hill and the next. With a minor act of will he stepped out of the Twilight lands back to his native Earth. The terrain where he found himself in a remote area of Nebraska was very similar to his campsite.

He pulled out a cell phone and dialed a long distance number. There was a series of beeps as an encrypted connection was established and a voice said “Switchboard.”

Martin replied, “Martin – 29874, Regular Check in. All Quiet.”

There was the sound of someone typing on a keyboard, “Acknowledged, next check in 12 hours”, and then a click as the connection was dropped.

Martin again opened a gateway back to the Twilight lands but stepped through into the ravine on the opposite side of his hill from the one from which he had departed. It was never a good idea to use the same location when traversing worlds. Some entities could track transit points. Martin quickly moved to the top of the hill, his campsite only becoming visible once he stepped within his wards. He raised the ward symbols around his camp; arcane symbols appeared in the air around him. He checked them – looking for any bugs or mistakes, saw one line which had faded like an inked parchment left out in the rain. He leaned forward and wiped out the entire line then redrew it – with a golden pen – leaving a new line of symbols in the air, glowing brightly in the darkening evening. Maintenance to the warding configuration now completed, he knelt and began the office of Compline. As he recited the service his wards glowed ever brighter in the deepening gloom. His devotion to God, praying for protection and help against all who would do him harm – also fed power into his wards – which would protect him against both physical and metaphysical assaults on his camp.
Completing the Compline service, He said, “Guide me waking, O Lord, and guard me sleeping; that awake I may watch with Christ, and asleep I may rest in peace” He bowed low again, “The almighty and merciful Lord, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bless me and keep me. Amen.”

The warding symbols were now so bright in the darkness that they were blinding Martin as stood up. He closed his maintenance view of his wards; the magickal construct was now enabled. Now as before only the runes scratched on the eight stones glowed faintly.

Martin settled down for the night under his poncho – he would mostly be sleeping sitting up this night. He readied several personal magickal defenses, checked his physical weapons – dirk, heavy rapier, and Beretta M9 pistol, and was instantly asleep. Martin would wake to perform Matins before first light in the morning.

# # #

A letter dated AD 673, 5th day of Quintilis 2 – Earth Mainline Five – Christian Warden Archives

[salutation not legible]

Greetings to you from your brothers, who in the name of our Lord and Saviour Christ Jesus, bear witness to the true faith to the North men in the wild places where no gentle men dwell.

This message I convey to you by my most trusted brother, Servius. Who has seen and may testify himself to what we have seen – please believe him as you would myself.

……………………………………………the pagan beliefs of the North men. These men are brutal, coarse and hardy so as to survive in their cold, hard lands. Yet even though unlettered, they have the gift of prodigious memory and long tales recited with uncanny skill – like the Greeks in their stories of the Homeric wars. In their stories of creat …………. nine worlds – which exist alongside the world which we all know – they call the common world mid-gard.

Whatever the truth or baseness of their …………………………….., I have seen with my own eyes the existence of these other worlds.

I have met a most remarkable group of North men. They are called the Eyes of Odin after the king of their gods. They all have the gift to travel between the worlds and guard our world from the creatures and daemons who roam between the worlds.

It is told among the North men ……………………………. to open portals between the worlds – once they have traversed them, while most cannot. I seem to lack this gift, however brother Servius was the only one of our party who has learned how to step between the worlds. He will be able to demonstrate his mastery of this gift to you.

Please receive him as you would receive me – and listen to him! We must not let Christendom depend on uncouth North men for our defense from these demonic forces from the other worlds. It is imperative…

2 Quintilis – the month of July in the old Roman calendar

# # #

Brother Cyrus’ lectures on Correspondences and Powers always left Martin confused and off-balance. Brother Cyrus did not encourage questions during class, but was always very welcoming during his office hours. Cyrus was a man who seemed to be from some earlier time with his old-fashioned, formal mannerisms and speech. He always offered tea to the students who came to ask questions – and if several students were waiting would invite them all in to ask their questions in turn. For most students, these impromptu office hour discussions over tea developed into the real Correspondences and Powers class; scarcely less well attended that the regular formal lectures. Cyrus also had the habit of suddenly staring off into space for periods of up to 5 minutes at a time – then asking as he unfroze, “Did I say anything?”, and when assured that he had not said anything would then cryptically remark something like, “Good, Good; not something you’re ready for as yet.”

As Martin sat on his hill for the past several weeks – keeping watch over the crossroads – he thought and reread the material he had brought with him on the various powers of and between the worlds. Like his new friend the genus loci of the hill under his camp. Very little had formally been written about genus loci, maybe he should write a monograph about his experiences here.

He had been posted here now going on four weeks. Camp life had taken on a routine; He performed the seven offices of the day: Matins, Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline; he kept watch both visually and of his feelings, using them to sense what can not be seen. In the afternoons, when there was more time between offices, he studied and thought. He had the equivalent of an entire library in his reader of both sacred and secular material.

The rain had mostly stopped in the last few days – Martin was putting away his solar collector after charging his phone and reader. It was early evening just after Vespers. He felt someone was behind him – he turned quickly not seeing anyone.

Something was wrong. He heard a voice.

“You feel it too don’t you?”

Martin replied, “I feel another presence other than yourself, nothing definite, it feels like time to report in.”

“Please report that Tuvial has told you; one of the high Unseelie 3 is coming by the West road. Get your camp packed – but it is too late for you to flee, for you are to bear witness – whatever occurs you are not to interfere. Stay within your wards until it is over.”

After several weeks of silence – this much conversation seems strange to Martin; breaking the silence of this place.

Martin pulled out his pack, and started looking for something. He pulled out a device which looked like a softball, but which was hinged so that on opening it revealed the keypad and screen of a cell phone. He entered some commands into the keypad and entered a message with this name and operating number, “Tuvial reports one high of the Unseelie court 3 is coming by the West road. Tuvial has also said that I am to bear witness to what is to happen. I am standing by at my encampment; my wards are in good working order.” After closing the device, Martin opened the way to the Nebraska analog world he used for his check-in calls and tossed the device into that world. It would start broadcasting his message via both radio and cell links to the local switchboard as soon as it came to rest. Martin allowed the portal to close.

3 Unseelie refers to the dark and malevolent among the Fae, as opposed to the Seelie which are, if not necessarily good, at least neutral in their relations with humanity.

He packed quickly, leaving only his camp stool set up facing the fire. As he built up his fire, Martin wondered what exactly he was going to witness. There was a darkness on the west road now, storm clouds sweeping across the sky from the west. The evening was deepening; Martin could just make out something on the road in the distance, horses, banners, some sort of procession. The procession turned off the road, and tents started to appear as if they were mushrooms, just outside the mighty forest.

As the air cooled, Martin pulled on his gloves, and raised his hood. Martin sensed that there was someone on his hill, several someones, moving toward him in the darkening twilight.

Suddenly, there was a woman standing just ten feet outside of Martin’s camp. How she had managed to walk that close without his noticing her approach was a complete mystery. She was slim, and well-formed; seemingly a young woman in the flower and strength of youth. As he continued to look at her the more puzzled Martin became. She could not be considered tall, but seemed to tower over him. Not overly voluptuous, yet the swaying of her body and the way she looked and moved was so erotic that Martin was having trouble thinking of anything other than the sexual feelings washing over him. Her face as she turned toward him was certainly attractive, but it’s effect on him was electric, even more than the sight of her body. She was dressed in green dyed leather, boots, a open necked linen shirt, which fully showed off her figure. A slim rapier was at her side, as were two shadowy figures several feet further away. She and her companions were on foot – her clothing looked well suited for riding.

Martin noticed that he was standing; he did not remember standing up. The women was facing him now and smiling faintly, and the only thing in Martin’s mind was an overwhelming sense of both desire and a forlorn, despondency. He raised his hands to open his protective wards, and noticed the bright red gloves he was wearing. The bright color seemed to awaken something in Martin’s mind. He was thinking again, albeit slowly. What was he doing? He had just disabled the invisibility part of his wards which had hidden his camp from view. Red, why were his gloves red? 4

4 The color red, the taste of salt, the sound of bees, sudden pain, sight of the full moon – all provide some protection against enchantment of the senses – Revelations of Thirty-Six Other Worlds, Paris Ormskirk, Published by William Knowles of London, Paul’s Churchyard at the sign of the black bird, 1547.

The woman was smiling broadly now, and said, “Pretty man child, so sweet.”, she glanced down, “So much ardure!” These wards that separate us, my love, you must lower them now.”

Martin stopped. His wards were still intact. His feelings and emotions were still under the woman’s spell, but his mind was now free. Martin answered slowly, “I don’t believe that would be wise.” Martin could tell that his wards were under attack, from below and above, yet for all the power being employed against them, the wards were holding.

The woman pouted, “Wise, why be wise, have you ever felt such desire before? I can give you more pleasure that any mortal has ever had.”

Martin now noticed the shadowy figures to either side of the woman. Their clothes were much like Martin’s; right down to the leather pierced ring coats and weapons they carried. Their clothes were not just dirty but looked as if these men had been buried in these clothes and exhumed. These men, and Martin was sure they had at least once been men, looked like poorly mummified bodies in their equally poorly preserved garments. Only their eyes blazed with life. One of the men was attempting to make some sort of gesture. Martin did not understand at first, then he recognized it as an attempt at making the sign of the cross. The woman noticed too and turned back to Martin.

“Yes, my lovers were once as you, they were once Christ’s men who now worship only me.” Her low pitched alto voice was as sensuous to the ear as a lovers touch.

Martin was feeling even more desire than before, but whatever magicks had been used on his mind were no longer operating. He was feeling intense desire and despair, as well as fear in equal measure. The woman’s appearance flickered, becoming inhuman, she seemed to be made of interlocking vines one moment, in the next she seemed as mummified as her companions, but only for that split second. Then, once again, everything about her was superlatively human, and even more desirable than before. Martin sensed her power. Old as a mountains root, but also vital, alive, like a forest in Spring. She was no mortal woman. She was a princess among the Fae. 1

Martin spoke, “Please forgive me your Highness”, and he dropped to one knee, and lowered his eyes. “Forgive my ignorance, by what name should I know you?”

Martin’s readings about the Fair Folk and old Powers, stressed their love of ceremony and manners. Pomp, titles, and courtesy were the inventions of mankind which delight them the most. Martin sensed Tuvial’s approval of his gesture.

“So ardent, yet also so polite”, she said while looking down at him, “You may call me Despair. 5 All come to know me, sooner or later.”

5 Some of the known daughters of the Morrighan or Mórríoghain, great/terrible/phantom Queen, (also see 9 Lamia): Anguish, Despair, Misery, and Sorrow.

Thinking as swiftly as he could, Martin again lowered his eyes and replied, “Princess Despair, I am not worthy of your company. My attentions could not but be insulting to you”, He continued, “I was sent here to await someone of great importance, I could not have even dreamed that it would be such as yourself. I am ordered to keep this post until relieved. You who have served in the wars with your Queen Mothers 6 know the importance of duty.”

6 Reference to the three aspects of the great/terrible/phantom Queen (see 5) or Queens of battles: Badb, Macha and Nemain.

Despair was much amused, “Precious Christ man, what care I for duty, but that it brings to me delicious young men and women to love and worship me. I am very pleased in the taste of your commander, for choosing you. I had not known the men of Christ to be so crafty, to use such sweet youth to draw me out.”

Another figure appeared on the hill top. He appeared to be a rustic, young shepherd, dressed in a sheep skin, somewhat indifferently tanned. He was holding a great stave in his right hand. He called to Despair, “Cousin, why have you disturbed my slumber?”

Despair turned quickly, and then laughed loud, “Lord Tuvial! I have not seen you in an age, is this where you have been all this time?”

Tuvial smiled, “Here and there. After the recent battles among the Fair 7 , I wandered for a time. But, my kind were not made for wandering. I found this place, it suited me, so I stayed. I ask you again your purpose here?”

7 Very little is known about this conflict, a political and metaphysical realignment within the Fae realms, possibly caused by the spread of Christian and Muslim beliefs in the human realms.

Despair now frowned, “I had forgotten how tiresome you are! I needed a change; I thought that I might find it in the wider worlds. But all I find are the same old Sprites I’ve known, and a tiresome man-child who is more devoted to duty than to making love to me. It is all so disappointing!”

Tuvial gestured roughly toward Martin, “What do you think of his wards? By what power have you been opposed?”

Despair turned back to Martin. She seemed uncertain. She turned back to Tuvial, “It cannot be, not Him. He does not interfere.”

Martin, still on one knee, now shifted to kneeling on both knees. Freed from Despair’s direct attentions, he saw anew Despair’s companions, and felt great pity for them. But for a pair of red gloves, that would have been his fate. Martin started praying for intercession for these nameless men, held prisoner for years unnumbered by the mistress of despair.

Despair was now visibly shaken, she sensed the power of the Creator in Martin’s wards. The Powers knowing power are not accustomed to being overridden themselves in their dealings with mankind. This was not what she had expected. Magicks are powered by life and belief. Any mortal only has so much of either, which usually limits the powers they control. Martin’s belief in God the Father and devotion in His service, along with his knowledge and skill in this craft was the power behind his shielding wards. It was a power from God, which completely encompassed the dark power of Despair; for the Lord God is All.

Despair turned again to Martin, “My man-child is truly Christ’s man. But you know not the God you serve. He is truly to be feared.” She seemed to be about to say something else, but at that moment, Despair’s escorts turned their faces to the sky, a harsh croaking scream issuing forth from their open mouths. The light that had shown in their eyes, drifted up and away from their bodies which immediately dissolved into dust behind them. Most of the dust fell immediately to the ground, while the remainder continued to hang in the air, slowly settling, but continuing to mark where they had been standing. Martin rose to his feet.

Despair regarded the dust to which her lovers had returned, then approached Martin, standing face to face with him just to the other side of his wards.

“Well played, it is not often I meet a hero. I will leave you something to remember me by, my sweet man.” She then laughed, as Martin gasped, having finally found sudden relief from his glamour induced desire. In that same moment she was gone, her laughter receding toward the encampment in the distance, which now twinkled in the darkening twilight.

Darkness and silence settled over the top of Tuvial’s hill top. Tuvial was nowhere to be seen. A mist started to envelop the hilltop, isolating the camp from the surrounding world, but at least reflecting back toward him the light of the fire. Martin was shaking all over and not from the cold, as he found a change of clothes which were mostly dry in his pack. He changed quickly, and pulled on his poncho. His fire was dying. He banked it and added some wood. Martin watched his fire take on new life.

“Hello the camp, may I join you?”, called a familiar voice from the darkness.

Martin jumped in reaction even though he recognized the voice. Martin answered as nonchalantly as he could, “Brother Cyrus, what has brought you out this evening, to this delightful world?”

“Why, you have Martin. I have come in answer to your call.” Cyrus replied, matching Martin’s playful tone. He was dressed much as Martin, but without weapons. He was wearing thigh high boots and an olive drab poncho against the heavy mist. “I saw most of what happened here, I was warded and concealed farther down the hillside. I reported in right after she departed, so it is not necessary for you to report further this evening.”

He allowed Martin to confirm his identity 8 and to open the wards permitting him to join his student near the fire. Giving Cyrus his camp stool, Martin then opened two cans of beans and arranging them on a grill over hot coals. He quickly audited the warding spells. Satisfied that the wards were still firmly in place, he make himself a rude seat of his still mostly packed knapsack. Cyrus offered him a cup, Martin accepted it finding it to be tepid tea.

8 Methods and Procedures – Identification of Wardens in the Field – Classified.

Only after they had eaten some beans, did Cyrus say anything of import. “You have done very well. We had some indication that someone would be traveling this road, but no one thought that it would be anyone this powerful among the Unseelie. 3 And especially one of the Lamia. 9 We never send our younger wardens to confront them, but they are perilous for anyone to confront. far worse then deadly.”

9 Lamia – Usually female fae who drain the life from their human victims.

“Who were those men who were with her?”, Martin asked quietly.

“I believe, one of them was a man named John, a classmate of mine. We were together, nearly 50 years ago, unprotected by wards at night. She attacked us and went after him first. I was not attacked and fled”, said Cyrus, he paused, then continued, “Whether it was Brother John or another, it was very well done.”

“I could not do otherwise”, said Martin, then added, “It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Although, I was worried she might fly into a rage at what I hoped would happen.”

“It was a definitely possible”, agreed Cyrus.

“But did my prayers for them really free them?”, asked Martin.

Cyrus was silent for what seemed like a long time, “I believe, that your prayers freed them.” He paused, then continued, “We are not given to know exactly how they were allowed to find rest. Did God intervene directly, and free the souls of those men? Or, did they realize that when she traveled to these border lands, her hold on them was not absolute? Or, when they saw their brother pray for them, did their own faith in you, release them? In the final analysis, it does not matter; your prayers set them free.”

Cyrus then changed the subject, “You have of course surmised that Tuvial watches this crossing for us. And that this was supposed to be just another test, a field test, to see if you were really ready.”

“I suspected as much”, replied Martin, “It was all just a little too pat. I must admit that I have learned a great deal these past few weeks. Mostly about how much I do not know.”

“We all continually need to take refresher courses in that subject”, said Cyrus, he then added, “It will be some time before any of the Fae 1 attempt this crossing again. One of the most mighty among them was thwarted in passing on into the main Earth line worlds.”

It was time for Compline. Together they performed the service. After they had made themselves as comfortable as possible, Cyrus took the watch, giving Martin leave to sleep more deeply than he had in many weeks.

Cyrus stayed awake throughout the night, keeping vigil both for John; his friend lost so long ago, and the other unknown warden. As he watched Martin sleep he could not prevent an enormous smile spreading across his face – he would have burst out laughing – if it would not have awakened Martin.

“I knew thee first!”, Cyrus thought to himself, “You will be the best of us”, and then just as silently in his ‘other’ voice, “You may even save us from ourselves…”

Cyrus also pondered the words of Despair. She seemed sure that the Wardens had left Martin to her as a sacrifice. It could well be true, providing her with a fresh young victim would also have distracted Despair, causing her to return to the lands of Fairy. 1 As Cyrus continued his vigil that night, he considered how best to protect his student and ensure Martin’s destiny.

The Secret – full text

Originally Posted on April 13, 2015

The Secret

A Stellar Diaspora Short Story

Douglas Mitchell

Henry had never considered himself any different than the other kids. He had been just another boy among many. Not the strongest or the swiftest, but certainly never chosen last in games either. Not the smartest or particularly bookish but always ready in class with an answer and with an unusually keen interest in history–spending months researching some particular period or the development of some philosophy of thought or some technological praxis used by the ancients.

But as Henry’s friends had matured, and his class entered tertiary schooling where everyone settled on their first career specialization and mastered the necessary skills required to live in modern society; he stood out from the others. He simply could not pass his travelling test. The one really necessary skill in modern society. The only way to travel the distances required for modern life. The skill without which he would be forever isolated to his birth community.

He knew his parents had hoped to move on with their lives. It was common these days for people to live many roles in the course of a lifetime. Some stayed with the same partner, and simply switched careers. Others might change bodies, sexes, careers, communities–breaking completely with their former lives. Henry’s mother was one of these people. She longed to move on, but could not, until Henry passed this test and became a fully fledged member of society.

Henry had mastered all the necessary skills. He had easily passed the written test. He could travel with other people present with him, but when he was alone he could not; in fact, he had very nearly been killed in his last attempt. The experience had scared Henry so much he didn’t know if he could even make another solo attempt. He had even stopped travelling with others entirely, isolating himself further. His mother was now avoiding him, and he seldom even saw her now. Henry’s father reacted quite differently, spending even more time with Henry than he had before. It was almost as if Henry’s father had resigned himself to the care and support of Henry, as a parent must with a developmentally challenged child.

One afternoon Henry had a visitor.

“May I talk with you, young man?”, said the man, who had approached Henry in the field behind the family house.

The man was of indeterminate age, he would look to us as if he were in his late 20’s or early 30’s. For a modern man he could actually be any age from teens to many 10’s of thousands of years old. It is customary to use usages like ‘young man’ or ‘young lady’ this eon when the elder knew that there was at least several thousand years difference in ages.

“Of course, I would enjoy the company”, said Henry.

“My name is Gregor, your father asked me to talk with you”, the man said. He continued, “I’m a specialist in certain developmental cases like your own where a young person has difficulties in learning to travel. Your case is nearly unique in my experience, in that you don’t have any difficulties with the skills necessary for travelling–only the performance of the act when you are alone.”

“I’ve talked with most of the psych-engineers in the community, and I’ve never even heard of you”, said Henry, “What can you do for me? My fear is real, and my fear cannot be treated with any of the techniques currently available.” Henry related this without much emotion, but the look on his face showed his desperation.

Gregor smiled. “I’ve travelled from very far away to be here, Henry. From the opposite side of this galaxy. I had to learn the language spoken here. It had drifted quite a bit from the Standard I was used to speaking. I’m still having some problems with some of the idioms. I believe I might at least bring a different perspective to your problem, would you let me try?”

Henry had never spoken to anyone from so far away. The journey Gregor described would make him objectively older than anyone in the community. Perhaps anyone in this entire galaxy. Standard, the language that the human race had adopted after leaving Earth, changed so gradually; he had never heard of any modern human who had had to learn a different spoken language to speak to other humans. Gregor seemed to him to be like one of the ancients, when all people had lived on the Earth with their different languages so long ago.

Gregor continued, “Tomorrow, let’s meet in my office, and we’ll see if we can work on your travelling problem.” And with that, he shook hands with Henry, and walked away.

Henry immediately started running datastore queries about average journeys between star system communities, clusters, and intra and inter galactic journeys. People simply did not travel the longer distances often, even though they travelled at the speed of light so that subjectively any trip took no time at all to them. It was far more likely for people to hop from star to star in the same area of their local galaxy, perhaps traversing a single galaxy or the local group from end to end over the long lifetimes that modern humans enjoyed these days. Tomorrow could not come soon enough.


Gregor had carefully listened to everything Henry had told him about his fear of travelling. They had been meeting every day, for several hours each day. Gregor said little, allowing Henry to talk, only slightly guiding their conversations. When they came to some natural stopping place, they parted, setting a time for the next meeting. They met in different places, sometimes in parks, sometimes in Gregor’s office, sometimes over chiga in a cafe. Henry had run out of any new insights to his problem after a couple of weeks. They continued to meet and talk. Gregor now spoke more about his experiences. For a human, he was quite old. He had seen much, and was a good storyteller. He asked Henry about his historical research and it seemed that ancient history was also one of his many interests. Henry gathered that Gregor had been a historian in the past, perhaps 5 or 6 careers in the past.

Henry talked at great length, over the course of several weeks of meetings, about some of the research he had done about the curious superstitions of the ancients. Their organized appreciation of the infinite. Something that modern humans now pursued as their most personal, private activity. Everyone, was now encouraged to develop their personal philosophy with the help of a spiritual adviser. It was rare for anyone to even refer to their personal beliefs except with their closest friends. To actually meet on a regular basis with a large group of people to experience awe of creation together was one of the strangest practices of the ancients.

The very word for this practice ‘religion’ did not currently exist in Standard. Some modern humans didn’t even believe the historical accounts of these practices, it was just too alien to modern thought. Henry had contributed to the research on these practices. His insights into this area had become well known as he had published several papers to the peer-reviewed datastore shared between human communities. Henry had developed a rare insight into these ancient religious practices and theological thought.

Henry was very surprised when Gregor abruptly cancelled their next meeting. They had been meeting for several months, and he had gotten used to the routine. It had also allowed him to partially forget why they were meeting and his problem.
A week went by, then a second week. Finally, Henry received a message from Gregor to meet at his office.

“I know why you are having trouble with travelling”, Gregor proclaimed on seeing Henry. “Please sit down, I also think that we might be able to solve your problem.”

“Your problem involves the state change we undergo when we travel. Thousands of years ago we humans learned that thought is equivalent to energy and matter. Even the ancients knew that energy and matter were equivalent, but only modern humans can control-ably transform themselves into pure energy; photons, so that using the inherent speed of that form, we may travel to where ever we need to go, and re-embody ourselves on arrival”, said Gregor.

“I know all this already!”, said Henry, jumping to his feet. “And I can transform myself as long as someone transforms with me! But, when I am alone, I lose my sense of myself; if my father had not been nearby on my last solo test, transforming himself and monitoring me, the energy of my body might have destroyed the departure area of this world. I cannot take the chance with travelling if that might happen again.”

Gregor asked Henry to sit down again, made chiga for both of them and continued, “Why do you lose that sense of yourself when you transform?”

Henry replied, “I don’t know.”

Gregor gently disagreed, “I think that you do, it is because you believe in the ancient belief of the existence of the soul.”

Henry was speechless. It was an incredible breach of manners to suddenly start talking about another’s personal beliefs, but he also realized the truth of what Gregor had said. He did believe in the soul. He believed that if he totally converted to energy, his soul might be lost in the process. It was only when there was someone else with him, helping in his conversion, perhaps even mediating his conversion that he did not panic.

Gregor stopped their session and scheduled one for the next day. “You’ve had quite a shock today. I have some ideas for a solution. But, I need you to have meditated on the truths we’ve talked about today. Then with clear minds we’ll be able to explore solutions.”


When next they met, Gregor started the conversation. “Your problem is that from your extensive research, you have successfully recaptured part of the mindset of the ancients. Belief can have powerful effects on Thought. Especially when you are manipulating the equivalent energy of the mass of a human body. I believe, that the solution to your crisis of belief is another belief of the ancients. The concept of God.”

“The supreme Being and Creator?”, exclaimed Henry, “How can that help me? I’ve already stranded myself to my birth community by my belief in my soul.”

“I’ve prepared a course of study which will show you what I’ve discovered about the ancients’ philosophical systems. It is really quite profound what they were able to accomplish mentally with almost no understanding of how mind, thought, time, energy, and matter really interact”, explained Gregor, “It would be best if you could arrive at these conclusions yourself, once you’ve studied this material. When you are ready, let me know and we’ll meet then.”

It was interesting material. Drawn from several of the ancient philosophical/religious systems. The idea of the supreme Being, Creator, and first Observer. And then it dawned on Henry what Gregor had seen in these beliefs. If he believed in this God being, his soul would always have that external observer – as when he travelled with others. And the most surprising thing to him was that even with all the advances in the sciences of mind and matter–these beliefs of the ancients could still very well be true!

Meeting with Gregor, Henry related his findings and then while they were conversing, he had another revelation! He suddenly said, “Gregor! You share this belief, don’t you? This belief in the Creator, the first Observer.”

Gregor with a twinkle in his eye and the satisfied air of the teacher who has a precocious student, laughed with Henry and said, “Now Henry, I am really shocked you would question me on my personal beliefs”, Gregor continued, “I think it’s time you attempted your solo test again. No need to tempt fate too much–but it is my judgement that you should travel to somewhere you’ve been many times, somewhere you know well, like the adjoining planet in this community; as soon as possible. Both I and your father can monitor on each side of space, but I know that you are now ready to travel.”

Henry was ready. He successfully travelled to the adjoining planet. With the assurance that the God of his ancestors was observing and caring for his soul, even as he transformed his body. He now had no problem moving his body between the far flung stars.