Sunday, 5 March, 1837 — near Manchester, Michigan
Arias returns to the consciousness of her body sitting in her little home’s single chair, and immediately checks the sensors that she has placed in a hundred-yard ring around the schoolhouse. They would have awoken her if they had detected any human-scale intelligence crossing them during the night, but she checks them anyway. She has not placed wards because, on the off chance that someone with legitimate business does approach during the night, she does not want them unaccountably turned away by ‘weird’ or ‘spooky’ feelings. The last thing Arias the Teacher wants is for her little schoolhouse and its surrounding lands to get the kind of supernatural reputation that the children of modern times are all too ready to assign to anything they do not understand. And by ‘children’ she does not mean only the teenagers and younger who come to her little schoolhouse on weekdays, but rather she uses the thought in the old sense to mean every baseline human being who now walks the Earth.
Standing, Arias goes to the door of her little log-walled apartment and emerges into the larger single room of the schoolhouse. It is a pleasant building, the schoolhouse room twenty feet by thirty-two and a smidgen, with the student’s benches set around the perimeter of the room facing inward rather than in rows facing forward. Although they still have to all look to the front often enough when she writes on the big slate—there’s nothing to be done about that. The unusual arrangement has reminded people of a Quaker meeting house, and that has itself been useful in explaining the fact that Miss Arias, as they call her, does not join either the local Methodist congregation at their Bethel Church a few miles east on this very road, nor the Lutherans in Manchester two miles to the south. A few hints of a properly Protestant, if slightly unusual, upbringing, together with a tragic love affair with a Papist scoundrel back east, and the local women’s rumor mill is happily satisfied on the question of the History of Miss Arias. That, and the fact that she maintains her apparent age at somewhere between thirty-five and forty, has allowed her to remain almost unscathed by the curious local women as well as the amorous local men.
Coming to her modern Oberlin stove, imported at some expense from distant Philadelphia two years ago, Arias opens the ornately filigreed doors and loads in several stove-lengths of firewood, using them to stir up the ashes from last night. They will ignite shortly and banish the early March chill from the modest building. The day is dawning clear and looks to remain that way. In a few hours, with the sun upon the schoolhouse’s walls and streaming in through the windows, there will be no need to feed the fire for the rest of the day.
Closing up the stove, Arias continues to the table at the front of the room to examine once again her latest acquisition, and one that she is looking forward to showing to the students tomorrow. It is a substantial wooden box, filled with coarse fabric that served as layers of padding during shipment. The layers separated a series of tin clamshells, each one about the size of a large hand-held slate, but each of these clamshell-style containers has a series of twelve cylindrical bumps. Just yesterday, after returning from her trip to town, Arias untied the small cords that held together the halves of the top shell to expose its precious cargo, nestled inside those cylindrical bumps: twelve precious chalk-sticks, each one a precise four inches long, half an inch wide, and as white as the driven snow. This is not natural chalk, like the stones that exist in some quantity in the soil of this area, invariably colored orange by rust. These perfect little sticks are manufactured objects, made by mixing powdered limestone with clay and water and then curing them in ovens. They are soft enough to never scratch a slate, their marks are uniform and bright, and they are as white as the driven snow. Arias smiles down at the little miracles, which have come all the way from a factory in New York, the rapidly growing city that she knew almost two hundred years ago as the settlement of Nieuw Amsterdam. The city was captured by the British and renamed not long after Arias left, and in the short two centuries since that time it has exploded in population from the bustling settlement of two thousand souls that Arias remembers to a modern metropolis of three hundred thousand—half the size of London across the sea, and perhaps a third the size of the great Ottoman capital of Constantinople—ancient Byzantium—or even the great Ch’ing capital of Peking.
Arias smiles at her memories of old Nieuw Amsterdam, and strokes one of the pieces of chalk. She looks forward to presenting one piece to each of her students, for use both here and at home on the little slates which they carry back and forth. The four dozen pieces she has received means that they will each have several pieces, with half a dozen left over for her. She has even contracted for some containers with the local farrier George Adams whose house and shop are a quite manageable two mile walk away to the northwest of Arias’s schoolhouse, up on the road that runs eventually past Pleasant Lake some miles to the east. He is creating for her sixteen lovely little tin tubes, crimped permanently at one end and stopped by wooden plugs at the other, of just the right size to keep the students’ chalk sticks protected and unbroken as they travel from school to home and back again. Arias resolves to call upon old Mr Adams this very day to check on his progress and hopefully return with the completed project. The hope, of course is that the novelty of this new way of writing will help her interest the less eager of her students in their lessons. The ones who were youngest when she first arrived seven years ago are doing well, but some of the oldest boys are still skeptical that Miss Arias’s world of books and slates has any real value.
The whole town was hesitant at first to accept such an old schoolteacher, and one who moreover had some air of independence or even unconventionality about her. Arias smiles, remembering. The apparent age of twenty-nine she has maintained for some time now—and she must soon take some care to age normally, or risk further unwelcome interest—is a full decade older than most teachers on the frontier. Such young women would normally “board around” the township, and teach in their clients’ houses until such time as contributions of labor, land, and lumber might be found to raise a proper schoolhouse. Which they would then teach in, but generally not live in.
Miss Arias Englebert, on the other hand, arrived seven years ago with her own money sufficient to set up a school and provide for her own keep. Indeed, she is apparently a woman of such independent means that she has several times taken students in exchange for reduced fees, or even for bartered work when the family in question was unable to pay in any other manner. But she has always charged something. The townspeople of little Manchester, a village on the extreme western edge of what they regard as civilization, are a proud and independent lot who would no more accept outright charity than they would steal from a neighbor.
Since Michael brought the Enclave’s portal to the New World nearly three hundred years ago, Arias has become accustomed to seeing change happen at a pace that would have seemed frenetic during any other era of human history. Many times it has seemed as though decades in the New World bring as much change as entire millennia did in the old.
Since she followed the Erie Canal westward and came to the Michigan Territory, it seems that even those frenetic New World decades have been replaced by months. In the few years she has been here the population of the region has tripled! Land patents are flying around like flower petals, ‘free banks’ are popping up everywhere in the region to supply the meteoric rise of farming and industry in the region with beautifully printed bills that contain the magic word dollar worked into their elaborate and optimistic designs, and a man who had little more than the price of a ticket on the canal might arrive here in the West and attain wealth and suffer bankruptcy three times in as many years.
It was not Arias’s original plan to come here to the uttermost frontier, but when she arrived in Detroit ten years ago she looked up the offices of the University of Michigan only to find that it had closed sometime after she had received her letter of offer. So she made her way in Boomtown Detroit for a year or so but was gradually drawn further westward, first to the town of Ann Arbour because of rumors that the university leaders intended to restart their school there, but finally making her way to the very western edge of Washtenaw County, thinking that she could more easily maintain her long association with the Shawnee people from a place on the edge of the wilderness. She did not count on that edge continuing to move westward seemingly at nearly the speed that a man might walk. She is glad that she was at least able to take time, before coming here from Detroit, to visit the small band in northwest Ohio that she had been watching. She knows now that it will not easy anymore to find the time to visit them. Even for a being like Arias, a journey from southern Michigan to northern Minnesota can take days. And would use quantities of energy that cannot be replaced.
Like others of her rank, Arias can project her awareness and then translate only to places that are either quite nearby, or to more distant places that are at least visible to her. And, although she is well advanced and near the upper range for beings of her rank, she cannot translate more than twenty or so times per day without ending up on her knees retching or worse after each translation. This means that the densely forested lands to the west are almost impassable to her, unless she wishes to travel little faster than a walking man. And even if she could find some trail miraculously straight road that would allow her to jump two miles at a time, there would still be Lake Michigan in the way: a fifty mile barrier of clear blue water at its narrowest. It is not possible for any being of her rank to cross so much open water. In fact, one percent of that distance would be insurmountable. Liquid or running water is the perfect conductor and perfect diffuser for the attention of the mind and the life-force of the spirit. She would be able to jump in but not out. An attempt to cross the great lake would leave her stranded a mile from the shore, wondering if she would prove strong enough to swim back. So, to reach Minnesota she would be forced to take the new Chicago Road westward, and then travel up the edge of the prairie lands of the Wisconsin territory. And it would still consume energy.
Underneath the table that holds the chalk is a simple wooden drawer. It has no lock, But if Arias has students come and go in this schoolhouse for a hundred years, not one of them will ever think to open it. It is protected by devices more subtle and more powerful than metal locks. Deactivating the protective wards, Arias opens the drawer and looks down at the simple little wooden box inside. Lignum vitae is an antique wood as hard as iron. The wood from which Myrddin’s staff was made in lost Gwynedd across the sea. It is a wood that requires the patience of an angel to be worked. Lifting the perfectly fitted lid, Arias gazes at the glowing crystal vials in their carefully fitted grooves, so much like her simple pieces of chalk. But her white sticks of chalk do not shine with raw life-force, preserved for twelve thousand years. There are now only twenty-one of the precious vials remaining. Enough to keep her alive for perhaps two hundred more years, if used cautiously. The same amount of time that has passed since Michael, breaking his own law, made her a gift of this box and its irreplaceable contents at his home in Nieuw Amsterdam of long ago. Arias touches one of the vials as she did the chalk.
‘Irreplaceable’, even though every one of the young human students whom she teaches in this building contains within their body and spirit the same amount of power to be found in one of these vials. Yet, irreplaceable, because this energy was given freely, in exchange for teaching, by students in the sunny millennia before the Fall. To take the same power from a child by force is a more terrible perversion than that of love into rape. Every remaining Teacher of the Filii Veritas would starve, fade, and finally end this life rather than sustain themselves as do the Sons of Lies.
Closing the box and its drawer and carefully resetting its wards, Arias moves to open the heavy front door of the schoolhouse and steps outside, smiling to see the fresh, chill morning. There are not as many giant oaks nearby as there were, but the land hereabout is still a pleasant mixture of oak openings and newly cleared fields.
She takes a moment to admire the schoolhouse from without. Although its walls are bare logs from within, she has had the outside covered with respectable clapboard. The boards were cut at the Sharon Mill—which, at two and a half miles to the west, is practically a neighbor. It has nor hurt her campaign of acceptance by the community to be seen doing substantial business with so manyt newly created local concerns.—and then washed brilliant white with clean-smelling lime paint.
Sparrows chitter-whistling in the trees, and the soft susurrus of the morning’s breeze in high branches.
Faint in the distance, Arias detects a rattling sound which takes her only an instant to identify. It is the sound of a carriage—more likely, in this area, a one-horse gig—approaching rapidly. Putting forth her perception, Arias sees that it is indeed a Tilbury being pulled by a lovely dark Canadian and driven by young Anna Gilbert, the granddaughter of Major Gilbert, Manchester’s founder. She is approaching with an urgency that is certainly not born of a sudden desire to improve her studies. Which leaves only one other possibility.
Looking back toward the schoolhouse and her apartment at its north end, Arias puts forth her hand and her satchel appears, its braided handles in her closing palm. It is a large leather bag, suitable for holding many herbs and potions, unguents, bandages, splints, and tinctures. For, since soon after her arrival, her other business besides school teaching has been healing. First it was for women only, but then Joseph Lamb broke a leg clearing his field and his wife came to beg Miss Arias’s help. Now she has a steady business in bone-setting, as well as, occasionally, more subtle healings, and people have come to expect that a broken bone tended to by Miss Arias will heal quickly and afterward be as good as new.
Healing, however, is an occupation more fraught with risk. It is not possible, for Arias in any case, to know what the patients precise malady is before she sets foot in the house and examines them directly. And once having arrived and seen the child and touched their aura, once having seen the wife’s fear or the mother’s desperate hope, will she then turn aside? So, some healings have happened in Manchester and Chelsea and the surrounding villages in recent years that are little short of miracles. Some have happened that can only be called miracles. Arias has always made her clients in these matters promise silence, and they have always solemnly agreed. Yet her fame has quietly spread.
Inevitably, even here on the frontier, that fame will someday reach the ears of a man (for they are invariably men) who is, unbeknownst to his neighbors, a shepherd of the Filii Lucis. And he will come for her, expecting to find a minor human talent, a sport that must be put down to maintain good order in the world that the Sons of Light have made.
He will undoubtedly attack at night, thinking to insinuate his will into her dreams and still the beating of her heart so that her neighbors will find her in a few days peacefully dead. Imagine his surprise when he discovers his error! Expecting to find a village witch and instead happening upon one of the very Hidden, the ancient enemies of the Filii Lucis from before the Fall, must be like looking for a silver half-dime and finding a chest of gold. Alternatively, it would be like looking for a troublesome woodchuck and finding an angry panther.
Arias smiles at the thought. It would almost be worthwhile. But she would have no choice except to destroy the creature, and then his superiors would know what kind of being he had encountered. They would then stop at nothing to apprehend her. With a fresh trail they would follow her to the ends of the Earth with their best trackers, even if lord Naberius himself were forced to take a hand. She would fly as fast as she could westward to prevent word coming to Michael’s ears of her pursuit. Finally, trapped at last no doubt on some remote mountain peak, Arias would finally have no choice but to end her own life rather than yield the secrets in her mind to Naberius or Stolas, the lords of the West.
So Miss Arias lately of Manchester, Michigan will teach while she can, and heal while she can, and then she will leave.
As she always has.
Anna arrives at last, her eyes blazing, and she leaps from her driver’s seat on the gig leaving the horse to stand as it will. She runs forward in a panic.
“Anna,” Arias says with concern. “What has happened?”
The girl stops only an arm’s length from her, and looks hopefully into her eyes.
“Oh, Miss Arias,” she says. “Please. I know you’re not just a teacher. I know you do healings and all. I know you can do things. I’m sorry to mention it because I know you don’t want people to talk, but, oh please, Miss Arias,” Anna looks like she is going to weep, “you have to come, Miss Arias. Come quick.”
“Anna,” Arias repeats, “what is it? Has—” The girl is so agitated that even standing within arms’ length she cannot make out what is in the child’s mind. “Has someone fallen ill?”
“A man from Swainsville—” She shakes her head in confusion. “Or whatever they call it now, he came riding in like the devil was chasing him! His neighbors, a whole family. Oh Miss Arias, they’re not taken ill,” Anna looks at Arias with tears in her eyes. “They’ve all been murdered!”
As she allows Anna to pull her into the Black Sheep Tavern, a group of men are gathered around one central table with a few women huddled together near the edge of the large room.
“I want to know one thing,” one of the more prosperous men of the town is saying loudly. “Is there any sign it was Indians?”
The man seated at the table who is the center of attention shakes his head, looking dazed enough that even the press of men around him is not fully registering upon his consciousness.
“No,” he says. “No there haven’t been any Indians around for years.”
The tavern’s windows face north and are not yet admitting much illumination from the March sunrise, so the hanging lamps have all been lit. Their milky glass, adorned with a ‘Japanese’ pattern of roses and leaves, cast a warm glow around the big room. One wall has a complete copy of the Western Emigrant tacked up—two copies, actually, so that every page may be read—and an Abolitionist hand-bill advertising a meeting.
“Oh, Miss Arias!” one of the women comes to her, taking her hand. “Such a terrible event. I’m so glad you could come!” The woman is Mrs Carr, whose husband owns substantial tracts west of the River Raisin and has done well in wheat farming and sheep. Arias was able to help two years ago when their son broke a bone in his foot. “An entire family murdered!”
“We should call for their Sheriff immediately,” one of the men says. “This is a Lenawee County matter, not Washtenaw.”
“Heavens, man! The murders are already a day gone by, and it will require another day to return if we leave this moment. And you propose to add a trip to Adrian into the bargain? That will add yet another day!”
The dazed man shakes his head.
“We don’t have our own sheriff in Lenawee yet,” he says quietly. “It’s still in the Monroe jurisdiction. That’s why I came this way. And I have. I have relatives in Ann Arbor, that I thought. That I thought—”
He stops talking and grips his mug of beer with shaking hands.
“Excuse me!” Arias steps forward adroitly through the press of men, several of them looking down in surprise as she passes. She sits at the table with the man from Swainsville—all the other men are standing, looming over him—and takes his hand. The man looks at her, startled out of his reverie. Arias catches the man’s attention with her gaze and tries to calm him, but to her surprise his eyes fill with tears.
“I can’t go back there,” he tells her quietly. “I can’t.”
“Wait, what is this?” Surprisingly, one of the pontificating men has heard him. “Of course you must go back there, my man! Who will lead us to the place?”
“Was it a Negro?” another man demands, oblivious. “By God, if all these damned Abolitionists and their Underground Railroads have brought a murderous former slace into our midst—”
“Where did it happen?” Arias asks the man quietly, trying further to calm him and to see his memories. Still without success.
“At the, the Straub farm,” the man manages to say. His mouth tightens. “Ten, twelve miles northwest of Adrian.”
“He’s saying he won’t lead us?” another local man demands.
Arias visualizes the place, and finally is aided by a clear recollection from the man.
“Near Devil’s Lake,” she says, and the mad nods tightly.
Arias looks up at the surrounding men and just touches the consciousness of all of them at once, by giving them all the vague impression that someone had just spoken directly to them, but too softly to quite hear. As a woman making her occasional sojourns into a man’s world over the last few millennia, it is a trick that she has found quite useful from time to time. In the ensuing silence, she speaks.
“I know the Straub’s farm,” Arias says. “I tutored one of their daughters a few years ago. I can lead you there.”
The men look down at her with a mixture of confusion and irritation. Those who know her reputation best, both as a teacher and healer, are least certain of how to respond. It is one of the men from farther out of town who does not know her who recovers first.
“Surely, madame,” he says, “this is no proper affair for a woman to involve herself with.”
On the fringe of the group, Lydia Fargo pulls her husband away and whispers urgently into his ear.
“I believe I could be of some service, sir,” Arias answers calmly. “And, as I said, I at least know the way. I’m sure there will be no present danger.”
Mr Fargo comes back into the press of men—he does not need to force his way in—and speaks.
“I’m sure Miss Arias can be of service, Nathan,” Fargo says. “And her skill with herbs may come in handy, of course.”
Fargo looks down at Arias and smiles, but his eyes are uneasy.
“And I will come too!” Anna speaks up from the fringe.
Fargo looks toward her surprised. “Oh, now I certainly do not think your father would approve of that, do you Miss Gilbert?”
The men put Arias in the Gilberts’ gig—Anna’s home is only a short walk from the center of town—and James Fargo volunteers to drive. It is not until they have been on the road westward for more than an hour and are already four miles on their way, with the other six men in the party strung out over the distance of a furlong ahead, that the Mr Fargo speaks, being careful to keep his eyes on the gig’s lone horse.
“Lydia was quite insistent that you should accompany us,” he says. “In fact, I was given to understand—although rather briefly—that there was more to the, ah,” he glances at her, “the mending of my son’s leg last summer. More to it than I previously understood.”
“Ah,” Arias says. “You mean the finding of him.”
“Yes,” James Fargo—the younger of the two Fargo brothers who own much of Manchester—says. “That is what I mean. While he was still unconscious, as I am told. As I am only now told.”
“Oh, I do hope you will forgive your wife for keeping my little secret,” she smiles, “as it was part of my price. But please understand, Mr Fargo, there was no kind of magic involved although it may have seemed so to Mrs Fargo. I simply reasoned about where a young boy might go, and was lucky with my first guess.”
James has a thinner, more severe face than his brother, but also more scholarly in aspect. Now he gives Arias another sidelong glance, and, looking back again to the road ahead, nods.
“Interesting,” he says.
“What is interesting, sir?”
“I would have thought that a woman of your talents might also be a talented liar. But apparently not.”
Arias laughs loudly enough to draw the momentary attention of one of the riders up ahead, and she claps a hand to her mouth. They ride in silence for some time. The late-morning March air is cold and crisp and the sunlight bright, although a horizon-wide line of slate and indigo cloud cover is approaching from the western distance, promising rain.
“Do you know, in the country that my brother and I left, New York, there were dowsers and spiritualists aplenty. At one time in my younger days I harbored rather strict views concerning such matters. As I grow older, however—” he flips the reins to suggest to the gelding that its pace could stand improvement, “I wonder. Do I become more lax, more wise, or more tired?”
Arias laughs again. “What if those are all one?”
This wins a wan smile from Mr Fargo. “Then I would be correct in claiming wisdom.” The horse continues its pacing unaffected by human opinions, and Fargo’s expression becomes more serious. “Also, even if I were inclined to take exception to—unusual methods, I now know that I may have those methods to thank for my son’s life.”
“And yet,” he continues after a few more paces, “I feel that I must speak a word of caution. Even in my former home state there is widespread—suspicion, shall we say?—toward even moderately unusual groups. Such as Masons,” he glances at her, “which is why my brother and I left, along with many others here. We hoped to find more freedom on the frontier, as indeed we have. Yet I fear that our newfound freedom has its origin merely in the thinness of population here in the West, rather than in any increased liberalism of thought among the pioneers. In fact, I find that the common folk may be more adherent in their thinking to strict normalcy, more suspicious of new modes. They are simply too thinly spread to create an Anti-Mason Party, and then infect even the Whigs with their jealousies.”
They ride in silence for a bit, James Fargo lost in thought.
For the hundredth time, Arias is glad of her decision long ago to leave the Enclave and come into this world while she is still able to enjoy it. Paradoxically, she is glad that she waited for her final coming out, remaining faithful to Michael’s law—well, approximately faithful—for so very long.
If she had turned away and become expatriate long ago, immediately after the Sequestration as some did, she would have plunged into the post-Fall world in the era of the creation of the first great Filii Lucis empires of Akkad and Sumer. At that time there were many survivor remnants of Filii Veritas cultures. Indeed, their territories still covered most of the Earth’s globe, including all of Africa, Australia, the Western Hemisphere, northern Asia, and all of Europe. Emerging at that time, the temptation to intervene would have been irresistible. And many did. They became teachers in the forests of northern Europe and the forests, plains, and jungles of the Americas, or in the fertile valleys and mountain highlands of Asia—always giving wide berth to the nascent empires of Mesopotamia.
Wisely, Arias refrained and at that time chose instead to remain dreaming in the Enclave, concealed from the human world. She understood that any notion of teaching, and hope of post-Fall resistance to the Filii Lucis dominion of the Earth was a fool’s hope. The teachers found themselves hunted, by Filii Lucis shepherds and, if they were powerful enough or wily enough to survive that onslaught, the assassins. The few who thought themselves fortunate enough to see their little pockets of truth flourish later learned that they had been permitted their lives by the Filii Lucis planners—the Sons of Light are nothing if not great planners—to be used later in standard polarities. Great empires need great enemies, and the greatest empires of all require enemies both of the body and the mind. Thus Rome was given Carthage to the south as an enemy of the body and later the Druids to the north as an enemy of the mind. The United States have been given first the Indians to the west as enemy of the mind. Arias expects that soon enough the United States will be given their enemy of the body, and that it will be to the east, but how? This is a unique situation because of this new nation’s isolation. Their greatest neighbors are oceans, and they cannot become a maritime power to challenge Britain anytime soon. No doubt this is all part of the designs of the great social engineers of the Sons of Light, but her mind does not move in their paths.
Arias will of course never be a friend to the enemy of her people, but in these last thousand years, during which she has occasionally snuck out of the Enclave for her brief sojourns into human life, she has been able to gradually comprehend, although vaguely and only in outline, some part of this new world that the Filii Lucis have built.
Of course she can never approve of what the Enemy has done to this world. Of course she abhors it to the foundation of her being.
After twelve thousand years it is possible, for some, to achieve a more philosophical view. If you can just block out, for a moment, the little detail that the Sons of Light enslave children forever, harvesting the force of innocent lives to fuel their bodies and power their civilization—then it is possible to appreciate a certain grandiosity of purpose and design.
The man now sitting next to her, for example, belongs to a society which was founded by Filii Lucis operatives five hundred years ago—complete with an invented history stretching back millennia—to secretly oppose and undermine the crowned heads of Europe and to assist, within Protestantism, the Jesuit project of generally weakening nation-states around the world and replacing them with a small number of large power-blocs. The creation of groups like the Freemasons and their subsequent clandestine struggles against greater authorities is reminiscent of the long-ago battles between the rising Filii Lucis empires and the furtive societies inspired by expatriate Filii Veritas teachers. And their creation speaks to Arias of the genius of her enemies. In olden times, even as the enemy stamped out the remnants of Filii Veritas influence, they used the tension with those groups as a source of creative energy to shape their human cultures. Now, deprived of their competitors in the true War, they create artificial tensions by setting their own societies, overt and covert, against each other. In fact, the Sons of Light never simply create a human group of any kind—religion, nation, empire, whatever—and give it unchallenged power. They always create at least two competing blocs, and use the dynamic tension between them to focus and steer the overarching culture. Arias has studied this phenomenon over the centuries, and has finally come to understand that the ideal of competition and selection is as natural a part of the religion of the Filii Lucis as the ideal of cooperation and teaching is natural to the Children of Truth.
But of course, to the human sitting beside her, the conflict between his secret society and the old monarchies is in deadly earnest. It is a significant sign of trust that James Fargo has even mentioned to her that he is a Mason.
“So you have found some freedom here in the West,” Arias says to him, “yet I suppose that no few of your brother Masons have declined to make such a dangerous journey.”
“Ah, well, as to danger,” James smiles, “I doubt that you will find many of my brothers who came west before the opening of the Canal. So we are perhaps not quite the pioneers of old. I do not believe, for example, that those hardy souls had the leisure of sipping cool drinks while watching the landscape drift by!”
Arias laughs, and James Fargo smiles briefly at her.
“No, in fact,” he becomes thoughtful, “I know for a certainty that many of my brothers who remained in New York see us as deserters—leaving the scene of the true struggle to flee to a simpler life on the frontier.” Fargo’s face hardens and he gives the reins an angry flip. The horse quickens its pace for a few steps.
“A coward would not be on the road today to investigate a murder,” Arias says quietly.
Fargo startles as though she had poked him.
“Oh, well! Am I so transparent? But no, I do not require reassurance, even if some of my former brothers in New York have a low opinion of us pioneers. You know, even Freemasons can be fools from time to time, though I regret to say it.”
“What would you tell them,” Arias asks, “if you could speak to them now?”
The horse’s hooves clump dully into the loam of the roadway. The road here is nothing more than a lane ten yards wide that has been cleared of the great oak and hickory boles that rise tall and thick on either side. This trip is not as dark as it would be in another month. The great trees do not yet have their leaves, although the prettily layered understory trees are beginning to put theirs out, and the sun, now past noon, penetrates the hundred feet of branches and twigs to brightly dapple the roadway and its travellers.
James Fargo breathes deeply of the cool spring air.
“I would remind them,” he says, “that the men who founded this republic were Freemasons. Did they not come to the New World to found their dream of a new order of the ages? Should they rather have stayed in the old, where they would have struggled all their lives in vain to alter its course by a hair’s breadth? No they sailed west away to a new beginning, and in so doing have had more of an effect upon mankind than if they had labored a thousand years in the midst of the Old World’s corruption and superstition.”
“Do you then compare your former brothers in New York,” Arias asks quietly, “to the rulers of the Old World?”
“Ah.” Fargo glances sidelong at her with the slightest mischievous twinkle in his gaze. “You noticed that. Yes, I should have known that you would. Yes, well—it was exactly that part of the argument that caused a bit of a chill in relations with the older lodges. As I might have known. But I did not intend it as a criticism of my brothers! I only wanted to help make a new world.” He looks at her, brown eyes in weathered face, wanting so much for Arias to believe him.
The most wonderful thing about choosing to be out in the world, among the strife and ferment of human life under the Filii Lucis, is that, for the first time in her existence since she was herself a child, Arias is able to interact with children as equals, without the interposed barrier of the student-teacher relationship that she had of old. In such unguarded moments, as would never have happened in the world that was lost, it sometimes happens that a child will do or say something, or let a moment of hope show on his face, a moment of plain desire, that stabs like a dagger of ice through her heart.
“Forgive me,” James Fargo says. “Did I misspeak? You are distressed!”
Like a child herself, she has let her emotion show on her face.
“Not at all, sir. Please believe me when I tell you—it is only that I have the greatest sympathy for your cause.”
Fargo looks at her, holding the reins loosely in his hands and ignoring the road.
“I thought that you might, Miss Arias.” he says quietly. “I hoped that you might. In fact, I wondered—”
Arias is looking forward on the road, toward the men on horseback who are proceeding them. She is looking as if she had perhaps heard some sound.
“James, is it possible to catch up with them? We are arriving.”
“What?” he looks around. “Are you certain? Get up,” he says to the horse, slapping the reins on its back, “get up there curse you!”
Her momentary embarrassment of a moment before is nothing compared to the knowledge that she has allowed herself to become so engrossed in reminiscence and conversation that she has lost track of their progress. They have turned off the main Chicago Road some time ago and are now approaching the farmstead perhaps still half a mile ahead, and Arias’s subtle senses have detected a kind of scent or vibration in the spiritual atmosphere of this place that she has not felt since her first forays into what James Fargo calls the New World.
Fargo does at last manage to hurry the lethargic beast along and close most of the gap with the half-dozen men up ahead as they are arriving in the cleared yard around the house. James Fargo’s passenger surprises him by fairly leaping from the gig and hurrying toward the small log cabin, walking swiftly past the dismounting men.
As Arias approaches the cabin’s door, which has been loosely closed from without, her senses are screaming. She would like to be able to prevent the men from seeing what waits within but fears that the use of any such influence would too much confuse whatever faint traces may still remain of the killer’s signature. She already knows that his victims lie within.
Arias pushes open the cabin door, letting sunlight into a dark place, and stands looking down at carnage.
There are five bodies, arranged neatly from largest to smallest: the man of the house and his wife, then a youth, a girl, and a boy. The men, hurrying in behind Arias, exclaim in anger and shock. This, at least, is one atrocity that will not be blamed on the ‘Indians’. The damage to the bodies is bestial, yet is also clearly not the work of a common animal. The victims have had their throats torn half away, yet the flesh has not been eaten. The bodies, from largest to smallest, have been completely exsanguinated.
It was not the murderer who left them thus. While the men move around her like a minor obstacle in the cabin, Arias shifts her perception to view the recent past. She sees the man who brought the news to Manchester—his name is Blosser—dragging the bodies in through the door. Moving her inward gaze, she sees him dragging pulling them all from water. A stream? No. One of the many small lakes in the area, this one called Wolf Lake by the locals. Further back, Blosser is discovering the bodies as he rides to the lake’s edge to water his horse after a long ride in the early morning. The horse shies, refusing to go near the water. Blosser gets down to see if something is there, and makes his grisly discovery.
The fact that the bodies were dumped in water may explain why Arias is unable to see further into their past, but the perfect absence of further traces is troubling. Water absorbs and scatters the energies that impress events upon the akashic records, but normally not so completely in so short a time—unless a being of great skill knows how to use it. Arias frowns, looking out the cabin window as one of the men opens it to let in more air and light. A being that would commit a crime such as this would never have such skill. But that is a mystery for a later time. For now, it seems likely that the creature is still in the near area and, if so, she may be able to attract it to return here. If she is alone.
“Gentlemen? Gentlemen!” she calls loudly, and all seven of the men look at her. “Thank you. Could I speak to you for a moment?” She walks backward a few paces, putting herself at the far side of the cabin from them, until all eyes are on her.
“Good,” she says, and seizes their attention. The attention of a baseline human is like an electric current that can be channeled and controlled by the right sort of field. It would be trivial with one or two. Arias is a very high-level Teacher-class being, but even so, seven is a significant challenge for her. If it were not for the fact that the men’s attention is already strongly channeled by the circumstances that they have come to investigate, this would be impossible.
“Mr Blosser,” she says slowly but clearly—the cadence of voice is important in retaining control, as is the timbre—“Mr Blosser who brought us the news. He was mistaken. Mr Blosser was upset, and mistaken. The family merely drowned. The family drowned in an accident. An accident in the lake. There were no murders. No one was murdered. The family was not murdered. They drowned in the lake, and Mr Blosser was mistaken. He was upset. You see the mistake now. You are not upset. You see his mistake, and you are not upset. You will return now. We will all return together now. We have buried the drowned family, and now we will all return together. We will correct Mr Blosser. Let’s all go now, because our work is done. Mr Blosser was mistaken, and the family only drowned, but we have buried them and we should go back now. To set the record straight. Come,” she smiles, and starts ushering them to the door. “Come, let’s all go home now.”
Some of the men move like sleepwalkers. Some seems more conscious, including James Fargo, which worries her a bit, but she smiles at him and he smiles back and nods. Arias follows them out, continuing to maintain control so that they will not notice that she is not coming along, and watches as the men mount their horses and Fargo climbs into his gig, and set off. The horses are glad to be going, which helps, but the men all move silently at first, each filled with his own thoughts. At last, just as the last of them are leaving the house’s clearing and returning to the trail eastward, one man on horseback utters a few words to the man next to him, Arias breathes with relief. They will proceed normally now, but not noticing that she is no longer among them. Which, of course would cause some trouble if they were to arrive back in Manchester that way, which is why she has planted the suggestion that he will follow a different route back, letting the others return directly to town while he takes Miss Arias straight to her home the schoolhouse, since she is tired.
If Arias could teach these men as she taught of old in the world that was lost, within a year she could give them the mental tools required to resist the kind of manipulation she is now applying. All of them are between twenty-five and forty-five years of age: the ideal level of maturity for such instruction. But alas, in this world they would never accept instruction, believing their schooling to have been complete with the mastery of language, a touch of mathematics, and some half-false history. In this world, if she were to trick one man into becoming her pupil, he would probably think that she had simply damaged him in some way, or made him insane. And if she could somehow persuade the whole group of them to learn from her, the end result of her efforts would be to bring the shepherds of the Filii Lucis down upon them. Here on the edge of the wilderness the Sons of Light, though thinly spread, will be on the watch for such attempts, using their web of unwitting human informants. It would be precisely the kind of foolishness that some of her brothers and sisters attempted in the remote past. The lords of the Filii Lucis would not hesitate to destroy a village the size of Manchester down to the last woman and child to cauterize such an outbreak. In the earliest history of the New World, it occasionally happened that an entire colony simply disappeared without so much as a splash of blood to mark their passage. And then of course, after spreading about the rumor that the Manchester, Michigan had been destroyed by Red savages, the shepherds would come looking for Arias.
So! Arias learned long ago to take the world as she finds it, even if that means accepting the world that the enemies of her people have made. In this case, perhaps some good comes of it. Even children such as these men would, if they had the least bit of training, be able to resist her. Instead, she can use their own minds against them. It is not her own strength but rather the great desire of their own minds for continuity and certainty that is even now causing them to knit the explanation she suggested into their memories and fashion among themselves a consistent explanation of their adventure and their return.
And today, Arias is glad of how easily she can manipulate such children, because today she has sent them out of harm’s way. The creature that committed these murders near this place less than two days ago is a vampire. She has not encountered such a creature since her first forays into the New World, but she perceives now that this one has been here for some time. It will be the reason why the Potawatomi who lived here for centuries past gave the name Mbes Manitou to the largest lake nearby: Spirit Lake. Arias frowns, wondering how long the creature has haunted this region.
In a very real sense all members of the Sons of Light—whom Arias’s people refer to as the Sons of Lies—are vampires, from the lowliest talent to the Princes of the Nine, in the sense that the power they use to sustain themselves and their civilization is harvested from the children without their consent or understanding. Yes, but in the same way all of the men whom she has just now sent on their way are meat-eaters. That does not mean that any of them would dream of jumping one of his neighbor’s fences in the middle of the night to kill a calf with an axe and feast upon its flesh with his teeth. If any man did such a thing, his neighbors would not simply think of his as a fellow meat-eater. They would fall upon him and punish him, maybe unto death, not for the crime of meat-eating but because he is doing it outside of the forms and careful strictures of his culture. They would see him as a madman.
The name of vampire is reserved for beings who are likewise outside of the accepted norms of Filli Lucis culture. Typically, such beings have managed to discover the trick of extending their lifespans by consuming the life force of humans—the life force as carried by the blood—but have not managed to become adept enough in the talents of the mind to rise to the status of Filii Lucis talents—which is the Filii Lucis term for the lowliest of their culture. They do not partake of that civilization’s wholesale harvesting of the human life force, in the same way that the madman who jumps a fence in the night to get his meat does not partake of his culture’s controlled and ritualized production of meat. So they are sordid things, trapped in the twilight between two worlds. To baseline humans they are monsters, the stuff of rumor and legend. To the owners of that world they are criminals, demented and disgusting. And although the wiliest of them may endure for centuries they typically come to a much quicker end. Rumors spread, and the cattlemen do not like their cattle made restless.
As evening arrives, Arias steps out of the cabin and looks around its cleared yard in the chill air. After such a feeding, the creature cannot have gone far. It would most likely go to ground somewhere quite nearby to digest the physical component of its grisly meal. This is the second night since its feeding, and it may be regaining consciousness enough to sense its surroundings again. If so, then she has a lure that is sure to get its attention. She often wears as a necklace one of the life force crystals that Michael gave her long ago in Nieuw Amsterdam, keeping it imperceptible with an attention ward. Now she withdraws and unshields it, and the finger-sized crystal glows faintly blue in the red sunset light.
She is shocked to feel a chime of awareness, distant but clear, instantly.
The sensation is something like hearing a distant sound echo from the forest. It is clearly sentient and clearly a response to her unshielding of the crystal, but beyond that it carries only vague information as to distance and direction. What the sound does speak of is power. It has certainly issued from a remove of at least several miles which should be an impossible distance from which to detect her little crystal for such a being. Arias doubts that she herself would be able to detect it from such a range! She had expected the vampire to have laired and shielded itself less than a mile away from such a rich set of kills, maybe no more than a few hundred yards. Or is it possible that she has exaggerated the range in her nervousness before the expected confrontation? But she is not nervous! She is confident that she will be able to handle such a creature easily. When it comes to her bait she will freeze its awareness almost as easily as she would that of a baseline human, and then takes its life like snuffing out a candle. But now she stands, frowning into the darkening treeline, doubting.
And for the second time today hears the approaching jingle of the Gilberts’ gig, but this time with the hoofbeats of two horses.
“Oh, no,” Arias whispers. “Anna.”
The gig comes into the cabin’s clearing with James Fargo driving and young Anna Gilbert speaking angrily to him and gesturing toward the cabin and Arias.
“You see?” Arias sees the young woman’s lips form the word. “You left her! Were you drunk?”
The gig pulls to a quick halt in front of her and Fargo fairly leaps from it.
“Miss Arias, I am so sorry! I cannot imagine how I could have left you here! I cannot explain it! Somehow I thought you were still with me until I met Miss Gilbert here on the road and she brought me to my senses.”
“And Mr Fargo tells me that there were no murders, but only drownings?” Anna demands. “I can scarcely believe it after what we heard in town.”
Arias has been looking back and forth at the treeline. Whatever it is that has scented her crystal, it is approaching with surprising speed but its distance is still difficult to determine. Maybe it is still possible to send them away again.
“Listen to me,” she speaks quickly to both of them. “You are in danger here. You must go back.” Arias winces inside, realizing that she will have to capture their attentions and alter their memories just as she did with the seven men earlier today, but this time very rapidly. She is not certain that she can accomplish the task without permanently harming them both.
“In danger?” Fargo says immediately. “Then they were murdered?” He draws his sidearm: a strikingly modern Colt Paterson revolving pistol that can fire five shots before reloading.
“That won’t help—” Arias begins to say, raising a hand. There is no time. With every second’s passage she can feel the creature drawing nearer. Anna, her mouth open to speak, stops herself as her eyes fall on the glowing crystal hanging around Arias’s neck, its light plainly visible now in the deepening twilight.
“Wait,” Arias interrupts herself, looking into the tops of the trees. “It’s too late.”
The creature arrives somewhere among the trees in a wash of translational energy which they all feel, although the two children have no idea what has happened. James Fargo closes his mouth and a look of consternation spreads across his face, while Anna clutches her waist and bends forward, moaning. All around the cabin clearing, the treetops whip and toss as though buffeted by a sudden gale. A moment later the wind reaches the ground with enough force to stagger both Fargo and Anna. The power is astonishing. It is inconceivable that the level of creature she has been assuming could command such energies. Has it somehow partnered with an elemental? No, she detect no hint of soullessness. But beyond that, Arias now realizes, she has no idea of what she is dealing with.
“Get behind me!” she grabs Fargo and Anna and forces them back while she steps forward. “James, use your gun if you see it. But stay behind me!” Maybe the report of the weapon will distract it. One small consolation: she sense hesitation. The creature also does not know what she is.
Taking the crystal’s necklace off, Arias throws it high into the air so that it shines as it flies.
And she has it. In an unguarded moment as the creature is distracted by the crystal, she touches its mind. It is monstrous, bestial. Hunger, fear, hatred, anger. Arias moves to seize its consciousness and lock the creature’s mind, but in the instant it feels her effort the beast breaks the bonds that she has attempted to form around its mind and counterattacks with more force than she has felt in her life. Her mind is stunned, and Arias feels her body lifted and hurled backward against the cabin door with enough force to shatter bones.
The nauseating rush of translation washes over the clearing again, the treetops are tortured a second time, and the thing is gone.
“Miss Arias! Miss Arias!” It is Anna Gilbert looking down at her. Arias realizes that she has blood on her face, but that is the least of her problems. She has a concussion and three cracked vertebrae. Her right scapula is broken, and the right humerus has two hairline fractures. Massive bruising on her back, right side. First task, of course, is to control and reverse the brain-bruising and cerebral bloodflow. Then the bones. They will take longer. A few steps away, James Fargo is vomiting. The creature’s second translation affected him more.
“No, Anna, don’t pick me up,” she says. “Let me rest—a few minutes first. It’s gone now. It will not return. Could you please go pick up—go pick up that crystal I threw? You should be able to find it.”
“Miss Arias,” Anna’s concerned face lowers toward her. “What was it? How did it throw you like that?”
“I don’t know, child. I do not know. I will try to find out.”
But even as Arias gazes simultaneously upward into the night sky—The first stars have come out at the zenith, but the layer of clouds is arriving from the west. It will be a dark night to travel in, but the Gilberts’ gig has running lamps.—and downward, into her own body, repairing damage.
It could have killed me.
The creature could have killed her easily. With its great strength it could have taken both her life and the crystal that she used as bait. Yet it chose to distract and delay her by damaging her body so that it could flee untracked. Why?
Arias is a Teacher-class being, but she is very high within that rank. Yet this creature overpowered her easily. That should be impossible. Such power would put it in the rank of the Nine themselves! Yet it is hiding on the edge of the wilderness, rather than taking a place among the lord of the Filii Lucis, its mind deranged to near bestiality. Why? How? And when she briefly touched its mind, Arias felt something else—a kind of hunger that is not for blood or life. Then, what?
“Miss Arias,” James Fargo says, looking down at her. He has brought back the gig—the horses bolted during the excitement but were afraid to leave the clearing—and lit its running lamps. “How badly are you hurt? Can you sit in the gig?” He is still holding his weapon in his hand, like a talisman.
“Yes, thank you James. I think I can move now.”
She will have to erase and refashion his and Anna’s memory of this event. It is not something she does lightly, but in this case there is no question in her mind. If word of this event becomes a general rumor, the shepherds will come to investigate and she will have to kill them and flee.
“Miss Arias,” Anna comes back into view carrying a cloth. “Here, I found water.” Arias accepts gratefully and cleans her face after Anna helps her to sit up.
And she does not want to flee, not this place. A mystery of great power has touched her. In her brief moment of sensing the bestial creature’s mind, she also received the impression of long secrecy. Concealment. If the creature wants to remain hidden, she doubts that she will be able to find it. Yet she will not willingly leave this mystery behind before its purpose in touching her life has been resolved.
The night wind touches the treetops, and Arias feels that this resolution will take time.
“Here, let me help you up now, if you can stand. We will all crowd into the gig. At least it will help to keep us warm!” James Fargo says. “We have a long way to go.”