“We have five kinds of group here; anyone coming in is tested and then assigned to study the area in which they show the most aptitude. The groups are Gatekeepers, Weavers, Hunters, Guardians, and Researchers. You will learn more about them later,” Lilith explained to me as she led me along the corridor of one of the wings.
“Sounds like Hogwarts,” I couldn’t resist saying.
“Sort of, yes. But this place is firmly built in physical reality, even if you could say much of the buffer zone or the levels of the Unseen Worlds are figments of our imagination. Because that’s what they are. They have always been there, but whatever physical form they take is dependent on the thoughts, emotions and imagination of people. It is a forever changing world.”
The Centre was quite big – three wings reached backwards from the main building, into a large old garden with huge trees. In one wing was the staff dormitory, Lilith’s office, and the private cafeteria, and the two others were in spa use. The Magellan Spa visitors could not enter the corridor leading to the private wing, which was the westernmost one. The gate was in the lobby on the westernmost wing, which you could not enter freely, even from the private wing. Every door leading to the great hall was locked, including the cafeteria’s, and only opened when someone looking through a surveillance camera pressed a button to open the door. I had not noticed them at first, but there were four guards in the lobby, each sitting in their own glass cubicle.
“Let’s talk about the gates in more detail.”
Lilith opened the heavy door to her office, which was situated on the front side of the building. She could see everyone approaching the Centre and spa from her desk by the window– no wonder she was out to meet us as soon as we arrived.
Daniel was in the office, sitting in an armchair with his long legs stretching in front of him. He was reading a book. A very big, old book. Despite its size, he balanced it in his hands in a way that made it look weightless.
“Ah, good, you’re here. Shall we go?”
He rose out of his chair in one fluid, catlike motion. The movement was balletic. There was so much strength in the movements of his muscular athletic body.
“Yes, let’s go.” Without saying anything more, Lilith raised her hand and with one quick movement slashed the air in front of her.
When I say she slashed it, I mean that literally. An opening appeared in the air, as if she had cut paper with scissors.
“Woooo…!” I stepped back, breathless with surprise.
“Maybe you should have warned her…” the corner of Daniel’s mouth lifted into a half smile, “looks as though someone is about to run for the exit screaming as she goes…”
“I do apologize,” Lilith said. “Everyone here is so used to seeing this that I forgot it might scare you.”
Right… as if I wouldn’t have been scared to see all the laws of physics broken in front of me? But, not wanting to show weakness in front of Daniel again, I tried to appear unafraid, and even took a step forward to see better. I walked around the slit, understanding now what Diana had been talking about before. The slit disappeared from sight, when I went behind it, and nothing out of the ordinary happened. When I came back to the “front” of it (for lack of a better term), it was clearly visible again. Impossible. Yet…it was similar to the big gate in the lobby. My head whirled at the concept that time and space were physical things that you could cut through.
“Did you just create a gate of your own?” I asked.
Lilith smiled and nodded.
“Yes. There are only three of these in the world…”
She extended her hand and I saw something that looked like a finger cover from a mummy. It was of some transparent, slightly rose-colored material that I did not recognize.
“This isn’t real…” I shook my head, “I have gone crazy. Things like this just do not happen!”
“Oh but they do. They always have. Remember the old stories of sleepers…? Professor Rowan told me that he’d told you about them – probably gave you quite a lecture, knowing him…. Some of the details in those stories are not factual, but a basic truth is there. People go to a realm with no time, return unchanged, and time has passed in the human world.”
“Time has passed…? But you just said it won’t pass.”
“It doesn’t, not in the buffer zone, unless you are at the very edge of it, almost touching our world – that is a zone where time has some effect. Time does move on in the human world, though. If you go to the buffer zone, it is all about finding your way back to the moment where you left the time-space reality you came from. If you don’t know how to do that, you can come out haphazardly, and find yourself anywhere in time. Future. Past. Any time. You disappear from the time that you left, and continue to live in the time in which you’ve arrived. You cannot be in two places at the same time. And it seems you cannot go to the past and re-enter a time where you have already lived. One of the reasons we have to keep good records about who has traveled and to which time is so we don’t try sending them there again. Trying to enter a time where you already are can hurl you unexpectedly into a completely different era to the one intended.”
Daniel stepped through the slit in the air, and vanished from the room. Lilith beckoned me to follow, and I braced myself and followed Daniel. Lilith was the last to walk through, after which she repeated the slashing motion with her hand. One moment I saw her office, the next it was gone and we were in another space that looked like an old library. And a huge library at that.
Bookshelves were towering towards the high, high ceiling. Worn sets of stairs led to the upper galleries. Tall ladders were needed to reach the uppermost books on all the galleries whilst the medium height shelves could be reached with the help of the step stools that were scattered all around. And everywhere you looked there were books, thousands of books, sitting in neat rows, stacked up on tables, crammed onto the hundreds and hundreds of shelves. The corridor where we were standing seemed to continue so far into the distance I swear it disappeared into a haze.
I saw two people nearby, sitting at reading desks, concentrating fully on what they were reading. I recognised one of them, a boy who looked like he might be Indian, as a member of the group who’d been sitting at Daniel’s table in the cafeteria. I was sure any researcher would give their right arm for an opportunity to investigate a place where time stood still.
“These,” Lilith showed me the strange finger shaped cover that she used to make the opening, “are ancient. We do not know the nature of the material, but it seems to be even harder than diamonds. They tear openings between this physical world and the semi-physical world of the buffer zone. And despite their antiquity and the fact they’ve been in use for thousands of years, they show no signs of wear.”
“Where did they come from, then? Who made them? Aliens?”
Daniel shook his head, amused.
“No. Ever heard of the Nephilim?”
“The… what? No… I don’t think so… Who were they? Or what?”
“That depends… ” Daniel’s expression was unreadable.
“The Nephilim were the offspring of what we are used to calling angels and mortal humans. Their story is referenced in the Bible, for instance, as well as other sources,” Lilith said. “The angels – or rather Watchers, which is the original word for them – were male in these stories, and they should not have had relations with human women, but they did so nevertheless. Their offspring were the Nephilim. They were taller, lived longer, and learned a lot of ancient wisdom from their parents because the Watchers taught their human women knowledge that humankind was not ready for yet, or so the story goes.”
Lilith sat on a little couch in the library and patted it for me to sit too. I did. It was quite a relief to sit down on something surprisingly solid and real.
“When the two species mixed, human and angel, the results were sometimes unexpected. For example, some of the children craved human blood, and it extended their lives, which were already unnaturally long.”
She waited for the information to sink in.
“You mean… They were… vampires?”
“Indeed. That seems to be the word that has come into general use to describe them,” Lilith nodded. “There were the Chinese jianshi – they were evil spirits that drained people of their energy. Just like shadows do. The Tibetan Book of the Dead called the blood-drinking spirits “Wrathful Deities”. Ancient Greek had its bloodthirsty goddesses…then there are the classic vampire tales of the mysterious mountains of the Carpathians and the Balkan regions. And legends abound in human cultures in which people try to find an explanation for creatures that want to drink human blood.”
She patted my hand. I must have looked shocked.
“So the stories of vampires are actually based on truth, even if they have the later decorations of fangs and bat wings and all the rest of it. Of course there are shadows; and people who resemble vampires, once they are infected, and these feed on humans, one way or the other. But the Nephilim who turned dark, and the vampires they created, were the real thing. And I can tell you there is nothing romantic about them, so forget about all those novels describing love affairs between people and vampires. You would not want any kind of relationship with them… If you survived being bitten and infected by a dark Nephilim, or by a vampire of their creation, you would turn into a kind of shadow yourself, craving blood, and infecting others when you took it. That is how the stories of vampires creating their own kind were born.”
Lilith paused and Daniel took up the story.
“Not all of the Nephilim were bad, but the ones that were, seemed to be unable to feel any loving emotions. They were almost emotionless, and their only interest was in furthering their own ends – achieving riches and power over weaker humans. This became their only driving passion and for this they were ready to kill, to enslave, and to do any horrible thing. Eventually this led to war, when people could no longer tolerate them. The myths tell us that God threw the angels responsible for fathering the Nephilim into a fiery pit for all eternity. And that at the same time their offspring, the Nephilim, were hunted down and killed.”
“Indeed. We do not know what the actual reason was for it. We don’t know whether these were real happenings, later written down in religious form, or if there really was a higher power that punished the angels, but the fact is that the Watchers disappeared from human stories. But not all of the Nephilim died. Many went into hiding and once the war was over, they re-emerged and continued their lives, hiding their true nature, apparently forgotten by whatever higher force it was that punished the Watchers. These surviving Nephilim were the ones who had managed to keep the three devices we can use to enter the buffer zone,” Lilith showed me her strange cover again. “We call these simply ‘Keys’.”
Daniel opened the book he had carried with him from Lilith’s office and placed it on my lap. It showed stone wall panels of winged Assyrian gods.
“You can see the winged Nephilim in many ancient paintings and reliefs,” Daniel pointed at the pictures, “just look in history books, or visit museums. God-like figures with wings. They are there for anyone to see. Throughout history most the remaining Nephilim kept mostly to themselves, in some kind of attempt to keep their blood pure, but others found human wives or husbands. They conceived children. And so now some diluted Nephilim blood can be found in the majority of humans.”
I leafed through the pictures in the book. Angel statues, winged gods and goddesses. I noticed Isis there and almost as a reflex my hand rose to touch the pendant hanging under my shirt.
“OK… But what about the gates? Who created those? The Nephilim? And if so, why was there a need for these gates, if they already had the Keys?” I pointed at the rosy colored finger cover Lilith held very carefully on the palm of her hand.
“We believe the gates might have been created using these Keys, but we can’t be sure. Perhaps they were opened and never closed again when the Watchers disappeared. But this is just a theory, that perhaps once they were opened and left open, it became impossible to close them after a while. Like an old wound that cannot heal itself again. Maybe the gates were used in the War of Angels. We do not know. There are so many secrets that have vanished with time. The locations of the anchored Gates in the physical world have miraculously remained a secret to the Immortals and bad Nephilim. Still, the Immortals have a way of moving between the buffer zone and our world. We know for sure the dark Nephilim take them between the physical world and the buffer zone. Their shadows are involved in this movement too. Coming back to the physical world is not, on the whole, difficult, but humans cannot reach the buffer zone on their own unaided.”
“And this is why you have created this place?” I said, gesturing around me in a circle to indicate the whole Centre. “To stop the Immortals and Nephilim?”
“Partly, yes. And partly because we’ve learned about something very dangerous and ancient that wasn’t destroyed, even though it should have been.”
I looked around in the library. I realised that there were many more people than I had first noticed. They were leaning on the bookcases, or sitting at little desks scattered everywhere, wherever there was a big enough space. And everyone was reading silently or writing notes.
“So, what is it?”
Lilith and Daniel glanced at each other. They were clearly trying to reach a decision.
“Once we have told you, you are not safe in the outside world anymore. Not until you have learned to protect yourself from the shadows. Are you ready for this? To stay for a long time, if necessary? Can we trust you?”
“I don’t know why you have trusted me with this much information already, to be honest,” I confessed, “but if you tell me more, I promise I will keep your secret.”
“We have reasons to believe that you will keep your word,” Daniel said and I got the oddest feeling there was a hidden meaning in what he said that had nothing to do with simply deciding to trust someone. “Also Layla vouches for you. That is why you were given the book. We suspect you have hidden talents. You should, considering your genealogy. And so you will find you life’s work here, in one of our groups.”
For a moment I wondered what was so extraordinary about my very ordinary parents. I saw Lilith quickly glance sideways at Daniel.
“OK. Shoot. Tell me what this dangerous, ancient thing is. Some sort of weapon?” I asked.
“No, it is knowledge. A book,” Lilith patted the book on my lap.
“A book. Is that what all these people are searching for? Is it somewhere here in the library?”
“In an indirect way, yes. They are looking for clues in our books about where the book sought by the Nephilim might be. It is called the Book of Watchers – we believe this contains the ancient writings that the angels used to teach their children. It must contain skills that are absolutely terrifying in their power. We fear that at its worst, after reading this book one could literally tear apart the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead. And the Immortals want to find it too, as they believe it would give them free mobility between the physical world and buffer zone. It might surprise you, but we did not know such a book existed until we caught a shadow that revealed information about the book before the shadow’s creator withdrew his consciousness, destroying his creation. Ever since then the shadows have been created to be mute. We take this as proof that such a book really exists. The huntress who caught the shadow and forced the information out of it was Layla.”
“My grandmother? A Huntress?”
“A Huntress of shadows, yes.”
That was something to muse over… For a short, hysterically amused moment, I wondered what mother would say if she knew. But her knowing anything about this was an impossible thought in itself, so I discarded it.
“But how can you know for sure that such a race as these angels actually existed? Aren’t they also imaginary creatures?” I realised even as I spoke that I was going to have to revise my interpretation of “imaginary.” I stared at a picture of the “Mystic nativity” painted by Sandro Botticelli. A ring of angels was flying over the stable, three angels sitting on the roof, and angels hugging people and pointing at the manger. The angels had wings of different colors.
“They might not be what you’d expect them to be. Much of they way they look in the pictures and reliefs is a human invention, of course. But they did exist here once. The Nephilim are a living proof of this. They inherited a lot of their physique from their ancestors,” Lilith explained.
“Living proof? I’ve never seen any such a thing as a Nephilim!” I said. “Nor has anyone else I know.”
I wasn’t exactly in a place to deny everything they’d said, having stepped through the gate. And having seen my dead friend with my own eyes, and touched her with my own hands, even if it only was for a fleeting moment. Still there was too much to assimilate in one sitting. I had never been religious, and considered angels to be like fairies – pretty, and not real. Like the angels in Botticelli’s painting.
“But you’ve almost certainly been seeing Nephilim in your life, even if you didn’t realise it at the time. You will recognize them if you know what to look for,” Lilith told me. “First of all, they are tall. Secondly, their eye color is brilliant – it can be golden, which is often the sign of a dangerous Nephilim. Or they can be brilliant blue, which usually tells you are dealing with a good one. That’s a very general rule, not a fixed one. Nephilim skin can be any color. Human genetics dictate the appearance of that somewhat.”
“And they have wings?”
“Well, yes, in a way. Not the feathery things people have been depicting in art, but energy whirls of magnificent colors, which spread out, resembling wings. They are transparent, see-through,” Lilith continued. “Of course they keep them hidden unless they are certain it is safe to open them. And they can function in angelic ways without opening them fully. Flying for example.”
“Tall, bright eyes, wings they don’t show… Anything else? I know quite a few tall, bright-eyed people, without wings, who don’t fly. Come to think of it – I never knew anyone who could fly.”
“The people you know don’t share the last physical characteristic that separates the Nephilim from ordinary people. Heat. Body heat. They have a much higher temperature than we do.”
“Heat… They are… hot?”
“We are,” Daniel said and spread his wings.