Browsing Tag

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Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6

Chapter Four

What had been a rather beautiful spring day changed so suddenly that human meteorologists were scrambling to try and explain what happened. Cloudless skies were suddenly dark with billowing and boiling clouds as Maliae and her clan went to work around the borders to the mist. By the time Dawádetgit starting twirling winds into a corkscrew, sirens had sounded and humans had all run for cover. 

Apa’ii’s alert had been followed to the letter. Those animals who were already close to the mist were allowed inside. Those further away, and those who would be in the path of the storm as it moved East, were given magical protection as they took shelter in the best places they could find, lower to the ground, in hollows and ravines. For the millions of Nawa’Diyo who lived outside the mist, magic protection protocols, something they all practiced together regularly, were put into motion, creating a protective yet invisible shield around them. Humans who might, for some ridiculous reason, happen to pass by would neither see nor feel any change. Humans would still get wet and could potentially experience damage. Nawa’ Diyo would all be safe in their homes, their communities, and clans untouched by the storm.

Having been instructed to keep the tornadoes off the ground, Dawádetgit set a base for her storm about forty feet off the terrain by human measurements. She calculated that this height would spare most of the younger trees that were still growing and widely necessary to the environment. From this height, most human homes would be spared from complete destruction as well, though the risk of wind damage was significant. 

The breadth and width of her first funnel were impressive. Having built up a frightful shelf of clouds, Dawádetgit slid the first tornado off, letting it widen to five, then eight, and finally twelve furlongs. Entire human towns cowered as it passed overhead. She then spun off two child tornadoes to the north, each about six furlongs wide, and one to the South at eight furlongs. The wind speed she achieved rivaled that of the greatest hurricanes. 

Despite their position well off the ground, there was hardly a human-built structure that wasn’t damaged. Windows shattered, letting in the blowing rain. Roofs were blown off and dumped in the middle of what would have otherwise been busy highways. Automobiles were turned over and the electric power system on which the humans so foolishly depended was largely dismantled. Repairs would take weeks to complete.

As the initial tornadoes moved Eastward, scaring humans in towns and cities all the way to the Atlantic ocean, Dawádetgit continued producing rains and strong straight winds relentlessly, taking a short break only to let loose another string of smaller tornadoes so that the humans would all stay inside. The ground, soaked from all the rain, reached its saturation point after about an hour and began sending its overflow into the small streams and tributaries. Tose quickly reached their capacity and began to trow outside their boundaries. The water moved quickly as it flowed downward through the path of least resistance, into streets where sewers were clogged with debris, trying to find their way to the nearest river or lake. Within a couple of hours, the waters were teasing the doorways of human homes and an hour later they were inside.

Apa’ii’s plan worked as her initial fear was realized—none of the council’s members, the strongest magicians in the world, were able to produce sufficient spells to keep them invisible as they moved through the areas where the mist had been. While they could still protect themselves from the storms overhead, they all felt, as Pai and Bockwimen had earlier, that the magic was not as strong as it had been before.

By nightfall, the community in and around the home tree was full of fearful speculation. Was the problem growing and how quickly could it eliminate the mist entirely? What could happen if the veil began to thin and recede in other protected areas? So many thousands of seasons had passed since the mist barriers had been established, what horrors would take place if the supposedly extinct animals, especially the larger ones, were suddenly allowed to roam free and discovered that their once-sacred grounds were now populated by humans? How would humans respond to the sudden appearance of animals that no one living had ever seen?

Worst of all, though, and a worry shared by all Nawa’ Diyo and other magic souls as well, was how the humans might react if the magicians suddenly lost the ability to keep everyone invisible? Invisibility wasn’t a skill that everyone mastered anymore they hadn’t needed to maintain the practice because of the high level of protection they had enjoyed for so many seasons. Some worried that younger souls might not be able to work invisibility spells at all, though those fears would later prove to be unfounded.

Apa’ii set at the top of the home tree with Pai, Pausnuck, and Pockwatch, her radiance serving as a beacon for those late in arriving. She heard their worries. She felt their fear. “What can we tell our guests and our clans that might help them feel more at ease?” she asked of her counselors. “Right now, there is such great fear among them that reason and calculation are almost non-existent. If the council meets under these conditions they will not make wise choices and our actions may be regrettable.”

Pockwatch was the first to speak as he sat cross-legged in the center of a leaf. “This is a new experience, one that we have not encountered at any significant level at all. Fear and a lack of understanding are natural. We should not act to make anyone feel shame for experiencing fear and having questions.”

“Neither can we allow that fear, natural and understandable as it may be, to influence decision-making,” Pausnuck said as he paced along a small branch near the queen. “I think thorough and comprehensive distribution fo the facts as they are currently known should help calm nerves considerably.”

“Or aggravate them even more,” Apa’ii said gently. “We have long been a tribe capable of reading between the lines, paying as much attention to what is left out as to what is said. The absence of firm answers will not go unnoticed by even the youngest of souls. We put ourselves in a position of weakness when we leave space for someone else to provide answers that may be inaccurate.”

“Perhaps I can help provide some more accurate messages,” said a white-clad vila as she lit a leaf opposite Apa’ii. A magic soul of ancient Slavic origin, her name was Fleau, a respected and much-loved magician who had migrated to join the Nawa’ Diyo when the white walkers were starting to spread across the continent “I was visiting family in the old country when the announcement of the council meeting arrived. They, too, live behind the protected veil, and there, as it has here, it has started just recently to recede. They have no invisibility where it once existed and the ability to transmute in that area is growing weaker. Taking the form of a horse, for example, is most painful.

“That is most disconcerting,” Apa’ii said. “You’ve en transmuting into a horse for so long I would have thought it to be a very natural process for you. Is it only in the areas formerly affected by the mist that creates this problem?”

In response, Fleau lept from the leaf and landed gracefully on all four hooves as she reached the ground, presenting herself as a stunning white mare. She pranced once around the base of the home tree before leaping upward and returning to the leaf in her natural form. “See, no problems!” she said as she sat down. “I was completely surprised when it didn’t go well. Even when I was first learning the magic from my mother and failing often, there was not the level of pain I felt today. We have a global issue ahead of us. I’m sure that other councilors have similar stories to tell. Coming through the mist here was also a challenge.”

Pausnuck stopped pacing and cocked his head to one side. “Wait, do you mean in the are coming to the mist or inside the mist itself?” he asked.

“Just before the mist was a repetition of the pain I felt in Europe. I couldn’t stay invisible so I painfully changed to horse form until I was well within the mist,” Fleau explained. “But even within the mist, where we’ve always been safe, reverting back was difficult and I couldn’t escape the feeling that something or someone within the mist was chasing me or trying to catch me.”

Fleau’s story sparked a sudden emotion in Pai, a sense of fear with a touch of shame He didn’t say anything but Apa’ii picked up the emotional transition quickly. 

“You didn’t want to tell me, did you?” the queen said as she looked over at her partner.

“When I returned home after seeing Maliea,” he said, looking down at the leaf rather than meeting her gaze. “At first I thought it was just my imagination, my emotions getting the better of me, perhaps. But as I passed deeper into the mist I  am almost positive I felt of possibly heard someone following me. Only when I reached the clearing did that peculiar sensation go away.”

Pockwatch was now standing on the edge of a leaf, gazing out over the lights of the assembled community below. “That particular sensation is not new, my queen,” he said quietly. “Thought, it has been many seasons since it was last mentioned.”

Apa’ii dimmed her countenance and the first around them lowered its voice to a gentle whisper. “Being followed? Yes, that’s a familiar trick the troubled ones have used when they’re especially angry. That doesn’t explain Fleau’s difficulting in reverting back to her natural form. They don’t have that power. I if something in the mist is effecting Fleau’s power, it’s almost certainly effecting theirs as well, and I can’t imagine that making them happy.

“We’ll double the sentries tonight. We don’t need the troubled ones trying some of their nonsense while the entire council is here. They were invited to participate, as always, but once again they declined.”

Fleau’s own radiance dimmed slightly lower than Apa’iis as she stepped over to speak directly with the queen. “If I may, your majesty, I do have a thought about what could be causing our magic to diminish.”

“Anything to help begin to explain all this would be appreciated,” Apa’ii said. “You’ve always been a wise and thoughtful member of the council.”

“Thank you, your majesty. I am grateful to have your confidence,” Fleau replied. “We’ve always known that magic, all magic, is the strongest and most resilient where earth’s natural magnetic waves are also strong. We have, from the earliest beginnings, known this and established our communities and most sacred places accordingly. We also know that there is a link between the health of the planet and its magnetic forces. As a particular species of beings, we have stood by and not intervened as humans have done more damage to our home than we ever thought imaginable. The magnetic poles have begun to shift in response to this ecological horror we have witnessed. Everything I’m saying is documented well, your majesty, and I know most of this knowledge has come through your own generous leadership. So is it not possible that, as the poles realign, so are the waves on which we’ve based our magic for thousands of seasons?” Is it possible that we are experiencing a realignment, and if we are, is it also possible that a strong ecological re-establishment movement could alter that alignment?

“Yes, I am aware that such a preposterous idea would require global cooperation from all magic souls and yes, I also understand that any such measure would likely have to be completed  despite human interference, but I do believe it could be done.”

The top of the tree was quiet as Apa’ii considered Fleau’s words. She hovered above the very top branches, her radiance pulsing as she thought. Her presence was inescapable and everyone in the community below noticed, coming out of their homes to observe the magnificent waves of light as they danced through the color spectrum. Each wave of light represented a complete line of thoughts, the advantages, and disadvantages of every argument as she reasoned her way through the range of possibilities in what Fleau had described. 

As her internal debate intensified, the sky filled with color, amazing magical souls across all of the continent, letting them know that their queen was considering a most important and critical matter. Out in the desert, the troubled ones noticed, too, and stopped to watch the amazing demonstration of Apa’ii’s incredible mental power.

When the lights finally dimmed, Apa’ii floated back down to the assembly at the top of the home tree. Her expression was one of radiant peacefulness as she sat cross-legged on the leaf, her arms outstretched with her palms upward. Everyone around her bowed respectfully, each one warmed and astonished by what they had witnessed. Only as the light dimmed to its normal glow did Apa’ii begin to speak in a gentle and musical voice. 

“I have seen the earth through many seasons,” she began. “We have comforted her through great heat and the upheaval of her curst. We have preserved her when a great chill froze so many other forms of life. This is our mother, the source from which our life’s energy flows. We are this planet’s most fervent protectors and, at times, it’s gardener, removing the weeds so that more vibrant life can grow.

“For many seasons now, we have looked at these humans as something of a lesser kind, beings who were lacking in reason, too given to emotion, and so distrusting of their own wisdom that their magic has yet to be discovered. They are lowly creatures in need of great guidance, something I have been slow to give them. My hope has always been that humans would finally, one day, come into their own and develop into useful partners.

“After thoroughly testing Fleau’s premiss, however, I am no longer convinced that our mother can survive long enough for humans to reach their destiny on their own. While magnetic shifts have regularly occurred, completely reversing the poles every four or five hundred thousand seasons, we have not, in my lifetime, seen so tremendously large a shift has been observed; a reverse in polarity that is detrimental to the magic community around the globe.

“There is no stopping this coming reversal. It is happening within the bounds of the universal schedule and to try and stop it could have devastating effects. What we can do, however, is examine the degree to which human interaction has aggravated this current shift, causing a mutation of magnetic eaves that is threatening our magic and, perhaps, our very existence.

“I can tell you now that our mother is feeling pain from all her inhabitants, including us. Therefore, during tomorrow’s council, let it be known that I will entertain well-thought and reasonable suggestions for slowing or altering the magnetic eave patterns with this current reversal. I know there is great wisdom among us. I expect only your best.”

As Apa’ii ended her speech, she lowered her countenance, allowing darkness to cover the community around the home tree. She looked at Pai and said softly, “I believe I will go and rest now. I do not require companionship in this moment; you are free to enjoy whatever your pleasure may find. My only request is that you be the only one to wake me. I do not desire an audience at such an early hour.” 

The assembled magicians bowed again as Apa’ii left the top of the tree and retreated to its heart where she could rest without danger. Fleau looked over at Pai and asked, “Does that mean you are free to drink?”

He smiled back, “Whatever pleasure you might find entertaining.”

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Chapter Five

Chapter 5

Scattering out along the root system of the home tree laid a large and vibrant community of magical souls consisting of almost every variation and blending of species one could ever imagine. Here, magic was a way of life. There were partis with exploding desserts, bars with drinks that refill themselves, and instruments playing music all on their own. By day, the community was bustling with souls zipping back and forth taking care of responsibilities such as guiding migrating birds across changing landscapes, showing bees new patches of pollinating flowers, and making sure the forest floors stayed moist. Life in the community was vibrant and almost always enjoyable for both residents and guests.

On this particular evening, the streets had been full of guests as council members have brought family and extended clan members for a chance to see the home tree. Each had hoped that they might catch a glimpse of Queen Apa’ii and she had not disappointed them. The sight of her atop the home tree with her brilliantly changing aura had thrilled everyone. As she had dimmed her countenance and retreated into the tree, the lands and paths below had returned to a festival atmosphere. Tomorrow the council would debate some of the most serious issues to affect magical populations in several thousand seasons. Tonight, however, was given entirely to frivolity and pleasure.

At a large table in a small stone pub sat one visiting council who seemed to ignore all the noise outside, preferring instead to sit at the table with his brothers and a few friends of a similar kind from other continents. Arviss was a pure dwarf, one of a handful of tribes of dwarves that had survived by digging intricately carved tunnels through all the world’s mountain systems, allowing them to travel anywhere without needing to use an invisibility spell to avoid detection by humans.

Arviss looked much as one expected, nearly as wide as he was tall, his long brown beard braided down his chest and carefully tucked into his belt along with two massive brad swords that sang when unsheathed for battle. The dwords were largely for decoration, though, and to help maintain the tough reputation dwarves had within the magic community. Hundreds of seasons had passed since there had been any wars to fight. There was none now, save for perhaps the troubled ones, who was foolish enough to challenges the dwarves. They never traveled alone and the absence of war had given them plenty of time to refine, improve, and sharpen their weapons.

Tonight, Arviss was celebrating a reunion with his cousin, Tupi, a red-haired dwarf from the land humans referred to as Brazil. Tupi traveled rarely owing in large part fo the fact that his feet were on backward. While that trait had been an advantage back when humans tried to catch him, not it was just another nuisance that made his life a bit harder than it was for his kin. As a result, he tended to have a more sour disposition, especially when it came to the topic of humans.

They were well into their fifteenth, or maybe their twenty-first round of grog, that magic elixir that left one feeling happy without dulling their senses, when the radiant colors from Apa’ii’s countenance had filled the small pub. They all had, naturally, rushed outside to watch, but now that it was over, they gathered back at their table, pitchers refilled with grog, discussing all the queen had said. 

“Bloody mess, this whole magnetic wave alignment,” Arviss said with his customary growl. “Although, you realize, brothers, there is perhaps profit to be made here as some of the weapons we’ve made for others may need realignment as well.”

“Do you really think anyone is still using those old catapults and such,” his eldest brother, Argmin, challenged. “No one’s used those damn things for nigh one 1600 seasons or so.”

“Nah, your math is daft, as always,” replied Alyn, the next younger brother. “More like 2800 seasons. We haven’t left the mounting in 1800 seasons A lot has changed out here.”

“Humans have been busy, that’s for sure. I wonder who’s building their weapons for them now?” Arviss questioned. “With storms like what the humphs whipped up today, I bet they could do with some iron roof coverings. That was quite a wind they were a’whippin’ up there, wa’n’t it?” I’m pretty sure I saw some things a’flyin’ that tweren’t meant to be a’flyin’.”

“Si, it would have been frightening had we been taller,” Tupi responded as he finished off another pitcher of grog. “At least the tunnels up here came right up to the border, or where the border normally is.” He paused and took a large gulp from the re-filled pitcher. “Everything, it is all changing. You don’t leave the mountains for a few thousand seasons and when you come out nothing is where it was the last time. Crazy, I tell you.”

“Aye, cousin, it would have been nice had the humans settled down and been satisfied with what they had. We use to be at peace with them. Now, here they are a kidnappin’ our scout? The old humans would kill the new humans if the old humans were still alive, and we’d be a’makin’ their weapons for them,” Arviss grumbled. “Out lives were better when the humans weren’t tryin’ to do everything for themselves. They want to be the bird and the fishies and the bear all at the same time and they haven’t figgered out how to human yet!”

“So, what will you tell the queen tomorrow, dear brother?” Alyn asked, wiping grog foam from his mustache.

Arviss took a massive swig of grog and wiped his face with the back of his hand. “I’m gonna tell her majesty that if humans are going to start capturing magic folk, then perhaps its time we reinstituted the policy of kidnappin’ humans. We used to do that, ya’ know. Her majesty stopped the practice because she said it made it impossible for the humans to trust us. But look at ‘em now. Who’s the ones what bein’ all untrustworthy like? I say we take one of them for every one of ours they snatch.”

“An’ what we gonna do with ‘em when we snatch ‘em?” Argmin asked. “I don’ know ‘bout other folks, but I never found their taste all that appetizin’ an’ I’m sure they ha’ent gotten any better.”

“Aye, we don’ wanna start eatin’ ‘em again,” Adwin, the youngest brother said, speaking for the first time in a while. “I still remember wha’ it was like. Eatin’ humans made folks mean, not jus’ to humans but to everyone. We go back to eatin’ them an’ the wars is likely to start back up.

Arviss rubbed his hands together and smiled. “Think of the profit we could make from that! The wars weren’t really all that bad.”

“Arg. Are ya’ kiddin’ me?” Tupi replied. “The wars were a disaster. I can’t run fast enough to return to war. I think we are better to take a kid or two and dump them down a ravine. I know of a few good ones.”

“We are forgetting something, my brothers,” Alyn said. “We always used invisibility to protect us in the old days. If we lose that now, we are in no shape to be kidnappin’ nothin’. We could end up being caught ourselves.”

The dwarves looked at each other then took another drink from their pitchers. None of them were anxious to admit that Alyn was right. To enter the human world without the benefit of invisibility, however, would be almost certain suicide, something dwarves had never done.

“We don’ know for certain that the magic is gonna disappear from the human realm,” Arvis said after a moment. “An’ we don’t have to assume that any of we dwarf folk would be the ones what do the actual kidnappin’. The Elbenkönig were the ones what were always good at that sort of thing. Lure the wee ones away to certain death, they did” He paused and thought just a moment before continuing. “Ya’ know, I’m not sure whatever became of those folk. Not heard a word about Elbenkönig in a few thousand seasons. I know there are none on the council, not purebloods at least.”

Tupi spat on the ground next to the table. “That’s the trouble with all these mix-breed folk They’ve lost all the heritage of we ancient kind. The  Elbenkönigcould never resist a pretty young

magic thing, anyway. Any part of them that still exists is likely unrecognizable now. A shame, it is. So many of the pure breeds, completely lost.”

The dwarves around the table nodded in agreement. Arviss raised his pitcher. “A toast to the purebred who are no longer with us. May the strength of their heritage rise up to serve us in our hour of need.”

The other dwarves raised their pitchers in a hearty “aye,” in agreement. They then sat there the rest of the night telling stories of magic folk who hadn’t been seen in their original form for hundreds of seasons, drinking grog, and feeling good about themselves.

Chapter Six

Chapter 5

Bockwimen waited patiently at the edge of the mist. The storms had delayed Pudguwigen’s return and he was anxious for the news. He had seen the reflection of the light from the home tree and knew that Queen Apa’ii had been considering something important. He had also watched as the various council members had arrived with their entourage of various sizes.  That none of them were able to hold their invisibility was frightening. As planned, the storms had achieved the purpose of sending the humans back to their homes. The councils should have been able to walk or fly into the mist without any worry. He knew, however, that the humans might have left behind cameras or other technological means of tracking movement and he didn’t trust that they hadn’t left any such devices behind. Had there been any watching devices, they would have seen only a large gray wolf standing at the edge of the forest.

Bockwimen waited patiently into the night. We watched as the clouds disappeared and the sky filled with stars. He made a game of looking for his favorite constellations, letting out a very wolf-like howl when he found them.

Finally, deep in the night, Pudguwijen appeared in the form of a common ground dove, blending in deftly with the trees around him. He perched on a low limb just above the wold and said, “I followed the human vehicle, an SUV I think they call it, but I fear my report remains incomplete.”

“Tell me what you know,” Bockwimen said, his voice deep and growling like the wolf.

“They took him and all the birds to a laboratory first. As far as I could tell, Puckwudjinee was doing well transitioning between his bird form and invisibility. The humans did not notice the transition at all. But then, they started placing radio bands on a leg of each of the birds. He tried to avoid being banded by staying invisible, but he wasn’t able to hold that form too long and when one of the humans noticed he didn’t have a band, they quickly grabbed him and put the tracking device on him.

“Obviously, this presents a new problem. With the band on, Puckwudjinee can switch between bird form and invisibility well enough, but he can’t return to his natural state. He can’t change into another form, either.” 

Bockwimen paced around the base of the tree while Pudguwijin gave his report. When he paused, Bockwimen replied. “The tracking device is a problem. If, or rather when we rescue him, he cannot return until we have him free of that device. The last thing we need is a bunch of humans trapesing through here trying to find him.” The scout paused a moment, listening to the sound of a wolf call in the distance. “So, this lab, you think we can get in there?”

“Sure! Easy!” Pudguwijen replied. “But it won’t do us any good. They took all the birds, put them in special crates, and then put them on an airplane.”

Bockwimen’s astonishment was so great that for a second he lost control and switched back to his natural form. “You mean to tell me that these crazy humans took birds, beings that fly on their own, and put them in one of their machines so they could fly to… Where were they sending them?”

The younger scout hopped from limb to limb as Bockwimen paced furiously below. “Someplace they were calling the ‘Portland Launch Facility.’ Not sure where that is.”

“There are multiple choices,” Bockwimen growled, “but most likely the one on the West coast. They’ve done this trick before, only in reverse. They brought birds from the West and let them loose in the forests just to our South, cruelly dumping them in unfamiliar territory, just to see if they could find their way home. Apa’ii found out and helped them, of course, but that wasn’t enough to undo the trauma those poor birds felt.”

Pudguwijen gave a couple of low calls to maintain his cover. “How do we find this Portland place? Are there Nawa’ Diyo who can help?”

“Yes, and we will let them handle matters there. They are good souls and will know of this place. They will also know if strange birds are present in their forests. We must tell Apa’ii, though, in the morning. The council will want to know.”

Old Man Talking Swag!

Welcome! This week we begin in earnest the story of the Nawa’Diyo and Queen Apa’ii. If you, by some chance, missed the Forward and Introduction, we strongly suggest you click here to do so now. The Introduction provides much-needed background information that the narrator assumes the reader already has.

This section encompasses three chapters. Don’t feel like you have to read them all at once. Take your time and use these links to jump to the last chapter you read.
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3

Chapter 1

The Thinning Veil, Chapter One

Bockwimen flew through the trees of the mist, his long, blue arms reaching out and flinging him from one branch to the next. Had anyone seen him, they wouldn’t have been faulted for mistaking his long gray hair for wisps of smoke. His speed made it easy to be mistaken for a random breeze. Being visible wasn’t such a handicap when he blended in with his surroundings so well.

Rushing through this forest posed no danger for Bockwimen. He was there when the saplings first began to grow hundreds of human years ago. He had been there when the ground was little more than a rocky cag formed as competing tectonic plates had collided, forcing one skyward while the other dipped. Humans had not yet arrived. Animal and plant life struggled to survive. Most lasted a few hundred seasons and were gone. 

Bockwimen had been young when this ground was hot, gaining in knowledge and understanding when it suddenly and ferociously cold. Many like him had not survived those days. Magic itself was too often misunderstood and used in ways that were not intended. Bockwimen had used that time to hone his skill, mastering his magic so that earth’s changing elements were no longer a threat to his survival. One by one, he had woven spells of protection and camouflage around him. When he discovered invisibility, he embraced it as though it were a part of himself that had been mislaid.

By the time the first stumbling humans arrived, Bockwimen was invincibly strong, a force that could make the fragile and short lives of these new creatures either comfortable or miserable according to his mood of the day. He found the humans interesting and teachable to some degree, though too troublesome and independent to maintain as any kind of companion. They posed no threat to him. He taught them how to gather fruit and how to hunt for meat and fish with respect. Others like him helped keep the humans safe from the chaotic and often harsh weather. They shared their language with the humans and the walkers, as they were sometimes called, shared their language in return.

Bockwimen found it sad, at first, that humans were so stuck to the ground. He had certainly tried to teach them to at least levitate to lighten the weight of their souls despite the ever-growing weight of their already enormous size, but none of them, no matter how willing they might be, could learn the magic and work it on themselves well enough to leave the ground. Bockwimen had then tried to teach them to at least climb the trees and swing from one limb to another, the exact thing he was so gracefully performing at this moment. The humans had proven themselves too clumsy, though, and after having to men the multiple injuries of his students he had decided humans were better left on the ground.

The days when he could work with humans were well in the past. Once the pale walkers had shown up in large numbers, killing those who had been his friends, matters and relationships changed. Humans proved increasingly unworthy. Bockwimen had been betrayed too many times for him to trust them now. This morning’s latest aggression, whether intentional or not, was an affront to the entire non-human world. He had no choice but to inform the queen as quickly as he could get to her.

Somewhere behind Bockwimen, there was a full company of Niwa’Diyo doing their best to keep up. Not all of them had witnessed the atrocity but they all felt the fear rise in their core when it happened. While they had all witnessed violence the walkers perpetrated on each other, not since the days before the pale ones could any of them recall aggression against the Niwa’Diyo. For the most part, humans had stopped believing they exist. How could they attack something they didn’t believe existed?

Above the mist, birds of many species gathered, making their way toward the magic forest where they knew they would be safe. The humans had attacked them as well. Fear was spreading quickly. Humans, being consumed with their own desires, did not realize that the skies had gone quiet.

Bockwimen focused on staying one the fastest course through the mist, hir arms moving as fast as hummingbird wings. By now, Queen Apai’ii would know that something had happened, but details were what she needed. The arboreal network, as thorough as it was, could be slow, its protocols giving most of their attention to taking care of their own. Communication with the queen was a courtesy and come second to the resource needs of the forest.

Seeing the end of the mist ahead, the chief scout prepared himself for the great leap into the massive, centuries-old white oak where Apa’ii held court. From the perspective of the scouts behind him, it would appear that he had disappeared into the clouds overhead. What they would likely never see was the labyrinth of trails, doors, and checkpoints required for one to make their way into the queen’s throne room. Intricate carving adorned the walls, distracting all but the most dedicated. Doors made of precious gems each required a unique spell to open the lock. Strong winds seeming to come from nowhere cleaned on of external diseases that might have attached themselves. Magical mists removed any loose dust. Finally, the tree’s own fibrous network checked the identity of anyone attempting to enter. Those not having sufficient permission were sleepily deposited outside at the base of the tree’s trunk with no recollection of anything they had experienced.

At the first door, Bockwimen encountered an egress carved of emerald with the likeness of Apai’ii glowing with a warm magical light. He was forced to pause as a sentry delivered a message.

“Queen Apa’ii anxiously awaits the confirmation of denial of allegations to a rumored deliberate attack by the humans on the Niwa’Diyo,” growled the stone sentry from its permanent perch.

Bockwimen nodded and continued past the amber door etched with a vision of Agibcochook, the ground mountain to the East, and through the door of topaz upon which was carved a scene from the Haderondah mountains. At the ruby door, its carving representing Giha’hogen, the great river, there was another message from another stone sentry.

“The Queen requests that you enter quietly without fanfare or dramatics as there are those present in the court who must now know of your report.”

Again, Bockwimen nodded his understanding and continued.

Upon reaching the door made of blazing sapphire, Bockwimen was confronted with his own reflection whom he had to congratulate in a particular verse for being worthy of the queen’s presence. The verse, of course, was a spell particular to Bockwimen. Other Niwa’Diyo would see their own reflection and their own verse would need recitation. Opening the amethyst crustal passage required a recitation fo the variations of oak trees with magical powers of their own. There were 648 of them and Bockwimen had turned the list into a rhyme to make the passage go quickly.

Finally, as Bockwimen approached the door made of pearl, he lay prostrate before the door and waited He felt the magic as it questioned his purpose and challenged his sincerity. Only if one was deemed worthy and sincere would the door open, allowing him to enter. The magic knew Bockwimen well, though, and sensed the urgency of his message. He stepped quickly through the doorway and just as quickly and silently it closed behind him.

If anyone in the throne room had seen him enter, they made no move acknowledge such. Bockwimen stood in the shadow of a canopy that shaded the pearl door. Across the room, he could see Apa’ii talking with Pockwatch, her eldest and wisest counsel, and the scoundrel Bogmenak. He could not hear what they were saying, nor did he want to. The presence of Bogmenak in the throne room meant that there was some other trouble within the realm, likely one which Bogmenak himself had caused.

Bogmenak’s appearance couldn’t help but be uncomfortable to some degree. He had been born of thistle and sagebrush. As such, his personality tended to be equally as jagged and unpleasant. Being more round than he was tall, Bogmenak fought hard to be noticed, often disturbing places where he was not invited, frequently using magic where it was not warranted, and constantly countering Apa’ii’s peaceful approach to dealing with delicate matters.

More than anything, though, Bogmenak was fiercely anti-human. He and those like him had existed peacefully across the Western deserts for many centuries before the humans rose up from Ongtupqu, the great canyon. The humans considered the land theirs to exploit and began using the sagebrush, a frequent home to magic souls, to feed their fires. Bogmenak and his tribe retaliated with magic that caused the sagebrush to pop and explode, sending sparks that would cause the human’s belongings to catch fire.

When the pale walters came, with their horses and wagons and cattle, they trampled the sagebrush and other desert plants with no regard for the myriad creatures, both magical and animal, who lived there. Magic souls had no choice but to retaliate harshly, digging holes that crippled cattle, sabotaging wagons, and stirring up dust storms that made the air impossible to breathe. Humans persisted, though, and gradually developed means by which they could counter the magic used against them.

Bogmenak’s hatred fr the humans was well known among magic souls. Bockwimen understood why Apa’ii would not want him within earshot when delivering his news. Concern and fear would be heightened enough without the provocation Bogmenak would inevitably bring to the situation.

Bockwimen waited patiently for the safety of the queen’s attention. He watched as she floated some distance off the floor, her countenance reflecting a warm amber light brightly across the whole courtyard. Her core, carved from the great-great-great-grandparents of this very tree, was tanned from her years, her outer bark highlighted with bits of soft green and blue. Her slender face seemed to barely contain her wide eyes and broad smile. Her long arms, like branches of a tree, were firm and strong. Her legs, if that’s what one chooses to call her lower appendages, were as long as her arms, ending in a web of wispy tendrils that picked up the slightest communication whether spoken or thought. 

In her wisdom, Apa’ii waited and let each one speak for themselves, knowing that thoughts and words were not always the same. Thoughts could be involuntary responses to something out of one’s control. Words were chosen and uttered with intent. THoughts could more readily be forgiven or ignored than could words. That did not always man that Apa’ii ignored one’s thoughts. Rather, she chose to let them help interpret and color the worlds one chose to say. This gave her great insight into knowing one’s motivations and worries when bringing matters before her.

At the same time, Apa’ii had the ability to influence one’s emotion, another gift she used to most everyone’s advantage. Few souls came to her without feeling some anxiety, fear, or anger, no matter what their basic premise was. With each soul she would send calming waves of assurance and comfort, giving to them the clarity to speak without the undue influence of excessive emotion. Most souls left her presence feeling better nor matter what decision the queen might make.

Only those like Bogmenak were not swayed by her talents. Whatever complaint he had brought before Apa’ii was not being addressed in a manner that suited him. Upon being dismissed, he hugged and growled, storming away through a granite door at the opposite end of the throne room.

Once the door was shut behind Bogmenak, Apa’ii gave some inaudible instruction to Pockwatch, who bowed so deeply that the fern-like tendrils atop his willow head brushed the polished wood floor. He also left through the granite door, leaving a plume of daisy petals behind him.

Apa’ii watched the granite door close, took a deep breath, and motioned for Bockwimen to approach. The scout responded swiftly and bowed appropriately in front of her. “I am troubled, Bockwimen,” she said softly. “I am getting communication from birds and squirrels as well as trees along the border of the mist. Your haste in coming to me is unusual. I gather something has happened to one of your scouts?”

“Yes, your highness. Packwudjinee, an aviary scout, has been captured by the humans. A deliberate trap, I’m afraid, along with some 200 birds of various species who were nested along the border. They’ve all be taken. I do not know where or to what end. I dispatched Pudguwijin to follow the vehicle in which they were taken, but your majesty, we’ve never experienced an afront like this right on our own doorstep! Usually, the humans stick to the other end of the forests. They don’t like carrying their gear over great distances and rugged terrain. We’ve never seen them this far into the forest unless they were lost!”

Apa’ii floated toward the domed ceiling of the throne room, a gesture Bockwimen recognized as a sign of great alarm. She paused there for a moment and upon her return asked, “Is it at all possible that they took Packwudjinee by mistake, thinking he was a bird? I’m told he had transmogrified into a white-capped sparrow, which would make him an unexpected sight to the ornithologists that keep poking around.”

“Yes, your majesty. That is his chosen and common form when speaking with most of our friends, especially inside the human city. He’s still young and has not developed the strength to stay invisible for great lengths of time, though I would imagine he’s working on better developing that skill at this very moment.” Bockwimen added, “He was talking with a raven when they flew into the trap. A great net fell and gathered them. The raven’s wing was broken. I’ve no knowledge whether Packwudjinee was hurt or not. I fear he was for if he was well he could most certainly have alluded capture.”

Apa’ii twirled furiously in a rare display of anger. “Were all the souls they captured wounded in the process? This is unconscionable! She spun herself again before coming back to Bockwimen. “News like this is spreading already. Birds are in retreat, requesting sanctuary in the first within the mist. I am inclined to give it to them and extend the borders…” she paused and looked carefully at the scout, “but you have more to tell me, don’t you, about the border?”

Bockwimen nodded. “The border is set back 40 furlongs from where you last set it, your highness. How this is possible, I do not know. We were last at this border just over a moon ago. It seemed firmly in place. Pockwudjinee was inquiring of the raven how long he had been there, outside the mist. If the raven had given an answer I did not hear it. I was busy observing the construction of yet another highway passing through the forest.”

“How close is the highway passing to the boundary?” Apa’ii asked.

“Less than two furlongs from where you originally had it placed. Two communities of deer, four bobcats, and 18 bear have been displaced. All are accounted for but the bear are grumpy about the whole matter,” was the cautious answer.

“When are bear not grumpy these days?” Apa’ii asked rhetorically. “Seems like one a few moons ago when they and their cousins roamed this forest and the mountains in great number. They were good friends.” The queen wandered the perimeter of the room as she gave consideration to the situation. As she moved, the light moved with her, causing fleeting and time times eerie shadows to be cast upon the carved walls. After some time, she returned to Bockwimen and said, “I see little choice but to gather the full council for a meeting. There are already rumors of what happened and more rumors starting of how we might respond. He will have an audience. Our cause would be helped if your trailing scout, Pudguwijin was it, could give us more information. See what you can do, Bockwimen. I’d rather avoid starting a war with the humans today.”

Bockwimen bowed deeply and hurried through the granite door, onto a heavy external branch of the tree. Pockwatch, looking very much like a leaf sitting on a knot on the branch, was waiting for him.

“She’s going to have to assemble the council, isn’t she?” the counselor asked quietly. He instinctively knew the answer but it was always best to have confirmation.

Bockwimen nodded affirmatively, his gray hair now sparkling in the sunlight, forming a halo around him. “This is the first time since what, that noisy and insipid war the humans had over whether or not to enslave each other?”

Pockwatch nodded in reply. “Remember how rarely the council was needed before the pale walkers invaded our space?”

“Remember how rarely the council was needed before the humans were among us at all?” Bockwimen answered. “Bogmenak will have more than a few interested ears when he speaks, I fear. We have hidden ourselves in response to the human invasion and the magicians of the desert are not the only ones who think we may have given them too much latitude.”

Pockwatch pulled a pipe made from the stem of an oak leaf from his belt and magically lit it with a drop of sunlight, taking a long draw from its bowl before handing it to Bockwimen, who did the same before handing the pipe back. Pockwatched tucked the pipe back into place and then said, “We must tread carefully and speak with scrupulous thought. These pale walkers are still new here by our terms. We must not take actions that might hinder their growth as beings. The Fae tell us the humans in Europe are actually getting better, more respectful of each other and the things around them.”

Bogwimen reached his arms between two branches and performed a graceful flip. “I am aware also, as are others, that it took two horrible wars and still more seasons of unrest before those humans came to their current understanding. Even with that, half of them don’t see how the litter of their existence ruins everything they touch. They are very slow-minded people to be sure. Urging the council to have continued patience with them could be difficult, even for Queen Apa’ii.”

Pockwatch walked lightly across the tree branch a few steps, then turned and said, “Do you know why Bogmenack was here today?”

Bockwimen shook his head. He knew better than to ask questions to which he didn’t need to know the answer.

The counselor continued, “Humans have upset the troubled ones by attempting to lay yet another of their pipelines across sacred land. Already, they are whipping up tornadoes and storms in an attempt at scaring them away, but the humans are less afraid than they were a few seasons ago. Their technologies warn them before the storm gets too close. The troubled ones respond by making the storms stronger and in doing so, they destroy the mantle of the curst, wiping out millions of Niwa’Diyo homes, sending the smaller ones flying and leaving the larger ones disoriented. Bogmenak thinks we should appease the troubled once, sacrifice the humans to save our own.”

“He knows we can’t do that!” Bockwimen said adamantly. “As disruptive as humans are, they are still living souls. They have a right to exist!”

“But after today, he will have an audience more willing to consider his request,” Pockwatch countered. “I’m not sure the Queen has enough votes to stop him if we cannot prove that your scout is safe by the time the council meets.”

Bockwimen cocked his head to one side and listened to the sounds above him. “I think,” he said softly, “that answer is arriving soon.”

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Chapter 2

The Thinning Veil, Chapter Two

“Whether or not the scout is safe, the council must take some action that the natural, non-human world can see as progressive or else we risk losing their support,“ Pausnuk said as he wandered the throne room in concentric circles. His stride and pather were the only external way of knowing that the young advisor was upset. Representative of the evolution of the Nawa’Diyo, he had a head shaped like a tulip, crowned in bright red, a boding covered in brightly colored feathers, and large, quad-fold wings as delicate as any fae had ever seen. His legs were the bly-green of the ocean and his arms were white as foam. His natural radiance was one of perpetual happiness, belying his true emotion. “The last thing we need, your majesty, if I may,” he continued, talking as he walked, “Is for there to be a divided response. I can tell you right now that ocean-dwelling mammals and magic folk are not likely to be on board with anything short of a planned disruption. Already, the Hantu Air are agitating the seas and threatening to stir up storms. They’ve been upset with what humans have done to the waters for several hundred seasons. To them, this is a good excuse to fight back. 

“Similarly, the Sylphids have long been upset with the humans and are ready to choke them on their own polluted air. I’ve already reminded them, gently of course, that any such adverse action not taken by unilateral agreement would be considered a violation of multiple agreements and treaties, but they’re simply listening to the souls around them.

“You’re majesty, I know we could retreat, we could create protections for the non-human lives for which we have taken responsibility, but I can assure you that a growing number of souls outside the Nawa’Diyo are growing restless, tired of letting these upstart humans have their way when the many billions of us have been here longer.”

Apa’ii floated above Pausnuk as he spoke, her light defining the limits and boundaries of the circles he walked. The queen liked Pausnuk very much and found him unusually wise for one so young. He did, however, have a flair for the dramatic that made her giggle as she was aware of the outlandish thoughts he entertained while speaking. “I am all too aware of the Hantu Air and the Sylphids. I have asked them to send representatives to our council and both have accepted.

“My more immediate concern is the safety of our own animal souls. Yet more reports of forced displacements are occurring. We’re growing close to the limits of what we can keep hidden without the human’s technology taking notice. I understand their anger at humans but they forget that they must get close to humans to do any harm. Humans have guns and show no care at all in eliminating animals who are merely defending their sacred grounds. 

“Any action anyone takes has to be done with magic from within the hidden places of our realm. Humans must think it is nature in revolt, not us, and certainly not animals. We cannot commit to any actions that reveal our presence. If they had any sense of the degree to which they are outnumbered, they would panic and immediately look for ways to exterminate us, even if it means devastating their own lives in the process. Humans have such an unreasonable and unnecessary view of war, the nobility of sacrifice to their artificial countries. They cannot be trusted to respond in a logical and thoughtful manner. They don’t even listen to their own scientists. They are that disease we cannot cure and must live with if for no other reason than to save them from themselves.”

Pausnuck had stopped his wandering as Apa’ii spoke. He was overwhelmed as the queen not only filled the room with light but his core with peace. Her ability to calm his emotions was the foundation of his dedication to her. “Your majesty, what would you have me do?” he asked.

“Go quickly as you can to the creatures of the Northwest, beyond Yamakiasham. Talk to the moose and the elk. Ask if their interactions with humans have been more aggressive than normal. I want to make sure what happened today was an isolated incident, not part of a broader campaign. Listen carefully to those who travel the most, also, the monarch and the hummingbird. They have seen more than other creatures and can speak to human patterns. Do try to be back before the council’s meeting though. I need as much factual information as possible before the rhetoric starts flying,” the queen instructed.

Pausnuck bowed deeply and rushed from the throne room. Apa’ii turned to the shadows near a hidden door of carved wood. “Dear Pai, my love, you know better than to entertain thoughts of trying to surprise me,” she laughed. “Come out here where I can kiss your face.”

Pai smiled as he emerged from the shadows and embraced Apa’ii closer than anyone else in the realm would dare consider. Though marriage did not exist in the magic realm as it does with humans, the two had been coupled longer than humans had lived on the continent. Pai was a smidge shorter than the queen and his core was made of bur oak. As a result, he sported a unique fringed cap at the top of his head rather than the willow-like leaves of Apa’ii. The bark that covered the lower half of his body was more coarse and with age, he had begun to gray a bit which gave him somewhat a more sophisticated air.

Despite his long relationship with Apa’ii, however, Pai was not considered royal and would not be in line for succession should something happen to the queen. In fact, there was no line of succession established. Apai’ll had assumed the throne created by a now-ancient Nawa’Diyo treaty that united all magic people in North America. No one else had ever been considered because no one else possessed the calm negotiation skills that came so easily for Apa’ii.

Pai was quite happy not having the pressure of being royal. While he still carried a title as one of the queens closest advisors, he also had enough anonymity, especially away from the home tree, as to slip through crowds and listen to conversations without being recognized, especially by the younger Nawa’Diyo who weren’t familiar with the realm’s governance methods at all.

“I’m afraid you’re not going to be pleased with what I have to say,“ he whispered through their prolonged embrace. 

“I’m afraid I knew before you returned,” she said, kissing the top of his cap. “You’ve never been good at keeping anything from me. I would think by now you would have given up trying.”

Pai kissed her on the cheek then took a step back. “So, am I right that this is a greater emergency than the missing scout?” he asked.

“It is a different emergency,” she said, lowering her countenance so that only the two of them were included in its glow. “That the border of the mist is receding all over the world means that it is almost surely unrelated to the kidnapping of the scout. That both the events would occur or, at least, that we would notice them on the same day may seem suspicious but without evidence of any directly connected events I am inclined to treat them as separate disasters. Unless you have evidence to change my mind?”

Pai shook his head. “No, I don’t see any immediate connection. What I do see, though, is a problem with the magic. The border area where Bockwimen was this morning? It already receded another furlong. It will lose two more by morning. I tried every spell I know and could not get it to reset. Worse yet, invisibility spells didn’t work where the mist had been.”

Apa’ii turned suddenly toward the open room then back to her partner. “That means those we had hidden are now at risk. What about beyond the initial boundary? Did you risk going out that far?”

“Yes, of course, and for now everything works there the way it is supposed to.” Pai paused and paced a short distance from the queen. “Where the mist had been, it felt different. My magic felt weaker. Flying, jumping, casting a simple spell to water a fern, all were more difficult. I think more is happening than losing the mist.”

“You think something is wrong with the magic,” Apa’ii said softly, knowing what the was afraid to say out loud. “That is troubling. I wonder if it is just the magic of some or the magic of all? There is no way to know unless …” She paused, a look of horror coming over her face. “The council! You said invisibility spells weren’t working. Our councilors will use these spells to travel. What happens why they reach where the borders once were?” They’ll be exposed and visible! Not all of them can transmute into animals. If there are any humans around why they reach the border…”

“They’ll be visible,” Pai said, finishing her sentence rather than her finishing his for a change. “What should be done? This could affect every Nawa’Diyo in existence.”

“Our most immediate concern is to care for those who are traveling. They must be protected. Quick, get a message to Dawádetgit. We need her special skill,” the queen instructed.

“And if her magic doesn’t work?” Pai asked cautiously.

“She forms her magic in the skies, not on the ground,” Apa’ii explained. “She nor her magic should be affected by what is happening on the surface.” She paused, then added. “Yes, if I’m wrong, we’re in more trouble than we ever dreamed.”

Chapter 3

The Thinning Veil, Chapter 3

Maliae was a tiny blue nymphatic soul who possessed an incredible amount of magical skill that could become fearsome if she were ever angered. At the moment, however, she was contentedly sitting on a day lily swinging her feet off the edge of a petal and blowing bubbles. Maliae loved bubbles and spent a great deal of her time blowing and crafting them into various shapes that might fill her imagination at any given moment. 

Today, she was imagining various kinds of animals, some of which were real and others that might have been had she decided to create them. The nymph didn’t want the responsibility of having to care for a new species of living beings, though, so instead, she simply blew on the bubbles to send them floating and then turned them into clouds, letting them float on into an otherwise blue sky, the shade of blue against which she could fly unnoticed even by other magical souls.

She had been sitting on the day lily most of the morning and well into the afternoon.  Maliae’s normal responsibilities involved keeping weather patterns running on schedule and at that particular moment, everything under her domain was running well. Even the troubled ones had taken a day off. She was happy.

It was just after she had sent a bubble shaped like a wolf into the sky that an unexpected breeze caught her off guard, knocking her from her perch. Catching herself before she hit the ground, Maliae looked up to find Pai sitting exactly where she had been, wearing a large smile and holding what was, for her, an extremely large strawberry. “Pai, you silly loon!” she scolded playfully. “You could have caused me damage! For that’s you’ll have to give me a kiss.”

Pai smiled and flew down to meet her, their lips connecting with enough passion as to cause a small whirlwind around them. “I bring you greetings from the queen,” Pai said as he offered her the strawberry.

Maliae took the strawberry, which was almost as big as she was, and helped herself to what was, for her, a large bite, leaving red strawberry juice on her face. Very little of the strawberry had been consumed and she would enjoy sharing it with those in her clan. “The queen sent me a strawberry, huh?” she asked with a mischievous grin. “She’s being rather friendly, isn’t she?”

“The strawberry is from me. The queen has a rather dire and serious request of you,” Pai said, sitting on the flower again. “We need to keep humans away from the border of the mist.”

“I didn’t realize that had become a problem,” Maliae said as she took another bite of the strawberry. “Is that why she’s called the council?”

Pai tipped his head back and rocked for a moment before answering. “Not initially, not that is a whole other matter. This one snuck up on us. We might not have known had the other matter not come up.”

Maliae used the back of her hand to wipe the strawberry pulp from her face. “You’re talking in circles without telling me anything, my love. Or did you forget that I’m a member of the council as well? I know about the scout. Pockwatch’s dispatch was alarming but clear. But you’re saying there’s more?”

Paid nodded. “And part of the urgency is that we don’t know yet how severe this new issue could be. We need to make sure absolutely no humans are lingering near the border of the mist when the other councilors arrive from outside.”

“So, you want some rain, I’m guessing,” Maliae said as she did a headstand on top of the strawberry. “I can handle that.”

Pai caught the nymph as she dismounted from the fruit and the two kissed again. “Mmm, your kiss gets sweeter all the time,” he whispered.

“That happens when you feed me such delicious fruit,” she giggled. “When would she like the rain?” 

“She wants something stronger than rain,” Pai said. “She wants to bring in Dawádetgit.”

Maliae sprang into the air, scattering strawberry pulp everywhere. Her wings fluttered quickly so that she lingered well above the lily. “Damn! Her majesty isn’t one for subtlety, is she? I assume she remembers what happened the last time Dawádetgit did her thing in a forest? Those saplings are just starting to come back. Is she going to sound any kind of alarm first?”

“I am sure she will, and probably warn the animals as well. We can’t risk there being any humans nearby when councilors reach the mist’s boundary,” Pai said.

Maliae sat atop the strawberry, her elbows on her knees, her heels kicking into the soft flesh of the fruit. “Council is set for in the morning as the sun fully crosses the horizon. That means most of them will arrive tonight, coming through the mist before the sun is set. That doesn’t give us a lot of time. I’ll have my clan go ahead and begin adjusting the air pressure and pull moisture into place. It takes a minute to create the kind of storm you’re wanting, you know. Dawádetgit doesn’t show up and start throwing tornadoes around like Zeus’ lightning bolts. Go ahead and have the queen issue the warning. We want everyone, including the humans to have time to take cover. 

“If any magical lives are damaged, it’s on the queen. She’s asking for this. I won’t allow Dawádetgit to be a scapegoat if something goes haywire, and with these things, something always goes haywire. Good intentions are never strong enough to stop bad things from happening. In fact, now that I think about it, good intentions actually attract bad things. Have you ever known good intentions to go as planned?” The nymph was on a roll and didn’t wait for a response. “Of course you haven’t. It never happens. And when shit happens, there’s always someone to blame. Well, this one is totally on Apa’ii. She might as well go ahead and own up to it now. No one from my clan is going to take the blame.

Pai sat awkwardly on the lily, face inward. While he knew Maliae was correct in her assessment, he also knew there was no way of stopping the natural order of balance. “Why must we blame anyone for the outcome of nature itself?” he asked. “Dawádetgit doesn’t control the storms she creates, neither does Apa’ii control who listens, ignores, or fails to respond appropriately to her warning. Fault lies in deliberate harm, not the natural malice of the universe.”

Maliae hopped down from the strawberry and sat net to Pai on the lily. “And you know, no matter how correct you are, and yes, I can agree with you in principle, no one in the council is going to listen if someone from their clan gets hurt, or an animal under their protection is killed. Reason yields to emotion in all living souls. Apa’ii is one of the few who has the ability to not let emotion overwhelm her; that is why she is the queen. Even Apa’ii with all her wonder and talents, can’t dictate how the general population responds to an event. 

“Perhaps, this time, there will be little destruction. I’ll tell Dawádetgit to keep the storms high, not rooting through the crust as the troubled ones do. That should be sufficient to keep the humans back a few furlongs.”

“More than a few, please. She needs to run about 60 furlongs from where she finds the border,” Pai said. “Staying high is good, but it needs to scare the myths out of the humans.”

Maliae lept off the lily and few a couple of circles around the flower. “Consider it done. You’ll be signing signs before you get back to the home tree. Just one more matter before you leave.”

“What’s that?” Pai asked taking to the air as well.

“When all this is over I want a whole night with you, okay?” The queen has been keeping you far too busy,” Maliae said, sweeping down to give him another long, strawberry-flavored kiss.

“Consider it a deal!” Pai said as he turned and moved quickly toward the home tree.