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Welcome! Thank you for taking the time to read the latest installment in our new book. If you’re just joining us, you may prefer to start at the beginning. The Introduction, which is beneficial to understanding the story, can be found here. If you would rather jump straight into the story, click here for Chapter 1.

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Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15

Chapter 13

chapter 13

The ground around the base of the new mountain was still warm from the battle, steam rising around the crevices and fissures slowly healing from the abrupt and violent adjustment of tectonic plates. Where the ground was slightly cooler, memorials of flowers and medallions, pieces of the thousands of magic souls lost, sparkled in the dew of early morning sunlight. The population of magic souls in the home tree community more than tripled overnight as word of the council’s destruction at the hands of the troubled ones spread across the continent. Only the oldest among them could remember a sorrow as deep as what they were feeling together at this moment.

Some gathered in the bars and pubs, sharing the tales of magic lives over pints and bottles of specially-mixed healing elixirs. Others gathered outdoors in the shade of large flowers or the umbrellas of massive mushrooms that had sprung up from the tender soil overnight. Trees, having spread back to some degree to give themselves breathing spaces, saw their branches teeming with magic souls, many of whom had never ventured to the home tree. Together, they cried.

Mourning was so rare an experience among the Nawa’Diyo that few knew how to deal with the emotion. Pockets of violence popped up in isolated areas as anger over the loss overwhelmed young souls not accustomed to such strange feelings. Those who were older did their best to guide the younger ones forward through the traditions of the past but they found the rituals of seasons long ago inadequate for soothing their grief.

The largest of the memorials was around the base of the home tree where Pai’s sword seemed to drip with blood as it hovered in the air above the mounds of tributes offered to the fallen consort and counselor. No one could yet explain how he might have lost the sword intended to protect him. In the swirls of heat and black smoke, confusion had caused many to lose their bearings, becoming unsure of where they were or the closeness of the nearest troubled one. As many clamored to get out of the way, the collision of friends was inevitable. Dominant speculation held that had someone knocked the sword from Pai’s hand, even for a moment, he might not have been able to find it again in the darkness that had covered the valley. Many souls across the Nawa’Diyo had known Pai, his reputation as both a diplomat and a lover rapidly taking on the girth of legend as souls recalled their encounters with him.

While mourning lights continued to flicker around the base of the home tree, the massive oak itself had gone dark. Passageways to the throne room were shut down as no state visitors were yet allowed. Only a select few were permitted to attend to the grieving queen. Bockwimen had stationed guards outside her chamber and armed them with the strongest magic available. No entry was allowed without the queen’s explicit request, and she was making no requests.

No one could recall ever seeing Apa’ii’s countenance this dim. Even with the sun shining brightly, the souls felt the shadow from the loss of her ethereal presence. She spoke only regarding those few matters that required her specific attention. She gave to Pockwatch, whose own core was burned and chipped, the responsibility of arranging a public memorial pyre in the ancient traditions. She had asked Kuveni and Fleau, both representing large clans of magic souls, to oversee the recovery of broken cores and their identity if possible. All would be treated as heroes, martyrs to the freedom and protection of Nawa’ Diyo. Their names and legacies would be honored among magicians everywhere in every realm.

More than anything, however, Apa’ii cried. Never had she felt such a crushing pain and a sense of defeat. That the entire army of troubled ones had been disassembled was nothing to the fact that nearly 8,000 Nawa’ Diyo had died at their hands on her watch. She had not been strong enough to protect them all. She, for the first time, had not anticipated the attack. The gaps in her magic had left souls vulnerable to the wrath of the vengeful troubled ones. The losses, especially that of her dear Pai, pained her as deeply as though one of Freyr’s arrows had struck her core. Her tears were not abated as the account of each death now came to her one after the other. So heavy were the tears soaking into the whole of the home tree that moss began to grow on its bark.

Outside, Bockwimen had taken a defensive attitude, knowing that the troubled ones would not be deterred by a singular loss of such a small army. Assembling his scouts and assembling recruits, he sent them out to look for any signs of activity. If the troubled ones were to strike again, it likely would not be at the home tree. Their anger was not so much with the Nawa’ Diyo as it was with the Hantu Air. The problem was that while the two were distinctly separate realms, their physical proximity to each other was often close. Just as humans had settled near streams of water, so, too had the Nawa’ Diyo. The troubled ones had no distinction as to which realm they might attack. 

At the same time, there seemed little doubt that the Hantu Air themselves were a threat. Bockwimen did not yet have the details of Dasheng Sen’s betrayal but the troubled ones made it quite clear that what was supposed to be a diplomatic mission had turned into an assassination. If Dasheng Sen would do that to one leader, she was inherently a threat to them all and the Nawa’ Diyo would need to be ready to defend themselves against her and the magic of the water realm.

Nawa’ Diyo had not maintained a standing army since the Dark Ages of humans and Bockwimen alone did not have the authority to raise one. While he felt certain that Apa’ii would give such an order once the period of mourning had passed, he could not in good conscience wait before making sure they would have the support they needed from the clans with the strongest history of warfare. Remembering who had stood with him prepared for the final attack, he went looking for Arviss and was not surprised to find him in a pub with a pitcher of grog. What did surprise him was that the dwarf was alone.

“I bring you greetings,” Bockwimen said as he sat down opposite the councilor. He looked quickly around the pub before asking. “Are your brothers not here with you this morning?”

Arvis shook his head, his hair frayed and his beard unbraided. I sent them home to recover,” he said in a quiet voice that belied his character. “Their injuries are many and the magic they need lies in our mountain, not here. I will stay through the mourning and then I will join them.” He paused long enough to take a drink from the pitcher in his hand. “I suppose you’ve come to inquire about weapons for the coming war.”

“Simply how long it might take for them to be ready. I don’t expect you’ve had cause for maintaining any stockpile,” the scout answered.

Arviss shook his head. “We do have old weapons lying around of course, but they’re not gonna do you any good. I singed my beard in the heat those giants brought to the battle. You will need something more than catapults and magic swords to defeat them. We have to be able to put out their fire without getting so close that ya’ might be burned.”

“You have such a weapon?” Bockwimen asked hopefully.

“No,” Answered Arviss abruptly. “Why would we need such a weapon before now?”

“But you can create one, can’t you?” the scout asked.

“Meh, there’s a chance we might can conjure up somethin’,” Arviss said dryly. “I can’t say how enthused my brothers and kin might be ‘bout firin’ up the kiln and all. As much as you know I like war’s ability to generate a profit, we’ve all become rather accustomed to this whole manner of peace.” Pausing for another drink and then wiping his face with the back of his sleeve, he added, “They’ll be upset, of course, when they see the injuries my brother’s take home w’ ‘em. When they hear the story, though, how it was that dammed Hantu Air queen that caused the whole mess, they’re likely to be more interesting in going after her than messin’ w’ the troubled ones.”

“But you can’t think that the troubled ones would attack once and then leave us alone do you?” Bockwimen challenged. “All our communities are at risk and we must be able to protect them.”

Arviss was not moved. “Try to look at this from the perspective of those who ‘aven’t had the protection of the home tree their entire lives. We’ve had a lot thrown at us. First, the humans are gettin’ all aggressive an’ it turns out they know ‘bout us. Then we’re told that the shifting poles are changing the magnetic fields and our magic may not work. That was enough right there to overwhelm the most of us. But then, the water queen betrays us all, assassinates the leader of the troubled ones, an’ there ya’ go, we’re at war on so many differen’ fronts we don’ know which direction to shoot first. An’ then ya’ come to me, of course, lookin’ for weapons that can fight off vengeance at the same time. Can ya’ see how my kin might be a li’l reluctant to get involved? We’ve fought wars against other magicians an’ we won. We’ve fought wars against humans and’ that was more of a draw. Now, you’re takin’ on both at the same time an’ I’m not sure any of us are quite ready for that.”

The dwarf took a deep breath. He could see the desperation and fear in Bockwimen’s eyes. The dwarves had been loyal to Apa’ii for too many seasons to back out of the challenge now. “Tell ya’ what I’ll do. I’ll talk to my kin ‘bout weapons to use against the troubled ones and the Hantu Air. We know magic an’ how to fend it off better than anyone. Fighting humans, though, you’re gonna have to find someone else. We jus’ don’ have it in us to do everythin’. I won’t put my brothers and my kin under that kind of strain. We’re not the only weapon makers in the realm, ya’ know.”

Bockwimen leaned forward and spoke softly. “Are you suggesting I go to the elves?”

Arviss sat back, his eyes wide as though he were facing some great horror. “Good Barthardy, no!” he exclaimed, pounding a fist on the table. “Ya’ cannot trust elven magic in the hands of anyone but elves. Freyr’s li’l trick with the arrows wouldn’a worked even w’ out the queen’s curse on ‘em. Ya’ jus’ don’ go ‘round givin’ elven weapons to random souls. Unpredictable things happen when ya’ do that. No, I think there are others whose magic is a wee bit more stable. Maybe talk to ol’ Aapo, the alux, if you can find him. He and Ohdow neither one like bein’ seen all that much but they carry powerful magic that might be useful against the humans. An’ if ya’ need to build stuff, no one better than Ali’i an’ his clan. Easy enough to find. Jus’ wave around a banana. He’ll come runnin’. An’ if ya’ get desperate, there’s always Leanan an’ her kin.”

“Hasn’t she been banned from contact with humans?” Bockwimen asked.

“Aye,” Arviss said with a smile. “An’ for good enough reason, too, that’s why she an’ her clan make for a good backup plan. They’ll have humans doing themselves in before ya’ know it.”

Bockwimen drummed his fingers on the wood table as he considered his options. “Do you suppose they could pull back just a bit, distract humans without driving them to a fateful death?”

Arviss shrugged his broad shoulders. “I dunno. Their charms don’ affect magic folk. An’ they haven’t been allowed in the human world in so long it could well be that their wiles are not as effective as they use ta’ be. The question ya’ gotta ask yourself is are ya’ desperate enough to find out?”

Light inside the pub visibly dimmed as dark skies announced the arrival of Queen Belinda. As smaller souls rushed to the windows to catch a glimpse of the air queen. Arviss leaned across the table and softly said, “Don’ discount what the sylphids bring to a fight, either. Belinda is heir to the power of Zeus. When it comes to fighting the water magicians, she’s a powerful ally and is going to bring some weapons to the table that we’ve never seen. The only real question here is whether Queen Apa’ii is gonna do somethin’ this time or if she’s sittin’ on her hands again?”

Bockwimen shook his head. “I don’t know. She was crying most the night, more than I’ve ever seen her grieve before. Other times, she wants to talk through her pain. This time she sent everyone away. I hardly know what to expect from her. Apa’ii has always risen above her emotion. This may be the one time she’s not able to do so.”

“Might be a blessin’,” Arvis said as he finished off his grog. “Mix her sense of strategy with a little anger and this who war might be over before any new weapons are needed. We all need a little righteous motivation from time to time. Queen Apa’ii is one soul I trust to turn her anger and pain into somethin’ powerful.”

Bockwimen nodded and stood. “I should go. Please carry a message back to your clan. Any way they can help is appreciated.”

“Aye, that,” Arviss said. “I’ll let ‘em know ya’ asked for them specific like. They’ll like that.”

Hard rain was falling as Bockwimen stepped outside the pub. He looked toward the home tree and noticed it was glowing orange. Apa’ii was agitated. It was going to be a long day.

Chapter 14

Chapter 14

Brad Lofton was scrolling through a social media feed on his cell phone with his right hand while absent-mindedly spilling coffee from a green ceramic USGS mug onto his white shirt with his left hand when Nadia Rabentix walked over and gave him a blank stare that made the 46-year-old feel uncomfortable no matter what he was doing. “What’s up?” he asked, hoping he sounded sufficiently casual. Nadia was a brilliant scientist who also happened to be extremely attractive, the latter having led her to file multiple sexual harassment complaints with HR, causing many in the office to avoid interacting with her at all. Brad was micro-examining every interaction he had with her.

“NOAHH just called. They’re wanting to know if we recorded any seismic activity in Northeast Pennsylvania over the past 24 hours,” she said flatly.

“I assume you looked,” Brad said as he realized the mess he’d made of his shirt.

“Yes, obviously,” Nadia said, perturbed that she didn’t seem to have Brad’s full attention. “Nothing is showing on any of our monitors.”

Brad sat down his coffee mug on the closest desk and looked around desperately for something to blot the stain on his shirt. “Okay, that’s not surprising. You’ve called them back?”

Carol Waters, whose desk was hosting Brad’s coffee cup, handed him a stack of fast food napkins she kept in a drawer for random emergencies. 

Nadia waited a moment, giving Brad time to vainly attempt to scrub the stain. When it seemed apparent that his actions were not producing the desired result, she said, “Brad, they’re saying a new igneous formation, what they’re calling a mountain, appeared overnight. Our instruments show no plate movement of any kind, we’ve got no public report of any kind, and there are none of the other natural phenomena that should occur with such a disruption, but I’ve looked at the satellite imagery from this morning’s pass and there’s definitely something there.”

Brad stopped wiping and said, “Then we need eyes. Grab a team and go take a look.”

“Excuse me?” Nadia replied, caught off guard by Brad’s seemingly dismissive instruction.

Brad tossed the napkin into Carol’s waste can before explaining. “You’ve been wanting to do more fieldwork, right? And this could be one of the most important events of our lifetime. There’s a reason satellite shows a change our instruments didn’t pick up. The weather in that region has been stormy the past few days so I expect it to be some combination of the storms causing deforestation and probably taking our equipment offline or something to that effect. But if that’s not the case, this could be something for the history books. You’re the best geologist in the division. Put together your dream team and see if you can be out there by tomorrow morning. I’ll sign off on any equipment you want to take.”

Nadia smiled at the assignment. Brad reached to pick up his coffee mug and bumped his elbow on the corner of Carol’s cubicle, sloshing coffee onto his khaki pants and her desk. She reached for more napkins as Brad grumbled, “I might as well go back home.”

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Chapter 15

Chapter 15

We don’t have to do this now,” Belinda said as she watched Apa’ii pacing back and forth across the floor of the throne room. “I’m sure we can wait until after the pyre memorial. No one expects you to have an immediate response.”

“That’s exactly why we need one,” Apa’ii answered, her tone serious as a deep orange aura glowed from her countenance. “We have to get out in front of this now before it overwhelms us. The dangers are too many and the number of souls at risk too real. I’ve already sent Bomenak to retrieve those settled in the high desert and I’m concerned that I only sent the young elf with him. I should have given him a battalion of magicians.”

“Dasheng Sen has gone quiet,” Belinda said. “I don’t understand why she would want to start such a conflict now, at a time where her own magic is less powerful than it was. Why start a war that she doesn’t have the strength to fight?”

“Why start a war at all?” Apa’ii answered back. “How are any of us supposed to respond to the humans if we cannot trust each other? The only reasonable way to deal with them is in concert. We need the power of the waters. She has a much at stake as either of us. Her actions have no logic to them at all.”

“Especially when she was such an active participant in our plan to address the human problem,” Belinda added. “I’m not sure any of it is salvageable without her being involved. Her betrayal puts us more on the defensive than is going to make anyone comfortable. Few of our souls are going to agree to any aggressive activity against humans if they’re having to watch their backs for attacks from the troubled ones or the Hantu Air,” Apa’ii mused. “We have spent many seasons teaching our souls how to resolve our differences through dialog and peaceful compromise. Where there have always been those like Bogmenak and Gui that disagree with those concepts, those precepts have prevented us from having any significant conflicts for some 5,000 seasons. The number of souls we have with any practical knowledge on war are all older, too old to be taking to any kind of battlefield. Many of our younger souls don’t know the defensive spells to keep themselves safe from the kinds of attacks the troubled ones bring. Fewer have any knowledge of attack or offensive spells and how to use them effectively. I fear we could lose many souls from the misapplication of our magic. And that’s assuming our magic works at all.”

Belinda rolled clouds around her as thunder shook the home tree. Neither queen was sure what to do and both were feeling pressure from their subjects to do something to avenge the deaths caused by the troubled ones. The anxiety and frustration caused by the lack of choices left them both feeling angry.

Apa’ii suddenly twirled around and faced the jeweled door. Her countenance turned blood red and she brought it low so that none outside the room would know the concern she was feeling. “We have an unexpected guest wandering the community,” she said quietly. “One that shouldn’t be here.”

Belinda’s clouds darkened even more and outside the tree, the clouds were so heavy as to nearly blot out all light from the sun. Sylphids who had come with their queen took this as a sign of danger and went on guard, ready for trouble. Nawa’ Diyo, understandably anxious from the attack, left their mourning lights, and rushed to places of safety, casting protection spells around them as they went.

“He has broken the conditions of his exile,” Belinda said softly.

“Or someone decided to set him free,” Apa’ii countered.

“Or the magic holding him in exile simply stopped working,” a deep voice growled behind them.

The queens turned, immediately tossing up defensive shields around them. There, smack center in the throne room stood Ulaf, the Elbenkönig, dressed in flowing black robes surrounded by a putrid black smoke that smelled of burning sulfur. He was tall and gaunt, handsome despite his severe age. His blonde-silver hair flowed behind him almost to the floor. His beard fell to his knees. From the dark hollows on his face, his eyes glowed red. For one to be inescapably suave, the Elbenkönig leader was a frightful sight.

“Imagine me walking along the edge of that pitifully little realm you gave us and discovering that the delightful little shield that kept us hidden from the world, preventing us from doing our will and keeping the humans in check, was, poof, suddenly gone,” Ulaf said, gesturing dramatically with his hands. 

“I couldn’t believe it at first. I thought perhaps one of you were playing some kind of trick on us,” he continued. “I tossed a few pebbles across the boundary to make sure, and then a few boulders, and, okay, I may have caused an avalanche on one of those mountains with all the snow on them. But once I was sure that our prison had been lifted, that our exile was no more, I hurried here as quickly as I could, dear Apa’ii, knowing you would be oh so glad to see me!”

Ulaf laughed at himself then looked up. “I certainly didn’t expect to run unto you, Belinda. Since when have you and your Sylphids started hanging around the earth-bound? That seems so very unlike you. Oh, you’ll want to know that the valkyries wasted no time returning home. I dare say they’re probably very unhappy with the state of the skies and the lack of honorable war. How you both have managed to make such a mess of things in a mere, what has it been, 2800 or so seasons? My, time does fly when one is in exile.”

Apa’ii pulled herself up to her full height, flashing white-hot light that pulsed through the home tree. “We will find a new place for you and your demon-kind,” she warned. “We will not have you running loose, wreaking havoc and endangering our existence. I know a mountain range far in the East that is well suited for you and your allies.” She drew back her hand, ready to cast Ulaf, the valkyries, and all the exiled souls back into prison. 

Ulaf held up his hands in defense and shouted, “Hold on there, dear queen. Before you go slinging your magic around, perhaps you might consider the possibility that you need us, that you need me to help you with this mess that you’ve gotten yourself into. I know how Dashen Sen betrayed you. The new has spread all over the magic realms. The waters of the far East are already boiling with activity and the mer have begun to rise from the depths. Great trouble is coming and the only way to combat trouble is with trouble and no one knows trouble better than the Elbenkönig, am I not right?

“Oh, and how are your troubled ones? I hear they’re a tad bit upset after their leader was so brutally assassinated. We both know they don’t care who did the assassination, they will come for every magician they can find and they will smash all our cores into dust. Do you think the two of you can take on both the troubled ones and the entire realm of Hantu Air by yourselves? I am the only one who can help you defeat Dasheng Sen. You need a certain kind of magic, that beautifully dark brand of elven magic, that only we possess. We would both do so much better as allies rather than enemies, don’t you think?”

“We will not be persuaded to return to the ways of the past!” Apa’ii roared. “There is no longer any room here for your deceit and trickery. We cannot allow you and the Elbenkönig and the valkyries to run your murderous rampage over the realm of the humans. Things have changed. Humans have changed. They are a threat to our existence, the existence of everything on this sacred ground. They no longer hold the honor of the ancient kings. They don’t even care about the destruction of their own lives, much less ours. They will not fear your tactics as they did before. They have a magic of their own now and if you make yourself and your kind known to them, especially in any way that appears threatening, they will hunt you down and disassemble each one of you so that they might mix your magic with their magic to dominate the planet and bring an end to everything that is not human. Too much has changed, Ulaf. You are better off, safer, to remain hidden in exile.”

Ulaf smiled and took a cautious step forward. “But, your majesty, do you not think that we, too have changed over the many seasons? We have gone this entire time without the taste of blood in our mouths and I dare say we would find it offensive now, as you do. We can fit within the culture and environment of the current time, I promise you.

“Let me make a proposition, if I may. The Nawa’ Diyo has never been all that aggressive. Even in days of old, you have urged restraint, have you not? Yes, you protected them and us, during the great wars, but you never did go for the ultimate kill. You don’t have it in you. That’s why you put us in exile rather than incinerate our cores as some suggested.” He threw a side glance up at Belinda who rumbled strongly in return.

“So, why not let us be your army? I pledge to you, my queen, we would do only your biding, but we would do it with greater efficiency, and more frugality, than your little-winged subjects. You need souls that can put fear where there needs to be fear and action where there needs to be action. Give us your charge, my queen, and this war shall be yours.”

Apa’ii looked at Belinda, who nodded her consent. Neither of them was foolish enough to trust Ulaf without strict boundaries. The bloodings legacy of the Elbenkönig and the valkyries were well known and their renewed presence after so many seasons in exile would be a matter of concern for all the Nawa’ Diyo. Still, there was no denying that, if controlled, they would make a powerful army at a time when every available resource was needed.

“We need time to consider your offer,” Apa’ii said, maintaining the strength of her voice. “You will all return to exile while we complete our mourning and prepare a strategy that represents our best interest. I give you my world and my oath. Go peacefully now and we will give you a reasonable hearing within five sunsets. Choose your words and your actions well. We must be certain that you are loyal to all Nawa’Diyo, that you will respect our laws, and that you will do no harm to the magic souls of land and air.”

Ulaf nodded and bowed in consent. Apa’ii quickly performed the complex spell that would keep all the Elbenkönig and valkyries in a new mountain exile until they were called upon. The valkyries were especially unhappy with Ulaf’s arrangement as they were curious as to the ways of modern humans but agreed to abide by whatever plan the queens established.

When the throne room was again clear, Belinda turned to apa’ii and asked, “DO you dare to dance with the devil that caused our realms so much pain?” Dare we trust that their blood lust has been abated?”

“Do you trust your own souls?” Apa’ii asked in return. “There are many among us who once fed off the blood and bones of humans. They have evolved and adapted for their own safety. We exiled the Elbenkönig many seasons ago and have left them there to their own devices, to either survive without human flesh or to not and die. Obviously, they did not die.”

“But is that enough reason to trust them?” Have they ever had it in them to be loyal to anyone other than themselves?” Belinda asked. “I don’t trust Ulaf and I certainly don’t trust the valkyries. I’m sure they will have figured out that Odin is dead and Vallhalla is no more. They will want answers from the humans. Never have I known them to be creatures of mercy. If we allow them freedom I cannot expect them to be kind or cooperative.”

“Perhaps kind and cooperative is no longer the qualities we need,” Apa’ii said as she took a seat on her throne and spread her robes around her. “Sit here with me and together let us take counsel on the matter. We should not rely only on what we can see. We will mourn and we will then plan. Our problems continue to grow and we cannot dare to wait long before taking an action that changes the balance between humans and magicians. We have a sacred responsibility to save this earth at any cost. We cannot afford to not consider all the options, even those that may seem to defy our purpose.”

Outside, the home tree once again sparkled with the soft yellow glow of Apa’ii sitting on her throne. The Nawa’ Diyo resumed their activities confident in their queens’ power to protect them and blissfully unaware of the dangers they would soon encounter.

Welcome! Thank you for taking the time to read the latest installment in our new book. If you’re just joining us, you may prefer to start at the beginning. The Introduction, which is beneficial to understanding the story, can be found here. If you would rather jump straight into the story, click here for Chapter 1.

Click on one of the following bookmarks to jump to that chapter:
Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12

Chapter 8

Chapter 8

At the base of a 400-year-old oak tree, in a pub overgrown with moss and leaves, Bogmenak sat alone at a table drinking a local ale that he wasn’t particularly enjoying. The morning’s council meeting had not gone the way he wanted. He had not been able to talk nearly as much as he would have liked and when someone seemed to share his anti-human views, they hadn’t appreciated his support. The committee to which he had been assigned had given him leave, saying they were already well aware of his opinion. He sat at the pub quietly fuming to himself, sure that the council would once again fail to take any substantive action. There were too many councilors who were against violence and almost as many who still felt that humans should be ignored. Either opinion, in his view, would lead to certain destruction. He liked the stance of the Hantu Air and the Sylphids, but neither queen nor anyone in their entourage would acknowledge him.

A couple of tables away to Bogmenak’s left sat a rather young and tall soul of elvish descent dressed in a hooded coat, his face turned away from the light as he hunched over the table. Bogmenack had noticed the young one when he came in—elves were difficult to miss for many reasons. For Bogmenak, what bothered him most was their smell, which was too sweet and too close to that of European flowers for the desert dweller’s liking. He might have moved further away to avoid the stench, but this elf was a hybrid, bark covering his forearm and shins, so his fragrance wasn’t quite as bad.

Deep into his thoughts and the third pint of ale, Bogmenak had all but forgotten the elf was present when the young one stood up and walked softly over to his table. “You’re one of the desert councilors aren’t you?” he asked. “My name’s Freyr, from the land along the sea known as Gahada. I heard your speech to the council this morning. I like what you had to say and would like to talk with you if you don’t mind.” The young soul pushed back the white-blonde bangs that had fallen onto his slender face, hiding his well-chiseled features.

“Shouldn’t you be in another meeting about now, Councilor Freyr?” Bogmenak asked bruskly without looking up.

“I would ask the same of you,” Freyr said as he helped himself to a seat and leaned in closely. “I don’t think the committees like what either one of us has to say”

“I don’t think the committees like how you smell, elf,” Bogmenak shot back. “Feel free to back yourself up so that fragrance isn’t quite so intense.”

Freyr sat up slightly and adjusted the bow slung across his back. “I just know our opinions are not popular among most in the council. I was hoping we might form our own alliance so that we can be heard.”

“I’m heard,” Bogmenak countered. “I’m rarely heeded, but no one says Bogmenak is never heard. I don’t need any help in that department, especially from an elf.”

Freyr turned back toward the shadows and said, “So, you’re no different than the others, all talk, no action. You enjoy big drama but you won’t risk getting your magic dirty.”

Bogmenak responded angrily by tossing a barbed tumbleweed at the back of the elf’s head. Freyr deftly blocked the attack, causing the crumbled pieces to land in Bogmenak’s ale. The grumpy magician pounded a fist on the table and growled, “If we were not in a public space I’d pummel you, you arrogant snot dripper!”

“To no avail, old soul. I am of royal birth, my magic is greater than yours without me even trying,” Freyr said with his back still turned.

Bogmenak fumed, “Royal? Then what in the name of hadeivas hotweh are you doing in here complaining about being heard? You have passage to the queen, do you not?”

Freyr shook his head. “I renounced all traces of royalty; it is an outdated and ridiculous system of which we have no need. All manner of magic souls deserves to lead and have their voices heard, not just those born to privilege.” He re-adjusted his bow as he stood up. “If you are not interested in the overthrow of the queen, then I will go elsewhere.”

Bogmenak reached up and grabbed the young one’s coat, forcing him back to his seat. “Wait one damn minute. You didn’t tell me anything about usurping Apa’ii. You have a plan?” The councilor looked around cautiously. “And keep your voice down if you do. She is quite popular in these parts.”

Freyr looked over his shoulder, shifted his bow, and lowered his voice. “Queen Apa’ii only enjoys popularity here in the home tree. Everywhere else, magic souls are languishing. They have complained about gaps in their magic for many seasons. Only now, when it threatens the home tree, does she notice or bother to care. She has ignored their pleas for help, disregarded the human destruction of their sacred magic places, and given them no aid or assistance to fight off human aggression. Apa’ii is weaker than she realizes. Magic souls are ready to rise up. All they need is a strong leader. I was hoping that  might be you.”

Bogmenak smiled, or, at least, the bristles around his mouth moved upward. He knew the dissatisfaction of the desert souls but was unaware that others felt the same. This was an opportunity worth considering. “How many in number do you think would follow?” he asked.

Freyr shrugged. “Certainly all those who live East and South of the mist. They have seen the humans turn their sacred spaces into lakes and amusement parks. Yet, Apa’ii’s edicts keep them from fighting back. They are ready to revolt. I do not know about those around Amaligme and Gowaneh, the great rivers. There are fewer places for one to hide as I travel Westward. Those in the desert you know well, of course, and I was quite surprised to hear that the pixiemandalons helped anyone with anything. They’ve been uncooperative on every level for many seasons. The magic souls out there are more independent and I’m not sure they would give the slightest heed to anything the council might say.”

Bogmenack considered the elf’s analysis. He knew of those allies in the desert he had cultivated. He hadn’t spent enough time traveling to know the political environment elsewhere. He was only mildly surprised to hear that dissatisfaction with the crown was widespread. Many thought Apa’ii was too old and needed to be replaced with someone younger. Others were ready to ditch the concept of a monarchy completely. Freyr was one of them and was likely influential among elves of his generation. As many times as Bogmenak had tried to unseat Apa’ii and failed, it seemed as though this current situation offered him his best opportunity yet. “How many of the council’s votes do you think we can sway?” he asked Freyr.

The elf looked up, having been mindlessly playing with a feather he had found on the floor. “Easily? A third. With some mild persuasion, more than half.” He twirled the feather between his palms then added, “I’m not sure that council votes necessarily matter, though. Many would just as soon disband the council. Even if the council adopts the queens’ proposal, there are more than enough magicians willing to act against it. I wouldn’t consider the council a deterrent.”

“What you’re telling me is that the magic realm is ripe for a revolution,” Bogmenak said carefully.

“No, phrase it that way and no one will go along with you,” Freyre said. “They want a change in leadership and then want to be left alone. They want to know that there’s unity when humans do something globally stupid, but they’re tired of the queen holding them back, especially when they look at the Hantu Air and Sylphids and see the freedoms they have.”

“But, for all their talk, neither the Hantu Air nor the Sylphids have been effective in their assaults, have they?” Bogmenak challenged. “Using their tactics and strategies could be dangerous.”

Freyr tossed the feather into the air then used a touch of magic to drive its quill deep into the top of the wooden table. “No one’s asking to repeat someone else’s failures. We simply want the freedom to deal with humans on their own, to address problems as they happen without needing the approval of a committee or a council.”

“That could lead to chaos,” Bogmenak warned. “Of course, I tend to like chaos, it can be rather useful at times.”

“What it could lead to is rule by magic rather than rule by humans. A return to the natural order, the way it was intended,” Freyr said softly. He stood up again, pulled his hood down over his face, and adjusted his bow yet again. “Think about it when you vote tomorrow. Nothing the queen proposes is going to pass on the first vote. Your opportunity is in that moment.”

No one in the pub seemed to notice as the elf slipped out the door. Bogmenak sat there wondering whether fate had granted him victory or insured his final defeat.

Chapter 9

Chapter 9

Deep in the hollow of the home tree were a number of rooms any one of which was impossibly larger than the massive tree itself. Magic used within the tree had allowed the boundaries of space and, when necessary, time to be altered to fit the needs of the moment. This particular moment called for a room with a high ceiling and a large lake to accommodate the visiting queens. As they arrived, they each filled their space and made themselves comfortable.

As Belinda spread across the top of the room she asked, “Do you think I came on too strong? I feel a bit bad about scattering your little ones like that.”

Dashan Sen eased into the waiting water and gave a deep sigh. “I think the Nawa’ Diyo have a whole new respect for all of us. The entire display was quite dramatic, even for us.”

Apa’ii smiled, filling the room with light. “As was predicted. Don’t worry about the little ones. They’re not nearly as fragile as they look nor as needy as they sometimes pretend. No one in the council needs applause in order to survive. What you did was guarantee that when we present a united plan in the morning there will be little dissent.”

“You don’t think Bogmenak or Gui will try to pull some kind of trick?” Dasheng Sen asked. “They both seem to have some disagreements with your current administration.” She paused and changed her form to that of a lovely flaxen-haired mermaid. “I’ve had similar issues with both the mer and the sprites from time to time. They can make a unified assault rather difficult.”

“And how do you think they’ll respond to our plan this time?” Belinda asked. “The magicians of the air seemed skeptical whether we can all actually work together. There are reasons for our realms being separate.”

“Those reasons are still valid,” Apa’ii said calmly. “These are special circumstances. Once we have everything back in line and the humans under control, we go back to our natural boundaries I don’t think it is within any of us to maintain the level of energy we’re going to need to make this work. Humans have developed a fearful habit of ignoring anything subtle from nature. They see the changes taking place, they can calculate the dangers that their actions pose, yet they do little, if anything, to change their habits. They put their comfort and convenience above everything else.”

“It’s not like we haven’t tried to warn them,” Belinda said. “By the way, Dasheng, those have been some incredibly impressive tsunamis you’ve been tossing around of late.”

Dasheng Sen smiled at the compliment. “Thank you. If only they did any good. Even when thousands of humans die at our hands, they mourn their loss for only a couple of sunsets and then go back to doing the same thing they were doing before. Those waves are getting more difficult to produce. The disturbance to our marine friends is severe and they are less inclined to be cooperative at the moment.”

Apa’ii changed her countenance to a calming blue-green. Her powers didn’t affect her counterparts in the same way as they did her subjects. Neither queen could be manipulated so easily. The mood change was still appreciated and the royal majesties basked in their momentary isolation.

“My only concern,” Apa’ii said after a long moment, “is the troubled ones. I know you saw them deep in the shadows. They were there and listening, something they’ve not done before. That tells me there is fear and a loss of magic among them as well. I do not expect them to respond in any manner we would consider rational. Where our efforts are strategic and calculated, their response is likely to be more severe. Where they see an opportunity, they’re almost certainly going to take it and I have practically no control over them. They are not pure Nawa’ Diyo. My magic only holds them for so long.”

“If your magic can’t hold them is there anyone who can?” Dasheng asked, obviously concerned.

Apa’ii’s answer was perhaps a bit more honest than comfortable. “I don’t know. We’ve never done anything to push them beyond my limits. I’ve always been able to talk them down when matters have become critical, but we could be opening a whole new door for them by allowing the use of magic unfiltered in the human world. I can’t imagine them not taking advantage of that.”

“But they’re susceptible to the magnetic fields as well, aren’t they?” Belinda asked. “If we’re having trouble, they are, too. Isn’t that was you said? How do we know they are not losing powers as fast or faster than we are?”

Apa’ii paced in slow, gentle circles. “You may be correct. Many of our councilors as well as home tree advisors say they were being chased through the mist. That’s an old trick they’ve not used in a few hundred seasons. Before, and mind you, this was back during the great wars, they would sneak up on those in the mist, chase them down, and steal their powers, or at least, the energy from their powers. I don’t recall there being anyone we couldn’t restore but it was still a frightening experience. That they caught no one while chasing many may be a hint that their power is waning. At the same time, I don’t know that they would be here if they weren’t in crisis already. They’ve always turned down invitations to join the council.”

“Who is their leader?” Dasheng asked. “Perhaps now might be a good time to talk with them, give them a choice so that we have some idea what to expect.”

“Our scouts were able to verify twenty-seven troubled ones in our mist this morning,” Apa’ii answered, “and none of them was their leader. His name is Wasnogai. He rarely leaves their mountain base. Going there is a bit trepidatious, no matter who one is. He doesn’t treat guests especially well.”

“If we went together?” Belinda suggested. “If he had spies in the mist I’m sure they caught our ferocious act and have reported how ‘angry’ we are with each other.”

“Or he might see our union as an attack and respond accordingly before we get there,” warned Dasheng. “Besides, those mountain areas are a bit on the dry side this season. I might have some challenges myself.”

Apa’ii twirled as she thought, casting off a spectrum of light that caused the two others to shield their eyes from the brightness. There was a lot at stake and while making a trip to elicit help from Wasnogai made sense, it also came with significant danger to all of them. A surprise visit would put him on the defensive. If they announced themselves, he would have time to set a trap. The trap would fail, of course, but it would be time-consuming and potentially dangerous to any soul nearby

When she stopped spinning, she looked up at Belinda and asked. “You’ve had dealings with Wasnogai before, haven’t you?” How did that go?”

Belinda stirred the clouds around her as she remembered the occasion. “It was not one I would wish to repeat,” she said as thunder rolled behind her. “He creates storms almost as strong as any sylphid. Our encounter came on account of him chasing after sylphids as they passed over the mountains. He carries a wicked whip and he would use it to strip lightning from our souls as they passed, giving them nothing to announce their wind and rain, making our own storms more dangerous for animals who respond appropriately to the lightning.

“When I tried to visit him, he built a great fire, sending a thick, black smoke up into my face. When I blew it out, he stomped hard with his massive feet, sending ember up into my clouds. I would send heavy rain and he would dam the runoffs and use the pools to shoot water spouts in my direction. We fought like this for three days, his troubled ones fighting just as hard alongside him as my sylphids did their best to keep them in check. By the time I finally wore him down there were new carvings in the mountains from all the erosion and a new river ran down into the desert. I don’t want to think how many souls might have been damaged in the process. Our magic was so strained that we could do little more than blow hot air for the next two seasons. I’m not up to another battle like that, not with the magic being unreliable.”

“So, our best chance is to catch him off guard,” Dasheng said, more to herself than anyone. She jumped into the lake for a moment then returned in a darker form with soft skin like that of marine mammals, a necklace of seashells around her neck, and black tentacles that held her up on the level as Apa’ii. “How many souls live in the valley nearest his mountain?”

“About 15 million,” Apa’ii answered. It’s a favorite place this time of season. They like making the mountain plants bloom.”

Dasheng Sen smiled a most wicked smile, the kind of smile that devils smile as they’re dragging a soul into the fires of destruction. “Leave him to me,” she said with a growl. “I’m betting a resident of the high dry country doesn’t know how to swim. Have your souls evacuate to neighboring valleys and I’ll have an answer from him before we meet in the morning.”

The queens howled with laughter so loud that the leaves of the home tree shook. Magic souls from the outside worried that the earth might be starting to move. Those inside the tree held on as the walls and floors around them trembled. Never had they heard such a sound coming from the center of the tree.

Chapter 10

Chapter 10

Pai was sitting on a limb just over half-way up he home tree watching the sunset and relaxing after a day full of meetings in which it was his job to represent the queen’s interests and uphold her point of view. That she had committed to a unified approach across all the realms made it easier for him to calm those who were panicking and back down those favoring a radical response. By the time resolutions were agreed upon and sent to the queen, he felt certain that the morning would see a peaceful joint resolution and that the worries of the day would soon enough dissolve into nothing as so many worries had done before.

Reclining against a cluster of trees, the queen’s consort had let his mind wander along the lines of pleasurable endeavors when Pockwatch flew up and landed on the branch near him. The senior advisor looked worn and worried as he approached. “You don’t look as though you fared too well, my friend,” Pai said a bit more cheerfully than his guest might have appreciated. “Please, have a seat and rest yourself. I can conjure some refreshment if you like.”

Pockwatch took a seat on a separate cluster of leaves but held up his hand to refuse refreshment. “I’m happy to rest my worn core for a moment, he said, “but relaxing with refreshment is not enticing right now. Tell me, how sure are you of our committee votes on the queen’s resolution for tomorrow? Did you leave sensing unity or discard?”

Pai thought a moment before answering, looking up at the darkening sky as though his response might be on a passing cloud. “There were certainly some contentious moments,” he eventually replied. “I thought at the time we had ended in full agreement but your question has me second-guessing my assessment. I may not have been as objective as thought. So, I can’t say for sure that they are truly united. Maybe some supported the recommendation so they could get out of the meeting and on to other things.” He paused again and then added, “I assume you ask because you are aware of some dissension. What is it you have heard?”

Pockwatch leaned back and crossed his legs. As dusk settled into night, the twinkling presence of the milky way filled the skies with color, creating a sense of calm and wonderment. “Not so much what I’ve heard but what I’ve seen. Our younger councilors feel too safe when they’re here around the home tree and don’t take care to watch their steps. Freyr, the young elvish hybrid from Gahada was talking with Bogmenak earlier. They seemed to be making some sort of deal, though exactly what I can’t say. Freyr then spent the rest of the day visiting with members of every committee. He seemed welcome everywhere he went. He has a dashing and somewhat charismatic demeanor to him that the smaller ones especially find attractive. One might get the impression that he was trying to build a coalition of disagreement among the councilors.”

Pai chuckled and sat up enough to show a level of interest that was not yet sincere. “Isn’t there always some young, good-looking upstart who thinks they have a better idea? You’ve seen how Apa’ii deals with them. They forget that there are no secrets around the home tree. She picks up on dissent quickly and uses her powers to stop it. When have you ever known of such a plan making it to the council floor?”

Pockwatch nodded, aware that Pai was dismissing his concerns. “You’re right, the queen’s magic is powerful and what she gets from the tree’s neural network alone should be enough to make us all watch our words carefully. Tell me, though, do you know of any spells that might block the queen’s powers to any degree? Or, perhaps, something that might give her false information, cause her to think everything is well when it isn’t?”

That question was enough for Pai to sit up completely and consider the possibility. He had known the queen for many seasons and seen her combat many challenges to her power and her decisions. One of her strengths was that she never seemed to be caught by surprise. She always was one step ahead of everyone else. Her powers of perception were too strong to be fooled easily and Pai couldn’t quickly recall a time when anyone had made too-serious of an attempt to try. “Not that I can recall,” he said. “A few have tried to shield their thoughts from her, but that tactic alone tells her they are being dishonest and she uses her various skills to find the truth. Do you think someone is trying such a thing?”

The elder counsel stood and began to pace a short distance along the branch. “I’m not certain. I do know that Freyr has been distributing quivers of arrows among some of his acquaintances large enough to handle them. There’s obviously some magic attached to them in the way that their feathers glow. What they are intended to do or how he plans to use them, I can’t say, but it does seem rather obvious that he’s planning something and that he doesn’t expect to be subtle about it. I know Apa’ii can block most magic but Freyr himself is royal, from a strong European lineage. He may well have magic that could cause problems for the queen.” He paused a moment, looking over the edge of the branch. “Would it help to have some of the arrows?” he asked, knowing the inevitable answer.

Pai gave him a stern and somewhat frustrated look that the advisor would bother to ask such a question. “If you could get one, why didn’t you bring it with you?”

Pockwatch grinned mischievously. “Because it just now became available,” he said, a hint of teasing implied in his tone. He pointed toward an area at the base of the home tree. “You can see for yourself, leaning against the wall outside that fragrance shop. I told you, they’re being careless. It’s almost as if they want to get caught.”

Pai stood and walked to the edge of the branch where he could see the quiver of arrows leaning against the door frame of the shop. Unlike Pockwatch, however, he wasn’t smiling. “That’s too easy. Elves have always guarded their magic closely, often with elaborate traps. I don’t think they’re being careless. I think they’re trying to provoke us into starting trouble.”

Pockwatch stood next to Pai, looking at the arrows. “You can read the magic from here, can’t you?”

Pai nodded. “Eight with mesmerizing spells, six stunners, and …” he gulped hard, “two core killers—death arrows. We’ve not seen those since…” his voice trailed off.

“The great wars,” Pockwatch said, finishing Pai’s sentence. “Do you think the soul to whom it was given knows that they had?”

Pai shook his head. “If one is not familiar with elven magic they can’t tell the difference. The way they’re typically deployed, the first few arrows, mesmerizers and stunners, create chaos and panic. Then, when no one is paying attention, the death arrows hit their target without anyone knowing who fired the shot. The anonymity protects the guilty. How many of these quivers would you say exist?”

“At least 100,” Pockwatch said solemnly. “Apa’ii was always cautious about trusting anyone of elven lineage. Their magic is tricky and doesn’t always do what one expects, which, again, makes the apparent carelessness all the more curious.”

“It’s a double-edged trap,” Pai responded. “The quiver is set out there in hopes we’ll see it, figure out its contents, then grow alarmed and try to confiscate them all. That will cause fear and distrust among the council so that they’ll argue and question each other’s motives. If we don’t take the bait, then they go ahead with whatever plan it is that they have. Either way, we have chaos that interrupts tomorrow’s vote.”

Pockwatch was silent for a while as they both watched souls coming and going through the fragrance shop. After several minutes, the shop’s owner closed the store and left. The quiver still sat unclaimed by the door. “Do you think we should tell the queen?”

“She knows,” Pai said calmly. “She’s doubled the guard and will apply some magic of her own. The arrows won’t be able to fly when they’re launched.”

Pockwatch was about to reply when the home tree shuddered in an unfamiliar way, one none of them had felt in many seasons. Pockwatch grabbed hold of the nearest leaf cluster and gasped, “Oh dear, that wasn’t what I think it was, was it?”

Pai was kneeling on the branch, holding on tightly to the bark. “Yes, someone with great magic just died. Apa’ii is trying to measure her reaction. I’m not sure she knows who it was but she’s furious. I need to go.”

Pockwatch blinked and Pai disappeared through a hidden door in the tree. Apa’ii would call for him soon, also, but it was not a summons he wanted to anticipate too soon. He watched as those below came out of their homes and hovels, already fearful at the loss they all felt. He tried casting a spell to find where Freyr was, certain one of his arrows had been the cause. The elf was nowhere in the community.

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Chapter 11

Chapter 11

By the time the council began to gather the next morning, concern over the mysterious death had grown with rumors circulating wildly as to who or what might be to blame. Some said it was humans who had captured another magical soul. Others worried that there was a natural cause, something completely depleting the magic until the core ceased to be. 

What bothered Apa’ii most was the fear that the troubled ones had caused the death. That was the one fear she couldn’t easily explain away. Everyone knew they had been standing along the edge of the mist and that they had failed to catch anyone passing through. Never mind that they had never actually killed anyone before; the odds were leaning in their favor.

Councilors also speculated as to who the deceased might be. Death among the Nawa’ Diyo was rare on any account and most often it occurred as the result of an accident or a magic spell going wrong. Only the violent and unexpected death of a powerful magician could have possibly caused the home tree to shudder in the manner that it had. They each watched carefully for the arrival of the more prominent members of the council to arrive. Only when everyone had been recorded as present did the council begin to ease its fear in the slightest degree.

Apa’ii was most concerned that there seemed to be gaps in her magic. Normally, she would have known exactly who died and precisely how it happened. To not be able to discern those details only meant that some other magic had to be interfering. She momentarily wondered if perhaps the humans had some new technology that effectively blocked the magnetic waves that provided her the information she needed. That reasoning failed to make any sense, though. They had scouts and spies who not only kept a close watch on weapons development but also expertly sabotaged tests so that nothing new seemed to work. She also remembered how devastatingly clear she had felt all the deaths when the humans had detonated the two atomic bombs. She had felt the demise of each soul, knew every name. There had been no filter to prevent her from being overwhelmed.

What had happened this time was a new experience. The emotional impact of the loss had been strong enough to knock the queen off her feet before the whole community felt the death wave. She had been taken by surprise with no hint as to who was involved or why this had happened.

As Apa’ii prepared to address the council, she checked with both Belinda and Dasheng Sen. Both queens had felt the death wave but neither said they could determine its origins.

“This felt different than the loss of a magic soul, more external as though it were coming from a non-magic source,” Dasheng Sen told her.

“Definitely not the kind of loss I’m accustomed to, either,” Belinda agreed, “but my assumption was that it was because the death didn’t occur in my realm. In fact, that the death of a Nawa’Diyo bothered me at all makes this different. I’m rarely affected by the magic in your realm.”

Apa’ii nodded her understanding. Looking out over the assembled council, she could feel the unrest and anxiety building. “We aren’t doing ourselves any good by waiting. Let’s see how well this proposal is accepted.”

All chatter and small talk came to an abrupt end as the three queens made their way to the front of the Deyóhso:t. Apa’ii had warned the other queens about Freyr and the arrows already planted among the council members. They would be looking for signs of trouble.

Apa’ii’s countenance was bright as she stepped forward, overwhelming the smaller magicians closest to her. Her radiance filled the entire valley with a calming light as she began to speak. “My dear ones, it is with great pleasure and a sense of accomplishment that Dasheng Sen, Belinda, and I bring to you a joint proposal by which we hope to address both the incursion of humans into our realms and the shifting magnetic fields causing an unsettlement with our magic.”

That was as far as she got. From the back of the Deyóhso:t, emerging from the mist with a roar that shook the ground of the entire valley, stepped an army of troubled ones. Their appearance was frightening. Each one was as tall as a mature fir tree and twice as broad. Their cores were composed of red stone and dark pitch in what seemed to be an incomplete construction as the pitch didn’t quite cover all the stone. Their eyes burned a flaming orange and smoke rolled out from their mouths. Each one carried a shield to protect them from aggressive magic. The shields glowed crimson and gold, every one a different pattern of the holder’s design. They moved with precision as one body, coming up to the very edge of the Deyóhso:t, knocking councilors such as Kuveni to the ground as they moved forward.

When they had all emerged from the mist, some 600 of them, the largest and most fierce looking stepped forward and spoke in the most horrible and menacing tone one might imagine. Pointing a fist toward Dasheng Sen, it roared, “You have come to our mountain, flooding our valley, bound our leader, and drowned him in your dark water. You have killed Wasnogai. You all will pay! We will rule!”

The troubled ones charged forward together as a massive force trying to get to the queens. The members of the Dehnítaëh were caught off guard, precious seconds passing before they began flinging their spells in defense. Those larger souls toward the back were either pushed aside and trampled or ripped in half as the army pushed its way through. Kuveni took to the air, silently ripping off the head of a troubled one and slinging it into their midst. Her magic was strong and kept many of the middle lines from advancing at any speed, but she was not powerful enough to stop them all.

Freyr and his armed cohorts, their plans now useless, turned their arrows on the troubled ones only to find that Apa’ii’s magic had rendered them ineffective, each one falling to the ground as soon as the feathers cleared the bow. Other councilors of elven descent attempted to throw their powerful spells at the troubled ones but most were batted away by the magic shields. When a spell did hit its target, they did little more than stop the troubled ones in their tracks for a few seconds.

Apa’ii glared at Dasheng Sen and shouted, “This is your problem. Get busy!” She quickly put a protective shield around the smaller souls unable to defend themselves from the giants and moved them out of the path of the battle. Where she could, she shielded other small groups but could not as easily protect those already attempting to fight.

Belinda immediately began firing lightning bolts at the army. Each one was strong enough to disassemble three or four troubled ones, sending their pieces flying across the valley. Within seconds, dozens of sylphids and other air magicians emerged from the sky and began pelting the army with hailstones that burned, causing thick, black smoke to rise from the Deyóhso:t. Meliae and her clan soon joined and began using massive winds to keep the troubled ones from moving forward. From behind them, Dawágetdit created a line of tornadoes and sent them powering toward the back lines, leaving the army no path for retreat. 

It had not taken long before Bockwimen had assembled all the available scouts and other Nawa’Diyo of significant power, forming a battalion that surrounded the Deyóhso:t. The air grew thick with the magic of every kind being used to try and stop the army.

Such a violent display of magic had not been seen since the great wars and never had this valley been part of any such aggression. Certainly, any human attackers would have been defeated within a matter of minutes.

The troubled ones were not as small and weak as humans, though. More than rock and pitch, the magic they possessed was as strong as that of any Nawa’Diyo and made stronger by the power of righteous revenge. Deftly, they used their shields to protect them. They threw bombs of molten lava onto the Nawa’Diyo who not under Apa’ii’s protective bubble, cause their cores to burn to a crisp. They belched a toxic smoke into the air, making it difficult for the sylphids to target them with precision and crippling Maliae and her clan. As many magic souls fell from the sky, not all were able to get up before their cores were crushed under the feet of the troubled ones.

Apa’ii, at her full size, removed councilors from the fray as quickly as she could. She looked around for Dasheng Sen but couldn’t find her. A wall of water would have been a welcome defense at the moment but the Hantu Air queen had disappeared. Apa’ii looked to Belinda, whose dark clouds seemed to meld with the black smoke and asked, “Do you think we can create a strong enough wind to take them off their feet?”

Belinda tossed a couple more lightning bolts into the darkness, not sure whether she had hit anything or not, before answering. “We might do better to move the ground under them. How loose are the plates beneath the crust here?”

Apa’ii gave the matter some thought as she tried to contain the troubled ones only to have them break through a gap in her shield. The mountains here were old and had not moved for thousands of seasons. Doing anything to change the landscape would require more magic than she had on her own. Together, though, the two queens might be able to conjure enough force to at least make the earth uneven enough to catch the troubled ones off balance. Their only option was to try. She nodded back toward Belinda and shouted, “Let’s give it a shot!”

The effect wasn’t noticeable at first. Belinda created a circulating wind that reached well outside the valley. As the wind gained in power, Apa’ii began applying a strong, downward pressure on the Deyóhso:t and the surrounding valley. 

At that moment, the trees began to move back from the edge of the Deyóhso:t, not in the manner of pulling up roots and locomoting in any ambulatory sense but shifting the ground that contained them, moving both themselves and the earth so that there was more room for Apa’ii’s magic to work. As this made the forest denser, the fog from the mist rose and began to spread into the crevices, increasing the power of Apa’ii’s magic. Further and further the trees retreated, taking with them the homes and communities of magic souls, helping to keep them away from the detritus of the battle. Finally, the Deyóhso:t and all around it were clear of any innocent being. The battle was isolated and the troubled ones were without any means of retreat. Sensing the desperation of their situation, they pushed harder, grabbing magicians out of the air to either crush them in their hands or rip their core into pieces. Their feet pounded harder into the ground. The balls of lava grew larger, the splatter from their explosion wounding valiant fighters on the ground.

Bockwimen watched in horror as the number of his troops began to dwindle. He assembled those left, a smaller group of barely 100 souls, so that they might make a more strategic assault. Standing together increased the power of their magic. Together, they might produce enough power to begin driving back the troubled ones. To his left, Arviss and his brothers stood at the ready, the magic in their broadswords gleaming with power. To his right stood Bogmenak and Gui, equally fierce in their determination to fight back.

Bockwimen was ready to give the order to attack when Apa’ii’s protective shield appeared around them and moved them quickly out of the way. The ground where they had been standing gave way. The great winds coming down off the mountains blew with the strength of a dozen hurricanes. What had been a mist was an opaque magic blanket of power. As the ground yielded, up from the crevice came a massive slab of slate and granite surrounded by igneous layers, severing the lines of the troubled ones and disassembling the members of the army where they stood. As the ground rumbled throughout the valley, the massive wall of stone continued to grow until its base filled the valley and began to tower above neighboring mountains. Only when there was nothing left of the troubled ones but a pile of rubble and black mud did the mass stop growing.

In the resulting silence, Belinda pulled back her wind. The mist eased back into the forest. When she was quite certain that it was safe, Apa’ii eased the protective shields from around the Nawa’Diyo. 

Slowly, with an abundance of caution, what was left of the Dehnítaëh began to assemble at the base of the new mountain. Many were injured, having had limbs torn off or wings removed from their backs. Others had their core singed by the flaming lava. What quickly became obvious was that their casualties had been severe. Fewer than 4,000 of the councilors survived. A mere 600 troubled ones had decimated the Nawa’Diyo.

Belinda took a bipedal form, her dark gray gown billowing like storm clouds as she walked down from the mountain to stand next to Apa’ii. What little that was left of the Deyóhso:t was covered in the ashes and broken cores of council members who had been the victims of the troubled ones. “I guess we know whose death we felt last night,” Belinda said with frustration in her voice. “I never would have expected an earth-bound monster to have any power to crush our air magicians.”

Apa’ii put her hand on Belinda’s shoulder. “Please accept my deepest apologies. I never expected them to behave so violently.”

“I only hold Dasheng Sen responsible for both our losses. She was sent to negotiate, not murder. Even if Wasnogai’s death was an accident, that she returned without telling us what she had done demonstrates her intent. For whatever reason, she wanted a war. She had to know they would retaliate.” Belinda paused, looking down at the growing crowd around the base of the mountain. Magic souls from the home tree communities came carrying mourning lights to commemorate the fallen. Even those who had no direct part in the battle looked beleaguered and worn. Each death had its effect on all the Nawa’Diyo. “Your souls have suffered greatly today. Do you think there will be more attacks?”

Apa’ii nodded. We’ll have to completely evacuate the high desert. I’m not certain how many trouble ones remain but I know this army was small compared to what they are capable of bringing. They underestimated us this time. I won’t expect that to happen again.”

A crown of sylphids began to form around Belinda’s head and as they cried it began to rain all across the magic realm. No one left. Together, they stayed at the base of the mountain as they mourned. For many, this was their first experience with battle and how it affected them all. They were afraid but also resolute. There were now deaths to avenge. All they needed was for Apa’ii to tell them where and when. If there was to be a war, they were determined to win.

As the sky cleared and the sun began to set, Apa’ii dimmed her countenance and stepped back into the shadows. She felt so much pain that she did not wish to be seen. So heavy a toll after so many years felt worse than she remembered. The queen had not yet begun to assemble a list of those who died. She knew the information was there for later retrieval but the energy to sit and memorialize each soul was not present. She ould give time for the news to spread to all the communities and then hold a more formal tribute.

Glancing down, she saw the shadow of a soul stealing away from the assembled crowd of mourners. “Where would you go now, hidden in the darkness?” She asked, shining a light on the surprised magician.

Bogmenak looked up with an expression of fear Apa’ii had never before seen on his face. “Please, I beg your pardon, your majesty but I fear I must return to the desert. My clan lives too close to the troubled ones to be safe. The monsters will assemble their forces and I fear our souls, despite their great knowledge of battle magic, would make too easy a practice target for an army looking to avenge their fallen leader.”

“Of course, you are correct. You have my blessing and as much protection as I can give you. Travel with haste and do your best to remove all magic souls from the high desert. Those who wish may come here and reside on this new mountain,” the queen said. “Do take note of those who choose to go elsewhere. We may need them or to rescue them later.” She paused then added. “And be careful as you cross the great rivers. Our enemy is plural. Dasheng Sen betrayed us and set us up to die. There is no trust to be given to the waters and the Hantu Air who control them. I might suggest you take your new friend Freyr with you for added protection.”

Bogmenak took a couple of steps back, stumbling over a rock and nearly losing his balance. He realized that the queen knew about their meeting and all they had planned. She had been the reason their arrows hadn’t worked. “I’m sorry, your majesty,” He stammered, fearing he might yet become the victim of her wrath. “I never intended…”

“I know what you intended, Bogmenak,” Apa’ii interrupted. “I also know you both fought valiantly against the troubled ones. You both lost comrades today. We will discuss your intentions when this is all over. For now, though, I call upon your loyalty to your clan and all the magic souls of the high desert and those entrusted to your protection. Get them out of there, Bogmenak. Get them out and keep them safe.”

Bogmenak bowed deeply and then disappeared.

Apa’ii began walking slowly back toward the home tree, re-evaluating everything that had happened, changes she might have made had she known what was about to take place. She was angry at herself for trusting Dasheng Sen and not making more of an effort to read her intentions. She also found it curious that the arboreal neural network had not told her that Wasnogai had been the one murdered. Such important information usually made its way to her quickly. That she had not known and been caught completely off guard was troubling.

As Apa’ii neared the home tree, she noticed another group of magicians gathered around the base with mourning lights. Her first thought was to ascend through the branches and enter the private area of the tree without attracting any attention. As she stepped closer, though, she realized they were building a shrine. Someone they all loved had fallen. She took a few more steps and saw a sword leaning against the base of the tree at the center of the memorial—the sword she had given the Pai, the sword that was supposed to give him eternal protection. Apa’ii dropped to her knees and let out a scream heard by every magic soul on the planet.

Chapter 12

Chapter 12

A young radar operator looked at the screen in front of her then reached for the three-ring binder that listed all the symbols and graphics that could be displayed on the monitor. She flipped back and forth through the pages where any corresponding graphic should have been but found nothing. She reluctantly pressed the button on her station summoning the lead meteorologist on duty, certain she was about to be upbraided for not recognizing the symbols she was supposed to have memorized.

“What’s up, rookie?” the meteorologist teased as he approached her station. “Don’t tell me you have a tropical storm brewing in the Poconos.”

“No sir,” she said, quietly rolling her eyes. “It’s this point here in Northeast Penn, sir. The book doesn’t have anything to explain that.”

The meteorologist looked closely at the monitor then reached over the operator, punching a few buttons on the keyboard to bring the image into higher resolution. “That’s not possible,” he murmured. “We’re going to need a lot more help. Call the folks at the U.S. Geological Survey. See if they show any seismic activity in the area. If I’m not mistaken, this is showing a mountain where there shouldn’t be a mountain and a tightly located storm around it. This makes absolutely no sense at all.”

The Thinning Veil

Welcome, or welcome back as the case may be. If you are just joining us, you may want to start by clicking here. This is a critical chapter so having that background will be helpful. Today’s post consists of only Chapter 7 due to its length. To ease reading, we have placed bookmarks for Part 2, and Part 3 so that you don’t lose your place if you can’t get to it all in one sitting.

Chapter 7

Some four furlongs to the South and West of the home tree was a large earthen depression said to have been formed when giant beings roamed the planet long before the Nawa’ Diyo came into being. Officially, it was called the Dehnítaëh, which, loosely translated, meant “let us talk.” The most ancient ones knew it as Deyóhso:t, or Standing Mouth. The natural curves and shape of the depression was a perfect place for the council to gather as its inherited acoustics meant everyone had a chance to be heard, no matter how small in size one might be. Here, more than 12,000 representative Nawa ’Diyo would gather to resolve questions and matters that pertained to the greater magical community. 

Anyone could petition to become part of the council provided they could prove that they represented an otherwise unvoiced group of magic souls. In theory, there was no minimum size limit, but the council had not seen fit at any time to offer admission to a group smaller than 100 magicians. Those smaller groups often formed coalitions to ensure that their shared grievances were heard.

Because of the significant size of the full council and the strain their meeting put on the home tree community, full assemblies were limited to those occasions where a matter stood to directly affect the entire population of magic souls. In the early days, before humans, and especially in the days before humans learned to fashion and use weapons against each other, the council tended to meet less often. Such meetings were strained as not all humans interacted with Nawa’ Diyo in the same way. Arguments would last for days with little to no consensus being reached on most matters. Some saw the humans as like kind, only bigger. Others considered them harmful and a threat tot he magical way of life. The majority, however, had considered them largely insignificant and assumed, due to the relatively small number of humans and their comparatively short life spans, that they would die out soon enough and, thus were not deserving of any attention in the way magical souls behaved to and around them. 

During the period leading up to the great wars of what humans refer to, perhaps appropriately, as the dark ages, the council decided it was better to let regional committees address situations pertaining and limited to geographic regions. As such, few of the Nawa’ Diyo in North America knew about the terrors of the many European wars. Few in Europe knew the severity and barbarity of the tribal wars in Africa, and almost no one spoke of the Asian wars as so many magic souls had not survived those struggles. Island souls had their own tales to tell, as did those of the seas and of the air. Each was overseen and addressed by the appropriate committees who did their best to provide wisdom in their judgment and dealings. They had not always been successful.

The last great council meeting had been during the human year 1941. By that point, magic souls were largely invisible across the globe as the human wars were so atrocious and their weapon experiments so frightening that none dared leave the protection of the sacred magical places. The threat of the human achieving atomic power was a threat that the magical community could not ignore. The council risked meeting, knowing that the presence of such a magical force was likely to attract attention. Fortunately, despite interest from various human sources, there were enough spells cast to prevent the council from being discovered. There, for the first time, they had decided to interfere directly with human activities regarding the development of atomic power. While they were successful in keeping the weapon out of the hands of the German humans, the Americans had prevailed. The two bombs dropped on Japan had killed over 14 million magical souls, completely wiping out three different species. 

After that, Queen Apa’ii had vowed to never again let any human government develop the power to threaten them in such a way. A program to sabotage nuclear power plants had proven successful and none of the human governments yet realized that none of their siloed nuclear weapons were capable of working. All had been disabled by magical interference.

Now, as the council prepared to once again take up a human threat against magic souls, councilors had arrived with a palpable resolve to not allow humans to progress in any way that might continue to threaten the existence of any magical species no matter how small. There would be no tolerance for any further encroachment. Action would be deliberate and firm.

Queen Apa’ii watched from atop the home tree, her countenance sending out a signal that it was time for the Dehnítaëh to commence. The valley and sides of the Deyóhso:t sparkled in the sunlight as it filled with magical beings of every kind and from every region. The smallest of them sat toward the front with councilors growing in size, some the height of trees taking their place along the edge. There were no words spoken among them as the seriousness of the moment enforced a solemnity no magical soul would consider violating.

When every seat was full and the valley sparkled in the sunlight as though it were filled with diamonds, Apa’ii glided down from the home tree in all her brightness, taking her seat at the head of the Dehnítaëh. She grew to her full size, larger than the home tree, more massive than the surrounding mountains, her voice thundering as she spoke, “I hereby call this meeting of the Dehnítaëh to order. May all herein find justice, fairness, and peace.”

Then, together they stood and began to sing.

We who stand inside the mist
Born of earth’s great magic tryst;
Keepers of all things that live,
Guardians of a world active

This our bond thru magic be,
This our oath eternally;
May we evermore pursue
Wisdom from the gods’ own view.

Guard forever,
Protect them all;
Wisdom prevail
With no bewail.

We who stand upon this place
Take our pledge to not disgrace
Faith bestowed by others, who
Bear the soul of what we do.

This our bond thru magic be
This our oath eternally;
Wisdom shin on us your light,
Guide our speech t’ ward all that’s right.

Guard forever,
Let none e’ er fall
Into the doom
Of foolish gloom.

We who stand within the breach,
May our words inspire and teach
Those who feed at wisdom’s trough;
May our words be not cast off.

This our bond thru magic be
This our oath eternally;
Justice, fairness be to all,
Mercy, blessing be our call.

Guard forever
Where wisdom stands,
Our lives, our souls,
Not part, but whole.

Guard forever
These souls that we
Protect and save,
This earn’st conclave.

They sang the ancient hymn each in their native tongue, the sound blending as a great chorus, unlike anything human ears have ever heard. Each voice in perfect tone with individual timbre coloring the harmonies like a massive organ in an outdoor cathedral. Around them, all of nature stopped and listened. As the music floated into the home tree communities, magical souls stopped what they were doing as the delicately crafted waves of sound filled them with hope and peace. There were many wonderful songs written and sung by magical souls, but this one, its rhyme and meter simple, its melody and rhythm without complication, was most beloved and instilled pride and unity among even the most disagreeable.

The members of the council smiled as they listened to the echo of their voices playing among the mountains. Only when the last strains melted away did the council sit down in unison. Anxiously, they waited for the Queen to speak.

“My dearest friends and councilors, as much as I would dearly love to welcome you here with joy, I fear we once again find ourselves forced to deal with a menace perpetrated by the human race that threatens our mutual lives and well-being. As most of you know by now, one of our younger scouts who had transmuted to a bird form was kidnapped and removed from the forest along with a great number of birds of varying species. Our best intelligence on the matter is that they were taken to a human lab in the city, fitted with radio bands for tracking purposes, then crated and flow to another like facility in the West, to be released and their migratory habits studied. As cruel as such a displacement is, that alone is not sufficient reason for us to gather.”

Apa’ii paused, looking over the council spread out below her. She had not yet told them anything that hadn’t become known through the various neural networks. What would come next would shatter this temporary peace. She smiled assuringly as she continued.

“Our first hope was that perhaps this kidnapping had been an error, that there was no ill intent. Then, earlier this morning, thanks to the efforts of our family beyond the great plains, our scout returned. So you will not question the veracity of his testimony, I will allow you to hear the words from our scout himself. I introduce to you, great council, Puckwudjinee, an aviary scout of the home tree division.”

Puckwudginee stepped cautiously out from behind the queen. Appearing in his natural form, he was considerably taller than a sparrow, yet he felt smaller as he looked out across the vast council. He had never seen such a wide variety of Nawa’ Diyo in his life. His feathered arms shivered with excitement. 

Likewise, Puckwudjinee represented one of the more recent blendings of magical souls that many of the councilors had not seen before this moment. While his arms were feathers like the wings of a bird, his legs were long and stick-like as a mantis while his head and torso hinted at an elvish influence with a bit of sprite thrown in for fun. As he stepped toward the center of the queen’s light, murmurs of wonder at this new young form scattered across the gathering.

Two words were enough to strike fear into the whole assembly. “They know,” Puckwudjinee said. His voice wasn’t loud nor was his tone forceful, but the councilors responded with such panic that Apa’ii felt the need to blow a calming breeze over the unsettled crowd. “I wasn’t sure at first,” he continued. “I was convinced that my capture had been a mistake, but I was wrong. Only after my friends from the West, who I thank profusely for facilitating my escape, only as they snipped the radio band from my leg did we become aware of the humans’ true motives. They know we are here. They know there are many of us, and they want to capture us for scientific study as they do our animal friends.”

This was enough to put the complete council in an uproar. Everyone was aware of how little regard humans had for animal life. Fear of being captured and dismantled while still alive became an immediate threat. Apa’ii waited, letting their emotion run long enough to find voice then helped them return to calm. “Perhaps,” she said softly, “we might be helped to know how they knew to set the trap for you.”

As murmurs continued across the crowd, Puckwidjinee took in a deep breath, fullying knowing the weight of his words. “They’ve caught our transitions on their cameras,” he said carefully. “Specifically, they’ve caught us coming out of invisibility and transmuting into animal form. They have these small cameras all around the world, watching for us. They’re in trees, mountains, underwater, and even positioned to watch the sky. They observe these cameras through the technology network they call the internet. That was how they knew where to set the trap that captured me. They had hoped that by banding me like a bird that they might be able to track me back to the home tree.”

“They know of the home tree!” declared a frightened voice from the crowd, starting off another wave of murmurs.

Puckwudjinee raised his hands to ask for quiet. “They do not know of the home tree specifically. They do know there are places their cameras can’t see and have correctly assumed that we gather in those places. Yet, at the same time, they are wholly unaware of how prevalent our presence is in their own world. I was aided by a group of pixiemandalons that live in the eaves and tresses of their own laboratory! They have no clue that there is magic that close to them every day. They think we are mere leftovers from the human tales of many seasons past. They’ve no idea we flourish and are strong, nor that we outnumber them to such a dramatic extent. They know we exist and are real, yes, but they are still largely ignorant of who and what we are.”

“And that ignorance is what makes them dangerous,” shouted a voice from near the center of the council. Bogmenak stood and the queen provided a light for him to be noticed. “We have watched before and seen what happens when humans are driven by their insatiable curiosity. They are worse than cats at upsetting the balance of nature and causing greater problems in their alleged search for answers. Once they make an assumption, intelligent or not, they do not thoroughly think through the consequences of those assumptions, the potential for disaster as they disturb world of which they are not a part. Are we to stand here once again and remain, pacifists, as their curiosity dismantled everything about who and what we are, ruining our way of life? I say no! I say we stop this intrusion now!”

Cheers went up from a portion of the council seated most closely to Bogmenak, but further aware the councilors, especially those who sat toward the back and along the periphery remained silent. 

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Chapter 7, Part 2

As the cheers died down, another voice was heard. “The only way to end any aggression is to refuse to commit further aggression,” said the soul. Apa’ii turned her light to recognize Shang Ti, a magician with historical ties to the ancient East but also modernized in his evolution. His core, slightly rotund but not excessively so, was formed of pure jade. Across his shoulders draped a robe composed of dragon scales that shimmered effervescently in Apa’ii’s light. The robe was known for changing colors with the seasons, or sometimes Shang Ti’s mood. It would be red in the summer, white in autumn, and black with gold trim in the winter. Since the council was meeting in Spring, the robe was a beautiful blue-green that reflected gently onto everyone around him. 

“If we are united in hate for humans, we become the slaves of that hate. If we are united in fear, we become the captives of that fear,” he said, continuing. “We have tried aggression in seasons past and it has failed us in every way. Aggression is what led us to hide behind the mist, giving up our freedom for safety that was never real. We have interacted safely with humans before and if we educate them rather than fight them I dare say we can do so again.”

Shang Ti’s words received enthusiastic applause from the council and a coveted smile of approval from Apa’ii. Bogmenak sat back down, quieted momentarily by the response.

More toward the front of the assembly, Ochuko stood to speak next. With a core born from the wood of a rare Ceylon tree, his polished ebony was largely covered in dense, coarse black hair, making him difficult to see in the shadows, or the bark of cottonwood trees, which he preferred. Despite his diminutive size, though, he possessed a powerful voice that could not be ignored. He waited until Apa’ii gave him light before speaking.

“Those of you who live within the mist have become soft from its protection,” he said. “Many of us, you forget, live every day in full view of the humans. We do not feel the need nor do we have the desire to employ invisibility spells. While we might take advantage of transmutation, we do so for our own convenience, not that of humans. You heard from the scout himself that the pixiemandalons that saved him have been living right around his captors and they had no awareness at all. Humans still think magic is a myth. Even the young ones who are more likely to spot us than are their elder counterparts, think they have created us from their own imagination. They do not suspect at all that we are real, corporate beings who reside in such great number.

“While I do not feel we can allow the scout’s kidnapping to go without response, neither do I see any benefit in that response being an aggressive one. Perhaps, rather than continue to hide in fear, we would do better to make our presence more readily known to demonstrate to the humans our relevance, our worth, and to no small extent, our number.”

Applause had started in response to Ochuko’s speech but was quickly dampened when Kuvani, a buxom Yakshini of some renown stood to speak. Kuvani’s height alone was enough to demand attention, but her light brown core formed from the wood of an Ashoka tree and long-flowing black hair that was in constant movement around her gave her a sense of superiority that many Nawa’ Diyo found mesmerizing and attractive. Apa’ii gave her light and her voice sounded like a song as she spoke.

“Do we forget all that we control?” she asked. “The air and the ground are ours. The seas and the fire lie under our control. We gave those and many other gifts to humans many thousands of seasons ago because we found them in need of favor. At no time, however, have we relinquished control, and perhaps it is worth consideration, dear council, that it is in our use of those resources that we might guide the humans intent on our discovery. We would only be returning to them the knowledge their ancestors took for granted. Perhaps now, we might use that knowledge to guide their behavior in a way more beneficial to both the planet and our own existence. They can be quite supplicant when given the proper motivation.”

Without giving the council a chance to respond, Gui, the leader of the Mogwai, jumped to his feet, his almost translucent form shimmering in the meager sunlight, giving him an eerie ghost-like presence that had no real shape or form. Angrily, he screamed, “No! There can be no placation of the human scourge if we are to survive! Better for us it would have been had they all been squashed in the mud from which they first emerged. They have proven time and again that they are not to be trusted and with this most recent incursion they demonstrate their intent to not merely find us but eliminate us from existence. We dare not tolerate their vile intentions. If, as the pretty one states, we control all things, then perhaps we would do well to use them so that nature itself is seen to turn on them and squash the very life from their fragile and disgusting bodies. Any talk of peace or favor toward humans is nothing but nonsense.”

Bogmenak and his allies applauded heartily for a moment but the complete silence from the rest of the council caused it to sound hollow and the gesture was short-lived. Apa’ii took advantage of the moment and nodded at Fleau who smiled and stood, looking like an angel as she shimmered in the sunlight. Even without the aid of Apa’ii’s spotlight, she had everyone’s attention.

“My dear friends,” Fleau began, “If we are to respond to this dreadful situation, we must first address a more serious matter I know you noticed, if nowhere else, on your way to this assembly. The magic is retreating along the lines of places we have used to hide ourselves. That our invisibility has been compromised is not a matter so easily laid at the feet of humans. The earth’s poles are once again shifting. We have experienced this before with little discomfort. This time, however, the magnetic waves spreading across both land and sea are changing as well. 

“Our magic and the ease with which we use it is intrinsically tied to earth’s magnetic fields. The changes we are seeing, though small and limited at the moment, are only going to grow and there may be little we can do about it. If we pick any kind of fight with the humans, if we encourage interaction with them even in a friendly manner, we may not only find ourselves exposed but helpless without the use of magic when we need it. We stand the risk of putting ourselves and all of our existence in danger if we don’t look first to protect the magic from which we are all created.”

Murmurs again spread across the Deyóhso:t. “Alarmist!” screamed a lone voice. “We’re doomed!” yelled another. Panic was rising quickly, especially among those smaller souls for whom invisibility and transmutation were critical to their survival.

Apa’ii watched with careful interest. She had learned over the millennia of seasons to not let momentary spasms of panic among the council give cause for concern. If anything, panic was the most frequent response to any issue. Younger souls, those who had not seen the ancient wars, were especially given to these reactions. The Queen knew that the discussions between councilors would calm to a more reasonable response quickly enough. Cutting their conversations too short only added to their combined anxiety.

As Apa’ii watched over the Dehnítaëh, she became aware of a small soul who had moved quite close in an attempt to get the Queen’s attention. She looked down and saw Amoo Omala, a preciously small yet beautiful peri, desperately flapping her wings and waving her arms. Apa’ii motioned the little one closer to hear what she might have to say.

“Your Majesty, our clan has experienced and studied these changes for several seasons. They started small but are growing stronger. We believe we may have found both a way to track this anomaly as well as an explanation for its cause. This is rather technical and detailed, though. Do you think I should address the whole Dehnítaëh or is it a matter best left to conversations among those who can understand our studies?” Amoo asked.

Apa’ii considered the question with some trepidation. Quickly discerning that Amoo’s research was valid, she knew that not every Nawa’ Diyo shared the same capacity for understanding the sciences and matters involving mathematics. While the peris had long excelled at such studies, others were challenged to understand how the mixture of two inert chemicals could produce a dramatically devastating result. Those who could not easily understand inevitably responded negatively to such matters, creating division among the council. Still, there was no denying that Amoo’s research was pertinent to the conversation.

“Go ahead,” the Queen said. “I’ll give you all the light you need.”

Knowing she could not be seen at ground level, Amoo flew to a plane slightly above the rim of the Deyóhso:t, Apa’ii’s light shining on her in a way that caused the peri to glow.

“My dear friends,” Amoo started, her tiny voice magnified to fill the entire space. “This threat to our magic is not as new as it may seem and the same thing that seems to be causing the threat to our magic is also what threatens our planet. My clan has studied for several seasons the archaeomagnetic spikes or jerks that have been occurring around the world. They have steadily grown in size and frequency over the past 200 seasons and particularly within the last 40. We have documented these changes and aberrations all across the magnetic field and find that their occurrence and severity aligns with the changing patterns of weather and, most specifically, the rise in rates of carbon dioxide.

“The challenge for us may not be so much that our magic is completely disappearing but that it is increasingly unreliable as we never know when or where these archaeomagnetic spikes are going to occur. Their relation to the movement of the magnetic poles is one of amplitude rather than frequency. They will only get stronger and happen more often as the carbon dioxide rises, throwing off the realignment of the poles.”

Amoo paused and the council sat in stunned silence as they tried to comprehend what they had been told. While every magic soul understood that there was a relationship between magnetism and magic, most had never bothered with the details of how or why. Amoo looked back at Apa’ii, uncertain whether to continue. As the Queen smiled and nodded her encouragement, Amoo felt a sudden rush of confidence fill her, a gift from Apa’ii. She turned back to face the council as she spoke.

“I know this all seems very technical and difficult to understand, but I ask you to consider the times over the past few seasons when you might have attempted to use a spell, and either it didn’t work the way you expected or perhaps it didn’t work at all. Yet, in a different place at a different time, the same spell worked without any issue. This is the direct effect of the archaeomagnetic spikes. 

“One never knows when the magnetic force might suddenly shift, making our magic in that place unusable, such as what has happened in the perimeter around this sacred space. We cannot use invisibility in that area because of a growing variation in the magnetic wave that creates our border. As it grows, more of our magic will become useless. Soon, our ability to transmute will be affected, then our defense spells, our healing spells, and others that require intense levels of magic will randomly stop working within that space.

“The speed at which these spikes increase is relative to how much of the planet’s surface is affected by increases in carbon dioxide and the earth’s rising temperature. Already, our ocean friends have told us of their pain in not being able to stop the salinization of their waters. What we are experiencing on land is the same thing in a different form. We can no longer trust with assurance that our magic is going to work, especially outside the sacred space.”

There were plenty of suspicions on both sides, but the seriousness of the current situation required at least an effort toward cooperation. As she began to speak, her voice low and powerful like the breaking of waves, the ground beneath her shook, causing those around her to move further away.

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Chapter 7, part 3

Across the Deyóhso:t, Dasheng Sen, the Hantu Air representative, stood to speak. She was the physical antithesis of Amoo, standing tall at the back of the Deyóhso:t. Without Apa’ii’s light shining on her, she would have seemed nothing more than a shadow. As she stood, those near here recoiled from the dank smell of old saltwater mixed with deep ocean mud. In her natural form, she seemed as though the darkest bottom of the deepest ocean had come to life. She looked out across the waves of beautiful and glittering magicians, wondering if they would consider what she had to say. She looked at Apa’ii whose own expression had responded to the water queen with seriousness. While this was not their first meeting, the two had never bothered to become acquainted, leaving their rare communication to diplomatic pouches delivered by third parties unrelated to either realm.

“Precious Nawa’ Diyo, the problems we face are dire and I thank your gracious Queen Apa’ii for including the magic souls of the waters in this discussion.

“We have fought long against the humans from the moment they crafted their boats to hunt and exploit those that live within our boundaries. They have polluted our streams, dammed and re-routed our rivers, and treated our lakes and oceans as their personal dumping grounds. In return, we have sunk their boats, turned our largest inhabitants against them, thwarted their travel, and left them with vast deserts incapable of growing food. We send massive waves to wipe them from the islands and storms to punish them for destroying our coasts. They have never been our friends and we are not inclined to change our minds in that regard.”

Bogmenak and those near him responded with cheers and applause to have what seemed to be a great ally. Dasheng Sen growled in response, however, frustrated by the interruption. As their applause died, she continued.

“Our waters have seen many changes as humans became industrialized. Our reefs in many places are barely alive. Our ice is melting and our magic is being affected. As your little one has said, dramatic increases in carbon dioxide are changing the magnetic fields in ways we have never experienced before. We have lost many of our smallest magic souls in just the past 40 seasons. Powers among the Mer and the Sirens are weak and cause them to stay deep to avoid detection.

“As we Hantu Air have fought long against the humans with little benefit, I am of the opinion that only a concerted and cooperative effort on our part here can save all of us from extinction. If that means the destruction of the human species, then so be it.”

A great gust of wind interrupted Dasheng Sen, forcing her to take her seat and sent all but the largest Nawa’ Diyo sprawling across the ground, the smallest clinging to blades of grass to avoid being blown away. Apa’ii knew immediately who was responsible and roared in response, “You will not disturb the members of this gathering or else you will leave, Belinda! You are a guest here and must conduct yourself accordingly!”

The wind quickly died down and as the now disheveled members of the Dehnítaëh reassembled themselves, Belinda took a clouded form of a familiar fay, though larger and still covering the whole Deyóhso:t. Her gray, angry face was parallel with Apa’ii’s as she spoke in ferocious voice.

“You all so easily forget we are here. How else am I to get your attention? I apologize for those I might have ruffled but I have had quite enough of your contribution to increased heat in this valley. You talk of danger and peril to the existence of magic yet when was the last time the Nawa’ Diyo did anything to actually stop the humans? You could not even keep them from developing nuclear power. You’ve been no help in fighting against their destruction of air and water and have allowed them to destroy your own land! You use our shared resources for your little tricks and stunts, but you avoid humans and hide behind your mist. Only now, as we have a complete loss of our powers and possibly our lives do you finally step up and call a council meeting and do what? Talk. That’s all I’ve heard. Noise!”

“You have no right to come into our gathering and belittle us like that!” Apai’ii responded in a massive voice matching that of Sylphid queen. “You’re always going off in some huff over one thing or another without thinking about who you might hurt in the process. How many of our communities have you destroyed with your storms, giving us no warning of any kind? How many times have we asked for your help and gotten no reply from you at all? You don’t dare come in here and make such vile charges against us!”

Belinda drew back and responded with an even greater rush of wind and lightning than before, clearing the center of the Deyóhso:t of its members, pushing all of them back toward the edges. Apa’ii responded with a blast of her own magic, scattering Belinda and all her clouds to the furthest edges of the horizon. As much as the Sylphid queen tried to break the barrier, she could not.

“When you decide to address us in a more civil manner, you are welcome to return. Until then, you may stay up there and watch quietly,” Apa’ii said, her voice sterner than any of the Dehnítaëh could remember hearing from her before.

Slowly, the council reassembled itself, re-adjusting crumpled wings and untangling body parts as they each returned carefully to their seats. Members whispered carefully to each other, none feeling confident enough to speak boldly after the queens had demonstrated such awesome power.

Apa’ii waited patiently, knowing that her magic was strong enough to hold off both Belinda and Dasheng Sen if necessary, though she didn’t consider the latter an immediate threat. She watched as the council reset themselves and was aware of the fear, concern, and frustration they were feeling. As they began to calm down, she spoke in a more gentle and calming voice.

“As difficult as it is to hear, Belinda’s criticism of us and of me is not invalid. We have deliberately not been aggressive in our response to the destruction of the earth at the hands of the humans. That we must now take stronger action than ever before needs little debate. We must remain open, however, to the possibility that the earth birthed them for a reason. As much as they are part dirt, they are also part water and part air. I do not particularly like them nor trust them, but if we eliminate them, the earth herself may wake up from her slumber and respond with something more vile.

“There is a balance we must maintain between all the forces of nature. We who possess and are composed of magic are not omnipotent in what we do. We are still held accountable for both our actions and our inaction. We must work together or we risk the real possibility that we all may perish.”

She paused for a moment, sensing at least compliance if not agreement from both Belinda and Dasheng Sen. Smiling, she said, “Many of you have feelings you have not yet voiced. Is there anyone else who would like to address the full assembly?”

The Deyóhso:t was quiet for a moment. Council members looked anxiously at each other, still worried that anything they said might incur the wrath of one of the queens. Finally, with a more somber and recalcitrant tone than he’d had the night before, Arviss stood, his hands on his swords, his head bowed in respect as he waited for Apa’ii to recognize him. Only when the spotlight illuminated his presence did he begin to speak.

“Your majesty, those of us who, like yourself, remember past times when we was, each in our way, somethin’ less than hospitable t’wards humans, know that they respond horribly. If we are gonna do somethin’, I think it right and proper that we protect our own in the process. I don’ trust ‘em, your majesty, an’ I don’ think many others do, either. They know we’re here. If’n we’re gonna start this war, put me on the fron’ lines but keep my brothers an’ my kin safe.”

There were nods and murmurs of agreement around the council. Apa’ii smiled and responded, “You are wiser than you are given credit, dear Arviss. You are correct. For all the damage we might do, we cannot endanger innocent lives in the process.”

The Queen relaxed the protective bubble holding back Belinda and increased her own countenance so that the entire valley was bathed in warm light. “We have heard the warnings and are sufficiently aware of the dangers before us. I dismiss you now to meet as your committees and submit your ideas and concepts for how we might proceed. Belinda and Dasheng Sen are cordially invited to join me at the home tree for further discussion of how we might work together. We shall return tomorrow with a plan of direction.”

Welcome! Thank you for taking the time to read the latest installment in our new book. If you’re just joining us, you may prefer to start at the beginning. The Introduction, which is beneficial to understanding the story, can be found here. If you would rather jump straight into the story, click here for Chapter 1.

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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.