The Thinning Veil, Part Eight

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Chapter 23 | Chapter 24 | Chapter 25

Chapter 23

Chapter 23

Dasheng Sen screamed in anguish as she became aware of what was happening in the Atlantic, unable to stop the tragedy unfolding. The mer had been caught off guard. Attracted by the possibility of finding valuables and things that amused them among the wreckage they had caused, hundreds of mer had swarmed to the ships. So many vessels taken at one time presented opportunities like never before. While gold and diamonds were rarely among the cargo anymore, there was still plenty of trinkets from brass railings and mirrors to fine clothes and fashion jewelry that remained valuable to the mer, despite their not understanding the purpose of such things. Mer who had exiled themselves to the deeper parts of the ocean had reason to take part in the great plunder. So vast was the wreckage that an underwater festival had been declared. No worthwhile mer could resist the lure of the party.

In such a fervor of pleasure, no one seemed to notice the Lamiak among them. Physical attributes were quite similar when they were in the water. Both had fish-like tails and long, flowing hair. Male Lamia were strong and forceful like the mer. Females were hauntingly and irressitably beautiful. At times, they could swim next to each other without any discernable difference.

What mattered was that the Lamiak were natively Nawa’ Diyo, of the land. Unlike the mer, they could transition, exchanging tails for legs, with no compromise to their magic. They were also great engineers, having once built fantastic bridges to connect islands with the mainland. For Lamiak clans, water was a tool. Their power lied in the ability to control the land, the massive mountains, and rock under the water.

The deception happened easily. So great was the delight of the mer in their conquest of human shipping, they paid no mind to the presence of other magical souls among them. They were having too much fun, drunk off the bottles of wine and liquor found on many of the ships. With such vast wreckage, no one questioned the souls who were not gathering riches for themselves.

Together, the Lamiak began to build a foundation under the ships by using flotsam and jetsam and tons of trash that humans had discarded over the years. When it was all in place, making the materials  buoyant enough to lift the ships back to the surface was easy. Starting from the very center of the ocean, they raised the wreckage with such speed and force that not all the mer had the time or opportunity to escape. Some were trapped inside lower decks. Some were caught by shifting metal. They might have used magic to escape, and many did, but the sudden rise caught them off guard. Panic ensued and by the time many thought to use their magic, the trash underneath had turned to dry land. A massive landmass had risen out of the water, thousands of leagues long in any direction. Hundreds of mer were trapped, many dying immediately as dry land appeared under them. Everything was exposed to the sunlight, blinding those searching for water.

As the landmass was completed, the Lamiak merely walked away, unscathed and unbothered by the loss of life around them. They understood the purpose of this mission to expose the mer in retaliation for their blatant murder of so many human souls. Now the human realm would know that magic existed. They would soon enough realize that they were not alone and that a greater force outnumbered them. War was finally engaged.

Dasheng Sen had not been present in the Atlantic when the rising occurred. Instead, she had returned to her home in the muddier waters of what humans know as the Amazon river. There, she had gathered advisors, representatives of other water clans: The Mami Wata, Jengu, Morgens, Suragedd Amwn, the Nix and Undine, old Naiads and Sirens, Kappa and Hyosube, the Ahuizotlochat that lived around her, the Adaw, Camenae, the Berekymia, and Phi Thale. While not nearly as large as the great council of the Nawa’ Diyo, the gathering was large enough that Dasheng had taken care to block out any form of magical interference in case Apa’ii, or more likely Belinda decided to engage in additional retribution.  The water queen had been pleased with the mer’s success in taking down the human ships. She was not expecting Apa’ii to order an attack so direct so soon.

As Dasheng Sen became aware of the magic souls dying, she realized the gravity of her strategic error. This was not the passive response she expected from Apa’ii. She would now have to deal with both the threat of attack from magic realms as well as humans knowing that the mer existed. It would only be a matter of time before ancient legends of magic souls were resurrected. Every ancient tale humans thought to be myth would once again be considered as potentially real. Humans would start hunting them in ways they hadn’t used in thousands of seasons.

“We have been exposed!” Dasheng shouted to the assembled counselors. “The Nawa’ Diyo have attacked to not only kill but to announce our presence to humans. They have given them the bodies of mer souls in defiance of magic treaties. We must respond swiftly and ferociously on every level!”

Anger and disbelief swept across the group. Over the thousands of seasons since the great wars, they had become accustomed to sedate lives with little human interaction. While lake spirits might occasionally become restless and drown a human or two, they rarely performed much magic beyond what was necessary for their own pleasure. They were not prepared for the war to which the queen had committed them.

“How is this possible?” asked Gwendyn, a counselor evolved from the ancient Nix. “We have lived peacefully among the Nawa’ Diyo for many seasons. You have not brought them into a war with the humans as you promised. You have brought them into war with us! We are not ready for this!”

“Silence!” Dashen screamed. Her eyes were glowing crimson, her face contorted as though she were in pain. “You do not get to challenge my decisions! There are sacrifices we must all make if souls of the water are going to finally rule over the planet. We have sat in the dark, ignored by humans who pollute our waters and disregarded by magic realms that use our resources for their gain. We are alone, lurking in the shadows! We will no longer be mistreated by magicians of the air and land. 

“Fate has delivered to us an opportunity to act, to take charge, and to rule. Ours is the responsibility to bring the planet back to its natural alignment. This planet was first covered in water. Everything that exists, the land and all manner of souls on it, have come from the water. Humans evolved from the water. Magic was first born of the water. Yet, we are treated like the trash ground of the planet. Humans have for too long dumped their waste in our waters, magic souls steal power from our inherent energy. The time has come for us to reclaim what is ours and to take back the control given to us when this planet first cooled. How dare you deny what is our rightful place!”

Dasheng’s speech had command of everyone’s attention. None dared look away, partly from astonishment and also out of fear. The water realms were not as tightly aligned as were the land and sky. While they all general identified as being part of the Hantu Air, each was largely autonomous. They all had their own governments and did largely as they pleased. Dasheng Sen ruled by passive consent in that none of the water clans cared enough for those outside them to be burdened with the weight of governing. Only in the ancient wars had they come together for a brief period. They found little benefit in coordinated corporate activity. That Dasheng was now exerting any authority seemed to most of the clans a presumption of power they had not willfully given to her.

Yet, none felt strong enough to defy the queen openly. She was easily the most powerful of all water magicians. Her ability to mutate into different forms, to move easily between fresh and salt water, and to find water in the most arid of environments was enviable. The alliances she had built with animals both in and around the water extended their power. As a magician, no one was more respected. Standing up to her as Gwendyn had done risked alienating a powerful queen who did not hesitate to seek revenge when it suited her. A wave of Dasheng’s hand sealed Gwendyn’s mouth and shoved her back into the murky water.

“Go home to your clan and tell them their choice is to either fight alongside us or be considered our enemy. There is no room for dissent within our clans and I will not tolerate any resistance or opposition. We are all Hantu Air. We must act as one.” Dasheng waved her hand again and Gwendyn was gone, whisked back to her home waters.

The remaining counselors looked on in astonishment. While none of them were fond of humans, neither were they fond of war and fighting against the other magic realms seemed wasteful and unnecessarily dangerous. No one dared speak such thoughts out loud, though. They looked at each other in fear. 

No one had noticed that Merric had risen from the dark waters at the back of their gathering. Even the black mud of the river could not keep his gold scales from glistening as he rose above the other magicians. His low, guttural growl turned every head in his direction. “Let this day stand as the day the Nawa’ Diyo became our immortal enemies,” he said with a ferociousness that caused a wake upon the water. “They swam among us, behaving as though they were our own. They deceived us, betraying us, raising up land under our fins, and stranding us in the air. Mer died gasping to breathe, struggling to get back to the water and constantly trapped by the worked of the evil Lamiak.”

Pausing, he swallowed his emotion before continuing. “What they did to us today they will surely do to each of you if we do not band together and fight back. There are no more alliances. Any friendships we had before are gone. None of the Nawa’ Diyo are to be trusted. Strike them down and drown them. Make them suffer just as they did the mer on this new land.”

Dasheng smiled as she watched the fear of the counselors turn to anger at Merric’s report. Nothing was as uniting as the threat of their mutual demise. “You have heard the truth,” she said, taking back command of the gathering. “Any illusion of cooperation with the other magical realms is gone. Our only hope for survival is domination with ruthless strength and power. May you take back to your clans this stern warning. None of us are safe. Freshwater clans are especially vulnerable to attack. We do better to take offensive positions. Attack before we are attacked. The Nawa’ Diyo has left us exposed to humans. They will come after us with fear and vengeance. We have no allies save each other. I call all Hantu Air to fight for our freedom and to preserve our way of life. To fail in our quest is to risk our full extermination. Do not consider yourselves restricted by any previous edicts or instruction. Take back the waters! Take back the earth!”

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Chapter 24

Chapter 24

Military interest in Atlantic activity was inevitable. The United States Navy had lost 417 ships, nearly all their Atlantic fleet, in the massive wave. Losses among NATO allies and Russia’s North Fleet were equally heavy. Rumors that someone, perhaps a rogue group of nationalists, had detonated an underwater nuclear device was far fetched but still the only excuse that made any sense. At least, it had been until this new landmass, only slightly smaller than the state of Texas, had suddenly appeared with what seemed to be humanoid creatures of some kind. Now, nothing seemed certain.

Admiral Robert Hodgkins, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Northern Command, knew the instant he saw the satellite pictures NASA provided that the United States would have to act quickly not only to take control of the new landmass for strategic purposes but to explain what manner of creatures these were in the photographs. 

Having grown up around Cape Cod and a lifelong sailor before his inevitable career in the Navy, Admiral Hodgkins was familiar with the ancient tales of mermaids and the comic book treatment they received in popular culture. He had always considered the tales harmless nonsense, ancient attempts to explain deadly encounters with large sea creatures. No one in their right mind considered for a moment that any of the tales could ever be true. As he stood looking at the enlarged pictures spread out across the conference room table, he was faced with the possibility that the tales might be true. The problem was that even suggesting such as thing, despite the evidence, would mean an end to his naval career. He would be forced to resign in disgrace.

Anderson Altman, the administrator of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, stood in the same room with Admiral Hodgkins thinking similar thoughts. More than half of NOAA’s North Fleet had been sunk by the wave. Crews onboard the remaining vessels were not anxious to return to open sea until an explanation was provided and some sense of safety was assured. The loss of intelligent buoys not only affected the accuracy of the weather forecast, they were part of national security as well, critical to detecting the movement of underwater vessels. Constant phone calls from Congressional oversight committees continually pressed for answers he didn’t have. To tell Congress that mermaids and mermen were real would force him to resign the same day, current evidence notwithstanding.

“How many people have already seen these pictures?” Hodgkins asked. “Less than a dozen analysts and managers,” Altman responded. “We have them quarantined for the time being. They understand the volatile implications of the images.”

“What about NASA?” The admiral asked.

“We have closer to 40 in quarantine,” Gary Rutledge, NASA’s administrator said. “The nature of our reporting system requires a certain amount of redundancy to reduce the chance of error.”

The admiral stood with his hands in his pockets, mulling over the response options and not liking any of them. “We have to respond,” he said with a sigh. “We already know that Russia has similar intelligence. They’re pulling a fleet of ships from the Baltic now. We need to be there before they arrive.”

“The landmass is continuing to grow,” Altman said. “About 20 square miles added every hour by our best calculations. Weather patterns are already being affected both east and west of the event. The whole jet stream has realigned. Expect rough waters for at least two weeks or until conditions have a chance to settle down a bit.”

“We’ve put all new launches on hold,” Rutledge added. “I can’t say the Russians have done the same. Their launch site isn’t affected by the weather as much as ours are.”

Admiral Hodgkins walked around the table, looking at the pictures as though they might have changed since he last examined them. “Our need to keep this quiet is paramount,” he said. “I’ll coordinate with the Coast Guard to issue a ban on all non-military vessels more than four miles off the coast.” He paused and sighed again. “Anderson, do you think you can convince a group of your people to go out there if we take them on one of our ships? We need science-minded eyes to look at this thing.”

Altman shrugged. “Not without expanding the knowledge ring,” he said. “The people we have in quarantine are analysts, not field people. And to be honest, sir, you’re going to want a team of marine biologists out there who have a higher level of expertise than anyone we have. I can send a couple of people who are good with known species, but for a situation like this, you want Alice Reade over at NatGeo. She used to be our lead scientists and grew frustrated that our structure didn’t give her more freedom to explore the unexplainable. She’ll want to take her own crew, though. “

“I agree,” Rutledge said. “Alice is well known and, quite honestly, I’ll be surprised if she doesn’t already know about the landmass. NatGeo’s private resources are almost as good as our own. I don’t see her turning down the opportunity.”

“Don’t bet on that,” Altman said. “As much as Alice is all about exploring, she absolutely loathes what she sees as government interference. She’s damn sure not going to want to ride out on a naval vessel of any kind. She’ll want to take her research craft.”

“That doesn’t mean we can’t give her an escort,” Hodgkins replied. “It’s not safe to go out there without strong protection. We know the Russians are coming and I’d bet they’re not the only ones. No military officer is going to let a group of scientists get in the way.” He paused and drummed his fingers on the table. “Anderson, contact Alice, and do what you have to do to get her on our team. I’ll commission a group to leave from Norfolk in two days. She can take her boat if she wants but she still follows our orders. Send your own people as well. I’m not pinning an odd report to the joint chiefs on a singular opinion. If possible, we need a body or two. There’s nothing like physical evidence to prove what no one wants to be proven.”

Altman nodded.

“Rutledge, keep watch, let us know if you pick up any significant change,” the admiral added. “I keep hoping this is all just a bad nightmare.”

Chapter 25

Chapter 25

Grouping together the relentlessly violent magic souls seemed like a good idea at the time when Apa’ii and Belinda had agreed upon the exile. They would cast a singular set of spells that would confine them all, provide them with a reasonable means for continued life, but keep them away from any interference with the lives of more ambivalent souls. Their purpose had never been to remove evil from the magic realms but rather to confine those who encourage evil for their own pleasure.

Initially, their concept seemed to work well. The two queens would send emissaries to check on the exiles, see if they had any needs, and deliver to them those things they could not find within the mountains that hid them. As long as the emissaries came and went, there were never any reports of problems. None had been stripped of their powers nor had they lost their ability to fly within the exile of peace. 

At first, they could receive and entertain guests and that might have helped keep the exiles in the loop as to what was happening on the outside but none of the exiles were especially drawn to pleasant social activities. None of them took willingly to being exiled in the first place. Considerable amounts of magic was required to lure the malevolent ones into the protected region and they had all raised understandable objection to being confined. They were all known for their global travels and any restriction of that movement was insulting. They fought hard but none could overcome the power of the queen’s magic. Eventually, accepting their fate became a matter of preserving their existence. The clans settled into their new homes and tried to adjust as well as they could.

Four clans were selected for the exile. The Eilkönig, of whom Ulaf was the leader, the Valkyries, with Eir being the dominant commander, the Daevas, and the Oni. Of the Daevas, Inofar spoke most frequently for the clan though his words could always not be trusted. Galui guided the Oni, to the extent that they could be guided. Their nature was such that they tended to wander and keep to themselves. 

None of the exiles were particularly well-suited to interacting with the others. Each clan was wholly independent, speaking to each other only when chance or fate brought them together.

Now, with the magic that held them in waiting starting to fail, they saw an opportunity to return to their former activities, sure that they would easily achieve dominance over both magic and human realms. 

What the temporary freedom had shown them, however, was how much the other realms had changed over the 3,400 seasons of their exile. Magic souls were wiser and stronger, more difficult to fool and mislead. Humans had grown in number and their industrious nature gave them a form of magic through technology and science. Valkyries were especially shocked to find that humans found a way to fly. None had anticipated how destructive the humans had become and marveled at their propensity for cruelty even among their own clans.

Having reluctantly agreed to return to a temporary exile, the four leaders met together on the side of a rugged mountain to discuss the offer Ulaf made to Queen Apa’ii. Each regarded the other with suspicion and wariness, unsure of the sincerity of their intent and the trustworthiness of their word.

Eir seemed more perturbed than the others. Her heavy armor glistened in the sun, her deep auburn hair flowing behind her as she dismounted from her winged steed, she was talking before her feet hit the ground. “I want it to be known right now that we will not be part of any agreement that does not give us our eternal freedom,” she said. “We have suffered and lost much sense we were first confined here. Odin is dead. Valhalla is no more. The gods have been turned into comic figures without a grain of their former terror and power remaining. There is much we have to do to bring back the respect and honor we once had. We are ready to fight but our loyalty comes at a price and I am not convinced that Apa’ii and Belinda are trustworthy. They kept us here too long. The emissaries no longer visit. Promises they made to us have been broken. We will not be exiled again.”

“We all agreed on being exiled,” Ulaf said. “The queens are feeling the sting of betrayal for themselves and are in a mood to bargain. They need an army that can fight on human and magic realms. No one is better equipped to do that than we who have been waiting here, languishing for thousands of seasons. You will be happy to know that we are still feared. Apa’ii was ready to shatter my core into millions of pieces when I first strode into her throne room. Her words were harsh but the expression on her face was that of fear and I was delighted that we have not been forgotten.”

“Perhaps not among the magic realms but among the humans our memory has been relegated to the stacks of mythology,” Inofar said. “My beloved Persia is no more. What has taken its place is a cruelty deserving of every terror we can bring to humans. Had we not been confined here we might have stopped their tragedies from happening. Now, we have little choice but to match cruelty with greater cruelty. They have destroyed our temples and forbidden our honor and tribute. We must not let their madness continue.”

Ulaf looked over at the stoic Galui who had yet to make a sound. “What does your clan desire to do now that you’ve seen the state of things outside our exile?”

The horned beast shook his shaggy head slowly in response. “Perhaps exile was a blessing we did not know how to receive. Humans oppose humans. Believing in us, worshipping and honoring our ancestors is a crime in too many places. Here we are safe. No one knows we still exist and that may be good. To show ourselves is to invite our demise.” The giant paused before adding, “We were formed to inflict punishment. Our weapons are severe. Yet, they are almost nothing compared to how humans have enslaved themselves. We would be doing them a favor to smash their lives as we did before. They send themselves into torment daily, faster than we ever could. We are not convinced that we should leave these mountains.”

Inofar nodded in agreement. “He is right, you know. We were always responsible for the worst of miseries humans knew. In our absence, they have taken our jobs upon themselves. I’m not sure they would even notice if we returned. Our violence would have to be greater than anything we have ever wrought. And if the magic of the queens is not strong enough to hold us here, is our own magic sufficient to deliver the force we must demonstrate? We cannot step away from these mountains only to be seen as weak.”

“Would not the sight of our four clans be enough to instill fear into both humans and magic souls alike?” Eir asked. “They have never seen how we can darken the skies, how we can turn the ground red with blood, or how we can destroy souls. Perhaps they might not fear the return of one clan, but the four clans together would be a force no army, magic, or human could match. Our terror could restore order to this planet the gods have forsaken.”

“Without question, our clans must be united,” Ulaf said. “We alone are uniquely qualified to fight the war the queens have started. Certainly, we have never seen such an opportunity to conquer the magic realms. They have evolved and gained in power, but they cower in fear of the humans. We can use that fear to inspire their turn to our darkness, away from the infernal good they have professed. Then they and their magic are ours.”

“Magic souls are not fooled as easily as humans,” Inofar warned. “The battle you would engage there would be long and the benefit to us would be questionable. These are not peasants to be led into revolt. If, as you say, their fear of the humans is so strong, then wouldn’t it make more sense to first conquer and control that which they fear?”

“The queens of the land and air are at war with Dasheng Sen,” Ulaf said. “They will use much magic in that war. If we are patient, give the queens the impression we work with them, then, when they are exhausted we can have both human and magic realms. There’s much here for us to explain. To be freed from this prison though, the queens must think that our cooperation can help them. What do the Nawa’ Diyo know of war? We play their games for now and, I promise, ultimate domination will be ours.”

The three leaders looked at Ulaf not fully convinced of his words. They had seen enough of the modern world to hold it in contempt but were still not certain that an alliance with the queens was in their best interest. None of them saw any value in being used as pawns in someone else’s war. Still, the allure and promise of freedom was not something their clans could ignore. They needed to regain control to reestablish the balance of powers that had existed before they were exiled.

Finally, Eir said, “You may tell the queens they have the cooperation of the Valkeries, provided I am not killed when I relay to them this news. We have never had such an alliance with anyone in the magic realms. My sisters may not find this agreement to their liking. Tell Apa’ii that to go back on her word means death for her realm.”

“The same for the Daeves,” Inofar said. “With an abundance of caution, we will cooperate for now. To betray us, however, is to make us an enemy.”

Galui was the last to speak. “Our focus can only be on humans,” he said. “It is only for their torment that we are created. We will work with Apa’ii there, but not against Hantu Air.”

Ulaf nodded. “I will take this message to Apa’ii when she calls for us,” he said,” and there is no doubt that she will call.”

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