The Thinning Veil, Part Fifteen


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 43 | Chapter 44|


Chapter 43

Chapter 43

Only after the airplanes had released a second lethal round of missiles did the Dexavians figure out a plan to reduce the damage being done. The planes were flying a consistent route which allowed the winged magicians to anticipate where they would release their missiles and form a line in front of each squadron. The power of 100 Dexavians together was enough to lock the remaining missiles in place as they passed, the pilots unaware of what had happened until the plane’s missiles failed to fire. That all the missiles on all the jets would fail at the same time smelled of sabotage rather than a mechanical issue. 

As the squadron leaders each reported the problem, the Dexavians regrouped for another blow as the fighters attempted the fourth pass. This time, the magic souls were able to thwart the targeting software, something both countries shared on their fighters. Attempts to lock targets had the planes aiming at each other rather than targets on the ground.

”Control,” Salt called, his frustration boiling, “someone’s jamming our systems. We’re not picking up anything on infrared but it has to be part of the support system for those ‘bots. We’re powerless up here.”

“We’re working on a solution,” came the response. “We’re showing heavier than usual magnetic activity in the area. If we can confirm the source we’ll try to take it out. Go home for now and regroup.”

Bockwimen all other Nawa’ Diyo saw the departure of the planes as a victory, one loathsome enemy out of the way. Their assault on the troubled ones resumed and for a moment it seemed as though the Nawa’ Diyo had gained an advantage. As destructive to the land realm as the planes had been, they had destroyed enough of the troubled ones to leave sizeable holes in their offensive lines. Elven clans and Aesirs moved quickly into those holes and struck hard against the demons, causing many more to fall.

As the larger magicians moved forward, the smaller clans moved under them in support. They had discovered that dismantling the beasts at their knees caused them to fall, making them easier targets and, at times, causing those behind them to trip and fall as well. Fewer small souls were caught this way and they could be heard squealing with glee each time they took down one of the giants.

To the North, the forward march of the troubled ones had nearly been stopped. There were no longer fresh monsters coming out of the ground, making it easier for the warriors to focus on the ones in front of them. Still, there was no moment to relax. Any corner given was too quickly taken by the troubled ones. While their progress to the North had slowed, they were adjusting to moving eastward. Those that had come up from the American states were able to push their way into Canada, creating a dense force that could not be destroyed fast enough to stop their progress.

Bockwimen flew quickly from one side of the battle to the other, passing along information as to what tactics were working and which ones were not, moving clans to different areas to increase their impact. No general commanding such forces, diverse in weapons and fighting styles, could have strategized more effectively.

Pockwatch traveled back and forth with updates for and from Queen Apa’ii. She was still holding most of the ground communities safe from the troubled ones but was sensing more movement in the magnetic fields. She warned Bockwimen that clans needed to act more in concert than individually. He responded by having warriors establish hard lines so that clans could direct large bolts of magic onto groups of troubled ones.

As the battle continued, acrid smoke from the flaming arrows and burning pitch filled the sky to the point that few realized that the sun was beginning to rise. Neither were they aware that the humans were returning with stronger force, determined to stop what they were sure was a Russian invasion, despite repeated insistent denials from the Kremlin. 

No one had time to worry about the humans until they showed up again, this time in helicopters full of artillery troops being deployed to the ground. As the first wave of troops arrived, a second wave parachuted in from higher elevations, filling the skies with parachutes.

The parachutes made the troops easy targets from the troubled ones. The bullets from the military’s assault rifles ricocheted off the stone without fazing the beasts. The troops were helpless as they glided into the hands of the waiting monsters, screaming as they were ripped in half. Unlike the magic souls, tearing apart humans resulted in sprays of blood that delighted the troubled ones. The screams from the soldiers seemed to give the brutes strength and pumped their ferocity to higher levels.

Troops that did make it safely to the ground still assumed they were dealing with electronic inventions made of some material that only looked like stone. While some fired rocket-propelled grenades in defense, others quickly set up radio equipment and began sending out jamming signals, hoping to find whatever frequency the supposed robots used to function. Each radio blast disrupted the magic of every soul in the direct path. Even flying became difficult at low heights.

Before Bockwimen could help the Nawa’ Diyo adjust, the fighter squadrons returned, refueled, repaired, and reloaded. This time they attacked with flights in a criss-cross pattern, preventing the Dexavians from establishing a line strong enough to disrupt the planes as seriously as they had before. The magic might affect one or two planes from a flight but not all and not for long. Planes disabled on the first pass were able to fire accurately on the next.

The human troops were not fully aware of the effect they were having. While they could sense that there was someone or something on the ground fighting, the clans were so well hidden among the trees that the troops were not able to make out actual forms. While the figures in the shadows seem to share their targets, military commanders warned against considering them friendly until some kind of identification could be made.

With their magic being affected by the humans’ radio signals, the Nawa’ Diyo found it almost impossible to maintain an attack on the troubled ones. That the beasts were targets of the missiles meant having to stay further back. Bockwimen ordered the smaller clans to retreat, fearing that their proximity to the human radios would cause more of them to lose their magic. Pulling them back into the safety of Apa’ii’s protective bubbles seemed the more prudent move at the moment.

The troubled ones weren’t as reliant on magic as were the Nawa’ Diyo. Without any magic at all, they could still stop and pound, rip and tear, making them the biggest threat of any on the battlefield. As the missiles took out dozens of the demons at a time, they also eliminated the magical warriors fighting around them. The beasts filled the holes quicker than the Nawa’ Diyo warriors. Where the radio waves were strongest, the troubled ones were again moving forward.

Bockwimen quickly assembled the leaders of the largest clans. “I need summaries of what you can and cannot do,” he told them. “Those who are powerless should retreat to safety so those who still have magic can fight more effectively.”

“We have little left to offer at this point,” Meliae told him. “Between the return of the planes and the radios disrupting magnetic waves, we do well to stir up a light breeze.”

“The humans keep firing their damned, weapons, too,” complained Arviss. “Do they have a clue what they’re doing? Their little explosions and bullets are nothing to the troubled ones. We could charge, but there are too many humans in the way.”

“We can disable their weapons,” Malini said. “Their radios have limited power and we can cause their guns and launchers to jam. That should free the magic for everyone else.”

“If our magic is available, we can charge both the humans and the troubled ones at the same time,” Bhishani said.

Kim Yu-Sin, the leader of the largest Dokkaebi clan, added, “Not as much power is needed against the humans. We can attack them without them knowing from where the attack came.”

“If they can get rid of the radios, we can bring back the wind and the rain,” Meliae said. “And this time we’ll start high enough to give their planes something to worry about.”

Lezard smiled. “Our worries all have solutions as long as we rely on each other. Perhaps we could come at them more from the East since that seems to be the direction the troubled ones are trying to move. They’ve grown accustomed to us moving from the South and North. Hitting them from different directions forces them to change the construction of their ranks.”

This prompted a response from Ivliscer, leader of the Cadaen clan of elvish magicians, “Having the sun at our backs is never a bad strategy. That alone improves our chances. They won’t see our arrows coming at them.”

With all the clan leaders generally in agreement, Bockwimen said, “Let us be measured in these next moments. Allow Malini and their clan to take out the radios, then Meliae can bring in the wind and rain from the East. Not the same as having the sun in their eyes, but just as difficult for them to see. Then attack the troubled ones relentlessly and ferociously. We cannot give either the humans or the troubled ones any form of advantage, but the humans have made such enemies of the troubled ones I don’t think they are our priority. Focus on the troubled ones first.”

The clan leaders quickly dispersed. Bockwimen and Pockwatch observed the bewilderment as the humans suddenly found their radios unresponsive and their weapons jammed. The troops fell back into closed ranks, guarding against attacks. When the wind began to blow around them, they dug trenches to protect them from the onslaught. The ground troops were effectively incapacitated.

Officials at the unified command center outside Toronto panicked when all the radios suddenly went offline. Assumptions were that there were enough “robots” to jam all the radio frequencies the military was allowed to use. Worried that the troops would be defenseless without communication, the decision was made to extract as many as they could with the fighters providing air cover for the mission. They would follow the extraction with a bombing raid that, they were sure, would neutralize the “enemy.”

Carpinus considered the humans little more than a distraction on the ground. While they had been dangerous in the air, humans on the ground were like bugs waiting to be stomped. He also felt that their relatively small number wasn’t worth any formal effort or instruction to the hordes of troubled ones under his command. There were hundreds of magical clans that were larger and more dangerous. He wouldn’t tell the demons to stomp the humans but he wasn’t going to protect them, either.

Sure that the troubled ones were some new kind of military robots, however, the battle commanders weren’t going to let a thing like disabled radios and jammed weapons from stopping them from trying to topple the beasts. Thinking the giants were composed internally of electronics, they attempted to scale the massive bodies from the back, where they couldn’t be easily reached. The humans were lightweight so that the troubled ones didn’t feel them climbing on them. They were also spread out enough now that there weren’t often lines of giants that would have picked the humans off the backs of their comrades.

The troops were baffled when not only could they find no access point to internal machinery, but that the brutes appeared to be held together by nothing but pitch, which could catch fire when hit with the arrows that troops hadn’t noticed earlier but posed severe danger now. They took samples of the pitch, rappelled back down, and returned to hiding in the trenches.

Bockwimen and several of the clan leaders saw the humans scale the troubled ones and did nothing to stop them. Only Freyr instructed his clan to keep shooting, narrowly missing the humans with their arrows. None of the magicians understood what the humans were attempting to do and watched with amusement as the camouflage-clad soldiers climbed up and back down without having done anything more than put pitch in a bag. Without radios or weapons, the humans seemed harmless.

Attacks against the troubled ones continued until the human extraction teams arrived in their air-beating helicopters. The moment the helicopters arrived, magic stopped working. The whir of the rotors disrupted all magnetic fields across all the magical frequencies. Flying souls fell from the sky. The wind and rain stopped. The humans’ weapons were no longer jammed.

Seeing the helicopters in the air, the scattered ground troops fired flares to let the aircraft know where they were. Pilots looked for safe landing points as the troops gathered equipment and ran toward them.

Carpinus felt the magic loss as much as did the Nawa’ Diyo. He roared for the hordes to attack the helicopters.

Two of the extraction craft went down before the fighters had a chance to fire missiles at the beasts. When the planes did fire, however, hitting their targets sent stone shrapnel flying, threatening the troops running for extraction. As giants swatted at the airplanes like flies, the fighters tried to lure their targets away from the helicopters before blowing them to piles of rubble.

The trick worked long enough for the planes to blow up about a hundred of the demons. Nawa’ Diyo scattered away from the southerly position the planes were taking. Each explosion inevitably caused more death as not everyone was able to get out of the way. Only the Aesirs and the Yakshini were able to avoid any casualties.

Carpinus would not be fooled by the humans’ distraction tactic and ordered the troubled ones to swat down the planes and attack the helicopters. The move proved deadly for everyone. As the giants reached for the airplanes, the pilots fired their missiles at close range. The explosions were as ground-shaking as the troubled one’s march. 

The planes could only kill so many and the troubled ones had them outnumbered. Firing their full complement of weapons was still not enough to keep the evacuation choppers out of danger. Planes did their best to distract the demons, sacrificing themselves in an attempt to save the troops still on the ground. 

The troop carriers almost succeeded. All living troops were accounted for, despite some severe injuries. All they had to do was make it back to base, away from the battle.

Carpinus roared and the troubled ones turned in unison and ran for the helicopters. The effect was terrifying. The entire eastern half of the continent shook under the force of the hordes’ stampede. Air currents changed. Magnetic waves shifted. The troubled ones snatched the helicopters out of the air, crushing them in their hands and tossing them to the ground, stomping on them with deliberate force. None of the human troops survived.

Watching satellite feeds at unified command headquarters, General Almondale erupted in a fit of anger. “I want every bomber in the air right now and don’t leave anything on that ground but firewood!” he yelled. His order would be modified, of course, to protect civilians. No matter how angry the general was, there were still rules and limitations. 

The Canadian Prime Minister approved attacks over the areas where the number of lakes had been most dense, where towns could easily be evacuated before the bombers arrived. He also insisted that Canadian pilots lead each flight, giving them an obligation of assuring that bombs would not be dropped on civilian areas around the lakes.

General Almondale seethed at all the bureaucratic delays. The lives of 20,000 troops had been lost. He knew no explanation he had available would save him from the wrath of Congress. His retirement was on the line. He swore that if this was going to be his last battle he was not going to lose to a bunch of “robots.”

Bockwimen watched in shock as the troubled ones ripped apart the helicopters. The loss of souls, despite not being magical, was negative energy that affected all of them. As the final chopper went down, there was a moment of stunned silence across the battlefield. They could all feel the magic return but they hesitated to resume the battle.

Bockwimen and Pockwatch took back to the air, anxious to see what the troubled ones might do next. The beasts were scattered now, clustered in smaller groups that would be easier to attack. There were still more of them than anyone could quickly count. As the pause lengthened, Bockwimen dared to wonder if perhaps the troubled ones might be tired enough to retreat. 

Carpinus looked at the destruction around him. They had easily defeated the humans. They had successfully drained the lakes even if the magical souls who lived there had escaped. They had also taken many land souls. While they had not yet reached the ocean, their success was enough that no one would dare challenge him if he stopped now. Standing at his full height, Carpinus gave a roar that echoed through all the forests, creating a wind so strong that it knocked waiting vultures from their perches. He then stomped three times and waited.

In language none of the magicians could hear, a vote was being taken and a decision made. The horde responded with a roar of equal strength, a deafening sound that struck fear in the core of every magical soul near the forest. They gave three stomps back. Had Carpinus been able to show emotion, he would have smiled. They would continue their fight all the way to the ocean. The troubled ones quickly reformed their ranks and with a rhythmic stomp turned eastward and began to march.


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Chapter 44

Chapter 44

When Queen Apa’ii told Pausnuck to take whatever resources he needed to fight for the new landmass, he had at first imagined an army equal in size to the one fighting in the lakes region. When he looked around to see who was available, the choices were not as vast as he had hoped. Many of the most fierce clans had already committed to fighting in the battle with Bockwimen. Of those who remained, there were several clans for whom the threat of getting wet, especially with salt waters, was rife with negative consequences. As a result, he could assemble only a few hundred Kamodean fighters, lizard-like magicians that walked on two feet, had natural camouflage, and mastered an array of weapons; a couple of thousand Fenrir, pack-oriented half-elves that, like Bockwimen, could turn into wolves; and three clans of unpredictable Truanciles, strong, two-legged fighters covered in scales, incredibly flexible, and feline-like eyes that could see through darkness and smoke. Each clan was anxious to demonstrate their ferocity and their value to the realm. Pausnuck’s worry was whether they could work together well enough to counter all the magic the Hantu Air was already throwing at the landmass. 

The waters surrounding the landmass were impassible. Waves were too high and too dangerous for any human ship to get close, much to the chagrin of marine biologist Alice Read and the naval task force accompanying her and her crew. They had been trying for over a week, hoping the waves would calm or that a different route to shore might become apparent, but Merric and the stronger Mer warriors had seen to it that no safe passage was possible. Dasheng Sen had also enlisted the Zora, Nereids, and Adaro to help protect the boundaries of the island.

The only means of safe approach was from the air, which Pausnuck took advantage of under the cover of darkness. Merric had no sense of any Nawa’ Diyo slipping past them and, as a result, wasn’t ready for the onslaught of magic that Pausnuck directed toward them as soon as it was light. Kamodean spells were especially effective in breaking up the relentless waves. The Adaro were quickly overpowered and they retreated to their home islands. The Nereids were more effective in fighting back but were not able to both fight the Nawa’ Diyo band and stir the seas as well. Where they fought the hardest, a broad lane of navigable water began to form.

Merric focused his energy on the massive warships the humans had sent. The vessels were built to handle the biggest waves and were almost impossible to overwhelm. The need to keep the waves high was exhausting and the battle-weary Mer were beginning to tire. No one paid much attention to the smaller research vessel lingering outside the wake of the warships. The Mer did not consider the boat to be any threat. There was no large crew and the vessel had no offensive weapons of its own, at least none that the Mer recognized. When the boat’s sonar picked up what appeared to be a break in the waves, Dr. Read didn’t bother to check with her military escort before moving her boat into position.

Likewise, the sailors aboard the navy’s ships, the USS Neptune and the USS Winslow, saw the narrow lane and attempted to head that direction. The Neptune was an amphibious assault ship with a considerably-sized Marine expeditionary force aboard, ready to secure the landmass if they could ever get to it. After a week on the rough water, though, many were ill beyond the point of being aided by any medication. 

The Winslow was a Guided Missile Frigate designed to provide support for landing troops. They tried desperately to follow the research boat into the emerging late but were too large to respond as quickly. By the time they turned toward the open lane, Mer were creating waves that stopped their forward progress.

Only Alice Read’s boat, the US Starfish, made it safely into the lane. Once it was there, the Truanciles put a protective spell over the boat, allowing it to come as close to the landmass as possible without grounding. Quickly, the Fenrir constructed a make-shift dock to which the boat could safely tie. 

The moment Alice set foot on the new land, the game changed. Magical souls being on land was like an extension of nature, they complimented and got along well with whatever land they were on, bringing good energy and positive results. Humans, on the other hand, were predators looking to dominate and control as much land as they possibly could. Controlling land had been a human obsession from the moment the first hominid had learned to walk upright. They brought negatively-charged energy that the magical realms considered a threat. No matter how ideal an initial human explorer might be, the presence of one meant there would soon be others with a mission to dominate. The presence of the warships off the coast gave evidence to that concern.

Pausnuck took his charge with extreme solemnity. Not only was he responsible for getting humans onto the landmass, but he also had to make sure they were safe and discovered the Mer corpses their satellite images had seen. At the same time, he didn’t necessarily want any of the Nawa’ Diyo to be seen. The landmass was new. Vegetation or any form of indigenous species shouldn’t be possible. If the humans saw them, focus would likely change away from the Mer. The humans would have to be guided carefully, as though each decision seemed obvious.

For Alice Read and her experienced crew of explorers, nothing about this endeavor matched their previous missions. They were fortunate to have been home and docked when the massive waves struck across the ocean. Alice was one of those generally convinced that someone had to have set off an underwater nuclear device for waves of that size to occur. The landmass was a different matter from their undersea explorations. Nothing of this size had happened since humans walked the earth. Every detail was important.

As they cautiously stepped off the boat, they began to realize how different this place was. The ground was hardened sediment mixed with ocean trash, mostly plastics that would take eons to break down. Walking across the surface was difficult. Nothing was smooth or even. Pieces of plastic, glass, and steel jutted up at awkward angles. Each step had to be taken carefully to avoid falling or puncturing the soles of their footwear, which they now realized was inappropriate for the setting.

Alice and the crew returned to the boat and changed shoes while the team photographers made sure there was an abundance of photo and video evidence of everything they were seeing. Caught in the undulating mounds of waste was a variety of unsuspecting marine life that, under any other circumstances, would have made a worthwhile study. The trash gave off an aroma of raw petroleum and ammonia mixed with decaying flesh. Alice considered whether they might benefit from gas masks. If the land was composed of trash then they might encounter severe toxins the further inland they went. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough gas masks on board for the entire team. The Neptune was carrying most of the supplies and it wasn’t in sight at the moment.

Alice Read was a marine biologist who was a force of and for nature. Never willing to accept routine systemic excuses for excluding women from research teams, Alice had fought all the bureaucracy and entitlement and rampant misogyny at each level of scientific work until she was generally considered the best marine life expert on the ocean. She and her team, all of whom were extraordinarily qualified, typically spent 280 days a year at sea, returning home only for repairs and supplies.

Alice grew up along the coast of Maine and had always loved the ocean. She not only knew all the relevant science, she knew the folklore as well. While the Roman and Greek myths were fun and common, Alice also was familiar with Asian, Slavic, African, and Mesoamerican tales as well. Part of the fascination was finding links connecting the myths to actual sea life. Seals, manatees, and dugongs were accepted explanations for the myriad Mer stories. Octopus and other large sea creatures explained most of the other ancient stories about ocean terrors. Still, there wasn’t a person on Alice’s crew that hadn’t had their difficult-to-explain encounters underwater. Alice never questioned the authenticity of these experiences. Each one was investigated as though an undiscovered element of life might be present.

When the first grainy satellite images showed the landmass, Alice knew that exploring it was going to yield valuable marine information. She was ready to make this trip based on that criterion alone. When photos that were clearer appeared to show the corpses of a humanoid creature, the expedition became critical. All of the marine science around the world could potentially shift based on what they might find here.

Alice distributed the gas masks she had to her core team and the photographers. Assistants, interns, and the boat’s crew would stay behind and wait for the naval vessels to arrive. She thought the gas masks made them look like aliens. Her own curly, dark red hair poofed up between the straps, her weathered, freckled skin contrasting the dark green t-shirt, and khaki cargo shorts she was wearing. Had she known the extent to which Pausnuck and other magical creatures were laughing at them she likely would have been offended. Unaware, however, that they weren’t alone on the landmass, Alice and her team carefully started in search of dead Mer bodies.

Merric creamed angrily when he realized that the research boat had slipped through and the humans were on the island. He threw a burst of typhoon-sized waves toward the shore, hoping to capsize the docked boat. The frightened assistants and crew took cover as the water sprayed around and over the boat. Without the protection of the Truanciles’ magic, the boat would have shattered under the pressure. The magic held fast, much to Merric’s frustration, and the boat survived the attack without any significant damage. Invisibly, Truanciles surrounded the boat, making sure nothing got past their magic shield.

Emotions aboard the USS Neptune were equally as frantic. The latest set of waves had caused the ship to lose sight of the research vessel. Captain Tom Grace hadn’t wanted to escort the boat any more than Alice had wanted to have them escort her. The Admiral’s orders had been clear, though. Dr. Read was free to explore and study the land, but the Navy was responsible for taking control of the property and keeping everyone safe.

For a moment, the Starfish had disappeared from radar. Captain Grace feared the boat had capsized and scrambled a search and rescue team. Before they could be deployed, though, the boat reappeared as it sailed calmly up to a cove next to the landmass. The sailers were glad the boat still appeared to be intact. Now, they needed to find a way to join them.

Merric wasn’t making that task easy. Decks of neither ship were safe as wave after wave swamped the bows. Repeated attempts to push through proved futile. Captain Grace searched desperately for any change in the current or stream that would allow them to get closer to the island. No matter what angle or direction the ships tried, Merric managed to push them back.

Captain Carter Warrant was facing similar issues on the Winslow. He knew where the Starfish was on radar, but waves constantly blocked him from pushing through. At the moment, he was carefully watching wave heights. The Winslow’s righting moment wasn’t as large as the Neptune’s. A wave large enough to break over the side of the Neptune was large enough to almost roll the Winslow. Navigating the ship into the waves in a direction that kept the vessel upright was taking all the skill the thirty-year veteran had.

Merric gave orders to keep distance between the two ships and move them back away from the landmass. More ships from other navies would be there in another day. He wanted to keep a broader perimeter around the island. One small boat may have slipped through, but they were going to find themselves abandoned and unable to leave. Without any support, Merric reasoned, the humans would soon enough starve to death.

Moving the ships further from the landmass came with consequences. Deepwater waves required more energy if they were going to stop the large battleships. Not only were the Mer in his charge growing tired, but the larger ocean inhabitants were also beginning to complain. In particular, a large pod of humpback whales was upset that the constant water churning was rolling their calves and making it almost impossible to find food. The pod was large enough to make trouble if they grew angry. If the Mer adjusted to address the whales, there would be less energy to maintain the waves. Still, the order to push the ships back stood in place.

Pausnuck saw what was happening and knew that Merric was trying to isolate the research team. He considered the strategy flawed, though, knowing that waiting for the humans to starve or give up was a battle Merric would not be able to maintain. With the lightest break in Merric’s magic, the Truanciles and Kamodeans would power through to retrieve the two ships. By the time they reached shore, Pausnuck would make sure the scientists had sufficient evidence to convince the world that the Mer were real.

Alice and her team had difficulty adjusting to the rough terrain of the landmass. Unlike rocky surfaces they had encountered before, the plastics-based composite was more likely to shift or bend under their weight, making it difficult to walk upright even on what appeared to be level ground. In some places, the composite was soft enough they would sink to their knees and have to climb out. Adding that to the nuisance of having to wear gas masks made everyone on the team frustrated with their slow progress.

A group of Fenrir stayed with the research team, making sure their path led them to the closest set of Mer corpses. Had they been visible, they could have shown the humans where the more stable footing was. Even wolf forms were forbidden, though. Instead, they relied on tricks such as wind gusts and fragrances to guide the surprisingly malleable scientists. Alice was following the Fenrir path as easily as if she had a map.

Gray skies muted the sense of passing time. The forty-five minutes it had taken to cover a half-mile of terrain felt like hours longer to Alice. She paused on a bit of a knoll to let the team catch their breath. 

As she looked around at the odd mix of trash and seaweed, she felt a cool breeze coming off the slope, pushing her slightly to her right. Alice looked down before taking a step, careful that she didn’t fall into a hole. When she looked back up, she saw what appeared at first to be the tail of a beluga sturgeon, which seemed unusual for waters this far South. Taking a couple of steps closer, she realized it wasn’t a beluga at all. Motioning to the team, they made their way carefully to the corpse, checking ardently for anything that might have broken off or become separated from the creature. The merman had been dead long enough that his body was a muddy gray, completely drained of color. Still, his features were easily discernable, the gills along the side of his neck, the webbing between his fingers, the decorative manner in which his hair and beard were braided. Every inch of the corpse was an amazing sight that thrilled the scientists. Not only were the team photographers taking pictures of every detail at every angle, but the scientists also had out their cell phones, taking pictures for future bragging.

The Fenrir were standing a few meters away when they saw Alice take a marked sample bag and reach over with a pair of tweezers to remove one of the merman’s scales. They weren’t able to respond quickly enough to stop the deafening scream that sent all them to the ground the instant the dead merman’s body was touched. 

Pausnuck had encountered Dasheng Sen before, but never in this form. Her size was immense, several times larger than any other feature on the landmass. Black sand and dark seawater rolled off her body, kelp and seaweed dangling in long strings from her arms. Her face was contorted as if she were in pain. As the humans moved to try and cover their ears with their hands, she screamed again with such force that Pausnuck and most of the other Nawa’ Diyo were sent tumbling through the air. Pausnuck fired a quick spell that stopped their uncontrolled flailing.

Gray skies turned black as Dasheng Sen grew even larger. For all the magic he had, Pausnuck knew they were no match for the angry queen. As the ocean swirled around her, Pausnuck wondered if there was a chance for any of them to survive.


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