The Thinning Veil, Part Fourteen

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.

Since this is a single chapter, we’ve divided it into portions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Chapter 42

Forcing their way up through the mantel and the layers of the earth’s crust denied the troubled ones the possibility of a surprise attack. Bockwimen had little trouble convincing the clans around the lakes to prepare for battle. While those who could fly had some advantage, those who couldn’t took the precaution of creating armor that would help protect them from the magic of the troubled ones. Arviss and his brothers, who had been shaken from their tunnels in the earth’s crust, made sure that swords and cudgels and spears were all empowered with amazing magic designed specifically to fight the troubled ones were in the hands of as many souls who had hands to carry them.

As Bockwimen sent out a call for help, two leaders of vast clans were among the first to respond. Gui, hearing that Pockwatch had been dispatched to fetch Asian warriors to the battle, assembled his large clan of fierce Mogawi, armed with barbed arrows, their spiked tails laced with poison, and swords with sure aim that never missed their target. They had not enjoyed a good battle for thousands of seasons and their combined force was enough to create a first line of defense around the largest lakes.

Similarly, Kuveni called armored legions of Yakshimi to the region, all with copious armor that glistened whether there was light or not. Standing nearly as tall as the oldest trees, they surrounded the smaller lakes, casting magic out above the surface of the water so that the troubled ones would have to battle their way beyond the lake beds.

“My brothers and sisters in the homeland will respond quickly to Pockwatch’s request for help,” Kuveni told Bockwimen. “Malini, one of my sisters, holds the ability to stop any weapon. Bhishani and her clan are terrifying warriors. The mere sight of them once caused human armies to flee. I am sure they will both come to our aid. Look for them to arrive in the air. Mahendri will use her magic to transport them. As long as the air currents are favorable, it should not take them long to get here.”

Bockwimen thanked her, hoping that Pockwatch’s efforts would indeed be so effortless. The majority of magical souls in the lakes region were not nearly as large as Kuveni nor anywhere close to being as fierce as Gui. Few of the clans had any history of violent encounters at all and those who did had only exercised that magic against humans. He worried that many might drop their weapons and run at the first sight of the troubled ones.

Arming and preparing the souls in the southern portion of the lake region was challenging, the majority of their clans being small and few being able to fly. Finding defenders with magic strong enough to prevent the small ones from being trampled was more difficult than he had anticipated. Many clan leaders warned that their magic was unreliable, frequently not working over longer spells. Some chose to trust more in the weapons of the dwarves despite the swords being twice their size. 

Bockwimen worried that those closest to the ground, whose cores depended on the power of the soil, were especially vulnerable. Members of the reclusive Darkshroom clan were scattered over the darkest shadows of the forests surrounding the lakes, keeping to themselves and not particularly interested in becoming part of an army or waring group. Their solitude and ability to hide well had served them many seasons. Convincing any of them to behave differently was challenging, despite feeling the ground shaking under them.

“We have been conquered and enslaved in the past,” Hedron, a clan leader told Bockwimen. “Yes, we have defenses, but they are enough to protect us individually. We cannot extend our magic to others, nor do we expect others’ magic to protect us.”

 “Do you not understand how powerful and threatening the troubled ones are to your clan?” Bockwimen asked, frustrated by Hedron’s dismissive attitude. “They will come through and smash each of you deep into the ground, crushing your cores, hardly noticing that you were ever there. Their footprints press deep into the soil. Hiding is not enough to save you.”

Hedron shook his head. “You will see. We are not wholly unprepared. We still teach our young battle skills, we can create blasts that overwhelm enemies many times our size. You will be surprised at how well we can overcome those who threaten our existence. We can take care of ourselves. We do not need to be part of any army.”

Bockwimen found similar sentiments among many of the fungi-based clans. They had never felt the need to rely on larger magicians before and none seemed to understand how devastating the troubled ones would be without some form of protection. He knew Queen Apa’ii would protect as many as she could, but her magic was already stretched and even she was subject to the whims and movement of the magnetic waves.

Determined, he continued to search for those who could do more than defend their own communities. Bockwimen did not know how many troubled ones there might be, but the force with which they were making their way up through the crust told him the number would be several times more than their first attack. If only 600 could kill over 8,000 magic souls, thousands had the potential to wipe out entire clans, possibly whole races of magic souls.

As he searched, he came across a village of Aesir led by Lezard. The Aesir had settled in the northern lake region after Odin died and the Valkyries were exiled. Their status as immortals had made them fierce warriors in the ancient wars but now, after many thousands of seasons, they were more domesticated, taken to farming and metalcraft. Bockwimen was not sure what kind of reception he would receive. The Aesir were not under the authority of Queen Apa’ii or any other realm, and since there had not been great wars to fight there had not been any occasion to ask anything of them. While they had never been adversarial or ill-disposed in any way, neither had they done anything to include themselves with the larger magic community.

The ground shook ferociously as Bockwimen approached Lezard’s lodging hut. The Aesir leader met him at the door, the bastard sword in his hand gleaming from having been freshly polished. “By Odin’s ghost, please tell me what is causing this tremor in the ground,” he said. “My instincts say we are under attack but I cannot tell if it is from the realm of men or of gods.”

“Neither,” Bockwimen said. “They are troubled ones, the offspring of Perses, long-time makers of mischief, now angered and looking for revenge after Dasheng Sen drowned their leader. Days ago they drained the entire Colorado River system in the West, capturing or killing thousands of souls. Now, they seem intent on doing the same to these lakes. I’m sure you can appreciate the severity of the consequences of such action.”

Lezard swung his sword through the air creating both light and music as he did. The song was a call to his fellow Aesir who began to gather around the hut. Each came clad in heavy armor, gold in color but of a denser metal that would not give under attack. Their weapons gleamed in the light and as they joined, they too, began swimming their swords, creating music in harmony until the forest was filled with the song of their call to arms. Through the trees and across the valleys of the most northern lakes, the song echoed and as it echoed the song grew in strength. The lakes magnified the sound until every living soul, animal or magical, scattered across the northern lakes, heard the song and understood its meaning. 

Bockwimen stood watching the scene in front of him with amazement. The light shining off the swords was blinding. The song was beautiful but deafening. He looked at Lezard and watched for any sign of where this was leading. The Aesir’s expression did not change. Only after several minutes, when the song was thoroughly complete, did he slow his sword and those around him did the same. Gently, as though it had been a morning hymn, the music faded. Lezard then looked at Bockwimen and said, “We are at your worthy disposal. Command us and we will go.”

“There are those around the lakes,” Bockwimen said, “whose lives are lowest to the ground and either unable or unwilling to retreat. They have limited magic but nothing strong enough to prevent them from being squashed by the massive weight of the troubled ones. This is an enemy made of rock and pitch. Little deters them until it reaches between the joints of their stone. There they are vulnerable. They will not stop until they are dismantled. They do not care who or what they hurt. They were created for chaos and now they are angered against all magical realms.”

“Our numbers are in the hundreds of thousands,” said Lezard. “This time of quiet has been pleasant and we have grown in number. So long as the gods’ blessing stands, we will protect and defend you.”

“On behalf of Queen Apa’ii and all Nawa’ Diyo, we thank you,” Bockwimen said. “If we may ever do anything to repay your kindness, we shall do so with haste.”

Lezard smiled. “We have been waiting for this day. It is not in the nature of the universe to go too long without conflict. After all, it was out of violence these worlds were born. Unrest is designed into the core not only of those who breathe but the planets and stars themselves. This battle was inevitable. You owe us nothing. We have trained our young as well as we can. This experience will teach them even more. We fight so that those who are righteous and honorable may live.”

Bockwimen bowed deeply in gratitude. “Thank you,” he said. “Know that you do not fight alone. Elven clans are being assembled and dwarves are arming any who can pick up a weapon. We fight together in the service of all.”

Along the lakes, hiding carefully from enemies real and imagined, the Ondines and Naeads coordinated their defenses. They did not expect any assistance from the Nawa’ Diyo or any other magical source. The Naeads had insisted on sending word to Dasheng Sen, but if the water queen was inclined to reply or offer any form of assistance she was being slow in letting anyone know her intentions.

Murj and Kuhr spoke for the Ondines as they planned with Krênaiai and Limnades of the Naeads. Each was wary of the other but as the earth shook their concern and worry encouraged them to work together.

“We have little to protect ourselves,” Kuhr said.. “We can hold invisible for a while, but if they take the water then the source of our magic is gone.”

“Then we cannot let them have all the water,” said Krênaiai. “None of us live long without it and our water-bound friends are more at risk than we are. Our duty as Hantu Air is to protect them as we would ourselves. We dare not let them fall to the troubled ones.”

“We can teach you spells quickly enough,” added Limnades. “Because you have not needed great magic does not mean you don’t have great magic. You are twice our size for a reason.”

“We appreciate the information and will spread it quickly among our clan,” Murj said. “How do we preserve the water, though? If the troubled ones come up from the earth can we plug up the holes again?”

“We can try,” Krênaiai said. “With help from those who live in the water, the moment they begin to break through we can fill the holes with stones and mud. It will not hold them long, though. We must divert the water where we can and the souls who live there along with it.”

“The waters for these lakes are sourced from the great ice to the North, are they not?” Murj asked. “Can we change the course of that flow, create perhaps new pools where the troubled ones are not looking?”

“Do we have enough time for such an undertaking?” Kuhr asked. “Changing the flow of the water means changing lives for more than those who live in the lakes.”

Krênaiai bit her lower lip before answering. “With some help and a lot of magic it may be possible,” she said. “We can ask the Pegaeae and the Potameides for their help.”

“Do we dare ask the Hydriads?” Murj questioned. “They have not always been the friendliest souls to hang around.”

“I think the opportunity for chaos to meet chaos is something the Hydriads might relish,” Limnades said. “We can be sure the shaking has already put them on alert. They have never been slow to respond to a challenge. I’m sure the Pageae are also on guard. They live deep in the water and surely felt the ground shake before the rest of us. We are far from being alone in this battle.”

“If we are to save our like souls, those water-born who cannot flee on their own, we must act quickly,” Murj said. “We feel the earth pounding beneath us. The troubled ones will breakthrough soon. Time is not our ally.”

“There are so many lakes and so many souls,” Kuhr worried.

“There are millions of Hantu Air in these waters,” said Krênaiai. “Some with sufficient power to take care of themselves. The troubled ones are not catching us off our guard. We will all fight and we will guard each other. Those demons of Perses have no idea what the strength of their enemy is. We will show them and they will regret coming close to our waters.”

“We must hurry, though,” Limnades said. “There is much magic to be done and our prolonged conversation only delays our actions. Let’s get started.”

Arviss and his brothers moved swiftly among the souls of the lake regions despite their tunnels not being safe from the troubled ones. The dwarves were more sensitive to the earthquakes caused by the troubled ones moving upward and used that to block their tunnels from being easily discovered and usurped by the demonic tribe. Across the land, they gave swords, spiked cudgels, crossbows, and hooked spears. Each was designed especially for battle with the troubled ones, filled with magic to not only inflict harm but to guard against its attacks. To the smaller clans, they gave magical knives with blades long enough to inflict great damage without needing a lot of weight. Their hilts were carefully balanced to allow for the small size of the magicians and their limited experience. The grips were soft as suede, woven from the leaves of four species of trees. The pomme was large enough to keep small hands from slipping but not so big or overly ornate as to make the long knives too heavy. Crossguards were broad to protect two-handed thrusts. Fullers were slightly raised and barbed so that the removal would pull away the pitch that held the troubled one’s together. The blades’ edges were magically sharpened, giving them the ability to cut particles of dust as they sliced through the air. Foibles were slightly curved, increasing the amount of damage they were capable of producing. This gave the smallest of souls the ability to seriously wound and, in concert, disassembled the beasts completely.

Bockwimen and Kuveni worked quickly with the small clans, teaching them to attack as teams in ways that would be most effective. Removing heads was given priority, though no one was all that certain whether a headless troubled one could still pose danger. Kuveni’s sword skills were impressive and her lessons had the tiny magicians anxious to show off what they were capable of achieving.

Broadswords given to Gui and others of sufficient size were carefully detailed with elaborate backguards, knuckle bows, and loop guards for both practical and magical effects. Each blade was worthy of legend, their steel honed to find evil and protect innocence. These swords would gleam brightly in battle, giving the appearance that there were more than there were. As battlefields inevitably became dark in the heat of war, the swords would also help magicians find each other to coordinate attacks and deliver greater blows against the troubled ones.

The shaking of the earth grew more violent as the troubled ones grew closer. Trees reached their roots deep and wrapped them around stones so they would not topple from the heaving ground around them. Animals ran for the shelter of caves and deep burrows away from the lakes. Birds left, following their migratory routes while the scavengers chose their points of observation.

Meliae arrived with only minutes to spare, her clan armed not only with the magic of the air but with them came a considerable consort of Djinn to protect them from any interference. With their arrival, the skies began to grow dark as winds began to grow to levels normally not employed outside of tornadoes. Clouds of dirt and debris began to swirl around the surface of the lakes, sending plumes into the air that looked as though the entire country were on fire.

Bockwimen, whose watchful eye was not missing a detail, saw what the Hantu Air were doing as they blocked the streams flowing into the lakes, creating temporary pools to hold those who were water-bound. He sent silent messages to the Nawa’ Diyo clans reminding them of the truce and permitting them to offer aid and assistance if such was needed.

Waves on the lakes heaved with the thrust of the troubled ones as they came near. Hundreds of legions of elvish clans filled the forest with such capacity the other magicians had difficulty finding a place to stand. Freyer stood alongside Gui, his quiver full of arrows that would catch fire as they flew through the air, his great bow powerful enough to pierce the densest stone.

To the human observer, it would appear that the Nawa’ Diyo was ready with an overwhelming force that would quickly dispense of the troubled ones and send them scurrying back underground to the depths of the mantle. Bockwimen knew better than to trust appearances. The troubled ones were not under a single lake, but all of them. How many they had under each lake was an unknown factor that represented great danger. He also knew that if they broke through the lakes and found no water souls there that anger would follow.

They waited, feeling the tension of each thump, watching the water move as though it were sloshing around in a shallow bowl. Late afternoon saw the sun casting long shadows toward the East when the first punch above the crust occurred. A shattering blow opened holes in the bottom of each lake with such force that the percussion caused the Nawa’ Diyo to fall back. The blast was followed with the whirling sound of water rushing into the holes in the lake beds as thousands of gallons of water retreated below the surface.

The troubled ones waited for the thousands of water souls to be dragged by the current into their waiting hands. The torrent of cold water spilling over them would have knocked back any other magical being but the stone creatures didn’t move. They had a mission. This was their revenge. 

To their astonishment, all the troubled ones got was water. Even the fish, some of whom had lived in the lakes since the water first thawed, great legends among generations of fishermen, had been hidden in the forest. All that remained was the water and the Echidnymphs, eel-like souls descended from ancient sea gods that possessed the ability to create an electric charge from the flowing water. Falling through the lake beds into the arms of the new baffled troubled ones, they delivered such a strong charge as to solidify the pitch, causing all those nearest the openings to become still, unable to move at all. As the Echidnymphs passed through layer after layer, they easily escaped through hands unable to close around them, until they eventually slithered into the deepest pools underground, guarding the water until it could be summoned back to the surface.

In the pause that occurred while Carpinus attempted to regroup and free his demon hoard from the Echidnymphs’ spell, the Ondine and Naeads used their combined magic to fill the holes in the lakes with mud and rocks. Bockwimen and other Nawa’ Diyo watched, wondering if their fear had possibly been misplaced. Could the troubled ones be so easily defeated and held captive underground? The scout began to wonder if he had sounded the alarm for nothing.

The mud and rocks did not hold the troubled ones for long. Deep in the crust, Carpinus roared his instructions. Where they had broken through once, they would break through again, climbing over those forced still if necessary. They would climb into the muddy, silted bottoms of the lakes and devour every magic soul they could find. The anger Carpinus felt was stoked in each of the demons and they forced their way upward again, shaking the ground with such strength that trees leaned on each other to avoid falling over.

The troubled ones came up through the hastily patched holes faster than the Ondines and Naeads expected. The Naeads had taught the Ondine many spells that were easily powerful enough to repel humans but did little more to the troubled ones than give them something to swat. The light from the magic made the magicians easy to spot. As many retreated toward the shoreline, the troubled ones snatched up those closest to them, ripping them in half before stomping their remains into the muddy bottoms of the lake.

Seeing what was happening, Meliae moved her clan forward over the empty lake beds with strong winds that stopped the troubled ones from moving forward, making it difficult to stand in the wet mud. The winds were pulled off the nearby arctic snows that had yet to thaw. Freezing air was a painful contrast to the heat of the mantle. Moving became difficult. Adding insult on top of injury, the Djinn scooped up the cold mud and flung it into the faces of the beasts, blinding them.

“Crawl to dryer ground,” Carpinus ordered. Immediately, the troubled ones fell to their hands and knees, making it easier for them to move against the strong winds. Even with mud in their eyes, the demons moved forward, correctly assuming that as long as they were facing head into the wind that they were moving toward the shore. 

There was little more Meliae could do to stop the army that continued to come up through the lake bed in what seemed to be never-ending legions. The air was too cold and the ground too close to liquid to create storms with any power to lift the brutes into the air. Harder, they came with forecful rain and wind but were only able to slow, not stop, the troubled ones.

The water souls fled the banks and found welcome solace in the Nawa’ Diyo’s great armed walls of warriors. The Ondines and Naeads were allowed to pass through to the pools unharmed. Once they were safe, a protection spell was placed over the pools making them invisible. They were not without loss. Uhndeyt was among those ripped in half. Across the many lakes, more than 3,000 had met similar fates. Many of the Naeads had slipped in the mud and were dismembered there by the troubled ones, their screams piercing the forest. More than a few of the water souls wondered aloud why Dasheng Sen had not sent help.

The troubled ones reached the lakeshores and quickly felt the defenses of the Nawa’ Diyo. Flaming arrows filled the darkening sky, finding their targets and piercing through the pitch and stone. The troubled ones’ front lines fell back into the mud, not dead but unable to get up as the other demons climbed over them to get to dry land. With each injury the demons roared, creating a cacophony across the lakes. Each roar filled those behind them with more anger and determination. They rose from beneath the surface by the hundreds, staying low to avoid the winds, climbing over each other, wave after angry wave as they pushed into the forests. Apa’ii was true to her word and covered the communities along the shoreline with protective spells. Too quickly, though, the barbarous monsters found ways around the protective domes. They cared little for the small magicians, focusing more on the elves whose arrows fell on them without pause and those with dwarf-made swords, cutting into their pitch and dismantling limbs.

As brave and fierce as the Nawa’ Diyo were, the battle was punishing and demanding. The combined energy of hundreds of thousands of beasts stomping on the forest floor caused the magnetic waves to ripple. Magic proved unstable, leaving warriors to wonder whether their thrusts would prove true each time they raised their swords. While the smaller magicians were effective in popping heads off the troubled ones, other demons following behind would catch and crush the little ones before they had a chance to regroup on a new target. With each stomp, more souls fell.

Bockwimen flew to Kuveni. “We need more magic!” he yelled above the noise. “Have you seen any sign of Pockwatch or your kin?”

“They are not far,” she shouted back. “And they come with many others, well-armed and fresh for the battle.”

Bockwimen nodded and flew higher to get a better view of the battle below him. Those around the heavily populated southern lakes were managing to hold the troubled ones at bay, though they were finding that the demons too quickly adapted to their magic. What caused one wave to fall was overcome by those behind them. The souls in the most northern lakes were having more difficulty. Their magic too often faltered or gave out completely and as it did the troubled ones were quick to take advantage and crush souls. The ground was covered with the cores of souls ripped in half, their weapons shattered beside them.

Bockwimen search for Lezard, the darkness making it difficult at times to tell one magician from another. He found the warrior at the edge of a lake decapitating troubled ones as they attempted to stand against the wind. “We need more Aesirs to the North!” Bockwimen told Lezard. “The communities there are struggling and many have already fallen.”

“We will do what we can,” Lezard answered, “but even our strength has its limits. Fighting those brutes takes as much effort as battling the gods. Where one falls, two more seem to rise. If we leave here, it will shift the balance of magic and not in a helpful direction.”

Bockwimen pressed. “Even one company of Aesir in the North can help save many souls.”

Lezard turned quickly and thrust his sword into an approaching troubled one, dismantling it in the middle. “Take a legion,” he said. “They can cover a hundred of the smaller lakes.”

Bockwimen thanked the warrior as he barely escaped the grasp of another troubled one. Flying North with the legion of Aesir, he saw Pockwatch arriving not only with the Yakshimi and Mogawi warriors but thousands of Dokkaebi, Gumiho, and Aqrabuamelu. The Yakshimi spread across the North and Middle regions, with Malini baffling the troubled ones with her ability to stop whatever magic they might try to use. The Magawi quickly enough found Gui and his clan in the middle region and redoubled their attack with ferociousness, daring to climb onto the troubled ones and use their swords to strip away the pitch holding the beasts together.

Bockwimen had never observed the Dokkaebi in battle before. Their armor was bright and colorful, strong enough to stand out in the smoke-filled darkness of the battle. Their blocky, square-shaped cores were dense enough to withstand blows from the troubled ones and their spiked swords were especially deadly. Within moments of their arrival, they had carved out an area of reprieve from the constant attacks.

Gumiho invaded along the ground where the troubled ones were pushing forward at an alarming rate. The shapeshifters confounded the demons by changing their form from animal to elven to human, making it difficult to be caught as they inflicted damage on the ranks of the horrible army.

Likewise, the troubled ones had never encountered a magical race like the Aqrabuamelu. Half scorpion, half man-like, they fought with both the deadly sting of their tails and the magical swords in their hands.

Pockwatch joined Bockwimen from his high point of observation. “This is a strong defense,” he said. “Though the battle is fierce, the troubled ones are not finding us as easy an opponent as they might have expected.”

“I’m not sure anything has been as expected,” Bockwimen said. “The troubled ones have been surprised at every turn and our warriors have been relentless in their attack. I worry, though, that the magic is too often failing them and they are quickly tiring. It has been too many seasons since we’ve faced battle like this. Our endurance runs thin and there is no opportunity for rest. The troubled ones adapt too quickly and we must change our tactics repeatedly to keep them off guard.”

“Perhaps this fresh wave of magic will turn the battle in our favor,” Pockwatch said. “I was surprised by how eager they were to engage in the war.”

“Our souls have a great spirit to them,” Bockwimen said. “Even the smallest have fought valiantly and thousands have already given their lives. We cannot let up our offense, though. Anywhere the magic wanes, every time the arrows fall flat or the swords fail to pierce, the demons move forward, deeper into the forest. And still, more arrive from earth’s depths. Their numbers are far greater than we knew.”

The two counselors were suddenly knocked back by a passing force they had not anticipated or knew much about as a squadron of the human military’s latest multi-billion-dollar jets arrived over the area. Within seconds, there were more. From the counselors’ perspective, this was a new enemy.

Meliae rushed to Bockwimen and asked, “Who invited the humans to this fight? They are a nuisance and are disruptive to our magic!”

“They were not invited at all,” Bockwimen said, “Perhaps we should have expected them. A disruption of this size would not escape their attention.”

“Their communication system overpowers our magic,” Meliae warned. “If they get in our way we’re going to have trouble keeping up any force of wind.”

Bockwimen looked around desperately. There were plenty of souls who could fly as high and as fast as the aircraft, but none of them were large enough to force them to leave. He quickly sent a message to Apa’ii, asking if she had enough magic to stop the humans.

Captain Ronald “Salt” Grouper looked at the situation below him, not sure exactly what he was seeing. There appeared to be something going on that involved a lot of smoke and the winds they were facing were the strongest he ever encountered. “Control, are you sure there’s no other military exercise of any kind going on up here?” Salt asked. “From what little I can see, this has all the markings of some elaborate war games.”

There was a short pause before the response came back, “Confirm, neither country has any kind of military activity going on in that region. Can you dip down and get a closer look?”

“We can try,” Salt replied. “We’re facing some significant winds up here, though. We’re going to burn through fuel pretty fast if we get below 10,000 feet.”

“Acknowledged,” came the response. “We need visual verification of what’s going on. The storms make the satellite images useless. Take a flight and see if you can snap some polaroids.”

Salt laughed. “Control, your age is showing. Two-thirds of these jockeys don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. I’ll pass as low as we dare and see what we can come up with.”

Few of the magicians on the ground had been aware of the aircraft overhead. Fighting the troubled ones took all the focus and energy any of them had. When Salt’s flight passed just over the treetops, everyone below was caught by surprise. The Nawa’ Diyo was familiar with airplanes, having a history of often tampering with them on the ground when the humans were having their ill-conceived wars. The troubled ones were not so well versed in the humans’ machines and assumed that they, too, were magicians. Hundreds attempted to swat at the planes as they passed but the fighters remained well out of reach.

“Control, someone has to be lying to someone,” Salt said. “Sending infa-red pictures now. No question, these are military ops and it looks like someone has been hiding a whole bunch of fighting robots. We’re talking thousands of them, probably 20 to 30 feet tall. Please advise.”

The close pass angered Bockwimen. The battle was difficult enough without the humans interfering. He quickly called Kuveni and Lezard to his side. “We have to do something about the humans,” he told them. “There aren’t a long of them, only about a hundred, but they’re going to cause problems. What can we throw at them?”

“Malini and her clan,” Kuveni suggested. “Their magic is strong enough to cause them trouble, disrupt their weapons, perhaps.”

“If we divert her attention, though, the troubles ones are going to advance,” Bockwimen said. “We need them countering the dark magic more than messing with planes.”

“Then perhaps the Dexavians would be more appropriate,” Lezard said. “They’ve been frustrated trying to use their weapons against the troubled ones and, to the humans, they appear as falcons. They’ll be able to get close, use their magic, and keep the planes from interfering.”

Bockwimen agreed. The Dexavian clan wasn’t large, about a thousand souls total, but they would be enough to at least distract the humans for now.

The photos Salt sent back were quickly distributed across every layer of command in both the US and Canada. The consensus among the top brass was that Russia was likely responsible for deploying thousands of robots equipped with artificial intelligence. How they had done so was an argument that would be on-going for years. What mattered at the moment was that they were stopped. Decisions were made too quickly without sufficient information. Orders to eliminate the “robots” and any supporting forced were sent back to the fighters who immediately began to circle back over the lakes region.

Salt took the 27th fighter squadron and targeted the area they knew as Minnesota and Wisconsin. The 94th would cross the border into Ontario while the 112th and the 119th would assist Canada’s 401st, 409th, and 419th squadrons over Quebec, up into the Hudson Bay region.

The Dexavians left the near-ground battle and took to the sky. Spread out over such a large area, they flew in pairs looking for the military aircraft. They would not be able to pose a physical threat to the planes but would use magic to disrupt the plane’s operational systems as much as possible. The bird-like souls were fast but could not match the super-sonic speed of the planes. When they spotted the squadrons below them, keeping up was a challenge. Getting close enough to cast any magic was a matter of luck and timing.

Salt never saw the Dexavians in the darkness. His orders were clear and as he brought the squadron around for a third pass, his only focus was on what he assumed were enemy robots. Had he known they were sentient beings perhaps they would have made different decisions and chosen a different course, but that was not within the scope of human imagination. All focus and planning for the past 60 years had been on thwarting a Russian invasion. While artificially intelligent robots had not been high on the list of possible attack methods, it had been considered and there was a plan. Targeting systems were locked on the biggest of the creatures. Even as the Dexavians used all the magic they had, the effect seemed null as the fighters released their missiles.

There was no way Salt or any of the other pilots could have known the full effects of their weapons. From the cockpit, it appeared as though most the missiles struck their targets, some taking out multiple targets at a time. Success, 

For the Nawa’ Diyo, the experience was different and far more deadly. Not only was the percussion of the explosions strong enough to injure any magical soul nearby, dismantling the troubled ones resulted in hundreds of thousands of pieces of stone shrapnel ripping through the cores of the unsuspecting magicians. Bodies fell by the hundreds. The missiles that missed their target landed directly on ground fighters, killing thousands.

Bockwimen panicked. He hadn’t observed human weapons used against live targets in several seasons and was shocked by the severity of their destructive power. He knew the average Nawa’ Diyo wouldn’t have nearly enough magic to defend themselves. They were going to need a lot of help and they were going to need it before the planes had a chance to make another pass.

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