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Chapter 26 | Chapter 27 | Chapter 28

Chapter 26

Chapter 26

Skies around the world burned red as Belinda laughed at all she saw taking place below her. 

While the sylphid spirits were angry over the loss of so many air souls, they were also among the most patient of magicians. They did not mind waiting so that when they did act, whatever they did would have a tremendous impact. The demand for retaliation was an eventual matter, one that would be carefully planned and choreographed for maximum effect. 

None of the sylphids were impetuous enough to go against anything Belinda might propose. She had led them wisely across thousands of seasons, tolerated the treatment of some as regional gods without any jealousy, and promoted a sense of unity across the skies, something that had never fully developed in the other magical realms. In the air, all it took was a glance from the queen for the spirits to know what she wished. There was no need for a council or group of advisors. Unity had been the de facto standard for so long that even the brief re-appearance of the exiled Valkyries did not upset anyone. They all understood what was at stake. If Belinda chose to release the ancient warriors of the sky, no one was going to argue.

Sylphids were different from land and water souls in many ways. Not only were they a singular clan with many varying personalities, but they were also largely invisible to humans. Occasionally, especially if one was feeling playful, they might leave their impression in a cloud, but that was never something that revealed them to the mortals on the ground. Only when they gave inspiration to artists was there ever any concept among humans that sylphids existed. This made it far easier for the magical souls to inflict punishment on the humans without fear of any retaliation.

Human industrialization had been a plague on the sylphids as it not only made the air impossible to breathe but difficult to fly. Coal ash filling the skies around large cities forced sylphids to change how they maneuvered through those skies. As coal gave way to other chemicals, sylphids were forced to create weather deserts, isolating the effects of the chemicals to avoid making the entire planet uninhabitable. 

Belinda admitted that their magic had little effect upon the relentless manufacturing by humans. Going to war was the only option left if life of any kind was going to survive. There was no argument. Only a question of where and how they were going to act.

Amun and Shu were among the oldest sylphids in the air, having been given possession of the skies long before there was any land beneath them. Many ancient artists had tried to recreate their likenesses as both were given to providing ample creative inspiration but human minds found it difficult to understand the two thought centers protruding from Amun’s head or the feathered mane that made Shu so distinctive. After hundreds of seasons, they finally abandoned their effort, deciding that humans would never be creative enough to adequately capture their essence. 

As a result, they tended to fly across the arid portions of the earth stirring up dust and rain beneath them and withholding rain so to keep humans from settling as heavily in those areas as they did others. While humans eventually figured out methods of irrigation that allowed them to live in such inhospitable climates, the two would-be deities were unrelenting, effectively blocking human development and industry. As a result, the air in their favorite places was cleaner and easier for sylphids to live.

The two watched with Belinda as the new landmass rose from the ocean and shared in her laughter. “This will give Dasheng Sen something to worry about,” Amun said. “She never did like the continents rising up the way they did. Apa’ii was sly with such an offensive move.”

“Yes, she was,” Belinda agreed. “We can use her move to power changes in airflow across the entire planet. How would you two feel about giving a chill to those winds you enjoy? Nothing too severe, mind you. We want to hold back on snow and ice as more severe tactics, but drop their temperatures enough so that their attempts at crop growing fail.”

“Ooh, I’ve not done a good hail storm in a long time,” Shu said. “What fun it would be to send them running for shelter and then destroying the shelter.”

“Then leave them shivering outside in the cold? I like that idea,” Amun said.

Belinda laughed. “Get to it, then. Just remember to mop up the water. Dasheng Sen doesn’t need much of a puddle for her to summon her magic. Make sure we stay in control.”

As the two ancient sylphids flew off to torture the struggling humans of the southern continents, Taku Skan Skan appeared at Belinda’s side. “I’m sensing some great change in how you direct the wind,” she said. “I’ve not seen sylphids having this much fun in many seasons.”

“I see no reason to not enjoy some chaos for a while,” Belinda said. “Apa’ii’s new landmass almost demands that we shake things up a bit. That doing so gives us an advantage over both the Hantu Air and the humans is a nice bonus. This tends to be the season for you to create some trouble anyway. I have no problem with you stretching out, flexing your muscles a bit, showing off how strong you are. Move things around. Go cold where it’s hot, hot, where it’s cold, and knock things down with your wind. This is not the time to hold back.”

Taku smiled, “What of those dear animal souls who are breeding? They are not our enemy.”

“No, they are not,” Belinda agreed, “but their protection is not our responsibility. Send someone to Apa’ii’s court. Let them know a little extra effort is necessary to protect the innocents. I’m sure she’ll understand.”

Such were the conversations of the air queen for the next several hours. As soon as one delighted sylphid flew off, another appeared in their place. Belinda had not seen this much interest in creating chaos in several thousand seasons.

Sky magic did not always happen as quickly as it does in other realms. While creating wind out of nothing came easily enough, generating storms required accumulation of energy that took some time to gather. Magnetic gaps made it difficult to create a system that could flow from one end of a continent to the next without having to pause and gather additional strength for the effort. The result of these gaps still worked in their favor. Human forecasters would think that a storm had lost its power, calling off alerts and warnings for humans to take shelter. When the storms would suddenly resume, often with hair and winds strong enough to knock a person off their feet, the reprise would send humans running for cover, causing the sylphids to laugh at their ridiculous antics.

Below them, the Nawa’ Diyo proved most cooperative. Meliae brought millions of small nymphs to help as their ability to draw energy from the ground made the storms stronger. Dawádetgit was not the only one of Meliae’s clan who could construct storms for herself and the numbers of magic souls given to creating and powering storms that would rake across the continents were unlike any weather event in human’s recorded history.

No matter where in the world one looked, there was a storm. In the deserts, the winds fed massive sand storms that buried small villages and changed the landscape in larger cities. Across the many mountains, straight winds blew across rocks and crags with such force that avalanches were loosed on unsuspecting mountain towns. Landslides took out large sections of roads leaving humans stranded. Tornadoes of unprecedented size were preceded with hailstones flung at the earth with such force that they were as destructive as cannonballs. Tornadoes were larger than any meteorological scale was equipped to measure, destroying the tallest human buildings and leaving massive trenches of rubble and dirt in their wake.

Most importantly, the sylphids followed the storms with strong humid winds that evaporated the water that had fallen as rain during the storms. This was one of the strongest weapons the sylphids had against the Hantu Air. While Dasheng Sen could control all the water on the surface of the earth, she could not control what moisture was in the air. Air spirits could dump lethal amounts of rain on the humans and before any of the water spirits had a chance to work their magic the water was gone, leaving only dried stains behind.

Belinda knew that Dasheng Sen looked at evaporation as stealing. Under previous treaties between the realms, there were prescribed measures as to how quickly water could be transferred for use as rain. Such details were worked out in the earliest days of earth’s evolution. This marked the first time Belinda ordered those treaties broken. They would quickly take back every drop of rain that fell from the sky. As a result, the wair was often so heavy with moisture that humans found it difficult to breathe, slowing their ability to recover from the storms. This pleased both Belinda and Apa’ii as it effectively struck at both their primary enemies at the same time.

Storms did not only rage across the land, though. While Meliae’s clan might have to stop at the ocean’s shore, the sylphids did not. Their winds whipped up waves that kept water spirits struggling to keep their bearings. Here, the battle raged with its greatest anger. Lightning targeted whole communities of water spirits. A direct strike could kill dozens of magical souls. Lightning hitting the top of the water spread out for leagues, rendering the magic of the Hantu Air useless, their spells ineffective.

Dasheng Sen responded with waves of her own, creating negative energy that could trap low-flying sylphids, causing them to drown. The queen’s anger turned ocean waters a deep green and cast a yellow hue on the foam. What restraint had initially been shown to coastal areas was now gone. Hurricanes of Dasheng’s making challenged Belinda for air space over the waters. Tsunamis battered coastal cities with power the Nawa’ Diyo was not prepared to contain. 

The sun rose and set over earth’s horizon four times as the battle raged relentlessly but hardly anyone noticed the days passing. Skies heavy with war clouds were dark as night. The human power grid was shut down the second day of the battle, leaving only wildfires and the frequent charge of magic spells as the only means of illumination.

Bockwimen tried to keep up with all the battles, enlisting Pausnuck to help keep track of where the strongest fights were taking place and making sure there was sufficient protection for magical communities. Ha’alulu’s bubbles protected many from the effects of the storms. Camouflage proved to be of little use, however, when river spirits used the storms as an excuse to leave their beds and flood low-lying plains. Communities that could be quickly relocated to higher ground were moved. Not all magic souls fly, though, and many smaller earth-bound clans were wiped out, unable to create magic strong enough to save themselves.

The battle might have gone on longer had the fierceness of the combined magic not caused the magnetic waves to shift yet again. As they did, magic unexpectedly stopped working. Storms diminished in strength. Waves fell to barely more than a strong surf. Protective spells were ineffective. 

Had humans not been so preoccupied with all the destruction around them, they might have noticed that brief moment when only the sylphids remained invisible. Apa’ii adapted quickly to the shift, protecting magicians in the most heavily populated areas, but it quickly became evident to all three queens that a truce was necessary.

Pockwatch carried the message for the Nawa’Diyo, Merric for the Hantu Air, and Amun for the sylphids. They met in a clearing at the edge of an isle off the coast of the Meditteranean Ocean. Each regarded the other with suspicion. Despite the cooperation between their realms, Amun was unaccustomed to dealing with Nawa’ Diyo and looked on Pockwatch as something of a disfigurement of magical nature. He and Merric had clashed before in ancient wars and took care to prepare themselves with defensive spells should they become necessary.

“Our souls need a break,” Pockwatch said firmly, “if for no other reason than to mourn our dead.”

Merric, looming tall as he stood in the water, said, “We are prepared to offer a truce so long as waters and those who live in them are allowed to flow freely.”

“The same for the winds,” Amun said. “Change in the poles means we have to adjust. Our old routes are no longer open to us.”

Pockwatch sighed. “I fear greater harm has been done than we realize. Magic is weak. Our souls are weak. Our efforts would be better used to address the magnetic issue rather than killing each other. We caused this shift, not the humans. We slowly commit suicide if we allow this to continue.”

Amun and Merric exchanged a knowing glance. “We have been here before,” Amun said, “in the days before humans, when the land was all one. Queen Apa’ii remembers I’m sure. The earth does not respond well when we fight each other. It will take great effort to bring the magic back now.”

“Our queens still seethe with anger,” Merric said. “Dasheng Sen has given us no choice but to fight or face her wrath. Some are willing, but most would rather find other ways to address our differences. I am only authorized to offer a truce, though, not peace. I cannot tell you that Hantu Air will rest for long.”

“If we must fight, we must consider the consequences of our tactics,” Amun said. “I fear two things. If the magic grows weaker, our souls begin to die without any effort on our part. The other is that the universe itself might intervene as it did in the time of the great beasts. Millions of souls were lost when those meteors struck.”

“And some still believe it is only because of those meteors that humans were able to evolve and thrive,” Merric added. “We would be foolish to incur wrath like that again.”

“But will our queens listen to such counsel?” Pockwatch asked. “They surely have not forgotten the ancient wars. Why do they put us at such risk now?”

“Careful, little one,” Amun warned. “Their ears are never that far away and are never closed. Let us take back this truce and counsel to our queens before our conversation wanders into the territory of treason. The battle was fun for a moment but we cannot sustain this damage we are committing. Even a slight shift in the poles now and we may damage life on this planet for eternity, starting with our own.”

Merric reached out a webbed hand and said, “You have our promise of a truce as long as waters flow free.”

Amun stretched out his long arm to put his hand on Merric’s. “As long as the wind is allowed to blow,” he said.

Pockwatch placed his hand on top of the others. “As long as our shores and souls remain unfettered.”

The three nodded to each other then quickly disappeared back to their realms. Pockwatch hurried back toward the home tree, anxious to deliver the news. He was surprised when Amun caught up with him as he crossed the land north of the Atlantic and asked him to stop.

“I sense in Merric’s voice some dissension among the water spirits,” he said. “Queen Dasheng Sen has always wanted to rule the earth for herself but freshwater spirits have never been convinced they can exist without the shallows provided by land. Let Apa’ii know that the waters may not be united. If we can divide, we can put an end to the destruction.”

Pockwatch smiled. “Queen Apa’ii takes your wisdom and counsel with great kindness. I will make your message a central part of my report.”

Amun nodded and disappeared again as Pockwatch continued back to the home tree. War was not as much fun as he had hoped. Magic was losing its power. He could only hope that Apa’ii would have a plan.

Chapter 27

Chapter 27

Nadia sat in a diner along state route 171 in Northeastern Pennsylvania looking out the window as she sipped on yet another cup of over-boiled coffee. She and her team had arrived in the region three days ago, hoping the storms would pass and they’d be able to hike into the forest in search of the new mountain that satellite photos now insisted was there where one hadn’t existed a week ago.

Nothing about this expedition met with normal scientific expectations. No one in any of the small towns admitted to feeling the slightest tremor. If the mountain was as large as the pictures indicated, there should have been considerable seismic shifting, enough to have knocked pictures off walls, broken a few windows, and perhaps knocked down older buildings. None of that had happened.

By her calculation, the top of the new mountain should have been visible in this area, but it wasn’t. Instead of searching for it, though, Nadia and her team had been holed up at the small hotel, the only one close, enduring what seemed like a never-ending storm. Power had gone out to the region hours after they arrived. The diner and the hospital were the only places with generators to keep them partially operational. The owner of the diner was kind in allowing the team to charge their laptops and cell phones there so that they could stay in contact with Brad back in the office, though the situation there was only more chaotic.

Nadia was excited to be leading her first field expedition. This was why she had endured so many years of taunts over geology not being a field for women and that she was too pretty to be playing with rocks. At first, she had begrudgingly put up with the distractions. “That’s just the way people are,” her grandmother had told her. “Even when you show them what you can do, all they will ever see is a woman, not a scientist.” This was her chance to prove her grandmother wrong.

Nadia had eventually taken to the courts as a means of pushing her way into the field that didn’t want her. She fought the system that would relegate her to secretarial work, challenging misogyny where it raised its head, reporting unwanted sexual advances on every level, and forcing changes in human resource policy and culture throughout the USGS system. There were still plenty of people in the office who hated her but Brad was, more often than not, an ally. This was a golden opportunity if only it would stop raining.

Andy Sperry, the team’s geochronologist, walked into the diner and tried to fit the long legs of his 6’ 7” frame under the table across the booth from Nadia. “The consensus from the rangers and the weather service is that its probably safe for us to hike in today and set up a base camp. The ranger I talked to, a Mark Fader, said he’d have maps with possible camp locations marked when we get there. They’ll all be within decent walking distance of a ranger station in case we get another monsoon like the one yesterday.” He paused and looked out the window then adjusted his classic black horn-rimmed glasses on his narrow face as though moving them around might help him see better.

“So, I was talking with Mary a while ago,” Andy said after a long moment of silence “She doesn’t think whatever we’re chasing is responsible for the weather we’re having. Even if a new mountain somehow suddenly rose out of nowhere, she says it wouldn’t impact the weather this severely.”

“Mary would know,” Nadia said softly, still looking out the window. A string of five trucks from the local electric utility rumbled down the street. A hint of sunshine began to break through the clouds.

“What time do you want to leave?” Andy asked. “Terri and Shania have all the equipment packed. I think we’re all a bit anxious to get started.”

Nadia broke her gaze with the window and looked at the smartwatch on her left wrist. The time was 6:58 AM. “Let’s try to roll out by 8:00,” she said. “Tell everyone to meet me here at 7:30 to go over some final details. I’d like to have a base secured by noon.”

“Sure thing, boss,” Andy said as he unfolded himself from the booth and headed back across the street to the hotel. 

Nadia returned her gaze to the window. She was paying special attention to how the clouds seemed to move around certain parts of the existing mountains instead of over them. As a specialist in metamorphic petrology, she understood how certain geophysical structures could cause exceptions in local weather patterns. The same pressure that had created these mountains millions of years ago, thrusting them upward from the then-soft ground, could affect the air pressure, redirecting weaker weather systems around structures, leaving valleys wet while the high peaks were more arid. Such changes in pressure were general, though, effecting a whole system. What Nadia was observing seemed more deliberate, as though individual clouds were being accepted or rejected as they approached the mountain. She was beginning to wish she had brought a climate scientist with them, but that likely would have required coordination with NOAA or possibly one of the universities and she wasn’t yet high enough on the USGS organizational chart to know exactly what was involved in obtaining those permissions.

As it was, Nadia felt good about the team she had assembled. In addition to Andy, who would help determine the age of anything they found, she had Mary Caulfield, an experienced geophysicist with plenty of field experience; Terri Quaker, a young geochemist excited at the prospect of possibly finding a new chemical construction; Shania Harbor, a geomorphologist whose quiet nature resulted in her repeatedly being overlooked for promotion despite the high quality of her work; Sally Tucker, a sedimentologist whose skin was worn brown and leathery from years of field study, and seismologist Warren Fishburn because Brad didn’t want Andy to be the only male on her team.

Of the group, only Warren hadn’t volunteered for this project. He was the oldest of the group at 63, with his mindset more toward retirement than discovering anything new. To make him more reluctant, his youngest daughter was pregnant with her third child and expected to deliver in six weeks or so. Warren hadn’t missed the births of his seven other grandchildren and let Nadia and Brad know that he would leave the field whenever he got the call that the baby was on its way.

Warren’s reluctance didn’t bother Nadia nearly as much as the lack of external evidence that any local geography had changed. Together, the team had interviewed over 200 of the town’s residents and none of them were aware of the slightest tremors. For a mountain the size of what was showing on the satellite photos to suddenly exist there would have to have been surface disruption throughout the region. There should be cracks in the ground. There should be measurable aftershocks. That none of those things existed not only bothered Nadia but most everyone on the team. 

The State Park Rangers questioned whether they were looking in the right area. A significant disruption would likely cause displacement among the animal population, which hadn’t happened. Neither had their seismograph registered any movement. Warren had checked their seismographic equipment and nothing appeared to be broken or out of place. 

The team would set up camp today then hike the forest for three days looking for anything that might explain the odd photographs, starting with the coordinates for what should be the base of the mountain. If they didn’t find anything, they’d have little choice but to pack up and go home, a week’s worth of time and thousands of dollars wasted.

As the team trickled into the diner, no one seemed too bothered at the moment by the abnormalities. They were more concerned with whether the ground might be too soft to secure their tents, the types of wildlife they might encounter (particularly bears with young cubs), and whether the latest round of budget cuts might lead to personnel reductions. Warren was the last to arrive, taking the furthest seat at an adjacent table.

“Are we ready to give this a shot?” Nadia asked, trying to sound more excited than she felt.

The team responded with mumbles of “sure,” and “finally,” none of which were energetic. Andy seemed to be the only one who was wide awake and ready to trek into the forest.

Nadia sighed. “I get it. There’s no evidence outside those damn photographs that anything has changed around here. I already have my report half-written in my head and I’m going to float to Brad the idea that NOAA reimburse us for this wild goose chase.”

The team nodded and muttered their agreement. Finding something new had sounded exciting but now that they were here their enthusiasm had all but disappeared.

“I did have a message from Brad this morning,” Nadia continued. “Of course, the satellites haven’t seen anything but cloud cover the past four days. He’s promised to send images from GOES-16 the moment they’re available. If they don’t corroborate last week’s images, we won’t bother leaving the ranger station. If they do, though, our job is to either find that mountain or explain why the most advanced satellite above the world is wrong. I’m sorry if this doesn’t turn out to be the great career booster we all wanted.”

“At least we’re out of that stuffy office,” Mary quipped. “This part of Pennsylvania is lovely this time of year.”

“Yeah, but it’s been studied to the point of exhaustion,” Sally said. “Penn had a team up here just last month. They reported some strange changes in bird migration patterns but that was it. There’s no point in unpacking equipment if we’re not going to find something new.”

Nadia’s cell phone was the first to ding with an alert. Everyone else’s phone responded the same seconds later. They looked at their phones then looked at each other. Brad had sent them all the latest satellite images. Not only did they still show the presence of a new mountain, it appeared that vegetation was already growing, something that should have been impossible.

“I guess we’re going for a walk in the forest,” Nadia said.

The lights in the diner flickered as the generator powered down and regular electric service was restored. The team was silent as they looked at each other, a wave of anxiety filling everyone except Warren.

“Well, let’s get started,” the older man said. “That mountain wants to play hide and seek. Let’s make this a short game.”

Chapter 28

Chapter 28

No one knew then and no one knows now the exact origins of the troubled ones. Since they had risen from the depths of the earth, the general presumption among magical souls that cared to ponder such things was that they were offspring of the ancient titan, Perses, after he had been cast into Tartarus. There was no question of their strength and the extent of their magic had never been tested as no one had previously desired to give them any reason to use it. Little tricks and bouts of mayhem were simple magic. Everyone knew they could do more.

Neither did anyone know how many of the troubled ones there might bein existence. Since they didn’t participate in the governance of any magic realm, there was no account for where they lived or in what number. Most of their activity seemed to originate from the high desert mountains of the North American continent but they had been known to mischievously pop up all over the world without warning. While they showed a preference for dry mountainous regions, they could as easily appear on the cliffs overlooking a seashore.

Such unpredictability from the large and brutish souls increased the danger they posed. They cared little for any of the magical realms or the souls who lived in them. They openly despised humans and routinely threw boulders and caused landslides in attempts to rid them from the places troubled ones preferred to reside. They did show deference for natural souls to the extent that they didn’t actively attack those who lived among them. They offered no help, either, and provided no warning when they chose to rearrange the landscape.

Now, as wind and rain came at their homes from every direction, the troubled ones looked for someone to step up as their leader. Wasnogai had ruled for thousands of seasons, more than the troubled ones cared to count. There was no system in place for choosing a successor. Making matters more difficult was that the strongest of them were among the 600 who were killed when storming the magicians’ council. 

As they gathered in the great hall deep inside a favored mountain, there was anxiety that couldn’t be seen on their emotionless faces. No one knew what means of election or determination might be offered. Many preferred a battle, choosing the strongest from among them. Others preferred an election of a wise and cunning leader; one who would not be fooled by Dasheng Sen or another magician.

When a voice finally rose above the grumbling, it was Ganodesh, a tall and well-known warrior, who address them. “My siblings,” they called, “We have need of a leader, one who can make right the wrongs committed against us. We need a warrior who is strong in battle and a cunning general who sees through deception to gain an advantage. I, Ganodesh, warrior of the ages, desires to be that leader!”

A roar rose from the group so strong that it caused the entire mountain to shake. For a moment, it seemed as though support for Ganodesh might be unanimous.

Then, as the roar began to ease, another warrior stood to address the crowd; one broader, filling the same space where ten others had stood, with many scars on their core. “I am Gagowaneh,” the massive one said. “It is well that Ganodesh is a mighty warrior but as I am also a warrior, I am the stronger magician. Not only can I lead us into battle, but I can also protect us as we fight so that we do not suffer the same fate as our comrades. I can lead us to victory!”

Another roar erupted, not so much in favor of Gagowaneh but more because there was now a contest to be decided among them. Calls of “Fight! Fight!” rose from the back of the crowd. The two candidates looked at each other, one tall and nimble, the other broad and forceful.

As it seemed the two were about to face off, a third voice, so deep and powerful that words shook beneath their feet, spoke above the noise. “Who among us is a more true child of the father than I?” one named Carpinus said. The crowd parted around him as he stepped forward. Unlike the others whose cores were primarily sand and limestone, Carpinus was marbled with granite which made his core and magic stronger. “Now is not the time we need showmen nor generals who act with haste. We have been deceived. We have been used, and we have had queens disregard us for too long. We are the offspring of gods! Today is the day we begin to take our rightful place as the conquerors of this planet! We will unseat the magic queens from their thrones and raise ourselves to the top of the mountains!” 

Carpinus’ hands stretched out as he spoke, his arms the size of tree trunks, and blasted magic at Ganodesh and Gagowaneh, sending both flying into nearby walls.

Ganodesh attempted to strike back with magic only to have Caprinus grab them by the arm and fling them through the air. Gagowaneh then tried to attack while Carpinus was occupied, rushing at the knees to catch them off balance. Instead, Carpinus delivered an uppercut just below the chin, sending the challenger sprawling across the floor, to the delight of those watching.

Ganodesh nodded at Gagowaneh and the two charged Carpinus at the same time but again, both were met with a blast of magic tossing them over the heads of the others until they each collided with walls on opposite sides of the room.

Ganodesh tried to move but soon realized that their central core was cracked. Waving a hand as a sign of submission, the warrior conceded.

Carpinus looked at Gagowaneh expectantly. The mammoth got to their feet stomping like an enraged bull. The crowd cleared a path as both lowered their heads and charged for the other. Their impact was so strong that it could be felt across the continent and into both of the great oceans. A cloud of dirt, rock, and smoke rolled across the congregation. When it cleared, Gagowaneh lied disassembled in three pieces of the floor. A final deafening roar announced Caprinus as the new leader.

To cement the victory, Carpinus thundered, “Follow me!” as he began running down a cavern, part of an underground network of broad and deep tunnels the troubled ones used to travel unnoticed. Had they stayed on the surface the trip would have taken two or three days but the lack of obstacles soon put them under what humans called Shadow Moutain Lake.

The troubled ones watched as Carpinus used magic to carve a hole to the side of the cavern that extended into the darkness below them. Then, yanking a large stalactite from the ceiling, the leader punched a hole in the floor of the lake above them. Water and all manner of beings living in it flowed down into the hole, creating a large underground lake. Replacing the stalactite, Carpinus sealed the hole, motioned to those following, and ran on.

Charging down a well-worn path, Carpinus repeated the same feat at precise locations, draining rivers where they joined, trapping their inhabitants and the water underground in the dark, leaving magic souls unsure of where they were. They gutted waters with names like Williams Fork, Blue, Piney, Eagle, and Garrison. By the time they reached places with names like Wind river, Green, Lake Powell, and Escalante, the hoard knew the routine. Water was drained from each tributary until the whole of the river known as Colorado and the lakes formed along it were completely dry. More importantly, the troubled ones had trapped millions of water spirits, holding them with spells that drained their power so they had no way to escape or call for help.

When they were done, Carpinus assigned sentries at each of the underground stations before leading the remainder back to the great hall. Everything had happened in less than a half-day and there wasn’t a soul, human or magic, who was not aware. 

Among both the humans and the queens no one was sure what to do. Stunned, they each looked at their counselors and advisors. The magicians hadn’t thought to include the troubled ones in their truce. The entire North American water table had been disrupted. No amount of planning had foreseen this possibility. Responding required more than a little thought.

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