The Thinning Veil, Part Seventeen

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Chapter 47 | Chapter 48| Chapter 49

Chapter 47

Chapter 47

Reggie stood looking out the window at the city below him. Everything about this experience with the pixiemandalons felt surreal and he still wasn’t sure what was real or some form of illusion. Days had seemed to pass, though how many he didn’t know. He was well-fed, given a chance to exercise, and allowed some manner of privacy. The situation wasn’t horrible but he was still captive, held in a box that just recently had started to sway as everything had gone dark for a few minutes.

“There are great battles of which we are not a part,” Vecom told him. “Be glad we are not there. Many thousands of souls, both human and magic, have fallen. There are places without water where it was once plentiful, and bombs have fallen where they were never known before. We are fortunate to be safe here.”

“Is it better to be safe or to be free?” Reggie asked. “If I am here, I must rely on you for safety. I do not know the level of danger around me. I do not know when to be afraid so I stay fearful. Were I free, I might not be as safe but I would know what is going on. I would be responsible for myself and would have only myself to blame should I perish.”

The conversation got Breen’s attention and she joined the two at the window. “What do you think you know of the world outside this room?” she asked.

“I see a world that has been destroyed, struggling to rebuild,” Reggie answered as he gazed out the window. “The ground is charred, buildings destroyed, and I assume with that, lives have been lost.”

“You are not incorrect,” Breen said. “But neither is your perspective wholly true. There are billions of people who still do not know there is a war going on, and many may never know until they are told after everything is done.”

“So, the entire world wasn’t set on fire?” Reggie asked.

“No,” said Kek, who had been listening from across the room. “Parts of the world are flooded. We try to keep things varied and exciting.”

“Parts of the world are besieged by monsters,” Vecom said. “Huge beings made of rock and pitch with the nastiest attitudes you’ve likely encountered. Be glad we’re not where they are. It took exiles to drive them back underground.”

Reggie looked at Vecom, his scientific interest suddenly piqued. “Exiles? This is the first I’ve heard you mention that particular term. I was under the impression that all you magic folk got along rather well, without your element, of course. Who are these exiles?”

“Souls you have only known from your mythologies,” Breen answered. “Discontent as the world changed, they would have destroyed humans long ago had they been left to their own devices. They hold immense power and can be terrible to see.”

“Yet wonderful at the same time,” said Kek. “They can be beautiful to watch if you know they’re not coming after you.”

“But they’re restrained, right?” Reggie asked. “If they are bent on destroying the human race, they’re not out running free, are they?”

“They weren’t but they are now,” Kek said.

“We are all waiting to see what happens next,” said Vecom. “We are hoping that Queen Apa’ii knows what she’s doing and that a critical error hasn’t been made. We will see.”

Reggie looked back out the window. “How do I know that anything you are telling me is true. For all I know, every last bit of this is an elaborate ruse. For all I know, this box is on a soundstage somewhere with  360° projection giving the illusion of depth. What I think I’m seeing out the window may not be real at all. You may not be real for that matter. I know the military has made a lot of progress with holograms and artificial intelligence. You may be nothing more than 3D projections controlled by someone in another building. There have been movies built around that premise. How do I know any of this is real?”

Reggie was startled as the glass in the window suddenly disappeared and he was pushed back by a strong breeze. 

“Jump and find out,” Vecom said. “If this is, in fact, nothing more than an elaborate simulation then jumping from this window shouldn’t do you any harm at all.”

“And if I’m wrong?” Reggie asked, looking out at what seemed to be a charred landscape several feet below him.

“Splat,” said Kek, dramatically slapping his hands together.

Reggie stood in the window considering his options. The wind blowing in his face carried the fragrance of burned wood and rotting vegetation. If this was all a ruse, he reasoned, it was an elaborate one, which begged the question of why someone would go to all the trouble to fool him. He was nobody in the greater scientific community. He hasn’t published anything in the past three years, something the dean reminded him frequently. The last paper he did publish was mildly accepted as it merely confirmed well-known anecdotes about the variations of magnetic waves. None of his peers considered him exceptional in his field, so why would anyone want to spend the millions of dollars it would take to set up this fake scenario? What could be the possible motivation?

The scientist stood in the window for a moment, his eyes starting to sting and water from the noxious fumes in the air. “If I jump and am wrong, you could save me, right?”

“We could,” answered Vecom.

“Don’t mean we would,” said Kek.

“Or that you’d survive if we did,” said Breen. “You humans too easily forget the physics of what happens when a falling object suddenly stops. Just because we keep you from hitting the ground doesn’t mean you wouldn’t still die in the process. Humans are fragile that way.”

Reggie stepped back from the window and the glass reappeared. 

“That is probably the better choice,” Vecom said.

“Probably?” Reggie questioned.

“An inquisitive mind like yours is never certain, is it?” Breen asked. “Not even when you experience something yourself. You’re not entirely sure that you’re living your own life, are you?”

Reggie walked back toward the center of the room. “Do any of us ever know for sure what is real?” he asked. “We perceive what we think is reality, we test according to what we think is true, but sometimes our tests are wrong because our underlying hypothesis is wrong. We do not know for certain what is real, only the perception of what we think is real.”

“That must make for an interesting existence, do not know if you’re real,” Breen said. “I know I’m real. I’m know how I was made. There is nothing for me to question.”

“So, what you’re saying is that your personal experience is sufficient to define reality,” Reggie suggested. “Which is fine until someone comes along with a different perspective in which you are not present. Then what?”

“Then that is their reality, not mine,” Vecom answered. “The universe is infinite and contains sufficient space for infinite realities, some shared, some not. What is real for you does not necessarily have to be real for anyone else.”

Reggie shook his head. “That sounds pretty but it cannot work. For everyone to have their own reality or the possibility of their own reality, means that, potentially, there are no universal truths. If all realities can be of a different construct, then an object may change its motion absent of external force.”

“Please, you’re smarter than that,” Vecom said, his tone goading and mocking the scientist. “The Law of Relativity applies across the universe. Nothing is what it is until you relate something to it. If there is nothing relative, then it doesn’t exist. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t exist in the future or an alternative parallel.”

“You also have to allow for the law of transmutation to work,” Breen said. “Watch this.” She snapped her fingers and the entire room disappeared, leaving them all floating in mid-air.

Reggie jumped, suddenly frightened that there was no floor underneath them. “Wait, you can’t do that! We’re going to …” he stopped, realizing that they weren’t falling. “So, we’ve been on the ground the whole time? Everything is an elaborate illusion?”

Breen snapped her fingers again. “No, we’re still very much in the air,” she said, ‘but by manipulating the law of transmutation, we make something invisible. That’s how magic works, manipulation of the laws of physics. Those of us who can adjust our rate of vibration along a magnetic plane can fly. I really thought you understood this stuff.”

“I think we got stuck with the dumb one,” Kek said. “Maybe our next one will be smarter.”

“Next one?” Reggie asked. “Does that mean you’re letting me go?”

The trio laughed hard enough that Reggie felt a strong pang of fear in his chest. There was a sinister atmosphere to the situation, something that went beyond odd arguments about science and reality. Up until that point, he had considered the pixiemandalons to be largely harmless. Now, he wasn’t sure whether they were safe or part of something more evil than he might have imagined. He started to back away and fell backward onto the bed.

“I don’t know when or if anyone is being released,” Vecom said. “That’s not our decision. We’ll be leaving you soon, though, assigned to a different scientist somewhere.”

“There are other scientists stuck like this?” Reggie asked. He had not considered the possibility he might not be the only one.”

“Oh yeah,” said Kek. “Bunch of ‘em, all over the world.”

“And still, no one’s noticed any of them missing,” Breen said. “Doesn’t that seem a bit odd to anyone?”

“I find it a bit disturbing, personally,” Reggie said, “and a bit offensive.”

“He thought someone would miss him,” Kek teased. “As though anyone thinks scientists are important. This is why humans are inferior. They don’t have any value for what matters.”

“They have been a bit distracted, though,” Vecom said. “None of the human leaders know how to handle simultaneous disasters, especially when there is no one for them to blame. If it’s not exploding right under them, they’re not paying any attention to it.”

“So, you all decided to capture all the scientists, why?” Reggie asked. “Just to see if anyone would miss us?”

Breen and Kek laughed again. “No we need you for a different reason but we can’t tell you what it is yet,” Breen said. “We have to make sure you pass all the tests first.”

“So, this is an experiment of some sort and you’re measuring my reaction based on your input,’ Reggie suggested.

“Ooh, we should have thought of that,” Kek said. “That could be fun.”

“There is reason behind everything we do,” Vecom said. “Including a chance in who you get to see and what you are allowed to encounter.”

“So, Let me get this straight,” Reggie said as he sat upright on the bed, “You guys are going to leave, and at that point my experience changes, but I’m not being set free.”

“Something like that,” Breen said. “I mean, we wouldn’t have minded staying since we know you long before you knew about us, but Queen Apa’ii has her reasons and she’s probably right this time.”

“This time,” Reggie repeated. “You make it sound like kidnapping people is something you do on a regular basis.”

“Not, we’re not that into you,” Kek said, “or anyone, for that matter.”

“A lot still goes back to you capturing Pukwudjinee,” Vecom said. “That’s what sparked the idea to study the scientists, but there have been changes since then. Now, it would seem that your preservation is at risk. Possibly ours as well.”

Reggie held his head in his hands. “There are so many questions not being answered,” he said. “And the answers I get don’t always make sense. I see no quantification of what you’re doing, no method of measurement, everything is random but not in a controlled manner. This is making my head hurt.”

“At least you still have your head,” Kek said.

Reggie looked up, worried. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“Don’t worry, we only decapitate demons,” Breen said. “As long as you stay away from those you should be safe.”

Kek shuddered. “Glad we aren’t around any lakes. Talk about some scary stories.”

“Or out on the ocean,” Breen added. “Can you imagine seeing Dasheng Sen at her full size?”

Vecom looked at Reggie. “See, there are plenty of other horrors greater than what you or any of your colleagues are experiencing. We are at war. Souls are dying by the thousands. You are among the lucky ones. You have been spared.”

“Yet, here I am, still a prisoner,” Reggie said. “And it doesn’t sound like I’m getting out of here anytime soon.”

“Perhaps we try a different metaphor,” Vecom said. “When humans reproduce, there is a period where your infants gradually learn the skills they need to function. While they are learning those skills, you keep them safe, even putting them in enclosures of various kinds to keep them from engaging with things that could prove harmful. I think you call them cribs and playpens.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Reggie said. “I’ve not had kids so I’m not especially experienced in that whole parenting arena, but I think I get what you’re saying. You want me to believe that you’re keeping me safe while I learn new skills to help me function.”

“Something like that,” Vecom said. “Maybe you’ll learn, maybe you won’t. Our first responsibility is to keep you safe. Teaching you anything is secondary and not everyone agrees whether you’re capable of learning.”

“I know I’m not convinced,” Kek teased.

“But you’ll not have us bothering you after today,” Breen said. “When you wake from your nap, your experience will change.”

“Nap?” But I don’t want a nap,” Reggie protested. “It’s not even that late in the day. How can it be time for a nap?”

The scientist didn’t feel his head hit the pillow. Neither was he aware of the blanket being pulled over him as he slept. His deep breathing was even, his dreams would be pleasant but not memorable.

“Just like a preschooler,” Breen said. “They never want to go down for their naps.”

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Chapter 48

Law gavel on a wooden desk, law books background

The population in the throne room surged as counselors and others responded to the queen’s demand for their presence at the home tree. Greeting them as they arrived was the blood-red glow of the queen’s countenance. Apa’ii was more than unhappy, she was seething. There weren’t a lot of rules about the use of magic but there were two specific areas that were forbidden: using the curses of ancient gods and disrupting the energy of the sun. 

The firing of Pausnuk’s sword had set off a chain reaction that was felt on every realm, not just on earth, but those scattered throughout the galaxy. Pausnuk’s sword had made the sun blink. All form of life was disrupted and Apa’ii was expected to address the situation and fix what could still be corrected. Millions of messages had poured in along different networks, magical, plant-based, and animals, all of them angry at the use of forbidden magic.

While the ancient gods had played around with the energy of the sun, they soon realized that the flow of the galaxy depends on the energy of its stars to flow in a predictable and consistent line of rising and decline. When the energy of even a small star, such as the sun, is disrupted, everything is thrown off balance as levels of gravity and magnetism cause planetary shifts and polar re-alignments. The planets where life was still young and in development were too often wiped clean by the disruption, forced to start over. Many of the planets for which life was intended ultimately died as a result of the instability. Since the effects could be so devastating across so many places, the gods had forbidden the practice and had, they thought, blocked any of the magical souls from having access to that kind of power.

Freyr stood in the center of the throne room bound in four different layers of magic that could control not only his physical movement and use of magic but also his aggression and ability to speak the truth. On the table in front of him set the sword he had given Pausnuk., its jeweled hilt sparkling in the forced light of the room. 

The elf stood there definitely insisting that he had done nothing wrong, that only Pausnuk was responsible for the strength of the blast. No one was accepting that excuse, though. While everyone knew that elven magic could magnify the emotions of the soul wielding it, they also knew that the elves themselves controlled what type of magic was in any device and the limits to the use of that device. No weapon had ever made the sun’s direct energy a source. Neither had Freyr warned Pausnuk how powerful the word could be. The blast was just as much a surprise to the young counselor as it was for everyone.

Standing alongside the counselors assembled in the throne room were Lezard, Eir, Ulaf, and Baldnr, the leader of the Fenrir. Their presence added a sense of gravity and the atmosphere was that of the ancient courts that were once convened during the great wars. Meliae was standing alongside Kuveni, both exhausted from the battle with the troubled ones. Bogmenak and Gui stood murmuring to each other. They had both done considerable business with Freyr and needed to know if he had put similar power in any of the weapons he had helped create.

Pockwatch stood in front of Queen Apa’ii and read the charges and some of the effects of disrupting the sun’s energy. “Freyr of the Iowerth clan, you stand here charged with the use of forbidden magic, failure to reveal lethal power in a weapon, providing weapons of unknown magic, and facilitating the disruption of gravitational and magnetic power throughout the solar system. Because of your actions, the orbit of the planets with this sun’s solar system has been realigned. Polarity among the planets and their natural satellites has been disrupted. Magnetic bulges are present in Mercury and Mars that did not previously exist. Your actions have set in motion a ripple that will spread across the whole of the galaxy, threatening unstable forms of life.
“The question is not one of guilt or innocence. Rather, our questions are whether the results of your actions were intended and whether such power still resides in any other weapons you have distributed. Anyone present retains the right to ask reasonable questions of you and you are bound by the queen’s magic to answer truthfully.”

Freyr stood in the center of the room calmly waiting for the questions to begin. If he was concerned about the outcome of this hearing, it didn’t show. His confidence was taken by some to be arrogant, fueling more animosity toward the elf.

Queen Apa’ii asked the first and most obvious question. “Freyr Iowerth, did you intentionally and with deliberate purpose give to Pausnuck of the Realm a sword capable of disrupting the sun’s energy?”

“Yes, your majesty,” Freyr said.

The throne room remained silent as Apa’ii asked, “Is the sword capable of being wielded for any more conventional purpose?”

“No, your majesty,” Freyr responded. “The weapon is intended to be a battle ender when conventional weapons and tactics are not viable.”

“Did you inform Pausnuk of the Realm, or anyone else, of the potential danger in wielding this weapon?” Pockwatch asked.

“No, counselor,” the elf answered. “I simply told him that he should only wield the sword when all other alternatives had been exhausted.”

“Why did you not disclose the illegal power of the sword?” Fleau asked. “Did you not think of the lives that might have been lost by removing the sword from its scabbard?”

“Pausnuk of the Realm is known to be a soul of integrity,” Freyr said. “I know that he would not carry the sword into battle if he knew of its power. I also knew that he would have reported and turned in the weapon, rendering it useless. Such weapons as this are not meant to sit on a shelf. This is a sword of destiny, a destroyer, and builder of worlds. Only an honest soul could carry it safely.”

“You know the laws of the realm as well as the laws of the ancient and silent gods,” Bogmenak said firmly. “This weapon could still cause great danger to our own realm. We don’t yet know all the consequences that may come from wielding this weapon a single time. Why would you risk creating a weapon that could kill us all?” He stomped his foot and shook his fist at Freyr as he spoke.

Freyr grinned as he answered the question. “We are at war with the humans, are we not? And try as we might, we were not able to stop them from developing nuclear weapons in numbers that could render the planet unlivable. As we prepared for battles on multiple fronts, facing the ignorance and stupidity of humans required weapons that could counter the most violent pieces in the human arsenal. I created that weapon with the strongest magic ever known, knowing that its use was justified in the face of certain annihilation.”

The room was silent for a moment as those in attendance considered Freyr’s answer. He was correct in identifying their fear and lack of defense against nuclear arms. Countering with more destructive magic, however, did not strike any of them as a justifiable response.

Finally, Lezard spoke up. “On behalf of the immortals, your majesty, I ask how this elf obtained the forbidden magic in the first place? When the ancient gods forbad its use, they locked the magic so that it could not be used against us. None of us have ever had access to it. To see it again after all this time is, quite frankly, disturbing and causes us to question the security of the magic realms. There is still other magic that is forbidden and we are concerned whether the magic realms can be trusted to keep it away from hooligans such as this one. Not only can we not risk another display from this powerful sword, but we also cannot risk other forbidden magic popping out from other weapons he has created.”

“Your concern is shared,” Apa’ii answered, ‘and the truth is I do not know how Freyr or anyone else could have access to what the ancient gods had locked away. Perhaps Freyr would do us the favor of revealing his source.”

Freyr squirmed under the strain of the bonds that kept him from telling anything other than the complete truth. His face and body contorted under the pressure, making his reluctance apparent to everyone in the room. When he finally did speak, his words were halting and strained. “An ancient book… belonging to my family… holds the keys to the secrets… of the gods,” he said. “We have… modified and… watered down… their magic… for millions of seasons. This is… what makes … elven magic… special.”

There was an audible gasp around the room from the non-elven counselors. Those of elven descent, such as the Jinn and the Huldea, stepped back into the shadows, fearing they might be accused of dealing with the forbidden magic.

Apa’ii looked first at Ulaf and asked, “Is this true? Do the Erlkönig and other descendants of elves have shared access to this book of ancient magic?”

Ulaf stepped forward, separating himself from the group of immortals, and said, “No, your majesty, only those of royal blood have access to the ancient tomes and the magic in them is largely outdated and inefficient. Any reference to the forbidden magic is clearly noted and the spells for unlocking that magic are not written down. We had presumed them to be lost and that the world was better for it. You might ask your resident Vila, though,” he said as he looked at Fleau. “They are the librarians of the ancient scrolls and manuscripts. They would know whether the secrets of forbidden magic exist anywhere else and who may have access to them.”

Apa’ii looked at Fleau who bowed her head as she stepped forward. “There are books, scrolls actually, containing the secrets of the forbidden magic. They are locked in a cave deep in the salt mines with multiple layers of magic protecting them. Only elves of royal lineage can begin to undo those spells and any attempts to do so would set off alarms that alert all Vila to come to the defense of the library. No one has accessed those scrolls since the Norse gods were sent to Valhalla. The protective magic has held and has not been tampered with for millions of seasons. I do not know how Freyr could possibly have gotten past our protection.”

Murmurs filled the throne room with Fleau’s revelation. Most clans had assumed the ancient magic had all been lost. Among those who knew it existed, none had given any thought to breaching the libraries, largely considered to be repositories of magic history rather than a source of ancient magic. That the scrolls existed at all was a revelation that many of the weaker clans found troubling. As long as access to the ancient magic existed, so did the possibility that their clans could be wiped clean from the faces of the earth.

Apa’ii sensed the uneasiness in the room. “We are not hearing any words that bring comfort to the realm,” she said. “Perhaps what is most important in this moment is that Freyr turns over his book or scroll to the Vila so that it might be locked away with the others, along with any scraps or notes or modifications that may have been made. The Vila can then trouble their protective spells and confirm that there has been no breach of the ancient libraries.”

Freyer was again squirming at the restraints of his bonds. He threw himself to the floor and struggled desperately to undo the magic holding him only to find that his own spells were mute.

“All the struggling in the world will not free you, Freyr,” Queen Apa’ii told him. “I am granting you just enough magic to produce the book, and only that book, and its notes, and you will produce it now.”

Freyr glared at the queen. “You have no right to remove my birthright from me!” he shouted. “The book I hold is not the same as those held by the Vila. It is not written in the hand of the ancient gods and it is not subject to the limitations of their magic. This is elven property, written with the pen if Iowerth himself. You have no right to remove it from us or to limit our magic. I will not give it to you!”

“He speaks an elven version of the truth, your majesty,” a voice said from the shadows of the assembled counselors. Lania, the leader of a clan of Xanas aligned with the Nawa’ Diyo stepped forward. “Xanas and Peris know this version of the truth because we are descended from the Amlodd and Meilyr clans. The tome that Freyr possesses is not the only one. Iowerth copied the many books of the ancient gods before they were locked away. He gave copies of the books to the leaders of all the elven clans. Those belonging to the descendants of Meilyr and Trahaun were lost during the days of the great wars. The other six still exist, held sacred by the royal families to whom they were entrusted.”

“Why has no one known of these books before now?” Baldnr demanded.

Lania stepped more fully into the light, her dark green gown clinging to her thin frame, her light brown hair, woven with strands of gold, framing her face and falling the length of her body, just barely off the floor. “Elven royals are sworn to secrecy. The books are full of strong and sometimes strange magic. Clan royals are entrusted to maintain the secret to avoid the books falling into the wrong hands. What was not anticipated was that a royal would themselves be the wrong hands. In using the forbidden magic, not only has Freyr broken the law of the realm, he has violated the trust of the Iowerth clan, the same clan, I believe, from which the Erlkönig are descended. Which means, your majesty, that Ulaf can claim privilege in setting Freyr’s punishment.”

Ulaf smiled devilishly at Freyr whose eyes grew wide with fear.

“We are not yet ready to determine punishment,” Apa’ii said. “What has yet to be determined is whether other weapons have any other forms of forbidden magic. Freyr, the truth here is critical. Do not wrestle or hedge with your answer. Have you used any additional forbidden magic in any of the weapons you distributed?”

Freyr looked at the floor, thinking of spells to get him out of this situation but unable to use any of them. Not only was Apa’ii’s magic unbreakable, but upon their arrival, both Lezard and Ulaf had added their strength to the bonds The more he struggled, the more danger Freyr created for himself. Finally, in a soft voice barely heard in the cavernous throne room, the elf said, “The tips of the arrows are touched with the curse of Nyx specifically for the troubled ones. They do not affect magical souls at all, but those piercing the troubled ones doom them to four thousand seasons of sleep underground.”

Again, there were murmurs and questions throughout the throne room. Many had never heard of Nyx, the most ancient goddess of darkness, having existed before her brother created the titans. Nyx was the mother of Sleep, Shadows, and Death, among many others. So powerful was her magic that all the gods of Olympia feared her. Hundreds of myths once existed around Nyx and her powers but most had been lost after the battles that saw the Olympians fall. What was certain was that the deadly power of Nyx’s magic was irreversible and should never be used by anyone other than the deities themselves.

“How many tipped arrows did you make?” Apa’ii asked.

“Enough for many battles against the troubled ones,” came the answer.

“To who were they distributed?” she asked.

“To any who desired them,” he responded.

Realizing the severity of Freyr’s actions, Apa’ii first called Bockwimen, Pockwatch, Fleau, Pausnuk, Lania, Eir, Baldnr, Lezard, and Ulaf to her. She then sent a message asking Belinda to join them. The throne room momentarily brightened as the sky queen arrived but returned to its dimmed state as she joined the inner circle.

“So it was one of yours that interrupted the energy of the sun,” Belinda said. “I was ready to accuse Dasheng Sen of that little trick. I assume the weapon used has been eliminated?”

“Not yet,” Apa’ii said, “but it will be at a time and in a manner safe to do so. There is a lingering danger, though. Invoking the use of ancient magic has invariably stirred Tartarus and beyond. Perhaps worse, Freyr has used the magic of Nyx, so now, we have to look at the possibility that Chronos, Hemera, and Aion have been disturbed as well.”

“I would be surprised if Moirai and Moros were not awakened, also,” Belinda added. “The two battles used a lot of magic. I don’t think any of those fighting were aware of how much magic was being cast or scattered into the universe. You made a great deal of noise, enough that I’ve heard rumors that Atlas and Oceanus were awakened.”

“This changes everything,” Apa’ii said. “We have been free from the cruel domination of the ancients for too long. To return to those ancient constructs, to be placed again under their control, is not something any of us want to see happen.”

“The ancients have been at rest, away from us and from humans for so long, they are not likely to recognize the world as it exists now,” Eir said. “We were away for only a fraction of the time and the shock is difficult to overcome. Seeing humans flying through the air and into the universe as though they were gods is upsetting. I dare say, some of the humans already consider themselves gods. The conflict arising from the return of the ancients might be more than any of us could bear.”

Lezard shook his head. “We were all there, except for you, Pausnuk, when the ancients went away, the Olympians were defeated, and the great wars sealed the course of humans. We have survived and have dominated where it has been necessary. We have the value of experiencing and remembering everything. While the ancients are a considerable threat, I do not consider them one we cannot overcome.”

“Assuming we see them at all,” Bockwimen said. “There have been plenty of opportunities for them to return, times when the noise of battle has had to have awakened them, yet never before have they bothered to interfere in any way.”

“None of those battles encroached upon their powers,” Pockwatch replied. “They forbade us from using their magic because they saw the danger it caused. What Freyr has done violates laws that were in place before humans learned to walk upright! This is exactly the sort of scenario we have feared and I am not confident as some in our ability to defend ourselves should even one of the ancients take offense and decide to act.”

Apa’ii’s countenance was now a darker, brooking red as her anger mixed with concern. “Freyr must be punished, that is certain, but what bothers me more is disposing of the weapons he has created. One doesn’t exactly throw elven magic into the trash and expect it to not show up again. We must assemble all remaining arrows and then dispose of them and the sword at the same time. That is a process that cannot be entrusted to an individual soul.”

“Nor should it be,” Ulaf said. “Disposing of elven magic requires the fires of an elven forge and a ritual releasing the magic back to the universe so that it does not pollute whatever else may come from that fire. The Erlkönig once had such a fire but it was extinguished while we were in exile.”

“We have such a fire,” said Lezard, “but we do not have knowledge of the ritual.”

“The secrets of the rituals are held by our clan,” Lania said. “The destruction of magic was never meant to be taken lightly or on one’s own.”

“I would want to participate in the ritual as well,” said Fleau. “It is important to us of elven descent to maintain the integrity of our magic.”

“Very well,” Apa’ii said, “I will issue the order that all weapons created by Freyr be surrendered in a day’s time after which the three of you may undertake the necessary rituals with my blessing.”

Turning to Ulaf, she then said, “And what does the Erlkönig consider suitable punishment for violations such as these?”

“Traditionally, death would be a rapidly executed sentence,” Ulaf said. “In this case, however, I am of the opinion that banishment without the use of magic is sufficient. Leave him on his own to fend for himself, wholly discarded from everything he knows, and unable to return to any of the magic realms.”

“So it shall be,” Apa’ii said. “I will pronounce sentence and dismiss the assembly. Then, I’m afraid I must still address the effects of what Freyr has done. The physical consequences alone are troubling.”

“I am here to assist, should you so desire,” Belinda said. “Both our realms have much at stake. We cannot allow any details to be overlooked.”

Apa’ii smiled and nodded. “Yes, your cooperation and companionship are most appreciated.”

Chapter 49

Chatper 49

White House conference rooms aren’t known for being especially roomy. With the large table and plush chairs, there was little space left for maneuvering around the room and Secretary of Homeland Security Albert Wentworth was too large to easily squeeze between the back of the chairs and the wall to get to his assigned seat at the far end of the table. “Swap me with Secretary Horace or Director Roberts,” he told an aide. “They’re both skinny enough to get back there. I prefer something close to the door in meetings like this.”

“Yes sir,” the aide said as she moved the name plaque from one end of the table to the other, putting the Secretary of Defense, Mark Horace, at the far seat.

The room filled quickly. Loren Amby, Secretary of State; General Almondale for the Joint Chiefs’; Gary Wallace, Secretary of the Treasury; National Intelligence Director Marilynn Roberts; Chief of Staff Scott Tuney, and Vice President Oscar Wendt. Black briefing binders sat at each labeled seat and a pitcher of ice water with the exact number of glass tumblers sat in the middle of the table. Once everyone was present, aides were removed from the room and Chief of Staff Tuney began the meeting.

“Three minutes, 32 seconds,” Scott said. He was thin with graying hair cut close to his scalp, his blue striped tie loosened and the top button of his white dress shirt unbuttoned. Scott Tuney was as pure a politician as anyone despite having never run for office on his own. “Three minutes and 32 seconds of complete darkness. The sun wasn’t in eclipse, it was completely dark. Everywhere. The president has been fielding calls from our allies ever since and I know Secretary Amby has spoken with many of her counterparts as well. The world is in a complete panic over those three and a half minutes. Over eighty percent of the worlds’ computers are still offline. All aircraft have been grounded until further notice. All stock exchanges and most banks have closed. And, I’m sure you all are aware of what’s happening as social media comes back online.

“Conspiracy theorists and religious extremists are having a field day with this and people are actually paying attention. Capitol Police and DC Police are on high alert, as are police departments in every major city. We know this is going to be trouble. The questions are what caused it and how do we control the fallout?

“I’ve spoken with all of you privately and not heard any strong ideas. So, I’m hoping nine heads are better together than separately. We have, maybe, another thirty minutes before national media is restored fully and they’re going to want a statement, something reassuring, a promise that the world isn’t about to end.”

“We have reports of militias issuing calls to arms for their members, especially across the South,” Director Roberts said. “We’re doing our best to advise governors to mobilize the National Guard in those states but there are some phone systems still down and we’ve not gotten through to everyone.”

“We have a crisis at hospitals as well,” said Secretary Wentworth. “When all the lights went out, everyone started running into everyone else. Emergency Rooms are overflowing and there are going to be some tough decisions made to keep everything operational. The number of dead is going to be staggering.”

“And repeat that around the world,” Secretary Amby added. “Hospitals in every industrialized country are overrun. There aren’t enough beds, enough supplies, enough doctors, and in some cases enough power to keep equipment running. The European Union is expecting massive protests in every capital within the hour.”

Secretary Horace leaned in to add, “All our military bases are on high alert, but that’s strictly a defensive posture in case anyone has thoughts of trying to steal weapons or materials. We’re in no position to deploy anyone at the moment.”

The Chief of Staff looked at General Almondale and asked, “Are the numbers from Canada as bad as reported?”

“Worse,” the general said. “We lost another twelve planes on the trip back to base. Whatever happened messed up the altimeters in all our planes. When you don’t know how high you are, you start making mistakes. All total, we took 28,000 casualties and we still don’t have a clue what we’re fighting against.”

“Any chance the sun problem and the robot problem are related?” Secretary Wentworth asked.

“I think we have to make that assumption,” said General Almondale. “It happened soon after the appearance of some kind of unmarked aircraft in Canadian airspace. We’ve never seen anything like them before and none of our planes were able to get good pictures. The pilots who did survive have severe PTSD and are mumbling something about Valkyries, which is impossible. Something’s going on, though, and I’m still betting that Russia is behind every bit of it.”

“I’m not sure that’s a safe bet,” Secretary Amby replied. “Moscow is on fire and we have reports that the Kremlin is being evacuated. If this is their doing, it backfired. They seem to have been caught as much by surprise as everyone else.”

Vice President Wendt cleared his throat, getting everyone’s attention. “I think, for the moment, given the uncertainty, we should focus on managing the fallout. We have an economy that’s going to start crashing if we can’t start providing some assurance that everything is under control and that everyone is going to be safe. Gary, how long are the markets going to be down?”

Secretary Wallace shook his head. “They won’t be back online until all systems are verified and secured. They’re going to want to know how many financial transactions were lost at the moment of interruption and will respond accordingly. Expect a number in the hundreds of billions. The markets will dive. This happened during a busy time of the day. We fear that a lot of money just, poof, disappeared.”

“That’s not going to set well,” Secretary Wentworth said. “Any chance that was the whole purpose of the blackout, to steal those funds?”

Secretary Wallace shrugged. “Anything is possible. We’ll see if there is any kind of trail. For the moment, though, the money is gone and we’re going to need a massive relief program to keep every company in America from going bankrupt.”

“Draft something and get it to my office ASAP,” Vice President Wendt said. “The promise of an aid package should help calm a few people. The Senate will be a problem but a little re-election pressure should be enough to get something passed quickly.”

There was a knock at the door. Secretary Wentworth stood up to answer it, letting one of Director Roberts’ aides into the room. “I’m sorry to interrupt, Madam Director, Mr. Vice President, but we have agreement from NOAA, NASA, and USGS. The earth’s axis has shifted to 48°. Everything magnetic, or related to the earth’s magnetic system, is going to fail until it can all be recalibrated. NOAA says to expect some extreme weather changes as well.”

“As if we’ve not already had more than our fair share of that,” Director Roberts said. “Thank you.”

The aide left, shutting the door behind her.

“So, cell phone communication is out for the foreseeable future,” said Secretary Horace, sitting back in his chair and wiping his hand across his face. “Anything wireless is going to stay down.

“So much for ‘smart’ devices,” added Secretary Wentworth. “Any statement we release needs to promise resources to get everything back online.”

“We can make the promise,” Vice President Wendt said, “but we all know this isn’t something that can be fixed in a few hours.”

“On the plus side, having cell phones down could work to our benefit,” Director Roberts said. “Without their cell phones, extremists and militia groups are going to have a lot more trouble organizing. Eighty percent of all social media activity occurs on a mobile device and WiFi systems rely on the magnetic field as well. That could be the break we need to prevent large outbreaks of violence, or at least slow them down.”

“It’s also going to affect our ability to communicate with law enforcement and national security officials across the county,” Secretary Wentworth countered. “People are going to be in the streets, cell phones or not because they’re scared and looking for answers that we don’t have.”

There was a moment of silence across the room before Vice President Wendt said, “We are in a crisis moment. Scott, we’re going to need the AG in on this. We need to tell the American people we have everything under control.”

“But in a way that protects the White House from legal responsibility,” the Chief of Staff added. “I think the president would agree. Now is not the time to be honest with the public. We have to keep things peaceful if we are going to get through this and if that means we ‘readjust’ some of the facts to make that happen, then that’s what we’ve got to do.

Everyone around the table nodded in agreement. They were going to lie.

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