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.
What had been a rather beautiful spring day changed so suddenly that human meteorologists were scrambling to try and explain what happened. Cloudless skies were suddenly dark with billowing and boiling clouds as Maliae and her clan went to work around the borders to the mist. By the time Dawádetgit starting twirling winds into a corkscrew, sirens had sounded and humans had all run for cover.
Apa’ii’s alert had been followed to the letter. Those animals who were already close to the mist were allowed inside. Those further away, and those who would be in the path of the storm as it moved East, were given magical protection as they took shelter in the best places they could find, lower to the ground, in hollows and ravines. For the millions of Nawa’Diyo who lived outside the mist, magic protection protocols, something they all practiced together regularly, were put into motion, creating a protective yet invisible shield around them. Humans who might, for some ridiculous reason, happen to pass by would neither see nor feel any change. Humans would still get wet and could potentially experience damage. Nawa’ Diyo would all be safe in their homes, their communities, and clans untouched by the storm.
Having been instructed to keep the tornadoes off the ground, Dawádetgit set a base for her storm about forty feet off the terrain by human measurements. She calculated that this height would spare most of the younger trees that were still growing and widely necessary to the environment. From this height, most human homes would be spared from complete destruction as well, though the risk of wind damage was significant.
The breadth and width of her first funnel were impressive. Having built up a frightful shelf of clouds, Dawádetgit slid the first tornado off, letting it widen to five, then eight, and finally twelve furlongs. Entire human towns cowered as it passed overhead. She then spun off two child tornadoes to the north, each about six furlongs wide, and one to the South at eight furlongs. The wind speed she achieved rivaled that of the greatest hurricanes.
Despite their position well off the ground, there was hardly a human-built structure that wasn’t damaged. Windows shattered, letting in the blowing rain. Roofs were blown off and dumped in the middle of what would have otherwise been busy highways. Automobiles were turned over and the electric power system on which the humans so foolishly depended was largely dismantled. Repairs would take weeks to complete.
As the initial tornadoes moved Eastward, scaring humans in towns and cities all the way to the Atlantic ocean, Dawádetgit continued producing rains and strong straight winds relentlessly, taking a short break only to let loose another string of smaller tornadoes so that the humans would all stay inside. The ground, soaked from all the rain, reached its saturation point after about an hour and began sending its overflow into the small streams and tributaries. Tose quickly reached their capacity and began to trow outside their boundaries. The water moved quickly as it flowed downward through the path of least resistance, into streets where sewers were clogged with debris, trying to find their way to the nearest river or lake. Within a couple of hours, the waters were teasing the doorways of human homes and an hour later they were inside.
Apa’ii’s plan worked as her initial fear was realized—none of the council’s members, the strongest magicians in the world, were able to produce sufficient spells to keep them invisible as they moved through the areas where the mist had been. While they could still protect themselves from the storms overhead, they all felt, as Pai and Bockwimen had earlier, that the magic was not as strong as it had been before.
By nightfall, the community in and around the home tree was full of fearful speculation. Was the problem growing and how quickly could it eliminate the mist entirely? What could happen if the veil began to thin and recede in other protected areas? So many thousands of seasons had passed since the mist barriers had been established, what horrors would take place if the supposedly extinct animals, especially the larger ones, were suddenly allowed to roam free and discovered that their once-sacred grounds were now populated by humans? How would humans respond to the sudden appearance of animals that no one living had ever seen?
Worst of all, though, and a worry shared by all Nawa’ Diyo and other magic souls as well, was how the humans might react if the magicians suddenly lost the ability to keep everyone invisible? Invisibility wasn’t a skill that everyone mastered anymore they hadn’t needed to maintain the practice because of the high level of protection they had enjoyed for so many seasons. Some worried that younger souls might not be able to work invisibility spells at all, though those fears would later prove to be unfounded.
Apa’ii set at the top of the home tree with Pai, Pausnuck, and Pockwatch, her radiance serving as a beacon for those late in arriving. She heard their worries. She felt their fear. “What can we tell our guests and our clans that might help them feel more at ease?” she asked of her counselors. “Right now, there is such great fear among them that reason and calculation are almost non-existent. If the council meets under these conditions they will not make wise choices and our actions may be regrettable.”
Pockwatch was the first to speak as he sat cross-legged in the center of a leaf. “This is a new experience, one that we have not encountered at any significant level at all. Fear and a lack of understanding are natural. We should not act to make anyone feel shame for experiencing fear and having questions.”
“Neither can we allow that fear, natural and understandable as it may be, to influence decision-making,” Pausnuck said as he paced along a small branch near the queen. “I think thorough and comprehensive distribution fo the facts as they are currently known should help calm nerves considerably.”
“Or aggravate them even more,” Apa’ii said gently. “We have long been a tribe capable of reading between the lines, paying as much attention to what is left out as to what is said. The absence of firm answers will not go unnoticed by even the youngest of souls. We put ourselves in a position of weakness when we leave space for someone else to provide answers that may be inaccurate.”
“Perhaps I can help provide some more accurate messages,” said a white-clad vila as she lit a leaf opposite Apa’ii. A magic soul of ancient Slavic origin, her name was Fleau, a respected and much-loved magician who had migrated to join the Nawa’ Diyo when the white walkers were starting to spread across the continent “I was visiting family in the old country when the announcement of the council meeting arrived. They, too, live behind the protected veil, and there, as it has here, it has started just recently to recede. They have no invisibility where it once existed and the ability to transmute in that area is growing weaker. Taking the form of a horse, for example, is most painful.
“That is most disconcerting,” Apa’ii said. “You’ve en transmuting into a horse for so long I would have thought it to be a very natural process for you. Is it only in the areas formerly affected by the mist that creates this problem?”
In response, Fleau lept from the leaf and landed gracefully on all four hooves as she reached the ground, presenting herself as a stunning white mare. She pranced once around the base of the home tree before leaping upward and returning to the leaf in her natural form. “See, no problems!” she said as she sat down. “I was completely surprised when it didn’t go well. Even when I was first learning the magic from my mother and failing often, there was not the level of pain I felt today. We have a global issue ahead of us. I’m sure that other councilors have similar stories to tell. Coming through the mist here was also a challenge.”
Pausnuck stopped pacing and cocked his head to one side. “Wait, do you mean in the are coming to the mist or inside the mist itself?” he asked.
“Just before the mist was a repetition of the pain I felt in Europe. I couldn’t stay invisible so I painfully changed to horse form until I was well within the mist,” Fleau explained. “But even within the mist, where we’ve always been safe, reverting back was difficult and I couldn’t escape the feeling that something or someone within the mist was chasing me or trying to catch me.”
Fleau’s story sparked a sudden emotion in Pai, a sense of fear with a touch of shame He didn’t say anything but Apa’ii picked up the emotional transition quickly.
“You didn’t want to tell me, did you?” the queen said as she looked over at her partner.
“When I returned home after seeing Maliea,” he said, looking down at the leaf rather than meeting her gaze. “At first I thought it was just my imagination, my emotions getting the better of me, perhaps. But as I passed deeper into the mist I am almost positive I felt of possibly heard someone following me. Only when I reached the clearing did that peculiar sensation go away.”
Pockwatch was now standing on the edge of a leaf, gazing out over the lights of the assembled community below. “That particular sensation is not new, my queen,” he said quietly. “Thought, it has been many seasons since it was last mentioned.”
Apa’ii dimmed her countenance and the first around them lowered its voice to a gentle whisper. “Being followed? Yes, that’s a familiar trick the troubled ones have used when they’re especially angry. That doesn’t explain Fleau’s difficulting in reverting back to her natural form. They don’t have that power. I if something in the mist is effecting Fleau’s power, it’s almost certainly effecting theirs as well, and I can’t imagine that making them happy.
“We’ll double the sentries tonight. We don’t need the troubled ones trying some of their nonsense while the entire council is here. They were invited to participate, as always, but once again they declined.”
Fleau’s own radiance dimmed slightly lower than Apa’iis as she stepped over to speak directly with the queen. “If I may, your majesty, I do have a thought about what could be causing our magic to diminish.”
“Anything to help begin to explain all this would be appreciated,” Apa’ii said. “You’ve always been a wise and thoughtful member of the council.”
“Thank you, your majesty. I am grateful to have your confidence,” Fleau replied. “We’ve always known that magic, all magic, is the strongest and most resilient where earth’s natural magnetic waves are also strong. We have, from the earliest beginnings, known this and established our communities and most sacred places accordingly. We also know that there is a link between the health of the planet and its magnetic forces. As a particular species of beings, we have stood by and not intervened as humans have done more damage to our home than we ever thought imaginable. The magnetic poles have begun to shift in response to this ecological horror we have witnessed. Everything I’m saying is documented well, your majesty, and I know most of this knowledge has come through your own generous leadership. So is it not possible that, as the poles realign, so are the waves on which we’ve based our magic for thousands of seasons?” Is it possible that we are experiencing a realignment, and if we are, is it also possible that a strong ecological re-establishment movement could alter that alignment?
“Yes, I am aware that such a preposterous idea would require global cooperation from all magic souls and yes, I also understand that any such measure would likely have to be completed despite human interference, but I do believe it could be done.”
The top of the tree was quiet as Apa’ii considered Fleau’s words. She hovered above the very top branches, her radiance pulsing as she thought. Her presence was inescapable and everyone in the community below noticed, coming out of their homes to observe the magnificent waves of light as they danced through the color spectrum. Each wave of light represented a complete line of thoughts, the advantages, and disadvantages of every argument as she reasoned her way through the range of possibilities in what Fleau had described.
As her internal debate intensified, the sky filled with color, amazing magical souls across all of the continent, letting them know that their queen was considering a most important and critical matter. Out in the desert, the troubled ones noticed, too, and stopped to watch the amazing demonstration of Apa’ii’s incredible mental power.
When the lights finally dimmed, Apa’ii floated back down to the assembly at the top of the home tree. Her expression was one of radiant peacefulness as she sat cross-legged on the leaf, her arms outstretched with her palms upward. Everyone around her bowed respectfully, each one warmed and astonished by what they had witnessed. Only as the light dimmed to its normal glow did Apa’ii begin to speak in a gentle and musical voice.
“I have seen the earth through many seasons,” she began. “We have comforted her through great heat and the upheaval of her curst. We have preserved her when a great chill froze so many other forms of life. This is our mother, the source from which our life’s energy flows. We are this planet’s most fervent protectors and, at times, it’s gardener, removing the weeds so that more vibrant life can grow.
“For many seasons now, we have looked at these humans as something of a lesser kind, beings who were lacking in reason, too given to emotion, and so distrusting of their own wisdom that their magic has yet to be discovered. They are lowly creatures in need of great guidance, something I have been slow to give them. My hope has always been that humans would finally, one day, come into their own and develop into useful partners.
“After thoroughly testing Fleau’s premiss, however, I am no longer convinced that our mother can survive long enough for humans to reach their destiny on their own. While magnetic shifts have regularly occurred, completely reversing the poles every four or five hundred thousand seasons, we have not, in my lifetime, seen so tremendously large a shift has been observed; a reverse in polarity that is detrimental to the magic community around the globe.
“There is no stopping this coming reversal. It is happening within the bounds of the universal schedule and to try and stop it could have devastating effects. What we can do, however, is examine the degree to which human interaction has aggravated this current shift, causing a mutation of magnetic eaves that is threatening our magic and, perhaps, our very existence.
“I can tell you now that our mother is feeling pain from all her inhabitants, including us. Therefore, during tomorrow’s council, let it be known that I will entertain well-thought and reasonable suggestions for slowing or altering the magnetic eave patterns with this current reversal. I know there is great wisdom among us. I expect only your best.”
As Apa’ii ended her speech, she lowered her countenance, allowing darkness to cover the community around the home tree. She looked at Pai and said softly, “I believe I will go and rest now. I do not require companionship in this moment; you are free to enjoy whatever your pleasure may find. My only request is that you be the only one to wake me. I do not desire an audience at such an early hour.”
The assembled magicians bowed again as Apa’ii left the top of the tree and retreated to its heart where she could rest without danger. Fleau looked over at Pai and asked, “Does that mean you are free to drink?”
He smiled back, “Whatever pleasure you might find entertaining.”
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Scattering out along the root system of the home tree laid a large and vibrant community of magical souls consisting of almost every variation and blending of species one could ever imagine. Here, magic was a way of life. There were partis with exploding desserts, bars with drinks that refill themselves, and instruments playing music all on their own. By day, the community was bustling with souls zipping back and forth taking care of responsibilities such as guiding migrating birds across changing landscapes, showing bees new patches of pollinating flowers, and making sure the forest floors stayed moist. Life in the community was vibrant and almost always enjoyable for both residents and guests.
On this particular evening, the streets had been full of guests as council members have brought family and extended clan members for a chance to see the home tree. Each had hoped that they might catch a glimpse of Queen Apa’ii and she had not disappointed them. The sight of her atop the home tree with her brilliantly changing aura had thrilled everyone. As she had dimmed her countenance and retreated into the tree, the lands and paths below had returned to a festival atmosphere. Tomorrow the council would debate some of the most serious issues to affect magical populations in several thousand seasons. Tonight, however, was given entirely to frivolity and pleasure.
At a large table in a small stone pub sat one visiting council who seemed to ignore all the noise outside, preferring instead to sit at the table with his brothers and a few friends of a similar kind from other continents. Arviss was a pure dwarf, one of a handful of tribes of dwarves that had survived by digging intricately carved tunnels through all the world’s mountain systems, allowing them to travel anywhere without needing to use an invisibility spell to avoid detection by humans.
Arviss looked much as one expected, nearly as wide as he was tall, his long brown beard braided down his chest and carefully tucked into his belt along with two massive brad swords that sang when unsheathed for battle. The dwords were largely for decoration, though, and to help maintain the tough reputation dwarves had within the magic community. Hundreds of seasons had passed since there had been any wars to fight. There was none now, save for perhaps the troubled ones, who was foolish enough to challenges the dwarves. They never traveled alone and the absence of war had given them plenty of time to refine, improve, and sharpen their weapons.
Tonight, Arviss was celebrating a reunion with his cousin, Tupi, a red-haired dwarf from the land humans referred to as Brazil. Tupi traveled rarely owing in large part fo the fact that his feet were on backward. While that trait had been an advantage back when humans tried to catch him, not it was just another nuisance that made his life a bit harder than it was for his kin. As a result, he tended to have a more sour disposition, especially when it came to the topic of humans.
They were well into their fifteenth, or maybe their twenty-first round of grog, that magic elixir that left one feeling happy without dulling their senses, when the radiant colors from Apa’ii’s countenance had filled the small pub. They all had, naturally, rushed outside to watch, but now that it was over, they gathered back at their table, pitchers refilled with grog, discussing all the queen had said.
“Bloody mess, this whole magnetic wave alignment,” Arviss said with his customary growl. “Although, you realize, brothers, there is perhaps profit to be made here as some of the weapons we’ve made for others may need realignment as well.”
“Do you really think anyone is still using those old catapults and such,” his eldest brother, Argmin, challenged. “No one’s used those damn things for nigh one 1600 seasons or so.”
“Nah, your math is daft, as always,” replied Alyn, the next younger brother. “More like 2800 seasons. We haven’t left the mounting in 1800 seasons A lot has changed out here.”
“Humans have been busy, that’s for sure. I wonder who’s building their weapons for them now?” Arviss questioned. “With storms like what the humphs whipped up today, I bet they could do with some iron roof coverings. That was quite a wind they were a’whippin’ up there, wa’n’t it?” I’m pretty sure I saw some things a’flyin’ that tweren’t meant to be a’flyin’.”
“Si, it would have been frightening had we been taller,” Tupi responded as he finished off another pitcher of grog. “At least the tunnels up here came right up to the border, or where the border normally is.” He paused and took a large gulp from the re-filled pitcher. “Everything, it is all changing. You don’t leave the mountains for a few thousand seasons and when you come out nothing is where it was the last time. Crazy, I tell you.”
“Aye, cousin, it would have been nice had the humans settled down and been satisfied with what they had. We use to be at peace with them. Now, here they are a kidnappin’ our scout? The old humans would kill the new humans if the old humans were still alive, and we’d be a’makin’ their weapons for them,” Arviss grumbled. “Out lives were better when the humans weren’t tryin’ to do everything for themselves. They want to be the bird and the fishies and the bear all at the same time and they haven’t figgered out how to human yet!”
“So, what will you tell the queen tomorrow, dear brother?” Alyn asked, wiping grog foam from his mustache.
Arviss took a massive swig of grog and wiped his face with the back of his hand. “I’m gonna tell her majesty that if humans are going to start capturing magic folk, then perhaps its time we reinstituted the policy of kidnappin’ humans. We used to do that, ya’ know. Her majesty stopped the practice because she said it made it impossible for the humans to trust us. But look at ‘em now. Who’s the ones what bein’ all untrustworthy like? I say we take one of them for every one of ours they snatch.”
“An’ what we gonna do with ‘em when we snatch ‘em?” Argmin asked. “I don’ know ‘bout other folks, but I never found their taste all that appetizin’ an’ I’m sure they ha’ent gotten any better.”
“Aye, we don’ wanna start eatin’ ‘em again,” Adwin, the youngest brother said, speaking for the first time in a while. “I still remember wha’ it was like. Eatin’ humans made folks mean, not jus’ to humans but to everyone. We go back to eatin’ them an’ the wars is likely to start back up.
Arviss rubbed his hands together and smiled. “Think of the profit we could make from that! The wars weren’t really all that bad.”
“Arg. Are ya’ kiddin’ me?” Tupi replied. “The wars were a disaster. I can’t run fast enough to return to war. I think we are better to take a kid or two and dump them down a ravine. I know of a few good ones.”
“We are forgetting something, my brothers,” Alyn said. “We always used invisibility to protect us in the old days. If we lose that now, we are in no shape to be kidnappin’ nothin’. We could end up being caught ourselves.”
The dwarves looked at each other then took another drink from their pitchers. None of them were anxious to admit that Alyn was right. To enter the human world without the benefit of invisibility, however, would be almost certain suicide, something dwarves had never done.
“We don’ know for certain that the magic is gonna disappear from the human realm,” Arvis said after a moment. “An’ we don’t have to assume that any of we dwarf folk would be the ones what do the actual kidnappin’. The Elbenkönig were the ones what were always good at that sort of thing. Lure the wee ones away to certain death, they did” He paused and thought just a moment before continuing. “Ya’ know, I’m not sure whatever became of those folk. Not heard a word about Elbenkönig in a few thousand seasons. I know there are none on the council, not purebloods at least.”
Tupi spat on the ground next to the table. “That’s the trouble with all these mix-breed folk They’ve lost all the heritage of we ancient kind. The Elbenkönigcould never resist a pretty young
magic thing, anyway. Any part of them that still exists is likely unrecognizable now. A shame, it is. So many of the pure breeds, completely lost.”
The dwarves around the table nodded in agreement. Arviss raised his pitcher. “A toast to the purebred who are no longer with us. May the strength of their heritage rise up to serve us in our hour of need.”
The other dwarves raised their pitchers in a hearty “aye,” in agreement. They then sat there the rest of the night telling stories of magic folk who hadn’t been seen in their original form for hundreds of seasons, drinking grog, and feeling good about themselves.
Bockwimen waited patiently at the edge of the mist. The storms had delayed Pudguwigen’s return and he was anxious for the news. He had seen the reflection of the light from the home tree and knew that Queen Apa’ii had been considering something important. He had also watched as the various council members had arrived with their entourage of various sizes. That none of them were able to hold their invisibility was frightening. As planned, the storms had achieved the purpose of sending the humans back to their homes. The councils should have been able to walk or fly into the mist without any worry. He knew, however, that the humans might have left behind cameras or other technological means of tracking movement and he didn’t trust that they hadn’t left any such devices behind. Had there been any watching devices, they would have seen only a large gray wolf standing at the edge of the forest.
Bockwimen waited patiently into the night. We watched as the clouds disappeared and the sky filled with stars. He made a game of looking for his favorite constellations, letting out a very wolf-like howl when he found them.
Finally, deep in the night, Pudguwijen appeared in the form of a common ground dove, blending in deftly with the trees around him. He perched on a low limb just above the wold and said, “I followed the human vehicle, an SUV I think they call it, but I fear my report remains incomplete.”
“Tell me what you know,” Bockwimen said, his voice deep and growling like the wolf.
“They took him and all the birds to a laboratory first. As far as I could tell, Puckwudjinee was doing well transitioning between his bird form and invisibility. The humans did not notice the transition at all. But then, they started placing radio bands on a leg of each of the birds. He tried to avoid being banded by staying invisible, but he wasn’t able to hold that form too long and when one of the humans noticed he didn’t have a band, they quickly grabbed him and put the tracking device on him.
“Obviously, this presents a new problem. With the band on, Puckwudjinee can switch between bird form and invisibility well enough, but he can’t return to his natural state. He can’t change into another form, either.”
Bockwimen paced around the base of the tree while Pudguwijin gave his report. When he paused, Bockwimen replied. “The tracking device is a problem. If, or rather when we rescue him, he cannot return until we have him free of that device. The last thing we need is a bunch of humans trapesing through here trying to find him.” The scout paused a moment, listening to the sound of a wolf call in the distance. “So, this lab, you think we can get in there?”
“Sure! Easy!” Pudguwijen replied. “But it won’t do us any good. They took all the birds, put them in special crates, and then put them on an airplane.”
Bockwimen’s astonishment was so great that for a second he lost control and switched back to his natural form. “You mean to tell me that these crazy humans took birds, beings that fly on their own, and put them in one of their machines so they could fly to… Where were they sending them?”
The younger scout hopped from limb to limb as Bockwimen paced furiously below. “Someplace they were calling the ‘Portland Launch Facility.’ Not sure where that is.”
“There are multiple choices,” Bockwimen growled, “but most likely the one on the West coast. They’ve done this trick before, only in reverse. They brought birds from the West and let them loose in the forests just to our South, cruelly dumping them in unfamiliar territory, just to see if they could find their way home. Apa’ii found out and helped them, of course, but that wasn’t enough to undo the trauma those poor birds felt.”
Pudguwijen gave a couple of low calls to maintain his cover. “How do we find this Portland place? Are there Nawa’ Diyo who can help?”
“Yes, and we will let them handle matters there. They are good souls and will know of this place. They will also know if strange birds are present in their forests. We must tell Apa’ii, though, in the morning. The council will want to know.”