The Thinning Veil

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Here we are, starting another book, serialized online partly for your amusement, and partly to provide myself with the discipline to make sure that I’m writing on a regular schedule and actually getting things done. That this is the third such book feels somewhat incredible as prior to adapting this method I’d rarely made it past chapter ten over many abandoned attempts. I’ve considered going back and resurrecting some of those books, but I find I’m not nearly as interested in them now as I was when I first wrote them, and I would have to completely re-work them for them to even be marginally readable. We’re in a different place, a different mindset, and it shows.

That being said, there are some changes in the way I am approaching this book, partly for my own convenience and partly because I think they make for a better reading experience. I am also aware that writing in the midst of a pandemic that not only affects how we, as a society, behave but how we think and read, requires some modifications in how I approach telling the story.

One significant alteration is in how this story is presented. I am using a slightly larger type this time to help guard against eye strain. I am also increasing the distance between lines for the same purpose. As we all have stayed home and are reading more, our eyes grow tired more easily. Hopefully, this makes for a more pleasant online reading experience.

Formatting gets a makeover in this book as well. One of the things I noticed half-way through Pastors’ Conference, 1972 was that limiting the format to two chapters of approximately 3,000 words each sometimes forced me to compromise the story. That’s going to mean a lot more work in the re-write that hasn’t started yet. I want to avoid that with this book. So, my intent is to arrange chapters within the logical flow of the story. That means some weeks there may be only one chapter. Other weeks, there could be four chapters of varying sizes. 

At the head of each week’s entry will be a set of bookmarks with the chapter titles and, possibly, specific chapter sections. Clicking on those bookmarks will take one directly to that section. My hope is that by adding this feature, we remove the feeling that one must read the entire selection in one setting. This should make it easier to return on different days throughout the week and easily pick up at or near where one left off without having to do all that scrolling.

Readers will also, hopefully, see more interstitial requests for funding. Some of these will be through the “Donate Now” buttons placed between chapters. Others will be direct ads for Old Man Talking merch, which should be working but no one ever looks at, which I find disappointing. The reasons for doing this are multiple. First, like many, our income has been diminished by the need to quarantine. We need your support to help pay the small but continuing costs of this website. Second, there is an ethical argument to be made regarding taking advantage of one’s creative work without providing compensation. This is a draft, so asking a normal retail price isn’t appropriate. Slipping us a couple of bucks every few weeks, however, indicates your appreciation for our effort. Think of it as a form of tipping.

Perhaps most importantly, however, is recognizing that this is a different genre than our previous books and one needs to be in a somewhat different mindset when reading. This book unapologetically falls into the realm of fantasy; think C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien without the genius or, perhaps, the length. Whether or not this book could be the first of a series depends as much on whether you enjoy reading it as well as whether I enjoy writing it, so I make no commitments to that end. However,  I do want to be thorough in creating this new universe so that it, at least, feels plausible to the degree that such topics can ever be considered plausible. 

In creating this story, it is necessary to write a new canon regarding magical creatures. Through considerable amounts of research as to the varying types and qualities of those commonly, and often mistakenly, referred to as fae, we have found a number of situations that are untenable for this story. I won’t bore you with all of them, but let’s get past some major points.

First, nothing about this story is set in Europe during the dark or middle ages. There is no stilted formal language among any of the characters unless it is appropriate to a specific occasion. While influenced by the past, our characters are wholly modern and the world we create for them is contemporary, having evolved from all the stories of the 18th and 19th centuries with which we are already familiar.

Second, as our story takes place in North America, the descriptions, names, and appearances of our characters reflect the influence of the indigenous peoples who populated this continent some 13,000 years ago. Their rich folklore and their method of storytelling are woven into the fabric of our story. Where North American-derived characters meet European, Asian, and/or African-derived characters, my hope is that we illuminate the depth of each culture, representing the differences that exist in each region’s indigenous tales.

Third, and perhaps as important as anything else I might say here, is the warning that I have no intention of making this tale “cute” or in any other way palpable for children. This is a book that addresses life among mature creatures whose lives are filled with hundreds if not thousands of years of experience. Characters do not have cute names. The creatures whose lives we explore are not Disney-fied, and neither is the universe in which they live. There is no more sparkle and glitter in their world than there is in your own; perhaps less. Serious topics are raised and their resolution follows their own rules of conduct on such matters. 

I raise these issues here, before you begin reading, in the hope that readers do not bring into this story any preconceived ideas that these characters must have traits similar to or behave in a manner consistent with any other fantasy one might have read. This is a different universe with different creatures and their own set of rules. Those sources influencing my writing do so only in terms of the quality and thoroughness of the worlds they constructed. This is not Tolkien. 

Telling of this story comes with some trepidation. The world I am about to show you is probably not going to match up with anyone’s childhood fantasies. As much as people love the anthropomorphized white lion of C.S. Lewis and the elven creatures of Tolkien, our story introduces us to a different world, the ancestors of those fabled creatures. Their traits have changed—they had to in order to survive. Fans of a particular creature tend to dislike such changes to the way they’ve traditionally viewed them. I may well be making enemies for myself.

Biting off more than should be chewed is a character flaw I have difficulty leaving behind and this may yet prove to be another example of that failure. Only the writing will tell whether this is an act of inspiration or insanity. Our hope is that you will go with us on this journey, letting me know when a matter becomes too clouded or unfathomable as well as the elements that one might find exciting. I’m leaving the comments open at the end of each entry. Feel free to use them.

Let us, together, take a big breathe and jump into this story, right after this announcement from our sponsor.


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Introduction

The Thinning Veil

The story I’m about to tell you is one of fantasy born on the wings of legend and steeped in the myth of the world’s native peoples. Their ways remain unknown and misunderstood by those who only see the result of their actions. 

To call them people of any kind is insulting to their ancient origins. To call them creatures is to diminish their gifts and magical talents. Humans of the First World named them differently with geographic relationships and understanding. The fae came from across Europe. Asian peoples told of Shin and the Mogwai. Yaksha haunts Hindu and Buddhist tales. Peris are known throughout Persia. Alux and Chaneques linger in Mexico. Aziza came to North America with humans from Africa. Together, they and others still exist and today we pull back the cover of their lives and their shared existence for without them humanity would most surely have killed itself off many centuries ago.

Yet, were it not for humans they would not have been brought together in the form or conditions in which they now exist. None ever knew of the other in the way they do now. Each lived in their own place, attached to and caring for the existence of nature and humans living in their native lands. There was a kinship between magical beings and the living, breathing souls around them. With greater global migration, both voluntary and involuntary, they found themselves thrown together, sometimes in matters of mutual aid and at other times in defense of their own traditions. As they gathered in what humans now call North America, they became known collectively as Niwa’Diyo—small good ones (pronounced nee-wah dee-yō). 

Living in their world has not always been peaceful and even now to make such a claim would be naive. That is not to say that their world has more perils than our own. Here, perhaps more than in the realm of humanity, there are forces of good and forces of evil and plenty are those whose thoughts and actions might be swayed by either. One dare not assume, on the unlikely chance of encountering a Niwa’Diyo, which direction their moral compass might swing as that determination is rarely absolute and change according to the conditions of the encounter.

Among the Niwa’Diyo remain traces of the beings told about in the stories and legends of old. They, too, know the stories and the truths that lie behind the legends. They each have an appreciation for and deep knowledge of their ancestry, their culture, and their heritage. Such knowledge and recognition does not make them exactly like their ancestors, or at times, remotely similar to the beings known in books humans have written. Like humans, they have evolved, adapting not only to the changes of the natural earth but also the exposure to and inter-mingling of magical souls from other lands on other continents. Not that they interbred in the same way that humans have, but as various souls have been friendly in their co-existence they have shared powers and physical traits that would make them unrecognizable to those whose stories have already been told.

Therefore, dear reader, put away your assumptions and the presumption of knowledge you might have taken from the literary lore of days in the past. We are no longer in those realms, not among those peoples. We write now of their descendants, those who are the children of survivors from those often terrible and tragic events These are the souls that inhabit a modern world, have a contemporary language, and a view of all the earth, not limited by race or geography but experienced travelers all with refined magic that is more precise in its outcome and less guesswork in its methods.

At the same time, we must now understand that the souls living around us today are less aware of human presence than they have ever been. The fine mist that once existed between our two worlds is more of a wall. Few are those who have knowledge of how to enter or exit. Fewer still are those who dare to wander back and forth. They care not for what humans have become. They consider us to be a race of fools and imbeciles that have lost our relationship to the natural world and too stupid to know what we are missing.

The language they speak is not one any living human would recognize. Once, when the mist was thin and magical souls traversed among humans, they communicated quite freely, but as humans became more developed and began to question the existence of magic, they slowly forgot the magical languages. Today, even if there were a human who still recognized the old languages, and there hasn’t been such a soul for many generations, they would not likely recognize what the Niwa’Diyo now speaks. As the languages of humans have evolved, so, too, has the languages of other realms, gradually blending and mixing until they have achieved a universal tongue recognized by all manner of Niwa’Diyo regardless of their ancestry or origin.

Accordingly, when one reads their dialogue in the following pages, it is an interpretation of that language provided by no one less than Apa’ii herself, for which we are most grateful. Being a magical translation rendered by royalty, we can be certain of its authenticity and accuracy. We need not question whether what is written is what was said, for every word on every page as been checked and confirmed by the Queen. To question this text, therefore, is to question the Queen who does not take such challenges lightly. She can be fierce when she considers her integrity insulted.

One should also note at this point that all of the souls in this magical realm, regardless of their ancestral origins, are largely immortal, which sets up some rather unique conflicts. For example, as depressed as Apa’ii’s chief scout into the human world, Bockwimen, may get, he can never truly kill himself. Hence, he has never thought to do so. Similarly, no matter how angry the oppositional agitator Bogmenak might become with Apa’ii and her administration, he never plots to kill her on the grounds that doing so only results in a waste of resources. Mind you, he has frequently made attempts to usurp her power, and more than a few times he has come close to succeeding. Murder or assassination, however, is not thought and does not exist in the Niwa’Diyo vocabulary, at least not insomuch as it might be targeted toward each other.

Be aware, more than a few Niwa’Diyo have the thoughts, the powers, and the means to remove the lives of humans from their bodies. Again, many years have passed since such onerous activities were legal or common among the magical community. Few would even consider those procedures once common among Sirens and such to hold the slightest amount of personal fulfillment. Human elements, whether their blood or bones or spirits, no longer have the life-sustaining power that they once held for magical souls. In fact, one could argue that they barely hold enough power to sustain a human for the brevity of their lifetime.

Magical life is consumed with the fulfillment of responsibilities to the planet and the powers of the universe. 

Those who possess magic know they are not alone. Many are those who still recall the once frequent visits from those who live among what we know as stars. Among those interstellar guests, it is those born of magic that are the true and rightful inhabitants of the earth. Humans that once seemed to hold promise too quickly squandered and misuse what had been given to them. Their constant wars and seeming inability to learn from their errors eventually drove those star souls away, having determined them to be a race unworthy of further development.

By the beginning of what humans count as their twenty-first century, Apa’ii and her kind were so far removed from any meaningful interaction with the humans that the humans considered their legends to be tales of fiction and young magical souls considered humans to be the monsters of elder stories designed to teach them care and compassion. Only Bockwimen and his troop of carefully trained scouts dared to venture beyond the deep mist. They know how to stay invisible and out of the way. They know to avoid the manner in which humans carelessly use electricity and observe with caution the technological progress that allowed humans to feel that they were achieving forward momentum even as the power of their collective conscience continued to wane, especially in the regions where humans had first appeared.

Scouts follow strict results that Bockwimen enforces with a heavy hand. Scouts must not consume anything of human construct. Scouts must remain fully invisible while within the human realm. Scouts must avoid any interaction with humans save to protect from one of them accidentally crossing through the mist. While scouts must be fluent in the human languages, they are not allowed to speak them at any volume that might be picked up by human ears or their electronic listening devices. Bringing human objects back through the mist is prohibited.

Only Bockwimen makes reports to Apa’ii and her court. No other scouts are allowed to speak of what they see or hear. Neither does Apa’ii allow her court ministers to speak openly of the report. The purity of the magical realm is to be maintained at all costs. At least, that was the case up until the events recounted in this book. 

Magical souls live everywhere. They must, given that they outnumber humans by several billion owing to their near-immortality. Each magical species has its own unique method of reproduction, though they have become more common and unified as the Niwa’Diyo has blurred the lines between similar species. Regardless of the species, though, the moment a new magical soul breathes its first breath sends ripples of excitement through the entire universe. Even Queen Apa’ii herself feels a rush of pleasure with each new life. In a similar fashion, they all know when a magical soul is removed from them. Joy and sorrow are communal emotions that none of them can fully escape. Because of this, there has always been a closeness among magic souls, an emotional connection, unlike anything humans have the ability to comprehend.

Battles and wars between species, common in ancient times and unheard of now, exacted a heavy toll on all magic souls as they all felt each one that fell on the battlefield. If anything, that unbreakable link they share is largely responsible for the peace that has existed between them for over 200 human years.

While the Niwa’Diyo is ubiquitous across the planet, they still tend to gather in those places where magic itself is the strongest. For the most part, these tend to be places where nature has been allowed to go largely untouched. Even humans can feel magic in these places. Of course, they don’t recognize it as magic; some refer to the places as spiritual or peaceful, occasionally pristine. What humans cannot realize is that not only are they feeling magic but also the peaceful souls of all the hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of Niwa’Diyo who live there. 

In days past, these magic centers were often places of healing for humans. Kind magic souls were happy to help those wounded. What Niwa’Diyo soon discovered was that humans, even the kind and gentle ones, inevitably brought violence and hate to the magic places. No, the humans didn’t mean to introduce their faults to these revered places, but the species seems unable to escape them. As a result, more and more, with no small amount of sorrow and discussion, the magic places were walled off from humans. Not physical walls, of course, but the invisible and impermeable kind that allows humans to see the beauty without feeling the full effect of the magic. Sure, humans say they feel something special in these places, but that is from within their own nature. There is no human still living who has experienced the full magic right in front of them.

One of the things important to realize is that magical souls don’t have “skin” in the same way as humans. That is because all magic comes from the earth in one way or another, causing those who are made of magic to be composed fully of those elements used in their creation. Some, for example, are made of pure stone, others of metal, some of various minerals, and a few composed wholly of precious stones. Most, however, like Apa’ii, are made of a mixture of elements. Apa’ii herself has a beautifully carved core of white oak around which bark forms a light covering, with strands of hair that have the texture of willow leaves. When light hits the wood just right, Apa’ii seems to glow and her hair flutters capriciously even in the slightest breeze. Were she to ever choose to make herself visible to humans they would have no doubt succumbed to her great beauty and done anything she might ask. Apa’ii fears that even she might not be able to resist the evil side of such power, though, and keeps herself hidden from humanity’s safety.

Niwa’Diyo tends to look at humans as inferior beings. As a group, they still remember when humans first emerged on the face of the planet. Some climbed up out of the canyons, others emerged from the mud, while still others descended from high mountain lakes. Early humans were welcome. Being born of the earth, they were naturally in tune with all living things. While they were easily deceived and often tricked by both animals and magical souls, they learned lessons as they went, growing in their knowledge of natural life and learning how best to use earth’s resources to meet their needs.

Over time, though, humans began to grow cocky and conceited. They started considering themselves the masters of all things, the dominant species on the planet, expecting subservience from all manner of plant, animal, and magical being. Obviously, every other soul was offended, especially the animals, whose natural instinct remains to fight back. Animals proved to be no match for human weapons, though. Magical souls saw no choice but to step in and use magic to hide those who were being over-hunted. Humans thought they were wiping out entire species when, in reality, those in danger were being hidden; some underground and others using invisibility charms.

That method worked for a while but such magic requires great amounts of strength and endurance on the part of those casting the spell. Each time a magical soul would slip and let an animal be seen, thousands would be killed by poachers who were always waiting at the ready. Finally, the magic ones had little choice but to permanently move many of the most endangered animals into sacred magic spaces where no humans can ever find them.

Niwa’Diyoh don’t live in homes the way humans do or even caves or burrows as do the animals. Granted, they do have their preferred spaces, places they frequent that are convenient to their normal paths of travel. Still, magical souls prefer to rest among the material from which they were born, in the woods, among the grassland, in the flowers, along the beaches, in the rocks of the mountains, along snowbanks, and floating among the clouds. Because of their connection to nature, many magical souls are forever transient, moving with the seasons so that they can easily find their favorite places to rest. 

Only the souls of the wood, such as Apa’ii, are reasonably stationary. Woodland souls are hearty by design and during cold winter months need only to sleep deeper into the grain to stay comfortable. 

Souls of the rock don’t necessarily have any requisition for travel as the changing of seasons affects them least of all. Yet, travel they do because it is easy for them and they enjoy visiting with their like kind from other regions. Sometimes, stone souls make problems for human scientists as they leave behind sediment and stone markers that are not native to that region. Geologists often try to find excuses for why humans might have transported the rock from one place to another but one can be quite certain that all such theories are composed of pure fiction.

Neither do Niwa’Diyo recognize family in the same manner as do humans. Being mostly beings of great age (as humans count years) and given that their manner of procreative is quite different and often more complicated than that of humans, there is no inherent parental relationship among them. They do understand the concept of parentage among humans, but magic souls are born through a magical process that may involve both magical souls and wild animals or flowers or insects. This is why some Niwa’Diyoh hide easily among humans simply by changing into whatever form of animal or plant that is part of them. Such magic also explains why most animals can see or are at least aware of the presence of magic when humans haven’t a clue.

While it is true that most Niwa’Diyo are at least tolerant of humans, in fact, the greater majority of them pay humans no mind at all and are completely oblivious to their presence. There remains the vile fact that the magic realm, too, has its rogues and frights. Most all of them stay well out of sight of humans. Their experience in ancient days taught them that humans are prone to kill that which they fear, especially when one’s presence is intimidating. Within the magic community, however, they are openly malicious, especially when provoked or imposed to aide by some agreement forced upon them without consideration.

Apa’ii is cunningly careful to either invite them to any negotiations, which they always decline, or otherwise exempt them if such a decree does not need to address them in the first place. There are others, though, regional governors who at times exceed their authority or do not take sufficient care in their crafting of decrees and, resultingly, anger the dark-minded souls. This is most often the cause for malicious mayhem and dark-minded souls revel in the opportunity to create chaos and lay waste to the communities that have been established.

Among such brooding souls, there can be no peace. Their restless nature pushes them toward aggression. Many were, in fact, born from the lava pools of molten rock that lie deep beneath the earth’s surface. Others were created in great storms that once shook the earth and shaped entire continents. Destruction and chaos are their reason for existing and if they go too long without being given sufficient cause for disruption then they manufacture a reason simply to give them an excuse to run amuck.

Because the grim ones are predictable in their need for slaughter and ruin, Apa’ii must constantly be aware of the messages she gets from the trees and the animals that live underground. More often than not, the fibrous network the trees use for sharing nutrition and information starts humming at a low, almost-inaudible frequency the moment the vile ones begin preparing to instigate any kind of attack. As that humming increases, the trees are able to tell Apa’ii which demons of the earth are upset and where they plan to attack. By using this information to keep the evil ones in check, Apa’ii has saved humanity from even knowing the monsters exist. For most humans, such creatures are the things of fairy tales and horror movies. Only among the magic realm is the reality of the evil ones known personally.

Life for the Niwa’Diyo is complex and full. Responsibilities are taken seriously but so, also, is recreation and the development of their personal magic skills. As with any dimension of existence, it is the upsets and failures that make for a good story, and here, behind the veil, there are many stories all happening under our noses without us ever having a clue they exist.


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