A steady rain was pattering down by the time the military APC reached the site of the attack.
An elderly electric bus had run off the road and stuck a tree. It’s rear doors had been left open and the rain was turning the dirt road around it into mud. Bluish blood mixed with it was one of the three soldiers President Esteban-Vega brought with her crouched over the body of one of the small gray-furred creatures—korrigan–that had pursued the Descendants in the Lost World.
“Shot by the bus driver,” explained one of the other soldiers, introduced tot he group as Colonel Song. He was a Chinese man whose face was badly scarred on the right side. It looked like he’d been burned. “According to the tourists, he killed this one and the other one,” he pointed to another body on the other side of the road, which the third soldier was in the process of covering with a tarp, “wounded another of the little ones and the big bastard.”
“The question is why they attacked in the first place,” said Warrick, carefully not looking at the corpses. He covered by focusing on the crud spear lodged in the bus’s grill. “Faeries aren’t just mindless monsters. They don’t just attack at random, and it doesn’t look like this is where they appeared when they got sent here. So… why?”
Colonel Song looked to the President, who nodded. He returned the nod before speaking, “Tourists say they took things; bags, the cooler with the tour’s boxed lunches—a small child was injured when one of them took his candy bar.”
“Food.” Kay said, looking surprised at herself.
“It can’t be that simple, can it?” Asked the President, “If they’re rational, they should know there’s much more in the way of food foraging in the jungle than robbing random passers by.”
Kay shook her head. “Not for faeries. The plants back in their home world are more badass than the animals. They avoid them if they can.” She looked around them at the jungle threatening to retake the road at any moment. “This place must be hell for them. They don’t know Earth plants won’t eat them.”
“They’ll want to get to somewhere with much less foliage as soon as possible. If Ozimas still has the oracle, he’ll use it to find it.” Lisa looked to the President. “Is there anyplace around here like that?”
Colonel Song answered for her. “Five months ago, we shut down an illegal logging operation not far from here. There’s a massive clearing and some of the machinery is still there.”
“That doesn’t seem right,” said Warrick. “Scared of plants or not, that’d be way too exposed if I were them.”
“You’re right.” President Esteban-Vega’s was a mask of deep disdain. Her hands were balled into fists. “I know where they would go.”
Tink had been checking the palmtop mounted to her wrist and finished the President’s thoughts. “The place where you were held—the most hellish cartel-owned plantation in all of Columbia: the Mara Sangua Palm Oil Plantation.”
“Wait,” said Tammy, completely failing to conceal her disappointment. “Palm oil? I thought we were going to a real life drug cartel site.”
“We are,” the President said darkly. “The cartels are about making money, not just producing drugs. During the Energy Revolution, biofuels commanded high prices and one of the most lucrative forms was palm oil. The cartel I grew up under, Veintitres Soldados, branched out from cocaine to palm oil forty year ago, starting with the plantation in question. The workers were either lured in with promises of good wages or kidnapped. Either way, they ended up little more than slaves.”
She cast her eyes aside. “I was born there. So were others. Hundreds more died. That’s why it was nicknamed Mara Sangua – the Ocean of Blood.”
“That doe not sound like a place we want to go to,” said Kura. “But the perfect place for the creepies to hang out, so I guess that’s where we’re headed?”
“It’s not going to be easy.” Tink had brought up old media footage taken after the ‘liberation’ of Mara Sangua. “The place was constructed during a time when the old Colombian government was going after Veintitres Soldados especially hard. They filled the surrounding jungle with traps and turned the interior work barracks into a combination prison and fortress.”
Warrick took over from her. “Ozimas will either figure that out or use the Oracle to and if there’s any defenses he can get up and running again, they’ll be waiting for us.”
“Also unicorns.” Kura was met with disbelieving stares from the Colombians. “No. Seriously. They’re masters of illusion and serious jerks. One tried to feed me to raptors.”
“Not the strangest things I’ve heard tell of, especially not in the last few years.” That came from Colonel Song. “People in the rural villages keep reporting strange things in the jungle and the rivers. Monsters, they say. Or spirits.”
“Those honestly could be faeries,” Lisa offered. “They’ve been crossing over to Earth for the past two years, but at random and usually not murderous. No one seems to be serious about doing a worldwide survey on this kind of thing. Or even a national one in the US.”
The President gave her a considering look. “There are creatures from the other world that aren’t hostile?” Lisa nodded. “Another thing for us to discuss once this is over. Opening up peaceful relations with them would be good for us.”
“No offense, Madame Presidente,” Colonel Song said, “But right now we need to be concerned with the unpeaceful relations the ones we’re tracking will open up if they decide to raid the towns near Mara Sangua.”
She nodded in return. “Of course. Let’s move out. And in the meantime, call in aerial reconnaissance in case we’re wrong about where they went. The jungle can hide entire legions ten feet from your face if they have half a mind. We cannot let these invaders escape.”
With a twirl of her wrist, she signaled everyone back to the APC. But as Tink passed her, she caught the younger woman by the shoulder. “A moment, Renaissance.” Warrick stopped and looked between the two. “Alone. Please.”
Warrick didn’t move on before Tink nodded. Then she made eye contact with the President, not saying anything.
“You’ve made quite a study of me. I’m not sure if half the school children in Colombia could point to Mara Sangua on a map even after a test on the Revolution, but you knew we were close just by getting your bearings. Why the interest when you obviously have so little regard for me?”
“It’s nothing that will interfere with the task at hand,” Tink assured diplomatically.
“That isn’t an answer to the question I asked.” her tone was even, with no anger or reproach at all.
Tink kept her stare level. “Let me ask you a question: how do you honestly feel when I tell you that Alloy and I are in a relationship. That one day I hope we might get married. Have children?”
A long silence followed this. “That I worry for the children. You have found a way to protect yourself from the danger he might present, but can you extend that to your offspring?”
“Forty percent of children of two descendants will never develop powers of their own and less than two percent of all descendants gain their powers before puberty. With all due respect, try again unless you take the children of all descendants away for their protection.”
The President blew out a long sigh. When she spoke again, she did so quietly. “Do you believe I don’t know how unfair the Separation Act is? Or how flimsy the reasoning is. It was put in place as a reaction to everything going on in the world at the time: the involuntary studies in France, the forced conscription in Russia and China, the Academy in America and the countless other atrocities. We were afraid that if impotentes took control again, they would put us right back into places like Mara Sangua. And I will admit to you: we were wrong. We let fear rules us just like everyone else did when they discovered the existence of our kind. I know that. You know that. But I am Present, not Empress. I have to work toward the change, not decree it.”
“Then stop vomiting up that flimsy reasoning to everyone you meet.” Tink replied coldly. “You might not be able to make a decree, but you can take a stand.” She turned away, tossing over her shoulder. “Now let’s go head into your nightmare.”
Ozimas watched the rain through the window of a worker’s barracks at center of Mara Sangua. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see water leaking from at least three places in the ceiling. A dim, conjured light illuminated the room, allowing him to see a partial reflection in the window.
Even after thousands of years, he remembered the face beneath the mask of frost he saw. A worthy sacrifice for his Queen, but a loss all the same. It was knowing what he’d given up and why that drove him; that kept him going when doubt might have made him stray.
“Kikahn? What do your scouts report?”
The leader of the korrigan warriors to emerge as if from the plaster wall next to the window. What looked like chips of said plaster warped and transformed back into the scruffy gray hair that covered his body, sticking out in patches from under his leather and cord armor. Intelligent eyes set in a shrewish face studied the room and its occupants carefully before she spoke.
“Villages within a day’s ride for you and Honored Monuul. The Mankinds are meticulous about keeping multiple stockpiles of food and other supplies scattered throughout their town. But they are guarded, always with multiple Mankinds patrolling. It is strange: they guard their villages very little, but the individual structures? They are all miniature fortresses.”
“Maybe to the small folk,” said a rumbling voice from the back of the room. The centaur was lying on his leonine belly while sharpening one of his stone spear be running a clawed hand over the edge. “But I’ve seen them in passing. Mankinds are obsessed with sunlight—that vehicle we attacked, their homes, their fortresses; they all have windows of fragile glass. Smash that and you can pour in like a river through a dam.”
Ozimas nodded. “Indeed. We all saw that the glass Mankinds make is easily breakable. In the early hours just before dawn, take half your number to raid for sustenance.”
The korrigan chieftain nodded devoutly. “As you command. Might I ask what our long term objective is? The oracle no longer senses the Artifact… or our way home.”
At this, Ozimas went silent for a long moment. His eyes locked on his reflection. At length, he finally spoke again. “We lacked critical intelligence in this matter. The forerunners learned of this strange blood magic like that which flows through our competition for the Artifact, but they missed things—critical things.”
He turned to face the others. “Tell me Monuul; your senses are greater than any here save the oracle: what can you tell us about the guardian we encountered.”
“What is you you want me to say, Ozimas? That its power is on par with the greatest magicians I’ve encountered back home? Or that the beast itself is a thing of magic the likes of which I’ve never encountered aside from Her Voice?”
Ozimas’s mouth tightened. “Then I was right. That… thing is a creation of the Mankinds made long after Cursed Hyrilius sealed the Blue World away. That means there were more like him; mages of power and strength beyond what we expected to encounter. Magic is not dead on this world. It is alive and vibrant and a thing to be reckoned with.”
“We must find a means of returning home. The Queen of Air and Darkness must be made aware that we cannot treat the Mankinds as ignorant savages, but powerful equals. We cannot hope to undermine them from the shadows. The only solution to the problem they present… is total war.”
Out in the jungle, something else was stirring.
A long and lazy day of lazing about had been interrupted by a familiar and not well-loved combination of sensations.
That thought connected with many possibilities not all of them bad, but elves were a a less and pleasant bunch as a general rule; haughty and uptight. Give him good, sturdy dwarves who worked hard and reacted with the appropriate kind of murderous vengeance given the right prodding.
Not just a lack of heat, but capital-C with a miserly insistence on stealing every iota of warmth… Oh yes, he knew that one well and hated it with as much bitterness as the thing itself could muster. Enemies gave off that feeling. The worst enemies. And the enemy.
The Air and Darkness.
What his people had long called Jotenheim.
In his territory. From the feel of it, the place of the burnt trees.
That was something he wouldn’t stand for.
Concentrating, he withdrew himself from the dozing monkey he’d been inhabiting and sought out another creature he kept around for just such an occasion. He’d never had the thirst for battle his family was known for, but oh would he relish this.
To Be Continued…