The Beigads, the damned scrounging thieves, had come in the night-time and raided the garden. It was enough to make Dogwood chew a rock in frustration. The Thorny Guardians had already doubled the amount of sentries during the day, and had added a night shift not long ago. Now it seemed as though he’d have to add more sentries at night, as well. It would not go over well in the meeting tonight.
As Dogwood floated along the garden rows to inspect the damage. His wings moved so quick they blurred and made a low humming noise. There was a broken fence here, trampled vegetables there, and pot holes of earth where the Beigads had dug up some of the food. His lips set in a thin, angry line as his mind raced to calculate whether they’d have enough food for the winter. It seemed as though they would, but the farmers would know better. They had been lucky of late, with their crops, but luck could run out at any time. They might have to trade with other Clans, which was never ideal—even with their allies.
When Dogwood landed on the ravaged earth, he followed the Beigad tracks to where they entered the garden. It was coming from the direction of the mountain and not the forest. It was strange. The Beigads normally stayed in the forested sections of the Reserve. The Reserve was nestled in a section of the Appalachian Mountains, and it was a haven for the kind of Supes—Supernaturals—who were either not readily accepted into human society, or didn’t want to give up their cultures to adapt.
Beigads, being boars who could somewhat speak, and had just below average human intelligence, were more suited to the Reserve. Though they were much larger than Pixies, Beigads were not fast enough to defend against swarms of Pixies.
They were difficult to distinguish from common wild boars, or even feral hogs in some cases, until they spoke. Even then it was difficult, because the snorting and squealing could mask the words. Especially if a Beigad was scared or excited.
The situation was also made more difficult by the fact Dogwood and the Thorny Guardians could not kill the damned intruders. As fellow Supes they were protected by the laws of the Reserve, and if they killed the Beigads, they would be exiled. They would also face criminal charges to boot. If the Rangers found out, that is. Unless massive amounts of bodies were found, Rangers tended not to find out about any skirmishes. However, with Beigads being so much larger than the Pixies, they were difficult to kill and dispose of the bodies.
Dogwood sighed. Sometimes it did not pay to be the size of a human child’s doll.
Most on the Reserve were willing to trade with the Pixies, who tended to grow excellent food. The Beigads either didn’t want to use or learn the concept of trade, or they didn’t give two figs. The larger races on the Reserve were willing to trade odds and ends to the smaller folk for their sweet and delicious food. They knew not to try and steal the Pixie food, since Pixies had nasty and mischievous natures about them when wronged. It was in their best interest to just trade.
The only ones who didn’t seem to realize this were the Beigads, who were lucky not to still be slaves, or meals. Some humans and Supes would use them for labor, and others didn’t care the Beigads could talk with them. A pig, was a pig, was a pig, to them. That all changed with the Accords, though. The Preternatural Peace Accords of 1876 deemed that no race will enslave another while on American soil, among other things. Once freed, they used most of their time to fight amongst themselves and pester other races the same size or smaller than them. Right now Dogwood’s clan, The Hemlocks, were the ones being pestered.
Dogwood was the Captain of the Thorny Guardians, and he had to report this incident to the elders at the meeting tonight. The information would only fuel the younger ones’ want for a war against the Beigads, and Dogwood was hoping to avoid that. War with the vermin would only attract unwanted attention from the human Rangers. Most Rangers tried their best to keep peace between the growing populations of supernatural creatures on the Reserve. None of them truly understood, though, since they were human. Some hate and some beliefs run too deep for a piece of paper to cure.
As the human world advanced toward more technology, more Supes were balking at the change, and retreating to the Reserves set aside by the government for all their kind.
Dogwood sighed again, as though he could sense defeat on the horizon, and made his way back to the outpost they built when their Clan had first shown up. As he passed by the gardens of fruits and vegetables, it made Dogwood smile in spite of the foreboding feeling in his gut. Only Pixies knew the secrets of growing whatever they pleased wherever they wished. Even with the Beigads raids, his Clan was flourishing and it was a wonderful thing to behold.
The main outpost came into view a little ways beyond the gardens. It was the headquarters of the Thorny Guardians, and the largest fortification beyond the meeting hall. They had other smaller outposts ringing the entirety of their Clansland, and Pixies manned each one and patrolled in-between. Night patrols tended to work as more of a skeleton crew, but that would have to change.
Being the Captain, Dogwood would most likely see a greater share of the night shifts than the rest, which was fair. However, this meant more time away from his daughter, Laurel, and he felt his heart sink even further. The day had his emotions bouncing around inside him like a ball, and the start of a headache curled its claws behind his left eye.
The clashing sounds of training greeted his ears, and he shook away the dark thoughts crowding his mind. Now is not the time. A Pixie, who stood a touch shorter than Dogwood, barked out commands at some of the new recruits. They were all clad in the same garb as the instructor: leather armor made from the skin of local animals. It was hot and uncomfortable to train in, and not a few scowls and curses were thrown at the instructor.
The instructor’s coloring was the blue of a sage flower, and thus his name: Sage. Their variety of Pixie stemmed from the Dragonfly, and their wings shimmered like gossamer. His were a blue like a summer sky that flashed like sunlight caught sapphires, and his skin tan from long hours in the sun covered corded muscle. Hands down, Sage was one of their best fighters and trainers. His face was triangular, like a cat’s, and it showed no signs of tiring—unlike the recruits’. Roughly cut and short, his hair matched his wings and eyes. His nose had seen its fair share of breaks, and had a knob in the bridge and was crooked. Thin, pursed lips looked on as the recruits struggled with the most basic of maneuvers.
“Don’t do that, you dimwit, or you’d chop your own foot off with a real weapon!” He shouted in a voice that carried across the whole training field without issue. Since it was their first day, the new recruits were training with wooden swords. Dogwood suspected Sage would not keep them from the real thing for long.
Due to its prosperity, the Hemlock Clan had no shortage of recruits. When a Pixie reached puberty, they were tested for what role they would take in helping the Clan. The newest batch of youngsters just had their coming of age ceremony. Now they would see just how much work it took to help protect their homes and gardens.
Dogwood caught Sage’s eye and motioned for him to come over. Sage barked off one last order for them to continue with the exercise and darted over to Dogwood.
“I hope you have better news than your face is letting on, Sir,” Sage said as they both moved off to the building.
“Unfortunately you have read me correctly, old friend. I fear the problems these new tidings will bring,” Dogwood said, finally able to voice his concerns to another.
Sage snorted and looked over at the new recruits. “All the young ones shouting for the blood of the Beigads, and not knowing what real battle is like.”
Dogwood could only nod at the observation as they passed the guards outside the door to the outpost. The guards jumped to attention as the two moved by into the cool interior. They made their way back to Dogwood’s office, which overflowed with complaints about the current Beigad issue. Dogwood sighed yet again, and sat down behind his desk to read the latest dispatches from the Elders. Sage closed the door behind them and sat down in the chair at the front of the desk.
“So, what did you find this morning that has you so depressed?” Sage asked as he chewed on dried cranberries he’d pulled from a pouch at his belt.
“The Beigads have begun night raids. We will have to add extra shifts through the night until the new recruits are trained.”
Sage grunted at the news, unperturbed. He took such things in stride, having the mind set of; ‘What’s done is done. No use in complaining about it.’
“I am trying to decide how I will present the news in such a way that it will not create a huge uproar from the younger ones out for blood,” Dogwood said. He leaned back in his chair to ponder the situation.
“Well, I would say just don’t tell them, but you’re too honest for that. Those pansies don’t know the pointy end of a sword from a daffodil,” Sage said around some cranberry in his mouth.
Sage was right on both counts. The younger ones didn’t understand what was at stake, nor the logistics of the issue. Dogwood and Sage had seen their fair share of battles before the Rangers had cracked down on the fighting some years ago. Those were days neither of them longed to revisit.
“I agree they don’t understand, but I still have to make my report. Do you think you could take care of the night shift rotation schedule for me?” Dogwood asked.
Guilt crouched in his belly like a demon prodding his insides with a pitchfork for asking Sage, but he had so much work to do. Writing out the schedule would take up the time he needed to decide on how to present the newest issue, as well as take care of all the usual reports.
Sage looked over at Dogwood and laughed. “You look like you’re staring down into the gullet of a hungry dragon, friend. Of course I can write out the schedule, if you’ll promise me one thing.”
Dogwood chuckled at the imagery and looked up at Sage from the stack of papers in front of him. “What would that be?”
“Go home and spend some time with your daughter, Dogwood. I know you both miss each other sorely, especially since Rosemary—” He cut himself off abruptly.
A stabbing pain filled Dogwood’s chest, even though it had been almost two years since his wife, Rosemary, was killed in a Fay war. Laurel, their only child, had been fourteen then. Dogwood and Laurel both would have been lost without his friend, Sage, and Sage’s wife, Snapdragon.
“Laurel understands that my work here is impor—” Sage cut him off mid-sentence by waving a hand through the air.
“She might understand but I am sure she also misses you something fierce. We can survive one day without you doing paperwork. I’ll send in one of the new recruits to you tomorrow to become your assistant. Goddess knows you need one,” Sage stated.
“Are you sure you won’t need me?” Dogwood asked, as he ran a hand through his short, white hair. A nervous gesture his wife had teased him about.
“Yes! The place won’t catch fire because you aren’t doing paperwork. Now off with you, before someone comes in here with something that urgently needs your attention. I’ll see you at the meeting tonight,” Sage said. He got up from the chair and moved toward the door. Dogwood followed behind him and they left his office.
“Alright then, I’ll see you tonight. Don’t work the new recruits too hard, okay?” Dogwood joked as they exited the building, and saw the new recruits slacking off in the warm sunlight. Sage gave a wicked smile.
“I’ll only work them until they can’t lift their arms then, since you asked nicely,” Sage replied, and darted back over to the recruits, spouting orders as he went.
Dogwood laughed and headed toward the village.