Short Story ~~ Come Away

0 for 4 on the contests, but such is life.

This was for a contest with the prompt: New Beginnings

Word Limit: 2500

 

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Come Away

 

If you’d asked Thomas right then what had woken him, he wouldn’t be able to put his finger on exactly what it had been. All he knew was the air was still. Like that moment of anticipation in a movie theatre, between the previews ending and the movie beginning, when everything’s dark and everyone’s holding their breath. Except this was endless, like someone had hit the pause button on the world at just the right moment.

Thomas held still, too; something wasn’t right. Heart hammering, he opened his eyes to a slit, revealing nothing more than the ceiling of his room. After a long, tense moment, he slowly moved his head to look around. Moonlight streamed in through the window, illuminating familiar sights, like his desk and dresser, while throwing others into sinister shadows.

He closed his eyes, and breathed in slow and deep. He was ten now, and being afraid of the dark wasn’t okay anymore. Plus, his mom had warned him he’d never be allowed to watch a scary movie ever again if he had nightmares. She’d let him stay up late and watch one with her after Paige went to bed, since it was Halloween and a Friday night. He couldn’t remember getting to the end of the movie, so his mom must have put him to bed.

When nothing pounced on him from the dark, he sat up, and then he heard a stifled laugh from down the hall. He rolled his eyes and sighed.

That must have been what woke me up. Paige is playing in her room, he thought, and shook his head. Annoyance flashed through him like lightning, for his little sister and at himself. Paige, for being up, and himself for being scared over a six year-old.

Thomas threw his covers back, and quietly padded to his door. When he grabbed the knob, he gripped it tight, and slowly turned it to minimize the noise. He opened the door just enough to slide through the gap, to avoid the squeak that happened a few more inches beyond that.

He didn’t want to wake his mom. She’d worked all day, then took them trick-or-treating, and ended the night watching the movie with him after he’d begged for it. He didn’t need to wake her just to tell Paige to go back to sleep.

His socks made no noise on the hardwood floor as he moved two doors down from his room. He frowned as he approached, though, because her door was already ajar, so he pushed it all the way open.

Paige’s room looked like someone threw up one of their aunt’s bridesmaids’ dresses all over the room. Everything was pink and lacy, and Thomas usually had to repress a shudder at the sight. Tonight, though, something was missing: Paige.

A giggle floated on the air, but this time from downstairs.

Maybe she needed some water, he reasoned. He glanced behind him at his mother’s door, but pursed his lips and turned towards the stairs instead. When he made it to the bottom, he headed left toward the kitchen, but she wasn’t there. It was when he went to the end of the counter, toward the dining room, that he saw the open sliding glass door.

His heart stopped. Their mom had been worried about Paige opening the back door and getting lost in the woods behind the house. Mom called Paige her, ‘Mischievous Rugrat,’ to which Paige would usually laugh, her green eyes sparkling. Their mom had put in one of those locks that bolted at the top of the door, specifically so Paige couldn’t reach it, even with a chair.

Yet, the door was open.

More giggles floated in through the open door, and then through the sheer curtain in dining room he saw her: curly brown hair bounced as she skipped, her bunny slippers kicking up sticks in her wake, and her white and pale pink onesie pajamas glowing in the moonlight.

There were no thoughts going through his mind when he rushed out the back door, only stopping long enough to shove his feet into his slide sandals. Then he took off across the back yard, the dead leaves and sticks barely crunching beneath his feet as he ran as fast as he could. His breath was coming in heavy pants, and his arms pumped as he broke through the tree line where he saw Paige last. She couldn’t have been far, but with each moment he didn’t see her, his panic rose in him like a bath filling, until he thought he might drown in it.

He stopped to take a look around, wild-eyed, as his blood pounded in his ears like an urgent drum.

“Paige!” he called, the woods silent.

“Thomas?” Paige said, surprised.

Her voice came from Thomas’ left, not too far away, and he started in that direction. He didn’t run, since he didn’t want to pass her by accident, but he wasn’t being a slow poke, either. After a few minutes, he was close enough to hear her having a conversation, but not what was being said. It stopped him dead in his tracks. He clenched his fists and grit his teeth.

She’s not alone. This was turning into a much bigger mess than just putting his little sister back to bed. He was torn between running back to the house, or to keep going to try and get Paige.

“Come on, Thomas! Come meet my friends!” Paige said, her words bright and excited.

Thomas’ stomach clenched. Friends. As in more than one. He didn’t have much choice, though; they knew he was here.

He crept forward, pushing low-hanging branches and brush out of the way, until he entered a clearing. It wasn’t large, but it was almost the size of their backyard. It was the stones that caught his attention, though.

Some were short, coming up to his knees, while others were eye-level with him. They were all gray and smooth, and shaped like eggs with the bottoms in the ground. Each of the tops had a hole, and it went from one side to the other. The smaller ones he could probably barely fit a pinky finger through, while the larger ones were big enough for his fist. The stones formed a perfect circle around the clearing, with six or so feet of clearance between them and the tree line. In the center of the circle was Paige.

“Thomas!” she said, and jumped up, waving at him. “Did you come for the tea party, too?”

“Tea party?” he asked, gaping at her as he moved closer. Then he saw the low, round table, covered with a white lace tablecloth, and the fanciest tea set he’d ever seen outside of one of Paige’s princess books. The small plates at each setting had equally little cakes. Page’s wide grin was dusted with powdered sugar, and the cake at her place setting had a neat little bite taken out of it.

“Paige,” he said, disbelieving, “please tell me you didn’t eat anything a stranger gave you.”

She just laughed. “They aren’t strangers, silly; they’re my friends! We’ve been talking for days and days. So, do you want some cake?” she asked, and started to turn toward the table.

He wanted nothing more than to jump the circle, grab her hand, and run with her back to the house. But there was something about that ring that set his teeth on edge, and made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Each time he tried to step forward, his brain screamed; “No!

“No, I do not want any cake!” he said, scowling and clenching his fists. “I want you to get over here so we can go home!” By the time he finished the sentence he was almost shouting.

Paige’s eyes had gone wide, and her lower lip trembled. “You’re being mean, Thomas,” she accused, and a small sob escaped her.

“Oh, don’t mind the boy, little one. He just doesn’t understand.”

Thomas’ body jerked in surprise. The voice was coming from right next to Paige, but there was no one there. Also, it sounded strange. High-pitched and buzzing, like a bee was trying to speak after breathing in helium.

“Who’s there?” Thomas demanded, voice trembling.

Paige’s eyes went wide, and were shiny with unshed tears. “It’s like you said, Novus. He can’t see you!”

“No, little one, he can’t,” Novus said, as though mournful about the fact. To Thomas, though, there was something disingenuous about the way they said it. Like when a bully has to apologize to a kid they beat up.

“Paige, please. Let’s go home,” Thomas begged, deciding to ignore the voice. Whoever they were, they didn’t sound very big, and he’d rather take his chances than talk to them anymore.

“We can’t leave yet. Novus promised I’d get to meet Herne!” she said, and stamped her foot.

“I don’t care, Paige! We need to get back before mom wakes up and worries about us!” Thomas said, shouting again.

“She will not wake until all has finished here. Worry not.” There was a pause. “In fact, you should not have woken either, naughty boy. Perhaps there is some belief in you, yet.” Then a tinkling laugh, like broken glass falling on metal, caused Thomas to shiver. “Or there will be after tonight.”

“He comes!” a chorus of voices called, similar to Novus.

Thomas jumped at that, but before he could call for Paige to run, something came out of the tree line across the clearing from him. Thomas’ jaw dropped.

The man—if that’s even what he was—was huge, and not just because he was riding the biggest deer ever seen. Most of his face was hidden by a deer skull mask, with antlers that were more like towering branches. Though it wasn’t quite right, because the eyes of the skull were set in a more human way, and there were no eyes, only darkness. The nose portion covered down to his chin, so he couldn’t see a mouth, but his cheeks were left bare. His skin was a dusky purple, his upper body muscular, and he wore nothing but a forest green cloak, with pants and boots to match. He also had a longbow sitting across his back, and Thomas swallowed at the sight of the weapon.

The deer snorted and stamped its hooves when it reached the stone circle, chewing the bit of its bridle.

“Has she partaken of the food and drink?” the man asked, his voice rumbling across the clearing like thunder.

“She has, Lord Herne!” the voices chorused out again.

Thomas’ eyes jerked away from the man to his sister, who was still, her head tilted back to look up at the man.

“Then it is time. Bring her,” he said, and held out a hand.

“Wait! You can’t just take my sister!” Thomas yelled, breaking out of his stunned trance.

Everyone went still at his words, and then the man turned his gaze to Thomas.

“I can, child. She has eaten our food, and drank the water from our spring. She is ours.”

Thomas’ head was spinning. None of it made any sense. He opened his mouth to yell at the man again, but something fluttered in his face. He jerked back to get away, but before he could, something cool brushed across his forehead.

It was as though a curtain was pulled back, revealing everything. A small form hovered in front of his face, its wings beating so fast he couldn’t see them properly. Bits of leaves covered their body, almost like scales, and thorns and flowers were tangled in their hair. The eyes were a liquid silver, like a faceless coin in water, and its mouth was pulled back in a cruel grin, revealing sharp teeth that would do a shark proud.

“A gift,” the buzzing voice said, but the pronouncement came across as more of a curse. “From Novus.”

Novus floated away, back toward Paige, and he realized there were at least twenty of these things, all floating around her. She turned, just enough to meet his gaze, and smiled wide, as though all her dreams had come true. Then she turned, and started walking toward the man.

“Paige! No!” he yelled, and grabbed the stone closest to him to launch himself over it. Before he could complete the movement, Novus was in his face again, throwing some kind of powder at him.

“Shh,” Novus said, holding a finger to its lips. “Sleep and peace, Thomas,” it continued, the words sing-song.

Thomas’ eyes drooped, and his legs grew weak beneath him. He tightened his grip on the stone, struggling to remain upright and awake, but it was no use. The last thing he saw before falling asleep was his sister taking hold of the man’s hand.

 

<***>

 

Giggling woke Thomas with a start, and his eyes flew open. Everything from the night before crashed through his mind, and he scrambled to get out of bed, nearly falling as his sheets tangled around his feet. When he jerked open his door, indistinct voices were coming from downstairs. Thomas dashed from his room and down the stairs, slipping dangerously in his socks over the smooth floor.

When he burst into the kitchen, his mom was at the stove making breakfast, and Paige was sitting at the table. He gaped at her, as she happily munched on pancakes.

“Good morning, sleepyhead. Your pancakes are on the table,” his mom said, gracing him with her smile, before turning back to the stove.

He couldn’t move, though. There’s no way that was a dream! But there she was. He scowled, and cautiously made his way over to the table. Paige didn’t pay him any mind, and hummed a happy tune as she ate.

Thomas sat down, but didn’t eat. He just kept staring at Paige.

“Are you okay?” his mom asked, from right next to his shoulder.

Thomas nearly jumped out of his skin, and yelped.

His mother frowned, and then raised an eyebrow. “I think we’ll hold off on anymore scary movies until you’re older,” his mom said, and made her way to sit down and eat.

His cheeks burned, and he dropped his eyes to stare at his pancakes.

“Can I have more milk?” Paige piped up, holding out her cup before their mom could sit.

“Oh, of course, honey,” she said, and grabbed the cup.

Once their mom walked away, Paige’s giggle caught his attention and he looked at her.

Instead of green, liquid silver eyes stared back at him, and a cruel grin full of sharp teeth made him let out a small gasp. Then it put a finger to its lips in a sign for quiet, and when Thomas blinked, the face was Paige’s again.

“We’re going to have so much fun, Thomas,” Novus said, and giggled.

War of the Wee Ones, Chapter Three

Chapter Three

Laurel, as usual, took far too long to prepare, and it didn’t leave Dogwood much time to clean up. Luckily he had not trained that afternoon, and most of the dirt Laurel had gotten on him could be brushed off.

Though the meeting ahead was a type of battle, it was not one for his leather armor or sword. Dogwood undressed, took a quick shower, and proceeded to pick out his best clothes. As much as he would prefer his armor to the smooth silk, battle gear was not allowed in the meeting hall.

He ran his fingers through hair that was as white as the flowers of his namesake, and lay in a thick curly mat on his head. Brushing it would be a disaster.

Scanning the mirror to make sure everything was in place, tired eyes that were the color of newly grown grass stared back. His tanned skin was the color of bronze from long hours in the sun, and it complemented his burgundy clothing. His wings were beating in time with his heart at the air behind him, and were the same color as his eyes. Underneath the fancy trappings was a strong, lean body sporting many scars—testament to his time in battle. 

I look ridiculous.

For Pixie men, formal outfits in the summer months consisted of only a vest, and loose breeches that gathered at the knees. Most men went barefoot, though some wore slippers. Dogwood preferred being barefoot to feel the earth and grass beneath his feet. The outfit had been a present from his late father-in-law, and to this day was still only one of two sets of good clothes he owned. The other set Rosemary had sewn for him to wear at their wedding, which had been in the winter.

When he looked out his window, the sun was getting low in the sky. Moving down the stairs, he called out to Laurel.

“Hurry up, Laurel, or we’ll be late.”

“I’m coming! You don’t have to let the neighbors know,” Laurel said, as she came down the stairs. She wore the dress Dogwood had gotten her for her most recent birthday, and she was a beautiful sight.

The gown was the same honeysuckle color as her eyes and made her glow. The under portion was a silk slip, and the outer portion was a diaphanous material so light it floated. It whispered around her ankles, and the slippers that matched peeked out intermittently from beneath it. The sleeves of the gown were off the shoulder, and made of the same airy material as the outer layer. She had pinned her hair up in a style that looked both elegant and artfully messy, with long, curly locks spilling down her back. He was in for some trouble with the boys of the Clan, and he was not looking forward to the courting.

“Yes, well, I usually have to call for you a few times before you hear me. I figured if I did so loud enough the first time, I wouldn’t need to more than once,” Dogwood said, laughing. Laurel rolled her eyes and tossed her hair behind her back.

“Let’s go and get Snowdrop before she thinks we’ve forgotten about her,” Laurel said, and left out the front door.

Dogwood followed her into the front yard, and the soft noises of the insects in the distance greeted him. As the light faded it gave the world a soft look, and the warm air was enough to make Dogwood cozy and a little sleepy. When they reached Snowdrop’s house, Laurel knocked on the front door. No sooner had she finished, Snowdrop opened the door; she had been waiting right next to it for them.

“We didn’t keep you waiting too long, did we?” Dogwood asked.

“No, of course not,” she said, smiling. Her dress for the night was a flowing white gown that stopped at her knees, showing off her long, tanned legs. The strap of the gown was a halter, and it complemented her slender shoulders. On one side of her head, the fine, short strands of hair were held back by a clip, while the hair hung free on the other side.

All in all she was stunning, and Dogwood smiled to show his appreciation. Snowdrop blushed in return and lowered her lavender eyes to the ground.

“Don’t just stand there like a bump on a log, dad, offer her your arm!” his daughter said, irked that she had to say as much.

Dogwood gave Laurel a stern look found on many parental faces, only to be met with her stubborn one. He knew a lost battle when we saw one, though he did tug on a lock of Laurel’s hair as he passed. She gave an indignant sputter, and Snowdrop chuckled nervously.

She was looking at him again in that pondering way she had earlier. Dogwood held out his arm, palm facing downward, and she laid her own on top of his. In general, Pixies did not travel arm-in-arm while flying. Laying an arm on top of one another was practical in case the pair needed to part.

The three of them took off into the air, and went on their way toward the meeting. They passed other Pixies heading to the meeting. The closer they got to the center of the Clansland, the houses became more frequent and the gardens smaller.

As they neared the town center, the multicolored balls of light Pixies used, much like humans used electricity, shone brighter. They were made from different sorts of magic the Pixies had bartered for, and were held inside little glass spheres. If a Pixie wanted the light brighter, they could shake the orb and the light would become more luminous. To dim them, the Pixie would fog their breath on the outside of the glass. Most of all, they helped make sure to keep the land pure by not having humans come in and put up electrical lines.

For meetings, the entire Clan was expected to show, minus any children not close to their coming-of-age. The older kids watched the younger ones, though not all of them. Many times the town center guards would catch children sneaking peeks at the meeting; especially recently, with all the activity and fuss brought about by the Beigads.

The younger adults of the Clan were the noisiest about going to war, because they had never been in one. Having been through many himself, Dogwood was happy to keep the times peaceful. Though he might not get his wish. They were like so many hens, all squawking and making a lot of noise; not knowing what they were making a clamor about. Just like the young men and women of other races, they all wanted to see action. Among the loudest of all the hens was Nettle, who held a seat on the council.

Pixie councils varied from Clan to Clan, but in general they were all structured the same. There were three elder council members, six younger council members, and then the oldest and wisest was the head council. The head council ended up being the tie-breaker if needed. The three elders’ votes were worth two points a piece, while the six younger only had one point per person. Things could still end up in a tie, especially if it was a polarized topic—like war.

When the eldest council member dies, a new one is elected from the three older ones by a majority vote from the Clan. Just as the eldest member drew from the three, the three older members drew their replacements from among the six younger. The three had the choice to retire whenever they pleased, or they could keep their office until their death, just as the head council did.

Anyone could be elected into the junior council, whose size varied from fifty to a hundred. The six ‘younger’ council members were elected from among them, and a person did not have to die or retire for someone to take one of those positions. The six seats were up for re-election every ten years. Nettle held one of the six, but everyone could see he had his eyes on the greatest political prize a Pixie could get: head council.

“Are you okay?” Snowdrop asked Dogwood with a touch of concern in her voice. Without realizing it Dogwood had clenched his fists, and was even grinding his teeth a little. He tried his best not to let the scheming little man annoy him.

He took a deep breath and forced himself to relax. He unclenched his fists and rubbed at his jaw with his free hand. Dogwood turned to Snowdrop with a wan smile, and tried his best to be in a better mood.

“I’m fine, it’s just the meeting ahead,” he said, as her face showed the worry he had heard in her voice.

“The meeting itself, or a particular council member?”

Dogwood turned his face away. It was no secret how he felt about Nettle, and the feelings were reciprocated. They’d rubbed each other the wrong way from the minute they’d met.

“It might have to do with a certain council member,” he admitted, still not meeting Snowdrop’s gaze. Laurel had wandered a little ways ahead of them, out of ear shot, trying to give them privacy.

“I hope that wing duster meets with an unpleasant and untimely end. The world would be a better place without him around to muck it all up,” Snowdrop said, the disgust evident in her voice and on her face.

Dogwood’s head snapped around in shock. He had never heard a hateful or unkind word leave her lips before. Then to hear her say one of the biggest insults a Pixie could use to describe another Pixie was beyond startling.

Wing duster implied a Pixie was willing to do the most atrocious and vile acts to get whatever they wanted. It sprouted from a time when Pixies would actively hunt Pixies from other Clans. They would then remove the delicate wings and grind them to dust to sell on the black market. They were believed to have a variety of ‘powers,’ and it could be quite a lucrative business.

Of course, when it came to supply and demand the world could not get enough. This ended in a lot of Pixies being killed or becoming flightless. The flightless ones usually ended up killing themselves.

It was a major turning point in the history of the Pixies when it was declared the dust had no magical properties. However, the derogatory name stuck around, and soon was used to describe a variety of acts, not just the act of dusting a Pixie’s wings.

“I’m surprised you would even say such a thing!” Dogwood said, still looking at her in disbelief. For the first time that night, Snowdrop looked him head on and did not blush or flinch away.

“And I am just as surprised that you wouldn’t. He is a flesh eating fungus on this Clan, and it galls me to see so many follow him blindly,” she said, saying out loud what few Pixies dared to. Nettle could be a nasty piece of work when he wanted, though no one could prove anything outright. Dogwood’s position allowed him a little protection, but Snowdrop had no such luck.

He thought about telling her to be more careful, but seeing the look in her eyes he knew another losing battle when he saw one. Funny how he was seen as one of the most courageous men of the Clan, yet the two women in his life could cow him into submission with a look. The thought made him laugh, and it surprised Snowdrop.

“Are you laughing at me, sir?” she asked, indignant. Dogwood smiled at her, and once again she was back to the blushing woman next door, instead of a fierce lioness calling out one of the most dangerous men of their Clan.

“Maybe a little, but in a good way,” he reassured her. She looked skeptical, but didn’t have time to say much more. They reached the town center and Laurel had waited for them to catch up.

Dogwood and Snowdrop were attracting some attention, but he had expected that. Of all the women in the Clan, he knew that anyone outside of his close circle of friends would be surprised at his choice of companion. He was only worried about how Snowdrop would act for a few seconds, but she had been stared at throughout her life. A rare amount of Pixie women grew to the same size as the males. The attention bothered her no more than it bothered him, so he let it slide off his back.

He had to take up his place near the council soon, and he bid Laurel and Snowdrop farewell until after the meeting. They flew off to find a couple of seats, and Dogwood headed off to the bottom of the tree. The inside bottom portion, of the biggest tree, was gutted out in the same fashion as a domed coliseum. The floor was where the head council, the nine council members, the heads of the different guilds, and Dogwood sat. While the rest of the Clan took up seats around the floor, or sat on swings that hung from the ceiling.

A normal sugar maple would not be able to fit their entire Clan, so this tree had been grown using the magic of the tree-growers. It was four-times the normal size at its base, and had taken a lot of magic and many years to grow. Pixies tried to use as little magic as they needed to alter the state of their natural surroundings, since they held nature in the highest regard. So an undertaking like that was done with extreme care and caution. Sometimes nature would retaliate if things were not done gently, and that was never a pretty sight.

Above the coliseum was where most of the businesses of the Clan were housed. Each business was run by a guild, which were led by one person voted in every ten years by the people of the guild. The guild leader would be that specific guild’s voice during the council, and also during negotiations for taxes on their wares.

Dogwood was not the head of a guild, but he was the Captain of the Thorny Guardians, which equated to the Clan’s border patrol. There was another group that was charged with policing inside of the Clansland, and they were known as the Thistle Guardians. Dogwood got along with their Captain, Wood-Sorrel, well enough. Lastly, there was a shadowy group of operatives that were said to do the dirty work of the Clan, known as the Nightshades. It was one of those things that a person either believed in, or they didn’t, since their existence could never be proven.

“Captain!”

Through the crowd, Sage was standing on the ground, waving his arms to try and get Dogwood’s attention. He was wearing an outfit exactly like Dogwood’s, but the color was a deep purple almost bordering on blue. Sage did not sit on the ground floor like Dogwood, so something was amiss. Dogwood landed a couple feet away, and walked over to Sage, who was wearing a look on his face Dogwood didn’t like.

“I hope you have better news than your face is letting on, Sage,” Dogwood said, throwing Sage’s words from earlier back at him. He knew it was a poor attempt to lighten the mood, but it did get a wan smile from his vice-captain.

“And just as I read you correctly earlier, you read my face rightly now. Nettle stopped by for a little chat not too long after you left,” Sage said, bitterness evident in his voice. Dogwood bristled at the news, but it was not a complete surprise; the man was always sticking his nose where it didn’t belong.

“What did he have to say?” Dogwood asked, and feared the answer.

“He said he just dropped by to try and confirm the reports of another Beigad attack on the Clansland.”

“What did you tell him?”

“I told him I was not allowed to discuss the matter with him, and he would have to take it up with you. When he asked where you were, I told him you had gone off to the other side of the Clansland to check on the new recruits stationed there,” he said, with a little bit of mischief in his voice. Dogwood laughed and Sage grinned.

“Thanks for the heads up. It will put him in a foul mood, but I’ll happily take responsibility for that,” Dogwood said, and clapped Sage on the shoulder.

Not two seconds later, Dogwood heard “PAPA!” in a loud screech. Then Sage’s arms were full of a squirming, miniature version of him. Dogwood laughed but Sage had a pained expression on his face.

“I see that Jonquil has learned how to fly rather well,” Dogwood said, humored, as Sage attempted to untangle himself from the child.

The little boy was having none of it, and stayed firmly clasped to his dad. Sage gave up and stood there looking helpless, while the child continued to hang there.

“I swear, none of my children were ever this excitable. I’m finally getting paid back for the hell I caused my parents at his age,” Sage said and looked down.

“There you are, you little devil,” said a voice Dogwood recognized. Snapdragon, Sage’s wife, came strolling up to them. This caused another ear-piercing screech to be emitted from the tiny Pixie, this time in the form of, “MAMA!” He let go of his father, bolted over to his mother, and found a new person to cling to, albeit gently.

Snapdragon was one of the most stunningly beautiful women in the Clan, and everyone wondered how she ended up with Sage. Her hair flowed in a loose wave down her back, thick, and the color of burnt orange. With a petite frame, she stood around eight inches tall. A heart-shaped face that could put fear in the non-existent souls of demons, or put the kindness of a saint to shame, she was one of the most steadfast friends a person could ask for. Eyes in the shape of almonds lent an exotic quality to her face, and were the color of raspberries. She wore a dress like Laurel’s, but hers was the color of her eyes, and it set off her bronzed skin nicely.

She said hello to Dogwood, then turned her eyes to her husband. “Laurel and Snowdrop are trying to save us seats, which is getting difficult with all the people crowding in,” she said in a voice that brooked no argument.

Sage nodded at his wife, then wished Dogwood luck. He and Snapdragon took off into the night with Jonquil. The new recruits thought Sage was a hard-ass, but Goddess forbid they ever meet his wife. With that, Dogwood walked a short distance to one of the archways that led to the coliseum floor.

The noise in the enclosed space was almost deafening as he took his seat. If the layout of the seats corresponded to a compass, Dogwood and the guild leaders would be taking up the southwest, south, and southeast portions. The younger council members were to the west, the older ones the east, and the head council sat at the north. Almost immediately after Dogwood sat down, the head council called the meeting to order. All he had to do was raise one age-spotted hand, and the place fell silent almost instantly.

“Good evening, Hemlock Clan. We have gathered here for our bi-annual meeting to discuss all matters pertaining to the health and prosperity of the Clan. I have one comment before we begin.

“I know many of you are eager to jump to the more entertaining portions, but we will keep with tradition and hear the guild leaders first,” the head council stated, in a voice the boomed through the night. Only a few groans came from the crowd, and even those were barely audible.

The head council was old, but not so old he wasn’t willing to dole out punishment himself to those who deserved it. He was a strong old man who looked like nothing more than a harmless grandfather, but angering him brought out a wrath that was almost beyond comprehension. He had been the head council of the Hemlock Clan for many years, and it was largely due to him that the Clan was so prosperous.

His eyes were a sparkling jade that held a keen intelligence, and an iron will. The hair on his head was white from age, but he still kept it short after the fashion of the Guardians.

Thus the meeting started with the guild leaders, who voiced their concerns about regulations, taxes, and trade. There were not too many complaints, as their Clan was well off and taxes were reasonable. Usually the biggest issue was the restriction on how many apprentices a guild could take from outside or inside the Clan.

As the last guild leader finished, satisfied his issue was resolved, a hum of excitement filled the air—the kind that always held an undercurrent of fear to it. The head council gave a hard look around to those gathered in the coliseum, and the noise level dropped away again. Still, Dogwood’s skin still tingled from the nervous energy of the crowd.

“Dogwood, Captain of the Thorny Guardians, please step up to the podium,” the head council said, and looked at him. Sometimes it was like the head council could see straight through to a person’s soul, and a sudden thrill of fear passed through Dogwood. His tidings would not be welcomed with open arms.

The podium stood in front of the guild leader section, and faced the head council. This way, a person could look straight, right, and left to see all the council members. As Dogwood stepped up to the podium, Nettle stood, and Dogwood felt the urge to grind his teeth.

Nettle’s hair was a light mint green, and he kept it in the long fashion of Pixie men, which meant it was about the length of Snowdrop’s. His eyes were steel blue, just as unyielding as the metal itself, and just as pitiless and cold. Dogwood usually equated his unsavory nature to the fact he was rather short for a Pixie man, only eight inches tall, which caused him to be made fun of much like Snowdrop had been. Of course, trying to blame others for his ruthless nature would be unfair; Snowdrop hadn’t turned out to be an ass, bent on ruthless ambition.

With a face like a sharp-edged triangle, and a long, hooked nose, he could almost be compared to a Goblin in appearance. Though no one would ever say that to his face. Nettle looked at Dogwood, and gave him a feral smile.

“I, as a council member, ask to exercise my right to present my own statements to the head council and those in attendance at meeting—before our dear Captain,” he said, in a voice that further grated away Dogwood’s nerves. It was high, nasally, and haunted Dogwood’s nightmares.

Half the coliseum cheered at the notion while the other half booed. The head council raised his hand, and the room fell silent once again. Giving Dogwood an almost apologetic look, the head council nodded at Nettle to continue. Acting as if triumph was already at hand, Nettle shot Dogwood a smile of pure malice.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the council and the Clan, it has come to my attention that yet another attack on our Clansland occurred last night while we were all resting peacefully in our beds, including most of our so-called Guardians.” A murmur broke out from the crowd, to the delight of Nettle, though it settled down quickly enough as the head council turned the full force of his gaze on them.

“I have long been expressing my concerns to this council about the Beigad threat, and it has time and again fallen on deaf ears. We appear weak when we should appear strong. We have the capability to annihilate the Beigads if we so desired, yet those in charge of our forces wish to sit on their respective swords and do nothing! Why should we, one of the greatest Clans on the east coast, sit back and let our lands be ravished by the idiotic forces of those pigs?”

The crowd was becoming more and more energized at each word. Some in anger about his accusations, with others in agreement with what he was saying. Dogwood felt he would have no teeth by the end of this meeting if he kept grinding them, and tried to relax a little. He could do nothing at the moment but bite his tongue and wait his turn.

“What I propose to you, my fellow Clan members, is to raise your voice in indignation that this has been allowed to go on for as long as it has. Maybe we need to start taking a closer look at those in charge of our well-being, and realize that maybe they don’t keep it as close to their heart as they profess,” Nettle finished, and looked directly at Dogwood. Not only had Nettle implied he did not care about the Clan, but that he also might have some nefarious business with the Beigads, and the comment made his blood boil.

The room exploded into action. Some people were yelling threats at Dogwood, others at Nettle. Some were even fighting each other in coliseum which was expressly forbidden. Then the head council did something he had not needed to in a long time.

When a person rises to head council, they are granted a certain amount of power that comes with the position. One of the powers allowed them to clap their hands and emit a small concussive force, like someone having all the wind knocked out of them. Dogwood braced for the impact before it happened, but it still knocked him for a loop when the head council brought his hands together. It caused everyone to cease what they were doing and catch their breath. The head council was supremely displeased. While Nettle, trying to regain his own breath, was like the cat who ate the canary.

“This behavior will not be tolerated, especially when you call yourselves adults,” the head council said to the assembled Clan, who were all a little embarrassed at needing to be scolded. The head council turned to Nettle, but even the hard look the head council gave him could not fully wipe the grin from his face.

“Your words have been heard, council member, sit down so that the Captain may speak.”

With that, Nettle went to sit among his fellow council members.

Dogwood cleared his throat. “It is true we were once again attacked in the dead of night. Measures have already been taken to ensure it will not happen again. Additional night shifts were posted this afternoon, and are to start immediately,” Dogwood said. This got some reassured murmurs from the crowd, though the majority of them were still angry, so Dogwood continued.

“I would like to remind all of you what the cost of going to war with the Beigads would be. Not just the lives of Guardians, who are brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, children, or friends to just about everyone here. It will also cause the taxes to rise, to help fund the war. Not only does our magic work poorly against their tough skin, but they are roughly seven to ten times our size, and easily more than that in weight.”

The effect of his words on the crowd was instantaneous, and at the announcement of raised taxes many of them quieted down. No matter what race a person was a part of, they did not appreciate their hard-earned money taken from them.

“I am not saying we should not come up with a plan to combat the attacks. I will agree on that. But outright warfare would be a huge mistake, and it would also draw attention from the human Rangers. Nobody here wants humans poking around in Pixie business,” Dogwood said. He tried to gauge the reaction of the crowd, but it was still split down the middle.

“Despite what others think, who have never been through a war, held their best friend while they died, or seen their Clansland ravaged to the point where not even weeds would grow, I do have the best interests of this Clan at heart. If there is only one thing to know about me, know that much at least. Maybe the people we actually need to look at are the ones who want us to experience the ravages of war, over finding a better option,” Dogwood said, and stared right back at Nettle.

Nettle jumped to his feet, as if he could see his words sliding out of their minds. “Let us take it to a vote then,” he said, and glared at Dogwood. Just like it had at the last meeting, the vote of the council split down the middle, and the mood of the crowd became uneasy. Everyone wanted a solution to the problem, but they did not want to see their family members and friends killed, or their money taken away.

“Well, head council, what do you have to say on this matter?” asked one of the elder council members. The entire Clan turned their attention to the head council, and it was so quiet it seemed as if everyone was holding their breath.

Standing up, the head council stood taller than most at fourteen inches tall. He looked around at those gathered there, and finally spoke.

“I agree with both sides,” he said. The room once again became noisy, with Nettle as the noisiest.

“You cannot agree with both sides! It is either one or the other!” Nettle exclaimed. When he turned his head to look at Nettle, the head council silenced everyone, including him, with a scathing look.

“I can agree with both sides, if it is not our Clan who goes to war. I propose that we ask for the help of an outsider. Many of you have heard of him, or seen him around. I propose that we send an envoy to Sorren, the vervloekt,” the head council said.

There was an uneasy murmur in the crowd. Sorren was well known on the Great Smokey Mountain Reserve, and he had been here for longer then even the oldest beings could remember. A vervloakt was a cursed Supe.

Sorren was a were-snow leopard who, according to the stories, had been cursed to remain in his shifted form for eternity by an enchantress. He had spurned her love in favor of his mate’s, and when he killed the enchantress for what she had done he sealed his fate. No one knew what happened to his mate, and no one ever dared to ask.

“Why should we call on an outsider, who will want payment, to take care of a Pixie problem?” Nettle asked, and a few people cheered. It seemed to Dogwood, though, that Nettle’s support group had shrunk. By the look on his face, Nettle realized it as well.

“A one-time payment sounds better to me than a possibly years-long tax spike,” said Wood-Sorrel, Captain of the Thistle Guardians. When Dogwood looked back at him, Wood-Sorrel gave him a quick wink.

“Let us take it to a vote then,” Dogwood said, and mimicked Nettle from earlier. Nettle shot him an acidic look that Dogwood reveled in, though Dogwood knew it was petty. Some things were just too satisfying to pass up on.

“All in favor of contracting Sorren to take care of the Beigad problem, raise your hand,” the head council said. Two of the elder council members raised their hands, which meant that only three of the younger ones had to raise their hands to pass. When he looked over, Dogwood let out a cheer in his mind: four hands were raised among the younger council.

While Dogwood may not be in favor of airing the Clan’s dirty business to an outsider, he was in favor of having no Pixies die.

“It is settled then. Tomorrow, the Captains of the Thorny and Thistle Guardians will accompany my private advisor to negotiate a contract with Sorren. I believe that concludes the Clan business for the evening. Fare thee well, and good night to the Hemlock Clan,” the head council said. As he stood, every Pixie in the room stood with him.

Once the head council left, the rest of the Clan filed out of the coliseum. Dogwood looked past the streaming crowd, and saw Nettle shooting daggers from his eyes in his direction. If looks could kill, Dogwood knew he would have been dead ten times over, possibly more, that night.

He didn’t let it bother him too much, though, and Dogwood exited the tree to find his friends and daughter. They would be bursting to talk with him, and for once he could almost look forward to the conversation. Maybe the Clan finally found a solution that would work, and not cost them countless lives. If that wasn’t something to be happy about, Dogwood didn’t know what would be.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Final Chapter

War of the Wee Ones, Chapter Two

Chapter Two

The Hemlock Clan didn’t have the biggest of all the Pixie Clanslands, but neither did they have the smallest. It was just the right size to support the Pixies there, and a little more for a touch of growth. It was a rough circle about three miles around the perimeter, and just under a mile across. The edge was ringed by the wooden-built guard towers and the practice grounds for the Guardians. Just past that on the outer edges were the farms and fields. Moving further in were houses with small gardens for private use, and homes for those who didn’t want to live in the town center. Dogwood and Laurel lived in one of those houses just beyond the fields.

The main population of Pixies were in the town center, and it consisted of four sugar maple trees. Most of the Pixies lived and did business within the trunks and branches, and the Pixie magic allowed them to shape the trees as they pleased without harming them. The meeting hall was the largest space located at the base of the largest of the trees. When the town meetings weren’t taking place, the space was used for vendors and the like. The main portion of Pixie magic was plant-based, and even their battle magic had quite a bit to do with plants. That did not stop some Pixies from learning a trade craft they didn’t possess the magic for, like weaving or forging swords for the Guardians.

 

The Clans were not rigid in how their populations were controlled, unlike other Supe races. If a Pixie didn’t like the Clan they were born to, they were allowed to travel to other Clans and go through a probation period. Clans would also send out some of their newly come-of-age’d Pixies to apprentice in other Clans. The Hemlock Clan was known for their prowess in battle, so they often received petitions from other Clans to have their youngsters train under the Thorny Guardians. This would either involve some kind of monetary payment to the Clan they were sending the Pixie to, or an equal exchange of training.

Dogwood’s daughter was going to be involved in an exchange soon. Laurel had some of the best growing magic seen in the Hemlock Clan in years, so she was heading to the Larkspur Clan. As Hemlock was known for their battle magic, the Larkspurs were some of the best gardeners and farmers in all the American Clans. The exchange and training programs lasted a period of two-three years, then the newly-trained Pixies would go back to their original Clans. To ensure that the Clans would benefit from the training they paid or exchanged for, the trainee would be required to reside at their original Clan for a period of at least five years before they could petition to go elsewhere if they so desired.

Dogwood was nervous about sending his daughter away. Most Pixie families had three or four children, but Dogwood only had Laurel. He never remarried after Rosemary was killed, even though the Elders urged him to do so. Instead, he devoted all his love to his only daughter. Dogwood smiled thinking back on the last couple years, even though at the time they seemed anything but funny.

Drifting through the outer fields reminiscing, Dogwood couldn’t believe his daughter would be having her own coming of age ceremony the following year. Laurel just missed the most recent one by a few months. Coming of age for a Pixie was at 15 years, during the summer solstice, Litha. Pixies had a lifespan a couple decades under that of humans, so they reached adulthood a touch sooner. His daughter always brought out the bittersweet memories of his wife Rosemary, and for the second time that day he felt a pain lance his heart.

Dogwood was originally from the Hollyhock Clan, which no longer existed. They had battled alongside a few other Clans against the Hemlocks and their allies. In the end a few of the smaller Clans had been broken down and integrated into the larger Clans, because their numbers were no longer adequate to take care of their Clanslands. Dogwood was praised for his superior skills as a warrior, and invited to join the Hemlock Clan. This was when he met Rosemary.

Dogwood was on the Guardian training grounds when his Captain’s daughter came in from the fields to join her father for lunch. Her hair was the light pink hue that the dawn sometimes held when clouds were there to soften the colors, and it fell in a thick braid to her waist. With a face that always held a ready smile, its shape was a heart with prominent cheekbones. Her nose was turned down at the end, which always gave her the look of a cat in Dogwood’s opinion. She was short for a Pixie, only seven inches tall, and her body was slender like a reed. Eyes the color of honeysuckles always held a kind light, but could harden in a second if something she loved was threatened.

Saying it was love at first sight would be an understatement to Dogwood, but unfortunately the feelings were one-sided. Rosemary wanted nothing to do with him, no matter how hard he tried. He and many others courted the attractive young woman, but she spurned all advances. That was, until Dogwood found her soft spot.

One evening he had been on patrol when he saw a Pixie leave the perimeter with a woven basket in hand. Curious as to what they were doing, he followed them out into the night. Keeping a safe distance back, he soon realized it was Rosemary. Dogwood caught up with her just as she was set upon by a hungry fox. He fended off the fox, and was going to kill it when Rosemary begged him to let it live. Doing as she asked, he let the fox go and it ran off into the night.

Rosemary thanked him, and asked if he would stay with her until she returned to the Clansland. Dogwood agreed, of course, and followed her to the home of an injured mink. Many of the smaller animals in the lands trusted the Pixies, since they did not eat meat. Even if one of them was starving and attacked a Pixie, like the fox had, it was rare for a Pixie to be eaten. Pixies were very foul tasting little creatures, despite their colorful and sweet appearance.

There was a small portion of the Pixie population that could use the healing magic in plants, and Rosemary was one of those few—as well as the best. Her tender yet firm attitude toward her patients made her one of the most sought after healers on the Reserve, by all manner of Supes. Once she was done tending to the mink, they headed back to the Clansland. Dogwood requested that if she needed to leave again, that he go along with her.

The rest, as they say, is history. Their bond together formed slowly, but was rooted deep. When they were finally married, the whole Clan turned out and celebrated the joining. It was not long after Rosemary became pregnant with Laurel.

He stopped, and Dogwood took a moment to collect himself. It was a dark day in his and Rosemary’s father’s life. Soon after her death, he left this world as well, mad from grief. Rosemary’s mother had died in childbirth, and all her siblings were scattered to the winds or killed in wars. Dogwood and Laurel only had each other, and memories of a mother gone too soon from the world.

Dogwood cleared his throat and continued on to his home. It was the traditional house of the Captain of the Thorny Guardians. When Dogwood appointed the new Captain, he would be moved to a new home of his choosing. Hopefully that would not be for many years. Dogwood moved in with Rosemary and her father after they were married, and when her father died Dogwood was appointed Captain. So he had been living in the home for many years, and it was the only home Laurel had ever known.

Many Pixies lived in trees, like those who chose to live in the Town Center. Others, like Dogwood, lived in houses that were fashioned using Pixie magic. It was an interesting sight for any who had never seen a Pixie-made house before. Taking multiple saplings, Pixies grow and weave them together in such a way that they form the floors, walls, furniture, and so on. It was another branch of their plant magic. The better a Pixie was at the tree-forming magic, the better the houses were.

The Captain’s traditional house was formed from the same kind of tree as the town center: sugar maple. It was two stories high, and generously spaced. The living quarters were on the top, big enough to fit a family of ten. Common areas like the living room, crafting room, kitchen, and so on, were on the bottom. It was surrounded by a fence made from fallen sticks lashed together with dried and twisted grass. The garden was off to the side, and it was where Laurel spent most of her time.

Dogwood heard her singing to the plants in the garden, and it made him smile. Her voice was as sweet as the first rains of spring, and it warmed his heart to hear her so happy. He headed around the house to where she would be working, up to her wrists in rich soil.

When he rounded the house he saw their neighbor, Snowdrop, just as she joined Laurel in her song:

You’re fair as the spring, oh my darling
Your face shines so bright, so divine
The fairest of blooms in my garden
Oh lily white rose, you are mine

I love the White Rose in its splendour
I love the White Rose in its bloom
I love the White Rose so fair as she grows.
It’s the rose that reminds me of you.

When Dogwood clapped, Snowdrop and Laurel turned to see who was there. Laurel’s face broke out in a wide grin, and Snowdrop laughed.

“Are you spying on us, sir?” Snowdrop asked, as the two women stood and brushed the dirt from their hands and gardening trousers.

Snowdrop had white hair like Dogwood, but where his was curly and thick, hers was fine and straight. She kept it in a braid while gardening, as did most of the Pixie women, though she kept her length shorter than the rest. The ends of her hair barely brushed the top of her shoulders when loose. Her features were a touch plain to some, but her smile was bright. She had a friendly and caring personality giving her beauty more divine than those born with gorgeous looks. Like many of the Pixies who worked the land her skin was tanned, though some Pixies tanned darker than others. Snowdrop’s was the color of butterscotch.

Pixie women were usually around eight or nine inches tall, but Snowdrop stood eye level with Dogwood at eleven inches. This made her unattractive to some, and she had never married though she was of the same age as Dogwood. In some ways she reminded him of Rosemary, but in others she was vastly different.

“I would gladly spy on two of the most beautiful Pixie-women in all the land,” he replied as Laurel ran over and jumped into his arms for a hug. Snowdrop blushed at the response but Laurel laughed.

“You are shameless, father.”

Laurel had taken most of her features from her mother, except for her nose which was upturned at the end like Dogwood’s mother’s. In everything else she was the spitting image of Rosemary. It was a kind of balm on his soul to see so much of his wife in their daughter—like a part of her would live on forever.

“You make it sound like a bad thing,” he replied, and set her back down on the ground.

“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Either way the two of us need to get cleaned up for the meeting,” Laurel said, and gave a rueful glance at her dirty clothes.

“Yes we do. I’ll be heading off then,” Snowdrop said, and smiled at Laurel.

Snowdrop had moved in next to them a few years ago, after her Clan had dispersed into the larger ones. There had not been any war, like with Dogwood’s clan, but they didn’t have enough of the right magic in the Clan to grow what they needed to support everyone. Integration wasn’t as common as it used to be, but it still happened from time to time.

After she moved in, she and Laurel became fast friends. In a way, they both provided something the other didn’t have: Snowdrop a daughter and Laurel a mother. Snapdragon, Sage’s wife, had been there to help, but she had her own brood to take care of, and they lived on the other side of the Clansland.

“Did you want to go to the meeting with us?” Laurel asked, in that innocent way children do when they think they are pulling one over on their parents.

Snowdrop looked over to Dogwood and raised an eyebrow in question. “I don’t mind if your father doesn’t.”

Dogwood was surprised. To his knowledge she had never shown any interest in him, but on the other hand he didn’t spend too much time at home.

Laurel looked at her father expectantly, and he knew there was only one correct answer.

“Sounds like a plan,” he said. Laurel jumped up in delight and hugged her father again.

“This is great!” With that comment she bounded off into the house, and left Snowdrop and Dogwood in the garden.

The silence grew around them, but neither made a move to leave. As the sun beat down it gave the day a warm and lazy feeling, but never grew too hot. Insects buzzed in the distance, and it lent a kind of drowsy lullaby to the afternoon air. Dogwood looked over and found Snowdrop’s lavender eyes staring at him, and when he caught her at it, she lowered them and blushed.

“I am sorry if I put you on the spot with Laurel. I didn’t mean to,” she said, eyes still downcast. A strand of hair had fallen loose from her braid to rest near her cheek, and drifted in the light breeze. Dogwood suddenly felt the need to brush it back from her face, and the thought caught him off guard.

He cleared his throat and looked away. “Don’t worry about it. You know how Laurel can be. We’ll come around to your house in an hour or so, if that time is okay with you?” he asked, and took a quick glance back at her. Her face seemed to be pondering more than his question, but she nodded in response.

“I’ll see you then,” she said. With that she took to the air and headed next door to her home. Dogwood looked after her for a minute, and then headed into the house through the back door. When he opened it he found his daughter, grinning like a fool, just inside the doorway.

“Not a word out of you, girl. Now go and get cleaned up so I can as well. All your hugging covered me in dirt.”

Laurel laughed and skipped away, like she had been given the best Yule present ever. It left Dogwood wondering if he could really find someone to spend his life with again. He rubbed his temples and put the matter out of his mind until later. Personal quandaries would have to wait as the meeting loomed ahead of him, along with a potential war threatening the current peace of the Clansland.

He muttered darkly about the youthful naiveté of the younger people in the Clan, and prepared for the impending disaster at the meeting tonight.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chapter One
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Final Chapter

Mention: The song Laurel and Snowdrop are singing is a Cornish Folk song, and you can read the full version here, on the right-hand side of the page:

http://www.cornishculture.co.uk/songs.htm

War of the Wee Ones, Chapter One

Chapter One

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Final Chapter