She walked along the path with a soft comfortability. The wooded area near her home always brought her peace. It was something she could always look forward to. For a moment, she paused as she heard a rustling on a nearby stump. She flicked her eyes left to right before catching the source of the rustle.
“A leaf,” she whispered.
She crept over and carefully brushed away the orange and dried leaf that had fallen from lowest branch. Under it sat a Pixie minding himself as he shined his shoes. The sudden, bright light of the morning made him look up with concern.
“Oh!” He stopped his activity instantly at the sight of the girl and fluttered upward to look at her face.
“Pixie… You’re a…” the girl’s voice trailed off in disbelief.
“Yes, I am. You’re an Elfling. I didn’t expect anyone to be living here anymore. It’s been empty for decades.”
The girl continued to stare at the fast-paced sputter of the Pixie’s wings in awe, “I thought Pixies were extinct. There haven’t been signs of them.”
“Ah,” said the Pixie with a smile, “we are everywhere! You must know where to look. That’s the trick of it, and you seemed to have solved that trick. Name? Surely you have one.”
“Isla. You?” She blinked.
“Briar. I am Briar. Your name is fitting. As is mine,” he smiled wider.
Briar glanced down and mindlessly wiped away the wood chips and dust that had collected on his lightly green outfit. He was small, Isla noted, at only three inches tall. His sharply pointed ears angled back as his glance quickly became a frustrated glare when the remnants of nature refused to leave his outfit easily. His hair was light just as the rest of him had been. As he looked up, Isla noticed that his eyes were bright and deep amber.
“To what do I owe the pleasure of meeting an Elfling?” Briar’s left ankle hovered near his right shin to keep him steady in the air as the studied her.
“I wasn’t looking for you,” Isla admitted, “but I was walking. I walk the path every day, so why have I never seen you before?”
Briar circled her then before speaking again, “you must know where to look. Though,” his thin fingers rested against his chin, “I have not seen you, either. So, maybe I haven’t known where to look as well.”
“So,” Isla guessed, “you’ve been looking for one of us?”
“I have!” Briar pointed his finger toward the sky with a cheery tone.
“Why?” She wondered aloud.
“Well,” Briar looked around, “my tree. It has been overcrowded. All these trees, you’d think, would make enough room. They do,” he nodded, “but I have the best! The sun always shines, and it has the best view!”
Isla folded her arms, “I don’t know how to help you. I was also told by the others that Pixies are tricksters. How do I know that this is not a trick?”
“That is the point of tricks, is it not? I suppose since you and the others have not thought of us, we’ve tricked your eyes. You never knew where to look. I was foolish, it seems, because you have come to me–found me. You weren’t supposed to. You just happened to know where to look.”
Isla shifted her jaw. Pixies were known to be tricky creatures, and she knew that if she believed the wrong Pixie that it could possibly bring her to her end. She could squash him down like a bug, she thought, and he’d surely meet his end, but she hadn’t a drop of evilness in her. That was the Elfling way. Elflings were dignified members of the Wood, but they were also calm, quiet, and just as much respected as they were respectful. Senseless murder from skepticism contradicted everything she’d been taught, and it would be known by the Elders. They knew everything.
“Your scrutiny,” Briar pointed at her, “is understandable, but it is not necessary. I simply need assistance in removing these pests from my tree. Don’t you think you owe me something small? You bothered with me first.”
“That was not my intention,” Isla shot back.
“Intended or not, it has occurred, and you know the rules of the Wood, I’m sure.”
“’Those who cause a Pixie woe / must assist them / friend or foe,’” she quoted the ways of the Wood with mild irritation.
“Perfect! Shall we?” Briar used his natural grace to gesture toward the path in a fluid movement.
Isla huffed but proceeded. She stepped past Briar as she unfolded her arms but stopped when she realized she didn’t know the direction of the tree in question. Before she allowed Briar to take the lead, she tried to remember every detail of surroundings to get back to the path she knew so well.
In a row, a tree with brown leaves, a tree with orange, and a tree with yellow on the left. On the right, there were three yellow trees and a tree that hadn’t changed colors at all. Near the stump of a tree on the outer most part of the trail, six leaves had fallen with a pile of miscellaneous bits covering the edges of the stump halfway up. Isla looked near the main portion of the path. There were seven stone lined along her normal route, but that was all she had; the only distinctions that would offer her aid when looking for familiarity once her task was completed.
Briar flew ahead without checking to see if Isla had followed. He knew, without a doubt, she would. His kind smile, when he was sure that she couldn’t see, warped into something wicked. Into his trap, Isla had fallen.
Briar’s deception was to be expected, and what the Elfling didn’t know was that he’d lied. He’d followed her patterns of morning walks for over a month’s time. He was not kind, and he was not in need of help with pests in his tree. Instead, his intentions were far more sinister. He wanted her as his pet rather than to make her companionship for aiding his false troubles.
Briar staged the encounter in its entirety. The leaf, the cover of it, the shining of his shoes, the perky demeanor that often made him trustworthy, and his lie. It was one of the best schemes he’d succeeded in. Elflings, especially one as young as Isla, were taught to follow the Ways of the Wood, and they did not stray from it. The Elders, he knew, were not naïve, so he never attempted to capture them.
Along the winding way they went, and it took only a short hour to reach the tree Briar had complained to Isla about. He flew around it multiple times at a speed that only Pixies were capable of. Using the Ways of the Wood against the Elflings in such a way were wondrously glorious, he thought. The Ways of the Wood could never be refused. He watched as Isla stared at him from below.
He fluttered down and hovered in front of Isla’s face with the same kindness he’d faked when he’d lured her to his tree.
“These pests,” he said, “are quiet. You’d expect pests to be noisy and problematic. Problematic, indeed, because they otherwise would not be pests. Noisy? I’m afraid not, and that is their trick. Since they are so quiet, they are crafty. Since they are crafty, you have to know where to look.”
With a snap of his fingers, Briar alerted the ‘pests.’ To Isla’s surprise, they weren’t pests at all. They were Pixies! Hundreds of them. They hurled down toward her with a menacing buzz of their wings, and one of the las t things Isla heard was the evil laugh of Briar in the distance.
When her eyes opened, Isla was trapped in a wired cage that was much too small for her to slip through. On instinct, she shook and pulled at the wires of the cage while yelling, but she knew her efforts were hopeless. She’d remembered the second half of the rhyme taught to her as Briar appeared before her out of thin air. It was if he could read her mind because he offered the rest of the rhyme with a wave of his hand:
“’Those who cause a Pixie woe,
must assist them,
friend or foe.
Should an Elfling turn its back,
a Pixie’s trickery,
Shall be their trap.’”
Isla’s eyes widened, and the rest of the rhyme left her stunned. She remembered on her path that she had, in fact, turned her back. How could she be so dull? There was no way out–no hope.
“Forever and always,” Briar’s voice held its natural darkness, “you shall be my pet. I am sorry, Isla. You must understand. This is the way. It has always been the way. Maybe next time,” he grinned, “you’ll know where to look.”