“We have plenty of time,” J says, but it sounds like he’s trying to convince himself.
The small lake calmly stretches out in front of me, contrasting my thoughts. White foam and dark blue waves sprinkle the surface, tickling my ankles. I reach down and gather as much water as I can in my hands, bringing it up to wash my face.
We don’t though. He knows this. Already, we’ve watched the sun fall from the horizon three times without finding what we’re looking for. Two more nights and we’re out of time.
I hear the crinkling of paper beside me and I look to see J unfolding the map.
“It’s not going to help.”
J lets out a frustrated sigh. We’d stopped at a small shop to gather supplies, but we should’ve known how faulty they were going to be, considering who was selling them. You can never trust goblins, greedy little creatures.
The map is magic, and even though it seemed helpful enough before we bought it, as we got further and further away from the shop, the map had shrunk up to 10% its size. Basically impossible to use.
J squints at it. “Where’s this ‘bag of pixie dust’ supposed to be found anyway?”
“It’s been three days. Three days. And we’ve been walking aimlessly around?”
“You said you knew where you were going!”
“I do, just-”
“Give me that.” I snatch the tiny map from his hands and bring it up to my face.
“Why does this always happen?” Jay groans, kicking his leg and making a splash in the water. I shield the paper.
“You mean why don't you own a map? Beats me.”
I make out a tiny inscription of fairy wings in the paper and tap it with my index finger. “Wings mean pixies, right?”
“They could also mean fairies.”
“It’s our only lead.”
“Well, which way is that anyway?” J leans over my shoulder to try and see the map. I tap twice on the wings.
“If we’re around...here...we’d have to go west. Easy enough, right?”
“If you say so.” He shrugs. I carefully fold up the map and pull up my hood. “It could take a couple days to get there though. What if it’s not the place?”
“What ifs never helped anyone, did they? Come on.”
I look up at the sky, as if the giants who sent us on the job could see us this far down. If we go back empty-handed…
We turn away from the water and start walking along the path. I pull a compass out of my pocket and make sure we’re going west. J follows. The island isn’t that big, really, it’s just confusing. J catches up to me so we’re walking side by side. We continue in silence for a while, my legs growing stiff and sore as we go along. The path is mostly straight until we come to a small fork in the road. Well, less of a fork and more of a… I don’t know, but there are four directions we can choose from- three in front of us, and one overgrown path off to the side. J crosses his arms.
“Eenie-meanie-miny-moe?” he asks, furrowing his brows. I walk up to a sign over to the side and brush off the dirt from it.
“Wait…” I groan as I read the words.
It’s a riddle.
To the left, you’ll find a fright.
Go to the right if you’re looking for a fight.
In the middle, if you’re small.
Last one for the fairest of them all.
It’s not the hardest I’ve ever solved, but still. Signs are supposed to be helpful. I sigh.
“What do you think?”
“A fright is obviously gnomes.”
I burst out laughing. “Those tiny things? Please. It’s probably trolls.”
“The right is…”
“It doesn't matter, it’s obviously not pixies. They’re docile creatures, aren’t they?”
“I guess. Well then, fairest of them all, or small?”
“Pixies are small, but...What’s that one old story of that one pixie being super vain and stuff?”
“The one with the fairy who tried to be the prettiest of them all?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
“Well, that’s fairies, not pixies. Plus, did you know something similar to that actually happened, but with a lot more bloodshed?”
“No, but please don’t go on. The middle it is, then.”
We continue forward.
“So. Basically, there’s the queen fairy, right? And she wants to invite a representative from every single species to show, like, some sort of unification or whatever- king goblin, emperor troll, stuff like that.”
I try to walk faster so that he isn’t next to me.
“J I really don’t care.” I press my hands to my ears. “La-la-laaa!”
“You’re going to miss the best part! Basically, blah blah blah, they have the dinner, and then the people at the thing realize there isn’t a pixie there and so-”
“Shut up.” I put a hand out and stop J in his tracks. A harmonious sound of singing fills my ears and leaves me slightly light-headed. I go half-a-step backwards.
“Do you hear that?” I murmur as my eyelids grow heavy.
“Hear what? That singing?”
I grab J’s wrist and pull him along the path, the singing growing louder and louder. So...soft and majestic, I almost want to...
“Kestria! Snap out of it!”
I push J away from me. When was he grabbing my shoulders anyway?
I have to get closer to that sound.
My feet move themselves, and I don’t even feel the small branches that snag on the hood of my cloak and pull it down. All I hear is the singing.
I trip on a rock and slide through a few bushes and almost into a river. And finally, there it is. A...mermaid, eyes closed as she continues to vocalize. I smile as I near the river, just about ready to dip my feet into the water. I mean, to be as close as possible to that sound is the most important thing right now, right? The current races, but the mermaid doesn’t seem to be affected, so why would I be?
Just as I’m about to step into the water, a hand roughly pulls me backwards. A face...yelling...pushing...What was his name again? The pretty melody pulses through my veins. I push him away.
Something shiny flits through my vision. I swat it away, trying to get up again.
“I have to...I have to…”
My eyes close of their own accord, and suddenly, as if I’m underwater, I can’t hear anything anymore.
The world swirls in darkness.
Oh, wait. My eyes are closed.
I peel open my eyes and get up, wincing at the awful headache pulsing from my forehead outward. Rough fingers gently push my forehead back to the ground. J.
“What...just happened?” I make out, my tongue thick and hard to move.
“Kestria? Can you hear me?”
I give him a look.
“Yes? Who’s singing?”
I look around, trying to make out where the pretty but gradually getting to be annoying sound.
“A siren. Are you feeling ok?”
“I’m fine. A siren? In these parts? And how come we’re not, like, ‘walking to our dooms’?”
“Oh trust me hon’, you were,” A small voice says. I sit up and push away J when he tries to push me back down. Sitting on the rock next to him, I see a little fairy, her wings fluttering slightly in the wind.
“Who are you?”
“A little ‘thank you’ would suffice. And the ginger root I gave her won’t last forever, you two should get going as soon as you can. “
“Thank you,” J says as the fairy flits into the air. She waves goodbye with one hand and pulls along a little satchel with the other.
“You two stay safe.”
And she’s gone.
“So, wanna tell me what the mushroom just happened?””
“Uh, is no an acceptable answer?”
“Right.” He clears his throat. “There was a river siren and you were completely hypnotized and so I dragged you off. There happened to be a fairy there who had something that could numb your ears to it for a little bit. That’s it.”
“Not that I’m complaining, but how’d you convince a fairy to help us?”
“Well...I gave her the map.”
“Would you prefer being river food right now?! I mean, come on, it is her size anyway.”
“Did you at least try and get directions from her?”
I groan and run a hand through my hair.
“I’m partnered with a complete idiot!”
I stomp ahead, trying to clear my head. I can hear J taking steps behind me, but thankfully he doesn’t make any move to try and walk side by side.
Long minutes pass and stretch into an hour or two.
We’re literally doomed. Every step I take, I can see the sky getting darker and darker as the stars begin to come into view. The soles of my feet hurt, but I don’t even care.
“We should stop for the night,” J says from behind me. He takes a couple big steps forward until we’re next to each other.
“We don’t have that kind of time.” I don’t try to walk any faster, but I avoid his obvious attempts to make eye contact. Even so, the long day starts to take its toll on me, and the soles of my feet start to lightly drag along the dirt path, now lit only by the moon and the stars.
“If we want to make any progress, we need a rest.”
I sigh and stop walking, crossing my arms. J stops too.
“How far from some sort of civilization do you think we are?” I ask, trying to keep my voice level. He shrugs.
“I don’t know. Can’t be too far, I mean, we’ve been walking forever.”
I rub my fingers in between my eyebrows.
“Okay. We’ll stop for the night.”
Thankfully, my partner isn’t completely stupid, and he does have a tent in his backpack. We pitch it together in the grass and sit cross-legged beneath the stars.
“Just...I don’t get how you couldn’t think to ask the fairy where to go,” I say, uncomfortable with the tension between us but still a little upset.
“You were about to jump into the river, so I was a little preoccupied! I was just trying to save you. I’m sorry, I guess.”
“Well, fine. Thanks, I guess,” I mimic him before crawling into the tent. I pull off my cloak and try to work out the tangles in my hair with my fingers. We’ve rolled out two sleeping bags side by side and I lay down on top of one. I let my eyes drift close as my body aches from the walking we’ve been doing.
A small thought flits through my head before I fall into nothingness- How come J wasn’t affected by the siren?- and then I’m out cold.
After walking for almost half the day with nothing but stale bread for breakfast, my stomach starts to rumble insistently. Thankfully, we’ve almost made it. There have been multiple signs here and there (these ones not riddles, thankfully) that have told us we’re nearing the dwellings of the pixies. I’ve tried not to let myself feel too much relief at the fact that we chose the right path, because it’s not over yet. Much like goblins, pixies are little tricksters, and who knows how we’re even going to convince them to give us a bag of pixie dust.
J suggested we go to the queen, but I’m not so sure. Queen Fayette isn’t exactly known for her generosity. Because pixies are so powerful, other species often come to them for help.
Needless to say, it hasn’t really been given often. Or ever.
J and I stop at another fork in the road, marked by another sign.
← The Main Village
“Well?” J asks, wiping the sweat from his brow.
I almost choose the left- but if the queen won’t help us, why would an average villager? Maybe we’ll have good luck, and somehow the Queen will be in a good mood. Either way, we have to get moving. If we’re not back to the giants by tonight with the bag of pixie dust-
“What ifs never got anyone anywhere, right? C’mon.” J pats my shoulder twice before setting off on the path to the right. I follow.
This path is a lot less walked on than the others we’ve been on- which makes sense, since pixies prefer flying to walking.
As we venture deeper into the path, it starts to open up and the vegetation starts to dwindle down into only grass and dandelions.
A short but large castle stretches in front of our feet. I kneel down on the ground, careful not to ruin anything.
Besides the door, which is big enough for only my hand, there’s a small bowl marked ‘Foreign Visitors’ in golden cursive. J takes it from me.
“It’s shrinking dust, so we can go inside. You have to inhale it- like this.” He takes a little in his palm and I think he’s about to breathe it in himself, when he blows it in my face instead. A couple specks fall into my throat and I cough, unintentionally inhaling the rest through my nose. I shut my eyes tight as the shrinking begins- which one generally can’t feel much except for lots of tingling on the skin. I’m sure J is doing the same now, shrinking himself.
Rude of him to blow it in my face though.
When the tingling stops, I open my eyes. The bowl, suddenly huge compared to me, sits beside J, who is also mini-sized. The door isn’t so small anymore either. I wipe off my clothes and take a deep breath.
J nods, and together, we push open the marble doors. Directly in front of us is a guard- or at least I assume that’s what she is, considering the uniform and dark grey wings.
“Who are you, and what do you want?!” she yells, flying an inch or two above our heights.
The pixie’s face is hard to see with her helmet, but J seems to be scrutinizing her.
The pixie’s fluttering falters.
My jaw drops in disbelief. All at the same time, the pixie lands and takes off her helmet, embracing J. Or, um, James.
So many questions push up my throat, but the one that comes out is- “Your name is James?”
J’s mom untangles him from her embrace and he rubs his eyes.
“It’s-well- it’s complicated.”
“You’re half pixie?!” I practically yell. I hold my head in my hands- though it does kind of make sense.
How else was he not affected by the sirens?
“James, what are you doing here?” the pixie says, completely ignoring my presence.
“Look, I’m sorry to butt into this little family reunion, but we need to see the Queen- and fast.”
It’ll already take us forever to get back to the giants, so we don’t have much time left.
“Of course. I’ll take you to her.” The pixie pulls her helmet back on. She walks ahead and leads us through several hallways, and we pass many pixies on the way.
The castle might look small front the outside, but looks can be deceiving.
I hit J on the shoulder. He turns my way. I shake my head violently at him and mouth ‘What?!?!'
He shakes his head softly back ‘It’s too complicated to explain'.
J’s mom pushes open double doors and leads us into the throne room. My breath catches.
It’s beautiful. The floor is what looks like pure silver, and I bet you could lick food off of it if you wanted to. Paintings of past rulers line the walls, and on the ceiling a silver chandelier, candles unlit. The room is instead lit up with multiple windows.
Finally, at the furthest end of the room sits Queen Fayette on her throne, writing something down in a book.
“My queen. I have visitors here to see you.” J’s mother bows and we do the same. The Queen puts down her book.
“Come closer, then. What is it.”
“Queen Fayette, your majesty. We-We’ve been imprisoned by giants, and we need your help,” I say quickly, “They say they’ll only let us go free if we bring to them a pouch of...pixie dust.”
“Pixie dust, hm? That’s the only reason someone comes in here. It’s never ‘how are you, my queen’, never ‘would you like some tea?’ always. About. The pixie dust.”
The Queen scowls. I swallow saliva hard on my throat.
“No,” she says simply, and opens her book again.
“Get them out of my sight.”
J’s mom obliges, pulling us out of the room and then out of the castle. Tears threaten to spill from my eyes. I blink them furiously away.
This can’t be it.
“But mom can’t you-”
“I’m sorry James. I can’t-The queen-she...We can’t produce pixie dust. She only allows us to do the magic required of our job. I- You should go. Quickly.”
She pushes us away and goes back into the castle and shuts the door behind us. I’m about to try and go in after her, but I can already feel myself growing again. Within seconds, I’m elf size again, standing next to J in the dirt.
Around us, the sun has already started to fall beneath the horizon. The windows inside must be fake. I take a shuddering breath.
“Why did you lie to me? No, you know what? I don’t even care! Whatever.” I let out a dry laugh and kick out dirt with the toe of my boot.
“We were so close…” J says, just as the last of the sun falls beneath the horizon. Thunder and lightning strike in the sky, and a beanstalk sprouts from the ground in front of us. I smile weakly and nod as the ground shakes beneath our feet.
In reality, I know we were never going to make it.