Inspired by miscellaneous fantasy books I've read, and by my copy of Word Menu, in which pixies are said to be the spirits of dead children, though I found no other proof for that. My first stab at this genre.

The Rhododendron Trail
Chapter One


He stirred, in the absence of the terrestrial glow he was used to. His hazel eyes opened, and there squatting by the open window was a silhouette in the shape of a small human: a child. It had one hand clutching the top aluminium ledge, and the other on its knee. It was also trembling.

"Will you let me in?" it asked, in a tinny voice.

He could not remember whether he had nodded, or otherwise given any sign of affirmation, because the next instant the creature was sprawled on his bedroom floor, gasping wildly. He did not even know whether it was real, but noting in his half-awake state that it both had a shadow and was opaque enough to block the nightlight, he let the question rest.

Still he asked the being, "Who are you?" It did not reply; instead its strangely golden eyes dilated, and it accentuated its gasping and flailing until Rainer understood the actions as a plea for water. There was no way, however, he could leave this curious creature alone to wreak havoc in his room. He dragged his duffel bag over from the foot of his bed, and tossed a half-full bottle of water over to it.

It caught the bottle fluidly, then unscrewed the cap. One hand reached towards an unbuttoned corduroy pouch at its waist, and retrieved a small white petal. This the creature dropped into the bottle, speaking in a quick, hushed voice:

"Frond or floret of moonshine dew
Seal thy self in purview true."

A pale blue light bathed the water, and faded as soon as it appeared. Rainer stared from his bed in silence and disbelief, as the creature downed the contents of the bottle, petal and all. When the last drop was gone it sighed and pushed itself up with its arms, wiping its mouth with one wrist. He fancied a pointed tip of flesh sticking out from each side of its amber-haired head. "What are you?" he rephrased.

It raised its head — they really are pointed ears, he realised — and smiled at him: gratitude with a tinge of weariness and mischief. "A piskie in distress," it said, in a stronger and more girlish sort of voice, bow lips curling upwards. "Sorry for disrupting your sleep and being old-hat, but . . . thanks for saving my little life."

She looked as if she would barely reach his elbows when standing, but there seemed to be a teeming sense of precocity about her: an indistinct sort of overly seasoned otherworldliness. In the moonlight her hair shone a wispy silver near the shoulders where it turned outwards, and the bleached green tunic hung drab and tatty on her body; a cache of odds and ends hung from a slim twisted band of fabric around what would be her waistline. Her face was swarthy, and her bare feet small, twitching uncertainly against the floor as she stood up.

". . . A piskie." The word sounded queer from his mouth. "So you're not . . . human?"

"No. I don't think so. Maybe I once was," she mused, dusting her clothes quite perfunctorily, "but I can't remember."

Question after question were ricocheting about in Rainer's mind, and some managed to escape. "But what kind of species is a piskie?" he found himself gabbling. "Are you a demon? A fairy? What's with the water and that petal thing? And crashing in here at this time?"

The piskie laughed, an almost-shrill laugh like a little girl's would sound, "Hold it, hold it!" Her arms were outstretched, palms towards him. "You're asking so many things at once. So I should get to ask something too. Like — what is your name?"

That shut him up. In the two seconds of silence that followed he furiously wrung the bedsheet on his lap, and debated whether to risk revealing his name to a 'piskie' with unknown magical capabilities, or to shove her out of the window and padlock it quick, then cock a snook at her for good measure.

"Rainer," he said. He was worried she would magick his thumb and nose together permanently while he wasn't looking.

She nodded like an eager papillon at play. "I'm Asphodel. From Caislean," she offered, wherever that was. "That's where I'm from, where I still was yesterday. Didn't notice that Portal right in the middle of all that thistle. That's why I'm here, in . . . your realm."

Rainer frowned at her. "You mean Earth? Are you from another planet?" he inquired, rather dubiously.

"Questions again! I am from Gaia. All the other fairies are, too. We just exist in another place, or dimension." She sighed. "I need to get back to Caislean. And fast. This place is ruining me."

"But you're a fairy, aren't you?" He raised an eyebrow in scepticism, and a hint of bemusement. "Can't you fly?"

That seemed to ruffle Asphodel quite a bit: her golden eyes grew incandescent, and her lips twisted in a rather peevish manner. "I am not a sprite," she muttered. Then she took a step forward, and placed a small thumb on Rainer's forehead.

"But —"

"Lull," she simply said, instead of adhering her skin to his. A pine-scented breeze seemed to float through the room. Rainer promptly fell on his back, and into a dreamless slumber.

– – –

The sky that morning was a multitude of purples and oranges, with a faint bizarre green at the eastern end. Rainer balanced his way across the crumbling red tiled roofs, the very few left in the city where stark grey buildings and factories of glass, steel and concrete reigned. A few steps before Rainer, Asphodel practically skipped along, as if she knew the way around.

A few times Rainer wondered what exactly he was doing, skipping school and leading a little pixie around. Yet, he later decided, that was infinitesimally better than spending hours at end sitting in a room with other unspeaking classmates, facing plasma screens and keyboards and the facsimile projection of a lady at the front of the class that was his teacher.

Just an hour before, Rainer had woken up and found, to his dark relief, both his room and clothes intact. The one other thing had been Asphodel staring at him whilst seated atop his dresser, and that had just about flipped him out. "Didn't you get any sleep at all?" he had yelped, jumping out of bed embarrassedly. "I don't care if you faint again later because of fatigue."

Her golden eyes had not even flickered once. "I would have passed out faster if it weren't for the residual magic at your house. Did you — did anything peculiar happen to the plants in your garden anytime lately?"

"The plants?" The question itself had been peculiar enough. "What do you need to know that for?" But presently Rainer remembered: the two rhododendron bushes sprawled almost halfway down the lawn out front; the two same bushes that withered into dryness one ordinary day a few weeks back, even though his grandmother had remembered to water the entire garden daily. The poor old lady had been most distraught over it.

He told the pixie that. He even muttered something about Pashet the family cat yowling less often after that ordinary day, if it would be of any significance.

She had then knitted her arch eyebrows, and proceeded to climb out of the window. "I need an aura much stronger than that. One from a living specimen," Asphodel had said. Then, like a jaded bird perched at the open gateway between freedom and imprisonment, she had paused at the windowsill — and asked, "Do you mind helping me fill this before I leave?"

And now the full bottle of water was merrily swinging on her makeshift utility belt, in sync with her steps. She jumped off the final roof in a debonair fashion, and Rainer, in his heavy blue parka, followed with slightly less grace, the duffel bag heavy against his thigh and screwing up his landing. The two glass marbles in a hidden compartment of his bag clicked upon the impact, in a reassuring manner.

"That shop you were talking about just now — which one was it?" Rainer asked, as he sprang up and trotted after the girl piskie, down a narrow side road leading to an even smaller alley that was paved with cobblestones. Pale grey smog from the Western Factory Line nearby formed a distressingly thick curtain between the low houses on either side, blotting out light from the brightening sky.

It was clear that Asphodel's clothes and hair were slightly paler than he remembered. He did not ask, and simply let her lead the way. The pixie manoeuvred like she knew the route by heart: her slender legs constantly darting forward in the old white sandals he had lent her; hands trailing alongside her over the peeling walls and rusted pipes as if tracing out latent energies of mystic origins. It was precisely because of this she hushed the boy's inquiries, and shut her eyes in concentration.

There came a loud mew behind them at that moment, however; the pixie spun around on the sandals and glared at Rainer, who turned around too, and saw. A black cat sat a yard behind him, slits of yellow trained on him, tail swishing contentedly behind it. He imagined it darting along the labyrinthe paths and alleys while upsetting the occasional rubbish bin or two.

"You're better at finding your way around, aren't you?" Rainer grinned. Pashet strolled past him and Asphodel, proudly purring as if acknowledging the comment as a compliment.

"Felines can smell the auras better," Asphodel grumbled, rather resignedly, picking at the pinkish ends of her bob. "I can only trace so much."

She paused to look at Rainer, head cocked to one side as if puzzled; wavy dark hair licking the nape of his neck, with part of it pulled back at the top to keep it out of his curious eyes; one hand tucked into the back pocket of his jeans; one foot before the other. There was something remotely aloof about that stance; perhaps she — and everything else — was really getting too abstruse and chimerical for him.

"The auras are left behind by existing magic, however little," she explained, turning to follow the trotting black cat. "And that magic is left behind by us, the fairies, the ones like me that stupidly tumble through Portals into your world; and by the flora that are what you call rhododendrons. They in turn fringe the Portals here, and since they're the only way back to Caislean for me I have to locate those flowers first . . . That good enough for you?"

"No." He hastened his pace, and fell in beside her. "You didn't answer my earlier question."

She scowled at him, golden eyes flashing bright. "Your precious pet read my mind. Why don't you ask him instead?"

She ran off after Pashet, who suddenly darted into another alleyway perpendicular to theirs. Somehow, to Rainer, the way she had looked at him had reminded him of something else — something of a long time past, something very nearly forgotten, yet something he was sure he had seen before. His hand subconsciously slipped into the flap of his bag; the marbles pressed cool against his fingers.

So lost was Rainer in his disconnected thoughts that he walked straight into someone, who moved nary an inch. "What the —" he started, fingers shooting out of the pocket more by reflex than in surprise.

Asphodel was facing the left side of the lane. Her face was one of endless shock, and she neither moved nor spoke. Pashet crouched on the top of a small pile of bricks behind her, washing its face patiently.

"What's the matter now?" he asked, albeit a little crossly. He did not play truant just to weave through shrunken streets and red herrings: for all he knew this girl called Asphodel might just evanesce right before his early-morning eyes.

She did not. Instead he saw her raise a small hand, and point a crooked finger to the space before her.

"It's . . ."

-tbc-


(Note: This story will be on hiatus until I find the interest to pink it up again. I like to read fantasy, but I just cannot write it.)