As far as world-ending events go I would have to say ours wasn't that dire. Someone managed to melt the poles. We had plenty of forewarning. Heck, we even tried to stop it. But when magic wants back in the world it's going to take a lot more than technology to stop a single mage who is pulling a bit too deeply on the new talents he found.
The result? Magic was back in business, he was dead by the backlash (nice), the icecaps melted since he kind of used a bit too much fire, and I took up new residence in an old submarine the resident Russian dug up from the bottom of the ocean.
No, I'm not making this up.
Vadim was a late addition to our group. He's attractive, has a great accent, and a way with mixing technology and magic that I never mastered. I just go for brute force. Sarah is a tad more subtle and excels in what we call wards – permanent spells or triggered spells – that sort of thing. And our other male resident, Mark, is a combination of brute force and subtlety. Give him five minutes and he'll have whipped up something amazing. Of course, in those five minutes I might have blown everything to smithereens, but hey… that's what happens when you don't keep the resident Irish-descent mage appeased with chocolate.
We keep our submarine parked at the water's edge of a small town in what remains of the United States. Things have gone back a few steps and governments are far more local than they used to be. Our town was small and deferred to a larger city nearby. Otherwise, we kept to ourselves. Sarah spent her time helping watch over some of the livestock and Mark owns a small grocery store. He used to just work there but the previous owner retired and handed it over to him. We fit in well since moving in with our inoperable submarine that still moves when Vadim commands it.
I was lounging in the living room when Sarah appeared. Just her head. She was hanging upside down on the ladder leading down into the refurbished room – I think it used to house engines. Now it had a couple tables, some very posh rugs, and lots of bookcases. And sofas. Oh, the sofas. I had napped many an afternoon away on these.
"Kris. Guess what," she said, her blonde hair flipped down like seaweed off her head.
"The cows got loose and you need help rounding them up."
"Nope. We've got an offering."
She made a disgusted look at me. So sue me. I was at a good spot in my romance novel and I wasn't about to drop Jacques's sculpted abdomen to go running off after a bowl of milk.
I'm not kidding about that, either.
"C'mon, it's our job now," she said, letting go of the ladder. Halfway down her fall slowed and she rotated in mid-air to land on her feet.
"I know… hang on… I think they might actually remove more than their shirts this chapter."
"Oh for the love of."
She sulked off to rouse anyone else still in the submarine. See, magic was back. And the four of us got to play with it – but at a price. It wasn't a bad one. I thought it was amusing. The world had rules and those rules got forgotten when magic went bye-bye. Now that it was back and the poles were gone someone had to fill in the gaps. We'd just gotten the job of the nice little house pixies.
It was voluntary. When I put my name down in the book I knew what the deal was. Considerable magical power while on the job – at least three times what I can do normally – but there is a responsibility that came with it. Complete with a rulebook that we used as a paperweight most of the time.
Vadim had been in his bedroom, probably sleeping by how mussed up his hair was. He glanced at me and I hid behind my book. It wasn't Jacques's passionate tongue tickling Laurie's arched neck that made me blush. Alright, I liked Vadim. As in, liked like. I think Sarah secretly liked him too. I mean, he just showed up one day with a submarine! How do you beat that? Once we all got to talking, introduced ourselves as fellow mages, etc, he'd learned about the pixie deal and signed his name as well.
I think we did it more for fun than actual obligation. The book would have found someone else, otherwise. But we were fresh out of college and still had that stupid sense of humor – exactly what it wanted. I don't know why Vadim signed as he was at least three years older than us but still – he'd resurrected a dead submarine.
"I hear there is an offering?" he said.
"Same world. Same place."
Here's another interesting thing. There are other worlds but only a very small handful of mages know about this. Those are the ones that are incredibly gifted and know to keep it to themselves or are like us – roped into being supernatural beings for somebody else.
See, long ago, we had fairies and pixies and such. Where did they come from? Where did they go? Another world. And where did those world's fairies and pixies come from? Our world.
My novel was rudely interrupted by a bulk of blue fabric thrown in my face. Sarah threw a similar bundle to Vadim and at the stairs as Mark's footsteps resounded on the metal. She missed. He picked it off the floor and started sorting it out. I bookmarked my page and stood, tossing the royal blue cape around my neck and tying it. It went down to the knees and had slits for the arms so that I could keep my clothes covered at all times. There was a silly little hat even, made in the style of a World War I's gunner cap. Cept this one had sparkles on the ties at the bottom. It was Sarah's idea. The first time we'd done this we almost hadn't been taken for house sprites when the homeowner's kid found us. So we dressed identically now. It worked.
"Everyone ready?" Sarah asked. I nodded and whistled. Jax, our tabby cat that lived with us, quickly appeared.
We always followed the offering inside the submarine. We didn't want the world outside to know that there were multiple worlds and we could cross to them at times. Sarah pulled a few books off the bookcase, Vadim grabbed the rulebook off the table, and a small portal appeared in the opening, just about the size of your hand. It was enough. Jax was the first through, simply leaping for the portal and vanishing inside. We followed suit, just reaching out to touch it, like you had every intention of walking into it, and then it pulled you through.
It was much like sliding down a dark tunnel. In fact, I'd say that's exactly what it felt like.
The store was cleanly arranged and outside the blown-glass windows we could see that it was dark out. It always was. Mortals called on us after dark. I adjusted my hood as Jax happily lapped up the bowl of milk – the offering. There was a reason we brought him. Tradition said a bowl of milk and very rarely did we get anything good. Like candy. Or those meat pies that one time. Those were good.
The store belonged to a merchant who could no longer travel. His wife had died and there was no one to watch the store. So one day he set out a bowl of milk. Not because he needed the help – he could tend the store, keep it clean, and keep the shipments he had from merchant contacts unpacked on his own. He just… wanted a break. Some help, like it was when his wife was alive. We knew all this because it had appeared in the book on a page, explaining the situation, the day the offering had been left. This was the fourth time he'd called on us and this time Mark let out a cry of surprise.
I walked over to the bowl of milk. Jax came about to my mid-thigh as I was only the size of a chair now in height. We were house pixies. My appearance had even changed, my usually round face turning lean and impish and all signs of being female had vanished into an androgynous state. Oh, the girls were still there. Just back to the days when I didn't even need a training bra. It was disconcerting the first few times but we'd gotten used to it. The power made up for it.
"What?" Vadim asked. Mark was unrolling a letter left beside the milk. I noticed there were pasties. I wasn't sure what they were, but they looked good. I tried one.
Cheese pasty. Huh.
"He's left us a letter this time."
"Does it say thank you?" I asked from around a mouthful of blueberry, my second investigation.
"Well, yes. Says it makes him remember when his wife was alive, how she'd have everything ready in the morning and says he can almost smell her perfume."
"That's our job," I mumbled.
"It also says someone has been breaking into his store at night."
I coughed out blueberry pasty. It had been how many days since he'd last called us? I thought he'd gotten past his wife's death. But then… if he had… then the thief had to be dealt with. Else the offering wouldn't have opened a gate to this world. That's how it worked.
Silently, Mark rolled up the letter, letting it hit the wooden floor. We scattered into the shadows, pulling our cloaks around us and calling upon invisibility to shield us. Such a feat would be impossible in our home world. But here… we could do almost anything it seemed. I crouched by the counter, smelling the herbs hanging from the ceiling and the exotic spices we'd unpacked and arranged for him last week. This was a less-advanced world than ours but I'd grown to like it. The strange curiosities I got to see and put in their proper places as we prepared his shop for him while he slept – they held a sort of mystery to them. What was this place? How did they know about the house pixies? Did they have another name for us? I think that was why I put my name in the book. Following an offering was like stepping into a dream.
We waited. It didn't take long. The book's magic was certain to time things well because that's what we did. We were there when we needed to be and no longer. The thief came in through the backdoor after a moment of fumbling with the lock. No doubt the owner had changed it. This guy was good, that's all. He didn't really creep in, just walked around like he owned the place. I noticed that outside there was no one about and that the torch lanterns were dim. He didn't think he'd be interrupted. I gleefully rubbed my hands together, ignored Sarah's warning shake of her head. Time to make with the magic.
He was prying open the cash drawer when I hit him. He was pitched forwards over the counter, slamming against the opposite wall by what probably felt like a brick striking his back harder than anyone could throw it. Laughing, I half-levitated, half-jumped onto the counter and brandished my hands. He stared at me in shock and Mark quietly kicked the front door open, used to my displays.
I wasn't going to use the door.
"And take this!" I cried. He couldn't understand my language. But it was fun.
The blast again picked him off his feet and threw him through the front window, shattering it and the metal that held the many diamond panes in place to shards. He bounced twice on the cobblestones, rolled, and then tried to run. That was when the nearby tree leapt out and grabbed him with its branches, tangling him up. He started screaming at that point while Vadim laughed darkly. Sarah might not appreciate my blowing out the front window but she wasn't going to just let him get away. I recognized the taste of her magic.
"Right," I said, "Let's go."
"Window," Mark said, pointing significantly at the front of the store.
"I fix it."
And our handsome Russian mumbled something in his native language and a prism shimmered across the hole and then formed into glass, somehow cleaner and brighter than it had been before. It was very beautiful.
Jax was pawing at a corner in the room. He sensed the gateway home and probably something else as well. There was a reason we brought him along, more than the fact that he liked saucers of milk far more than any of us did.
We took the gateway back and this time it felt like falling up a very dark tunnel. I'm not sure how to describe that one.
I landed on the sofa, laughing, and the rest of us appeared in various places around the room. Sarah tore off her cap in a huff and threw it on the floor.
"What?" I asked, rotating myself so my legs were propped up against the back of the sofa and my head was dangling towards the ground.
My hat stayed on for about half a minute. When it went, my red-brown hair followed.
"Can't you show SOME restraint!?"
"Sarah, we're freaking pixies," I said, "We're not supposed to."
"In this world – HERE AND NOW – we're humans!" she yelled. Mark and Vadim exchanged glances but did not retreat. I wasn't sure whose side they were on.
"It's in the book," I whined, "The history. Originally they really were supernatural beings but after they started to diminish mortals stepped up and took up their role. And they were partly tricksters. If an offering wasn't to their liking they'd tear a house up."
"But we're humans!"
"Not when we step through that portal," Mark said softly, putting a hand on Sarah's shoulder. I blew my bangs away from my eyes.
"Just… a bit of restraint…"
"Oh hell Sarah," I replied and before I could continue Vadim stepped in. Curse him and his sultry accent.
"I think this was an unusual situation," he said, "We do tend to get carried away – even you do. I don't think I've picked up a single thing since we started doing this. I levitate them all. Give them wings and make them fly. You see me giving chairs wings, yes? I tinker with an old submarine and carry heavy things around the town for a living. Yet I give chairs wings. Wings, Sarah."
"Alright," she conceded, "We do goof off. But that attracted way too much attention."
"Maybe it did," I finally said, seeing a chance at a truce, "Nothing will come out of it though. Now someone hand me my book back. The word pulsating hasn't been used yet today and I've got a quota to make in my reading."
It was noticed. We just didn't realize it and when we did, it was almost too late. Lucky for us the shopkeeper who lost his wife was smart. Lucky for us we kept a cat.
Two days later. I was helping down at the docks with hauling in the day's catch. The sunset was spectacular but I didn't have time to enjoy it on account of us having a rather large haul and being elbow deep in fish. I barely noticed Mark jogging down the path to the docks, calling my name. I glanced up, wiped my bangs out of my face, and instantly regretted it.
"We gotta go," he said, "Something is up."
"Go on then," the overseer muttered. He was used to the mages coming and going. We had odd jobs around town but when magic called we really had to split.
"Yeah, sorry," I said, "I'll be back tomorrow to help, early this time."
"Yeah, yeah, get on."
I waved the other fishermen goodbye and stopped to dunk my hands in the ocean to clean off the worst of the fish grime. The rest could be magicked away the moment I had a chance to concentrate. I didn't want to blow up my forearms by accident.
"What's up?" I asked.
"An offering. Two. And Jax is going wild."
We ran the rest of the way back to the submarine. Vadim and Sarah was already there, the young woman pacing nervously between the two holes in the bookcase. The book was open but the pages were blank and Jax was spitting furiously from beneath the sofa.
"What is going on?" I asked, taking one look and banking for the small bathroom to finish washing fish grime off my hands.
"We're not sure," Vadim said. He picked up my romance novel and stared at the cover for a moment before setting it down.
Damn, he was nervous.
"The book saying anything?"
"We didn't screw up?"
"It would have told us if we did."
"So why two portals?"
"Damnit Kris, if I knew I would tell you!" Sarah finally exploded. I held up my hands in mock surrender.
"Jeez, just seeing if there was something I needed to know, sorry."
"No, I'm sorry." She took a deep breath. "Okay. So this first portal appeared in its usual spot at its usual time, right? And Jax goes up, sniffs at it, and freaks out. Then about ten minutes later this other one appears."
"So we take the second," Mark said softly.
"Jax has good instincts. Remember the black spider incident?"
I shuddered. Yes. I did. Someone made a spider big, made it smart, and made it very very poisonous. Jax had sniffed it out before it could bite us while we were tracking it down at the request of the town it was harassing. Its creator was already dead and couldn't deal with it.
"Think the book is letting us deal with this?" Vadim asked.
"Yeah," I said, "I think it's not so much, 'do what you will' but 'whatever you do will work'. Else it would give us instructions, like it always does. But let's go with the second portal."
I tossed everyone their cloaks and we donned them. And through the second portal we went.
I called upon invisibility the second I was there. I noticed that everyone else had too and that Jax had not come. There was a saucer of milk at the feet of a man. I stared up at him. It was the shopkeeper, an older man, his hair starting to go gray, with a mournful expression on his face. Like he was going to burst into tears. He sat on a small chair next to a double bed in a small room. I looked out the round window at the end and recognized the street. We were above the shop.
Vadim hopped onto the bed and dropped his invisibility. The man started and stared at the Russian for a moment, then fell onto the floor on his knees. He looked terrified.
"I'm so sorry," he said, "I didn't mean for it to turn out like that. I just wanted the thief to stop stealing stuff. But now the governor wants his mages to capture him a bunch of house sprites and they're downstairs…"
He glanced nervously at the door and lowered his voice.
"I set out a saucer even though I knew you didn't appear where people could see you. I hoped I could warn you-"
I think he was going to continue with his apology but Sarah was flipping through the book and making gestures at Vadim to cut it short. So our impish Russian patted the man on the head and vanished.
"Someone drink the milk," Sarah muttered. We were huddled underneath the bed while the man moaned and mumbled to himself. While he couldn't understand us we could understand him.
"What?!" I hissed. "I hate milk. That's what Jax is for."
"It's part of the rules. He made an offering. We can't reject it."
"I'll drink it, it's not bad."
Mark slipped out from under the bed and still invisible, picked up the saucer and drained it. The man grew quiet.
"Straight from a cow, I swear," the blonde muttered as he returned. We ignored him. We were reading over Sarah's shoulder.
This world had attempted to abuse the house sprites, as they called them. It was not the person who summoned us, but the person in authority. Moreover, it was him and his magic-users. We were perfectly capable of destroying the entirety of his house and ruining the mages if we wanted.
I whistled softly. I felt giddy. Like I could do anything. Like I could break everything in a room, set it all on fire, and keep it up all night. I glanced up and saw the same looks in my friend's eyes. This was the kind of power we had to be careful with.
"Let's go," Sarah said, shutting the book and somehow making it vanish inside her cloak. We nodded solemnly.
We went out the window. It simply opened like a door for us, despite it being firmly fastened in place, and we leapt out onto the cobblestones below like cats. I could see people inside the shop. They weren't what we were after.
The four of us split up. The book had so kindly drawn us a map. Vadim and I were going to hit the governor's house and Sarah and Mark were each going to systematically destroy anything magical in town. Whoever got done first got cookies baked by the other team. That was our deal.
We were all taking it seriously this time, on some level, hence the bet with the cookies. There weren't going to be any flying chairs tonight and I think it bothered us. Tonight, we were both sprite and human.
The governor's house was made of brick and had a nice landscaped yard surrounded by a fence to keep out the kids. That would go last. I slipped through the bars of the fence and Vadim and I climbed in through a window that somehow was left ajar. How careless. The room was a tea parlor with delicate china and fine overstuffed sofas and good stuff like that. Our plan was simple. I was brute force. Vadim was fire.
We left the downstairs blazing merrily and continued upstairs. I found the master bedroom and as I hopped onto the nightstand to survey how best to commence with the carnage found a nice discovery. There was a book. With a pink cover. I picked it up and opened it to "Antonio pulled Clara to his chest, her bosom straining against her corset. For a moment the two gazed into each other's eyes, both aware of the sultry heat that swept up like a raging inferno…"
"Hot damn," I said, tucking the book into my cloak much the same way Sarah had, "I'm keeping this."
And staring at us from the other side of the room was the governor's wife, whose novel I was probably stealing. Well then. I cackled, levitated the dresser, and slammed it into the ceiling. Vadim added a nice touch that as all their clothing fell out each one ignited and landed on the bed. I broke that in two by dropping the dresser on it. She fainted.
We left her trussed up in the city square fountain, on the top level with her billowing undergarments showing for anyone that would pass by. Pixies that are just out of college have a mean sense of humor. I could see smoke rising from a few other places than just the governor's house. A little while later a few more places joined them and then Sarah and Mark appeared with a little pop.
"Did you just teleport?" I asked.
"Hell yes," Mark said, stretching, "I like this tripled and then some magical ability."
"Don't get too used to it," Sarah warned, "I think we've done enough damage. Think the shop owner will be okay?"
"Open the book."
She did so and held it up. It showed us some pictures, like a little cartoon. The mages set to capture us running through the streets in panic as all their expensive furniture and equipment went to pieces. The shop owner taking his money (which seemed to be a lot more than I remembered) and some belongings and quietly slipping out back. There was a horse and a very laden cart waiting.
"Yeah, he'll be fine," I said, "I doubt we'll get another offering from him though. But I still have an idea."
We returned back home via the portal in the shopkeeper's old bedroom. Things returned to normal. I kept my promise and showed up early to help gut fish the next day. I didn't use magic to do so. That evening I set aside my current reading and started in on my new one. It was well-read judging by the battering the cover had taken.
"Jeez Kris, why do you read that stuff?" Mark asked as he climbed down the ladder at the end of his day, "It's just smut."
"Not just any smut," I proclaimed, "It's smut from another world!"
Vadim was on the ladder right behind Mark and he rolled his eyes. I blushed and hid behind Clara's heaving breasts that had somehow managed to cushion Antonio's luxurious tresses. The Russian didn't say anything, just started pulling our cloaks and hats out of the closet. There wasn't an offering but there was a portal.
Tonight, we were going to do some heavy lifting.
Specifically, we were going to move all of the shopkeeper's abandoned belongings to his new residence three towns over.
It was good to be a pixie.