Chapter 9

Hunter Hunting

The following morning, Tally returns with Shae and the sisters announce that they have been talking to all of their kindred to find out as much as they can about the hunter. More than a little seems to be exaggerated, such as the hunter is the size of a tree, but some of the information is more valuable. As near as they can figure, the hunter has been in the forest for several months. He is a large male taller. Though considering the source, large seems subjective. He is mostly known for attacking with a bow but has been known to set various traps. The pixies have managed to avoid him since they'd taken measures to stay away from the ruins the hunter inhabits, and he rarely leaves their vicinity. Shae also tells the girls that she has managed to get volunteers to spy on the hunter and has already sent a few to do so.

More days pass with the girls continuing their usual activities while staying clear of the hunter's territory. The pixies bring them new information about the hunter, revealing he has dark gray fur and a long furless tail, though often wears a hood. He also carries a long knife along with his bow and has been spotted making his own arrows. They confirm he is alone and sleeps in the ruins, which are rigged with various simple traps that, according to them, are too large for pixies or ferals.

Twinkaleni asks, "Shae, do you think you could get someone to cut his bow's string? I think that would greatly hamper his capabilities."

"Yeah, if he can't hunt, maybe he'll go hungry and leave," Danahlia says hopefully.

"A nice thought, but we can't count on it," says Twinkaleni, "You and Alice have proven a bow string can be manufactured from local flora, and such an experienced hunter would no doubt be able to replace theirs. No, the cutting of the bow string would have to happen in sync with any attempt to strike out at this individual, if it comes to it."

"A great risk this would be, but do it we will if it will aid in freeing the forest from the hunter," Shae assures them.

"At least we know there's only one. Who knows, maybe he doesn't understand the damage he's doing. Maybe we could try reasoning with him," Alice suggests.

"I say we ambush 'im. If it's just one, I think we can take 'im," puts in Danahlia, pounding a fist into the palm of her hand.

"Calm down, Danny, Alice may be onto something. I think It would be best to avoid violence if at all possible," Twinkaleni reasons.

The Murin mage expresses her interest in having multiple plans, each with contingencies. She manages to come up with a surprising number of ideas, all with numerous variables, most of which seem needlessly complex to her companions.

After a while, Alice yawns, raising her hand as Twinkaleni is going over the pros and cons of yet another plan, "I'm leanin' toward ambushin' 'im too. If Shae can get the bow string cut, we can hit him when he goes out looking for materials to make a new one. He won't have a bow and won't be prepared for a fight."

Twinkaleni nods, "Yes, but that's assuming he doesn't already have some prepared." She looks to Shae, "Do you think you could get someone to check his supplies, so we know exactly what this hunter has to work with?"

Shae sags, "Apologies, Master Orbear, we have not yet dared to get so close. The danger is too great."

"Twinkie, we can't keep asking these guys to put their lives on the line if we aren't willin' to do the same," asserts Danahlia.

"But-" Twinkaleni starts though Danahlia interrupts.

"I know you're scared. I'm scared. Alice, you scared?"

"Yeah, I'm scared," the young Tokala admits.

"See, but we can do this. We outnumber 'im three to one. You have magic. And with the pixies on our side, we can't lose," Danahlia assures Twinkaleni, putting both hands on the diminutive mage's shoulders.

The small mouse looks up at the Liguna, "But how can you be so certain?"

"Because I know you're gonna to be watchin' my back," Danahlia replies easily.

Twinkaleni smiles and lets out a breath, "Alright then."

Confidence bolstered, Twinkaleni outlines a fairly simple plan that the girls can execute the very next day.

The pixies cheer and dart away, eager to tell their kin of the Jellybane's plan as well as recruit volunteers for their own dangerous part in it. The girls go over the plan several times until Danahlia, bored and tired, calls an end to it. The pixies are to infiltrate the hunter's lair and disable the hunter's bow while simultaneously sabotaging as much of his supplies and traps as they can tonight. In the morning, if he ventures out to replenish his stocks, that will be the opportunity to attack. The pixies will keep an eye on his whereabouts and relay the information to the girls in the field so they can ambush him, unaware and unprepared. They do not intend to use violence unless necessary, but between Alice's sword, Danahlia's spear, and Twinkaleni's magic, they figure the hunter will be too pressed to mount any effective resistance. Plan made, the girls go to bed early to be well rested for their hunt of the hunter.

They wake up before dawn the next morning and eat well. Going over their plan again, they pack light for their mission. Once ready, Tally leads the girls deeper into the forest and into the hunter's domain. Their own bows still too unreliable to bring, Alice and Danahlia only take their battle proven arms. Shae reports that her infiltration team has managed to damage the hunters bow and even disarm several traps. The green haired pixie and another now track the hunter as he leaves his camp with nothing but his knife.

The girls cheer their early success as they advance on their unsuspecting enemy, still a fair distance away according to their pixie intelligence. They stick to the formation outlined by Twinkaleni which has Alice and Danahlia side by side upfront while the mage takes the rear. The plan is to surprise the hunter, distract him with sword and spear and then hit him with magic from afar if need be.

It's nearly noon when Shae's partner dismally reports that Shae has been captured. Tally shrieks, darting away with the other after her sister. The girls run and call after them for a short while but quickly loose the swift pixies, leaving them blind in an unfamiliar part of the dense forest.

"Ticks, what do we do now?" Danahlia whispers harshly, not wanting to risk giving them away. The last report said they were not far from the hunter's position.

"We gotta help Shae. Let's just keep goin' this way, maybe we'll run into 'em soon," says Alice, looking around nervously.

"Keep on your guard, we may run into the hunter at any time," Twinkaleni advises.

They advance, weapons at the ready. The knowledge of such a dangerous individual lurking nearby turns the once comforting forest into a world of danger. Their pace slows as they freeze at every sound, their breaths catching, only to realize it's nothing time and again. Alice keeps her ears perked, trying to listen past the rustle of forest dwellers to hear any sign of the hunter. There are an abundance of jellies in the area, and more red ones than they've seen yet. The trio avoids them as best they can while trying to stay quite.

After over an hour, Danahlia groans, "We should've seen somethin' by now." Twinkaleni shushes her but she goes on, "We're probably not even goin' in the right direction anymore."

"What'd you wanna do?" asks Alice.

"Guess that depends on what you're tryin' ta find," a male's voice says from behind.

The girls jump, turning to see a tall lanky man with similar features to Twinkaleni, though with a longer more angular muzzle and darker colors. They can compare them easily since the man is holding the mouse mage against his thighs with a long curved knife at her neck, his other hand over her mouth. He has a hood over his head and wears simple dirty garments with a menacing grin.

In a mix of anger and fear, Alice and Danahlia raise their weapons, Danahlia demanding he let Twinkaleni go. The man lifts the Murin's head, holding the knife against her throat close enough that the some of the edge is obstructed by her light gray fur. Twinkaleni's hands move about uncertainly as she desperately tries to remain calm.

"I think I'll hold on to this one," he sneers and then lifts a dark gray eyebrow, "Mighty fine sword you got there, little lady. Go ahead and drop it, sheath and all. You too, Smoothie."

The girls look to each other and Twinkaleni tries to say something but her voice in muffled by the man's hand. Terrified, they drop their weapons.

"That's it, now just turn 'round and start walkin' the way you were," the man instructs.

Too frightened to come up with anything else, the girls do as they're bid.

The man picks up their weapons, slinging Alice's sword over his shoulder while using Danahlia's spear to prod Twinkaleni along, threatening to impale the little mouse if they try anything. They are threatened or simply jabbed any time they try to look back or speak, which makes their march to the man's camp an uncomfortable and silent one.

The hunter has chosen to lair in what must have once been an impressive fort or keep. All that remains of it now though are one or two barely serviceable looking structures surrounded by scattered gray, moss covered stone. There were clearly other structures once but they have long since collapsed in on themselves and appear as piles of rubble framed with a few bits of stubborn wall. Plant life bursts forth from much of it making Alice think that these ruins were from some long forgotten age.

The Tokala slows to look around and is prodded by the spear before she can take much in, but around a small fire, crumpled into a heap, is a tattered and stained tabard with a symbol she recognizes from the messenger who came to gather men, her father among them, for the war several years ago. A golden lion.

"You're a soldier?" Alice can't help asking.

Her question is rewarded with another sharp jab and a harsh, "Shut up!"

Alice yips, a spot on her upper back burning hot as her fur moistens with blood. She grits her teeth against the pain and remains silent.

They're prodded into a large, partially intact hall where there are more than a few red jellies wobbling about. Short stone walls, somewhat like the one Twinkaleni had the girls build at their cave, have been erected to keep the jellies contained in pens of a sort. Alice finds this very curious but keeps quiet, not wanting to risk another stab. As they're led through, a wooden table with a few assorted items comes into view. On it are Tally and the other pixie trying to open a cloth sack.

They just manage to get the string keeping it closed untied as Danahlia warns, "Guys! Get outta here!"

Danahlia is given a hard whack on the head with the butt of her own spear. The sound of the blow echoes through the cavernous hall and she falls to her knees. The pixies look up as Shae pops free of the sack. The three pixies immediately dart away and out of a hole in the questionable roof.

"Damn flyin' devils," the man snarls and then begins kicking Danahlia in the back, "Get up, Smoothie, this ain't the place to rest."

"Leave her alone!" Alice shouts, both her and Twinkaleni kneeling at Danahlia's side.

"You want one too?" the man threatens, raising the spear once more, "Get 'er up, NOW!"

The Liguna manages to find her feet and the trio is prodded to a small room with a weathered but still functional wooden door that looks to have been hastily repaired. The dark room has no visible windows and its only furnishing is a bed of grasses and some cloth, perhaps where their captor had been sleeping. The girls are roughly shoved inside the room and plunged into blackness when the door is slammed behind them.

Danahlia immediately begins pounding on the door, screaming, "LET US OUT!"

The door opens and the man, having pulled back his hood, reveals himself to be a Rotan, one of the rat people, the small naked pink ears on his head a dead giveaway. He gives Danahlia a back handed slap that sends her spinning to the hard stone floor.

"Danny!" Alice and Twinkaleni cry together, collapsing beside her. The Liguna is more enraged than hurt and has to be held down while the rat man glares at them.

"Better keep that one in check, girls, that little outburst just cost you your supper," he smirks and closes the door once more. A moment later the sound of something heavy being pushed against it can be heard.

"Ticks! What are we gonna to do now?" Danahlia grumbles angrily, a spot of blood dripping from a break in her lip.

"The first thing we must do is escape this room," Twinkaleni asserts.

In agreement, the girls fan out to look for anything they can use. The Murin mage starts to voice her thoughts in a sort of rambling checklist, "He is keeping us alive, which means he plans to do something with us, which gives us some time to come up with a plan. It looks like he was sleeping in here, which means this is one of the more secure rooms in this ruin, which will make escape difficult, but also means his supplies and thus ours are likely close by, perhaps even just outside. The pixies know we're here and may attempt a rescue, though I don't imagine they will be able to do much without us. There are no windows and we have no way to contact them. There is no lock on the door, but something heavy was placed to keep us in. We can't see, there is no light…"

"He doesn't know you can use magic," Alice whispers, crawling around and feeling with her hands to find the bed.

"Yeah, maybe give 'im a face full o' fire the next time he opens that door," Danahlia adds, picking up a fist sized stone that's broken loose from the wall.

Only the door doesn't open again. Twinkaleni rambles on and on to the point it seems strange even for her. Alice finds the small mouse in the dark, shivering terribly as she tosses out an endless stream of possibilities, probabilities, and variables.

"Twinkaleni? Twinkaleni?!" Alice calls to her but the Murin just keeps going on. "Danny, I think there's somethin' wrong with 'er."

Danahlia finds them and they both run their hands over their friend's shivering form. She's curled into a ball, her arms and legs, tucked in tight.

"Twinkie? What's wrong? Snap out of it!" Danahlia demands, giving her a shake.

Alice stops the Liguna and puts her arms around the smaller girl, holding her close, "She's terrified."

They both hold her, putting their cheeks against the shivering girl's.

"Can't say I blame 'er. We're not doin' too well right now," Danahlia says from Alice's left.

They both stroke the little mouse's fur and tell her soothing things to try to calm her. After a while, she doesn't shake so badly and eventually stops babbling.

They sit in the darkness petting Twinkaleni's soft fur until she stops completely, she then states, "We have to get out of here."

"Workin' on it," Danahlia tells her with a hug.

"Are you ok? What happened?" Alice asks, taking her small furless hand into her own.

"The Order, they… I'm sorry, it just, brought back some bad memories is all," Twinkaleni apologizes, gripping Alice's hand tight.

Danahlia kisses the little mouse on the forehead, "Well, if you're done freakin' out, we could use some light."

"Yes, yes of course. Estraleete."

After being in pitch blackness for so long, Twinkaleni's tiny ball of light is blinding and Alice sees even the mage look away.

"It must be dark now, this feels like moon and starlight," the Murin says as they take in the room.

There really isn't much to see, cobwebs around the ceiling corners, stone walls in need of repair, and the bed. The door doesn't look overly imposing and Danahlia pushes on it. The door opens a fraction of an inch before being stopped by something. Alice joins her and then, putting out the light, so does Twinkaleni. They all push with everything they have and the obstruction begins to slide the slightest bit, until something clatters noisily on the other side.

"Hey!" the man shouts from what sounds like a short distance away. The distinct sound of footsteps closing on them follows as he snarls, "Get away from the door!" before the door is slammed shut again.

"Let us out you flea bitten-" Danahlia starts but Alice clamps a hands over her mouth.

"I'm sorry sir, we didn't mean to upset you. Please, will you let us out?" Alice tries as they hear the man picking up whatever fell.

"No chance, just sit in there and shut up," he growls.

"How long do you intend to keep us in here? This seems like your own room. Wouldn't you want to move us somewhere else so you can at least sleep in your own bed?" Twinkaleni calls through the door. The man doesn't respond. "Our parents will come looking for us if we're not home soon."

He barks a laugh, "Let 'em, nothin' but women, cripples, and codgers left anyway. All the men are off fightin'."

Danahlia muffles something but Alice keeps her hands over the angry Liguna's mouth to says, "Except for you?"

"Aye, 'cept for me," he replies and they can hear a smile in his tone.

"Please, we meant you no harm. We're monster hunters, just collecting core stones from the jellies to trade in town," explains Alice.

"Shut your mouths and stay put or you won't be gettin' any breakfast neither," he says disinterestedly, his voice carrying from farther away.

Danahlia beats her rock against the door a few times before Twinkaleni cries, "Stop it, Danny!"

The Liguna jerks free of Alice's grip, "Why?! He's not gonna let us out anyway! Maybe we can rile 'im up enough to come in here."

"Or he may simply leave us in here to starve. If he thinks we are being obedient, perhaps he will come in to give us food or water at some point. That will be our best chance," Twinkaleni whispers harshly.

Resigning, Danahlia puts her back to the wall and slides down to a sit. The others join her and in the darkness, Twinkaleni offers a plan. It's to wait until morning, or whenever the vile hunter intends to feed them, and then attack the moment he opens the door. With luck, he will have his hands full, probably with a weapon and their food, which will leave him defenseless to Twinkaleni's magic. When she strikes, Danahlia and Alice try to slip past and escape or attack, whichever seems feasible at the time.

In agreement, the girls wait. Alice manages to find a decent sized stone too and hefts it, her stomach rumbling with the others.

"What're you gonna to hit 'im with?" Alice asks Twinkaleni.

"I have no qualms about giving him 'a face full of fire,'" the Murin replies.

"What do you think he's doin' out here?" Danahlia wonders aloud, her ear to the door.

"I believe he is a deserter," the little mage suggests.

"A what?" Alice asks.

"A deserter, someone who flees their obligation to the army. It would explain the tabard we saw outside and why he is hiding so far from civilization. If caught by the army, he would be harshly punished, perhaps even executed. This is most likely why he has imprisoned us as well. He fears we will tell others of his location," Twinkaleni explains.

"Maybe we can use that," Danahlia murmurs.

"I don't see how since we're already imprisoned," Twinkaleni says glumly, "We cannot get a message out and he knows that even if we had parents looking for us this deep in the forest, they'd likely be a few women at best, not men, and certainly not soldiers. He has little to worry about."

"I don't wanna sit here doin' nothin' but hope he decides to feed us in the mornin'," Danahlia whispers irately.

"There's the bed," Alice motions, even though no one can see in the dark.

Twinkaleni nods, "Yes, I think Alice has the right of it. The best thing we can do is get some sleep so we are fresh to act tomorrow."

"Fine," Danahlia grumbles and they blindly make their way to the rooms only furnishing.

The bed isn't large and smells rather unpleasant, but is infinitely more comfortable than the cold stone floor. The girls huddle together atop it and try to get some rest. It isn't easy, being in a strange and dangerous place, hungry, thirsty, and scared, but Alice finds comfort knowing she does not have to endure this alone. Snuggling in close to her friends, she eventually falls asleep.

Sometime later, Alice is bugged by something moving on her muzzle. She slaps at it lazily, waking herself up, and hearing a little cry. Suddenly a light blossoms on her nose and Tally gasps, "Jellybane?" from under her hand.

She lets the little pixie free and whispers, "Tally? I'm so glad to see you. How'd you get in here?"

"Tally?" Twinkaleni groans while Danahlia snores on.

"Slipped under the door I did, while the hunter sleeps," the little pixie says, fluttering up, her blue glow blindingly bright in the darkness.

"Did you bring anyone else with you?" Alice asks.

"Many others, even Ashbel, one of our elders, has come. Set fire to the hunter's things he will. The time is now. Break free from this place you must," Tally explains excitedly while Twinkaleni claps her hands on Danahlia's cheeks until she wakes up.

"Huh? Wha? Tally?" Danahlia mumbles.

"Get up, Danny. The pixies are breaking us out," Twinkaleni whispers as she hops out of bed.

"Do you know where my sword is outside?" Alice asks, using Tally's light to find her way to the door.

"Yes, on a table it is, burn it will not, but close to the flames it will be, see it you will."

Alice presses her ear to the door to listen but hears nothing. The others join her as she asks, "When're they gonna start?"

"Look, begun they have," Tally says, landing by the slit at the bottom of the door and crawling out. Flickering orange light begins to seep from under it, then they hear the hunter shouting curses and scrambling about.

"Let's get outta here. On three, we push," Danahlia orders. They slam their shoulder in sync into the door, forcing it to budge but barely an inch at a time. Whatever lay atop the heavy obstruction clatters to the floor again as the chaos outside continues. "Come on guys, PUSH!"

Danahlia manages to get an arm out as the door cracks open and uses the frame as a brace to shove with everything she has. The door opens a bit more and she gets a taloned foot digging into the wooden door as well, her thigh flexing hard as she shoves. The slim opening lets them see the hunter rampaging about, pixies fluttering high around him.

"Filthy flyin' devils!" they hear him snarl as he slashes with his knife at the pixies darting at his head and zipping away. "No! You get back in there or I'll cut all your throats right here!" he roars, turning away from his tiny harassers to charge at the door.

"Twinkie, GO!" Danhalia shouts. The little mouse girl crawls under the taller girl's leg and out of their prison. Alice squeezes out right behind her as Danahlia struggles to hold the door open by herself.

The hall is alight with dancing orange flames where several fires burn. The hunter is bearing down on them, knife raised to strike when Twinkaleni shouts, "Feasta!"

A short burst of fire flies free of her palm and into the man's face. He screams in surprise and pain. The attack is short lived, however, as he barrels blindly into Twinkaleni and Alice, sending them both tumbling away. The mouse mage hits the wall to Danahlia's side hard while Alice falls into one of the jelly enclosures and is nearly grabbed by one of the monsters. She manages to roll away, getting to her feet as the man howls his fury.

The fox girl sees her sword on a table and has to run, leaping over a short stone wall to get to it. Not bothering to take the sheath, she pulls free her blade and dashes back to her friends. The rat man has regained some sense of focus, still holding his scorched face with one hand as he targets a dazed Twinkaleni.

"WITCH! I'll gut you all for this!" he snarls down at the small Murin.

The stones and table leaning into the door have rolled back into place, pinning Danahlia against it and the frame. She squirms in obvious discomfort, one leg and arm stuck in the small room while the rest of her hangs out helplessly in the hall, reaching desperately for the man. Twinkaleni lies on the floor, a tiny pink hand raised in a feeble attempt to defend herself as the man pulls back his arm to stab her with his knife. Danahlia screams.

Alice does too, hurling her sword with both hands, knowing there is no other way. If she missed, she and her friends were going to die horribly at the Rotan's hands. But she doesn't. The blade sticks into the meat of the man's thigh and he howls in agony, falling to one knee. He turns to Alice who freezes under the mad rage pouring from his one unburnt eye. The rat man lifts his knife overhead to throw but gasps as Danahlia, still pinned, manages to pull the sword from his leg only to ram it into his back with enough force that the point emerges from his chest. He watches in disbelief as blood blooms on his tunic. He then looks to Alice, his gaze radiating malice and blame before he collapses.

After a few shallow breathes, Alice overcomes her shock and forces herself to move. She pushes over the table and various stones keeping the door closed on Danahlia. The Liguna squeezes through, stepping over the man's body to check on Twinkaleni. They all manage to come out of their ordeal with only bumps, bruises, and a few minor cuts. The valiant pixies flutter around the girls, some cheering the fall of the hunter as his meager belongings burn.

After starting a more controlled fire and putting out the others, the girls flop against a wall together. With the adrenaline leaving their bodies, they find themselves very tired and hungry.

An orange pixie introduces himself as Ashbelodin. Despite his title of elder, he doesn't appear very elderly at all. Only slightly taller than the average pixie, his features are youthful and strong. He was the one who set the fires and thanks the trio graciously for their part in bringing down the greatly feared hunter. He then leads most of the other pixies away to spread word. Tally and Shae stay behind with the exhausted trio assuring the girls there will be a great celebration.

After a few hours of sleep, the weary heroes are awakened when hundreds of pixies swarm into the hall along with many of their animal friends. The girls are given more of the Niurha tree's precious revitalizing nectar and are soon able to join in a grand party. The animals bring food as the pixies dance and sing joyous melodies while the girls fill their bellies. When they feel up to it, the girls clear the room full of red jellies, showing off their skills for a cheering crowd. By morning, a pyre has been built and the Rotan and his remaining belongings are burned to help cleanse his taint from the forest.

Found among his things is a journal that Twinkaleni spares from the fire. Based on a change from writing to doodles, the tattered little book seems to have belonged to another before the Rotan got hold of it. The hunter had drawn and written in charcoal, information mostly pertaining to the forest. There are a few simple maps showing the locations of various resources such as water, where certain plants were found, as well as food. Mostly through symbols, the journal also informs the girls that the hunter had likely intended to use the jellies in some sort of attack on nearby villages by luring them with food. He had listed various plants, animals, and even pixies that were used as bait followed by how well they worked. Knowing this helps Alice feel a little less conflicted about their need to put an end to the rat man.

Being an improvement over their cave, the ruin is cleaned out over the next days and all the girl's belongings are brought to their new home. From this centralized location, the trio continues to help reclaim territory from the jellies, much to the appreciation of the pixies, who, along with their feral friends, continue to supply plenty of delicious fruit to the effort.

After a time, the heroic trio is asked to come to a celebration in their honor as true friends of the pixies and the forest. Tally, Shae, Airi, and a number of others escort them to what the pixies say is one of the last Niurha trees in the forest.

The tree is a magnificent sight. The trunk is as thick as a small house with surface roots reaching far in all directions. The bark of the tree is pale and luminous, much like the pixies own skin. Its branches reach far and high, the ends of each tipped in an abundance of rounded leaves. On many of the branches hang small spherical structures that must be the pixies' dwellings. They look like balls of leaves kept together by intricately weaving supple branches, many of which have pixies emerging to greet their guests. Animals, including all they have seen and many they have not, travel about in the great tree's branches and the others it joins with.

Great piles of fruits, nuts, berries, seeds, and juices are laid out on piles of leaves for all to enjoy. Many of the usually skittish ferals come up to Alice and smell her, many even letting her pet them. The pixies that know the trio best tell stories of their adventures, there is also singing, dancing, and of course, plenty of eating. The festivities continue until a silence is called for the main event.

All watch as the elder pixie binder gathers his pupils and asks for Alice's sword. The young Tokala rises and lays it on the ground in a clearing as directed. The pixies most gifted in binding hover in a circle around the weapon and begin singing an unusual song while sprinkling glowing green powered from tiny pouches at their waists. Tally tells them that the powder was made from the cores of the defeated jellies and as they watch, some of the falling powder sticks to the blade, making it glow as well.

As the pixies swirl around, singing their undulating melody, more and more of the powder flies onto the sword, steadily intensifying its glow. Even in day light, the glow becomes intense at the climax of the magical working, but then begins to die down as the pixie's song slows and ends. The binder pixies go silent, their tiny shoulders slumping from the effort, as they flutter away to leave the elder pixie hovering over the weapon. He waves for Alice to approach. Like Ashbel, this elder doesn't look old at all either, his hair is a golden yellow and he too possesses features of youth and strength. He smiles tiredly and gestures for Alice to take up her sword.

When she does the blade glows green once more, similarly to core stones. The elder binder then says, "Many jellies you have slain with this blade, and we hope, many more you will."

"We definitely will," assures a grinning Alice, looking her sword up and down, "Why's it glowing?" The general appearance is exactly the same, but now it pulses with a faint green light.

"Bind the essence of core stones to it, we did," the elder explains, "Taint it the jellies cannot."

Alice doesn't quite understand what he means but her tail wags knowing she has been given something incredible. She thanks the elder who bows and raises his arms to his people. The pixies cheer and even the ferals make various noises as she brings her sword back to her friends. Twinkaleni touches the simple cross guard and is impressed with the magic it now holds.

Alice hands the glowing weapon to Danahlia who examines it approvingly, "Wags. I wonder if they can make my spear glow, too."

"Danny," Twinkaleni chides, "it has clearly taken a great deal from these people to do this for us."

"I know. I meant like, later," she says, handing the weapon back with a smirk.

"Enchanted weapons are a rare thing, Alice. All the ones I have ever read about had great names along with great legends. Perhaps you could give yours a name to mark the beginning of your own," Twinkaleni suggests.

Alice had never named a sword before, but there is only one name she can think of, only one that is both distinct and memorable, "Alright. I think I'll call it, Jellybane."

Epilogue

The girls live happily in the forest for a time with their pixie and animal friends. After some work, the ruins turn out to be a wonderful place to stay, both safe and dry while being in the heart of the forest. This central location makes it an ideal staging area for the girls to help reclaim the forest for those who dwell within it. They fight many battles with the jellies, taking back groves of trees, streams, springs, and ponds all over the forest. During this campaign, Alice finds that her newly enchanted sword would glow when jellies were nearby.

They also discover another rather convenient new trait of Jellybane. It now never needed to be cleaned. Each time jelly goo, or anything else, would stain the sword, the blade would glow. The goo would then dry and flake away, leaving the blade gleaming as if freshly polished.

The girls manage to gather an impressive hoard of core stones to eventually trade, though for the time being the treasures simply gathered into a large pile. Twinkaleni chips away at this while she practices her enchanting. Pixie magic works differently than her own and even with some help, she only ever made one core glow brighter the way she wanted, though she admits it was more luck than design.

Their time among the pixies is cut short, however, when a taller is said to have entered the forest. The pixies often reported on dangerous sightings such as giant ants, spiders, and lizards, sometimes asking the girls to dispatch them if they posed a particular threat.

But as this taller is being described to them, Twinkaleni gasps, "Oh no. The Order... they've come for me."

"The one you escaped from?" Alice asks.

"Yes. The triangle containing the open eye, it is the Order of Thermathrogi's symbol. I must leave," the Murin mage blurts in a panic as she rushes off to gather her things. Alice, Danahlia, Tally, and a few other pixies follow her around as she picks up her backpack to start cramming items into it.

"What do you mean, leave?" Danahlia asks, chasing the small girl around their ruin home.

"If they've tracked me all the way here, it can only mean they're using my tail in conjuncture with some locating enchantment. It's only a matter of time before they find their way here. I must be gone before then. You and Alice can stay, hide for a time, the pixies can keep an eye out. The Order will follow me when I leave."

"What're you talkin' about?" Alice asks, back stepping as Twinkaleni suddenly turns into her.

"I can't let them find me. I have to go, now," the Murin insists.

"Whoa, you don't think I'm gonna to let you go that easy do you?" Danahlia asserts, grabbing the little mouse by both shoulders to stop her.

Twinkaleni shakes her head, "No, Danny, stay here, if they find me…"

"You mean if they find us," Alice interrupts, kneeling in front of her, "We're a team, we stick together."

"Yeah, if you go, we go. Right Alice?" Danahlia asks, gripping the little mage tighter.

"Right," Alice nods.

Twinkaleni shakes her head more violently, "The Order is far too dangerous. I cannot ask you to…"

"You're not askin', we're doin', plus we're older so that's that. Let's pack, looks like we're goin' on a road trip," Danahlia orders, giving Twinkaleni a kiss atop of her head. The little mouse girl sighs and they gather what they can carry.

It takes the girls several days to reach the opposite edge of the forest from where the taller was spotted. Their forest friends provide them with guidance and food to help speed them along, while keeping close watch on the taller. Without adequate knowledge, the pixies assure the girls that it will take a great deal of time for their pursuer to find their way through their wood. Danahlia suggests the individual may give up all together, but Twinkaleni doesn't seem very confident of this.

When they reach the trees that mark the boundary of the pixie's forest, the trio says their goodbyes to their dear tiny friends, head out into the open, and onto their next adventure.