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Nightfall creeped up on the forest, painting it with shadows and darkness. Amy patted Meh absently as they walked the overgrown path. "I'm glad you are with us, Uncle," she said to the Malevolent.
He huffed. "I would not let you go to these tricksters alone. Finch is known among them but I am an elder. They will not try to trick me." He grinned around his whiskers. "Besides, I am getting grumpy and need to have some fun."
"Fun," laughed Finch. "Treasured Uncle, you have an odd notion of fun!"
Bunny shook her head. "For some reason, I'm very grateful for not being able to understand you guys."
Amy smiled and gave the ranger a gentle shove.
The woods turned black.
The women stopped as if they had run into a wall. "Do you feel it?" Bunny whispered. Amy whimpered in reply.
"It is the pixies' magic," Finch said in Common. "Uncle?"
Meh dipped his head and roared at the trees. The leaves rustled, the trees trembled and small animals scrambled for cover. A chipmunk ran up to his paws and put it's hands on it's hips in a very human gesture. "Care to explain yourself, kitten?" it said.
The Malevolent got nose to nose with it and huffed, his breath knocking it back a step.
"Why didn't you say so?" it winked. "Follow me, if you please."
Bunny blinked a few times. "I can take talking cats but that's a chipmunk."
"Would you prefer a squirrel?" the chipmunk shot back. It stuck out it's tongue and ran ahead of them.
They followed it into the dark woods.

"Oh," was the only thing Amy could say. Beyond the darkness was a grove covered in fireflies, as if the trees had been dusted with small stars. She was waiting for her eyes to adjust to the darkness when she collided with a naked, human-sized woman.
"You are Amy!" she crowed, hugging the startled acrobat. She held Amy at arm's length, smiling a bit too wide for a human. "My Moxi said you are a beauty and she didn't lie!"
"Puck?" Bunny asked.
"Bunny English!" The woman pounced Bunny with the same enthusiasm. Amy noticed leaves in the woman's hair and a earthy tone to her skin. "It warms my heart to see you again!"
"You're Puck?" Amy tried not to stare.
The sprite nodded. "Yes, this is my human form. Pansy was the chipmunk who brought you through the barrier." She rolled her eyes. "No manners at all."
Meh growled and smiled, trying to look fierce despite the sprite hugging his neck. She ruffled his ears and called him a "pretty kitty". He swatted her playfully, pushing her backwards.
Amy watched the exchange and laughed. "I wish I could understand them," Bunny mused. "All I hear is meowing."
Puck's face became serious. "You don't understand them? Hold on..." she took something off a tree and held out what looked like a peach. "Take a bite. Just one."
Bunny took the fruit and bit into it, promptly fainting.
"Forgot about that." Puck grinned, carrying the unconscious woman like a child. "Amy, can you pick up the fruit and put it in a pouch or something? You'll understand later."
Amy did as asked. "Where are we going? I thought pixies had no organization."
The sprite shrugged. "We do and we don't. We have a queen but she rules us the way a mother rules children: a stern voice and a please." She nodded toward the path. "Follow me. She knows you're here."
The woods seemed to part, showing them a well-worn dirt path. Puck led the way, Amy trying to ignore that the sprite had a fox tail.

Later on, Amy would describe the path to the Pixie Court as darkness painted with glitter and light. Hands touched them, voices gibbered and laughed at their passing. A too-handsome man stopped her for a kiss that had her breathing rainbows for a moment and a humming bird sang a song about being in love with flowers before dancing off. Two small children gave her roses that turned into butterflies. The trees sighed and laughed, swaying to the music that seemed to come from everywhere.
"Welcome," said a voice and she found herself standing in a mushroom ring.
The beautiful chaos was gone, replaced by quiet woods in twilight. An old lady floated above the ground, her legs crossed under her. She gestured to the tea set in front of her. "Please, honored guests, be seated."
Amy helped the now awake, very dazed Bunny sit on the ground. Finch sat close to the ranger, letting her lean against him. "Thanks..." she mumbled. "What the hell did she give me?"
"I have no idea but it was funny to watch," huffed Meh.
"I understood that," Bunny said weakly.
"You're welcome, stupid," giggled Puck, stepping into the circle and bowing to the old woman. "My lady, I bring visitors."
"I gathered that," the old woman said with the voice years younger than her face. She smiled at Meh. "Honored Elder, I am pleased you have come all this way to see me."
"I come because my littermates asked for me."
She nodded and poured tea. "I see. What do you want, if you pardon my bluntness?"
"A child is being held in the elf city." Amy took a cup that felt as if it were made of light and air. "We ask your permission to go through your forests."
The old woman passed out cups and bowls. "Your visit has been delightful but I must decline. The pointy eared fools have left us alone and I like it that way. We don't want them meddling in our ways and trying to impose their beliefs on us."
Puck blew on her tea, settling cross legged beside them. "You see us as you wish to see us. Your visit here is almost painful because we have to change our shape to what you think we look like." She sipped her tea. "Lovely, your majesty. I choose my shape based on what people consider normal. Here, we have no shape or order. We are nature. The fireflies you saw were pixies in their natural state." She looked at her cup, face wistful. "My Moxi has seen my true face and loved me anyways." She sighed and set her cup down. "The elves are order. They are set in their ways, their views. They are unchanging. If we let down the illusions that guard us then we would also let them see us and their minds would give us form and order... Destroying us."
"Well said, sapling." The queen drank her tea. "Thank you for coming, goodbye." She got to her feet.
"Wait..." Bunny lurched drunkenly to her feet. "Suppose we had a guide? What if all of us were asleep? Puck could bring us through the woods, you would only have to give us safe passage."
The queen considered it. "I'm sorry, Bunny English but I cannot risk my people. Despite our magic, we're fragile. Our young-"
"We can trade," Puck interrupted. "They could give us their dreams."
"That would feed our young," the queen mused. "But it is dangerous."
"What do we do?" Bunny slurred.
Puck smiled sadly. "You sleep in this circle. With luck, you'd wake up but if you aren't so lucky, you sleep and dream here until you die." She looked away. "Moxi says I have no heart. She's wrong, I feel everything but can't express it. It would hurt me deeply to know I caused you to be trapped in your dreams."
Bunny hugged her. "I do this for my cousin who has his whole life ahead of him. I'd had my share of adventures. This is just one more."
"Then it is decided." The queen dusted her hands. "You'll wake once the others make it through the woods." She took Bunny's face in her hands and kissed her forehead.
Bunny's eyes rolled back in her head. "Of course," she mumbled before falling in a boneless heap.
The queen smoothed Bunny's hair from her face. "She'll be safe, I promise. Puck will return with you as your guide." She kissed Amy's cheek. "Good luck, child of the humans." She patted the 'cats. "You must visit more, elder," she teased Meh. "I've nothing but children to talk to!"
They left in a swirl of chaos and light, Puck's hand firmly in Amy's.


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August 2011


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