Chapter 4: New Friends
Sarah and the Nobleman Thaddeus Gumble walked on the muddy street away from Dr. Sangres’ building. Thaddeus marveled at how well his foot felt. Sarah marveled over his lack of whining. Sarah walked a few steps behind Gumble as he blustered. She knew all of his stories, but she never interrupted him when he drank. Out of the blackness two tiny pixies zipped up to her and landed, one on each shoulder. She thought about all that had transpired to get her to this point.
Three years ago, before her employment with Gumble, Sarah lived in quiet isolation with her parents. She lived in Suliad, a country located to the south and east of Tenland. The country of Suliad is thought of by most humans as a magical land with enchanted creatures everywhere, but the only creature Sarah ever saw was the occasional deer in the forest nearby.
Her father had been a general in the Great War fighting against the Dark King for decades. Despite her father winning many battles, the Dark King continued his slow progression, expanding the border of Zantia north into Tenland. After retiring honorably from his service for Tenland’s army, he met a beautiful woman in his travels. Sarah’s mother was half-dryad and had been banished shortly after being born. Dryads had the ability to transform themselves into trees and gain strength, nourishment, and energy from the land. Her mother could perform this magic, but Sarah had no magic at all.
Sarah’s parents desired a peaceful life in the country for her, yet her father still ruled the house with a general’s authority. Sarah had her mother’s dryad height, warm caramel skin, and deep brown eyes. She also had her father’s stubbornness and resolve.
Her life changed forever when sixty soldiers from Zantia surrounded their house in the middle of the night. Sarah remembered a voice calling out from outside,
“If everyone in the house exits calmly, your deaths will be swift and painless.”
Sarah’s father lived by the motto “preparation lives longer than luck.” Thus, when the army arrived, he immediately ushered Sarah into the small hidden cellar of the house. He closed the stone trapdoor, only to return a minute later, quickly throw in a small satchel, and then closed the door again.
Though brazen, brave, and stubborn, Sarah respected her father and stayed concealed under the stone door in the floor.
Sarah overheard her father yelling with the soldiers from Zantia who broke into the house shortly thereafter. In the blackness of the small room, she heard the sound of items being broken and screams. She overheard the soldiers accusing her father of guarding a chosen creature from Suliad. After that, the fighting started. Her father was a strong man and a gifted fighter, but even he could not defeat three score of soldiers.
A short time later, Sarah heard a steady roar above her head and realized her house was on fire. The ceiling of her small stone room felt warm, but she remained cool, hidden within.
The sound of her house burning and the crashing continued for hours while Sarah wept. Eventually, she fell asleep.
She was shocked to wake up later to sunlight coming through a small hole in the stone trapdoor. This made sense when she pushed open the trapdoor to reveal only a shell of her former house. The ceiling and most of the walls had been burned to ash. Everything she owned had been destroyed except for what she had in her hidden cellar.
She opened the small satchel her father had given her. Inside was a small pile of gold coins and a note.
Honeybun, your mother and I knew this day would come, we were told a long time ago.
Unique you are, we wanted to tell you years ago, what would that accomplish?
Nobody lives fearlessly, but we hoped to keep fear out of your childhood.
Tests are coming, my daughter, but you are amazing, strong, and we love you deeply.
Enjoy your memories, but know you must move on, survive, and for now, run.
Remember your lessons, we locked your skills deep inside to keep you safe.
-Show this note only to someone you trust with your life, love, mom and dad.
Hours later she realized that despite her years of happiness and comfort, she had to leave.
The closest city was Grandeur. The gold would provide both travelling fare and provisions for at least a year, but she needed a plan.
Being her father’s daughter, practicality practically oozed through her pores. She walked the first day and ultimately joined a baker on his way to Grandeur. While riding in the back of the wagon headed to Grandeur, she made a list of short and long-term goals.
Food, shelter, and a job, Sarah thought to herself in the back of the wagon. Also, I need to figure out whatever the note from her parents meant. Sarah munched on an oversized pastry while riding, storing the rest for later in the day.
When Sarah arrived in Grandeur, she jumped from the cart and walked into the expansive city. The main road made of bricks snaked through the city, while dirt roads veered off.
Three trolls walked down the road. Sarah asked for help. She received a shove into the dirt for her troubles. A creature made entirely of mud appeared out of a trough that ran along the road.
“Whoa, rudeness! Sorry miss, not all people in Grandeur aim to please,” said the man made of mud.
“Can you help me? I’m trying to find a place to stay, and possibly a place to work,” Sarah replied, surprised at her own calm while talking to the mudman.
“Normally I’d have to charge yah, but since you just got planted by some punks, this one’s on me. Check out the post in midtown, six blocks down. It’ll steer you in the right direction. Check yah later,” said the creature as it disappeared back into the trough of mud on the side of the road.
She arrived at the ad post which looked more like a giant tree covered with hundreds of slips of paper. She found a position as a servant which offered food, lodging, and pay. Perfect.
Sarah arrived a short time later at a large gate to a fenced in residence. Sarah pulled a string which ran into the house. She heard the distant ring of a bell from inside. While she waited, two creatures, each about three hands high, approached her. They looked like small green humans with tails, blending into the tall grass next to the fence.
“Pardon ma’am, but could you spare some food for a sprite in need?” asked the creature.
“Oh,” Sarah exclaimed, surprised to understand the creatures. “I have some leftover bread. Let me get it out.”
“You can understand me, thank goodness! You are so kind, you see we have—” started the sprite.
“Get off my land!” a voice yelled. A rotund, balding man waddled quickly down the walkway, swinging his cane at the creatures. The sprites scattered, disappearing into the grass.
“Filthy creatures, probably trying to rob me blind, filled with diseases, you know. And what do you want?” the man asked.
“I’m here for the assistant position,” Sarah replied.
“Fine, you’re hired. My previous imbecile had to be let go. If you can follow directions for more than a day, maybe you’ll last longer,” said the man, walking back to the enormous house without looking back.
Thaddeus Gumble came from Zantia, the country directly south of Tenland. Zantia had been waging war against all other countries for 200 years. Thaddeus had renounced his former country, stating he disagreed with King Zolf and the war. He claimed to be a humble refugee that bravely fled for his life. However, like most humans from Zantia, he despised all non-human life forms. Granted, with Thaddeus, most humans received his scorn as well.
As Sarah started to walk toward the house she glanced back, seeing the green sprite looking at her, she smiled and casually dropped the rest of her pastry. The creature bowed, then snatched the pastry and disappeared into the grass.
Over the following months, Sarah quickly learned Gumble’s quirks. Thaddeus called whatever women that leached onto him for his status “mistress,” it helped him not to have to remember names. He also hated going outside, thus any purchases he left to Sarah.
Many months later, Thaddeus requested Sarah obtain a necklace for his mistress. As always, Sarah left immediately to perform her duties. It was while walking from the winery across town to the bakery that she saw the sign:
Picky Pixie Jewelry
Sarah had never noticed the store before. The second she walked through the door she gawked. Scores of small, beautiful winged creatures buzzed around the store carrying intricately decorated items. Glassed counters displayed glittering jewelry. She saw necklaces of gold and silver inlayed with elaborate designs and etch-work so small and detailed it was hard to believe possible. Beautiful rings, amulets, and medallions were displayed in clear cases adorned with precious gems. In one corner, there were elaborate chains for individuals with tentacles. In another display were glittering cone shaped rings that were labeled “antennae cones.” Amidst all the different adornments small beings zipped around continuously adjusting and organizing. Sarah looked at a wall display and saw velvet belts of various colors and styles, ranging in size from those twice as tall as Sarah to a small piece of fabric that would barely encircle her little finger.
She realized the store must be new, though the location seemed odd. A jewelry store located this close to the thieving guild seemed like a recipe for disaster. It was not that it was a dangerous part of town, just that valuable objects in this area of the city had a way of being discreetly relocated without the owner’s knowledge.
“Greetings!” a high voice squeaked, startling Sarah. A scantily dressed creature zipped right in front of her. The creature wore spectacles and carried what looked like a tiny notebook. After catching Sarah’s attention, the creature gently drifted down to the expansive display case. “Something of elegance to suit your fancy? I am the proprietor of these premises.”
“Something of what?” asked Sarah.
“Elegance!” her perky voice chirped. “I am Zanna-Nix-Nazarri, er, sorry, I mean, I am Jenny. Yes, you may call me Jenny.”
“Ah,” Sarah said, trying to hide her amazement. “The gold necklace in that intricate braid, could I see that?”
“Oh, something of unique style for a lady of exquisiteness like yourself?” Jenny said, a grin spreading on her small face.
“It’s for a friend,” Sarah answered.
“I see. Well, that is a sophisticated and graceful piece, you have excellent taste,” said the creature. She then blew into a small flute that seemed to have materialized out of nowhere. Three tiny creatures flew into the display case and lifted out the piece, gently laying it on Sarah’s outstretched hand.
“It’s beautiful. How much?” she asked.
“How much?” Jenny asked, puzzled.
“Yes. What is the price?”
“The price? Ah, yes, of course . . . the price.” Jenny paused, speaking quickly and quietly to the three who had assisted her. “I’m sorry, what do you mean?” she asked again.
Sarah found her puzzled expression adorable. “Well, what would you like in exchange for the necklace? I have a few silver, but a piece of this quality, well, I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if I have enough.”
Jenny looked at the three who had arrived to help her with the necklace with a confused expression. They spoke quickly and all landed on the display case. All the faces showed frustration and anguish. The owner pulled out the flute again and blew a very fast, intricate tune. From the back of the shop scores of creatures flew out, all landing on the display case around the one who had spoken to Sarah. They chattered in what Sarah assumed was their native tongue. It was an incredibly fast language with clicks and a musical intonation, occasionally accented with the buzzing of wings. She could not tell if they were arguing, fighting, or singing. After a short time, the owner turned back to her with a sheepish grin on her face.
“I suppose I have to explain. You see, this is actually our first day, and we unfortunately have a plethora of inexperience. Prior to purchase, I had expounded to the dictator of this city about our competence. He then pontificated that such problems as this might arise. Our self-confidence seems to have overridden our common sense.” She sighed. “I dismissed his sage advice. Such capriciousness flaws some pixies. The dictator had advised a consultant prior to opening shop to prevent such problems.”
Sarah tried to summarize in her brain. The owner went to the city dictator. The dictator told her to get help with the business. She ignored the advice. Oh, and the creatures were real pixies!
“We lack knowledge in pricing our wares. We have always made jewelry, but we have never actually sold any,” Jenny said, the distress clear on her face.
“How is that possible? How could you make such incredible work but never sell it?” answered Sarah.
“Well, in Suliad’s forests interactions are quite different. The various vagabond travelers, the boisterous barbarians, etcetera, etcetera. Adventurers would randomly come across us, and we would exchange our jewelry for favors. Though I doubt it has escaped your countenance, our sizes differ vastly. Thus, for performing tasks for us that would take us insurmountable effort and time, we would exchange our jewelry. But I now believe we have made an error of incalculable idiocy.”
During the speech her face had changed from that of the continual perkiness she had originally exhibited into that of outright despair.
“I don’t know what we are going to do!” she said, seemingly on the verge of tears. “You are our first customer, and we have utterly failed you! And now I am sure you will tell everyone of our disappointing shop, and we will become outcasts bound to failure and-”
“Wait, stop right there,” Sarah interrupted, hiding a chuckle behind her hand. “So you are telling me that you have an entire store of merchandise, but you do not know how much any of it is worth, correct?”
Jenny wiped a small tear away, “correct.”
“What you guys need is a business manager.”
“A what?” Jenny asked.
“Someone who can tell you what things are worth, how much to charge, how to anticipate changes for seasons, you know, all that stuff,” said Sarah.
“No, I do not know ‘all that stuff.’ But you seem to know. Yes! You have brilliance beyond your years and experience in our areas of weakness. We will have to discuss, but I believe we can accept your proposition.”
“What proposition?” asked Sarah, perplexed. For the amount of words she used, the pixie made little sense.
“You are a human with experience in merchandising and purchasing interactions. You simply must consider a mutually beneficial correspondence! I assure you that my troop will be most accommodating,” pressed Jenny.
“Something like that takes a lot of time and effort,” answered Sarah. Then again, the more Sarah thought about it, the more she liked it. She could secretly work with the pixies during all her idle time sitting around waiting for chores. She worked but a few days a week and yearned for interactions with magical creatures. How could she refuse?
“Alright,” Sarah said, “what is in it for me?”
Again the pixies began rapidly speaking in their language. One popped up her head, looked at her, and ducked back into the conversation. After a brief conversation they all suddenly stopped.
“What would you like?” asked Jenny.
“How about ten percent of the profits?” she answered.
The pixie looked blankly at her, “What does that mean?”
“Well. For every ten of something you earn at the shop, I would receive one,” she answered. “If you earn ten gold pieces, I would get one. That way, if you don’t make any profit, neither do I.”
Jenny then looked back at the pixies on the display case. Her flute rematerialized and she blew a surprisingly loud, twittering shrill note.
Pixies appeared from everywhere. Sarah had not realized how many were present since there were so many fluttering around the large shop, and many of them must have been in the back. Hundreds of pixies appeared in front of Sarah.
Jenny waited for them to settle, and then rapidly spoke in their musical language. Every so often, she would flutter her wings and point at Sarah. Sarah thought she could almost understand some of what they were saying.
Sarah quietly bit her lip, eyes darting. After Jenny’s speech, a few of the pixies buzzed their wings and flew up and down rapidly. The owner pointed to each in turn as they melodiously spoke. She answered each of their questions as they arose. She then addressed Sarah.
“Alright, we would like to acquiesce, but with certain prohibitions,” Jenny said.
“Huh?” asked Sarah.
“We agree, but we would like to place a few caveats, more specifically in regards to linguistics. We would like you to teach us your language. Currently I am the only one in this troop that can converse fluently with humans. Some pixies can understand a bit, but most cannot speak your language. Would you be willing to teach it?” Jenny asked.
“Sure,” Sarah answered. “I work as a servant currently, though, but I do have some free time. I would be happy to teach ‘human.’ I won’t be able to be here every day. In fact, I may not be able to be here sometimes for weeks at a time. I’m my master’s favorite traveling companion.”
“If we fail, then you would be failing as well, correct?” Jenny asked.
“Well, yes, but that is not the point,” Sarah answered.
“Do you promise your truthfulness and dedication?” Jenny asked.
The flute came to Jenny’s lips instantly, but Sarah heard no noise. She felt a warm wave flow over her whole body. For an instant she felt sleepy, content, and giddy. Then the feeling disappeared as quickly as it had started.
“We have found you to be honest and do not believe you to be one that would attempt to capitalize from our misfortune. Our bargain is struck,” the pixie said.
Jenny then played a short tune. The crowd of pixies concentrated while listening to the music. As soon as the melody stopped, cheers rose up from all of the small winged creatures. They flew into the air and surrounded Sarah, zipping by closely, kissing her on her cheeks and landing on her shoulder to hug her neck. Sarah became very nervous and began blushing, not knowing what to do. The pixies then lined up on the display case in many neat rows.
Sarah looked at them. They looked at her.
“Well?” Jenny asked.
“Well what?” Sarah answered.
“What would you have us do?” Jenny asked.
Sarah’s mind raced. Her military upbringing filtered the pros and cons of the situation. The shop simply could not be opened. No prices, no place for money exchange. No system of organization. Not to mention the fact that the only security would be a polite request not to steal from a pixie. This would not do.
“Close the store.” Sarah paced while thinking out loud. “We don’t want people to know there is an entire building loaded with jewelry. At least, not yet we don’t. We need some muscle for security. Also, we will need a secure place to put the money.” Sarah continued to rattle off ideas, while Jenny dutifully wrote down everything in a tiny notebook. A flurry of pixies disappeared outside, and the sign was down in a matter of minutes while Sarah continued. Everything she said was written down on Jenny’s small pad of paper.
After half an hour of discussions and planning, Sarah left the Picky Pixie to go home. As she walked out, two small shapes quickly darted after her, each landing lightly on a shoulder.
Jenny fluttered in front of her.
“This is, Zizunni-Zax, and Ni. Oh, sorry, I meant this is John and Lucy. They are to be your first two students. They already understand humans relatively well, so they volunteered to be your first educational undertakings,” Jenny said.
Sarah looked closely at the two pixies hovering in front of her. When she looked closer, she could see that one definitely had slightly masculine features. She had earlier assumed that they were all female. Apparently male pixies were part of the troop as well.
“Wait. You mean they’re going to go home with me?”
“Yes, of course. The best way to learn a language is to immerse oneself. They will be of no trouble to you. Both John and Lucy are very well behaved demonstrating the utmost resolution to propriety. Correction, I suppose I should say they are well behaved for pixies.”
“Thanks, I guess,” Sarah replied.
The storekeeper blew into her flute one last time and a small fleet of pixies brought an intricately designed necklace and gently placed it around Sarah’s neck. Jenny smiled “a gift, as a token of our agreement and our gratitude.”
“Oh, I couldn’t! It’s too beautiful!” Sarah exclaimed.
“It is yours! Good day!” Jenny then zipped back into the fury of reorganizing and closing down the shop. A large iron gate came down from the awning of the shop. Apparently the previous owners at least had acknowledged the dubious district that the shop was in.
“What have I gotten myself into?” Sarah said under her breath. She slowly walked towards the bakery with John and Lucy, her two new pixie companions humming right behind her.
Sarah snapped back from her reminiscing.
She had been lost in thought while walking back from their late night trip to cure Gumble’s gout attack. He had continued telling one of his stories, never pausing to see if Sarah listened. She had met the pixies two years ago, but it seemed like yesterday. Gumble still remained unaware of her secret life with the pixie troop, despite her two companions never being far away.
John flew close to her head.
“He was a nice doctor. Such a kind and knowledgeable vampire! I wish we had a splendid doctor for us back home!” John said casually.
Sarah paled at this remark. She had grown accustomed to the pixies appearing out of nowhere and making comments. Most of the time she had no idea where they were, but she knew they accompanied her at all times.
As they walked down the street they passed three limp bodies piled on top of one another. Thaddeus turned white upon viewing the bodies and hurried past them. Sarah remained white after finding out Dr. Sangre was a vampire.