• Another autumn day was coming to an end, and the fading sun’s last fleeing rays of light shone through the copper leaves, illuminating the forest in a magic moment. Among these sun spots, floating orbs of dusty light danced around a pair of feet that idly walked down a well worn path. The set of feet knew their way, and came to a stop by a spring that glowed with the soft hues of the rainbow, and the energy of it’s keeper.

    Anastasia had known this world all her long life. Her days with her pixie cousins were all the same; hovering from flower to flower, tending to nature, and using what little magic they possessed to protect their woodland realm and the enchanted springs within it. On that particular day when she first encountered Ecselsia months before, the little pixie had no idea her life would be changed forever.

    “Come to me pretty,” the aged voice said, holding out a wrinkled hand above the spring. And Anastasia, who enjoyed watching twilight come over the forest from her lilly bed, turned her head towards the voice. “Mistress Ecselsia! Have you come to give another lesson?” she spoke up, nearing the human to settle into the outstretched hand. But as she neared and set down, that hand became gnarled and twisted, a writhing swarm of shadows. It wasn’t Ecselsia’s warm laugh that greeted her but instead a chuckle full of menace and as dry as the rustling of fallen leaves. Anastasia tried to fly off but found herself paralyzed in fear as soon as her feet had touched the skin. And as the fist closed around her, Anastasia screamed and screamed.

    Anastasia awoke with a start, sitting up in the hollowed out driftwood that served as her bed, her skin cold and clammy. She ran her fingers through her carnation pink hair and looked about. She wasn’t in some stranger’s fist, instead she was safe and sound in Ecselsia’s cozy hut. “Just a night terror,” she said to herself and she fluttered out of bed over to the window. The ambient light of summer’s harvest moon was shining through the glass making it hard for tiny Anastasia to see her reflection. “Just another night terror…again,” she sighed, bowing her pointed chin to her chest, her thin antennae drooping down over her eyes. Night terrors were something alien to pixies, or the faeries or nymphs for the most part. Perhaps before a violent change in the world’s events the pixies would be subject to such visions, but the world and her inhabitants hadn’t shown the slightest hint of such things. But then again, Anastasia wasn’t like the rest of the pixies in the woods. Wasn’t that why she was there in the hut now?

    She closed her eyes. She reflected on the dream she had just had, and she could swear she could still feel the sun’s warmth and smell the earth of her woodland. That’s where Mistress Ecselsia had found her some years ago. That day was one much like in her dream, except that at that time the old sorceress had not been a regular visitor to those parts of the wood. Maybe it was because whatever pixies didn’t scatter before humans instinctively ventured forward with mischief and tricks on their minds to get the human lost. Though when faced with a spell caster, none dared to approach, because those daring few winged creatures that approached them were rarely seen again; it was no secret the pixies and faeries were used for spells, charms, even potions.

    But Anastasia…instead of fleeing, she paid the visitor no mind after a glance and continued tending to her flower bed of opulent moon blossoms. A very rare flower to be found anywhere, and even rarer were the number of magick users that could nurture it past first bloom. So there was the little pixie, feeding it dewdrops and silently talking to it. She became aware of the feeling of a pair of eyes watching her. After looking up, she wasn’t surprised to see the old woman watching her, but not for the reasons she thought. In her mind it was no big shock that Ecselsia could plainly see her since she was a full inch taller than the other pixies around. Which may not seem like much compared to humans but when the rest of your brethren is only four inches tall, it goes noticed. And then the old woman left without a word and that was Anastasia’s first encounter with Rhylia’s most revered sorceress.

    Ecselsia became a regular visitor to the wood after that, picquing Anastasia’s interest more and more each time. Be it by making the plants grow, changing the temperature of the wood, or calling the woodland animals to her and walking with them. At first, Ecselsia would play with the pixie by making the tall grass meld together to block her path. She would wait around to see what the small girl would do, and to her surprise, after a moment’s concentration, the vegetation would retreat to it’s original position before the pixie.

    Eventually, the old woman began to gather herbs and nuts, and mix them together to sprinkle over the plants uttering a string of words. Immediately, the flowers touched by the charm would bloom, bright and strong, even staying tall during the night hours. It didn’t take the pixie long to start mimicking her actions herself on her own flowerbeds. The first attempts produced no results, and Anastasia waited patiently for the old woman to return so she could watch her exactly. But the old woman never came again, leaving Anastasia to ponder over the enchantment herself. For two days she sat, mulling, racking her brain for the correct order and words, and when she finally felt she remembered Ecselsia’s actions perfectly, she tried once more. This time, almost immediately after the last word left her lips Anastasia’s lilies began to flourish.

    From her hut far on the outskirts of Rhylia’s capitol city, Ecselsia smiled with delight. “I finally found you,” the old crone mused and ventured to the spring once more. It was time to see if the pixie was as talented as she projected to be. It was the night of a full autumn moon and Anastasia sat on the dewy ground beside her moon blossoms, quietly blowing across the tweed pipes she had fashioned. The air became unusually warm, followed by a faint orange glow appearing out of nowhere, and the next thing Anastasia knew when she looked up was Ecselsia standing mere yards away, a flaming ball dancing in the palms of her hand. Anastasia’s curiosity quickly turned to fear and infuriation as she watched in slow motion that bundle of flames launched in her direction. At her moon blossom, her pride and joy. Without a thought, the pixie fluttered up into it’s trajectory and threw out her arms and legs to shield the flowerbed. “Nngh..no!!” she cried, as the dew droplets beneath her began to gather and rise, converging before her small frame and flying towards the fireball but to no avail. The last thing she remembered was the stinging sensation of burning on her skin and wings and then the cool of the ground, her moon blossom the last sight she saw before her body shut down from the unexpected exertion.

    Anastasia shook her head of the memory, smiling bitter sweetly. “It’s been so many years,” she said aloud to herself as she peeled herself away from the window. Right now, she left much like she did that first time she awoke in the cozy hut. Ecselsia had revealed herself to the small Anastasia and had taken her under her teachings, slowly teaching the pixie the arts of sorcery. Which Anastasia had taken to immediately much to her surprise. She fluttered silently through the air and landed beside her mistress’s head, immediately feeling calmed by the rhythmic sounds of her breathing. Anastasia was safe, and indeed her wise mistress lay quietly asleep, not a villain out to destroy the pixie. Anastasia kissed her lightly on the cheek and sunk into the top of the pillow above her head. She closed her eyes and tried once again to fall into a dreamless sleep.

    The morning came early and Anastasia was late to awaken. Ecselsia was already up and moving about the house, opening the windows. Anastasia rose up from the pillow and hovered over towards the wash basin, sticking her delicate hands under the spicket to catch a droplet of water to splash against her face. There was what looked to be a chunk of quartz sitting on the tabletop, still smoldering and glowing. “Are you making charms today, Mistress?” the little woman asked curiously, her stare staying on it as she flew through the air and over the old woman. “Mmph,” was all she got. She tried again. “Mistress Ecselsia, are we making charms? Brewing elixirs? Cleansing some haunted wood?” she asked again, fluttering beside the woman’s ear.

    Escelsia finally looked up and Anastasia could see the tired look in her eyes. There were dark bags under her old eyes, and a far off gaze in them. She had seen that look before. “No Ana, nothing like that. That is just a charm for a friend, more to look at really,” she said, and turned away to shuffle over to the door. Anastasia didn’t really believe her for even a second, the charm on the table was seeming to just vibe with a powerful glow. But she wasn’t going to argue with her. “I thought we would work in the garden today. Let’s see if you can’t help our tomatoes and peppers grow a little bit early this year,” Escelsia said and held open the door, a tilling hoe in her hand and a wide brimmed sun hat in the other. Anastasia smiled and flew off out the door in a blaze of soft light.

    The warm rays were a welcome sensation kissing her forehead after the uneasy night she had had. Old Escelsia’s garden was unlike any other one would see that far away from the country’s heartland. There were tomatoes, bell peppers, and carrots yes. But they were also accompanied by grape vines, ripe olive trees, and an orchard sporting at least two trees of any fruit the local restaurants could want. Impossible anywhere else in the kingdom due to growing conditions and weather, but when that gardener happens to be a sorceress, well, anything is possible. It was here that the magickal pair spent many of their spring and summer days when the old woman wasn’t busy imparting lessons on the young creature. Or when Anastasia could be found, most of her free time was spent flitting about the woodlands, cohorting with the local animal population and other spirits of the wild.

    It didn’t take the pixie long to find herself teetering on the brim of the bucket beneath the well. On the bottom of the pail there were enough droplets of water left for her to start a simple watering spell. With a flick of her wrists she was able to gather the droplets up into the air and flew through the air holding it steady to drizzle over the budding plants. The flower’s fragrances hung in the air and she inhaled deeply, thinking of nothing else besides her cozy hut and her human Mistress.

    Escelsia was ripping apart rough ground with the hoe, the tiller laying at her side. Having watered the plants, Anastasia joined her, pointing her finger at the gardening tool and uttered “Ulevitae!” As if it were on a string the tiller rose up and began to till the overturned earth behind Escelsia with Anastasia’s finger dutifully guiding it. The smell of the earth sprang up and invaded Anastasia’s nostrils, bringing back memories of the dream she had been having. Her brow furrowed as her mind once again wandered and the pair to continued to work in silence for some time.

    “Mistress,” she began, after much thought, “what do you think about nightmares? Do you ever have them?” she asked. The old woman slowly stood up and looked to the tiny human. “Nightmares? Yes, I suppose I have them every once in a while.” She said and stood up. “What about the humans? I’ve heard some of the children talking about theirs when we go into the town.”

    “Anastasia, I’ve told you about eavesdropping. But the nightmares the regular humans have are different. They are easily influenced by all things around them: emotions, family, draught,” she explained, holding her hand above a weed only to have Anastasia watch it wither to tinder in an instant, “even stories and food can induce one for them.” “Hmm…so they’re nothing to worry about then?”

    “Well, I wouldn’t say that..” Escelsia began, looking at Anastasia with a lifted brow. It was a very odd topic for a pixie, even one as inquisitive as her. “When those with heightened senses or magickal blood have them, they are referred to as ‘night terrors’. Because they are a terrifying thought and show a path that may or may not play out on the world stage.”

    “And do you ever have those, Mistress?” she asked. “I believe the last time I had an actual night terror was during the last Crimson Moon cycle, and that was some thousand years ago right before a pair of demon brothers decided they could try and wreak terror in Rhylia. But set them right I did, and there hasn’t been a Crimson Moon since. Or night terror.” She smiled softly. Anastasia tilted her head like a puppy. “Crimson Moon?” she asked.

    “Yes, it is an old omen. Older then you and even myself. Look,” she said, pointing up to the visible crescent moon in the clear blue sky, “a pure white moon is what the Goddess gave us to light our night sky. But it wasn’t always her continent, Anastasia, long before man and creature alike took their first breaths there was a battle for this world. Oh the battle was fierce, the Goddess against the demons and orcs and nameless beasts, along with her Shines, the purest beings that still reside over her lands. She shed great blood to save this land for us all. And the wicked races were so proud of what they had done, even in their defeat that they sent her blood to seep into the moon’s very surface. As a reminder to us all the sacrifice she made for us, and that there are still very unspeakable things living in the shadows, waiting for their time to try and rise again. But…the moon has stayed white for well over a thousand years now…and there is no sign of it changing it’s hue anytime. So I daresay we are still safe.” The old woman sighed, and inhaled raggedly. Her knuckles creaked and cracked as she loosened her hold on the garden hoe.

    “So what you are saying is…night terrors…for those like us, only occur when the tint of the moon starts to change?” the pixie asked cautiously as she looked to the moon for reassurance. “Yes, that is what I am saying. And they are merely possibilities, not what will exactly happen. Think of it as a warning for a potential danger…a bulletin that somewhere, the wicked races are at the very least thinking and dreaming of revenge. But, as I said, the moon has stayed quite white and as I myself have been having wonderfully peaceful sleep, the world is safe, the hour is late, and my dear I do believe it is time we head inside and wash up for supper,” the sorceress coughed and returned the tools to inside the house with a flick of her hand, gathered Anastasia into the other and went inside. A hearty aroma of stewed chicken and vegetables greeted them and there was not another word on the subject as they ate. After a story by the fire Escelsia put her pixie into the small piece of wood and shortly turned in herself.

    Hours later just short of midnight Anastasia awoke with a start and trembling. She pressed her hand to her forehead and groaned quietly. “Not again…” she murmured, shaking off the vivid memory of the dream that had been haunting her. With a sigh she glided through the air to the work table, rubbing the palms of her hands together to make them warm, “Flamizon” she whispered and produced a tiny flame beneath her thimble that served as her cauldron. Perhaps a sleep elixir would calm her nerves and let her pass the rest of the night in peace.
    “A little of this. And some beechnut. Witch hazel…where is the witch hazel?” she mused out loud as she tried to remember the order to the mix. In the cupboard of course! She thought to herself as she went to it and pulled on the elfin hair rope tied around the handle that served as her means of opening drawer’s and cabinet doors. She got the two branches she needed from the jar, and dropped them when a flickering flash was reflected in the side of the jar behind jar. Anastasia spun around, expecting to see nothing but fireflies, but instead the blood red and amber eyes burning outside the hut’s window caused her scream to freeze in her throat.

    CRASH!! The glass shattered into the house, the force of the blast tossing Anastasia against the wall as easily as a pebble. “Mistress!” she cried out as she struggled onto her elbows and knees as a lump of shadow unfurled itself from it’s crouched position on the floor. Shards of glass littered the floor as they fell away from his shoulders as it came to it’s full height. “Mi…” Anastasia began to call again but there was no need. The old sorceress had already sprung forth onto her feet, her old whiting eyes ablaze with anger that flashed in the dark. “Get out, fiend!” she thundered, already gathering a shimmering ball of light in front of herself. The glowing mass shot out to envelope the intruder, illuminating the house with a blinding light. In the brief instant Anastasia was able to see him before having to block her eyes, the pixie was physically appalled at what she saw. The intruder, or beast, more appropriately, was something she had never seen before. A black cape with tassels on the shoulders covered it from neck to the bottom of it’s feet, a tattered hood over it’s head almost kept it’s face from view.

    Almost. The cloak didn’t do a good job of hiding the battle torn face with patches of thick hair that looked like fur speckling it. And the nose and mouth were odd as well, pushed farther out from the rest of its face with jaws that looked broken and had healed off center. Rows of crooked, snaggled almost fang like teeth protruded out from behind the lips, lines of saliva trickling down it’s flat chin while the deepset blackened eyes gleamed brighter with that red and amber glints as it eyed its targets while readjusting to the dark after the light.

    It had spindly, sort of wolf like limbs that were also covered in coarse haired patches poking out from the rips and tears in the trousers and jacket it wore. The pale hands ended with long, yellowed claw nails that almost curled as they reached towards the ground. On its feet through the mud and blood crusted boots, the points of its angular feet were poking against the end of the feet threatening to burst out. And the smell, more like a stench, radiated off it in thick waves and to the pixie, it reeked of death and evil.

    Anastasia finally recovered her feet after shielding her eyes from the burst of light. The creature looked dazed, having retreated behind its cape for shelter to avoid the complete effect. She pushed her tiny sleeves up to her elbows as she braced herself, trying desperately to remember what little offensive magick Escelsia had taught her as those wild eyes roved over towards her direction and a serpentine tongue flickered out nervously to whet the gnarled, chapped lips. The pixie thrust her hands out, “Emblazion!” she shouted, small blue flames darting out of thin air and gathered into her palms as her wings began to flicker through an array of colors. A tight feeling grabbed a hold of her stomach and sent her blood thrumming through her vein. All that was in focus in her eyes was that hairy beast, and she squeezed her eyes shut as she unleashed the glowing fireball and sent it towards the monster. A low growl and a yelp told her it had found its mark. Then she froze in place, as the beast found her rooted to the spot in the air. Those blazing eyes…they were hypnotic. It flung itself at her as she scrambled to conjure another flame and realized she wouldn’t have it ready in time as the distance between them was closed in seconds. All she could think to do was throw her arms up to fend him off foolishly and squeeze her eyes shut again.

    Her whole life flashed through her head. Suddenly she was aware of no impact, just a comforting presence guarding her. Anastasia looked up to see her mistress steeling herself in front of her. Another flash followed by a loud bang saw the creature being knocked back again.

    “Anastasia! Get out of here now!” Escelsia snapped and shooed the pixie away. “No Mistress, I can stay and fight!” Anastasia argued as she shot past her, sending small shock waves through the air at the creature. She found it pointless as she saw that Escelsia’s full attention was on their attacker. The pixie continued to flitter about haplessly hurling small spouts of the blue flames and shocks at him. From her vantage point behind him, Anastasia could make out the vague, broken outline markings of what looked like a hawk behind a shield. She ventured in closer for a better look, Who would dare an attack on Rhylia’s greatest sorceress? she wondered.

    Another crashing boom resonated through the house as the attacker darted through the sorceress’ attack of light and physic’s defying force to hurl her across the room, breaking the nearby working table into splinters. She returned to her feet, panting and haggard and began attacking again, sending wave after wave towards him, shaking him on his feet.

    “Rhylia’s end begins here tonight, witch,” the man creature rasped from under the hood as he readied himself to attack. He shoved the hood back, and all Anastasia could see was what looked like human ears that ended with the bristled hairs of wolf’s ears? What frightened her more was the expression of sheer horror that overcame Escelsia’s usually calm face, the slack jawed mouth and wide eyes of terror.

    The events that followed happened in such a flash that it took Anastasia much time to piece together what happened. When Escelsia regained her composure and produced clear shards of ice at her fingertips, it looked like the battle was about to be won. But as the shot forward, the man…the thing…hunkered down onto all fours and in a blur, was dodging each needle point with ease before appearing before Escelsia.

    Escelsia’s mind had no time to register what had just happened, only what was about to. “Oh no…Goddess…” she breathed, the last words Anastasia’s ears would hear in that kind voice. The intruder leered into the face of the old woman, crooked teeth shining as it howled in victory before lunging at her with open jaws and sinking its teeth into the soft old flesh of the woman’s throat. He ripped his jaws away and she dropped to the floor with a thud, then stayed still on her side.
    “Mistress Escelsia! Mistress Escelsia!!” the small pixie screamed, frantic, no longer ruled by logic or fear for her safety as she shot out from her spot hidden in the corner to her mistress’ side. “I…told…you to…go,” the dying mage burbled out as scarlet blood trickled down the corner of her mouth. She held up a wavering hand, holding out the purple quartz charm she had made that morning, pointing it at Anastasia as the light in her eyes started dimming away. “Go…” was her final word as she lurched up to exert her last bit of magick.

    The wolf man was reaching for little Anastasia, she remembered that, being able to feel his hot breath breathing down on her and feeling his hairy palms mere inches from her, and then…another bright light. And it burned even her eyes. “Mistress…no! No! No!” she screamed and that was all she knew beyond the fiery pain in all her joints, and the sensation of being lifted away and then, quiet darkness.