Pixis Told Us to Help You
Eren dreamed about the moon.
He knew it was the moon because he could feel himself advancing upon the heavenly orb, soaring into its realm, meeting its stony and cratered face in the sky.
"Please." the moon begged. "Protect my grandchild. He is in danger, many mean him harm. I can do no more."
Eren felt lightheaded and confused as he looked at and conversed with the moon, forgetting its image and glow every moment only to be reintroduced to the cold face again and again. He then tilted backwards, dropping to the earth, crashing and waking with a fitful gasp.
The color of the sky and trees around him was vibrant, the day warm. A bird sang happily.
"You were dreaming." a stern voice informed him from above. The words held a strange briskness.
Eren looked upwards, alarmed. Three people peered back at him: two men and one woman. The man to his right looked worried for the boy, green eyes communicating so. He had a full beard, curiously pointed, vines of thorns crowing his head. The man to his left seemed to be calculating him, eyes narrow. He was rather tan with lengthy goldenrod hair. Leaves and sharp spines protruded from the strands. The woman immediately above him had icy grey eyes and long lashes, her eyebrows short and heavy-set. Copper leaves bloomed from her pale hair. It was only then Eren noticed his head was in her lap.
Eren reacted accordingly, jolting away. He clutched his bag, backing up to a panorama of the trio.
"W-Who are you?" he stuttered, swallowing the sleep in his throat.
"You mean you do not recognize me?" the woman asked dryly. "I watched over you all night and this is my thanks? Why, the nerve…"
The woman sighed, her leaves rustling as she shook her head. "You did not think the copper beech you slept under was a dead one, did you?"
Eren stared blankly at the three people. The blond man hung his head in disapproval, the other man releasing a breath.
"Nymphs only die when their affinitive plant dies." the one on the left said. "I thought that was common knowledge."
"We are certainly not flesh like you."
Eren scanned the people and knew it to be true. The woman with the beech leaves blended perfectly into the tree behind her, as if they were one, neither different from the other. The man haloed by thorn vines matched the blackberry bramble, the next mirroring the gooseberry thicket.
"…Well, thank you." Eren finally said to the beech nymph, coughing politely. The woman twitched a smile.
"A pleasure." she said. "Pixis told us to."
Eren, vaguely, remembered such a name, his father speaking the name to his mother before. Who it was he could not say.
"Who is Pixis?" Eren asked.
"Pixis is the one who owns this forest." the blackberry man said. "But he does not own it in the way of buying and selling as you might think, he owns it in the way he owns everything. He owns it by knowing that it is his and by being willing to let it go. He, ah, also likes to flirt with the rose bushes…"
"He visited us in our dreams and told us to help you." the other man continued. "Even if we are not flower bushes… He showed us you and a boy being led by a chain. He was a sad boy, very sad."
"And here you came to us." the woman said. "You came and fell asleep on my roots."
Eren rubbed his flushed cheek and mumbled an apology.
"What kind of aid did he tell you to give me?" The boy asked after the nymphs concluded.
"We do not know." the woman admitted. "We need to find that out ourselves."
"Tell us your story so far." the gooseberry nymph suggested. "And we can figure it out based on that."
Eren was becoming frustrated. The star and unicorn were galloping further and further away. He wanted to snap at the trio and say he did not have time for their silliness, but then realized that they were only trying to help him. He remembered his mother advising him to take the help offered to him, especially if he needed it. He had only gotten this far because he had done so.
Eren, hesitantly, began his tale with Mikasa, about her seeing the falling star and wanting it, about crossing the wall, about the serewood and Hannes, about the candle leading him to the star, about the scarred unicorn the star had run away with when he freed him.
The nymphs were quiet afterwards, processing his words. A wind caressed the three, swinging their leaves to and fro.
"I will tell you this." the she-nymph said, tone low and warning. "If you had kept him chained, and then he had escaped his binding, no power on earth could make me help you, not even Pixis."
"But you freed him." the man with the crown of thorns said. "For that, we will help you."
"Thank you." Eren whispered, dipping his head in relief.
"We shall give you three gifts." the gooseberry man said. "Two is knowledge given now, the other is something you must use later. You will decide when you need it most."
"First," the other man established. "You must know the star is in great danger. The wind talks to the wood, and the wood talks to the wind, and for that we know there are many people and creatures wishing him harm, and worse so. You must find him and protect him."
"Second," the blond nymph progressed. "There is a path through the forest and a man with a carriage traveling upon it. If you hurry, you will catch him."
"Lastly, hold out your hands." the woman said.
Eren did so. The woman plucked one of her orange leaves, placing the article in Eren's outstretched palms.
"Keep it safe." she said. "And when you need it most, listen to it. Now, go! Catch the carriage!"
"Wait!" Eren demanded as the three stood to return to their homes. "I never got your names…"
"I am called Mitabi."
They then took a step back and disappeared, leaving the area empty and void.
Eren took off at a dead sprint, bag flaring behind him like a banner. The trees and underbrush appeared to part for him, clearing his way. He could hear the horses and wooden carriage as he closed in on the path. His stomach dropped as he concluded that he could not catch it in time. He ran faster, desperately, body aflame and throat burning.
"Wait!" he shout, bursting out of the woods. "Wait, wait for me!"
The coach progressed along the path in front of him.
Eren fell to his knees, swallowing breath, wheezing. He tried to cry out as the horses passed him, only creating shallow gasps. The carriage did not slow.
He stood again, undeterred as ever. He thought of the star, cold and alone, afraid in a world not of his own. Eren began to walk as quickly as he could, breath still labored. It was not long until he found the black carriage. A large branch had fallen in its way. The hooded coachman was analyzing his predicament, hand on his chin as he viewed the oak branch.
"It is the strangest thing," he said as Eren stood beside him. "No wind or storm; it just fell. Gave the horses quite a scare."
The two made work unclipping the horses from the carriage and fastening them to the log. They began to pull with an order from their coachman, dragging the branch off of the road. Eren silently thanked the oak who lost a branch and the nymphs and Pixis as he untethered the horses.
"Can you give me a ride through the forest?" Eren questioned courtly.
The man gave the boy a once-over, distrusting. He thought momentarily, scratching his chin. Eren feared he would say no.
The man ultimately fetched a bag from the insides of his cloak, spilling stones into his hand.
"Pick one." He said.
Eren did so. The symbol on it was queer, runic, a strange thing he felt he should understand but did not.
"And another." the man encouraged. "And one more."
He critiqued the chosen stones. A nod bobbed his head, the stones placed in the bag to be hidden again.
"You may come with me." the man said. "The stones see to that. I warn you that it will be dangerous. But perhaps you can help me if more branches fall and keep me company on the driver's seat."
Eren thanked him, hasty to pull himself into the driver's seat. He spared a glance into the empty carriage, seeing nothing, but receiving a chill like someone had crossed his grave. Eren looked forward.
The man put down his hood when he sat down, reveling his cropped blond hair. He set the horse's off with a flick of the reins. The wooden coach cumbered along the path.
"Is there something I can call you?" Eren asked his companion respectfully.
"Erwin." He replied shortly. "And you?"
The coachman gave him a surprised look at that. His lips pinched as if he were trying to think or remember something but could not. A blockage twisted his thoughts, loosening ends and ripping connections. He shook his head.
"I felt like I have heard that name before… Have we met before, Eren?"
"Not that I know of." Eren said.
Erwin paused, catching a stray idea. "No… Your eyes, they remind me of someone I knew…"
"Oh really? Who?"
The thought whisped away, fading into the forgetting darkness.
"I cannot say."
He only remembered young laughs and a forehead pressing lovingly into his hand. The person was big and small, youthful and grown at the same time, no difference in time present. The person said something to him, repeating it over and over like an echo.
"… Big brother."
"Hum?" Eren questioned.
Erwin perked up, blinking. "What was that?"
"… You said 'big brother'."
"I did?" Erwin inquired quizzically, scratching his head. "How strange…"
Annie knew the land as it once was.
When the Kingdom of Sina had reined, it was mostly fields and foothills and flatlands. The foothills had grown taller since then, forming into mountains with names such as Hermiha and Stohess and Yalkell. Annie waited at the southernmost pass of Mount Stohess.
She let her goats graze as she sharpened her knives. They were wicked things, long and made of a bluish metal. No one knew what the metal was or where it came from, only that it sliced so fast one could not feel their death. One was a thick and heavy cleaver for bursting open the ribcage, the other precise and nimble for removing the heart. Annie tucked away the weapons and whetstone when she finished.
She first approached her chariot. Annie moved her hands and spoke her command, willing the wood to rise and expand. Many people flashed from the mirror in the cottage. An inn stood before the woman. It was quaint and cozy with a chariot pictograph painted on the door.
Annie touched her stomach as the skin turned to dust.
"Inanimate things are so hard to change. They are old and stupid and stuck in their ways."
She then advanced on the goats. She touched both between the eyes, speaking a single word. The beasts grew into men at her order. The one who was once Franz was now a woman, her eyes dead and tired, hair falling over her face. The goat was now an ash-haired man. Both said nothing.
"You," Annie said to the man, a strip of her neck losing skin. "Are my husband Boris and the innkeeper here, and this is our daughter." She looked skyward as thunder rumbled. "It will rain soon. Go, make the fire ready. The star must come through this pass and I must assure he pays us a visit."
Thunder crashed across the mountain range.
Eren hoped the star would not get into too much trouble without him. He could feel him moving along at a steady pace, the coach slowly gaining ground on him.
Erwin kept on the star's path. Even at crossroads when Eren feared Erwin would travel the opposite way and he would have to go on foot, Erwin would throw his stones and scrutinize them, continuing along the correct road.
"What are you looking for, exactly?" Eren asked the man when he clambered back into his seat, setting the horses off with a flick.
"The power of Phoenixwing." He said. "And my right to rule. You?"
"I hurt someone's feelings and I wish to make it up to them." He said, knowing his words to be true.
Erwin smiled slightly in humor.
He then looked up to the shadowed and clouded mountains before them. He motioned out his hand to gain Eren's attention.
"Someday, you must visit my castle on Mount Maria. It is much, much higher, dwarfing these into mere knolls."
"That is very kind of you." Eren said. "But honestly, I wish to spend the remainder of my life as a shop broker. I have had enough adventures, what with the nymphs and the boy and the unicorn…"
"You saw a unicorn?" Erwin asked with interest.
Checking himself, Eren said, "Yes. In a field. A noble creature."
"Indeed," Erwin agreed. "They are the moon's creature's and do his earthly bidding. I hope to see one, at least before I die." Erwin whipped the reins to will the horses to trod faster. "We shall reach the pass of Mount Stohess by tomorrow's sunset. Tonight, if you wish, you may sleep in the carriage. I shall sleep by the firelight."
Eren felt the chill in his voice, remembering his own when he looked inside the coach. He would much prefer to stay out of it.
Fate did not see to that. A cold rain began at sundown, causing the traveling companions to pack themselves within the carriage. The horses huddled under a rock crag, shivering at the temperature. The coach was not as ghoulish as Eren thought when he entered. The presence inside appeared to vanish when he opened the door, leaving the area light and welcoming. Neither he not Erwin knew that the dead brothers had given up their seats for Eren and only him.
The storm paused at daybreak only to continue again, worse than before. The oiled cloaks of the pair did nothing to blockade against the wetness.
"I could not be wetter if I jumped into a river," Eren said over the roar of the clouds and rain, teeth chattering.
"You could go inside," Erwin offered. "No point in both of us getting drenched."
Eren shook his head, droplets dangling off the tips of his dark hair. "Thank you, but I'll stay here. You might need another pair of hands and eyes."
Erwin laughed, the deep sound echoing between the rocks.
"You are a fool, but a kind one." He said jovially.
"You are not the first to say I am a fool." Eren muttered into the collar of his cloak.
They rode through the increasing rain for a while longer. The horses stumbled as they walked, sliding on the paths that had become streams. The wind gushed water into the clothing of the drivers, dampening them bone deep.
"There is a man," Erwin called over the crying storm. "Who searches for the same thing I do. He, strangely, reminds me a bit of you, with glossy dark hair and arched eyebrows. His name is Levi, and is a very dangerous man to cross. He was the husband of my sister before she was lost to the inner lands of Faerie and that gives him the right to search for the blood of Phoenixwing."
"Does he wish to kill you?"
"Doubtfully." Erwin said. "He was born into poverty and only rose to power through the military. He is our head general, I am skeptical whether he wishes to be a king."
"Then why does he search for the same thing as you?"
"Who knows? Perhaps he does want to be king, perhaps he is in it purely for the hunt. Perhaps he feels it would please his lost wife and child. My sister was pregnant when she left us."
The man straightened up suddenly, his light eyes flashing as he searched to and fro.
"Do you think there is something unnatural about this storm?"
"Unnatural?" Eren questioned.
"Yes, something supernatural."
"… I could not tell you." Eren admitted.
"Ah," Erwin said. "Must just be me, all weather-worn. If only the horses had a warm stable, and us a warm bed and fire… We could do with an inn."
Eren nodded eagerly. Craving these things, Eren searched for an inn with his mind. He found none, putting him in a sour mood. He only got wetter as he sat.
He eventually thought about the star and unicorn, how cold they must be, and how irritated the star's broken leg surely was. He hoped riding the unicorn did not jostle the bone out of place. He believed all the suffering of the star to be all his fault. He let the boy free into danger, after all. Eren kicked the footrest with his heel.
"I am the most terrible person to have ever been born." Eren told his companion.
"At your age, every boy is." Erwin said with a knowing smirk.
Eren hugged himself to bundle in his woe. The rain stung his eyes and the unceasing nature of it angered him so. He was unhappy as the darkness descended, his gaze on the mountain landscape.
"Is that a light?" Eren asked, shooting up abruptly. He squinted. "… It is! A light!"
"Your eyes are better than mine…" Erwin said, trying to see what the boy was pointing at. "… It is a light. Let us hope they are friendly, for these are wild mountains."
A flicker of lightning revealed the mountain outlines and square shape around the fire.
"An inn!" Eren shouted, holding up a victorious fist. "An inn!"