The Torchbearer's Quest

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In the end, the boys “forgot” to wake Willow and split the watches evenly between themselves. Willow confronted Rohan in the morning. He just shrugged his shoulders. “You just looked so peaceful, fair lady,” he said, sweeping into a bow, in perfect imitation of Devon.

Willow socked him hard on his injured arm.

“Ow! That was low, real low.”

“You asked for it,” Willow said, unrepentantly, but hurriedly added, “Let me have a look at it.”

Rohan removed the makeshift sling and held out his arm stiffly. Willow traced her fingers gingerly up its length. Rohan winced. His upper arm was swollen and purpled, and his lower arm retained the fading impression of He Fight’s hoof.

“It really hurts, doesn’t it?”

“It wasn’t so bad until I pulled it on the bridge. I think I heard something tear. You hitting me just now may well have put it over the edge.”

“I’m so sorry! I was just playing around. I didn’t mean to...honest.”

“Hah! Like you could really hurt me!” Rohan laughed.

“That was mean!” Willow said, preparing to hit him again.

“Oh, please. Don’t hit me. Not again. Anything, but that,” Rohan said shielding his arm and bursting into another fit of laughter.

“Ha-ha, very funny,” Willow said, but she dropped her fist anyway. “You really need to get that checked out though. It doesn’t look good.”

“There aren’t many doctors in these woods, Willow,” he said patronizingly.

“I know that. But it doesn’t change the fact that you need to see one. The first village we come across, you’re going straight to the doctor.”

“Yes, ma’am. You know you could always kiss it to make it feel better,” Rohan jested.

Willow bent her head and gently brushed her lips against his upper arm, then swiftly walked away leaving Rohan blushing scarlet.

The journey east was a slow one; the forest they had entered was difficult to navigate. The wood was crowded and knotted, filled with forlorn briers, shady underbrush, collapsed trees and impenetrable thickets. Sticky fragments of invisible spider webs clung to their faces and arms, and sharp pointed branches pricked their skin.

All was still and quiet; the air bitter cold. Willow began to shiver. Rohan ran his left hand up and down the length of her arm to warm her.

“Thanks,” she said.


“You’re cold?” Devon asked, turning in his saddle. “Why didn’t you say so?”

He brought Apollo to a halt and fumbled inside the saddle bag. “Here take this,” he said handing her a heavy folded traveling cloak.

“You s-s-sure you don’t n-n-need it?” she asked, her teeth chattering.

“Don’t be silly. I forgot I even brought it along until just now. It’s a good thing though, considering we lost the blanket. It’s all yours, as long as you need it.”

“T-t-thank you,” she said, wrapping it around her shoulders.

“Anytime,” he said, echoing Rohan.

Rohan mumbled something under his breath.

The cloak smelled wonderful, carrying a masculine, woodsy scent that she found comforting. After a minute, she placed the smell. The cloak smelled just like her father's clothes did when he returned from a mission. She commanded herself to remember every quality to imprint it in her mind.

As evening drew near, a rustling sound mixed with a metallic jingle filled the air. Rohan and Devon grew instantly alert. Devon straightened in the saddle, and she could feel Rohan fumbling for his wand behind her.

The noise grew louder as the source rapidly approached. Several indistinguishable shapes flew straight towards them. She was instantly reminded of the mischievous Fairies. She and Devon pulled the horses to a stop.

“Not again,” Willow complained, instinctively patting her hair.

“What is it?” Rohan asked.

“Fairies. Back for more fun, I guess,” Willow said disheartened.

“Those aren’t Fairies. Look closer,” Devon said calmly.

As the swarm of feminine beings closed in, Willow was able to distinguish their features more clearly. They were certainly Fairy-esque in appearance, though slightly larger with several different characteristics. They were forest spirits but more substantial than fairies, not so celestial. The beings flew with ease though they lacked wings, hovering effortlessly at eye level with the riders. They appeared ageless, neither young nor old, and were as beautiful as the fairies were. The creatures had startlingly green eyes and pointed Elf-like ears that poked through their flowing hair of bright iridescent hues, secured half up, half down with a simple ribbon.

With embarrassment, Willow realized that the ribbons were the only things they wore. A small leaf and their long hair provided the only means of privacy. Tiny anklets and bracelets of silver bells adorned their wrists and ankles above their bare feet -- the source of the jingling. Apparently they shared a similar fondness for Pixie Dust with Fairies, leaving a glittering trail in their wake.

“If they aren’t Fairies, what are they?” Rohan asked, blushing as he attempted to avert his eyes from their nakedness.

“Pixies, of course. Distant relatives of Fairies, but quite distinct in their own right. Don’t you think?” Devon said, flicking his eyebrows at Rohan, clearly not ashamed by their lack of clothes. “Fair day, ladies,” he said addressing the Pixies who had come to a stop in mid air just feet from the travelers.

He was answered by a refrain of girlish giggles.

“So handsome…” a bright redhead said, her voice thick with implications.

“The blonde is too...” chortled a blue haired one.

“You’ve always had a preference for the scrawny ones. I favor the brawny one, myself. A man’s man,” said another, twirling her finger around a vivid green lock of hair. Her voice was attractively dulcet.

“Such a shame that they brought company.”

She hardly counts as company,” said a blonde with hair seemingly brighter than the sun, as she eyed Willow with distaste.

Willow cringed at the malice in her tone.

“Surely these men know the difference between a mere girl and a real woman.”

Another round of laughter echoed. Willow was shocked at how openly the Pixies appraised them. After several more snickering comments, a Pixie with a brilliant shade of purple hair glided forward, her eyes locked on Devon. She followed the contours of his face with a tiny appraising finger.

“Mmm...Such perfect planes, so smooth with youth and yet strong and masculine,” she mused.

Willow felt a twinge of envy towards the tiny being, almost territorial. She shook her head at her own foolishness; she had no claim whatsoever over Devon who remained still under the Pixie’s feather light touch, his eyes appreciatively taking in the subtle curves of her figure.

“My name is Andromeda. These are my sisters, Cassiopeia, Hydra, Aquila, and Carina,” she said indicating the blonde, blue haired, green haired, and redhead in turn. “Shall we dance for you?” she whispered in Devon’s ear.

“Actually, it’s getting dark, and we need to make camp for the night,” Willow said, her voice unnaturally cold. Carina and Hydra flitted towards Willow in a single fluid movement.

They grasped locks of her hair, twirling their bodies around the curls with painful pulls. Willow reached for her hair, twisting it securely in her hands. In the process she sent Hydra tumbling, a jingling blur of dazzling sapphire. The Pixie brushed herself off before leaping back lithely into the air and hovering challengingly in front of Willow.

“Jealousy becomes no woman – though to be fair, calling you a woman is a bit of a stretch,” Hydra said in an unsettlingly beautiful voice.

“Humph,” Willow said, at a loss for a reply.

“Actually, ladies, Willow is quite right,” Devon said, valiantly coming to her defense. We must make camp and hunt for dinner before the light fails us.”

“Oh, very well, if you must. Shall we save our dance for starlight, then?” Andromeda said, planting tiny kisses along Devon’s jaw between each word.

“I shall greatly look forward to it,” Devon replied.

“Until then…” she murmured biting playfully at his lip.

Willow’s stomach turned uncomfortably. Why would Devon encourage them? She hardly had time to wonder before the Pixies landed agilely in the crunchy leaves. They shook violently from head to toe, emitting a cloud of shimmering Pixie dust. When the sparkling cloud dissipated not a single Pixie could be seen, only five small, prickly hedgehogs with collars of silver bells, making their way into the dense brambles.

“Whoa,” Rohan said. “They’re shape-shifters?”

“Yes. They have quite a knack for it, though they favor the hedgehog most often.”

“I quite prefer this alternative form. Much more becoming,” Willow said, irritated. “Why did you invite them tonight?” she asked Devon, confused and slightly hurt.

“Please don’t take offense, my lady. It is not with an open heart that I did so. But much like their Fairy relatives, Pixies do not take kindly to neglect. If I felt that there was any way to politely decline and not risk another case of Elf Locks, I undoubtedly would have. Besides, the chances of them actually showing up again are highly unlikely. Their kind is quite easily distracted.”

Satisfied with his answer, Willow’s mind was put to rest.

They made camp by a swift river, twisting its way east on its inevitable journey to the sea. After a satisfying dinner of wild rabbit, Willow was content with the lack of unwelcome visitors and prepared to settle in for the night. Devon took first watch, after promising to include Willow in the night's shifts. But as her eyes began to close, Willow heard a faint jingling noise. She sighed deeply, nudging Rohan, who propped himself up onto his elbows.

“I guess distractions are few and far between tonight,” Rohan said, clearly unenthusiastic.

As Andromeda and company flitted into view, illuminated by the moonlight's reflection off of the river, Devon stood to greet his guests.

“Good evening, ladies. So nice of you to grace us with your presence once more.”

“The pleasure is all ours, I assure you,” Andromeda said in an alluring tone. “And now, we dance....”

They hovered above the silver river, matching their rhythm to the croaking frogs and chirping crickets, moving their bodies seductively. Rohan leaned back into the leaves, uncomfortable with the show. Willow’s admiration grew immensely for her best friend, but the lack of a willing audience did little to deter the Pixies. They turned their wiles solely upon Devon, who seemed more than politely captivated.

Willow, still wrapped in Devon’s traveling cloak, scooted closer to Rohan and snuggled into his side. Rohan’s good arm pulled her in even closer. At least Rohan seemed pleased to have her near, she thought. Slowly she drifted off to sleep, with the distant sound of tinkling bells punctuating her dreams.

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