The Outside World
The Outside World
“If you leave here, do not return…”
Kaylin heard her father’s voice echoing through her head and began to cry.
In the week since she had left The Grove, she had had numerous lessons in exactly how indifferent the big world could be to a little pixie.
Then the rains started, and things went from bad to worse. Now she was slumped down in the dirt, sheltering under a large toadstool while she waited out the storm, alone with her thoughts…
It’s well known among the few outsiders who have interacted with pixies and their culture that a pixie’s hair color is determined by their birthday. For example, spring pixies have green hair, summer pixies are bright blond, fall pixies are redheads, and winter pixies’ hair is purple or dark blue. It is also believed that a pixie’s temperament is determined similarly. Spring pixies tend to be bright and joyous, summer pixies are enthusiastic and excitable, autumn pixies are calm and peaceful, and winter pixies are cerebral and introspective.
An interesting point must be made here. Since pixies value happiness and community above all else, they would generally plan to have their children in the spring or early summer. Over the centuries, winter births became rare, and then finally unheard of. The practice became tradition, and no one bothered to question it.
Not all births can be meticulously planned, however. Kaylin’s parents had married in the spring. With all the babies being born, and with both of them being of a summery temperament (blond hair, enthusiastically cheerful, occasionally flighty), they threw caution to the wind. Tradition was forgotten. What’s the worst that could happen…? they thought. And so Kaylin ended up with that most inauspicious of birthdates, the winter solstice.
Kaylin started life as an outsider. Her blue-black hair drew amazed stares from other pixies, even as an infant. Her parents became concerned when Kaylin began displaying some rather un-pixie-like tendencies, such as preferring to play by herself and asking about the world beyond of The Grove. The more her parents tried to mold her in the “normal” pixie image, the more Kaylin rebelled.
By adolescence, Kaylin had developed a reputation throughout The Grove as being odd and sullen (at least, by pixie standards). She spent most of her time reading old books to study pixie magic and learn what little she could about the larger world beyond the borders of The Grove. Kaylin’s parents worried for their reserved, bookish daughter and just wanted her to be happy. So they truly believed that they were doing Kaylin a favor when they arranged for her to be married to the youngest son of a nice, normal family.
“You did what??!?!”
“But Kaylin,” her mother said. “Ciaran is a fine boy who will make a good husband.”
Kaylin tried unsuccessfully to calm herself down. “I have no problems with Ciaran, but that’s not the point! I don’t want to get married, and I certainly don’t want a marriage arranged by my parents to get their oddball daughter to fall in line!”
“Kaylin, why don’t you want to be happy?” her mother said in a caring, but rather condescending tone. “Please, trust us. You’ll be happier being part of The Grove rather than an outsider. We just want what’s best for you, and this is the first step.”
“So there are more things in my life that you’ll be planning out for me? No thank you!” Kaylin stormed into her room and slammed the door. As she overheard her mother crying and her father talking in muted tones trying to comfort her, she knew what she had to do. She loved her parents and did not want to hurt them, but they simply did not understand her! She packed a satchel of essentials and waited until nightfall.
That night, as she approached the front door, she heard her father’s voice from the shadows in the sitting room. “Kaylin, why do you need to be so different?” he said.
“I don’t know… but can’t you see that I just am?”
“Things could be good here. You could be happy.”
Kaylin did not turn away from the front door. “Oh, but I am,” she said calmly. “That’s what you don’t… what I’m afraid you can’t understand. You and mother proved that for me today and now I know that there’s no life for me here anymore.”
“And where will you go? Have you forgotten how much bigger the world beyond is than we are?”
“I’m not helpless, father. If you realized that, you wouldn’t be trying to ‘fix’ me.”
“Ungrateful child!” he snapped. “Go then… but if you leave here, do not return!”
Kaylin was taken aback by her father’s tone. She had never heard him raise his voice nor utter an unkind word, and the fact that he did so now frightened Kaylin. But worse, she felt guilt that she was the cause. She knew with absolute certainty that if she stayed there was no way for things to get better… in fact, they would definitely get worse. This strengthened her resolve. It was not fair… A tear rolled down Kaylin’s cheek as she stepped outside and closed the door behind her.
Now she was in the forest, in the rain, convinced that she had made a terrible mistake. Surviving in the larger world was turning out to be much harder than she had anticipated. She had had trouble scrounging for food, she had no one to talk to, and she had even had to fend off an attack from a crow looking for an afternoon snack. The rain made flying difficult, so she sat beneath the toadstool and replayed the interaction with her father in her head for what seemed like the millionth time. The rain was starting to let up, but she was still hungry, cold, and alone. She hugged her knees to her chest and pondered her options… none of which seemed all that good.
A snuffling noise nearby shook her out of her melancholy and set her on edge. Although Kaylin knew enough magic to defend herself, her wet wings meant that her mobility would be limited.
A large gray snout sniffed closer to her hiding place. Kaylin noticed that the snout was attached to a rugged-looking wolf. Upon noticing Kaylin, the wolf looked at her curiously, as though he had never seen a pixie before (which seemed quite likely to Kaylin).
“Uh, hi there,” said Kaylin to the wolf, who responded by wagging his tail. “Looks like you got separated from your group. I can relate,” she said. It felt good to have someone to talk to, even if it was an animal.
She noticed a scar on the wolf’s ear. “You’re probably pretty good in a fight, huh? That could come in handy. Wanna travel with me for a while?”
The wolf settled down next to Kaylin. He did not smell too bad. Kaylin suddenly felt a little less alone and considerably warmer.
The animal showed no signs of wanting to find its own kind as he traveled with Kaylin for the next several days. In the process, she decided to start calling him Wulfric, primarily because it sounded better than “hey wolf”. Kaylin told Wulfric the story of how she came to be out in the big world. Wulfric listened politely, enjoying the attention from his new friend, but giving no indication that he understood anything that she was saying.
A few days after they had met, they came to the outskirts of a small human town. Kaylin’s first instinct was to flee and hide in the forest, but she knew that if she were to live outside of The Grove, she would need to start interacting with the “larger folk,” as they were referred to by pixies. Kaylin paused as she considered how to go about making some new friends, or at least some helpful acquaintances.
Wulfric suddenly began sniffing the air and panting excitedly. He trotted off toward the town. Kaylin followed at a safe distance, trying to stay out of sight. She was pretty sure that few humans had ever seen a pixie, so she also knew that they would likely respond to such an encounter with fear–or worse.
Wulfric stopped outside of a house with delicious smells emanating from it. He barked a few times in an attempt to get the attention of whoever was inside. An old lady opened the door and showed some generosity by offering Wulfric a tray of water and some scraps of meat. Kaylin decided that the old lady’s display of kindness meant that this would be as good a person as any to reveal herself to. She slowly flew forward toward Wulfric while he happily munched on his scraps.
The old lady saw Kaylin, cried out in fear, ran back inside and slammed the door. A few moments later, a tall young man emerged from the house across the road. “Gran? Gran, are you all right?” he called breathlessly. He saw Kaylin and froze. He started shaking. “Ah…ah…are you a pixie?” he asked Kaylin.
“Um, yes,” she said. She was pretty nervous about the whole situation herself, but concealed it as well as she could. Wulfric looked at the young man for a few moments, decided that he was not a threat, and went back to his scraps.
“Aren’t you going to put me to sleep?” asked the young man, terrified.
“What?” she asked with genuine confusion.
“They say that if you ever gaze upon a pixie, it will put you to sleep for a hundred years!”
“Who says that?”
“Really…” Kaylin said pensively. She briefly considered threatening the man with exactly the spell he feared in order to get some food and some information. She quickly decided, though, that it would be wrong to take advantage of the situation in that way. She did some quick thinking and decided on a different approach. “I’m not planning to put anyone to sleep – I mean I could, but… um… no, I am looking to earn some food for myself and my friend here.”
“Earn?” asked the man. “What kind of work could someone as small as you do?”
Kaylin raised an eyebrow and smirked at the man. She shot a small fireball into the air that exploded with a satisfying foom. As he recoiled in terror, she said “I dabble in magic.”
The young man nervously informed Kaylin that the common food storage barn on the outskirts of town was “haunted”, and that a reward was offered to anyone who could solve the problem. Kaylin decided to investigate, Wulfric in tow.
When they arrived at the building, a little surreptitious sleuthing by Kaylin confirmed what she suspected–there was nothing haunted about this barn. It had simply become home to a small group of opportunistic goblins. Kaylin noticed the makeshift “camp” they had set up near the back door, complete with fire pit, sleeping blankets, and totems representing the various deities and superstitions that this particular group of goblins adhered to. She counted four goblins seated near the fire and decided that clearing them out would be a simple matter.
She retrieved Wulfric from his hiding spot and they waited out of sight just inside the entrance to the building. Kaylin decided to try a little bit of deceptive magic first. She used a simple telekinesis spell to lift one of the totems and float it around the fire pit in full view of the goblins. All four jumped to their feet, and two ran out the back door and into the nearby forest.
“Well, that was easy, Wulfric,” Kaylin said. “Now it’s just two on two!”
That’s when nine more goblins jumped down from the rafters. Kaylin silently cursed her sloppy reconnaissance work and wondered if she had bitten off more than she could chew. She still was not sure whether Wulfric would stand his ground or run at the sight of danger.
The closest goblin gave an evil chuckle and came at Kaylin with a club. She cast a quick spell to set the goblin’s head on fire. His chuckle turned into a pained scream as he ran away from Kaylin and out the front door. Two more goblins came from the left but were tackled by Wulfric before they could get too close to Kaylin. One ran away as the other was eviscerated by Wulfric’s claws.
When the goblins saw their friend being torn apart, they became much more cautious. This bought Kaylin some time to work a sleep spell. That took down two more. Wulfric was staying close by in an attempt to protect her, but by this point, the goblins had them pretty well cornered. Wulfric continued to snap at any goblin that attempted to approach them, but one of them managed to nick him with a spear, drawing blood. Wulfric fell back a bit but continued to growl menacingly.
Kaylin knew that they had to try to break the standoff, so she started focusing herself for one decisive attack. She floated just above Wulfric’s head and said “Okay Wulfric, get ready to pounce! One, two, three!” She let loose a forceful blast in all directions that knocked the remaining goblins off their feet. Wulfric took full advantage of the situation, leaping forward in a tornado of teeth and claws. His first target took a slash to the face before he even realized he had been knocked down. The second was disemboweled in a similar manner. As Wulfric snapped the neck of a third with his powerful jaws, the remaining goblins leapt to their feet and fled for their lives.
“Good boy, Wulfric!” Kaylin exclaimed breathlessly.
The pair received a meal and a pouch with some coins for their trouble from the grateful townsfolk. Kaylin tied the pouch around Wulfric’s neck. Several brave folks were on hand to see the non-sleep-inducing pixie that they had heard was in town. One, a young boy, looked up in awe at the pixie and asked “are you an adventurer?”
Kaylin started to say “no,” but then stopped herself. She had read about adventurers in books back in The Grove. “You know, Wulfric, I bet we’d make a pretty good adventuring team,” she said.
One of the other townsfolk overheard her and said “well, some adventurers came through here a few years back. Seemed like good folks. They really helped us out back then, just like you did today. Said they were based out’a Greyport. What was that wizard’s name?”
The young boy shouted out “Zot!” and then started running around pointing at things and saying “Zot!” over and over again.
“Yeah, that was it. If I remember correctly, he said if we ever needed help, we should leave word for him at The Red Dragon Inn in Greyport.”
Kaylin had never heard of Greyport or The Red Dragon Inn, but their success against the goblins had filled her with a new sense of confidence and curiosity about the world outside The Grove.
“What do you say, Wulfric? Wanna go to Greyport?”