Khsta Dawn Bell
Skulls and Ghosts in the Barrows
Now I shall tell you of the pixies and what became of them after Concord began his war, but to tell you of all, would take too long. Instead I will tell you the story of one pixie and her struggle, because her struggle and quest directly relates to you all.
This little one I am talking about was a Duende Pixie named Khsta Dawn Bell. Now so you understand, Khsta was no ordinary Pixie; she was a Sprite. As such, in her pixie form she was small, about the span of a boy’s hand from the bottom of the palm to the tip of the middle finger, and naturally could fly. In that form her body would mostly appear as a glowing pale blue pixie with lacy butterfly like wings. For the most part, she resembled her great grandmother, Bell. However, Khsta also had the ability to transform herself, as some Sprites can do, into a more or less, human form, and as such would appear as a small human girl. Well a human child with the exception that her pale skin had faint blue tint to it, her long, silky hair was of a dark blue—so dark in fact that it looked black—coloring streaked through with golden blond highlights. Her face was delicate, oval shaped and without a doubt, attractive, with her small nose and very large, oval shaped eyes that were of an intense indigo blue coloring. Her ears, like all of our kind, were slightly pointy at the tip, and her wings, while still there, were invisible. That aside, in her mostly human form she stood about the same height as a human girl of eight-years in age, and despite what I’ve told you of her appearance, overall looked like a child of that age.
But she was no child, nor human, as I’ve said. Khsta was also the only one from her tribe of pixies that could change her size. A very rare and special gift she had.
At the moment she was standing barefoot on the stony ground in the clearing at the base of a tall cliff face, looking up at the distant cave entrance far, far above her.
Her people had asked her—but in reality she had been chosen by the sprites of the woods, and not just because she was a sprite—to come here to seek out, Yenni the Wise, who it was said lived far up in the cave.
This was because not more than one full cycle of the moon (one month ago, and if you’re wondering a half dozen months since the war began) the pirates had attacked her village in the dead of night, coming in their massive flying ships beneath a thunderhead, with cannon fire and rifles and swords and destroying . . . well everything. That night had been the worst night of her life, and one that would haunt her nightmares for a long time to come. The sight of those pirate ships in the sky light up by the flickering lightning from the storm clouds above, and the flash of their cannons were terrifying, as was the booming sound of thunder and explosions. Cannon shots had blasted apart the hilltop and burrows of her village, gouging huge holes in the earth and blasting homes, and even pixies to dust.
The people of her tribe had done their best to fight back. Khsta herself had twice, flown up to one of the pirate ships. The first time she had gone after the helmsman and actually put out his left eye with her dagger, but as the man had fallen away, crying aloud, a pirate had snatched onto her when she was in her tiny form and both had tried to crush her in his grip, like she was a bug he was trying to squeeze in his hand, while at the same time he pulled her toward his homely, hairy face, his ugly mouth open, teeth broken and craggy. His breath had been hideous, and for a moment Khsta had actually thought the man had intended to eat her.
Before that could happen, she changed into her larger size, suddenly, while the man had been holding on to her. Holding onto something that is very small, that suddenly changes into something fairly large is pretty much like holding onto a bomb that suddenly explodes in your clutched fist. Very painful and damaging I expect. It was to the pirate, who suddenly fell back away from Khsta, screaming, his hand shattered and arm broken.
Two other pirates had seen her standing there in her girl size, and fired off their pistols at her, but Khsta had been faster than those rounds, and shifted back into her tiny pixie form before leaping over the side of the ship, flying with the rain out into the night.
The second time she tried to use her dagger to cut and shred the sails of one of the ships, but again, the pirates had seen her and fired off their pistols at her, laughing as they did so, and apparently unconcerned with the number of holes they shot in the sail of the main mast—nor where they concerned when they shot dead one of their own as they tried to blast her out of the air as she retreated.
“Eh it was just old Tim,” she heard one of the pirates laugh about the one they had shot as she fled. “G’me his pistol and toss his bones over the side. We’ll split his rum between us.”
Not long after that, the battle was over. The pixies, despite their numbers and powers were no match for the pirates with their ships and weapons of war. Many of her people perished that night. Some had fled into the forest and were lost, and some were taken by the pirates, made slaves. For what purpose I can only imagine.
Dawn came the following morning, cold and gray, revealing the naked horror of the battle. Gone was the hilltop village, the earth raw and blown apart like a gaping wound in the glade, and all around, the surrounding forest was smoldering from the fires the pirates had lit. Above, a steady, silvery rain fell as if all of heaven was crying over the devastation the men had brought down on the pixies.
For two days afterward, Khsta and the survivors of her tribe had wandered the marshes, trying to find a safe place, and came upon a small band of Woodling Pixies that also had been attacked by the pirates as well, and were hiding in a cave in the swamp.
After a bit of arguing and anger between the two tribes (the Pixies of the Glade, as Khsta’s tribe had been known and the Pixies of the Forest often didn’t get along entirely well and avoided each other most of the time) it was decided that they would—at least for the moment—remain together in order to survive the next encounter with the pirates—for they were all certain they would return to hunt them all down.
Once that was settled, a lengthy, and fairly loud, discussion broke out on what they should do next. Some wanted to band together with other tribes and go to war with the pirates. Others suggested they remain in hiding, and still others suggested they head off to the hidden fairy kingdom and remain there.
“And what good will that do us in the long run,” Thorn, a male pixie, and one of those who’d argued for war, had asked.
“We’ve retreated to the hidden kingdom before and hid there from the pirates,” another told him.
“True, but only for a time, and then they found us,” Thorn reminded them. “We can go there, but they will find us eventually. I for one am done with hiding. I say we fight back.”
Several agreed with him on that, and of course, an argument broke out with one side saying they should go to the hidden kingdom and remain there, and other’s calling for all-out war on the pirates. This argument was brought to an end by Belfel, the old pixie mage from Khasta’s tribe, who had returned from her long walk in the forest, and shouted that it was not time for war yet. Everyone had looked at her with fear and respect as she was old and wise and powerful.
“Yet,” Thorn had then echoed. “We don’t understand.”
“We are pixies,” she reminded him. “We cannot stand alone against the pirates for they are skilled in—and have weapons of war we cannot imagine.”
“We have the power of the elements in our hands,” Thorn told the mage. “The power of the wind to command.”
Belfel nodded her head in agreement with that, saying that was true and they could use that power to ground the pirates and their ships, but all that would do was form them into a land army, and there would still be death.
“Then what,” many asked.
“One of us must go to the barrows in the middle of the swamp,” Belfel told them.
Many gasped in fear over hearing that, for the ancient barrows she had spoken of where the tombs and graves of ancient and forgotten people, and they were said to be haunted!
“Those are not the tombs of fairy folk,” Thorn reminded her. “what could we hope to find there?”
Belfel told them there was one who slept there who had made an agreement with the old mage of their tribe long before she’d become the current mage—to help the pixies if he could. This because the old mage had helped him. One of them needed to find his tomb and remove the cover stone to awaken him, and ask him what he might know they could do, and where to find help.
To that, Thorn reminded Belfel, “we’re pixies, and even with our magic we might not be able to remove the cover stone of his grave.”
“One of us can,” Belfel said as she looked at Khsta. “One of us who is a Sprite and can change into a larger, human size can move the stone and wake him.”
Khsta was a bit taken back by that, “but I am not a mage. The spirits of the barrows might try and trick me. And I cannot speak to the dead, as a mage can. Are you coming with me?”
“I am forbidden to enter the barrows,” Belfel told her, which was true. “Do what you can, Khsta Dawn Bell. Find his grave, remove the cover stone and bring to me what you find beneath. When you do, I’ll be able to speak to him here.”
Khsta was scared of course, but in the end she agreed to do this, and the next morning she flew off into the swamps and eventually found the barrows. They were a creepy place, several shrub covered earthen mounds at the center of a murky swamp filled with gray-black water that smelled like death itself. A few crows perched themselves in the branches of dead trees and watched her silently as she hunted around the hills for the marker Belfel had told her about. A few times she heard an eerie cry, like a woman screaming or a child crying, and more than once she saw shadowy figures in the mist, moving or walking by. In time she found it. The marker of the grave was a square stone tablet, hidden in the weedy grass, on the third hill. The center of it was carved with the symbol Belfel had told her to look for, the ancient astrology symbol for Mars. (And if you know old mythology, you know Mars was the ancient God of War. Appropriate considering what I’ve told you so far, don’t you think?)
Transforming herself into her girl size, she knelt down in the damp, yellow straw grass and cleared the stone off, then dug around its edges until she was able to get her fingers under it, and with some effort, lifted it up and moved it aside. Beneath was a stone box with a single human like skull, grinning up at her. That had startled her to see and she jumped up on her bare feet with a startled gasp.
The voice, a deep man’s voice, that spoke next startled her even more and she almost turned small and flew off in terror. “What brings you to the barrows? One as young and pretty as you should not spend her days in a graveyard. Or is it that with the pirates and their war on your kind, you’ve come here to wait for the inevitable, like a child lying in bed waiting for night and sleep to come?”
The voice had not come from the skull, but the ghostly, man like figure standing above it. After her fear and shock was beyond her over this, Khsta told the ghost who had sent her and why. “Belfel sent me to ask what can be done. What we need to do?”
For a long moment the ghostly image said nothing, just remained there floating in the air, like a misty shapeless phantom above its skull and Khsta feared she would get no answer. Then it spoke in a soft, deep voice, saying one word. “Yenni.” He then told her that she must go and seek out Yenni, the Old One who it was said had the ability to answer any question. He had the answer to what she and the pixies needed to do and how to deal with the pirates.
Khsta had heard of Yenni, but up until that moment had considered him a myth and told the ghost so. “And I have no idea how to find him.”
“Beneath my skull is a necklace with a stone on it,” the ghost had told her. “It is a seeking stone. A compass of sorts. The wearer of it will be able to see the way to that which they seek. Take it. Use it to find Yenni and ask him for the answer to the problem of the pirates. Go now. The darkness comes, and there are those less friendly than I who rest here, and may harm you once night falls. For the dead do not like to suffer the living.”
With girlish disgust and squeamishness, and a lot of silly faces that made it obvious that our little pixie was not at all delighted with handling the skull of some long dead person, Khsta managed to remove the skull from the stone box, and true to what the ghost had said, beneath it she saw a silver chain neckless, with a small, coin sized disk hanging from it. In the middle of the disk was a small, turquoise stone in the shape of a teardrop. This she took and because she had nowhere to put it—her usual dress was to be barefoot, and wear a simple tan skirt with lacy sky blue trim and a belt with her dagger in it, as well as a lacy tan and blue halter top—she looped the chain over her neck, replaced the skull in the box, telling the ghost the chain would be returned once Yenni had been found, she put the stone tablet back over it and left, flying back to the cave where the rest of the pixies hid.
I should point out to those that don’t know, anything that was touching her, such as that necklace she had taken from the grave, transformed with her when she turned to her small pixie size, so it was as small as she was. Of course only if she wanted it to, mind you. And when she transformed into her girl size, the same was true.
Back at the cave she told everyone what had happened and showed them the necklace the ghost had given her. No one said a thing to this, just looked at her in silence, and for a moment she feared they either thought she was making the whole thing up, or had lost her mind in the swamps. She did not understand that they were fearful of her, for only someone very powerful such as a mage or someone stronger could speak to the dead.
“It’s all true,” she told them. “See here. The necklace the ghost gave me.”
Finally it was Belfel who spoke to her. “You are the one to go to Yenni.”
Khsta was a bit shocked to hear this. “Me? Alone? I am just one pixie.”
“You made it through the barrows,” they reminded her. “And spoke with the dead. You wear the necklace.”
“And you are the only one of us who can change into a human size,” Belfel reminded her. Again, this ability to change her size was something only Khsta had, and was another sign that she was no ordinary pixie—even if she didn’t yet realize it. “Better to disguise yourself from the pirates if need be. For in your larger form, you appear as a girl, not a pixie and they would be fooled by this and not know of you or your quest. Yes, it is you who must go and find Yenni for us. Find him and ask him what we must do to be rid of the pirates.”
That was all there was to it. There was nothing more to say on the subject, and Khsta argued no more on it. This was, after all, for all her people, all the pixies in our world in fact. As nervous and frightened as she was going on this quest to find this Yenni, she had to do it, and in a way she wanted to. Belfel then told them that Yenni would want payment in some form for his answer, so she had everyone give in something of value that they had managed to bring with them the night of the pirate attack. It was not much, some gold dust, a few gem stones and some bits of gold and silver ribbon. These she put into a sack and gave to Khsta to bring with her and give Yenni.
The next morning, she started out on her quest, and while she did, Belfel and those that wished to remain in hiding until Khsta got an answer from Yenni, took off to the hidden kingdom to wait. Thorn and those that wished to fight went off in search of allies to raise an army to fight against the pirates.
Their story is for another time.