I tread carefully so he doesn't scurry away like the last one. That could have ended badly but I'm a professional, I took care of it. But this time I'm hoping not to have to play cat and mouse around the woods in the dead of night. This one is completely clueless though. It's a design flaw that they leave gold dust sprinkled in their wake. They are easily hunted. By me. And me alone.
A branch cracks under my foot and I smack my back behind a tree. He's turns round at the sound. His footsteps have stopped. I wait until they start again and poke my head around the trunk. I draw an arrow from my quiver and slot it carefully in my bow. I let out a relaxed breath and shoot. The arrow pierces straight through his back and he explodes into a beautiful cloud of gold dust. The moonlight reflects off the shimmering speckles. It is a spectacular sight. A sight only I see. It's enough to bring a tear to your eye. But not my eye. I run into the golden mist and open my satchel under it. If only dust was easier to collect. Once I've seemed to have caught as much as I can scoop up the dry dirt which is speckled with the shimmering flakes and add it to my satchel. It's a good job this stuff is worth a lot. Picking it out must be a nightmare but no one seems to complain. They're just glad it's not them out here collecting the goods.
My arrow is lying on the ground. It's completely clean. I pick it up and slide it back into my quiver. I never waste my arrows. My eyes scan my surroundings and find nothing. Time to head back. My satchel bounces against my hip as I walk and I can hear the dirt shaking around inside. The speckles that coat my shoulders leave a light trail behind me as the air brushes them away.
My name is Aria Delloway and I'm a Pixie hunter. Yes, you heard right. I hunt Pixies. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it. Seriously, someone's got to do it. And it's only me who has the guts. And the brains. The Shifters used to take care of the Pixies for us, until they were chased out of the town by an angry mob with knives and pitchforks. They think that there is no room for magic here. They are wrong. Magic is necessary. Well, that kind of magic is. Are Pixies magical? I guess you could say that. They have certain talents that could be considered magical. Like 'glamour'. They can glamour a human and make them see whatever they want to them to see. They can't manipulate our minds though. Just our eyes. That's how they blend in with us. They make us see them as human beings. Yet there is one slight flaw. We can still see the gold dust and the golden rings in their irises. I guess from hundreds of years of fooling humans, we have somehow evolved to resist part of the effect of their glamour.
So the Shifters left us. They were only one family but they had the effect of an army. I grew close to the youngest son, Bramble. He is the same age as me. We haven't spoken since he ran away. I hope he's okay.
The people of my town don't fully understand the Pixies. Well, that's not true. They are just ignorant. They choose not to see what is happening right in front of them. My dad was taken by a Pixie and used as a blood tribute. Drank completely dry. My mum died trying to save him. It's just me and my brother now.
I push the stiff, disjointed door of our house open. It scrapes across the floor making a piercing screech echo around the walls.
Dillon is sat by the log fire, staring into it with his back to me.
"Successful?" he asks, not looking away.
"Two down," I reply, dropping my satchel on the table top.
"And how many more to go?" He finally turns round. His face is red from the warmth of the fire.
I sigh, "Not a clue."
"In a way, I hope there's still some out there." He picks himself up and crosses the room to me. The knees of his britches are black with dirt and there are two smudges of dirt down his shirt where he has clearly wiped his hands on himself. He brushes the remaining dust off my shoulders and back. I can feel it tangled in my hair but I can't be bothered picking it out.
"How do you mean?" I ask.
He flips open my satchel and takes a look inside, raising his eyebrows and nodding his head with satisfaction.
"Well, you are the main provider of this family. I don't get much for my squirrels and rabbits."
"True," I say with a smile to show that I am being in no way conceited. It was the truth and we both know it. Our parents passed away two years ago and with me being the eldest, I needed a way to be able to put food on the table. Collecting gold dust was an excellent way. And it also helped me channel the anger I have built up inside me after my parents lives were cruelly snatched away. "I'll jar it up and give is to Dr. Kelts tomorrow." I stretch out a yawn, "I'm so tired."
"Me too," Dillon replies in mid-yawn. "I thought I'd stay up until you got back though. To make sure you were okay."
We both strip down to our underclothes and dive under our covers. Our beds are placed on either side of the fire. Our dirty clothes lie in a pile between us.
"I'll wash them tomorrow," Dillon murmurs into his pillow, looking up at me. The light of the fire dances on his face, making his cheek bones look as sharp as glass.
"Okay." I smile with heavy lids and pull my thin cover further up my shoulders. My quiver and bow is placed securely under my bed. I always put them there. There is no way I'm going to let them take Dillon away from me too.
There is a crack in our shutter which streams a beam of light right into my face every morning. It's like my own little wake up call. I groan and flip my legs over the side of my bed. My eyes itch because I can feel the gold dust has made its way onto my eyelashes. As I flutter them, they rain down my face. I tip-toe to my closet and find myself a clean outfit. I shrug on a greyish shirt which I'm sure was once white, and a pair of dark britches. One of my toes pokes out of a hole in my sock but its gone numb with the cold so it doesn't bother me.
Dillon is still fast asleep as I check the cupboards for breakfast. I take out a bread roll, split it in two and place it on the table. A triangle slice of brie sits next to it. It's not much but I'll be able to buy something better for dinner once I've sold the gold dust.
"How long have you been up?" Dillon groans, stretching his arms over his head.
"About an hour," I reply, sticking my thumb into the table surface to collect the last crumbs of my half of the roll.
He sits up, rubs his eyes then pads over to the table. He plonks down on the seat opposite me and grabs the other half, spreading the rest of the brie onto it with a blunt knife.
"So, you go to Dr. Kelts and I'll wash the clothes. Then we can go to the market together and grab something for dinner?" he asks, spitting out crumbs all over himself.
"Sounds like a plan," I smile.
I pull on my soft leather jacket and head over to the counter where I have funnelled the mixture or dust and dirt into three jam jars. I place them carefully in satchel, separating them with two clothes so they don't clatter together then head for the door. I shove on my boots that sit beside it.
"I'll see you later," I turn back. He has the knife in his mouth, licking off the cheese.
"Bye," he replies then heads for the sink.
Before leaving, I quickly grab my hat and shove it on, tucking my hair into it so no one sees the gold dust that I can feel still roaming around in it.
If I got caught, it'd be all over. I have very few clients and I have built an absolute trust with each one of them. Because what I give them is extremely valuable. Yes, sure, people can brush the stuff off the floor but it would take them months to collect as much as I can in a night.
Pixies live among us. Everyone knows it. Nobody cares. When boys and men go missing, they think they've run away or assume the Shifters have come back and are taking them to spite us. They always thought that it was them who took the men. No matter how many times my family told them they were wrong. The Pixies are the ones we should fear, not the Shifters.
I push the door open to Dr.Kelts apothecary shop. The top corner of it knocks against a bell which chimes and brings his attention to me. He smiles and nods then turns back to the woman in front of the counter. She's small with dark hair. Streaks of silver run through it. I notice her slightly hunched back and instantly know who it is. Fiss. She works at the markets and sells a different kind of broth every day. I was planning on buying some after I got paid.
"This should help him," Dr.Kelts says, placing a comforting hand on her feeble shoulder.
She nods, pays and places a small bottle of something in her bag then turns round, finding me.
"Oh, hello dear. I didn't hear you come in," she says. No wonder. She's partially deaf.
"Hi Fiss," I smile and step to the side, allowing her to leave, "I'll be dropping by your stall later."
"Oh!" she gleams, "I'll see you later then dear."
I hold the door open for her as she wobbles out.
I push the door shut behind her and step up to the counter.
"How many have you got for me this time?" Dr. Kelts smiles.
"Two today." I smile and begin to take out the jars, placing them on the counter. I could lie and say more because there is no possible way he could work out how much dust comes from a Pixie. But trust is a two-way street. He quickly swipes them and places them on a shelf under the counter. I bundle the cloths and place them back in my satchel. The clink of coins brings my eyes back to the counter. Two gold coins and a dozen silver ones sit in a pile. My forehead wrinkles and I tap on the silvers.
"I said two, that's two gold," I begin to push the silvers back towards him but he places his hand on mine, stopping me. I look from his hairy knuckles to his face. There is a sombre look in his blue eyes.
"For your trouble," he says.
I smile, "It's no trouble."
"I fear for your safety, Aria. Out there in the woods alone-"
"I'm fine," I assure him.
"Okay, so, you don't want the tip?" He raises an eyebrow with a smile.
"No, no" I lift my hand a little, making his return to his side. "I'll take it." I grin and push the coins into a pile before cupping them and dropping them into a pocket in my satchel.
"I thought so," he laughs lightly.
"What's up with Fiss?" I ask.
"Her nephew's got a fever," he replies.
"Oh," I nod and turn to the door.
I look back.
"Why don't you bring Dillon into the woods with you? At least you won't be alone."
I smile, "I didn't say it wasn't dangerous."
He stumbles on his words as I open the door.
"Well...you be careful, Aria," he finally says.
"I'm always careful," I assure him and step out.
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