Getting this in nearly at the last second, but I had to join the fun! Below is my story submission and first, some supplemental art for it, including character design and details on how Gnomes are in Dru. As much fun as the story was to write, it was a super fun challenge and an honor to come up with Gnomish design for this world.
Now without further ado…
~ For Fairy Love, a “Chronicles of Dru” tale~
Navaie the Elf Witch left Elf Port well over a decade ago, and had no intention of ever going back.
She lived in Cliffside City now, which suited her better. Much, much better. Her shop was small, but provided a comfortable life from sale of her custom spells – mostly hexes, minor charms.
It was a simple way to live. Quiet. Alone. She liked it.
That morning, she began the day like any other. She grumblingly got out of bed, braided her long white hair – dyed for effect – polished her spectacles and dressed in the many dark robes that (she hoped) gave her that extra air of powerful menace. Then she breakfasted, crumbling dried vegetable jerky between her perfect teeth as she looked over the shop and finally switched the sign on the door to ‘Open.’
That, however, was where the day’s normalcy ended.
It was raining, hard. Hours passed with no customers whatsoever. She sighed, nearly ready to leave the shop for a coffee after only an hour (the Goblin couple down the street made surprisingly delicious espresso).
Almost in that same moment, there finally came a customer. A knock sounded at the door. It was low- her height, so probably a human child. Hardly any other Elves lived here, after all.
“It’s open!” she shouted.
She heard a thud on the other side, a straining, then another knock – quieter this time. Cursing under her breath, Navaie got up to see what the trouble was.
A biting comment died on her lips as she looked slightly down. Before her stood a short, plump woman with deerhide-brown skin, hair the color of a dark woodland, and wide green eyes. She was at least three inches shorter than the Witch herself, and her ears – though also pointed – were shorter than an Elf’s. A very thick, very heavy satchel was loosely strapped across her back. She clung to it with both arms, as if she’d fall over if she let go. Her clothes were more earth tones, many shades of brown and greys, the style cut rounder than her slightly pointed features. All except the hat – a tall green and brown cone sat cockeyed on her head, raising her apparent height by about a foot. Somehow, it maintained its vertical stature – almost prideful in the downpour.
It took a moment for her to put two and two together. “You’re a Gnome. Ah. You do exist.”
She huffed, and nodded, her eyes blinking in a desperate fashion. “Yes, even in the rain. May I come in?”
Prunella had started her morning in a very different fashion.
Not wanting to waste any of the money she’d saved, she’d slept outside the city in a cavern and began her hike to the Witch’s shop as soon as daylight broke.
She had journeyed far across all the lands of Dru – well, except the Plains of Decay – in search of the magic she needed. She’d been gone from home nearly six months. Not that she had a home anymore, since she’d sold her hovel too. Her village had been very, very confused, but she couldn’t explain, not in a way they’d understand.
She just knew, in her heart, that it would be worth it once she had what she needed.
“For Milis,” she smiled to herself as the Elf Witch finally let her in.
Navaie eyed her suspiciously, but finding unexpected compassion, she pulled out a stool for the girl and walked across the shop to a small kitchen alcove, quickly setting a kettle on the stove.
“Thank you,” Prunella said, setting herself and her bag down with a soft thud and hard thunk, respectively.
“What can I do for you?” Navaie asked, still keeping her distance and back turned.
The Gnome drew herself up to sit straight. She reached up to set her hat back to rights -including a large leaf that had actually been tucked behind her ear and ended up so plastered against the hat that it looked like part of it. “My name is Prunella, of the Slightly-Puce-Mushroom Village of the Gnomes of the Great Forest of the Land of Eledus.”
Navaie turned around and blinked at her, half surprised, half impressed. “Well that’s a mouthful.”
“Yes. I seek magic to make myself smaller.”
Though being very short of stature herself, Navaie almost snorted. A deep breath to set her composure, the moment passed, and she was able to simply quirk an eyebrow. “Aren’t you small enough already?”
Prunella blushed indignantly. It made her look greyer. “We’re taller than you, you know, with our hats! It has always been so!”
“Only because you HAVE to wear them to be taller than us!” she sniped back. “Your folk are always so foolish in the stories. I can hardly believe you’re real – do you all hide out in that forest?”
“Well, yes, but – “
“And do you really live in holes and tunnels under the trees?”
“We build fine homes under there, and the trees don’t mind!”
They glared at each other, each suddenly enraged by an ancient feud neither of them really had any idea about – and realized that fact at the same time, moments later. They softened.
Prunella sighed. “Okay, yes, we hide in our forest and we keep to ourselves. But I know that you Elves live mostly in that big city on the sea, right? And since you’re here….. I bet you’re an outsider. Wouldn’t you want to help another outsider?”
“Not that it’s any of your business,” Navaie snapped again, then reeled her emotions back in. “But, why? Are you an outsider?”
She blushed even deeper, looking at her muddied boots as she went on. “I seem to have fallen in love. With a fairy.”
“……..Oh. Okay. What does that have to do with being small?” The kettle whistled, and she swiveled quickly to pour the tea. As she turned back to hand her guest one dainty, wooden cup (engraved with frolicking unicorns atop the heads of trolls – the only heirloom she had brought with her from Elf Port), she noticed that Prunella’s blush had turned into a stonier, angrier shade. Embarrassed and misunderstood.
The Gnome took the cup, hands shaking, and nodded her thanks. But her frustration made her voice oddly even and cold, like stone. “Well, she’s a BUTTERfairy. Even smaller.” Setting the tea down on the floor, she stood, gesturing up and down her round form to indicate her own size. “How would we live?”
Navaie tried not to smile. Her guest’s irritation was….endearing, yes, but to say so would only make her angrier. Instead she asked, “Can’t you find someone better suited?”
She huffed. “Why would I want to do that? I love her.” Without waiting to any prompting, she launched into a description of that emotion, leading her host wonder if all Gnomes were this open and verbose. “My Milis – well, she’s not MY Milis yet, but anyway, she’s the kindest, most excited person I’ve ever met. She doesn’t say much, but ever since she moved to Slightly-Puce-Mushroom she’s always so helpful and nice to everyone, even the humans nearby, and she seems so happy to just exist, so very in-wonder about everything about life. Sometimes I see her staring off all lonely, like something awful happened to her…” – She trailed off, and Navaie opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted as the girl started again – “But she never chooses to STAY in that loneliness! And she’s just so beautiful,” her blushed deepened again. “Her hair is like newly grown moss, and her skin is like lovely grey pebbles in a stream, and her eyes and her wings are all sorts of pink, like roses, and rose quartz, and -”
“Okay okay,” the Elf finally interrupted. This was too much. Too private. “I get it.”
Prunella sighed, happier now in the vision of her beloved. She sat back down and sipped at her tea, nodding again in gratitude. “….Can you help me, then?”
Navaie drained her own cup, and stared at the leaves in the bottom, considering. “Perhaps. What have you tried so far?”
“Oh. How did you kn-”
“Someone as dedicated to their task as you does not skimp on options,” she said curtly, her ‘imposing’ persona drawn back up around herself like a mantle.
Prunella gulped. “Well, I’ve been all over. No Wizards in Eledus could help me, so I went looking for a genie, but I found they’re all attached to the banks, and I couldn’t afford one. The banker was nice enough to buy the rest of my goods, and my services as his housekeeper for a week, but that still wasn’t enough. He suggested I find a Witch – transformation magic, you know? I asked around and people said you’re the best.”
She felt herself puff up inside. That was true, though she was more renowned for lesser magics. The fact that this Gnome had found that out anyway was noteworthy.
“You’re right to come to me, Miss Prunella,” she answered. “I have transformation magic.”
Her face brightened immeasurably.
“But I’m not sure if I can apply it to you. This magic is usually only used on the caster.”
Her face fell. She scrunched up her eyes against a well of disappointment. No – she hadn’t come this far to fail, again.
Such raw emotion, and control of it, softened the Elf Witch’s countenance once more. Why was this girl getting to her so much? She scoffed at herself, then asked, “Have you spoken to your Milis about this? Maybe she has another solution.”
That deep stone flush of color returned to Prunella’s face, but she relaxed, her despair clearly turning to calm sadness. “Actually…no. She doesn’t know how I feel yet.”
If she had had any tea left, she would have spat it across the room. “Surely you are joking.”
“No, I’m not. The only thing I’ve gotten her to tell me about her past is that her people were once harmed by a great force, simply for caring about one another. She cares about me – about all of us, really – but she still keeps us at a distance.” She stood again, setting her empty teacup carefully on the floor. “Please. I know she won’t be able to even consider accepting me without something big like this. I have to show her I’m serious.”
Now, Navaie scrunched up her face. This was a bad idea. A very very bad idea. It wouldn’t even work. She was sure of it.
“Okay,” she sighed. “How much can you pay?”
Prunella brightened, leaning down to hoist the heavy satchel toward the woman’s feet. She opened it to reveal all manner of coin – drachmas, gold, silver, even some precious gems – simply brimming to full. Navaie gawked as she looked up at her, all seriousness. “I’m not sure exactly how much is in here. But I’ve sold everything I have. Please say it’s enough.”
Navaie shook her head back and forth, like shaking a rattle, to pull herself together. Briefly she wondered exactly how the Gnome had come by that much money – even though it wouldn’t have bought her a genie, it was still MUCH more than she expected. And how had she avoided being robbed on the way here? She waved the thoughts aside.
“Yes, I believe so,” she settled on. “Sit back down. We’ll begin.”
The magic – if it was going to work at all – required that its charge be tested. When Navaie explained this to Prunella, she blanched, assuming that meant she would have to travel the world all over again.
At that, the Elf Witch laughed, “No no, child, I can test you from here.” She stepped forward to stand above her and raised her arms above the Gnome’s head. Her robes fanned out for form a sort of curtain around her customer. “I am going to ask you a series of questions. Answer honestly – the magic will know if you are lying. At the end, we will know if you are worthy of such a gift, and we can try.”
Prunella gulped. “Okay.” This was daunting – different than she expected, and what if it was all for show? But she would do whatever the Witch asked in order to change, for Milis. She closed her eyes, focused on her love’s face in her heart and tried to still her mind.
“What would you do, for love of this woman?” Navaie began. “Would you travel to the top of Snowcap Mountain – crossing the vasts deserts of Umohaw, risking your death by the Worms and the Pit, and to get there, crossing the Plains of Decay by yourself – to offer your service to the largest, scariest dragon you could find, for a hundred years or more?”
“Yes,” she answered, without hesitation.
“Would you spend a year in the deepest, darkest vaults of the bankers, counting their monies, checking and double-checking, for no pay of your own?”
“Would you try to feed the mer-folk sushi?”
Navaie expected a laugh, which would break concentration – and thus was a challenge within the challenge – but Prunella only scrunched up her nose in slight confusion. “I don’t know what that is. But yes.”
“Would you record – in painful detail – the history of our land, researching for years and years, all the way back to the first King?”
“Would you sneak into the Fairy Dome, pretend to BE a fairy and fight to the death?”
“Would you clip the toenails of 77 lepers and hide them in King Dru’s bedsheets?”
That almost earned a laugh, but she watched the Gnome force it down, her lips set in a firm and serious line. “Yes.”
“Would you offer up ALL the magic in our land, robbing others of it, to cure a Leerg of their isolation?”
She opened up her mouth, clearly about to agree, then her eyes snapped open and she looked imploringly at the Witch. Navaie locked her gaze with her own. This was a test, true and pure, and she would not give any leeway.
“This is strong magic, child,” she said, quietly. “It needs to know if you are strong, and serious, too.”
Prunella nodded, and took a moment to think. When she looked up again her eyes were full of tears. “No,” she whispered back, heartbreak clear in every part of her being. “I couldn’t do that. It wouldn’t be fair.”
The Witch nodded back, and broke into a smile as she felt the magic’s hum – positive and bright, wash through her. There was a shifting of the air with that, which Prunella could see too, and she sat up straighter in surprise.
“I passed?” she asked, almost smiling. “But, how?”
She took a step back, reaching out to help the girl to her feet. Prunella’s slight smile broke into a relieved grin as she said, “Yes. The magic knows you are True, and sees the goodness in your heart. You are worthy of this gift… if it is possible.”
“Okay.” She bounced. “What now?”
Navaie rolled up her sleeves and strode over to the door, locked it, and set her sign to Closed. “Now we try.”
The Elf Witch had brought many tomes of magical information with her from Elf Port, and kept many herbs, essences and crystals in stock, both for commission and her own use. She even had a working knowledge of Rune magic, though she wouldn’t consider herself a practitioner.
She used every bit of it. Everything she knew, everything she could.
Hours passed. She poured magic onto Prunella, then through herself and onto Prunella, then around her instead – as if it would seep in. She tried transforming herself while holding the Gnome’s hand, in case it really was that simple and no one had ever thought to try it. She worked until they were both exhausted and nauseous.
Nothing worked. It couldn’t be done.
“…I’m sorry,” she finally sighed, moving back once again to let Prunella sink, defeated, onto the stool.
She leaned her plump elbows onto her knees and held her chin in her hands, her features wobbling, eyes clenched shut.
While she cried, Navaie went back to her small kitchen and set about making more tea. She pulled out some cakes, too, in case either of them grew past the nausea. Magic was hard and sickening work, but they would need replenishment eventually.
When she turned around, she found that Prunella had already composed herself and was putting her hat back to rights once more, kneeling to empty her satchel of the coin.
“Now wait a minute – ” the Elf noted, stepping forward to stop her. Any other day, she would have taken the money. But after this trial, and failure… it just didn’t feel right. Not to take all of it, anyway.
Prunella slid it toward her, her features resolute despite the sorrow clearly set underneath. “You must. I know you worked very hard for me today, and I believe that if it WAS possible, you would have done it. I -” she choked, then shook her head to clear more tears and tried to set the Witch with a firm gaze. “You must. I AM grateful.”
Again impressed with this odd creature, Navaie set her own solemn gaze, and nodded. “All right. But please, take a third of it back for your travels home. And I will pack you some food.”
At the word home, the Gnome snorted, but she just nodded her thanks and set about splitting up that sum. While she did, the Elf turned back again to put some tea in a thermos and pack up the sandwiches she had set out. Images of her own past, smiling faces and other broken hearts, flooded her mind.
Maybe that’s why, she mused. Maybe she reminds me of me, before.
The clinking of coins stopped, and she felt Prunella tap her on the shoulder just as she turned around again, food bundled securely in her hands. The satchel sat more comfortably on the girl’s shoulders, now, and she stood as tall and proud as her hat, even with the sadness in her eyes. Deep as a forest.
“I’m glad to have met you, Prunella,” Navaie said honestly. “I wish you safe travels, and good luck, with your love.”
The Gnome mumbled her thanks, tears welling up again at the mention of that emotion. She gripped the Witch’s hand in thanks, then spun in a hurry to leave.
“Do not lose hope,” Navaie heard herself call after her, quietly and unexpectedly. But the girl was already gone.
“Stupid. Stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid,” Prunella mumbled.
Despite her wish to delay her homecoming, her trip across the land had taken just as much time as it physically could have, and felt like it went twice as quickly. She had chosen to save her money again, ever practical, just in case.
“Maybe cousin Milkvetch will sell me back my house,” she sighed. “In installments.”
Her heart sank again as she rounded a bend in the forest path, and the small, subtle markers of the Slightly-Puce-Mushroom Village came into view.
“Not that it would really solve anything.” She stopped in her tracks. “….Maybe I should go become a leper and guide people across the Wastes.”‘
She really, truly almost turned to leave again, when she heard a high-pitched cry. A blur of pink, grey and green shot out at her from a nearby tree, and if she had gotten her wish, she would have been bowled over by fairy affection.
As it was, Milis hugged the side of her face with tiny grey arms and beamed up at her. Through the pain in her heart, she smiled, and reached up to cup her safely there.
“You came back!” the Butterfairy’s voice tinkled, relief and delight all over.
“You – you noticed,” Prunella stuttered. She held out her hand, carrying her love’s small form to hold her out at arm’s length, her fingers interlocking to support her better.
She swatted her thumb, then flittered up to stand, hands on hips, and glare at the Gnome. “Of COURSE I did!” You – you…..” her voice sputtered, and she shook her head, long moss-green hair flowing out around her as her rosey wings quivered.
She stamped. “Ow!” Prunella cursed, though it hadn’t really hurt. “What, Milis? What is it?”
She felt something cold and wet slide down her own face. She was crying. Hmm. She tried to ignore it – but her beloved had not, and at the sight of tears, she started crying too. She quietly, easily lifted back into the air and floated with unimaginable grace up to Prunella’s face. She reached out and gingerly touched the tip of her friend’s nose, pressed against it with both hands.
“What is it, Prunie?”
Prunella bunched her hands in her own skirt, grasping, desperate not to have to do anything anymore.
“It doesn’t matter. It didn’t work.”
“But…..what did you do?” Gods, she looked SO sad. “I heard you sold your home to that weird old Milkvetch. I thought you were really leaving…and without even saying goodbye…”
She sighed. What else could she do? Bracing herself, she reached up to cradle the fairy below her face, in case the shock of this would be too much. She forced herself to meet her wide, pink eyes.
“I am in love with you, Milis. I have been since you came to our village. I went to find magic to make myself small, like you, so we could be together if you wanted me, too.” She breathed, deep, and kept going – if she filled the silence with words, it would postpone her rejection. “I mean, only if you wanted, and I know it’s hard for you to get close to anyone, so I thought, ‘Hey, a grand gesture’ you know, to prove my feelings, and I know I’m -”
She found herself cut off as a beaming Milis fluttered down to press a soft, small kiss to her bottom lip, pursed mid-word. She wrapped her arms around her lips to hold them shut, and looked up at her, beautifully serious and delighted.
“I love you too, you big idiot,” she stated, so matter-of-fact. “You should have said something instead of selling your house and running away.”
“Twoowee?” she forced out, relief and unimaginable joy bursting inside her.
“Truly.” Milis kissed her again, and floated back to hover above her nose, letting her love breathe and reach up to take her in her hands again.
They grinned at each other.
“But what will we do, about this?” Prunella gestured up and down her own height – though somehow she found she didn’t care so much, anymore.
“That is no matter,” Milis stated. “Our hearts do, that’s all. We’ll figure it out as we go.”
Prunella closed her eyes, held her lady close and let out a breath as if she’d been holding it for months and months. She hadn’t failed – not truly. Milis loved her anyway.
“Okay,” she agreed. “We will.”
Far away, in Cliffside City, a white-haired Elf Witch laughed into the vision in her Bairdy-made crystal ball. She hadn’t been spying– no, she was just curious. And she wasn’t grinning, she was just relieved that the Gnome had gotten her True wish after all, since she insisted on spending all that money.
Navaie sat back against her pillows, the comfort of her room now even brighter with his news.
In moments she found herself gazing out her bedside window, looking north-west. Toward Elf Port.
Those old and “unwelcome” memories swam before her gaze again…
She thought of her small home, of her serviceable shop below, and sturdy life she had built for herself here as she had run from her people and her past.
The simpleness. The quiet. The loneliness.
Maybe she didn’t like it so much, after all.
She balanced the crystal ball on her steepled fingers, peered over her spectacles. She gave in.
“Shining Crystal, Shining Bright. Show me my husband….”