“Dionté, wake up!” hissed Darrell, shaking his brother’s shoulder.
Dionté groaned, his spinning head trying to regain bearings. Twisted, maroon trees and thick purple mist bulked his vision. He blinked rapidly, the image of shattered glass and torn metal flickering in his brain.
“What’s going on? Were we in a car crash?”
“Yeah. Can’t explain it, but we have to move,” said Darrell.
Dionté looked up at his brother for the first time. His once budding muscles suddenly bulged, threatening to pop his espresso, naked skin. Dionté examined himself, his own nakedness staring back. He snorted in amusement. Darrell smacked the back of his head, placing his forefinger sternly over his lips. Dionté rolled his eyes.
“What’s your problem?” he hissed back.
“Something’s out there,” he whispered.
Darrell stood protectively over his brother, his black eyes scanning the woods. Dionté yawned and stretched, already bored. A growl froze him in mid yawn. Darrell crouched, and Dionté scooted behind him. He wasn’t sure how his brother would protect him, but he had complete faith. Bushes rustled. Darrell pinpointed the movement, facing the danger head on. It flashed past as quickly as the accident. Black lunged towards them, yet Darrell simultaneously leapt at it. His bare hands gripped the panther’s mouth, tearing the animal in two. Dionté shuddered, yet blinked wide-eyed at his brother.
“How did you do that?”
Darrell’s lost eyes tore away from the dead animal, and a huge grin crossed his face.
“I feel different. Strong. Really strong! Don’t you?”
Dionté shook his head.
“I don’t feel no different.”
“Give it a minute. It’ll come.”
Dionté waited, thrusting his hands into the air impatiently.
“You lie,” he scorned.
Darrell shrugged. “I dunno. I know I changed. I feel like that Hulk guy except I’m not green and angry.”
Dionté snorted again, the giggles rolling in his throat.
“If you superman, do something mind blowing.”
“For real? I just ripped a panther in half!”
Dionté bowed in sarcasm.
“Excuse me, superman. If you so strong, pick up that tree over there.”
Dionté pointed to the thickest oak. Darrell placed his hands over the trunk and bent into a squat. His eyes glanced over the tree, halting his action.
“I can’t,” he said.
“Told you so!”
Darrell shook his head, his narrowing eyes studying the tree.
“Not that. I can’t kill this tree.”
Dionté snickered, thinking his brother was pulling one over on him.
“It’s a living thing, look,” Darrell clarified.
Dionté leaned in. A vibrant shade of blue trickled underneath the bark, pulsing up and down the tree. He reached his hand out, his fingers grazing the red bark. The trunk shivered slightly, and Dionté jumped back with a shudder.
“Creepy!” he yelped.
Darrell continued to run his hand over the bark, studying the phenomenon.
“What is this place?” he breathed.
“Centerra,” sang a tiny voice.
The boys whipped about, Darrell assuming a protective stance over his little brother. The voice gleefully giggled, fluttering into view. Her flowing red hair trickled down her shoulders, her royal blue, spotted butterfly wings flapped elegantly before their faces.
“Hello, I’m Trinket,” said the pixie.
“Dionté,” grinned the boy.
“This is my brother Darrell.”
Trinket clapped her hands.
“It’s so lovely to meet you!” she exclaimed. “Would you care for some clothes?”
Darrell and Dionté looked from Trinket to each other uncertainly.
“I guess,” shrugged Dionté.
“Lovely! Right away!” she said.
In a whirl she spun around them, finishing their attire in seconds. They stared down at themselves, camouflage shorts and black shirts staring back at them.
“Thanks,” the brothers muttered.
“You’re welcome, it’ll only cost you a bit of pixie dust,” she said, fluttering expectantly in front of their noses.
They wrinkled their faces at her in confusion, Dionté shifting uncomfortably at the turn in conversation.
“I’m sorry, costs us what?”
“Pixie dust. Don’t worry; you make it. It’s part of your magic. Just put your hand over me.”
Darrell continued to stare, so Dionté lifted his hand, hovering his palm over her wings. Blue and ginger flakes drifted playfully from his fingertips, sinking like melting snow into her wings. Dionté gasped in awe. When the dust finished falling, he lowered his hand, looking at his brother expectantly. Darrell, transfixed, merely looked at her wings, where the dust had vanished. Dionté nudged him, once, twice, jabbing him harshly a third time. Darrell muttered a half apology, his hand lifting sheepishly over Trinket. Long after the dust ceased to drift from his fingers, he continued gazing. Trinket coughed uncomfortably. His eyes returned to her, and he lowered his hand.
“Thanks for the dust. Just call if you need me for anything else.”
“How?” asked Dionté.
“Like this,” she said, her lips cupping to produce a three-note whistle.
“Another fairy may beat me to it, but I’ll try my hardest.”
“What if you’re too far away?”
Trinket pressed her hands to her mouth and giggled.
“Silly, we can hear for miles and miles.”
“Oh,” said the brothers together, cocking back their heads in a similar fashion.
Trinket twitched her wings, preparing to take off, when Darrell stopped her.
“Wait! Can we pay you to show us around? We don’t know anything about this place. We’re going to need some help.”
Trinket beamed widely at him.
“Absolutely,” she said sweetly.
“What would you like to see first?”
Darrell paused, his eyes scanning their surroundings.
“We’ll need water.”
“Well that’s easy,” sang the fairy. “The river is close.”
She fluttered in front of them, and the boys followed. Trinket jabbered on and on about plants, pointing some odd looking ones out to them. Porifera, a yellow spongy fungus grew along fallen trunks. Darrell paused, picking some and tasting it. He nodded as the plant melted his mouth, holding some out for Dionté. Dionté crinkled his nose in distaste, but Darrell shook his hand, insisting. Laboriously Dionté took it, unwilling to try new things. The sweet and salty plant tingled his tongue, and he blushed at his brother, feeling silly for acting picky.
Rushing water met their ears. Darrell jogged ahead, eager to find the source. The tree line broke, a fat river swelling before their eyes. Darrell jumped in, the waters slipping over his body, bubbles spinning over him. He broke the surface with a whoop. Dionté jumped in after him, the boys splashing and wrestling each other. A polite cough from Trinket stopped Darrell mid tackle.
“Sorry Trinket,” he said, reaching his hand over her.
Once she was paid, her stern composure softened.
“Do you need me right now, or are you going to continue to play for a bit?”
Dionté jumped on his brother’s shoulders, trying with all his might to push him under. Darrell reached back and yanked him off, tossing him a few feet upstream. Dionté floated back with the current, the boys drowning in laughter. Trinket folded her arms.
“We’re gonna mess around for a bit,” said Darrell.
“You’ll whistle if you need me?”
Dionté struggled back onto his brother’s shoulders, locking his arms around Darrell’s neck. Once again, his body flew upstream. Trinket coughed again, unamused.
“Yeah,” said Darrell, hardly able to speak through his laughter, “we’ll whistle.”
Trinket fluttered off with nose in the air. Dionté splashed his brother, and Darrell barreled into him, the two sinking fast. When they surfaced, they sputtered endlessly.
“See how far you can throw me!” said Dionté.
Darrell lifted his brother with one arm, launching him twenty feet upstream. Dionté bobbed back, awestruck.
“What else can you do?” he asked.
“Pick up a boulder!” said Dionté, pointing to a pile mere feet away.
Darrell waded over to a cluster of moss-covered stones. He selected a roughly cube shaped one, squatting and placing hands at the base. With a fluid lift of his legs, the boulder rose into the air. Darrell cocked it back onto his shoulder, turning towards his brother.
“This thing is light,” he said.
“Fine. Throw it.”
Darrell faced downstream, planting his right foot behind him for support. Coiling his arms back, he cut the boulder through the air, sending it several feet downstream. Dionté whooped and clapped his hands.
“What else can you throw?” he asked.
Darrell crouched, shoving his brother behind his body.
“What now?” whined Dionté.
Darrell raised his fingers to his lips. Dionté pushed his lower lip out and folded his arms. A snapping twig sucked his lip back in. Peeking out from his brother’s back, he scanned the banks. Orange slinked out from the bushes. The tiger stretched its front paws, widening its jaws in a yawn. Dionté nudged Darrell, urging him to rip the predator in two. Instead, his brother stood frozen.
Dionté stared fearfully at the tiger. It stepped up on a rock, licking its chops and scraping its claws against the green moss. Dionté’s heart pulsed in his throat. The tiger stopped, turning its head towards them. Dionté’s breath croaked. Its ears rotated; its yellow eyes peered into Dionté. Her massive paw took one step forward. Her head dipped; her eyes boring into him. He gave his brother another nudge. His stiff body refused to react. The tiger lifted her head, her mouth almost seeming to grin.
“Dionté,” she said, “you’re finally here.”