The boiling summer heat could not stop Myra from running down the hill. At this point, she had been chasing Arthur for too long, and she had to catch him before he could outrun her. He had done so on more than one occasion, and now it was her turn to win the game.
They were playing on their favorite spot on the castle grounds—a great hill that dipped down towards a little brook, and then stretched beyond onto a forest, and far out into the English countryside. Since the day that Myra, and her baby sister, Tabitha, had arrived here from their old village cottage, this had become the place where Myra could finally live out a childhood, after the horrid life she lived in her old home. And she did so, by running through the grass after her best friend, Arthur—King Arthur, to be precise.
It was the fourth night of July, in which the sun was just going below the horizon, and the night life was settling into being. The sky remained the deep twilight blue, and the trees were green silhouettes speckling the background. It was about the time when mosquitoes would be flying looking for a meal, but that was the least of Myra and Arthur's worries.
All across the hill, little yellow lights were sparkling like fairies. They turned on and off so frequently, in so many different locations, it was like the grass itself was shining. They lit up the summer flowers, and forced the two friends to different places on the hill.
Myra jumped up, and caught one of the little lights in her hand. She unfurled her fingers, and saw the little bug in her hand. It had a pink-red head, with two hard slabs covering its abdomen. Underneath the wings, a part of its abdomen glowed yellow, lighting up Myra's skin.
She remembered these. She used to catch them on the summer nights her father came home early from his blacksmithing in those bygone days.
Lightning bugs. Fireflies.
"Myra!" she heard Arthur cry. "Look! I've caught one!"
"Me too, Arthur!" Myra called out, running towards her friend. They met in the center of the hill, opening up their hands to present their prizes. Indeed, there too was a tiny firefly resting on Arthur's palm, its light coming on and off.
"Nice catch, Arthur," Myra remarked.
Arthur laughed. "I never knew you could catch these things like you could catch fish," he said. "They're kind of pretty."
"Kind of?" Myra said. "They're beautiful. You know, how they light up the grass, and are so easy to catch? I used to do this all the time when I was a little girl. We caught them in jars, and then used them to light up the inside of our cottage."
"Didn't you ever let them go?" Arthur wanted to know.
"Of course we did," Myra answered. "Eventually." She whispered the last part.
Arthur's eyes widened, and he looked down once more at the firefly in his hand. "Oh," he said lowly. "You mean you could catch a jarful of these lightning bugs, and they could light up an entire room?"
"Well, not exactly," said Myra. "But they certainly were wonderful to look at. I mean, look." She pointed towards thee hill, where the fireflies were glowing right after one another, once more creating that sparkling illusion. "If one glows, another glows. And they just continue one after the other."
"I see it," Arthur noted, pointing out the lights moving across the grass. "I didn't know I was missing out on so much…you know, before I was king."
"Thank goodness you have me, then," said Myra.
They were both quiet, as they watched the fireflies doing their dances over the hill. Myra snuck a glance at her best friend, noticing a smile creeping across his face. Her heart glowed; she was proud to help Arthur reclaim the childhood he didn't quite have, thanks to his being a kitchen boy to his foster father and brother, Sir Ector and Sir Kay of the Forest Sauvage.
Myra laughed, shaking her head so that her brown hair swished out at her shoulders. "Well, what are we standing around for?" she asked. "Let's keep going!" And then, she took off down the hill, flinging her hand so that the firefly she caught took to the wind quickly. Arthur followed swiftly, though he slipped and fell as he was going down the slope.
Myra whipped around towards Arthur, breaking into a run for him. "Hey, are you all right?" she said, helping him up.
"I think…I can still catch fireflies as well as you can," he said, chuckling.
"Oh, because that would be the end of life as we knew it if we couldn't reach for them," Myra joked.
"Don't say that," said Arthur. "Life's too short to give up on doing this!"
Myra laughed again, taking off after her friend. That was what she admired about Arthur—he could rub off anything, and keep going as if nothing happened. Well, he was king—it was essential that he move on in order to ensure a good future for his kingdom of Camelot.
Minutes passed, and Arthur and Myra snatched the fireflies in handfuls. They could not stop laughing, as they rolled through the grass, just pretending that this wonderful summer night wasn't going to end. It was Myra's favorite time of year in the castle, because she, Arthur, and Tabitha rolled across the hills, running after each other, and relishing in being together. Myra, especially, enjoyed it, because she had never known a friendship like the one she had with him. It felt good to have someone besides herself that she could count on, and she hoped she could keep it like that for a long, long time.
Finally, when the blue in the sky had deepened tenfold, and all day life had vanished from all around, Arthur said, "I wonder what it would be like to be a firefly."
Myra pondered Arthur's words, looking at the three fireflies she had nestled in her unfurling fist. She tried to imagine herself with a body that could light up, and with wings. What if…?
"What if we asked Merlin to help us?" Myra suggested. "I don't think he'd be able to resist an opportunity to teach us something with fireflies."
"He never could," Arthur agreed. "C'mon, let's go!"
They both raced through the grass, and towards the castle, where there was a side door. Once inside, they charged towards the library, where Merlin was sure to be.
"Arthur, Myra!" the wizened old man exclaimed, putting down his book. "Back so soon? I expected you would be outside until the mosquitoes ate you alive."
"Speaking of bugs," said Arthur, "Merlin, we have something we want to ask you."
Merlin leaned forward in interest.
"We would like to become fireflies," Arthur said.
Merlin adjusted his spectacles, sitting back in his chair, though still keeping his fixed gaze on his two students. "And I suppose you would just like to go for a little flight, you two?" he asked, knowingly.
"Yes," answered Myra, stepping up beside Arthur.
Merlin smoothed back his white hair underneath his blue cap, and played with the ends of his mustache, as if in thought. Finally, he grinned. "I don't see the harm in it," he said. "As long as I can come with you. I will not interfere with your fun, as long as I can give you some advice in this endeavor."
"Most definitely," Myra said excitedly.
"Come then," said Merlin, standing from his chair. He took his wand from beside the table, following Arthur and Merlin outside the library.
When they were outside, Merlin instructed Arthur and Myra to stand together with him, and he waved his wand above their heads, before he had to think about remembering the spell.
Myra and Arthur felt the magical sparkles falling upon them, taking the form of a swirling whirlwind, as they were shrunk down to miniature size. And then, in a puff of pink smoke, they could feel the transformation happening in the blink of an eye.
As the space cleared, Myra shook her head, but was shocked to discover a pair of antennae waving in her face. She twitched them, surprised to find that the motion was simple as moving an arm or leg. The same way with the four extra legs she garnered. Myra's heart jumped, realizing what she had become, but she felt excited, feeling the fluttering wings at her back.
In front of her, she noticed Arthur and Merlin. Arthur's wings and head were an orange-yellow color, and Merlin was blue, with his bushy white eyebrows and spectacles remaining. Myra looked behind her at her wings, noticing that her wings were a pinkish red.
"Wow," Myra breathed. "I'm used to your magic, Merlin, but I'm not used to being in different forms like this!"
"All in good time, Myra," said Merlin. "You'll find that taking on different bodily changes will be a big part of your adolescence. I'm merely here to help you."
"Well, this is wonderful!" Arthur exclaimed. "Look at how big the world is. And we're flying!"
"Surely you remember the feeling from when I turned you into a sparrow," said Merlin with a wink.
"Yes, I do," Arthur replied. "But it's a whole different thing being a bug like this."
"We mustn't dally for too long," said Merlin. "Come, let's go for a little flight."
Merlin flew forward, carried by four iridescent wings that winked in the coming moonlight. Myra glanced behind herself at her own pinkish red wings, marveling at the feeling of being suspended in midair. When she looked at the ground, which felt like miles and miles below her, she squeaked.
"Myra, don't be scared," said Arthur. "Follow Merlin."
Myra shoved herself forward, though still a little awkward with her wings. She could feel them flapping vigorously, and she trusted herself enough to stay in flight. But she had a dropping feeling in her stomach, afraid she might make a mistake, and indeed fall away from her friends.
Myra felt a scratchy sensation along her arm. She looked down, and saw another firefly limb taking hers. She glanced upward, noticing Arthur taking her.
"Don't think about falling," he said. "Don't worry, you're doing great!"
"Follow me!" Merlin yelled back. With a forceful shove of their wings, both Arthur and Myra flew off after their teacher, as other fireflies winked their lights in response.
Myra took note of the glowing lights. The fireflies flying closest to her and her friends were flashing their lights more rapidly, as if in excitement at seeing some new lightning bugs in this part of the hill. Myra noticed Merlin blinking his light in their direction, nodding his head in acknowledgement.
"Merlin, what are you doing?" Arthur asked, pointing at his teacher's mannerisms.
"Fireflies speak to each other with their lights, my boy," Merlin explained. "In many ways, it can be thought of like our previous encounter with the squirrels. They attract their mates with their lights, and choose them so that they can make children."
Arthur grimaced, his firefly limbs going stiff as sticks. "I'd really…rather not think about that day, Merlin," he said.
Myra knew this story—of the day Merlin had transformed himself and Arthur into squirrels for a lesson. A female squirrel had her eye caught on Arthur in his squirrel form, and had become instantly smitten with him. Arthur had fought and fought against her advances, but in the end, she was entirely unsuccessful, in spite of the fact that she had saved him from the jaws of a hungry wolf.
And yet, she couldn't help but laugh.
Arthur whirled around towards her. "What is so funny?" he wanted to know.
"Nothing you'd want to know about," Myra said, slyly nudging him ahead. "Go on Arthur. Try winking your light. Maybe the pretty firefly ladies will come flocking to you."
"I'd advise you to put such an idea out of your mind," Merlin said before Arthur could protest the idea. "You lack the know-how of doing so in the first place."
Arthur glared at Myra, who only shrugged in response.
Merlin shook his head, starting forward once more. "We are not out here to test the boundaries of female attraction," he told them. "Merely to see the world from a new and different perspective."
Merlin dove down towards the ground, so that he almost disappeared beneath the grass blades. Arthur and Myra followed him at once, coming behind him in single file.
It was like an obstacle course, diving between the blades. They popped up from every which way, so the group had to angle their wings in any given direction to avoid getting stopped in flight. Merlin was flying pretty fast, and he wasn't blinking his light fast enough, so it was tenfold more difficult for his students to follow him.
And then suddenly, as if they had in fact appeared by magic, some tall, thick stalks came into view, forcing Arthur and Myra to halt before they could be smacked to the ground. But their wings were flapping so fast after so many minutes in flight, that neither of them could find a way to stop properly. Myra collided with the stalk face-first, pulling back with her wings to observe what on earth she was looking at.
Standing several times taller than the average lightning bug, were some white flowers, planted like tall trees compared to Arthur and Myra's sizes. It looked as though they were reaching the sky, with their leaves blocking the coming moonlight from view. Between them, Arthur and Myra spotted some lights blinking, but neither of them could see a pair of white eyebrows nor wire-rimmed spectacles.
"Merlin?" Myra called out, even though she could tell he wasn't there.
"Where did he go?" Arthur asked.
Myra shook her head, uncertain. "Well, we know for sure that he isn't around here. I don't see a firefly with his white hair or spectacles."
"Then…what should we do?"
Myra was silent for a time. So was Arthur.
"Try winking your light," Myra finally said. "Maybe if we winked them both for long enough, and frequently enough, then Merlin can spot us."
"The other fireflies are doing the exact same thing, Myra," Arthur observed, pointing towards the other lightning bugs flashing against the darkened grass.
"Well," Myra said, "at least he'll have some idea where to find us. He can't find us if we aren't blinking our lights."
"It's worth a try." Arthur clenched his limbs along his body, and shut his eyes. He had that same look that he got when Merlin had rambled about something that sounded like utter gibberish. But at least it produced results.
"Arthur, you're doing it!" Myra exclaimed.
At Myra's response, Arthur opened his eyes, and turned his head to glance at his light. Sure enough, it was blinking, but then stayed off for a matter of seconds, before it glowed again.
"How…does it happen?" Arthur wondered aloud.
"Hmm," Myra said thoughtfully. She took on the same scrunched-up face that Arthur had, but after an even longer amount of time, the same thing occurred—even when she concentrated, the light blinked on and off without control. "It seems as though it just…happens."
Arthur grimaced. "Well, I don't think that will help us find Merlin any faster—if we look like the rest of the fireflies, and he can't see us in the dark."
Myra glanced above the tall white flowers at the deepening sky. "What if we looked down from high above these flowers?" she guessed. "Merlin may just see us if we are flying above where the other fireflies are."
"Possibly…" Arthur took in a breath, and pulled himself forward, going in between the flowers as they had the grass blades. Myra wasn't hesitant to follow him, and for a time, it seemed like they were making good progress.
Until a shadow passed overhead.
In the instant Arthur and Myra saw the sky blocked from sight, they scrambled to stop themselves. But this strange new obstacle was clever in wrapping itself about the two fireflies, locking them away so that they could see nothing but darkness.
"What is this?" Myra yelled.
"Let us out! Let us out of here!" Arthur screamed out, banging himself against the barrier.
There was a low tweeting sound from outside the dark walls. Then there came a sense of movement, like Arthur and Myra were being flown somewhere at high speed.
Myra gulped, her light flickering off in the same instant. "This is not good," she noted. "And I don't know if I can do any magic myself while I'm a firefly."
"Can't you try?" Arthur said desperately, taking another try at freeing them with a body slam. "We're in a sticky situation here!"
Myra, being a young witch-in-training under Merlin, had learned many spells in the few months she had been here. The problem was she had never been formally trained in the transfiguration of animals. Her area of expertise was defensive magic—spells that could save her when she was in hand-to-hand combat, not trapped under the wings of a bird.
Myra had Arthur's idea starting to take shape in her mind, the more she pondered trying magic while still a firefly. So, she stayed still in midair, cleared her mind, and then tried the first spell that popped in her mind.
"Abite vos, ego ignis!"
Myra's light flared, and she flinched, letting out a little squeak. Rather than having a shower of fireworks coming from her hands, her light had become scorching hot, the sudden heat forcing her to fall down upon the bird's feathers. In that instant, the wing dropped out from below her, and Myra fell from the clutches. Immediately, she spread her wings, gaining a good hand on her flight. She breathed a heavy sigh.
"Gee, Arthur, that was…"
Myra sucked in a gasp when she noticed that her friend wasn't next to her. And as if in cue, she heard a loud cry from a good distance away. Snapping her head in that direction, Myra watched the big black bird flying away from the hill, going high over the forest beyond.
"Arthur!" Myra screamed out, even though she felt he probably couldn't hear her from so far off. But before she even cried it out, she was pushing forward as fast as her new wings could fly her. Which, unfortunately, wasn't too fast.
"Aw, come on, wings!" Myra cried in frustration. "If I can fly, shouldn't I be able to fly like that bird?" She shook her head, trying to clear her mind, before she slapped all six legs on her light, as if agitating it would give her a boost.
Finally, when she could see the bird just getting away from her, Myra wriggled her legs to loosen them up, and flew like she was determined to see the finish line of a race. Indeed, she could feel herself picking up speed, the world becoming a blue behind her wings.
She was glad to be making progress, but it was becoming harder to see the bird in the increasing darkness. Finally, even when the moon was high above her, she couldn't spot Arthur's captor. It seemed to have disappeared altogether.
And her magic was useless if she wasn't human.
Myra stopped herself, conflicted. She felt like her legs were being pulled to opposite sides of her—Arthur was calling for help, but Merlin was still lost on the other side, among the other fireflies. There was no way that he could tell her apart from the others in this darkness. And the bird that caught Arthur was too far away to be seen well, and she probably couldn't save him unless she could use her magic properly.
At the moment, it felt like she could go in any which direction, and not be successful either way. So, she closed her eyes, and turned herself around several times, pointing her finger to make a decision. Except, she just felt ridiculous. This wasn't helping at all. For all she knew, Arthur had already been eaten, and Merlin was already scouring the hill looking for her.
The thought of Arthur getting eaten planted fast resolve in Myra's mind. No way was she about to let her best friend get eaten! Her training as a witch had told her that she had to use her magic for good. Well, she also had to use her brains—and this was one situation where she would have to make do without her magic power—just as she had before she knew she had power in her!
Clearing her throat, Myra took off in the direction she had seen the bird go. She couldn't see the various blinking of firefly light anymore, but she could see by her own light, and the coming moon. She narrowed her gaze at the space ahead of her, not stopping once to see how high she was flying or what could be following her. All that mattered to her was finding Arthur, and getting back to Merlin as quick as was possible.
At last, Myra found herself dodging branches as she came into the forest. She was careful to hide her light when she could—hiding beneath thick bunches of leaves, so as not to attract new predators. Merlin's owl, Archimedes, had once informed her that there were other species of owl in these trees that would easily mistake a firefly for a tasty meal. That's why she kept her eyes wide open, in search of anything that could possibly oppose her.
Myra felt she was doing fine moving through the forest—until she saw a pair of yellow lights blinking at her from between some branches.
She immediately slowed, and ducked beneath the leaves closest to her. She lifted the leaves with her front legs, peeking just enough to see the lights again. She couldn't tell if they were firefly lights, because they were ever constantly glowing. But they certainly were intimidating, looking like the face of a predator staring her right in the eye.
Exercising caution, Myra flew behind that tree, going in a straight line so that her light wouldn't betray her location. She took a breath when she was certain she wasn't being followed, while also looking out for the flash of another firefly in a bird's nest. And considering how far she had flown into the forest, she felt for certain she didn't have much further to travel.
Then, from not far off, there came the low tweeting of a bird. The moment that the sound hit Myra's ears, she took off in that direction, her light becoming like a neon streak in the dark, forgetting to hide it behind the leaves. It wasn't like Myra cared, though. She was hurrying to find Arthur before anything more could happen.
In front of her, she noticed a circular bed of branches and twigs, tucked between four low-lying branches that made a little fence around the nest. And surely enough, lying in the center of the nest, was a medium-sized bird, about as big as Archimedes, though it wasn't an owl. It was black, though it wasn't a crow or raven. But the minute that Myra came in sight of the bird, she froze.
Thinking fast, she dove beneath the nest, where quite suddenly, she came across something just as surprising.
A leaf was moving along the branches, and though Myra was startled at first, she took a closer look. From just beneath the green veins and skin of the leaf, she saw a glinting yellow light.
"Hello?" Myra asked, inching closer to the moving leaf.
Then, from out beneath the leaf, a firefly with a curious, wide-eyed face caught Myra's eye. The blinking of the light showed the red-orange color of the slabs that covered his wings.
"Arthur!" she yelped, in both surprise and utmost joy in seeing her friend safe from the bird.
"Shh!" Arthur scolded, putting one leg to his mouth, while gesturing madly with the others for Myra to come under the leaf. "You make too much noise, and he'll hear you!"
"Sorry," said Myra, as she scurried under the leaf. "It's just that I'm so glad to see you're safe. I thought maybe the bird had eaten you already!"
"It's good to see you too," Arthur replied. "But this isn't a time for talk. It's about time we got back to Merlin."
Myra nodded, as she and Arthur started a slow crawl along the branch. They did so in silence, occasionally tugging on the leaf to hide them better. Arthur led them along, as Myra had her eyes peeled for the strange predator eyes she had seen earlier. She felt herself getting hot thinking about the frightful sight, but she felt better at least that Arthur was by her side again. They just had to find Merlin now…
A pair of twig-like legs snapped on the branch in front of Arthur and Myra, and they both screamed, loosening their grip on the leaf. It fluttered away from them, as in that instant, Myra spotted the same pair of bright yellow lights.
She took Arthur's arms tightly, a spell on her mind…
And then the two lights became one, as a firefly zoomed out of the trees, shouting something that for a moment, neither Arthur nor Myra could understand. Though, it sounded a bit like Latin.
Myra sputtered out her breath as bright pink smoke surrounded her and Arthur. She felt her body growing, her six firefly limbs disappearing, her wings shriveling away…
She raised her hand in a blind fury, shouting the same spell she had recited earlier, and a bright green light—much like her firefly light—shot from her fingertip…
…and she hit herself on the low, mushy ground of the forest. A second oomph! was heard from beside her, as Myra shook her head to realign her senses. Slowly, she started to move her limbs, surprised to find that there were no muscles to flex in her sides, nor on her back.
"Take care, Myra," said a familiar voice, as two spindly, wrinkled arms helped her stand up. "You took quite a fall. The same to you, my boy."
Myra leaned against the tree nearest her once Merlin turned to help Arthur. It felt sort of odd being human now, now that she didn't have to flap her wings so vigorously, or flex six insect legs. And Arthur seemed to be thinking the same, the way Merlin had to hold him by his shoulders for more than a minute.
"Come now, both of you," said Merlin. "We've all had quite an adventure tonight."
Myra looked behind her at the tree where Merlin had appeared—straight out of the two glowing lights.
"Merlin," she began, "was that…?"
"I'm surprised as well," Merlin replied. "I didn't think for a moment that you two would have gone so far into these woods. But I had to look. You see, I duplicated my form, so that I could appear to any unsuspecting animal as a pair of predator's eyes when my light blinked."
"Well it worked!" exclaimed Myra. "You scared me half to death, Merlin!"
Merlin chuckled, patting Myra's shoulder affectionately. "Nevertheless, I'm glad I found you both when I did. Though I will say, you both were smart enough to get away when you could."
"I wasn't going to leave Arthur!" Myra said.
"I know you never would," Merlin replied. "That's why I'm proud that you faced a hungry bird to find him. And as a firefly, no less."
"By the way, thank you, Merlin," Arthur piped up.
"For what, my boy?" asked Merlin.
"You know, for the lesson," Arthur said. "Well, even though we almost got eaten, and got lost…it was actually kind of fun."
Myra gave Arthur a queer look, which only made Arthur laugh.
"That's why he makes an amazing king," Myra muttered, half to Merlin. "He can look at passed danger, and laugh in its face, although he knows it will happen again soon."
Merlin grinned. "Believe you me, there will be plenty more adventures where this one came from."