Pixie dust is an essential input to many kinds of magic, and may enhance the effect of many more, if only to improve their general sparkliness. Given the availability of high-quality industrially produced pixie dust, many practitioners are understandably reluctant to make their own: if you can buy a high-quality standardised product at reasonable cost, why take the time and trouble to make it yourself? The savings are minimal and the quality of the results is not guaranteed.
And yet... The very qualities that underlie the success of mass-produced pixie dust are also the source of its weaknesses:
- The raw materials are:
meaning that the dust provided by a particular manufacturer always has precisely the same composition. There is no scope for variation in effect as a result of a different variety of input, seasonal variations in growing conditions, or greater or lesser maturity of the grist.
- genetically uniform,
- factory farmed, and
- harvested at a uniform age,
- Drying is carried out under uniform standardised conditions of temperature and (low) humidity, so there is no possibility of the dust or particular components of it varying in final moisture content. But it may be advantageous, particularly for hydro- or pyromancy, to have some portions of the dust have a greater or lesser natural affinity for the Element being manipulated.
- Grinding is performed by machine, using steel rollers. The result is fine and uniform, and therefore reliable, but there are no traces of stone from the millstones of earlier times, or of wood from a wooden pestle; this and the basic lack of texture and variation within the dust makes it less effective for some kinds of nature magic, since it reduces its affinity for living things.
For these reasons, the more discriminating practitioners still prefer to grind their own dust, or (in the case of the more prosperous) to have their assistants do it for them. Some are content to grind pre-dried grist, widely available from industrial suppliers (who charge more per hundredweight than for their own finished product, it has to be said). Others insist on control of the drying process, and buy whole undried trunks direct from the farm. An option open only to those with a large establishment and considerable resources is to farm their own, taking full control of the entire production chain. Some of these family farms have their own breeding programmes, and the small amounts of surplus dust that they occasionally sell is highly prized among the conoscenti, commanding spectacular prices at auction for the irreproducible properties derived from their heirloom breeds. This dust is often useless for ordinary magic, but for some purposes, nothing else will do.
But farming is not the only option for those who wish to produce their own dust without reliance on the standardised products of the agro-thaumaturgical complex. High-quality organic raw material is there for the harvesting in the wild places of our nation, out on the wild moors and in the swamps and forests. Gathering it is no easy task, requiring patience, endurance, and no small degree of courage. However, it is an option available to the practitioner of very modest means, and the inconveniences involved are more than made up for by the satisfaction to be achieved from a particularly fine casting whose success rests firmly on the quality of the natural dust you have made yourself.
An understandable mistake would be to think that the most critical and difficult part of the gathering endeavour would be finding the pixies, who are, for obvious reasons, indispensible for the entire enterprise. But that is not in fact the most difficult part of the exercise, as we shall see. The point at which the inexperienced most often fail is not in the location of the raw materials or even in their harvesting, but in the transport home. The waste and disappointment involved in having to abandon a fine sheave of trunks in the wilds and come home empty-handed can scarcely be overstated. Therefore, however trivial it may seem, the most important point to consider is ... your backpack! The average trunk is no less than 2 and a half feet long. Before drying, it can weigh up to two stone. An undried sheave of four or five trunks is thus an unwieldy, heavy bundle, apart from being attractive to wild birds and bears. Go out with an ordinary rucksack, and you may find yourself forced to drop everything and run from a bear, or make camp for the night to find that most of your treasure has been eaten by crows, or simply find yourself unable to carry it a single step further, and be forced to leave it behind if you ever want to see your home again.
You therefore need a sturdy bag which is long enough to hold your trunks. Experience shows that the most suitable bags are those generally sold for mountain-climbing: they are narrow but long, and therefore of sufficient capacity and ideal shape. Fill your back with lightweight rations, a sharp sturdy knife, and a length of thin strong wire.
You may object that five fresh trunks would not fit into such a narrow bag. And this is true. But here we come back to the weight factor: do not be deceived about your own strength: unless you are a mage of such power that you can summon the raw trunks to your own demesne – in which case you will scarcely be reading the screeds of this poor scribbler – you will not be able, even with magical assistance, to carry a full load of undried trunks out of the wilderness and back home. You will have to dry the trunks where you found them, or nearby. Sun-dried sheaves are generally accepted as providing the best mix of properties for nearly all kinds of casting, and so you will in the final analysis gain from the extra few days you need to spend in the wild. And here your deep mountaineering rucksack, filled with compact, lightweight nourishing mountaineering rations, will prove its value, sustaining you as you patiently enjoy the sunshine before it then sustains your lighter burden on the way home. Obviously, you will need sunshine, which brings us to the next point:
There is really no alternative to an expedition at midsummer. Invest in some careful scrying to choose a period of reliable sunshine, and make sure you have the skills or equipment to repel the hordes of mosquitos that will be after your blood. At midsummer you will not only have the sunshine you need for the drying phase, but also the most time in the long warm evenings to locate your pixies, while the pixies themselves will be tired and drunken with the joys of their seasonal revelry, making them less alert and therefore easier to deceive. Which brings us to the next point:
If the pixies suspect for one moment that you are what you are, you may as well stay home. Endeavour to look like a normal traveller, preferably a normal lost and not particularly bright traveller. You must of course do this without magic: a pixie can see through any glamour! If you are successful you will scarcely have to seek the pixies at all: they will come to you. Is there any more lovely sight than a family of four or five of these bright beings, dancing in the light of the setting sun? What could be more natural than that you would follow them where they lead you? How could such lovely beings mean a poor traveller any harm? You must not reveal your nature either when they lead you into the brambles in the woods, or into the quicksand in the swamp. You must look suitably horrified by your plight, and saddened and amazed at their betrayal. The pixies will not leave you there for long: they have a strange sense of humour, but are not truly cruel. For them the whole of life is a joke, they do not fear death and are only amused by the fears of the travellers they mislead. After a few minutes they will come closer to free you, meaning to take you to meet their tribe and feast with you until the dawn. This is the moment you have been waiting for.
You have previously tied a large stone onto the end of the length of thin wire in your bag. Enjoy for one last moment the beautiful dance and the carefree laughter of these wonderful beings. Then swing the rock around above their heads in a wide circle, picking up speed before you bring it down and the wire slices through their fragile elegant necks. Chop off their legs with your sharp strong knife, carry them one by one to the forest edge, and hang them from the trees in the sunshine by their arms, out of the reach of bears: you can tie their wrists together above the branch with the wire. Spend a few pleasant days as a human scarecrow, maybe reading a good grimoire, then chop them down at the shoulders, pack the trunks into your fine long bag, and take them home for grinding.