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The Seedling Saga

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Hiya, everybody! In my free time, I enjoy writing stories...and I began on this particular one many months ago. I'd like to share it with people here, mostly for entertainment value.
Over the coming days I will post more chapters to this story. When each chapter is posted, I shall link to it in this Table of Contents:

Enjoy the story! ^_^


Prologue: A New Beginning

Awakening in a strange and beautiful place, a young girl slowly stood up to survey her surroundings. She didn’t have any recollection as to how she arrived here in this forest clearing, but she felt calm here. With the wind blowing through her long brown hair, her bright green eyes set upon the wreckage of whatever metal contraption had brought her here. In spite of her youth, however, she was surprisingly resilient and brave – more so than any of the guys in the village she was born and raised in.

Then it hit her: her village, the place she had come from! What had become of it, the place that she used to call home? And where were her friends and family? She had vaguely remembered a sense of urgency and panic as she was rushed into the transport pod that now laid in pieces upon the ground before her…a catastrophe had struck her fair land, though she knew not the grim details. All that she knew was that she had escaped it and was now alone.

A quick search of the area showed no signs of danger – she was truly alone, at least for now. She didn’t dawdle for long though; night was coming and so she sought shelter underneath the largest tree she could see. It was a majestic oak, bigger than any other tree in this forest by far. Exasperated by her arrival here, she fell asleep within seconds of resting upon a makeshift bed of leaves.

The next day, she rummaged through the metallic debris some more, and happened upon a rather shiny orb. It felt important to her for some reason; beaming, she gingerly picked it up. Upon closer inspection the orb appeared to have no use. For all of her efforts, however, it proved to be the only object even remotely worth anything: there were a few torn scraps of paper from which she could decipher nothing, and some broken machinery here and there. Nothing else looked like it survived the crash in one piece.

It was at this point she had given up on being found, so she’d make the most of it...and with that she began to weave plant fibers to put her mind at ease. Eventually she’d come to enjoy spending her days working the plants into many useful things (including a hammock to sleep in) and her nights sleeping peacefully in this idyllic forest paradise. The days grew longer as time went on, and eventually she had all but forgotten about her escape to freedom. Only her loneliness remained in her thoughts, as she longed for some company…

Meanwhile, as she was beginning her new life, a dark power had begun to fester within the capital city of her peaceful land of Naelia. Only a few knew of the horrible fate that would consume them, and these few had sent this young girl to a safer world. Hopefully one day she would come to learn what happened and find a way to restore peace – after all, she was the princess of Naelia even if she had never been told that fact. All of Naelia’s hope rested upon her shoulders…

 
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Chapter One: The Secret Within


It was a morning like any other: sunny, warm, and quiet except for the gentle breeze blowing through the trees. The once young girl had now matured into a young woman, but she had long since forgotten her name; what use is there for names when she couldn’t share them with others? Thousands of moons have come and gone, yet she was still very much alone in this place.

The small orb that she picked up all those days ago when she first crashed hung upon a necklace crafted from plants. Sometimes she looked at it, as if it were there to remind her of a past life she never got the chance to have. Recently her dreams had always taken her to a magical land, where everybody’s desires were granted and life was peaceful. The inhabitants called this land “Naelia”, and they wanted her to rule as their queen…the fact that this was only a dream served to exacerbate her loneliness and solitude.

Escaping from the pain of isolation was easy, however. She would always turn to her plant weaving, which she had become very skilled at over years of practice; one would almost say that her fingers worked a sort of magic when making things. There was a plethora of leafy dresses which she had created for herself, just in case someone else was to arrive here. Her dwelling was a large and spacious area, protected by a roof thatched from twigs and branches, just in case someone else showed up. She had found more than enough berries from plants to eat, and she kept a supply of them within a basket at her dwelling…just in case someone else came.

She sighed. For all this time she has never seen another living soul with which to communicate. Looking again at her necklace, the small silvery orb seemed to taunt her with a memory of a past life she just could not remember. In a moment of despair, she started crying. A single teardrop fell on the orb, which lit up with a bright light.

Suddenly a voice piped up, “H-Hello? Is someone there?” Quickly she threw the glowing orb to the ground a few feet away from her. Nervous and scared, she backed away from the orb a bit…but her curiosity was aroused.

The voice continued. “Okay, good. Anyways, let me introduce myself. I am Orin, a royal regent of Naelia and member of the Order of the Magisilk Robes…or a piece of his spirit made possible by magic, at any rate. I am sure that by the time you hear this message, our fair land will have been consumed by some mysterious evil power and you will be one the only ones left untainted by it.”

“Excuse me…but I don’t really have any idea what you’re saying. All I can remember is that I arrived here one day. I can’t even remember my own name!”

“Oh dear, it really must have been quite some time my dear Nate.” At the word Nate, her eyes widened in recognition of her long-lost name. “I suppose I should go over who we are, exactly…it all starts with the Fabric of Dreams, a mystical cloth infused with wish-granting magic. How we happened upon it is still a mystery, but we had taken some of this and made a fair number of dresses. It was later discovered that whenever someone wore one of these dresses, their disposition towards other people affected reality itself, blessing those favored by the wearer with the powers of magic. Quickly these Magisilk Robes became quite valuable, and bandits began to steal them. Wars were fought over the precious few robes, and the land seemed doomed to an eternal struggle for power…”

“Enter the Order of the Magisilk Robes. Originally a ragtag bunch of bandits, assassins, and rogues only concerned with their own wealth and welfare, they realized that the struggle would consume even them if they did not put an end to it. Banding together, they decided that one person and one person alone should ever have control over these powerful magics. From the Order came Naelia’s tradition of a queen ruling over the land, chosen from the Order’s only woman at the time: a wise, benevolent rogue by the name of Amelia. The other members of the Order would protect her as royal knights, or serve her as regents.”

At this point, Nate asked, “Orin, if what you’re saying is true, then what do I have to do with all of this? I am but a lone girl…whatever has happened to your civilization must have defeated far more capable people.”

Orin replied, “But you are more than a girl. You were destined by the Magisilk Robes to be our next queen! Each generation would use the magic of the Robes to find the most suitable queen for the next generation, and so the Order has grown over time as families were formed and new queens were found from the general populace. Practically everybody in our kingdom now has some stake in the Order, though few of us actually know of how it was formed. These few could be considered the true Order, and it was us that sent you here to this place. It would seem that our plan has succeeded, at least in part…”

“So wait,” Nate stuttered. “I am the queen of Naelia?”

“I assume it would be at about your age that your crowning ceremony would have taken place,” Orin said. “You would have been presented with the Magisilk Robes then, although fate got in the way of that one, didn’t it? Fortunately we had the foresight to send one with you. I would hope you still have it…it was inside a special crate with all sorts of magical protective spells cast on it to make sure that it would endure just about any circumstance.”

I never saw any crate, Nate thought to herself. “Sure…but what am I to do with this? How can a single robe have the power to overcome the others? How am I even supposed to leave this place?”

“You need only believe in yourself, and all your wishes shall be granted. Such is the power of the Magisilk Robes…their power will only be apparent to those that believe in it. As for returning to Naelia, that is the least of your concerns. Currently you are too far out of touch with your inner magic to do much for us. This place appears to be perfectly safe for now, so I would advise staying put to hone your skills. If you ever need my guidance, simply call out my name and I shall come. For now I must rest.”

With that the orb’s glow dulled. Nate picked the orb back up and put the necklace around her neck once more with a somber disposition. It was time to find those Magisilk Robes that had been entrusted to her.

After a brief walk, Nate arrived at the crash site. It was a location she tried to stay away from being a bad memory and all. Nate immediately noticed a metal crate that definitely did not exist before. Opening it, she found an elegant green dress that seemed to be a perfect fit for her. Immediately Orin’s words came to mind: Their power will only be apparent to those that believe in it. Previously she did not know of its existence all those years; now she knew that her life was about to change drastically. She dressed herself in this beautiful gown and no sooner had she finished dressing…

…that she felt nothing. Certainly she didn’t feel any power coursing through her like she expected. Momentarily she considered asking Orin for help, but she did not want to bother him so soon. Perhaps this would take some time, she thought, and it was getting rather late anyways. Returning to her dwelling, Nate climbed into her hammock and fell asleep thinking of the excitement of the day’s discoveries. That night, Nate’s dreams were a scene of panic…two figures were rushing down a dimly lit walkway. One was a young girl that Nate instantly recognized as her younger self. The other was a middle-aged man, or so it seemed.

“Where are you taking me?” asked the young Nate. “And where’s everybody else?”

“Don’t worry, Nate,” replied a voice that sounded exactly like Orin. “We’re getting you and everybody else in the village to a place safer than this…but the transport pods are very limited in space so I’m afraid you’ll have to go alone. You’ll be reunited with your family later, I promise…hurry now, for we don’t have much time!”

Coming upon a room with what looked like a giant metallic egg, Orin punched some buttons on a nearby panel to open the transporter’s door. The young Nate stepped inside, a tear falling from her eye. Orin thought for a moment, and then handed Nate a rather shiny and familiar orb.

“You will always have a piece of me with you,” said Orin. “Keep it safe.” The door closed and the room shook violently. A purple burst of light filled the room, and then she was gone. “Good, it appears that she has escaped. Now to check on the others, before – argh!”

The roof had begun to collapse around Orin. Nate would be the only one that he ever saw to safety…

 
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Chapter Two: Seedlings Sprouting


Nate woke up the next morning feeling quite lonely and sad from her previous night’s dream. Again, she wanted to talk to Orin, but fearful that she’d only be reminded of their tearful farewell she decided to let him be. After eating a healthy supply of berries, she went to her favorite forest clearing to gather plants for her crafting.

Not two minutes of this had passed before she broke down in tears. “This loneliness has just gone on for far too long,” Nate cried out in sadness. “Back at home there were friends that I’d play games with all day long…I wish that there were others here with me that I could talk and play with!”

As soon as she expressed her deepest wish, she felt a curious energy within her welling up, wanting to release itself. Nate tried to hold it back, but it was too much – she passed out from the energy’s overwhelming power. Some moments passed.

“Is she alright?” asked a girl when she noticed Nate coming to. “It looks like she’s moving again!”

“I think so…” responded another girl. “Get the others! I’ll stay with her.”

“Alrighty, I’ll be back soon!” With that, she was gone in a flash.

Nate clumsily opened her eyes and rubbed her aching forehead. “Oww…what happened to me? I feel a bit dizzy…and who are you?!”

“I was about to ask you who I was, too,” replied the girl before her. She was clothed in one of Nate’s several leafy dresses, and her long brown hair flowed freely and gracefully in the wind. There was, however, one glaring detail: some plants were growing out of this young girl’s head! The girl continued: “A few moments ago, you wished for some company, did you not?”

“Yes, but…” started Nate, but she stopped mid-thought. “The Magisilk Robes? Could they really have granted my wish?”

“Well, Orin did tell you that these robes had lots and lots of magical power!” exclaimed the girl. “I think there is something more to this, however.”

“Wait, how do you know Orin?” asked Nate.

“It’s a pretty long explanation,” the girl started to say. “It would seem that this magic had to create more of your kind, and you were the only one around to create new Naelians from. However, I am clearly not a Naelian – you can see these flowers protruding from my head that used to be those plants you were carrying! Appearances aside, the thoughts you’ve had recently went into my creation too, so I know quite a bit about you.”

“Fair enough,” Nate replied smugly. “If you know me as well as I do, how many fingers am I holding up behind my back?”

“Five. Coincidentally, that’s how many of us there are!” No later had she said this than four other, similar girls had arrived.

“We’re back! And a great big hello to you, miss Nate!” shouted the other girls.

Nate didn’t know what was more astounding: That this girl actually knew that there were five fingers up behind her back, or that there were four more of them.

The first girl continued her explanation: “Orin also mentioned that we all have an inner magic within us. Usually the connection to this magic is very weak, unable to do anything of grandeur. These Magisilk Robes act as a sort of beacon that amplifies this inner magic for you and for those you like. You do like us, right?”

“So long as you’re here, we might as well be friends,” said Nate.

“Yay! We thought you’d say that, having similar memories and all. But like you were until yesterday, we don’t really have names either…and surely you don’t want to call all of us Nate, right? That’d get pretty confusing.” The girls giggled at the thought. “But I think we should all have some common name regardless, for we are all magical beings that came from the same source…”

“I see your point. Give me a moment to think of a name.” Nate thought for a while about what to name these five small, cute girls that had plants growing from their heads. Suddenly a thought came to her. “How about I call you girls Seedlings? You may be small now, but you’ve got plenty of room to grow, literally!”

“Ooo, that sounds awesome,” replied the girls. “We’ll take it!”

“Okay, Seedlings, perhaps we should go and gather up some plants to weave into some hammocks for all of you to sleep in.” said Nate. “We should be done by sundown if we hurry.”

“Yay, slumber party!” exclaimed the Seedlings. With youthful energy the five Seedlings quickly gathered a large number of vines. Nate was impressed once again, and by lunch there were more than enough vines to craft hammocks.

“Nate,” asked one of the Seedlings, “Could we help you make our hammocks? We rather hate to impose on anybody like this.”

“Sure, Seedlings. I’d love some help,” responded Nate. “If you need to know what to do, just follow me.” Nate picked up the first vine, and noticed the Seedlings each grabbed a vine of their own; their attention was entirely focused on Nate. “Okay, now take a second vine, and lay it like this…”

Once Nate had finished her hammock, she couldn’t resist yawning – no sooner had she done this than a loud yawning came from all of the Seedlings, followed by a giggle.

“That isn’t part of the hammock-making process, is it?” asked the Seedlings.

Nate laughed as well. “Only if you want it to be. Anyways, great work on those hammocks! What do you girls want to do now?”

“We could make things grow with our magic to replace those vines we used today,” suggested one Seedling.

“How about we make a treehouse way up above the ground?” another asked.

“We like these dresses you made. Can we learn how to make more?”

There were so many suggestions put forth from the Seedlings that Nate couldn’t see any end to the things they could do together. They aren’t afraid to dream big, she thought.

“We will do all of these things eventually. Let’s start with growing more vines to replace what we used,” Nate answered. “I doubt there’s enough time left to begin building a treehouse today, so that will have to wait for tomorrow.”

“Very well, Mother Nature,” said the Seedlings gleefully. “Let us tend to our forest!”

Nate smiled, and together they went around growing vines with their magic. The Seedlings enjoyed making things grow so much that long, thick vines soon hung from every tree in sight.

“Uh, Seedlings? I think that’s enough vines, let’s go and prepare for night,” Nate shouted when she noticed the vines growing everywhere.

“Awww, but it’s so much fun Nate! We don’t want this day to end…surely you had lots and lots of fun with us, right?”

“Too much of anything cannot be good for us,” Nate replied. “I need to rest for now. Let us embrace tomorrow with open arms and have some more fun then.”

“Can we at least have that slumber party?”

“Okay, but come quickly, night is nearly here.” Nate wondered if the Seedlings were capable of sleeping, as they hadn’t slowed down at all throughout the day.

Upon arriving at Nate’s dwelling they hung the six hammocks crafted that day next to each other, in a circle. For a while they enjoyed telling each other scary stories and eating berries from the basket Nate always kept at the dwelling. Eventually Nate was too tired to continue, and so she bid the Seedlings good night and fell asleep in her hammock.

That night, Nate’s dreams were not of Naelia, but of her forest. It was the day that she had first crashed here, and the landing did not at all look pretty. Somehow she was spectating the crisis unfold from outside; the metallic egg that was her transport pod uprooted a few trees as it moved with great speed towards the ground. Upon reaching the ground it broke apart, sending debris everywhere.
Nate herself was flung from the transporter into a thick bed of leaves gathered beneath the largest tree in the forest. Fate had definitely been on Nate’s side today, managing to escape whatever was threatening her in Naelia and now surviving this crash out of sheer coincidence of a leaf pile being where it was.

Slowly, the young Nate stood up to survey her surroundings, not showing an ounce of fear. Her eyes passed over where the crate containing the Magisilk Robes had landed, but they were invisible to her. A moment of shock hit her, and the young Nate began to stare into the forest, almost expecting someone to show up and guide her…but no such person came. Only moments later she wandered back to the leaves she had landed in and fell asleep.

The older Nate stood there for a moment, thinking of the years of loneliness she endured since then. What made her carry on, even after she had all but forgotten her past life in Naelia? What purpose would she serve in a world that was hers and hers alone?

Waking up, she first noticed the Seedlings, fast asleep. She was no longer alone. Quietly she left her dwelling and summoned Orin.

“Nate, it’s good to see you again…if I had eyes to see you with anyways. I suppose it’s one of the limitations of my wishes to always be near you in spirit.”

“Orin,” asked Nate, “What would you say is my purpose?”

“I’ve always believed you to be the next queen of Naelia, as have several others,” said Orin with conviction. “Why else would the Robes have chosen you?”

“But we aren’t anywhere near Naelia now, are we?” questioned Nate. “Does Naelia even exist anymore?”

“Oh, it certainly exists!” Orin replied. “If it did not, my mortal body should no longer exist, and neither should my spirit that is talking to you right now. Spirits are basically your source of inner magic; I have bound some of my spirit to this orb to protect and guide you. I sense you have recently bound some of your spirit into something as well.”

That must be the Seedlings, Nate thought.

Orin continued. “Before I leave again, perhaps I should tell you an ancient prophecy involving the Fabric of Dreams that your Magisilk Robes came from. It is of vital importance that you hear me out, for it could explain our dire circumstances.”

“Go on, then,” Nate replied with bated breath. “Tell me everything.”

“I shall tell you the tale as best I can. Ahem…”

“The Fabric of Dreams: a unique magical cloth weaving itself out of the yarns of people’s dreams and aspirations. Nobody knew where it came from, but it appeared to us Naelians one day. Our scholars examined it and found that there was an immense source of magic here waiting to be released. Our mystics inspected it and said that this magic was not easy to control, and that we should cast it aside before we did things that we regretted.”

“Things may have turned out differently if cloth was in plentiful supply then, but the previous year had seen huge shortages and so the temptation was great to make dresses from this fabric. In the end we made several outfits from the Fabric of Dreams that are now referred to as the Magisilk Robes. When we began to wear the Magisilk Robes, reality began to bend and twist into whatever was going through our minds. Wishes were being granted by whoever was wearing the Robes, and everybody wanted to enjoy the blessings of magic…everybody, that is, except the mystics who wanted no part of it. They had warned us that we were becoming too dependent on this magic, and that bad things would happen if we did not stop using it.”

“It was already too late, however. We had so many wishes granted to us that we began to fear losing our prized possessions. Fear manifested itself into monsters that sought only destruction, which came to be known as Nightmares. Nightmares started as a minor nuisance but in time they became a major threat to the livelihood of many villages, and our fears only fed them more power. Before we would be consumed entirely by fear, however, the Order of the Magisilk Robes was created to gather up all of the known Robes and keep them safe. Only one person would be allowed to use the Magisilk Robes, and that would be Naelia’s fearless queen Amelia who would watch over her lands and lead her people to prosperity. The populace agreed to be led under her banner, and in an epic battle the Naelians triumphed over the Nightmares.”

“But it was said that one day, the Nightmares would return, marked by an act of betrayal. Once again a queen would need to rise up and defeat them, for it was her duty to lead her people…”

Nate looked distraught at the mention that such horrible things could even happen. “Is this what Naelia is going through now?”

Orin quietly replied, “Yes. Our previous queen, Queen May…she suddenly left Naelia, causing panic within our Order. Most of us assume her to be dead. Nightmares came out of hiding and began to attack our fair cities. You escaped Naelia just in time; that earthquake in the secret underground chamber was the work of these monsters.”

Nate gasped. “That’s really sad, Orin…but I’m not sure if I can do anything to fix this. People have always had fears, but it’s what inspires their survival instincts. Getting rid of fear is like getting rid of the will to live!”

“But when fears eclipse our hopes and dreams, we lose sight of our potential. What is the point of living if you do not strive for that potential?”

Nate thought to herself for a moment. Were dreams truly that powerful? Could they overcome her silent fears? Certainly, the fear of being forever alone proved to be false. She had hoped for company all these years, and now she has the Seedlings and Orin’s spirit to talk to. What other wishes could come true?

“Thanks, Orin,” said Nate. “You’ve provided me some valuable insights which I will think about. Have a great day!”

“And to you I wish the same, my queen,” replied Orin. With that the orb’s glow dulled. Nate returned to her dwelling where the Seedlings had since woken up and were enjoying a giant helping of berries. The basket was nearly empty.

“Hiya, Nate!” shouted the girls as they saw her. Nate couldn’t help but smile. Today was going to be a wonderful day.

 
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Chapter Three: Of Dreams and Doubts


“You Seedlings sure do love to eat berries,” remarked Nate. “I’ll go gather some more for you after we’re all done eating here. My stomach’s growling.”

“Alrighty, Mother Nature.” replied the Seedlings. “We’ll start making a surprise for you, so don’t go anywhere near the largest tree in the forest before we’re done!”

After enjoying the rest of the berries, Nate took the basket and headed west. The Seedlings walked north, chatting excitedly about their surprise for Nate. Nate’s curiosity was again aroused as to what the Seedlings were up to, but she had promised them that the surprise would not be spoiled. She arrived at her favorite berry-picking place, where the berries grew back every day…almost as if by magic.

Meanwhile, the Seedlings had arrived at the largest tree in the forest. The metallic debris of whatever Nate arrived in was scattered about this forest clearing, even years later.

One of the Seedlings asked, “Do you think Nate will mind? She’s already gone to great lengths to take care of us.”

“I think she’ll be very happy,” said another. “We bring her great joy.”

“Yeah, and we can all play games with each other all the time! It’ll be so much fun!” exclaimed the third Seedling.

The first Seedling spoke again: “While this is true, fellow Seedlings, we must not forget that Nate is caring for us. I’d rather that we not be such a burden on her. We must help her with whatever is necessary for all of us to grow and prosper. Now, did we get everything we needed from the dwelling?”

“Yup, I’ve got all of them in this basket,” replied a fourth Seedling, carrying a particularly large basket that appeared to be filled with leaves. “Are you sure this will even work, though? We haven’t tested the bounds of our magic.”

“Relax,” said the fifth Seedling. “With Nate wearing the Magisilk Robes, everything is possible! And she did say that she liked us…”

“Yeah, just imagine how much she’ll love us when we finish doing this!”

“Enough chitchat, let’s get to making our surprise!”

Meanwhile, Nate had just about filled her basket with enough berries to last her and the five Seedlings for a few more days. She would have to show them where these berries grew sometime, Nate thought. In the meantime, she decided to talk with Orin some more and perhaps learn more about her destiny, and so she summoned him.

“Greetings, Queen Nate,” Orin hailed. “I trust you are still doing fine since our chat earlier?”

“Yes, Orin,” began Nate, “But I wanted to ask you some more questions. These Nightmares that are plaguing Naelia…couldn’t I simply wish them gone and have everybody living happily ever after?”

“I’m afraid not, Nate,” replied Orin. “These Nightmares were born of our own fears, and they are connected to our inner magic. To wish them away would require that everybody disappear, or for magic to no longer exist, neither of which can be done.”

“I thought as much,” Nate said dejectedly. “So how were they defeated last time?”

“That I do not know. To conquer one’s fears is a task very few have achieved. One of these people was the fair Queen Amelia, who led us into that fateful battle.”

“Did she possess anything special?” asked Nate.

“The Magisilk Robes, certainly. Whether or not she possessed anything else of great power is beyond me.”

“Speaking of which…if people don’t believe in the Magisilk Robes I’m wearing, will I appear naked? I never saw the crate containing these until you told me about them.”

Orin chuckled to himself. “No, Nate. That was simply an illusion spell to ensure that only a Naelian knowing of these Robes would possess its powerful contents.”

“Haha, good. I’ll take your word for it,” Nate laughed. “One last question…why are there no other Naelians here? I’ve been alone and longed for company for ages!”

“…oh dear. Nobody else made it here?” Orin’s voice echoed with a tinge of despair. “That would mean the plan to evacuate everybody here…failed…”

“I’m so sorry, Orin…” Nate said. “We have to go back to Naelia!”

“That will have to wait,” said Orin. “The Nightmares’ power will be too much for a single person to overcome.”

“But I am not alone,” said Nate. “When I wished for company while wearing the Magisilk Robes, the Seedlings appeared. There are five of them, and they’re…”

“Doing what, might I ask?” asked Orin inquisitively.

“Uh…I don’t know. They said they were making a surprise for me.”

“If you want my honest opinion, Nate,” Orin said, “it sounds like the workings of Nightmares. They are born from fears, remember, and once they manifest themselves they will only grow stronger.”

“But the Seedlings aren’t like that!” replied Nate indignantly. “They…they…”

“They aren’t bent on wreaking havoc? Causing destruction? How can you be sure when you’ve only known them for but a single day? I’ve dealt with the Nightmare menace all the days of my life, and I even nearly lost my father to them…please, my dear Queen, do not do something that you will later regret. I must rest now; consider my words carefully.”

Nate started sobbing. What if Orin was speaking the truth, and these Seedlings were just more Nightmares? She had never seen a Nightmare, so how could she know? The Seedlings could help her reclaim Naelia, or doom her before she ever saw her homeland. For now she would take these berries back to her dwelling and rest. The past few hours have already been chaotic enough with the revelations of magic, and Nate desperately needed some time alone to think about things.

Unfortunately, Nate would not get her much-desired rest. Upon arriving at her dwelling, the Seedlings were waiting. They were energetic and joyful, and when they saw Nate they nearly knocked her to the ground with a group hug.

“Nate!” shouted the Seedlings excitedly. “We want to show you our surprise!”

“Okay, okay, but let me put down the berries first,” Nate replied as she set the basket down. “Now, what’s this surprise you worked so hard on?”

“Come with us, you have to see it,” said the Seedling closest to the door. Nate was led through the forest to the crash site, which had now been cleaned up of debris. On the grand oak nearby, branches had been grown out of the tree and weaved to mimic Nate’s dwelling, only far larger, roomier, and about twenty feet off the ground.

“Wow, I don’t know what to say, Seedlings,” Nate rambled as she admired the treehouse. “You’ve really done a lot of work here. I must say I’m impressed.”

“This isn’t all, Nate! Come inside!” A rope ladder was let down, presumably by magic, and the Seedlings started to climb it. Nate followed them up, and as soon as she was in the Seedlings’ treehouse a bizarre sight greeted her: twenty Seedlings sprang out of hiding places to join the five already with Nate.

“Surprise!” shouted the crowd of girls. The shock caused Nate to faint.

“Uh…I think we overdid it,” said one of the Seedlings. “We need to wake Nate up again…where’s that bucket of water we had sitting around?”

“It’s over here!” shouted another, grabbing a bucket full of spring water from a shelf. She ran over to Nate and splashed some of the water on her face. The Seedlings circled around as Nate came to, wanting to see if she was alright.

“Whoa…I guess that really was a surprise,” Nate said after regaining consciousness. “I certainly wasn’t expecting to gather berries for this many of you!”

“Thankies for taking care of us, Nate,” answered a Seedling.

“Yeah, we can only grow bigger and bigger with your love!” exclaimed another.

“Bigger and bigger!” chanted all the Seedlings in unison. Nate was now worried that she was no longer in control. Orin’s words came to mind, and she was unsure as to whether she should live with the Seedlings and their crazy dreams or to run away from the whole mess.

The Seedlings seemed to notice her unease. One of them asked, “Nate, won’t you please stay with us? We can grow together and have so much fun!”

“I don’t know,” Nate responded. “I’m worried that you girls will overwhelm me if you keep growing in number like this. I need to have some time to myself.”

“Alrighty, Nate. We respect your wishes; without them we wouldn’t exist! There are enough hammocks here for all of us though you can stay at your dwelling tonight if you would prefer that. Just remember – we will always be with you in spirit!”

“Thanks for understanding, Seedlings. Night is coming so I had better hurry home.” With that, Nate got up and left. Arriving at her dwelling, she immediately fell asleep in her hammock, still thinking about her doubts and fears…

Darkness surrounded Nate. A voice began to echo through the black mist:

“Queen Nate, you have said that fear inspires survival instincts. Did you, then, live your life in fear of something?”

“What fear?” asked Nate, unsure of what was happening. “I have always known I would serve some purpose in a grand scheme…I just didn’t know what that was until recently.”

“Can you be sure that they’re telling you the truth?” the voices questioned. “You have lived in solitude for years now and learned a great deal on your own. Without Orin, none of this would have happened. He showed you magicks you were not ready to wield, and thus the Seedlings have begun to grow beyond your control.”

“Then who are you, and why should you be trusted?” responded Nate firmly.

“We are but a part of who you are…the part that knows things. Why they happened in the past. What things are yet to come. We have shown you but an iota of our knowledge through your recent dreams. How else would you see things from a different vantage point?”

“Okay…” Nate said. She contemplated for a brief moment, then asked: “Why was I chosen to be the queen of Naelia?”

“It is something we would rather not share with you right now, Queen Nate. In due time you will come to understand our secrets…but for now you need to search for the right place to put your trust in. Not everybody is to be trusted…”

“Who should I put my trust in, then?” Nate wondered aloud.

“That is for you to decide. We must leave you for now…farewell, Queen Nate.”

 
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Chapter Four: Growing Pains




Nate woke up from her dream startled. Surrounding her were the Seedlings.

“Nate! You’re awake!” said the Seedlings cheerfully. “How was your rest?”

“Seedlings! It was…weird, to say the least,” replied Nate with a hint of surprise. She thought for a moment about yesterday, and couldn’t decide who to put her trust in: Orin or Seedlings. Suddenly an idea struck her.

“Perhaps it’s time you and Orin talk with each other.” Removing the necklace from her body, Nate set the orb upon the floor. “Orin, I’d like for you to meet the Seedlings.”

The orb lit up, and Orin began to speak. “Greetings. I sense there are more than five of you now? Last time Nate and I had a chat she told me that there were five Seedlings.”

“That is correct, Orin,” answered a Seedling. “There are twenty-five of us now! And we can only grow bigger and bigger, isn’t that right Nate?”

“Uh…I suppose,” Nate said, still worried but not wanting to dampen their jovial spirits.

“I see. What do you Seedlings want the most?” Orin inquired.

“We wish only for all of us to grow and reach our potential.”

“And what if something can no longer grow?”

“Why, that’s silly!” exclaimed the Seedling. “There are no limits to how big something can grow! Lack of motivation is why things stop growing, and we always want to inspire more growth.”

“Say one thing growing hurts another. What do you Seedlings do then?”

“Then the growth must be balanced. What is light without darkness?”

“Very well then,” mused Orin. “That is all I would like to ask you Seedlings right now.”

“I think it is only fair we ask you some questions in return, Orin,” said the Seedling that had answered Orin. “Why did it take you all of these years to appear to Nate? She could really have used some company and guidance when she first came to this place.”

“Magic is…limited in its capacity,” replied Orin. “The spirit I put inside this magical orb can only detect other sources of magic, and I did not see anything until three days ago.”

“Why should Nate return to Naelia? She’s safe here with us, and we can all grow together and start a new society!”

“I do not wish to give up on Naelia so easily,” Orin answered tentatively. “The Magisilk Robes predestined her to be the next queen!”

“Queen of whom? We don’t even really know what’s happened to Naelia or what we’re up against!”

“Fear,” responded Orin solemnly. “There are monsters born from our fears. They are the reason we had to lock away our Magisilk Robes and keep our fears from consuming us! It seems that they have overwhelmed us anyways, and we were just delaying the inevitable…and I can’t help but think that you Seedlings might be more of them.” Silence ensued for a few moments with expressions of shock evident on the faces of most Seedlings. Only Nate and the Seedling asking questions seemed to be unaffected by this revelation.

“I don’t think we were born out of fear,” said the Seedling to break the silence. “Nate had already been used to this isolation. Her hopes and dreams were for others to share her experiences with, and from those dreams came all of us.”

“What difference does that make? It’s all the same to me.”

“Perhaps dreams are of a greater power than fears, Orin. We may not be able to convince you that we mean no harm but if we truly were monsters would we not already attack Nate? We love her dearly, and we only want to help her grow with the rest of us.”

“I shall rest now,” Orin abruptly announced. “I bid you all a good day.”

Nate was a bit surprised by Orin’s sudden departure from the conversation. Was he still refusing to believe the Seedlings after all this? They seemed harmless enough, though a bit obsessed with growing. And what was up with the Seedling talking with Orin? She didn’t seem surprised at Orin’s distrust – did she know something the others did not? For that matter, why do the Seedlings not know everything Nate knew? One of the things they expressed interest in was learning more about Nate’s crafting, which she had done some time in the past but still remembered how to do.

“Nate? What do you want to do today?” asked the Seedlings.

Perfect timing, Nate thought to herself. Today she would teach them her crafts. “How about we make some dresses?” suggested Nate. “We’ll need leaves and ivy. And some more berries to eat couldn’t hurt either…I see the berry basket is empty again,” said Nate as she gestured to the basket which she had filled only yesterday.

“Haha, we’re a bunch of growing girls. We need our berries!” replied the same Seedling that had been talking with Orin. “How about I come with you to help gather berries, and the rest of us split up to find some leaves and ivy?”

“That sounds good to me. Let’s meet at your treehouse for...” Before Nate could finish the sentence, all of the Seedlings ran outside eagerly and disappeared into the forest, except for the one who offered to help gather berries. “…lunch,” Nate sighed.

“We appreciate you sharing your knowledge,” said the one remaining Seedling.

“I’ve been wondering about that, actually,” replied Nate. “When I wished for you Seedlings, you seemed to know everything about me…yet you want me to teach you about everything else that I know. Why is there so much you do not know, then?”

“I think it may have been only your most recent thoughts. You were thinking a lot about yourself the past few days, so we know these things. But of your long-term memory, or whatever you haven’t thought about recently, we do not know.”

“I thought as much. It’d explain so much about all of you.”

“Well, let’s gather those berries then!” said the Seedling cheerfully.

Nate walked into the forest holding hands with the Seedling, heading west. Along the way they chatted about various things, mostly about the things they would do together.

“…how much do you enjoy a good song? Some of us have been practicing and would love to perform for you when you’re not busy!”

“That’d be splendid, Seedling. I love music!”

Arriving at Nate’s favorite berry-picking place some minutes later, Nate set the basket down and together the two of them began to pick berries from the bushes.

“Seedling, I am curious about something I noticed today,” started Nate. “When you were talking with Orin, you seemed more confident about things than your sisters…they were visibly shocked that Orin thought you were monsters. Could I ask why?”

“Well, Nate…when you first wished for us, all five of us were made to be slightly different from each other as we were made from five different plants. Beyond the most basic needs such as food, we will grow in unique ways. Among the twenty-five of us, I am the only one that has this specific plant growing from my head…apparently it’s quite rare for we haven’t yet found another!”

“Interesting. So the plants you come from affect you in different ways?”

“I can see no other explanation. Why else would I be the voice for us Seedlings?”

“Well, I think that the surroundings and experiences one has with them shape one’s personality,” replied Nate philosophically. “Being in this forest alone for many years has made me rather appreciative of the small things in life.”

The Seedling laughed at this thought. “There wasn’t very much difference between us Seedlings at first, that’s for sure! About the only difference I remember was staying near you after your life-giving wish, waiting for you to wake up…I didn’t even go with the rest of the Seedlings to your dwelling to get one of your leafy dresses. Rather, I had them bring one back to me. I imagine it’d have been quite awkward if you woke up before I was clothed…”

“Haha, don’t worry. I’m a heavy sleeper,” laughed Nate. “But then where were they after I woke up? I have to ask.”

“Well, another Seedling was with me right when you were waking up. She went to get the other three who were still at your dwelling. I still don’t know what silliness they were up to. I doubt there will be much more time to seek them out alone, even to ask a question. Not that we’re getting any easier to tell apart from each other!”

“Yeah, there’s just so many of you already!” exclaimed Nate. “And there will be even more Seedlings soon, from what you’re suggesting?”

“Oh yes, definitely! In fact we would like to invite you to tonight’s ritual when we’ve made those leaf dresses. All of us Seedlings want to continue growing our wonderful family through our life-giving magic, and we have everything set up to welcome our new sisters.”

“I’ll graciously accept that offer, but aren’t you a bit concerned about being able to provide enough berries for more and more Seedlings?” asked Nate inquisitively. She knew that there were only so many berries and so much time to pick them, and Nate was quickly running out of both.

“Not at all, Nate, for we are all amazing at making things grow. Even alone, I can show you what I am capable of...” In the blink of an eye, the Seedling’s hands began to glow with a green aura. Pointing a hand towards one of the cleanly picked bushes, some of the green light jumped from her hand to the bush and disappeared. Instantly the fast-growing berries grew back, this time truly by magic.

“See? We will always have enough berries, and when I show my sisters this place we can all help gather food! Speaking of which, let’s take these berries to our treehouse.”

Nate silently agreed. Her worries were alleviated though she couldn’t help but think that she’d still have to spend more time caring for the Seedlings as they multiplied. On the way back, they discussed the five plants that were a huge part of the Seedlings’ identity.

“So we came from the five different plants you had gathered that fateful day. To keep with the spirit of tradition, we will only use these five plants to grow our family of Seedlings ever further!”

“I noticed that just today,” responded Nate, “trying to find more Seedlings like you.”

“Anyways, the flowers growing from my head we call Silverlip – it is surprisingly resilient for a flower. It contains many of the qualities of a good speaker. Hopefully my sisters have found more Silverlips today; it’s rather lonely being the only Silverlip Seedling!”

“What other plants do you Seedlings come from?” Nate questioned.

“There’s the Skyflower, Moondrop, Featherleaf, and Lifeblossom plants. Each is unique in its own way. If you want I could tell you more about each of them.”

“Please do!” Nate exclaimed excitedly.

“Okies, I’ll start with the Skyflower Seedlings,” began the Seedling. “The plant itself is a flower of a beautiful blue hue, hence the name. As for the Seedlings that come from them, they’re very wise and usually have big ideas to experiment with. If you ever need to know anything from us, I would seek an answer from a Skyflower Seedling. They’re fairly common so finding one shouldn’t be very difficult…pretty sure I counted seven of them, anyways.”

“Next are the Moondrop Seedlings. The plant they come from is a white flower that glows at night. These Seedlings seek to express their creativity and beauty through all kinds of art. Moondrops are nearly as rare as I am – there are only three of them right now in our growing family of twenty-five.”

“Featherleaf Seedlings are especially fast and nimble. Their plant is a tall, leafy stalk that sways in even the gentlest breeze, though on my sisters’ heads the stalk is far shorter. The leaves of this plant are large and wide yet seemingly weightless. A Featherleaf kept me company in those moments right before you woke up and saw us for the first time. They are rare to come by as well, as there are currently only three Featherleaves.”

“Finally there are Lifeblossom Seedlings. These plants are lime green flowers with lots of petals, and the Seedlings that come from these are very gifted in bending magic to their will. Even without the Magisilk Robes, they would still likely be capable of some magic, though nowhere near as much as with your blessings. Lifeblossom Seedlings are also the most common type of Seedling, making up just about half of us.”

“That sounds pretty awesome,” commented Nate. “I’d love to get to know all of you even better – in fact, I think we’re almost to the treehouse now. I can hear your sisters ahead.”

“I think they know we’re here,” she whispered back.

Entering the clearing, Nate saw all of the other Seedlings gathered before her. Also gathered were several piles of foliage each about five feet tall. The Seedlings’ gathering prowess dwarfed the basket of berries she had spent all day picking.

“Welcome back, Nate,” greeted one of the Lifeblossom Seedlings with a smile on her face. “How was the berry picking?”

“It was rather lively and enjoyable, thanks to my partner here,” replied Nate. The Seedling next to her blushed at the compliment. “The berries are ready so dig in!”

“Let me help with that,” said the Silverlip Seedling impishly, her hands glowing with that familiar green aura. Suddenly the berries began to fly out of the basket. Hovering in midair, each delicious berry waited for a Seedling to pounce, making for a rather interesting and fun meal. Nate joined in, wanting to catch some lunch for herself.

As the last berry was caught, the Silverlip Seedling laughed to herself. “That was fun to watch,” she said mischievously. Turning to Nate she added, “Don’t worry about me; I snuck a few berries from the basket while we were walking back. I hope you don’t mind!”

“So long as you’re all healthy, I couldn’t be happier spending my time with you,” Nate answered. “Now that we’re all done with lunch, let’s get to making those dresses!”

For the rest of the afternoon, Nate taught the Seedlings how to weave the leaves and vines together to make a dress that would hold. After all of the Seedlings received this lesson, some went on to make more dresses while others departed to gather more berries for supper. While the Seedlings were busy doing these things Nate slipped away for a moment. She was worried about Orin, for he clearly didn’t trust the Seedlings that she had come to love. Nate wanted to know where his fears originated, and so she summoned him.

“Ah, Queen Nate. Always a pleasure to speak with you,” stated Orin. “What do you wish to ask of me?”

“I would like to know more about why you distrust the Seedlings’ intentions,” replied Nate. “I believe that they can help with reclaiming Naelia.”

“Do not be fooled,” spat Orin. “The more numerous they become, the more they will become obsessed with you. They’ll turn your attention to them instead of saving Naelia!”

“Magic is not an easy thing to control, and surely you know that well,” replied Nate. “Why did you show me magic I was not able to control, then?”

“Because you are a Naelian,” said Orin promptly. “And you are not just any Naelian, but the Queen that shall save us all!”

“So you were willing to risk my life in the name of a land I can’t recall being a part of?” Nate asked furiously. “I can’t believe this…”

“If fate would have wanted you dead, you would not be here. We of the Order have already done far riskier things to ensure your survival, and some of us are dead because of it. I am not sure if I myself am still living, though I suppose I must be.”

The dream of her escape from Naelia came to Nate’s mind. She did not want to tell him that the chamber collapsed; it might push Orin’s spirit over the edge of sorrow. “Then I shall take a risk as well, if it can help get Naelia back from those Nightmares.”

“Queen Nate…” muttered Orin. “I don’t want you to take any unnecessary risks.”

“You have taken risks for me, and I shall do the same for you and for all of Naelia. The queen has her duty to protect her land, after all. Isn’t this what you want, Orin?”

“…no. I would rather you live without fulfilling the destiny given to you than have you die making it happen. That is why I have not yet thrust you into battle against Nightmares.”

This response came as a shock to Nate. Until now, Orin seemed to be willing to risk everything to uphold certain traditions. It wouldn’t make sense for him to keep Nate from her destiny, if there was even the slightest chance of success. Did he believe that she could even save Naelia…or was there something else he wanted more?
“Nate? Where are you?” shouted some nearby Seedlings. They seemed to be looking for her out of concern.

“I should probably return to the Seedlings soon,” Nate whispered. “There’s a ritual tonight that I’ve been invited to.”

“Be careful, Queen Nate. I would like to see you fulfill your destiny someday. I shall go now.” The orb returned to its normal dull color just as the Seedlings found her.

“There you are, Nate, we’ve been looking all over for you!” exclaimed the Seedlings.

“Sorry about that, I just needed some time to think things over,” replied Nate. “This is still all very new to me, having other people here.”

“Why think about things alone? We’d be more than happy to help with whatever’s troubling you, so feel free to ask.”

“I wasn’t exactly alone; I just wanted to talk to Orin. He’s the only one that actually remembers anything about Naelia, and…”

“Naelia can wait,” interjected a Seedling. “We’ve got a ritual to go to!”

Briefly Nate wondered why the Seedlings didn’t seem to care too much about Naelia, but Nate decided to remain silent and accompany them. Orin’s words had some truth to them; the Seedlings were becoming rather obsessed with Nate. Each and every one of them wanted to spend time with her, and as they grew larger as a group this would become harder to do individually.

“We’re here!” announced the Seedlings jovially. Nate noticed that they had arrived in a small clearing some distance northeast of Nate’s dwelling. A river ran through this particular section of the forest; Nate had been here more than once to enjoy the brisk spring water. There were a multitude of flowers resting on the ground next to this spring, and next to each lay a leafy dress. Nate realized that these were the plants that Seedlings were born from: Silverlip, Featherleaf, Moondrop, Lifeblossom, and Skyflower.

“Nate,” said the lone Silverlip Seedling, “We have created this ritual to express our gratitude for all that you have done and will do for us.”

One of the Lifeblossom Seedlings continued, “As we bring each new sister to life, we will carry on your dreams and aspirations.”

A Moondrop Seedling chimed in, “To each day we shall bring a brilliant radiance.”

More words came from a Featherleaf Seedling: “Each Seedling shall grow in both body and spirit, and our potential is limitless.”

Finally, a Skyflower Seedling concluded, “Remember that we will always be with you.”

“I thank you for your kind words, Seedlings,” Nate said earnestly. “I will try my best to help you girls grow. Is there anything else I can do right now?”

“Seeing as this is our first actual ritual,” answered the Silverlip Seedling, “I think you should have the honor of doing it. You will notice that we have laid out plenty of plants that are to become our new sisters. Simply wish for more Seedlings and they will come forth!”

A familiar voice screamed, “Queen Nate, stop! Consider what you are about to do!”

“Orin?” Nate asked in utter disbelief as her necklace lit up. “I don’t…”

“They need your blessings. The Magisilk Robes bestow great power upon those favored by the wearer. If you so choose, you may refuse to do this ritual; they won’t be able to do anything about it now as they are too few. If you let them grow you might not have this option later.”

Nate looked around at the Seedlings. They seemed to be mildly upset that Orin had interrupted the ritual, but all they did was to stare silently at Nate for a few moments.

“Orin,” spoke the Silverlip Seedling to break the silence, “We love Nate, for she has already done so much for us. I would hope that she continues to help us grow.”

“Bah! What have you done for Nate, other than pester her with constant requests and demands?”

“We bring her great joy. Haven’t you ever had anybody you deeply cared about?”

“Yes,” replied Orin after a while, “but this is not the time to discuss it.”

Nate decided to get back into the conversation. “Did you lose a loved one trying to protect me, Orin? You said it yourself; several people have died to keep me safe.”

“I said this is not the time, Nate!” Orin crossly countered. “Now drop it.”

“Nate, I don’t think Orin wants to tell you any more tales of woe,” Seedling quietly suggested. “He wants you to be happy, and so do we.”

“The Seedling is right in at least that regard,” scowled Orin. “You should not have to go through the torment my family has had to endure.”

“Orin...” Nate lamented, fighting back the tears in her eyes. “I have no recollection of my own family, my own friends. For years now I have had to endure this loneliness, knowing that others of my kind existed but never finding any. I wish to have a loving family again, Orin, and the Seedlings are like daughters to me. I have to let them grow.”

“If this fate is what you surely desire, Queen Nate,” sighed Orin, “Then you must believe it with all of your heart. Even the slightest doubts may be too much for you to commit to something like this, and a broken heart is surely the worst feeling in the world.”

“I…” Nate hesitated. Did she really, truly love the Seedlings she had created? Would she find solace among the growing throng? If Orin was wrong about them – that these Seedlings could in fact help with reclaiming Naelia – then Nate may see her homeland again.

“I sense doubt,” said Orin contemptuously. “Doubt is the last thing you want to have when you commit to something! Think of your alternatives, and do what you believe is most right.”

Nate looked around at the Seedlings, and at the necklace around her neck. Continuing to be with the Seedlings if they could not grow was not an option to Nate; she knew that they would not be as joyful, and caring for them would not be the same. Her only alternative, then, was to live alone once more…but she had already suffered enough of that! Thus her way forward was to help the Seedlings grow.

“Thank you, Orin,” Nate replied as a tear fell from her eye. “I have realized that whatever might go wrong with this is still better than a lifetime of loneliness. Seedlings, it is time to begin our ritual.”

The Seedlings perked up after hearing this. “Yes, let us begin where we left off,” said the Silverlip Seedling. “Orin, do you have any more words for us?”

“Yes, I do,” answered Orin. “May your bonds of friendship grow strong…it may be the only thing that can save Naelia.” The orb returned to its dull color yet again. Nate briefly contemplated why Orin seemed to have an about-face in his opinion of the Seedlings.

She would ask him that later; the Seedlings were waiting on her to perform the ritual. Noticing the river, Nate began to have an idea of why the Seedlings might have brought her to this particular spot. “This river is special to me,” she declared to the crowd of Seedlings. “It has given me life, inspiration, and many hours of amusement ever since I can remember. In the past few days, you Seedlings have given me much of the same. So I would like to wish that as this river runs through our forest, may the bonds of friendship run among all of us.”

Nate’s eyes suddenly blazed with a golden aura. Focusing on the plants laid out before her, Nate called upon her inner magic to levitate the plants and dresses above the gently flowing river. Slowly the plants were lowered into the water, whereupon the golden aura surrounding Nate’s eyes would leap towards them. In moments the transformation was complete – many more Seedlings were standing in the river waiting to greet Nate.

However, as the aura disappeared from Nate, so did her consciousness…
 
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Chapter Five: Denizens of the Dreamscape


The last thing Nate saw were more Seedlings springing to life in the calm river. Suddenly she felt weak; blackness enveloped her vision. Moments passed by, with each second feeling like an eternity.

When she finally awoke, Nate found herself in the same forest clearing…but instead of Seedlings there were several shadowy figures assembled before her. There were no discernible details that Nate could see in them, other than the sparkling robes they all wore and their Naelian appearance.

“Greetings, Queen Nate,” spoke the shadow closest to her. She sounded like a rose – beautiful yet sharp. “I see you have rejoined us here.”

“Where exactly is…here?” Nate asked in bewilderment as she looked around.

“We are in a land of dreams, my dear queen. We thought it prudent to meet you here and now.”

“If this is a dream,” Nate contemplated, “then I can just wake up, right?”

“Not exactly,” sighed the woman. “Our magic is keeping you here. You will find it quite impossible when we are all wearing Magisilk Robes.”

“I figured those weren’t ordinary robes,” commented Nate. “So why am I here?”

“Your magic is wild in most if not all senses of the word. Some of this was no doubt derived from the Queen’s Fate that you were bestowed with at birth, though most of it is your nonuse of magic for the better portion of your lifetime.”

“Queen’s Fate?” Nate wondered aloud.

“The Queen’s Fate is simply fate’s blessings bestowed upon the person that is chosen to be the next Queen of Naelia. As such, your magic will be stronger than that of the average Naelian. Tell me, Queen Nate, have you ever noticed how inner magic expresses itself when it is being used?”

“Well…no, not really. The Seedlings are the only ones I’ve ever seen using magic, and their hands glow with a greenish aura. I think I saw some light coming out of my own eyes too, when I was partaking in that ritual you so rudely interrupted…”

“That is exactly what we mean. Each person’s inner magic has an aura that appears to come from a vital part of their body. These Seedlings must be good with their hands, yes? I could use a massage sometime…my back is killing me, even after death.”

Nate stared blankly at that last statement.

“What. Even though I’ve technically been dead for something close to a thousand years, my spirit still lives on here. Now, as for your inner magic, Nate…it takes on a unique form due to the Queen’s Fate. You are, like all of us, gifted with the powers of clairvoyance. As such your eyes can see far more than you would like to believe. Your potential cannot be matched by anything, and once you develop your powers nothing would be able to stop you.”

“Then…why is Naelia in its current state of despair?” Nate asked. “Wearing the Magisilk Robes can only mean that you have stolen them…”

“…or that we have been the past queens of Naelia. As for Naelia, there was an act of betrayal too heinous to speak of here. It will be revealed in due time.”

“So…is Queen Amelia here, if what you say is true?”

“I am indeed Queen Amelia,” said the shadowy woman that had been speaking all this time. “And I know you wish to ask me how the Nightmares were…defeated. As they always say, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’ Look into the river, and you will see.”

Turning around, Nate noticed the river glimmering with a faint light. She cautiously approached, not knowing what to expect. With each step she took her thoughts came up with another possibility for what visions the water might show her.

When finally Nate did reach the water, she saw a scene of epic conflict. Forces of light and darkness were entangled so completely in their brawl that it was impossible to make any sense of the chaos. In the middle of the fray, Nate noticed a woman wearing a sparkling robe – no doubt Queen Amelia – casting spells in every direction. For all of her valiant efforts, however, the battle was not faring very well. Casualties on both sides mounted with each passing moment.

Then Nate noticed a hill in the background swarming with Nightmare monsters. Reinforcements were quickly approaching, and the battle would surely be lost…Amelia noticed this as well, and began to shout something in an archaic language to her allies. As they carried out this cryptic command they seemed to fall back, leaving Queen Amelia alone against the horde of Nightmares. What was she doing?!

What took place next completely shocked Nate; as the horde closed in for what seemed like an easy kill Amelia began to pulse with an aura of dark crimson. As the monsters touched her they seemed to fade away completely.

This did not deter the swarm of foes. They flowed like a raging ocean against this lone rock, but she did not falter in the slightest. Rather, as the Nightmares disappeared, Amelia’s aura shone even more brightly. Within moments the last of the Nightmares plunged into the void.

Like the horde of Nightmares, the image of this battle also began to fade away. Nate continued staring at the clear waters thinking about what she had just witnessed.

“Impressive trick, right?” Amelia said boastfully. “They never knew what hit them.”

“So, Amelia, would this still work? Could this save Naelia?” Nate asked.

“Perhaps. But I have never seen anything like your magic before. It is unique.”

“How could that be? I have hardly even begun to use my magic!” Nate exclaimed.

“We have all learned many things about magic, Queen Nate. But we have not learned how to use it to create new life. It is, perhaps, too much to ask you how you do it. And if you should lose that wild instinct you have, you may similarly lose that gift of life.”

“All you need is the power of dreams,” Nate responded. “Just wish for something with all your heart, and it will come true.”

“Don’t be naïve,” said Amelia furiously. “If we could magic up anything we desired we would not be in this mess. Magic is limited in what it can do. Why else would you be unable to find your way back to Naelia?”

“Perhaps there is some obstacle in my way. Once I find out what it is, I will take care of it and return to my homeland. My people need me…or at least, the ones that are still living.”

“Very well…but before you go, Queen Nate, I would like to request something.”

“And what would that be, Amelia?”

“I wish to be alive again, as do the rest of us. You can help with this, right?”

Nate wasn’t sure what to make of this request. She did not exactly like the idea of this, especially on some spirits who had whisked her away from the place she called home. She had to find some way out.

“I apologize, Queen Amelia, but I cannot do this,” Nate said, searching for the right words to appeal with. “How would I know my magic wouldn’t go horribly wrong? I’ve only begun to use my inner magic, and would rather not strain it so soon.”

“Are you sure? You seemed fine with the Seedlings’ ritual just now.”

“Yes, but I feel like I’ve known these Seedlings for a long time. I can’t quite explain it. I don’t know you anywhere near as much, however, and so I’d rather not…what the?”

It was at this moment that Nate noticed her feet were wet. The river had begun to flood the area, as if by some mysterious force. The shadowy queens noticed this as well and took to the trees.

As they departed, they left her with these words, whispered on the wind: “Go now, and think about our request. We would like to help you fulfill your destiny, Queen Nate.”

 
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Chapter Six: Two Sides of the Same Nate


The waters from the Dreamscape river rose higher and higher, eventually covering all of Nate’s body. Nate held her breath as long as she could, but after a few seconds could not hold it in any longer…and she awoke, coughing and sputtering, in front of the mass of Seedlings around her. Nate weakly glanced at the nearby river, which was flowing normally. The full moon was shining brightly in the night sky.

“Nate?” asked a Lifeblossom Seedling delicately. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, just…ugh. I feel…depleted…” replied Nate wearily.

“Let us rest, then. Would you like to come with us to the treehouse tonight?”

Nate was too weak to object. She simply closed her eyes again and was fast asleep.

“Sisters,” began the Seedling, “we should watch over Nate. Her inner magic feels really faint to me. In the morning let’s do everything we can to help her recover.” This proposal was met with silent nods of approval from the other Seedlings.

A few hours passed. Nate did not have any dreams for the rest of that night – she was too exhausted to even let her mind wander. Morning brought no solace to the weary Nate; she remained as tired as ever, and no matter how much the Seedlings tried to perk her up there was no overcoming this lethargy.

“This is quite worrying,” said a Skyflower Seedling to Nate. “I’m afraid you might have some sort of magic sickness. There’s only one thing I can think of doing in a time like this. We need to enter your dreams. That’s where the magic happens, and something’s gone wrong there.”

Nate whispered back with a weak voice, “No…don’t have to…I’ll be alright…”

“We understand, Nate, but we love you. We wouldn’t be here without your dreams, or be able to grow without your wisdom. Now we need to help you, as you have helped us.”

A teardrop fell from the Seedling’s eye. Nate suddenly remembered that moment a few days ago when this all started, and a teardrop fell on her orb necklace. What magic could she possibly have done with her own tears? Or was it something more significant than that? Could this all be a dream? It rather felt like it – she was feeling quite hazy.

“Nate?” the Seedling pleaded. “Please…let us do this. For you.”

Even if she was dreaming, this would still seem quite surreal. What would the Seedlings do to her subconscious? Would they try to influence her thoughts? Could she remain focused on her destiny awaiting her in Naelia? She briefly wondered how things might have turned out if magic had never entered her life…

“Okay,” Nate mumbled, still distracted by her own thoughts. “But watch out…for the water…” With that Nate closed her eyes.

The Seedling turned to face the crowd of others watching her and Nate. “Not all of us can go. Some of us will need to stay here and tend to Nate’s body while we tend to her spirit. I will leave the choice to each of you; whoever wants to accompany me into Nate’s dreams, come and join hands with me.”

Within moments, each Seedling’s role had been decided. About two-thirds of the Seedlings had stepped forward wanting to help mend Nate’s broken spirit. As they linked hands with each other the Seedlings began to glow with a green aura.

“Let’s hope this works,” said the Seedling next to Nate as she put her free hand upon Nate’s forehead. In a burst of light, they disappeared into Nate’s dreams. The Seedlings that remained went to prepare for the day’s berry gathering.

Nate, meanwhile, had arrived in a deep patch of forest. In this place she did not feel the effects of whatever had happened to her physical body. Suddenly about three dozen Seedlings joined Nate; it was a bit hard to tell just how many were there as the thicket of trees hid several Seedlings from her sight.

“Ah, so you dream of this forest?” asked one of the Seedlings curiously.

“Only sometimes,” Nate replied. “But this doesn’t look at all familiar to me.”

“Perhaps you might want to take another look at that tree over there,” suggested the Seedling as she gestured towards a grand oak, by far bigger than any other tree around.

“Is that…” Nate began to wonder how she could not have noticed it before.

“Yes. It’s where it all started.”

“Let’s go there,” Nate said with an air of confidence. “Maybe we’ll find something!”

And so they walked over towards the majestic oak. The journey was made mostly in silence, thinking about what might lie in wait. Upon arriving at the tree, however, Nate fell as if her legs were turned into jelly.

“Nate!” shouted some of the Seedlings in shock as they rushed to help her.

“Queen Nate!” screeched Amelia at the same time, who had just leaped from the branches of the oak. She was alone. “What have these foul monsters done to you?”

“Monsters?” replied the Seedlings indignantly. “We’re no monsters, but you certainly look like one!” With that, their hands began to glow with a green aura.

“Ha,” mocked Amelia. “You would dare to challenge me in a fight? I may be long dead, but I still have the upper hand.” Suddenly Amelia’s eyes shone with a purple aura.

“No, don’t! Stop!” screamed Nate as she tried to calm the tensions. “We don’t need to fight. Please…”

The Seedlings and Amelia stared at each other with great distrust and hostility. Each of them knew that the other party was responsible for Nate’s suffering. But for the sake of Nate, their auras reluctantly faded away.

“Okay,” breathed Nate with a sigh of relief. “Now, while we’re all calm, I’d like to introduce you to each other. Seedlings, this is Amelia, one of the past queens of Naelia. Queen Amelia, these are the Seedlings.”

“Ah, yes…I’ve heard about you,” said Amelia irately.

“As have we,” said one of the Silverlip Seedlings in a similar tone.

“I know tensions are high, but we need to work together…” Nate said. “Amelia, do you have any idea what that strange water was that interrupted us last time we met?”

“No,” Amelia replied. “Took me completely by surprise.”

“Uh…” one of the Featherleaf Seedlings interjected. “When you fainted during our ritual last night, we figured a quick splash of water would wake you up again. Could that have some connection to this magic sickness?”

“Maybe,” pondered Nate. “I don’t remember feeling wet, though.”

Amelia suddenly announced, “I think I’ve seen this before, Queen Nate. It may be that you have been split into two by such abrupt movements into and out of the dreamscape.”

“What?!” Nate asked in shock. “Split into two?”

“It takes some time to fully assimilate one’s physical body into the spiritual realm. I knew that you could not simply leave immediately after you arrived. Hence why I tried to keep you here until you were ready to go, but unfortunately someone here had to bring you back earlier than expected.”

“Sorry about that,” squeaked the Featherleaf Seedling sheepishly.

“Fortunately the fix is simple,” continued Amelia. “We just need to find your other half running around somewhere. This shouldn’t be too hard.”

Meanwhile, back in the Seedlings’ Treehouse, Nate suddenly woke up.

“Hiya Seedlings!” said Nate happily. “Where’s the others?”

“Hiya Nate,” said one of the two Seedlings in the room. “Glad to see you’re awake!”

“The others that remained here are out gathering berries,” said the other Seedling.

“Remained here?” asked Nate curiously.

“Don’t you remember? Most of us wanted to help fix whatever went wrong with your dreams, so they’re…um…inside your dreams.” She paused for a moment to think.

“Hmm…I think whatever they did worked. I’m feeling great!”

“Let’s go celebrate, then!” said the Seedlings.

Back in the dreamscape Nate asked, “Where would this other half of me most likely be found? In the dreamscape, right?”

“Unfortunately it is not that easy to tell, Queen Nate. She could be here in the dreamscape somewhere, or somewhere in your physical world. We will know soon, though.”

“Indeed,” said a Silverlip Seedling. “There are more of us Seedlings that stayed in our world. Perhaps some of them have found her there.”

“When you do find your other half, Queen Nate, all you have to do is to physically touch and all will be right again.”

“Okay. What should we do now, Seedlings?” asked Nate. “Shall we go and search for my missing half in our world?”

“Yes, let’s do that,” replied a Seedling. “You may wake up at any time, Nate.”

“Farewell, Queen Nate. Hopefully we shall meet again soon…”

The Seedlings disappeared from view; Nate, however, did not.

“…we have a problem, Queen Amelia,” Nate said fearfully. “I can’t wake up.”

“Oh no…this is worse than I thought,” muttered Amelia. “Come with me.”

As Nate walked with Queen Amelia through the dreamscape, so also did Nate run through the forest of the physical world gathering the Seedlings together. Suddenly a great popping noise not unlike that of popcorn was heard, and more Seedlings appeared.

“We’re back from your dreams, Nate!” announced the first of many Seedlings to appear before her. “We figured out what was wrong.”

“That’s awesome news, my dearest Seedlings,” replied Nate eagerly. “I’m feeling better already! We are going to celebrate this with another ritual, now let’s get ready!”

The ever-growing mass of Seedlings leaped with joy at the thought of more sisters. Excitedly they began to help spread the news to the remaining few and find a plethora of Seedling-worthy plants. Nate’s delight seemed to eclipse even that of the Seedlings, however, and she could hardly contain herself.

“It would appear that we’ve found your other half,” said Queen Amelia blankly as she and Nate stared into a large stone bowl of water depicting events in the physical world. “She appears to be your more spirited half, if I say so myself.”

“So now all I have to do is physically touch her and we will be whole again?” asked Nate, as if to remind herself of the circumstances. “How can I do that when I can’t wake up?”

“Unfortunately, this is something not even magic can fix. If your other half dreams, you can wake up again, but then she will be stuck here. And you can’t physically touch here in the spiritual realm. You may have to live the rest of your life like this.”

“Can’t you force me out of the dreamscape, at least?” Nate asked.

“No. I can bring and hold you here, but I cannot force you away from this realm.”

Nate took a deep sigh. The Seedlings seemed to be oblivious to her enduring plight, and they looked so happy and joyful. She wished the best for them, and for herself, that they might live together in happiness. Nate’s tears streamed down her face.

“I feel your pain,” said Amelia philosophically. “This is exactly how I feel, being able to see the goings-on in the world yet not able to be a part of it. I truly wish to be a part of it again. And yet…you are not dead. There is that spark of life within you, that thing that makes magic happen. I no longer have this spark; most of my magic has since drained away…”

“So how are you still able to use such grand magic?” questioned Nate.

“This?” Amelia said as she gestured towards the stone bowl before them. “This is merely a simple scrying spell. So what if it transcends dimensions, it’s still the same magic. You only need to look at these things differently, using the Queen’s Fate to see that which eludes all others. While you are here I may as well teach you how to use your abilities to their greatest potential, so that you may return to Naelia and complete your destiny.”

Together they stared once more into the bowl, watching the Seedlings’ ritual about to begin…perhaps this was best for Nate after all. Her destiny and her desires, seemingly at odds with each other, could now both be achieved.

“Let us begin,” said the Nate in the physical world, starting the ritual.

“Yes, let us begin,” said the Nate in the dreamscape, starting her destiny.

 
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Chapter Seven: Return to Sender




The scene in the stone bowl changed from that of the Seedlings’ ritual to one of a busy cobblestone street. People of all ages were going about their daily business; the adults were buying food at the market while boys and girls played games with each other. Nate had never seen this place to her recollection, and yet – there she was, one of the children partaking in these games.

“Okay,” the young Nate said, “I have a new game. Whoever climbs highest in one of the trees around here wins!” As soon as the words left her lips, all of them were scrambling to find a tree of their own to prove their dominance. As the older, wiser Nate watched this debacle she knew that this could not end well.

In moments, only Nate and one of the boys had dared to climb dangerously high. The branches were thin and looked like they could snap at any time. Neither would back down, and so they both climbed higher and higher. Suddenly the boy murmured some words under his breath and a great gust of wind blew towards Nate.

“Hey!” Nate yelled as she hung on for dear life. “Stop trying to knock me off!”

“What? A little wind too much for you?” retorted the boy mischievously as he sent more gusts in Nate’s direction. Suddenly the branch Nate was holding onto broke and she began to fall. Desperately she racked her mind for a spell that would halt her descent towards the ground.

“Featherus Levitatum!” shouted a man’s voice as his hand was outstretched towards the falling Nate, who slowed down and landed gently on the ground.

“Thank you kindly,” Nate said to the man that had saved her. “I’ll have to remember that one.” This man’s voice seemed familiar to the older Nate, and she tried to recall who it was. Orin? No, Orin’s voice was softer in tone, but she would definitely have to talk with Orin later about this. If only she could remember more of her long-lost childhood…

“I sense your memories are not what they used to be, Queen Nate.” Nate turned around to see that the other shadow queens had silently joined them as she had been focused on the bowl. “You seem to have forgotten many things about Naelia.”

“Yes…” said another shadow. “We must teach you of your past if you are to know what the future has in store for you. All of the answers are here, and you only need to ask.”

“Okay.” Nate responded. “There’s a lot of questions I’d like answered…”

Meanwhile, the Seedlings’ ritual was underway in the physical world. This particular half of Nate was sparing none of her magic; she wanted to make this ritual bigger and better than the one before it. Flowers were dancing about the trees in intricate patterns, their flight controlled by Nate’s powerful magic. As each flower swooped down into the waters of the river they glowed with a bright yellow aura that exploded moments later to reveal a new Seedling being born into the world.

When the final flower was given its new life as a Seedling, Nate ran over to welcome each of the new Seedlings with hugs. Suddenly a bucket of water was dumped onto Nate unexpectedly, and as she looked behind her she saw a Featherleaf Seedling carrying an empty bucket with a smirk on her face.

“We figured we would need this bucket again given what happened last time,” she said. “And I’m not about to waste a perfectly good bucket of water! Glad to see you’re alright!”

At this, Nate laughed and gave this Seedling a hug as well. “I love all of you dear Seedlings,” Nate shouted, “and I want to see you girls always growing bigger and bigger!”

“Bigger and bigger!” the Seedlings chorused.

“That’s the spirit!” Nate exclaimed. “Now let’s spend the night dancing and singing!”

The drums and flutes were brought out, and the party was underway. The scene would appear bizarre to an outsider; Nate’s dancing was graceful like that found in a ballroom whereas the Seedlings danced with a wildness more fitting of a tribal powwow.

There were two hundred Seedlings as of that night, and their talents spanned a wide range of abilities. Among them were musicians and singers, weavers and chefs, gatherers and builders. Nate’s knowledge would serve as the foundation for all that would take place over the next few days, and as more Seedlings were born into this budding society all of them worked together to construct more treehouses, weave more dresses, gather more berries and plants. The nightly rituals were just as wondrous as those before it, and the partying afterwards served to motivate them all for the next day. Life wasn’t just good, it flourished.

Meanwhile, the half of Nate that was in the dreamscape had learned a great deal about Naelia from the shadow queens. After asking why only women had aspired to the throne of Naelia, Nate was answered with the fact that magic flowed more easily through a woman’s body and the queen’s major role was to control the flow of magic throughout the realm. Men usually became defenders against the Nightmare menace, since men were able to resist physical and magical attacks more easily. Everybody worked hard to make Naelia prosperous, and for about a thousand years it has endured.

Nate’s magical prowess was also beginning to show its true potential. She was often winning magical duels with the lesser shadow queens, though Amelia was still far too clever for her. The limitations of the physical world were removed, and these duels would have claimed lives were they not in the dreamscape; it allowed Nate to not hold back for concern of life.

“Good work,” Amelia said as Nate finished off another opponent. “Tomorrow we shall see how well you can deal with multiple adversaries. Queens Felicia, Lena, and Sara, prepare your team’s strategies for the upcoming duel!”

“Aye, Queen Amelia,” replied the three shadow queens. “We promise not to make it easy for Queen Nate.” With their last word, the trio left the room.

“So, I have to ask,” started Nate. “Why am I being trained for combat? Can’t there be some easier way to achieve peace, like what you did all those years ago?”

“My method was a last resort,” replied Amelia. “I suffered greatly for absorbing the Nightmares’ power, though it was the only way I could have won that war.”

“Winning isn’t everything,” Nate said absentmindedly.

“Excuse me, Queen Nate? Sometimes you can’t afford to lose. Lives are at stake here, and people depend on you to win. You do everything in your power to win, at any cost.”

“Okay…I must go and prepare myself, then. I will see you tomorrow, Queen Amelia.”

Nate sought out a place where she would not be disturbed – even though night was coming, those residing in the dreamscape did not have to sleep. She briefly wondered what would happen if she slept and started dreaming while already inside the dreamscape…but then decided that sort of shenanigan was better left to the wacky minds of movie producers.

Suddenly an idea occurred to Nate. Could she use her clairvoyance to get an idea of what her opponents’ plans were? It was worth a shot. She began to focus her power…

Over in the physical world, Nate had just begun to eat breakfast with Seedlings sitting all around her. Without warning, Nate’s eyes began to blaze with a golden aura, showing her a vision of a dark room with three shadowy figures. They seemed to be plotting Nate’s demise, but the vision only lasted a few seconds. Afterwards Nate felt a little dazed, and the Seedlings noticed this.

“Ooo, now that was a crazy vision,” Nate said. “But why would anybody want to do such horrible things to me?”

“Who did you see, Nate?” asked a Moondrop Seedling. “And what were they going to do to you?”

“I’m not sure,” replied Nate. “There were three shadowy figures in a room, plotting to fight me. I didn’t get details about where, or when, or why…but I’m scared now.”

“Shadowy figures…wait, didn’t we see one when we went into your dreams?” the Seedling said to the others. “That shadow claimed to be one of the past queens of Naelia. I just knew that she was up to no good, though! Let’s go get them before they get us!”

Shouts of support from the Seedlings echoed throughout the forest.

“Whoa there, let’s calm down a bit Seedlings,” Nate said. “These shadowy figures only exist in my dreams, right? There’s no reason to fear a dream.”

“Nate,” said a Silverlip Seedling, “Remember that we came from your dreams. If we could do that, then don’t you think they might be able to do the same?”

“Good point,” mused Nate. “Perhaps we should take care of this after all. I haven’t dreamed at all in the past week; if I had dreamed earlier I might have fallen into a trap!”

“And we will all be coming with you this time. If there were three in that vision, who knows how many more there might be?”

“Thankies, Seedlings. Your support is greatly appreciated.”

Back in the dreamscape, this frustrated half of Nate had given up on trying to see anything. No visions had come to her, so she would have to go into this match blind as she had with all the others. Against three somewhat skilled mages Nate did not have much hope of claiming victory. Reclining on the sofa in this room, she began to dwell upon Naelia and what she might do with her rule over the land once she returned.

“Queen Nate!” shouted Amelia. “The match shall start in fifteen minutes!”

“Alright, I’m coming,” grumbled Nate. She had just gotten comfortable. Approaching the combat room, uneasiness crept upon Nate like the sun in the dreamscape sky. Briefly she wondered if her other half ever slept; she had not yet appeared here. That did not matter however; she was on her own here, without Seedlings or Orin to motivate her and keep her company. She had only the shadow queens and they were generally quite cold and unwelcoming. They had much to teach Nate however, and today would be no different.

Stepping into the chamber, Nate noticed her opponents. Felicia was wearing red robes, Lena was wearing yellow, and Sara was wearing blue. Nate knew perfectly well their styles of magic; each one she had conquered individually in the past. Unfortunately for her, fusing the elements of lightning, fire, and ice together could have devastating consequences. And she was about to take on their combined power.

“Before we begin, Queen Nate, I would like to make a lesson out of this,” started Amelia. “We all know that you can get the better of a single opponent. Fighting on multiple fronts, however, leaves fewer openings to strike at a weakness. Sometimes you may not need to hit a weak spot to retain an advantage, but when given the chance do not hesitate to attack where it hurts.”

“Point taken,” said Nate. “But what of my own weaknesses?”

“Against an onslaught of several foes you cannot hope to guard them all. One will find a way to break through and take you out. There is great power in numbers, but some will be lulled into a false sense of security because of this power. Press the offensive, and limit their numerical advantage by restricting their avenues of attack. Entire armies can fall to a single skilled combatant.”

Turning to the three shadow queens Felicia, Lena, and Sara…Amelia spoke words of encouragement to them: “Even as I say this, do not forget that you three still have better odds. There are three of you, and only one of her…”

“I hear voices ahead!” echoed a voice that sounded exactly like…Nate? Amelia ceased her lecturing to listen to this distraction. Suddenly many hundreds of footsteps began to resound throughout the large training hall as whoever was approaching hurried towards them.

“What in the—“ Nate began to say, but stopped when she saw herself enter the hall. Seedlings filled the corridor behind this other Nate, and several of them spread out behind her as if to fill this room as well.

“You monsters!” yelled the other Nate in a fit of blind rage. “Plotting to attack me as I slept...” Then her eyes met Nate’s and for a moment they stared at each other.

“How cute,” said Amelia mockingly breaking the silence.

“Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to, fiends,” the Nate standing with the Seedlings snapped back. “I saw and heard everything. Every last word of your vile scheme.”

“Wait, you saw them?” Nate asked of her other half. “I…but you…how?”

“It was a vision just this morning,” replied the other Nate.

“If you saw what I could not, then…oh, never mind that. So why have you all come and interrupted today’s test I was just about to partake in?”

“Test? These three traitors are about to attack you!”

“Of course they are about to attack me. That’s the test.”

“Then we shall…”

“No, I think not,” Nate replied, casting a fireball at her other self. Completely caught by surprise, the other Nate abruptly left the dreamscape out of shock. With her departure came that of all the Seedlings, since they had entered the dreamscape through her dream which had now ended.

“Well done, Queen Nate.” Amelia clapped her hands. “Now, let us begin the true test of what you have learned here today.”

Nate turned around just in time to see three elemental spells heading her way. Leaping away from the surprise attack, the fight commenced. Blows were exchanged, but Nate was eventually defeated.

Speaking to Nate’s bruised and battered corpse lying upon the stone flooring, Amelia began to address all of the errors Nate committed and concluded with, “Overall, you just seemed distracted to me today. Do not let thoughts of past acts cloud your focus in the present. I will see you tomorrow with three more challengers.”

Nate was whisked away to her chamber, her health restored. Perhaps she would take the time to do that which had been bothering her…and with that she began to focus on a new vision, one of herself speaking.

Meanwhile, Nate’s other half had woken up, startled.

“Ugh! How dare I do that to myself!” Nate scowled. Seedlings had just begun to appear as they, too, were brought back from the dreamscape. Some of them seemed rather shocked and angry, but most of them were simply confused at what had just taken place.

“Seedlings…did any of you girls get hurt in there?” Nate asked. Every Seedling she could see was shaking her head or otherwise not complaining, which calmed her down slightly. So at least nobody got hurt.

“What shall we do now, Nate?” asked one of the Moondrop Seedlings.

“We shall continue growing our wonderful family,” replied Nate happily. “I have no need for dreams; you girls are all I could ever dream about anyways! Now, let’s get more of everything done for tonight’s rituals…we’ll need treehouses, hammocks, dresses, berries, and of course the plants that are to become new Seedling sisters!”

Nate was about to dismiss the crowd to their tasks when her eyes began to shine with that same golden aura again. A familiar voice began to speak to her:

“Nate? Oh…I hope this works. Anyways, it’s me, your other half. I’m so sorry about throwing a fireball at you to wake you up but I did not want any of you to get involved with my training. It’s harsh and I often end up with broken bones, but I must fight through the pain regardless. I have to fight, to reclaim Naelia and fulfill my…your…our destiny. Please, for your sake remain living in the physical world. Watch over the Seedlings, and help them grow and flourish in peace. I love them too much to see them get hurt. And before I forget to say this…talk with Orin. He needs to know what has happened. Perhaps he has more to say on the matter of Naelia. I have yet to understand what’s happened to our powers, but I think you receive whatever visions I try to have, and hopefully vice versa. Send me a vision with a response sometime soon, okay?”

Nate’s golden aura faded away, but she continued to stare blankly into the distance. She had ultimately decided upon pursuing her dream of helping the Seedlings grow rather than save some silly place that to her doesn’t even exist anymore. It had been a never-ending whirl of fun and adventure over the past week, and Nate didn’t recall getting the least bit of sleep for a few days now. She was as energetic as ever, though, if not more than before.

And yet, simultaneously, her other half had been fighting for her destiny in the past week as well. Surely she hasn’t gotten any sleep either with all the training she was doing, though how would sleeping work in the dreamscape in the first place? Probably a question she wouldn’t ask of Orin. Speaking of which, he would probably be bothered by the sheer number of Seedlings he’d see; they numbered close to a thousand.

Snapping back to reality, Nate announced, “Okay, could the first five Seedlings come with me to my dwelling? I think we’ll have a nice chat with Orin there. As for the rest of us, let’s start readying ourselves for tonight’s ritual!”

“Alrighty! Let’s go and make Mother Nature proud!” rallied some Lifeblossoms. Nate smiled; their affectionate nickname for her was becoming more common every day. Happily she began to skip towards her dwelling with the five Seedlings in tow. Not even what Orin was about to reveal to her could dampen Nate’s spirit…
 
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Chapter Eight: Bittersweet Farewell


“Greetings, Nate. It’s been quite a few days since we last talked,” Orin said.

“Yes it has, Orin. I need to know more about Naelia,” Nate began. “Much has happened in the past few days, and I’m not exactly myself anymore…”

“Oh goodness, are you alright Nate?” Orin asked in surprise.

“Yes, but it’s a long story. It began after I last spoke to you, during the first ritual…”

For the next two hours, Nate went into excruciating detail about how she had been split into two through the dreamscape, using details filled in by the Seedlings.

“…and that brings me to where I am now, speaking with you.”

“So there’s two of you now?” answered Orin. “And I thought the Seedlings were the only ones that could multiply.” Everybody laughed at that comment.

“Getting back to Naelia…how exactly would one go there?” asked Nate.

“Naelia is a land just beyond the dreamscape. It is possible to reach Naelia through there by using a transdimensional portal. Finding a way to create the entrance is a tricky business, but once you’re through your body will appear in Naelia. This means it is mostly a one-way ticket. There will be no coming back here unless you happen to find your way out of Naelia again.”

“So should we go?”

“That…is the troubling part. Perhaps it is time I told you my story, and then you can decide for yourself if you still want to save Naelia.”

“It began in my youth…ever since I set my eyes on May, I wanted to be with her forever. She was probably one of the most beautiful, happy girls in Naelia. One day May became queen, and I volunteered to be one of her assistants. But over time that happy girl I had known turned cold and harsh. Constricted by traditions, she didn’t have freedoms most others enjoyed. This seemed to darken her once lively spirit, but still I served her. What happened next…I still regret to this day. One day May came to me most unexpectedly and broke down in tears. She couldn’t handle it anymore, and…before she would…before she…”

Orin was now horribly upset. It seemed like Orin had loved the previous queen of Naelia, and some tragedy had occured. Nate waited patiently for Orin’s sorrow to subside, as did the Seedlings – which was surprising, since Seedlings usually didn’t wait for anything.

“My apologies for that, Queen Nate,” whispered Orin, still sobbing. “I truly wish that she did not have to take her own life, but I could not stop her. All I could do was to accept the final task Queen May had given to me. She wanted me to watch over you, and protect you from the Nightmares until you came of age to take the throne.”

“Perhaps she yet lives on,” said Nate. “I may have seen her spirit in my recent dreams.”

“Nate…those shadows only claim to be the past queens of Naelia,” spoke the Skyflower Seedling. “I don’t think any of us Seedlings trust them, especially after seeing what they did to your other half and how she turned against you like that. Even if they truly are Naelia’s past queens, they’re being a negative influence on your spirit.”

“We don’t have to enter the dreamscape,” answered Nate. “Everything I could possibly want is here in this world. This sacred forest that I now call home, and the beings of purity and joy that inhabit it, are all I could ever ask for.”

“So it seems that you will remain here, am I correct?” questioned Orin.

“Yes. This is my home now,” replied Nate.

“Then I am probably no longer needed here,” Orin sighed. “I sense a great many Seedlings flourishing under your care, Queen Nate, and I wish you all the best in your new life here. Before this final farewell, however, I would like to enter your dreams. Can you do this for me, like you did for the Seedlings? Seeing May again would be a relief on my heavy heart.”

“Sure, Orin! You’ve done so much for me, and this is the least I can do to help.”

“Good…let’s do that right now then. Seedlings, carry my orb inside with you after Nate begins to dream. Wait a few moments, and then you should all be clear to return here. We don’t need Nate’s spirit getting fractured any more than it has.”

“Alrighty, thankies for everything Orin! We’ll miss you!” said the Seedlings.

Meanwhile, the dreamscape training room was ablaze with spells being cast in every direction. Nate was fighting another trio of shadow queens and faring much better this time. One had already fallen to a particularly nasty spell cast at her back right after Nate teleported a short distance. The other two could barely hold her off.

Suddenly a burst of light distracted Nate’s two opponents long enough for her to send a finishing blow to each. Nate suddenly turned around to see herself. Five Seedlings were just now appearing next to her twin, and they appeared to be carrying a familiar orb…Orin?!

“I see you’ve returned to cause more trouble,” Amelia said bitterly towards the Seedlings and the half of Nate that accompanied them. “Why have you brought the traitor Orin with you?”

“Traitor?” both Nates asked simultaneously.

“Perhaps I should have told you earlier,” replied Amelia, “when you were watching his demise in Naelia. To stand in fate’s way is tantamount to suicide, and Orin thought it best to keep you away from Naelia.”

The orb lit up, brighter than ever before. A figure emerged and stood before them. “That may be true, but people should not be forced into their roles by some ‘destiny’ or whatnot. We should be able to choose our path in life!”

“Orin, you naïve fool. Fate has already predestined our lives, and we cannot avoid the inevitable.”

“There is always another path to take. One of these Nates has been forced into her destiny by you, while the other Nate has chosen her own way. Tell me, which one is happier? Which one is more fulfilled in life?”

“You are just as much to blame as I am,” replied Amelia. “You rekindled Nate’s magic. You set in motion the mechanisms that would bring her back to Naelia. Now you will be the one that opens the portal there.”

“And what if I refuse to open this portal?” asked Orin mockingly. “What if I spit in fate’s uncaring face, and return with Nate to her new forest home?”

“You’ll find that escape is impossible for you, Orin. Not when you have even the slightest chance of seeing your beloved May again.”

Orin’s face became red with anger. “Where is she?!” he roared.

Amelia didn’t seem fazed in the slightest. “I’m sorry, but your princess is in another castle,” she replied with a smirk.

Rage got the better of Orin, and he sent a barrage of fireballs at Amelia.

“Naïve fool,” Amelia muttered under her breath as she deflected the volley. “If you wish to see May again, a duel is not the way to go about doing it.”

More fireballs erupted from Orin’s rage-filled body. A few of them almost struck the Seedlings, who shrieked in surprise at the close miss. This broke Orin’s rage, if only for a moment. Amelia seized upon the opportunity to knock him out with a quick bolt of energy.

“What else could I do?” she asked of the others. “It is impossible for Orin to see May again unless he wears the Magisilk Robes, and he is not fit to do so. Power already clouds his judgement.”

“Ugh…so May…her spirit still lives?” croaked Orin.

“Yes. The traitorous May does live on in spirit, though she has confined herself to a dimension of her own to keep the Fabric of Dreams hidden away. Of course, she likely succumbed to its power long ago. And you, Orin…you further carried out this treason by taking Nate out of Naelia. Now the Nightmares have returned in force with nobody left to defend her populace. Much can change in two decades of anarchy.”

“But Nate couldn’t protect herself, not at that young of an age!” Orin said as he rose to his feet. “She was only nine years old!”

“Nate was a quick learner, and had you not attempted to block her fate she might have been one of the greatest spellcasters in a land that would still be heralded as the land of dreams. Even now her magic is powerful, achieving things I could only dream of. Yet her heart can’t stand to bring harm to others.”

“Perhaps that’s what May saw: a way to break the evil power without conflict.”

“There must always be evil and conflict in the world,” spoke Amelia, “just as there must always be good. If you remove a power, the remaining powers redistribute to maintain the balance.”

“Excuse me, but what evil is there with the Seedlings?” asked Orin. “Initially I distrusted them, but came to realize that these spiritual beings were extensions of Nate’s emotions, and she had been happy for as long as I’ve known her. Therefore these Seedlings would continue to make her happy.”

Amelia was silent; her arguments would likely stir up emotions if she voiced her complaints against the Seedlings while they were present. She decided that she would confide in the dreamscape Nate once the others left.

“No retort?” asked Orin mockingly. “You usually have an answer for all the questions and scenarios you come across.”

Rather than answer Orin’s taunts, Amelia simply turned around and walked away. This was an argument she could not win.

“That was unexpected,” said the Silverlip Seedling. “We know that she doesn’t like us and that we don’t like her. Perhaps she just didn’t want to hurt our feelings.”

“I think it is time we left, then, Seedlings,” said the Nate next to them.

“I concur,” said Orin heavily. “If May is not here, then I might as well return to Naelia. This may be your only chance to come with me.”

“I have already decided to stay,” replied both Nates simultaneously.

“Ah, yes. You have Seedlings to care for, and you require more training. Perhaps it is for the best. I bid all of you adieu.”
A shimmering orange portal appeared behind Orin, and he stepped inside whereupon it immediately faded away. Similarly, Seedlings and Nate faded away as they left the dreamscape, leaving only the other half of Nate standing alone.

“Good, they’re gone,” Amelia said as she re-entered the room. “Now I can say these things I was holding back…”

Back in the physical world, Nate had begun to wake up. She felt strangely lost and empty knowing Orin was gone forever, as if she had just lost a friend. The Seedlings appeared next to her but a moment later, whereupon they embraced each other for comfort.

“Seedlings,” began Nate, “Losing a friend and mentor really hurts emotionally. It’s convinced me all the more to remain with you girls forever, so that you may never feel that sort of pain.”

“Don’t worry, Mother Nature,” replied a Lifeblossom Seedling. “We are always with you in spirit. A part of you is in each and every one of us!”

“Yeah, and someday we too might discover how to travel between realms at will. All of existence can share in our joy!” said a Skyflower enthusiastically.

“What are we waiting for, then?” asked Nate. “Our sisters await!”

The dreamscape training room, meanwhile, kept Nate and Amelia chatting away for a few hours about Orin, May, and the Seedlings.

“Those Seedlings always were craving more,” said Nate. “More sisters, more berries, more of everything. I wonder how my other half keeps up with them.”

“Spiritual beings are often like that,” replied Amelia. “Like a pet they crave your attention, but spirits are often drawn to those of their own kind and so they will all demand increasing amounts of your time.”

“…So what about Orin? Why’d he leave for Naelia alone?”

“He probably wants to find a way to reach May. Bad things will happen to him if he does find her, though; the Fabric of Dreams is cursed, and enthralls all who look at its true beauty to weave their very souls into it. Perhaps this is similar to what the Seedlings are doing to your other half right now, though it’s hard to say.”

“Weave one’s soul? That sounds painful,” mused Nate.

“Very painful indeed. We managed to hide it away, and for nearly a thousand years it has remained hidden. The seals on its prison are weakening, however, and the Nightmares are the least of your problems if it reveals itself once more. Queen May tried to fight the corrupted Fabric but failed. I don’t even know if her soul still exists, but her spirit is not with the rest of us shadow queens residing here.”

“Shouldn’t we stop Orin, then?”

“I’m afraid it is not safe for you to dissuade him from his goal. He is, like you, gifted in the art of magic. He’s also got his innate resistance to attacks on both his body and spirit, and he’s not about to abandon his love. When you can defeat me in a proper duel, you will be ready to return to Naelia and do what you wish.”

“Then let us fight,” said Nate with conviction. “For Naelia.”

 
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Chapter Nine: Tales of a Tailor




“So, Queen Amelia,” questioned Nate, “if the Fabric of Dreams tempts everybody with its overwhelming beauty, then who tailored the Magisilk Robes?”

“A fine question,” replied Amelia. “I know only that these robes were tailored from the Fabric of Dreams. Nightmares appeared some time afterwards, at which time the mystics discovered the Fabric of Dreams to be corrupted and thus sealed it away.”

“Interesting…do you think the Nightmares might have corrupted the Fabric?”

“I don’t know, Nate. It’s a possibility…”

“What would they…” Nate began to ask.

“They want destruction. Perhaps they managed to find a way to corrupt this most sacred relic of Naelia, or at least deface it to the point where we had to hide it. But the Fabric cannot be truly destroyed; we know this much.”

“Alright. So we could just use our clairvoyance to find out what happened.”

“That would be inadvisable, Nate,” Amelia replied harshly. “Even in a vision your soul may be forfeited if it happens to come across the Fabric of Dreams. Not only that, nobody has seen this fabled fabric in ages so we wouldn’t know what to look for.”

“Then how do we find out the origins of the Magisilk Robes?” Nate asked.

“They simply exist, and that is that. Now, go prepare yourself for another duel.”

“As you wish, Queen Amelia,” Nate said courteously.

She couldn’t help but think that there was more to this mysterious clothing than Amelia was saying. Perhaps she would enlist the help of her other half in learning more about the Magisilk Robes – so much did not make sense here. How could both halves of Nate end up wearing the same Magisilk Robes? How did this clothing get tailored from cursed fabric? Why did it control such powerful magicks?

When Nate was certain that she was on her own she began to send a vision asking for help in studying their Magisilk Robes. Hopefully her other self would have the time to look into this…

Meanwhile, that half of Nate had just started gathering berries for the day.

“Nate,” pleaded a few nearby Seedlings, “can we please play some games when we’ve gathered enough berries? You promised we’d all get to play with you!”

“I did? I don’t recall saying that, my dearest Seedlings,” replied Nate with a confused expression on her face.

“Your heart did,” said the Seedlings. “We can sense those feelings that come from within. Now what game can we all play together?”

Nate didn’t know whether they were messing with her or if they really could see these things. Magic revealed itself in the weirdest ways, she thought to herself, and speaking of which – her eyes were beginning to glow with that familiar golden glow once again. In recent days messages were sent back and forth with her other self through their shared visions, and this would no doubt be her again.

“Hiya, Nate!” began the usual greeting. “I’m still working at beating Amelia in a duel…she’s really something, but I shall defeat her soon and finish my training! Anyways, I have a request for you. Could you find out more about the origins of the Magisilk Robes? I'd love to hear back from you soon!”

Nate snapped back to reality. The Seedlings continued their incessant requests for playtime – but they did seem to have gathered enough berries. There wasn’t much else to do, so she would ask for the Seedlings’ assistance…after they had their fun.

“Alright, I give in!” Nate said to the Seedlings. “But first let’s get these berries back to our sisters. I’m sure they’re hungry from all the work they’re doing!”

The group of Seedlings laughed cheerfully at this announcement and began to carry their harvest towards the treehouse. Some of the girls (mostly the Featherleaf Seedlings) carried the rather large baskets of berries on their back but most Seedlings decided to haul their harvest with magic instead.

As Nate and her contingency of a hundred Seedlings walked through the forest, they were joined by other Seedlings already playing games. Conversations excitedly started up among the crowd, and word spread quickly of Nate’s promise for playtime. By the time they finally reached the treehouse, there were close to a thousand Seedling girls swarming around Nate.

The area was bustling with the activity of another thousand Seedlings, as all sorts of crafting and tailoring were taking place here in anticipation for the nightly ritual. Nearly a hundred flowers were gathered, awaiting their new lives as Seedlings; each one required a dress, a hammock, and plenty of friendship.

Of course, Seedlings also needed to eat large amounts of berries. As the berry baskets made their way around the busy crowd the crafts were put on hold.

“Thankies, Mother Nature!” echoed the mass of grateful Seedlings.

“Haha, you’re very welcome Seedlings,” replied Nate cheerfully. “Let’s eat!”

The Seedlings happily began to munch on some berries. During the meal Nate walked around and briefly chatted with groups of twenty or thirty of them at a time, asking them how their day was or what they were doing to help with the ritual. Most Seedlings in turn asked Nate about the game she would play with them afterwards, and Nate’s heart couldn’t refuse them.

Thus, when lunch was finshed, Nate started a game of “Seedling Tag” outside the enormous treehouse complex. Nate’s goal was to tag as many Seedlings as she could, and each Seedling that Nate reached had to freeze in place and became one of her helpers – though tagged Seedlings could not move around like Nate, all the other Seedlings they tagged would likewise become Nate’s stationary helpers in converting more to her side. Among the Seedlings, this was their favorite game by far. It would always take a few hours to finish a game but they had great fun the entire time.

“Finally!” Nate shouted in triumph a few hours later when she trapped the only remaining Featherleaf Seedling against a wall of helpers and tagged her. “That was a really fun game, Seedlings. I would like to announce a request I have before we finish our day with the ritual, so gather around!”

Her words spread throughout the crowd, and within moments every Seedling assembled around Nate eager to hear for themselves what she had to say.

“Alright, so you girls know of the Magisilk Robes that I am wearing right now. We don’t really know much about where the robes came from, though, and I’d like to find out. Studying this should go faster with a few Seedlings helping me figure this out. I’ll start looking at the robes tomorrow and would appreciate a few Seedlings willing to assist me. With that being said, let’s keep on growing our circle of friendship!”

The ritual was as exciting as ever, and everybody danced the night away. Nate went to sleep early into the festivities, and the party was still going on when she awakened the next morning. It didn’t appear as if any Seedling slept that night, but they were as energetic and hyper as ever. Nate had known for a while that they would only sleep out of reverence for Nate’s limitations and they could continue to play and grow as much as always without ever resting. This would be another typical day, Nate thought, but with the exception that she would instead be studying her robes rather than helping gather berries or craft more things for the ritual.

Nearly two dozen Seedlings showed up to help Nate study her robes. It felt weird wearing her old hand-tailored leafy dress, but Nate shrugged it off; besides, all of the Seedlings loved to wear these dresses so they couldn’t be that bad. Briefly Nate wondered who tailored the Magisilk Robes – it was flawless clothing even all these centuries later. Was it expert craftsmanship, magic, or some combination of both?

“Nate, may I try on the robes?” asked a Lifeblossom Seedling innocently.

“Sure, Seedling. I wonder what effect they’d have on you…”

And so the young Seedling donned the robes. This looked rather silly on her small body, with the robes sprawling all across the floor. Everybody stared silently at the robes, expecting something to happen.

“Greetings, Nate,” came a voice from the Seedling’s lips that did not sound at all right. Rather than the lighthearted female voice typical of the Seedlings, this voice sounded like a deep, serious male voice…and it sounded faintly memorable to Nate, yet oddly completely unknown to her at the same time.

“Eek!” shrieked the Seedling as this mysterious voice made its presence known. “There’s someone inside of me!”

“Do not be afraid, young ones. I only wish to speak; I mean no harm.”

“Go on, then,” Nate said.

“Thanks. Anyways, I am Dre…the name isn’t that important really, but rather the important thing is this magical robe I have sealed some of my spirit into but a thousand years ago.”

“Where did you get these robes?” asked Nate curiously.

“I made them,” replied Dre coolly. Could Nate believe this answer? Certainly she could refuse to, but her curiosity must be satisfied. Perhaps she would chat for a while; if Dre really did tailor these robes his insights would be invaluable to the Nate residing in the dreamscape.

“Certainly I’m not as skilled as you once were,” complimented Nate. “Could you tell me what you think of these leafy dresses that my Seedlings and I made?”

“This would barely pass for clothing in uncivilized worlds,” Dre critiqued as the possessed Seedling’s eyes glazed over her sisters’ garb. “Given your unusual situation, however, this is decent craftsmanship. Yes, Nate, I’m well aware of what you’ve been going through in the past two weeks.”

“Speaking of unusual situations,” the Seedling interrupted, “isn’t there any way you can find your own body or something? This feels really awkward!”

“I’m afraid not, Seedling,” Dre replied. “This fragment of my soul is very weak. It can’t live on its own anymore, and has to remain attached to pure magic.”

“So you have to remain within the Magisilk Robes, I assume,” Nate said.

“Exactly. These robes are magic incarnate, and I found that out when I began my work on tailoring this masterpiece. However, your Seedlings are quite interesting – they are also pure magic. This isn’t just a matter of casting spells and sorcery; something more than magic has to go into creating things this long-lived.”

Suddenly Nate’s memory clicked and she remembered Orin’s words from long ago: “Spirits are basically your source of inner magic; I have bound some of my spirit to this orb to protect and guide you. I sense you have recently bound some of your spirit into something as well.”

“That look on your face suggests you’ve realized it. Your spirit sustains the ebb and flow of your sorceries. In putting your very soul into what magic you cast, it can turn into things that remain in existence forever. Orin had things mostly right when he told you about magic, but he got one rather important detail wrong – your physical body can, and will, die at some point.”

“Then how did he return to Naelia? His physical body is gone, isn’t it?”

“No. He still lives. I know this since he is wearing another one of my Magisilk Robes right now. You forget that he is heralded as one of the greatest mages in Naelia, and a cave-in can easily be avoided through any number of incantations.”

This came as a surprise to Nate. Her visions…could they be false? She had almost certainly seen Orin crushed to death in that cave, yet she did not actually see Orin’s body being flattened under the rocks.

“So if you can detect other Magisilk Robes,” Nate wondered, “what happened when I split into two? Why did we both end up with Magisilk Robes?”

“As I mentioned before, these robes are magic incarnate. They can do things that should not otherwise be possible for clothing to do. Likewise, your Seedlings are formed after Naelians such as yourself – but they clearly do not have your limitations.”

With that comment, the possessed Seedling’s hands began to sparkle with a bright green aura – brighter than Nate had ever seen before. As the Seedling waved her hands above the ground, a sea of Lifeblossom flowers sprang forth.

“The magic in these robes is incredible,” spoke the possessed Seedling in her normal voice. She gestured towards the others to join her, and their hands too glowed with a similarly intense green aura. Within seconds the floor of the entire dwelling was covered in flowers, and the Seedlings were giggling happily at the wondrous sight.

The auras faded as Dre spoke again. “Perhaps you should take the Magisilk Robes back, Nate. You’ll need them if you are to return to Naelia.”

“What’s so important about Naelia?” asked the possessed Seedling. “We want Nate to stay with us forever and help us grow!”

“I do have to agree with the Seedlings on this one,” Nate added. “I am perfectly fine living here. Besides, my other half is already going to go to Naelia at some point.”

“Perhaps I should share my suspicions. I believe something has tainted the spirits of Naelia’s queens; they are corrupting your other half to do something horribly dangerous to the Fabric of Dreams.”

“Then I will just tell her that those queens aren’t to be trusted.”

“Nice idea, but it won’t work. She will just tune you out; she already thinks that your soul is in shambles due to all the Seedlings you’ve bound your essence to. In a sense that has happened, for most would consider you quite insane. However, your spirit has actually grown stronger with the number of Seedlings you create rather than weakening. This doesn’t make any sense to me, but it is what it is.”

“Could we just get rid of the queens from my dreamscape then, if they are just corrupting my other self?”

“I hardly think that’s possible. Death is impossible in a spiritual realm.”

“Drat!” Nate exclaimed. “Seedlings…can any of you come up with something?”

“We can relocate to Naelia, can’t we?” asked one of the Skyflower Seedlings.

“That’d be crazy!” answered Nate. “You might be seen as a worse threat than the Nightmares if a few thousand of you just suddenly appear there.”

“Couldn’t we just fight the Nightmares and build goodwill with the Naelians?” muttered a Featherleaf. “I know I’d want to get rid of some evil…”

“What happens when the Nightmares are gone?” Nate proposed.

“We could become part of their society, right?” a Moondrop speculated.

“Yes, but that would mess up their way of doing things so badly. From what Orin’s told me about Naelia, they pride themselves highly on their livelihood. If some Seedlings came along they’d lose that and probably take it out on all of us!”

“Guess we have to remain here then. What about you, Nate? It still looks like you’re going to have to return to Naelia, and you might never find your way back!”

“I’ll find Orin. He should know the way; he sent me here once before.”

“Please stay with us for a few more days, Mother Nature,” the Seedlings begged.

“Well…” Nate began.

“Time may be running short,” Dre interrupted. “Who knows when the Fabric of Dreams will be found, or by who?”

“I could use my…oh wait, that’d only send the vision to my other self and she’d get to it first! Double drat!”

“We can watch their movements,” said Dre. “But I advise you make plans to leave here as soon as possible, Nate. We cannot afford the Fabric of Dreams falling into the wrong hands.”

“Hold on a moment. Can’t I just try to get myself split again in the dreamscape? It happened once.”

“Unfortunately, that is rather unlikely. Do you remember when the Seedlings first met Amelia? You think you tripped over something at the great oak, but rather it was a soul-stealing trap. Amelia subsequently released the stolen portion of your soul into your physical body, splitting you into two, but her reasons for doing this still elude me. She could do this again, but I have reason to believe that she wouldn’t.”

“Then why did I feel so weak in the dream before?” wondered Nate.

“The dreamscape is an alternate reality; things still happen there. When you left the dreamscape that previous time you had nearly drowned. Clearly you’re going to be weak from a near-death experience.”

“I guess that makes sense,” mumbled Nate.

“So what are you waiting for? Go and prepare for the Seedling Ritual…and this time, Nate, let the Seedlings use their own magic to create new life. They cannot rely on the power of the Magisilk Robes forever.”

“Alrighty, Dre!” shouted a smiling Silverlip Seedling. “Let’s go tell the others!”

“So should I take the robes off now?” asked the possessed Lifeblossom with a perplexed expression on her face. “I mean, we’re done talking, right?”

“Yes, this is goodbye for now Seedling, at least until tomorrow,” replied Dre. “Make sure to put on a good show for Nate.”

Thus the Seedling went to dress in her normal leafy garb. Nate contemplated putting the Magisilk Robes back on, but she decided to leave the robes hanging on the wall instead. Dre only seemed to know things about those who wore the Magisilk Robes while they were wearing the mystical clothing, and admittedly he was creepy.

“Nate,” asked one of the Seedlings, “why do you always accept everything told to you as fact? Clearly someone’s lied to you!”

“Well, Seedlings, I have no way to check for myself whether most of these things are true or false. I have to put my faith in others.”

“What if we told you the moon was made of berries?”

“Haha, have you Seedlings ever been to the moon?”

“Maybe we have. Who’s to say we haven’t used our magic to go there?”

“And how would you get there…teleporting?”

The Seedlings began to giggle lightheartedly. “What if we told you we could do that? Our magical powers are limitless, after all!”

“Show me, then!”

One by one the Seedlings linked hands with each other, their hands glowing with a green light. For a moment the Seedlings remained like this, but then suddenly they were gone! Nate looked around but could not see a single Seedling inside the dwelling or near it. A few minutes passed, and Nate was beginning to wonder if those mischievous girls would ever return. Just as she was about to give up and leave, however, a Seedling appeared in front of Nate from out of nowhere. Two more similarly made their appearance only seconds later.

“What in the…” Nate said aloud in disbelief as the room began to fill with Seedlings that seemingly came from nowhere.

“Well, we decided that the best way to show you was to gather all of us here. Look outside, more are coming!”

Nate ran over to the door, bumping into a few Seedlings that materialized in her way. Looking outside at the forest, hundreds of Seedlings began to appear as if some invisible cloak was thrust away.

“Okay, so they can teleport,” Nate sighed to herself. “Does that mean that the moon really is made of berries? I hope they’re not being silly…”

“We’re all here!” announced a Lifeblossom Seedling standing next to Nate. “Not only that, but this is a fitting place and time to have our Seedling Ritual. Why don’t you have a seat and watch us, Mother Nature?”

Nate, though still quite confused, obliged. It was a welcome relief to watch the Seedlings perform for her; even without the power of the Magisilk Robes, there did not seem to be any less magic in the ritual. Green light lit up the new night sky like fireworks, and a multitude of flowers sailed with grace through the air. It could not have been easy for the Seedlings to coordinate their magic this beautifully; they must have been practicing ever since the first ritual!

Suddenly the flowers began to shine brightly, and bursts of green light exploded from each of them in turn to reveal a new Seedling. These new Seedlings began to fall like leaves from a tree, and all of them touched upon the ground with a gentle grace in front of Nate.

“Welcome, Seedling sisters!” said Nate cheerfully.

“Hiya, Mother Nature!” replied the new Seedlings. “Are you ready for another awesome night of music and dancing?”

“Yes, as I always am,” answered Nate. “Now where are the flutes and drums?”

“No flutes or drums tonight,” said some of the Moondrops. “We’ve got a new instrument tonight we’ve practiced really hard on! We hope you like it!”

A fair number of Seedlings picked up what appeared to be pieces of wood with varying lengths of string stretched across them. Rather rough construction for the harp, Nate thought, but she definitely recognized this instrument. Surprisingly enough, the light and airy sounds that the Seedlings played seemed to be nearly perfect tones. Immediately the calm and soothing music captivated Nate, and her body began to dance almost of its own accord. This music was much more relaxed than the typically wild beats of previous nights, as were the Seedlings.

Many hours later, the Seedlings' harp music was still playing. Nate wanted to make the most of her limited time with her Seedlings, but had fallen asleep shortly after she had sat down for a brief break from the dancing. The sun began to rise in the distance, and Nate's eyes opened. A few Seedlings noticed, and so a group began to form around Nate as she was getting up.

“Many thanks for the wonderful music,” Nate said to the Seedlings around her. “It means a lot to me. I’ll miss this when I have to return to Naelia alone…not that I want to, but there are others that need my help!”

“We understand,” said a Silverlip Seedling as she hugged Nate. “But do not forget that all of us are your friends. You can always turn to us when you yourself are in need. We will always be with you!”

“And how will I call upon you when planes of existence separate us?”

“Just look inside your spirit. It’s grown bigger and bigger, just as we have.” For a brief moment, Nate stared into the Seedling's hazel-colored eyes, trying to find the spark within that gave them so much youthful energy...and then, she saw a glimmer of light that turned into tears.

“Let’s go talk with Dre, then,” said Nate.

“Already ahead of ya!” shouted a Lifeblossom from within Nate’s dwelling. She walked outside donning the Magisilk Robes.

“Hello, Nate and Seedlings,” greeted Dre. “I’m afraid I have some bad news…”

Nate stiffened up at these words. She hoped it was not yet time to go.

“Orin has discovered a dimensional rift that leads to the Fabric. Thankfully, he has not ventured within yet but he plans to do so very soon.”

“Does he know that the Fabric of Dreams is in there?” questioned a Seedling.

“I’m not sure, but what he wants will invariably lead him to it,” said Dre.

“What do you think he will do when he finds it?” asked Nate. “He’d probably use it to impress Queen May, correct?”

“That is correct,” Dre answered, “And this is why we cannot let him have that power. He will do anything for May, even if it destroys the world.”

“Would you trust me with the Fabric of Dreams?” Nate mused. “Could anybody be trusted with it?”

“I think not. But you have shown that you deeply care for others, and want to do what is best for them. You are less likely than most to abuse this power. But the Seedlings you have raised have become just as selfless as you, if not even more so; perhaps we would be better off sending a Seedling to save Naelia…”

“If one of us goes, more of us have to follow,” interrupted the Seedling through whom Dre was speaking. “We Seedlings help each other grow!”

“Yes, you are peculiar beings,” Dre rambled. “I wonder how things would have happened if my own…ahem. Now is not the time for that.”

“Your own? Did you create some magical beings in the past?” asked a Skyflower Seedling innocently.

“Just forget I said that,” advised Dre. “Nate, are you ready?”

“Yes. May I have a few last words with my Seedlings?”

“As you wish. Put on these robes when you are done, Nate, and I will summon the portal. Goodbye, everybody.”

Nate looked at her flock of Seedlings. She would find a way back to this place someday, but how would the Seedlings carry on without her? Her words would have to be powerful motivation for them to thrive on.

“I have enjoyed watching all of you delightful Seedlings fill this forest with your boundless energy and love. To think it all began just a few days ago with five Seedlings and a simple desire for happiness. I’ve never been happier in my life to know anybody quite like you. Always keep on growing!”

“Mother Nature,” asked the Seedlings, “you will return to us, won’t you? We love you so much!”

“I will return when I can. I promise you this much, for I too love all of you.”

Tears began to stream down Nate’s face. Some of the Seedlings walked over to the sobbing Nate and hugged her. Their smiling faces and warm hospitality calmed Nate down, and they remained in a silent embrace for a few moments.

When it was finally done, Nate stepped towards her dwelling. “I really wish you could all come, but this is something I have to do by myself. Wish for my safe return.”
Nate entered her dwelling as a green portal sparked to life within. Stepping through the threshold, Nate knew not what she was getting herself into…but that was how this whole thing began, right? She turned to look one last time at the Seedlings. They seemed so happy that not even this sad farewell could keep their spirits down. Nate knew they would be alright without her, but could she live without the Seedlings? Only time would tell…

Meanwhile, in the dreamscape, Amelia and Nate’s other half were dueling more ferociously than ever before. Walls were being blown apart by their powerful spells, but neither combatant would back down.

“Perhaps you’d like to quit, before you get defeated again,” taunted Amelia.

“Maybe you’d like to forfeit before I actually defeat you,” retorted Nate.

“We shall see about that!” snapped Amelia as she summoned an unnaturally cold whirlwind of snow around her body.

Nate threw a fireball at the shield, which fizzled as soon as it struck the snow. She summoned two more, neither of which had any effect. Then an idea struck Nate, and she too began to summon a whirlwind around her. Burning hot flames began to swirl around Nate’s body in the opposite direction as Amelia’s icy shield, and as Amelia watched in amusement Nate ran straight towards her, flames and all.

“What is she do--“ Amelia began to wonder, but as the shields touched each other, Amelia noticed that Nate was no longer inside the mass of swirling fire. The two whirlwinds began to explode, and Amelia had to blast everything away from her with a forceful gust of air to avoid getting struck by the chaos. At that moment, Nate seized her chance and struck down Amelia with a well-placed fireball.

“Ugh…” gasped Amelia as she collapsed to the floor.

“Looks like I win,” replied Nate smugly. “Now, what am I to do?”

“So you still want to save Naelia, do you? The Nightmares may have conquered the capital city of Naelia and scattered its residents, but they are not the greatest threat. The threat that lies below the surface must be dealt with before it consumes Naelia in its entirety. Find some way to eliminate the sinister corruption from the Fabric of Dreams first and foremost.”

“Very well, but how am I to get to Naelia?”

“You remember that portal, don’t you? The one Orin summoned? I tracked its destination and can open it for you again. However, I cannot follow you through it. I am…too weak, so to say. But here you are…”

A purple-colored portal opened in the middle of the half-wrecked castle hall. Nate leaped into it with utmost haste, not even bothering to say goodbye to Amelia.
 
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Chapter Ten: Tunnel of Regret


“I already miss those Seedlings,” Nate thought as the blizzard she was trudging into chilled her to the bone. “They’d make this place so much more bearable!” Alone in a desolate-looking place, she had to focus on her one goal: locate the Fabric of Dreams before anybody else could abuse its powers.

To begin her search for the dimensional rift, Nate looked for clues as to where Orin might be. Fortunately, Orin’s travels were widely publicized and Nate was apparently in the very same town he had come to restock his supplies at only mere hours ago. Unfortunately, Orin had already left town to further inspect “a discovery of great importance to him” – no doubt the rift Nate was seeking.

She hurried in his wake. Orin was not blinded by love, for he did not immediately jump into the rift when he saw it, but he would not hesitate this time. Hopefully he was taking a slow pace getting there, but Nate believed that love would push him harder than ever before.

The hours ticked by, and finally Nate saw the cave that Orin had apparently spoken of in town. It was rumored to be a haunted place where people mysteriously disappeared, never to be seen again. Nate thought she saw a light flickering within the cave, but then it promptly disappeared; it was probably the snowstorm playing tricks on her eyes…

She ventured within the bleak-looking caverns before her. Her uneasy footsteps echoed throughout the corridors, intensifying Nate’s fears. Keeping her wits about her, Nate sought something she had never seen. Surely it wouldn’t be an innocuous object, like these crates scattered about the place…

Silently she began to wonder to herself what people had brought with them into this place, or what they too were looking for. She peeked into some of the crates, which yielded nothing but rusty mining equipment and torn-up pieces of notebooks. Words were scattered here and there, and even the biggest scraps of paper still made less sense than the Seedlings insisting that the moon was made out of berries; Nate knew better than to blindly believe everything she was told.

But then why was she even here? What if the Seedlings were all just a dream, and she woke up motivated by her wild imagination to seek out this haunted place? What did she expect to find? She sighed, and the echo carried throughout the cavern.

A cold yet familiar voice spoke: “Greetings, Nate. Fancy seeing you here.”

Nate spun around in surprise – she didn’t hear anybody approaching her, and yet, there she was: the other half of Nate. She seemed different, but Nate couldn’t figure herself out.

“Why, hello there,” greeted Nate. “I was just here looking for something. I’m not sure what, exactly.”

“You sure you didn’t leave it with your beloved Seedlings?”

“No, no…this is different. It’s something I was destined to do at some point.”

“Abandoning your Seedling daughters? Someone has to look after them, you know. They need our gentle guidance, our lighthearted leadership. Without you, who do they turn to for answers?”

“I will return to them soon. I’m sure they are doing just fine without me.”

“They aren’t. Would you like to see for yourself?”

“I…” the first Nate began to respond, but before she could finish speaking her eyes began to glow with a golden aura.

“I wasn’t going to give you a choice,” said the other Nate as she walked away. “You certainly didn’t give me any.”

Reality faded away to show a familiar forest clearing for the first Nate. Seedlings were almost always playing here, though it was eerily silent. Nate wandered aimlessly through the dreamlike mists that pervaded the thicket of trees and marveled at how thousands of girls could have vanished.

Something caught Nate’s attention up high in a tree. A sizeable group of Silverlip Seedlings, hiding among the branches…

“I wish Nate was still here,” one of them whispered. “She’d protect us.”

“We all wish for that, but I doubt even Nate is a match for this!”

“Shush, sisters, we need to keep watch! The other Seedlings are more numerous than we are…and they have all been possessed. We might be the only ones left to stand against this powerful threat.”

“Please come back soon, Nate…”

Nate was astounded at how things could have changed so dramatically in just a few hours. Someone, or something, was attacking her Seedlings just as she left them. Was this threat waiting for Nate’s departure? And what did it want with the Seedlings? She had to hurry and find the Fabric of Dreams.

Snapping back to reality, Nate picked herself up off the ground and ran with renewed spirit towards wherever fate wanted her to be. She wasn’t about to lose everything, darn it.

Coming upon a small hollowed-out room in the maze of tunnels, Nate noticed two figures staring at her as she barged in: Her other half, and Orin. Apparently they were having a chat before Nate interrupted them.

“Oh, Nate,” spoke Orin, “Why are you here as well?”

“Well, I don’t know the way out,” Nate responded. “That and I’m still looking for the Fabric of Dreams…somehow it’s tied into all of this, I just know it!”

“Yes, quite a few things have happened because of this Fabric,” remarked Orin. “I’m not about to take chances with being unprepared. You may as well come with us.”

“Yes,” added the other half of Nate standing next to him. “Come, and we may vanquish the evil that resides within the Fabric of Dreams.”

“Evil?” questioned the first Nate. “It is certainly a powerful relic beyond our imagination, but I don’t think it is evil. Perhaps it depends on whoever is using its great powers.”

“And why would the Nightmares suddenly attack when Queen May sought this relic? She could have seen this was going to happen with her clairvoyance. Or worse, perhaps she…ordered the attack?”

“No. The May I knew would never do that,” Orin murmured.

“Well, there was this spirit within the Magisilk Robes that claimed to—“

“A spirit, Nate? Most unusual…” Orin interrupted. “I am fairly certain that there is no such thing within these robes, for they have been examined in excruciating detail by Naelia’s most proficient mystics. Time and time again.”

“Yes, most unusual indeed…” echoed Nate. This spirit did just seem to appear out of nowhere, and only to Nate and her beloved Seedlings. Was she hallucinating?

“We can figure this out later,” said the other half of Nate impatiently. “Nate, I believe it is time to rejoin our halves together. We stand the best chance at taking down Queen May if she truly is evil, but we cannot focus our power very well if we’re split.”

“I was about to suggest the same thing,” replied the first Nate, still standing some distance away from the group. “I am sure some of our powers were lost when we split into two, and other abilities were messed up. Rejoining ourselves seems like the best option.”

Each Nate began to walk towards the other, and as they met a blinding golden light emanated from each of them. As the light became dim, a single Nate stood before Orin. She gave a silent nod towards Orin, and so the duo proceeded to journey onwards. Sure enough, a shimmering wall appeared before them after a couple minutes of walking.

“What is this?” asked Nate.

“Nate, you don’t ever remember seeing a transdimensional rift?” scoffed Orin. “You were sent through one as a young child.”

“I don’t really remember anything about Naelia…” Nate sighed. “This is all new to me, and apparently I am supposed to be the queen of this land.”

“Humph, we can catch up on that later,” Orin interrupted. “I sensed this portal goes to a place of great power, and I am certain May is within. Hopefully we have prepared enough, but just in case – take this trinket, Nate.” He pulled out from his pocket a familiar-looking orb necklace.

“Why did you…” started Nate curiously.

“This may well be my undoing,” Orin grumbled. “I don’t have the foresight you do, to know when my time will come. Have this as a gift to remember me by, if I…”

“No. You’ll make it through this, Orin,” replied Nate. “There really was no need to put your spirit inside of this trinket again.”

“Spirit?” asked a surprised Orin. “My dear girl, I didn’t put anything in the orb this time! You can look after yourself now.”

“Well, if you say so. Let’s see where this rift leads,” sighed Nate. After a brief moment she added, “But let me take a minute to focus my clairvoyance.” With that her eyes began to shine with a golden aura, and the reality of the cave melted into nothingness around Nate. For a few seconds, Nate’s surroundings remained pitch black – and then a tiny ball of light appeared. It flickered for a few seconds before the darkness extinguished it.

Suddenly the cavern came back into view, and Nate woke up from this rather bizarre vision.

“I couldn’t really see much of anything. Just a ball of light, but that’s it.”

“Oh,” sighed Orin. “I figured there’d be some ancient magic blocking this realm off from everything else. Only way we’re finding out what’s in there is to walk through the veil before us…”

 
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Chapter Eleven: Prison of the Ancients


Upon going through the strange portal, Nate and Orin found themselves in a place devoid of scenery. The floor was tiled with hexagons as far as the eye could see. Some distance away, two of the hexagons pulsated with a soft yellow glow, as if to beckon them towards it.

“Well, well,” Nate said. “Whatever’s in here wants us to go over there.”

“It’s a trap,” Orin muttered.

“Oh, Orin,” said Nate. “If you know the power of the Fabric of Dreams, we would both have been dead upon entering this place if the one controlling it did not wish us here. They’ve been expecting us; at least we should show some manners.”

“I still don’t trust it.”

“Do we have a choice?” asked Nate.

“There is always another choice,” Orin replied. “Never forget that.”

“I fail to see what the choice is here, Orin,” Nate declared. “We either go to that place prepared for us, or we wander around in here until we go to that place.”

“I’d like more answers first. Nate, could you see what will happen if we go to those hexagons over there?”

“Sure,” Nate answered. Closing her eyes, she began to focus her clairvoyant powers on who would appear before them. As Nate’s eyes blazed with a golden aura, she could only see a female silhouette within her vision. It seemed peaceful enough, but again her visions were being clouded by some mysterious force.

“I think I saw a woman, but I’m not sure. Something’s messing with my power of clairvoyance, Orin.”

“Be very careful, Nate. There are ancient magicks here that have not been touched in a thousand years. No doubt the elders took great care to keep the Fabric of Dreams safe from those who would abuse its unparalleled power.”

Cautiously they approached the two glowing tiles. Orin studied the auras for a moment before realizing that this was a rather common two-body locking spell, and definitely not a trap in any way.

“This is a rather basic spell, Nate. Surely the elders would have done better than something so easily circumvented?”

“Perhaps they didn’t think a group would find this place?” Nate replied.

“That might be…a single person might have happened upon this place at some point by pure accident, but for two people to simultaneously arrive here is less likely to occur. Let’s unlock this magical mechanism and see what’s inside.”

Orin and Nate began to walk towards the two platforms. Orin was just about to step into his glowing hexagon when Nate shouted for him to stop.

“The miners!” Nate exclaimed with her sudden insight. “Wouldn’t they have been in groups? They’d have unlocked this long ago if the elders had truly been so simple in their security. Something isn’t right here…”

Suddenly a purple bolt struck Nate unconscious.

“Well, I wasn’t expecting company,” muttered a female voice.

“Queen May! What…what happened?” Orin asked in shock.

“You do not belong in this realm, Orin,” May responded before sending a purple bolt of energy towards him. Orin’s reflexes were quick, however, and he deflected it away with a magical shield.

“And what gives you any more right to be here?”

“The one in the magical cloth has accepted me. This is his realm.”

“Stop speaking nonsense! There is nothing in that Fabric of Dreams except highly concentrated magical essences.”

“Such naivety,” May said condescendingly. “The grand plan has been set in motion and there is little you can do to stop the new age from coming. Surrender yourself and you may yet live to be part of it.”

“This isn’t the May I once knew,” Orin responded bitterly. “But whoever you are, you will not succeed in taking away everything that is dear to me!” With those words, he unleashed a wave of blinding light.

“Argh! You shall not escape us!” May roared as she struggled to see. Purple bolts flew everywhere, but Orin and Nate were both long gone.

Meanwhile in the dreamscape, Nate’s subconscious awoke to find the shadow queens assembled before her. Even with the difficulties of reading the facial expressions of a shadow, she could tell that they were especially sombre.

“Queen Nate,” spoke Amelia bleakly.

“Yes, Amelia?” replied Nate uneasily. Something had gone horribly wrong.

“I fear the worst has come to pass.”

“You mean I’ve…been killed?!” Nate asked in shock.

“That part I’m unsure of. I am referring to the ancient evil in the Fabric of Dreams, and regardless of whether you still live or not, it may be too late to stop it.”

A moment of silence passed. Nate had questions she wanted to ask, but she did not want to ask them right now.

“I sense a spark of life within you yet,” Amelia whispered, “but it is very weak, and certainly the Seedlings being corrupted by this evil isn’t helping your own spirit.”

“WHAT?!” Nate roared furiously.

“I think you already knew this was happening, because while your soul was split I’ve been in on every single vision you and your other half shared with each other. In fact it was quite easy to follow what you were both doing at any given time.”

The vision of the Silverlips briefly flashed across Nate’s mind.

“Please help us, Nate…” spoke a Silverlip Seedling with a voice as clear as day. Nate could have sworn the voice came from right in front of her.

“What the…” Amelia stammered. “How are they…”

“Nate, something’s happened to us,” spoke a distinctly Skyflower tone of voice. “We don’t feel like ourselves anymore.”

“Yeah!” chimed in a Moondrop. “It’s like something in these robes is making us ignore our very way of life!”

“Robes?” asked Nate absentmindedly.

“Magisilk Robes, silly!” answered a Featherleaf. “We’re all wearing them now and it’s made our magic really strong, but…something definitely feels wrong with it.”

Nate was still confused. “How did you girls get Magisilk Robes?”

“I…” squeaked a nervous Lifeblossom. “I’m sorry Nate. After getting that feeling…that overwhelming sense of power the first time I wore them…I wanted more. And I wanted the other Seedlings to have this power as well…”

“Ah! Perhaps a picture would be worth a thousand of their words,” interrupted Amelia as she gestured towards a familiar-looking bowl. “I managed to see this last night, while you were preoccupied with the Seedling ritual.”

“Yeah, Nate, see for yourself!” cried the Lifeblossom.

Nate stepped towards the bowl as the liquid within showed a dark-lit room of her forest dwelling. Through the window, Nate could see bright lights exploding in merriment; surely this was the ritual taking place. However, the Lifeblossom Seedling caught Nate’s attention. This Seedling surreptitiously approached the Magisilk Robes hanging upon the wall, and her hands began to glow. Suddenly a glowing thread began to shoot out from the robes, and the Lifeblossom expertly weaved this thread into another, smaller Magisilk Robe. She paused for a moment, looking at the newly tailored magical clothing she held in her hands…and then she put them on herself.

Wearing her new robes, several more threads began to grow outwards from the robes still hanging upon the wall. In moments this Seedling had made a dozen more robes and decided to silently leave before she attracted any attention. The vision in the liquid began to dim, and Nate could only stare blankly into the bowl.

“I’m sorry, Nate! I couldn’t help myself!” cried the Lifeblossom.

“Just where are these Seedling voices coming from?!” asked Amelia indignantly. “I can’t see a single blasted one of them!”

Nate turned around to address Amelia. “These Seedlings are a part of me. I cannot see them here either, but I know that they are always with me in spirit.”

“That’s right!” shouted the Seedling voices.

“I see…or at least, I wish I could see,” replied Amelia.

“Some things can only be understood through experiencing them yourself,” Nate said calmly. “Love, happiness, friendship…if these feelings are true, then they cannot be broken by anything. I love each and every one of my Seedlings even if they do silly things to me all the time, and I’ll always forgive them no matter what happens.”

Amelia stood there for a moment, taking in Nate’s powerful words. “Then perhaps you should go seek the Seedlings out and free them from this curse…the Seedlings might respond to you, as the evil spirit apparently doesn’t have full control over them yet.”

“So I’m not dead yet?” asked Nate.

“No, I don’t think so…the Seedling spirits within you could have saved your life. But you’re still in no shape for magical combat after taking that hit. May is very powerful and it will take more than Orin to stop her. She still possesses her Queen’s Gift so you are the only one capable of fighting her on equal ground.”

“I’m guessing May knocked me out pretty hard,” said Nate. “If my visions were working, I’d have seen it coming!”

“The Prison of the Ancients is a place where most magic is nullified. Even parts of the Queen’s Gift won’t work in there. Don’t beat yourself up any more than she already has…find a way out of that place. You and Orin are still trapped within, though Orin has briefly bought you some time by stunning her.”

“What, can’t you help at all with that?” the Skyflower Seedling asked angrily. “All you’ve really done so far for Nate is to talk a bunch, and tried to get Nate to do things herself. Sometimes she could really use some help!”

“Believe me, I probably wouldn’t be able to do half of what Nate’s achieved after leaving us to search for the Fabric,” added the Featherleaf. “We never get exhausted physically, being magical creatures and all…but Nate’s dedication and spirit inspires us all to try to be as hard-working as she is!”

“We’re all just barely hanging on, Amelia,” spoke the Lifeblossom. “Can’t you open a portal between here and that Ancients place?”

Amelia was horrified by that idea. “No, absolutely not! There’s a reason no portals lead out of there! The ancient mystics used it long ago to seal the evil spirit away before it could completely destroy us. While it may be true the seals are weakening and I was able to poke my scrying visions within…I don’t want to risk making a portal!”

“Do you want the evil spirit getting out on its own terms?” asked Nate.

“Oh…oh, no. If it escapes, then we are already doomed…”

Amelia briefly looked to her own visions as her eyes flashed with a purple aura. She fell to her knees as the purple aura turned into tears.

“It’s not the end yet,” said Nate confidently. “If you think it is, there’s nothing to lose by opening that portal now and getting us out of there. I know that something can be done to save Naelia, however, and I won’t rest until this evil is vanquished.”

“Well, technically you’re resting right now,” whispered a Moondrop.

“I was knocked unconscious! There’s a difference!” Nate shouted at thin air.

Amelia chuckled a bit at that. “Very well. All of our hopes rest with you now, Queen Nate. We will see you again very soon…”

Nate suddenly woke up. Orin was running, carrying Nate on his shoulder.

“Good to see you’re awake again,” Orin said gruffly as he noticed her stirring.

“There’s going to be a portal opening around here soon,” said Nate weakly.

“A portal? Couldn’t get the darned thing working myself.”

“It’s our only way out. Either that or we die in this place.”

“Not sure how you didn’t die from that bolt May threw at you. Her power level is over nine—“

“Now I’ve got you!” shouted May as a bolt struck the ground near Orin’s feet. She appeared to be flying through the air on a dragon, and catching up quickly. “You’re not escaping this time!”

“Have to be kidding me…a dragon?” Orin grumbled as he leaped sideways to avoid the incoming barrage of deadly flames and purple bolts.

“Urk…” Nate groaned as she tried to cast something – anything – in retaliation. The only thing she managed to cough up, however, was some vomit. Nate was disgusted, Orin was disgusted…even the dragon was disgusted, and for a moment stopped chasing them to stare at the regurgitated berries on the once pristine floor.

Suddenly the portal opened right in front of Orin. He ran right through it, carrying the still-vomiting Nate into the dreamscape. The portal promptly closed behind them. They had successfully escaped the Prison of the Ancients.

 
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Chapter 12: Threads of Fate


Orin’s feet kept on running through the forest that surrounded them. Nate had stopped vomiting, but she still felt nauseous.

“Orin, can we stop now?” Nate weakly moaned. “We’re safe here.”

He kept on running. There was a castle in the distance, towards which he ran.

“Orin, please, I don’t feel good. We need to stop…”

He wouldn’t be deterred from his goal, but did slow down after they were inside the castle’s main hallway.

Nate sighed in resignation. The least Orin could do was to respond to her…

“We’re here,” said Orin as he finally stopped in the throne room.

“Welcome, Orin,” said Amelia with a hint of disdain. “You’re both still alive, I take it? Good…”

“Enough of the pleasantries,” Orin replied as he set Nate’s weakened body down on a nearby bench. “What’s happened to May?”

“I save your life and don’t even get a simple thank you?” Amelia spat back. “Hmmph.”

“I…apologize for my rudeness. I just need to know what’s wrong with May. She attacked us and nearly did us in with a dragon!”

“Orin, surely you’ve heard the tales of the Nightmares ravaging the main cities of Naelia in recent years, yes?”

“Yes. I still remember you calling me and May traitors for letting this happen…”

“You know the ancients’ warnings as much as May did, Orin: there must be a queen in Naelia at all times! May’s departure came at a most inopportune time; while she attempted her futile quest to destroy the corruption, Naelia was left without a capable leader. The Nightmares attacked en masse only a few days later, and Queen Nate was still quite young. Fate had already decided upon her being the next queen, however, and so all of Naelia’s strongest defenders came to protect this girl. We could not risk the threads of fate being broken.”

“Ugh…how many of them were killed?” Nate thought to herself angrily. “Why did people have to die for me? I’m just one person…”

“Yet in the midst of the chaos, this girl they were supposed to be protecting was suddenly led into a transdimensional pod by you, Orin. Strangely, the Nightmares backed off of their all-out assault once Nate was no longer in the realm of Naelia.”

“Why did they stop?” asked Orin. “They could easily have destroyed us while we were weak and unprepared. That’s why I sent her away from Naelia in the first place, and I was going to rally the others to follow!”

“This has baffled me as well, until recently,” Amelia answered. “It seems that the Nightmares have become organized again. They want to break the seals holding their former master prisoner, so they attacked while there was no competent queen there to defend Naelia. The queen’s spirit maintains those seals, and without any queen present, their goal was accomplished. The threads of fate were broken, and the seals weakened. But at the same time…they don’t seem to want to harm us. I have to look into this some more…”

Suddenly a Skyflower Seedling shouted out of nowhere: “Don’t give up, Nate!”

“How are they…“ Orin muttered before Amelia gestured him to stop.

“Dre isn’t up to anything good!” rallied a Moondrop Seedling. “We just know he’s planning something huge, and we haven’t grown at all after you left!”

“No, we haven’t had fun ever since you travelled to Naelia…” a Lifeblossom sighed. “Dre’s using our magic now, not us! Even worse, he’s using those powers to break the ancient seals and free himself…”

“So Dre’s influence is spreading even as he sits within his prison…” Amelia sighed. “I cannot stand by idle and watch as he wreaks his vengeance upon Naelia.”

“It sounds like you could use some help, fellow Seedlings,” added another Seedling voice. “We Silverlips have not yet succumbed to Dre’s powers.”

“Wherever you are, Silverlips,” the other Seedlings pleaded, “you have to remain hidden! If Dre captures you, his power will only grow even more!”

“No! We can’t let Dre do this to our sisters! We will fight him off if we have to.”

“I admire your bravery, Seedlings,” sighed Amelia, “but Dre is too powerful for those of us that cannot control our magic…”

“We are perfectly capable of controlling our own magic!” fumed the Silverlip furiously. “Dre will not go unpunished for what he’s putting our sisters through!”

“Oh, Silverlips…if we truly could control our powerful magics, Dre would never be able to bend them to his own will. We were born out of the use of some of his ancient robes…”

“It was more than those Magisilk Robes!” shouted the Silverlip Seedling. “Nate’s desire for friendship brought us here, to help her fulfill that need! We need those bonds of friendship now more than ever!”

“That might just work,” murmured Nate to herself.

“What might work?” asked the Silverlip, her tone of voice changing dramatically from that of frantic anger to calm curiosity.

“We need all the Seedlings to gather in one place,” Nate replied with a smile. “We can do this together. Silverlips, go and rejoin your sisters…”

“Whose side are you even on, Queen Nate?” asked Amelia in disgust. “You only want to give Dre more power with every chance you get.”

“No, I’m not. Those Seedlings can’t truly be under Dre’s control if their spirits are crying for help here. Each Seedling alone is like a thread, weak and fragile, easily broken…but if all of the Seedlings are together, they can create a strong fabric of friendship that will overcome anything!”

“That is a bold statement, Nate,” warned Orin. “Doubts are certainly not what you want right now. Do you believe this with all of your heart?”

“Yes, Orin. I believe in my Seedlings. I believe that they can triumph over any problem, and I will see to it myself that Dre does not succeed in whatever he is planning. I’m going to help them, just as soon as I’m done resting.”

“We are coming with, then!” exclaimed Amelia. “All of us!”

“But…Queen Amelia…” stuttered Queen Sara. “We haven’t got any physical bodies! We can’t really be of any help, can we? And even if we could help, what if our spirits somehow got killed?”

“You would not risk dying for your country a second time?” questioned Amelia. “Naelia is in grave danger if we do not act.”

“No,” Nate moaned. “Nobody else should have to die for me. I wish to go alone.” Her words appeared to be ignored as the shadows continued conversing.

“Surely Queen Nate is capable on her own, isn’t she?” asked Queen Lena. “She has beaten some rather ridiculous odds to get as far as she has.”

“Yes, that is true. But others have been helping her along the way, and she is easily influenced by offers of ‘assistance’ even if they are detrimental to her. She’s far too naïve and trusting, and what’s to stop Dre from swaying Nate’s thoughts? What if these Seedlings are manipulating her right now?”

“We could just use our gift to see if our help is necessary.” spoke Queen Felicia. “Or did you forget we all have clairvoyant powers?”

Amelia sighed. “I saw that argument coming. But I can’t fully trust what I do see…nobody knows Dre like I do, for we were two of the ancient mystics.”

“Wait, wait, wait…” said Orin, his mouth agape in shock. “I thought all of the ancient mystics were against the use of the Fabric of Dreams?! Why is Dre thriving off of its power, then? And why are you wearing Magisilk Robes?”

Amelia turned to address Orin. “None of us did want it initially. Dre was probably the one that hated it the most, but the common people wanted to use it so much we couldn’t stop them. Dre was outraged that his warnings would be so widely disregarded that he would seclude himself for days.”

“That doesn’t really explain much…” Orin muttered.

“I’m getting there, you big oaf! Anyways, his loathing and jealousy led him to go on a self-destructive rampage. Eventually Dre did the unthinkable: He bound his spirit to the Fabric of Dreams, but did not think to keep some of his spirit within his mortal body. He died soon afterwards, and suddenly the Fabric of Dreams began to spawn Nightmare creatures, loads of them.”

“Nightmares? So this is how they originated?” asked Nate.

“Indeed, and just like how the Seedlings multiplied exponentially, Dre’s power and thus the number of Nightmare minions he controlled grew in much the same way. Fortunately, the rest of us caught wind of Dre’s renegade spirit and banished him to the Prison of the Ancients before he could do much more harm.”

Orin was aghast. “I’m guessing that it was already too late to get rid of the vast armies of Nightmares, wasn’t it?”

“Correct. Even without Dre leading them, the Nightmares were still organized enough to launch massive raids. During the biggest battle I took upon myself some of the forbidden power of the Fabric of Dreams and used the immense powers within to absorb the Nightmares’ essence into the Magisilk Robes I still wear to this day.”

“What made you use the Fabric of Dreams?” asked Nate?

“The mystics realized it was the only way to counter the Nightmares, and thus we formed the Order of the Magisilk Robes, along with a few brutal characters who had been amassing these Robes for their own use. We all agreed that I should be the one to lead the charge into battle…though I suspect it was mostly because nobody else wanted to risk death. Naturally, to have singlehandedly taken down a vast army made me a legendary hero, and the people wanted me to lead them as queen. Thus Naelia’s line of queens began, and for the next 25 years I ruled over a peaceful land before passing the throne on to a young girl named Brianna whom I had mentored. She grew into a fine queen if I say so myself.”

“Why, thank you Queen Amelia,” said one of the other shadows bashfully.

“Of course the Magisilk Robes also became a tradition. Only the queen would be allowed to wear them in most circumstances…Orin, why are you wearing them?”

Everybody turned to look at Orin, who had been clutching the Magisilk Robes underneath his cloak in a futile attempt to hide them from Amelia’s gaze. “Well, I figured it would help me locate where May was. Perhaps win her heart, and we’d live as a happy couple. Fat lot of good that did me…”

“Mmm…you can forget about May now, she’s far too corrupted. You’ll just have to use those large reserves of magic to help us with sealing Dre away.” Orin was taken aback at Amelia’s sharp words.

Nate sighed. “I still wish to go alone. I may not have known Dre as long as you have, but I know my Seedlings. They are a huge part of me, and I am a part of them. Nobody else will ever take them away from me!”

“But we appreciate the support,” interjected the voices of the Seedlings. “And we need all the friends we can get, or did you not hear yourself earlier Nate? Let them come along if they want to help!”

“Seedlings…I don’t want to impose on anybody,” Nate said.

“Trust me, you’re not imposing on any of us,” Amelia replied firmly. “What else are we going to do here, mentor the next queen of Naelia? Oh wait, Naelia won’t exist if we don’t make our stand now!”

The other shadows were visibly shocked by Amelia’s words. An awkward silence pervaded the room for several moments; some of the shadows were using their clairvoyant powers to see possible future events while others just stood there facing internal struggles.

“What did you see when you looked into the future, Amelia?” asked Orin suddenly, breaking the silence.

“I saw a vast multitude of Seedlings in the forest,” Amelia replied. “And Dre was nowhere in sight. They seemed quite happy to be alive.”

“So whatever happens, the Seedlings will be happy with it?” Orin sounded amused by this. “How about the rest of us?”
“I don’t recall seeing any of us there either. Then again, what reason do most of us have to be in the Seedlings’ mystical forest? It is their home, not ours.”

“Hmm…” Orin began to think deeply about what these visions could mean.

“I think we should not delay any longer,” said Nate. “Is there anything else to do before we go?”

“As a matter of fact, yes,” Amelia answered. “There’s the slight issue of all of us being spirits, no longer attached to any physical body. We need to have our spirits awakened before we are capable of using our magic outside of this dreamscape. I asked you earlier, and I would like to ask you again: use your unique life-giving magic to revive us.”

“What, you can’t do that yourself?” Nate said incredulously.

“If we could, I wouldn’t have asked. It seems only you possess this power.”

“Okay…I’ll do it for a future where the Seedlings are happy. Stand back…”

Nate began to focus upon her innate powers. She wasn’t sure how to use said powers, but so long as she gave the impression that she knew what she was doing it would surely boost morale. Then she realized that she could look at her immediate future self using this magic, and thus her eyes began to blaze with a golden aura. Thus she knew what to do.

“I wish for the spirits of the queens to be reborn,” Nate chanted. Suddenly, color began to fill the shadows of every spirit. Nate’s eyes continued to shine with her aura.

“I’ll be darned,” muttered Orin under his breath. “She makes it look easy.”

Immediately after the spirits were fully revived, Nate’s aura disappeared in the blink of an eye. Nate seemed rather wobbly for a moment and then, suddenly, she collapsed on the floor.

“Nate!” shouted the Seedlings.

“Oh, dear,” Amelia sighed. “I knew that would be too much for her.”

“Then why didn’t you stop her?” the Silverlip Seedling asked.

“I…I wanted to help. Is that really so bad?”

“Don’t worry, Amelia,” said Nate’s voice. “I’m here.”

“Queen Nate?!” Amelia gasped in response as she did a double-take of Nate’s body still lying upon the castle flooring. “What’s happened? Are you okay?”

“It seems I’ve fainted again,” Nate’s disembodied voice replied. “Not surprising since this seems to happen every time I invoke my so-called special magic.”

“Well, get up already!” she shouted.

“I’ll do that soon, but first…wow, there’s a lot of Seedlings around here.”

“Most of us just got here, actually!” replied one of the many Lifeblossoms that Nate could now see. “We felt something amiss with your spirit, so we had to come!”

“Aww, thankies for caring so much about me Seedlings. I promise, as soon as this is all done we’ll play lots of games together!”

“Yay!” cheered all of the Seedlings. They were celebrating so loudly that Amelia, Orin, and the other queens had to cover their ears.

“Let’s try to be quieter?” Amelia asked as politely as she could manage.

“Oh, sorry everybody!” said a lone Silverlip after the Seedlings finished with their raucous merriment. “There sure are tons of us Seedlings here to cheer Nate on!”

Nate’s physical body slowly got up off the floor. “I’ll say. Is everybody ready?”

“As ready as I think we’ll ever be,” Amelia responded. “Let’s get out there and save Naelia!”

“For Naelia!” rallied Orin and the other queens.

“For the Seedlings!” Nate echoed.

“For friendship, fun, and our forest!” shouted the large yet invisible crowd of Seedlings. Everybody had to cover their ears once more, including Nate.

“Oh. Teehee, sorry again!” said the Silverlip.

“Quickly now, I feel the seals weakening,” said Amelia. “We must make haste.”

A large purple portal opened in the middle of the room. Nate was at the front of the group. She was exhausted and frightened, yet strangely she felt at peace. This was her destiny, about to be fulfilled. She was confident that fate would continue to spin its threads as it had done in the past.
 
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Chapter 13: End of an Era


Nate, Orin, and the 38 awakened spirits of the queens proceeded cautiously into the Seedlings’ mystical forest. Normally laughter would be heard here, as Seedlings frolicked through the forest meadows and played games with each other. Today, however, it was deathly silent.

“It’s way too quiet here,” warned Nate. “Watch out.”

“Lead onwards,” said Amelia. “You know this forest better than anybody else.”

The group walked towards Nate’s dwelling. It had been Nate’s home for the past several years and the last place she saw the Seedlings; whatever calamity had happened to them would have taken place there.

Without warning, a large green wolf leaped out of the bushes and pounced on Orin. The first to react was Amelia, with a blast of chilling icicles tearing it apart.

“Gah! What was that?!” spat out Orin as he wiped some blood off of his cloak.

“Seems like a hellhound to me,” replied Amelia. “Except this one was green. Usually they’re black or purple, same color as the Nightmares…”

“More are coming!” shouted Lena, readying her magicks.

The others followed suit, preparing to launch a magical torrent of pain upon the incoming hellhounds. Suddenly there were hundreds of them swarming upon the group. Spells were being cast in every direction, and Nate began to panic.

“Get it together, Nate!” Orin yelled at her. “This is no time to have doubts! We’ll get through this in one piece, but you have to help us!”

However, Nate was tuning out the raucous battle going out around her. Her eyes lit up with a golden aura as she sought the way forward. Within her vision, Nate saw the spirit of a large, golden phoenix…

“What are you?” Nate asked after a moment of staring in amazement. The giant bird simply stared back at her.

“Wait…you’re a Phoenix, aren’t you?”

The phoenix nodded its head. This was bizarre to Nate, since the phoenix was a legendary creature. Very few people ever met one in their lifetime, but…Nate felt that she saw this one before.

“Tell me, Phoenix, where did you come from?”

“Where I have been, and where I am going, matters not,” replied the phoenix. “Only the present is important, Queen Nate.”

“I don’t really agree with that…we need to know these things so that our present decisions won’t fall into the traps of the past, or result in a future we don’t want!”

“As I said, it matters not. Fate has already decided what you will do, just as fate dictated that we would meet so many years ago. You were picked to rule over a land, but your destiny resides here with the Seedlings.”

“So I won’t be taking the throne of Naelia?”

“That is correct.”

Nate thought to her subconscious self for a moment. She desperately wanted to do whatever she could to help both Naelia and Seedlings prosper. It was only fair to help Naelia since that was her homeland, but for many years of her life she grew up in this place…

“I can sense your troubled spirit, Queen Nate. That is the reason I have awakened within you after lying dormant all these years. Perhaps I am what Orin saw that fateful day two weeks ago.”

“Then why have I not seen or heard you yet?”

“You did not need to know of my presence until now. Queen Amelia suspected there was something…unique inside of you, and that is actually rather true. Not a single queen to this point had been blessed with the spirit of the phoenix.”

“So you are the source of my life-giving magic?”

“Mostly. You are the one in control of it, and you have used it well. However, you have not needed my full power until this point. Dre is a very powerful adversary, able to bend reality to his whims. It may even be possible that he changes your fate.”

“He’s that powerful?” asked Nate skeptically.

“You’re witnessing what he’s capable of when he’s locked up in the Prison of the Ancients. Queen May tried to fight him, and lost her soul for it. When the Seedlings wore your robes, they unknowingly let Dre’s spirit possess them. Imagine what it will be like when he breaks free. Dre must be stopped, or all of existence will suffer.”

“I don’t think I could even stand a chance in a fight against Queen May. How will I ever find the strength to take on Dre?”

“I shall lend you the use of my full power. Your magic is potent on its own, but wild and unpredictable. Fate cannot risk any mishaps, and in knowing that one day this sequence of events would occur, I was sent to help you. Now awaken, Queen Nate, and release your true potential!”

Nate’s body began to feel a strange burning sensation as she stared at the phoenix. “Thank you,” replied Nate as her subconscious began to fade away. Opening her eyes, she witnessed a fierce battle still raging around her.

“I think we need to get out of here, now.”

“You don’t say, Nate? We’re being assaulted by who knows how many hellhounds here!”

“No,” Nate replied. “Something worse is coming!” With that, Nate quickly and expertly opened a portal underneath the group to warp to another clearing in the forest.

The spells each queen had readied fizzled once they realized they were no longer being attacked. Amelia stood there, her mouth agape at what just took place.

“Nate…how did THAT happen?” Orin asked. “And what did you mean by something worse?”

“We can’t waste any more time. I have this really uneasy feeling in my stomach again…and it’s almost enough to make me vomit. Let’s go…”

Nate walked towards the destination she sought. She was more determined than ever to defeat Dre.

“That way,” pointed Nate as she stretched a hand to the east. “I recognize this spot…it’s where we used to pick berries. My dwelling is close, and if they aren’t there, we can head north to the Seedlings’ tree houses.”

And thus the group continued through the forest without incident. They investigated Nate’s dwelling, but found nothing there. It was still deathly silent, and now the sky was beginning to darken as they walked north.

“Yes, we’re getting close now,” said Nate, still at the front of the group. “The Seedlings’ tree houses are just ahead of us. Wait…I think I hear something…”

The group was out in the open, standing in the clearing beneath one of the large tree houses. Roots suddenly shot up from the ground, entangling everybody’s feet. Seedlings began to appear everywhere around them, all of them wearing Magisilk Robes. Several of the green hellhounds also showed up, and a faint green haze filled the clearing. One of the Seedlings approached the group; she was a Silverlip.

“Why have you come here?” spoke Dre’s voice from this Seedling.

“This is my home, Dre,” Nate retorted. “The Seedlings and I live here.”

“Correction,” Dre countered. “This place belongs to the Seedlings, and only them. As it is, you are not welcome in this place.”

“That doesn’t explain why you’re here either, Dre…you’re not a Seedling, last I checked. You’re a Naelian, just like me, Orin, and all the others here.”

“Psst, Nate,” Amelia whispered. “Something’s blocking my magic.”

“Oh, really?” said Dre. “Well, I guess you’re right about that, for now at least. But my moment is at hand, and soon I shall be free from my prison.”

A surprised gasp came from the group of queens. “The seals are still holding,” Amelia announced. “Our queen still lives, and as long as she is here, your plans are for naught! Naelia will overcome adversity as it has in the past.”

“Fools. Naelia was born out of fools that could not respect this sort of power. Perhaps I will wipe it clean, and spread Seedlings in their place. They know who their master is, and their magic has assisted me greatly already. It is too late to stop the coming of the new era. Join us, or perish where you stand.”

Silence ensued for a few moments. The group of Naelians looked around; Seedlings and hellhounds were on all sides, their magic was drained, and roots ensnared their feet. There was nothing any of them could do…right?

“Well?” asked Dre’s voice coldly. “We’re waiting.”

Suddenly, something clicked for Nate. Tapping into reserves of power she didn’t know she had, she summoned the spirit of the golden phoenix. Magical wings grew on Nate’s body, and the Phoenix’s fire burned away the roots holding all of them. A red aura enveloped the group of Naelians, empowering them with magic once more.

“No!” roared Nate’s response as she took to the skies.

“Pity. You had so much to offer us,” said Dre bitterly. With that, the green haze turned from a faint fog into a thick miasma. This powerful green aura clashed against the meek red aura, threatening to destroy it.

“Oh, no…” Nate thought to herself. “Is the Phoenix’s power not enough?” Desperately Nate looked around for answers. Then Nate saw Amelia trying to open a portal. Nate focused all of the Phoenix’s powers on getting the portal open.

Suddenly the purple portal burst into existence, and Nightmares poured into the realm. What had she just done? Quickly she broke her power’s connection to the portal, but it was already wide open and not about to close. “Drat!” Nate thought to herself as she watched the Nightmare monsters continue to swarm in.

And yet…the red aura stopped shrinking. Nate had thought the Nightmares would finish off the doomed Naelians, but the Nightmares forced the Seedlings and hellhounds away with a brutal assault. It was utter chaos, and once bitter enemies attacked in unison against a new threat. Nightmares, Hellhounds, and Seedlings began to fall by the hundreds, as did a few of the queens.

Nate was still hovering in midair, suspended only by the spirit of the phoenix she had summoned from within herself. Briefly she wondered why everybody below was fighting. Why couldn’t they all live with each other peacefully? Peace was one thing Nate had become used to for most of her life, though to be fair she had spent most of her life completely alone, with nobody to quarrel with. She briefly wondered what her life would have been like if she were not suddenly thrust into this ancient prophecy.

Then lightning struck the ground in the middle of the warzone. Immediately, everybody stopped quarreling as they stared at Dre, in the flesh. He had broken completely free of the Prison of the Ancients, and Amelia audibly gasped in horror.

“Heh,” uttered Dre chillingly as he surveyed the field. “It’s good to be back.”

Raising one hand, he summoned two balls of chaotic energy. He threw one into a Nightmare, and the other struck Amelia.

“No!” Amelia gasped as she was hit. “Avenge me, Naelians…”

Whereupon she shattered into nothingness, as did the Nightmare that was hit.

“You fools still persist in fighting against my superior force? I should crush you all, but I will mercifully offer to spare your miserable lives. The only thing you need to do is to join the ranks of my Seedlings. We would be most willing to transform you.”

“Is this how it’s going to be?” shouted Sara. “The entirety of existence becoming slaves to you?”

“We have our own lives, our own personalities!” yelled Felicia. “It’s the small things that make us unique! Would you so cruelly take that away from us?”

“Come on, everybody! This tyrant needs to go down!” roared Lena.

“So be it,” sighed Dre angrily. Raising his arm up once more, he summoned a much larger ball of chaotic energy. The Seedlings began to scream in agony as Dre leeched their powers for his attack. “All of you will perish, then!”

Nate could not take any more of this. Her entire body began to sparkle with a virtuous golden aura, and she plummeted from the sky…straight into Dre’s spell.

“What the heck?” bellowed Orin. “Nate, no!”

“Nobody else should have to die, Dre!” Nate’s voice boomed from within.

Dre’s chaotic spell began to turn from black to yellow. Noticing this, Dre hurriedly threw the spell back up into the sky, where the spell – and Nate – exploded into a fine golden mist. This golden mist covered the area.

“Haha, how cute,” laughed Dre with a disdainful tone. “She didn’t want to face reality anymore. But no matter, I shall simply charge another attack and…”

Suddenly one of the Silverlip Seedlings began to radiate a golden aura.

“Not exactly,” said Nate’s voice, emanating from the lone Silverlip Seedling. Then more Silverlips started to glow with the same aura.

“Nate’s spirit lives on,” spoke the Silverlips in their normal voices. “She has our eternal gratitude for all that she has done and will do for us!”

The Lifeblossom Seedlings began to glow with this aura as well. “As we bring each new sister to life, we will carry on her dreams and aspirations!”

The aura also enveloped the Moondrop Seedlings. “To each day we shall bring a brilliant radiance!”

The Featherleaf Seedlings didn’t even need to begin glowing with the aura before they joined in the chorus. “Each Seedling shall grow in both body and spirit, and our potential is limitless!”

Now all the Seedlings…Silverlips, Lifeblossoms, Moondrops, Featherleaves, and Skyflowers…shone with Nate’s golden aura. “Nate will always be with us.”

The golden aura suddenly leaped from every Seedling in sight and encased Dre in a sphere of light. “It is time to seal you away again, Dre,” shouted Nate’s voice. “And you’re never going to escape this time!”

The sphere of light began to vanish, taking Dre with it. His muted screams of horror could not be heard outside the sphere, and then he was gone. It took a moment of awkward silence for everybody, including the Seedlings, to realize what happened.

“Oooh. Did squishy just do that?” uttered one of the Nightmares gruffly.

“You creatures can speak?” said Orin.

“Choppy bits, but we understand language of squishies.”

“Might I ask why you were fighting against Dre? He did create you, didn’t he?”

“Dre create us Nightmares, but treat us bad. Take out anger on squishies. Fear made us strong, so we attack more. Want to attack Dre but never got chance. Squishies find way to absorb our power, so we hide.”

“Okay then,” Orin replied with a hint of confusion. “So what do we do now?”

“We realize Dre get what Dre deserve! He create us to harm others. We not like harm, only fear. But we Nightmares hide again so we not cause more harm to squishies than necessary. We want to live in peace.”

“I understand. Thank you for your help in the battle against Dre.”

Turning to the remaining queens, Orin asked: “What about you, former queens? Fate’s threads have been cut, since the next queen was never decided.”

“It would appear so…” said Sara.

“What will Naelia do now? Surely we need a new leader.”

“How about you, Orin?” Lena suggested.

“Me?!” Orin gasped in shock. “Dear me, I don’t think I’d be up to the task!”

“Do you know anybody else that would do a better job?” Brianna asked. “I mean, think about it for a minute.”

“Yeah, you served Queen May pretty well while she reigned,” Felicia added. “Probably learned more about running Naelia than anybody else. And Nate’s sacrifice could be seen as choosing you to lead our country next.”

“Yes,” said Nate’s voice. “You should lead Naelia, Orin. If it weren’t for you, Naelia would probably be a smoldering wreck right now. You reminded me that magic existed, and set in motion the mechanisms that led to our victory today.”

“And how will I ever convince the Naelian people that?”

“Oh, Orin!” shouted a coy voice in the distance.

“Wait, is that…Queen May?!”

May was still alive and well, and was running towards Orin at full speed.

“Yes, it’s me! I’m so very sorry about nearly killing you back there, but Dre…”

“Don’t worry about Dre now, my dear May. He’s gone now.”

“Well, he put me over there, presumably to have me assist him…but I could hear the Seedlings even from that distance. Suddenly I broke free of his spell!”

“I’m glad to hear you’re alright. But I can’t get over the fact we no longer have a queen for Naelia…”

“Oh, so that’s…I see now. Nate is…”

“Still here, sort of,” Nate’s spirit interrupted. “But I doubt I would be able to return to Naelia now and take the throne. Orin should take the throne in my stead.”

“And who’s going to believe me?” Orin spoke. “I have no living witnesses to—“

“Orin. I am still alive, even if I am way past my time to reign. I’ll go back with you and convince Naelia that you should reign as our first king.”

“Wait. You’d do that for me? But everybody thinks you’re long dead!”

May laughed. “I can convince the Naelian people of anything, Orin! Coming up with a thrilling tale of escape should be easy, and who better to support you than me?”

“Everybody always makes things sound easy. I still don’t know if I am capable of leading Naelia.”

“I think you’d make a great leader. And I know Nate thinks the same way, since I picked her to be queen. I knew she would destroy the corruption if I failed.”

“It’s not exactly destroyed, just sealed away again,” said Nate. “I just can’t stand to bring harm to others!”

“Close enough,” said Orin and May together, whereupon they laughed.

“Let’s return to Naelia, then…” Orin announced. “…but I do have something to ask the Seedlings before we leave.”

“Yes, Orin?” asked a Silverlip.

“We’ll need some flowergirls at our wedding…”

“Wedding?” the Silverlip responded happily. “We’d love to help! We’ll make it the bestest wedding ever, won’t we Seedling sisters?”

An enormous cheer erupted from the gathering of Seedlings. Orin romantically sweeped May off her feet and embraced her with a loving kiss.

“Now hold on there, Orin!” May exclaimed. “How did you know we’d get married? I’m the one with the clairvoyant powers here!”

“Maybe you’re not the only one,” replied a smiling Orin.
 
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Epilogue: A New Beginning


It was a normal morning in Naelia. The birds were chirping sweet melodies, children were happily playing games outside, and all was well. King Orin had been the champion of his people for close to two decades now, and everybody loved him as their ruler. His wife, May, had lovingly cooked him berry pancakes for breakfast.

“Mmm, these still taste as delicious as ever,” said King Orin approvingly as he munched happily on his breakfast. “I love these pancakes almost as much as I love you, May.”

“Haha, thanks hubby,” May answered. “I remember when you tried to serve me breakfast back when I was queen, and it was burnt to a crisp!”

“Hey! I’ve improved since then!” Orin said in good humor.

“Not much!” May started laughing out loud. “Perhaps you should visit the Seedlings more often, they love teaching their ways to us Naelians.”

“Perhaps I should,” teased Orin. “They appreciate my cooking attempts more than you do.”

“That’s because they use their magic to make your food edible.” May snickered.

“Not true! But thanks for reminding me about the Seedlings, it is about time I visited them again anyways.”

“Oh?” May perked up as Orin announced this. “For what reason, might I ask?”

“I am getting old. It is time to inspire the next generation’s king with a riveting tale of magic and friendship that lives on to this day…and keep the support of Naelia’s kings going strong.”

“Did you have anybody in mind, Orin? Remember that the threads of fate dictate each ruler selects the next.”

“Indeed I do. He is a young boy named Pete…a shy one, but well-liked…”

Later that day, an orange portal appeared near Nate’s old dwelling in the mystical forest. Orin leaped through it, accompanied by a young, speckled boy. Pete seemed rather nervous, being surrounded by trees and Seedlings rather than by buildings and Naelians. Orin gently took Pete’s hand in an attempt to calm him.

“Hiya, King Orin!” shouted some Seedlings playing nearby. Even all these years later, each of them retained a youthful spirit and appearance. One of the Moondrops was wearing Magisilk Robes, but the rest of the Seedlings wore dresses tailored from leaves and vines. All of them ran over to give Orin some welcoming embraces.

“Greetings, Seedlings,” Orin replied as he hugged the Seedlings back. “It’s been a while since I last visited here, hasn’t it?”

“We know how busy you are,” sighed the Moondrop wearing the robes. “But you’re here now, thank goodness! Did you need our help with tutoring Naelians? That last bunch of students was awesome.”

“Heh, not today,” Orin said with a smiling face. “Today I’m here with a guest.”

“Ooo, who’s the little one you have with you?”

“Er…hi, Seedlings,” squeaked Pete timidly as he tried to hide behind Orin.

“Don’t be shy! We’re quite friendly, you know.”

“So, um…” Pete stuttered as he worked up the courage to talk. “I’m Pete, and…uh…people are actually noticing me?”

“Yup! Everybody’s important, Pete, for it is the people we meet that form the basis of our knowledge. Just about everything we learn, we picked up from someone else. So what do you think of our forest world?”

“I…think it’s kinda cool that a place like this exists,” Pete replied, feeling braver.

“We think so too. Even now, we still haven’t reached the edge!”

“Still?” replied an incredulous Orin. “But you’ve had so much time to spread out across the forest! And there’s so many of you!”

“We know, Orin. If you want the Skyflowers’ theory, they think the forest is growing with us due to the power of these Magisilk Robes.”

“But that…what? That doesn’t make any sense!”

“About as much sense as the moon being made of berries, Orin,” laughed Nate’s voice from the treetops. She was reclining on a tree branch, listening to the rather silly conversation below. Her spirit was now but a golden shadow of her former self, but Orin knew there was a smile on her face.

“Oh, Mother Nature,” teased the Moondrop. “It is too made of berries!”

“Heh,” chuckled Orin. “Greetings, Nate. I trust the Seedlings are having fun.”

“They sure are,” said Nate. “Every day is a new adventure to them, even now. Today I oversaw the creation of three more Seedling tribes…as you know, the Seedlings are just far too large to live in this same little patch of forest I’ve known all my life.”

The Seedlings numbered well into the millions now, and they continued to flourish thanks to Nate’s idea of dividing the Seedlings into tribes. At first they hated the thought of not seeing all of their sisters, but then they gradually came to accept that they could not grow as a single group…

“Just like all the other tribes, each tribe we created today has a single princess. That Seedling leads the tribe in my stead, wearing the Magisilk Robes to focus the tribe’s magical powers and taking my place in all the games that they play.”

The Moondrop Seedling wearing Magisilk Robes nodded. “Yup! I volunteered to be the princess of the Butterfly Tribe, and I’ll do my best to make sure all of my tribies are having tons of fun!”

“I’m just curious,” asked Pete. “How do you all still get along with each other?”

“All of us live an idyllic life here, if a simple one.” answered Nate. “Seedlings thrive on companionship, so they’re always helping each other whenever they can! Games, arts and crafts, even helping all of our budding tribes learn how to perform the nightly Seedling Rituals.”

“Seedling Rituals?” asked Pete. “What do you do at these rituals?”

“We grow bigger and bigger!” shouted the Moondrop princess gleefully.

“Yes, the Seedlings bring more of their kind to life,” Orin said, smiling. “It’s rather amazing to watch their magic at work, and I’ve even led a few of these rituals myself. Much preparation goes into these festivities, and each ritual has unique qualities that keep it entertaining.”

“Pete, we would like you to join our Seedling Ritual tonight!” the Moondrop princess jubilantly proclaimed for all to hear. “It’ll be the Butterfly Tribe’s first one!”

“I…uh…do I have to?” Pete stuttered nervously as he looked around at the large gathering of eager Seedlings.

Orin thought for a moment. He remembered his own misgivings he had when he first met the Seedlings…after all, they were magical creatures spawned from the powerful and formerly corrupted Magisilk Robes. Eventually the Seedlings grew on him, in most if not all meanings of the word.

“I’d like to stay, Pete,” Orin said after his brief reflection. “I won’t force you to come, but I’ll be with you if you decide to join us.”

“Come on, Orin!” begged the Seedlings. “Let’s go prepare for the ritual!” The Moondrop princess grabbed Orin’s hand, and together all of them ran into the forest. Pete was left standing alone with Nate’s spirit.

“Uh…” Pete mumbled, trying to come up with something to say.

“I sense you are having some problems with the Seedlings,” Nate said softly. “They’re quite unlike anybody I’ve seen, either.”

“Yeah, I feel like I don’t belong here,” Pete responded.

“We consider all Naelians friends,” Nate answered gently. “After all, I was a Naelian myself at one point.”

“Okay, but…you’re…”

“Dead? My physical body is gone, yes, but my spirit lives on here. So long as Naelia exists, we will always be around to guide the next ruler.”

“Yeah…” sighed a voice from another treetop branch. “That may be, Queen Nate, but some of us will actually give proper advice to our next king.”

“Amelia? Were you listening to this whole conversation without me knowing?”

“Oh, please,” Amelia sneered. “You know I can read reality like a book.”

“So, uh…wait,” Pete stammered. “Are you…the famous Queen Amelia?”

“Yes, I am Queen Amelia,” she replied in a haughty fashion. “I know I’m in all of the history books, unlike a certain queen here that never properly took her throne.”

“How many times do I have to tell you, Amelia?” Nate asked crossly. “My own destiny was to take care of the Seedlings all along, even if all of you think otherwise.”

“Yeah, keep thinking that,” Amelia laughed. “Anyways, Pete, I was thinking of watching the Seedlings perform their ritual tonight. Would you like to—“

“Yes!” Pete shouted. Nate stood there in silent disbelief.

“Come on, then. King Orin hasn’t gone too far.” Together, Amelia and Pete briskly walked off into the forest, leaving Nate standing there alone.

“I hope it’s not always going to be like this…” Nate sighed to herself.

Hours passed by, during which Orin and Pete helped prepare for the Seedling Ritual. Pete still lacked confidence, but he wanted to learn more about ancient history from Amelia and was willing to do just about anything to get more time with her.

Finally, it was time for the Seedling Ritual to begin. Many Seedlings gathered on a large platform of tree branches, surrounding Orin, Pete, and Amelia. The princess stood next to Pete, watching her tribe assemble for the imminent ceremony along with several Seedlings from other tribes that wanted to help. Many leafy dresses and flowers were laid in place, ready to be given new life as Seedlings.

“Thankies for coming, Pete!” said the Moondrop princess happily as she turned to address her guests. She was glad that Pete had decided to come after all.

“Yeah…” replied Pete nervously. He didn’t much like heights, large groups, or not knowing exactly what was going to happen. He was going to say something else, but his fears kept him silent.

“Is something wrong?” the princess asked, noticing Pete’s discomfort.

“Oh, no…everything’s fine,” Pete assured her, lying through his teeth.

“Alrighty, then you won’t mind if you lead our ritual then!”

“Wha…” Pete gulped.

“Indeed, Pete, Naelia’s next king needs to be able to show leadership,” said Orin. “The Seedlings are quite willing to let you lead them. The only thing you need now are some Magisilk Robes, but thankfully I had the foresight to bring this extra one.”

Orin retrieved a green robe from his coat pocket. It sparkled brightly, attracting the attention of everybody around. Pete stared at these robes, forgetting about his fears.

“Go ahead and put it on,” the Seedling princess said encouragingly. “It’s more than the traditional costume of a leader…Magisilk Robes are a huge source of magic, allowing the wearer to do just about anything their heart desires!”

“If you say so…” Pete sighed. Reluctantly he draped the Magisilk Robes around his body; he was still a nervous wreck, but he tried to appear confident for the others.

“Okies, Pete, let’s get rid of those butterflies from your stomach,” whispered the princess impishly as her hands began to glow with a green aura. Suddenly hundreds of butterflies materialized from Pete’s body, fluttering around in the air aimlessly. The crowd of Seedlings cheered at this spectacle, and Pete was speechless.

“Something amazing happened on that fateful day, many moons ago,” spoke the princess to the crowd. “Mother Nature, in her eternal love, gave her life that day for us. That sacrifice not only freed us from the control of Dre’s evil spirit, but it resurrected all of us who died in that battle. We will always be thankful for what she has done, and as we Seedlings grow bigger and bigger…may we all aspire to be as generous and loving.”

Turning to Pete, she added, “And of course, help Naelia’s future leaders in any way we can. Pete, would you like to add anything else?”

“Not much…” replied Pete. “Your speech was brilliant, Seedling. But I’d like to say…thank you all for being such a great help to Naelia. May we both grow together.”

“You’re welcome, Pete!” beamed the princess. “If you’re ready, let’s bring our Seedling sisters to life.”

The butterflies began to fly toward each of the dresses lying on the platform, directed by Pete’s somewhat awkward movements. As they settled upon each dress, the butterflies disappeared and the dresses began to float upwards into the air. Green auras enveloped the floating leaf crafts, and suddenly Seedlings began to appear in them. The crowd cheered; this Seedling Ritual was a success. Pete sighed, relieved.

During the after-ritual party Orin approached Pete, commending him on a job well done. Pete smiled and responded, “Thanks, King Orin. This means a lot to me.”

“I am confident that you would be widely accepted as our next king, since you’re always doing favors for others and expecting nothing in return. Coincidentally, I’d like you to have this, as a gift…”

Orin pulled a rather worn-looking orb necklace out of his pocket. A tear came to his eye as he remembered picking it up off the ground shortly after Nate’s sacrifice.

“This artifact holds a great deal of meaning to me. I’m not sure where exactly it came from, but I used it to guide Queen Nate when the time came. I handed it to her as she began the journey to her destiny, and now I hand it to you as you begin yours…”