Chapter 32:

The Garden Of Dreams

Hime x Hime

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Yup... I'm totally lost.

After Gramps showed me the way out of my trial, I found myself wandering aimlessly in search of some sign of civilization. Or even a landmark to point me in a specific direction.

I had been walking for what felt like an entire day, my legs carrying me through an endless sea of rolling foothills. The Garden of Dreams truly lived up to its name.

Beautiful yellow and white flowers surrounded me as far as my eyes could see. The scenery was breathtaking, but I couldn't enjoy it without a clue as to where I was. I felt as if I had been dropped into an open-world game.

"I wonder if I'm even going the right way?" I muttered to myself. "The sooner I can find Amber, the sooner we can get to Mavis. My trial may have been cathartic, but it was still mentally taxing. Speaking of..."

I hope Amber is doing alright...

Henrí had warned us about the trials, but was pretty vague when describing the Garden itself.

"In the Garden of Dreams things don't always... work like they do out here in the waking world."

"They don't work the same, huh?" I crossed my arms, considering all the possibilities. "Everything feels pretty normal so far. If anything it's too tame."

"Elder, the strange boy speaks to himself. He must be unwell."

"Shhh, he'll hear you!"

"Huh?" My cowlick perked up, and I looked around.

Am I finally losing my marbles, or did I just hear someone?

"I told you he would hear that, stupid apprentice!"

"Yeah, I've lost my marbles." I smiled.

"Where did you last see them? Maybe we can help you— ouch! Why'd you bonk me?"

"It's a figure of speech! He thinks he's going crazy, just like you're driving me!"

"I'm sorry, but you're also being quite loud."

"Wait a minute..." Seeing some grass rustling near me, I squatted down to see. I was surprised to find two flowers bickering. Or at least I thought they were, but the pair of women appeared to be some kind of fairies dressed to look like the flowers.

"Oh really!? I'm being loud!?"

"Yeah you're being loud, Elder. He's looking at us right now!"

"Hey." I gave a small wave as the older looking one finally noticed me towering over them.

"EEEEE!" She went pale, and almost turned to leave her friend behind. "Please don't eat us! We were told by the Guardian of Dreams to keep an eye on newcomers, and I'm only two weeks away from retirement, and my apprentice is a huge blockhead, and—"

"Wait, wait, wait. You know the Guardian of Dreams? Can you take me to them!?" In her ramblings, I found my first real clue as to how to escape this place.

"I don't know if that would be possible... You see, the Guardian is very busy and—" The older fairy pressed her two index fingers together.

"Oh, I understand... I'm getting kinda hungry though, and I've always wondered what fairy stew tastes like." I rubbed my chin thoughtfully.

"Pretty good, I've heard!" The younger of the two fairies put her thumbs up. She didn't strike me as the brightest bulb in the box.

"EEEEEE!!! Alright, alright! I'll take you to our master... Just keep your hunger in check until we get there, please?" she sniffled. "And whose side are you on, apprentice!?"

"The right side, Elder! Or was it the left side...? It depends on which perspective we go by. If it's you, it'll be right, but the boy..." The apprentice's voice trailed off.

"Ugh..." The one called Elder rubbed her temples.

"Deal! I won't eat anyone, for now." I smiled mischievously. "In any case, what are your names? I've never had the chance to meet a dream fairy before."

I looked at the two creatures with a sense of wonder.

"First, I'm going to issue a little correction on your terminology. We're not fairies, we're pixies." The older pixie chastised me. "I've been called by many names over the centuries, but the other pixies address me as Elder. And this is my apprentice. You can just call her that."

"Don't call me "that". Apprentice works just fine!" Apprentice nodded with a smile. I could see Elder glance at her in disbelief before hovering off, clearly defeated.

".....Well that makes things easy." I shrugged as I followed them in the direction Elder chose.

Their small, fragile-looking wings carried their bodies with surprising efficiency.

"So how did you two end up together? You both seem... different." I asked after a few seconds, trying to break the tension. Joking about eating someone will do that to the mood.

"You mean how did I get stuck watching over a pixie whose tree doesn't go up to the top branch?" Elder finished my thought. I blinked quickly, trying my best not to laugh at the rude remark.

I happened to glance over at Apprentice, who flew on the other side of me.

"I love trees!" Apprentice beamed.

"Uhhh... me too." I nodded politely.

"Well... Her mother was my best friend in the colony before she... Anyway, I promised to train her daughter to be a proper pixie." Elder explained.

"That's very kind of you." I lauded her efforts. "You actually remind me of a couple girls I know. A little prickly on the outside, but selfless at heart."

"Getting a compliment from a hungry beast doesn't make me feel that fuzzy inside... but thank you." Elder looked ahead. "Hold on. You are a hungry beast, right?"

"Uhhh, yeah. Very hungry. In fact, I could go for a whole plate of pixies right now."

"EEE—Oh, we're here!" Elder cut her squealing short, and declared that we had arrived at our destination.

"Where is here, exactly?" I looked down to see a large red mushroom with white spots. There was nothing else in the vicinity, apart from the yellow flowers.

"Bounce on the mushroom!" Elder pointed without a hint of sarcasm in her voice.

"Phrasing, please! Jeez..." I shook my head. "What will happen if I do?"

"Try it, and find out." Elder smirked. "Unless the hungry beast is scared of a mushroom."

"I like mush—frrms" Elder covered Apprentice's entire face with her palm before she could finish that line.

"Alright, I'm going." I hopped on the mushroom, feeling every bit like a certain video game plumber. I only hoped there weren't any green pipes waiting for me to crawl through.

After the first bounce, I continued elevating into the air without returning to the ground.

"W-what's going on? Help? Help!!!" I frantically waved my arms, continuing to defy gravity. My heart raced in my throat.

"Keep calm, and fly like a pixie!" Elder and Apprentice flew up in the air with me, smiles painting their faces. After calming down a bit, I even joined in on the smiling.

"This is incredible! Woohoo!!!" The wind nearly blew my glasses off my face as we approached the cloud line.

"You may want to hold your breath." Elder warned. Apprentice pinched her nose to show me what to do.

"What do you hold my—GLUGLUGLUG..." How could I have guessed that the clouds here were made out of root beer? The world may never know.

We finally broke the cloud line—and after nearly coughing up my lungs—we began to approach the ground...

The ground!!?

"We've reached the B-Side, prepare for landing!" Elder said. We plummeted towards pink sands, pink palm trees, and a pink ocean. The only thing that wasn't pink was my pale, terrified face.

"Ahhhhh... ah?" I swan-dived towards the ground with great speed, but just before my nose could touch the sand... I froze in place.

It was then that the entire world completely flipped around, readjusting our orientation.

"ACK-" I was released, causing me to face-plant directly into the sand.

"What would you give that landing, Apprentice?" Elder cackled.

"A three..." Apprentice glanced at me trying to get the sand out of my glasses. "A five, because he tried his best!"

"Thanks, I guess." I sighed, standing up. "Everything looks different here. We're still in the Garden, right?"

"Of course we are! This is just the B-Side. People can spawn anywhere in the garden, but there's nothing but flowers on the A-side. Frankly, we don't know why it even exists." Elder shrugged. "Anyway, the Guardian's mansion is just across the beach. The brunette and the silver-haired Princesses should be there too."

"Wait, how do you—!"

"You can pretend to be shocked later. It's time we introduced you to our master, the Guardian of Dreams." Elder flew ahead.

At least I know Amber and Mavis are close, but I'll have to meet this guardian of theirs first...

I only prayed that it would go smoothly.