“I wish you could go to the Nightmare Kingdom and use the door peacefully, but that’s impossible. They will smell your dream energy the second you take a step inside and kill you without mercy.” said Alvin.
“So, you’re saying that we need an army to distract them?” said Alice. Her pained face displayed how much she disliked the idea.
“Correct. We would need the support of either one, two, or all three of the settlements to successfully attack and distract the kingdom long enough for both of you to get back home. There will probably still be some Nightmares in our way, but it will be a lot less than it would be by yourselves.”
“They can’t ask them for help right now, it’s almost dinner time so all of the Settlement Councils are done for the day.” said Aiden.
“Settlement Council? What’s that?” Josie questioned.
“A Settlement Council is a group of the oldest members of a settlement. They are responsible for making every decision on behalf of a settlement.” Alvin adjusted his kimono. “Now let’s eat dinner and then turn in for the night. In the morning, you can head for the elf settlement first. The beast people can be seen after that, followed by the dragons for last.”
After Alvin said this, everyone walked into the kitchen and had dinner together. When they finished dinner, Ellen took Alice and Josie into another room where she used a tape measure on them. She created two nightgowns to use for the night. Since the dojo had limited guest bedrooms, Josie and Alice shared a room together. The futons were rolled out, and they said goodnight to each other and drifted off to sleep.
* * *
Alice woke up in the morning and found Josie still fast asleep. She left the room and decided to let her sleep for a few more minutes. After getting dressed in the bathroom, she walked down the hallway and found a spare room where a long mirror stood inside. Curious of herself, she stepped in front of the mirror. What reflected back at her was a girl in a blue and purple dress, blue wavy hair, blue eyes, and a golden headband. Alice touched a cheek on her face and rubbed the snowflake.
“I…look cute.” She thought to herself. At that moment, she sat down across from the mirror against the wall and held her knees.
Ellen passed by the room and noticed Alice.
“Hey, are you alright?” Ellen gently asked.
“I feel conflicted. On one hand, I’m happy that I’m alive but on the other…”
Ellen sat down beside her. “…You feel bad about the princess?”
Alice nodded with tears in her eyes.
“Reincarnation or not, the loss of someone always hurts. I’m hurting. Aiden and Alvin are probably hurting too. But we can’t let that feeling hold us down forever. If we do, it will stop us from living and rot our hearts.”
Ellen hugged her and said, “Life is a precious thing Alice. Not everyone gets another chance. You could…become queen of the Ice Kingdom if you want.”
They broke out of the hug. “Me!? Become queen? I don’t know…”
“It can’t be pure coincidence that we survived! The possibility of more survivors is there. But the king and queen…I am not certain. It could be a temporary position, you can occupy it while we find someone among our people to fill that role.”
Alice placed her hand on her chest. “I’ll think about it on my journey.”
Ellen nodded her head. “Probably for the best, it is a big decision after all.”
Alice got up and faced the mirror, then Ellen stood beside her.
“What am I, Ellen?”
“You’re a snow woman of the snow people race.”
“Do you mean those spirits from Japanese folklore?”
“No. That folklore you speak of was made by people who feared us on Earth. They feared our ice magic, and that fear forced us to make a new home in the Dream World. Not that it changed anything, considering what happened…”
A loud yawn suddenly came from the hallway. Josie appeared at the entrance to the room.
“Ah, there you are! You forgot to wake me up on time.”
“Whoops. Sorry about that.” said Alice.
“It’s fine. Let’s go and have breakfast.” said Josie with a smile.
After Josie got dressed and had breakfast, Alvin told her directions to find the elf settlement. Aiden left and went back home and Ellen decided to go on the search for more survivors at the Ice Kingdom. They said their goodbyes to everyone, and Alice and Josie left into the woods. Eventually they crossed paths with the elf who helped them yesterday, Finley.
“Hello! How are you two doing?” said Finley.
“We’re doing great!” said Josie.
“Thinking about it, I don’t believe I introduced myself to your friend here. My name is Finley.”
“My name is Alice, nice to meet you.”
“So, what brings you to these woods my friends?” said Finley as he picked a mushroom.
“We are trying to find the settlement of the elves to ask their council for help.” explained Josie.
“I see. It’s for your situation I assume?”
“Yeah. We need an army to attack the Nightmare Kingdom long enough for us to use the door and get back home.”
“Hmm, I don’t know if they would agree to do that. But if you really want to give it a try, follow me.”
They followed Finley for a while until he paused in front of a tree. He touched the tree and his hand flashed with dream energy. A wooden platform descended from the sky to the ground. Finley and Alice stepped onto the platform, and then Josie hurried on. Finley pulled a lever that raised them higher and higher into the sky. They stepped off at their destination and saw wooden houses, interconnected wooden walkways, bridges, and many elves.
While they walked, Josie observed elves helping one another with various tasks such as a young elf who helped an older elf carry her things to her house. Alice saw some elves shooting arrows at a target with one elf that instructed them how to use the bow properly. Finley approached a big building with round doors and opened it. Inside, they were in a room where a lone elf sat at a desk. The elf busily wrote away with a quill until he noticed Finley.
“Hello Finley! Are you here for another request?” said the elf secretary.
“Not this time. I’m here to help my friends with their request. Are they too busy today?”
“The Council is in progress with a request at the moment,” The secretary took out a book and flipped through its contents. “But there is an opening right after. Please take a seat and wait for a few minutes.”
“Ok. Thank you.” said Finley.
“Do you know how the settlement council works?” asked Finley as they sat down in the waiting area.
“Alvin explained it to us when we had breakfast.” said Alice.
“I see. So, you’re friends with him then? Good man, that one. He helped me train my fighting skills a couple years ago.”
Josie and Alice thought about what Alvin told them during breakfast.
“The Settlement Council makes every decision by voting for what they should agree to do. What will happen is that you will both stand up one at a time at a podium. Then you will ask them for help and make a case for why they should do so. The goal is to convince the majority of the members of the Council to vote in your favor.”
Alice and Josie decided to play rock, paper, scissors. Alice lost three times, which meant that she had to speak first.
“Please do your best, Alice!” said Josie.
A person who looked like a merchant came out of the big doors and then left the building. The secretary got up and entered the big doors, stayed inside the room for a couple minutes until he popped back out.
“The Council will see you now.” said the secretary.
The doors closed behind them and made a loud noise that echoed throughout the room. Nine elderly elves were seated in a round table. A row of eight elves were seated against the wall, but younger in comparison to the elders. Josie remembered Alvin telling her this group was called the Lower Council, a group of randomly picked adults of the settlement populace whose purpose was to break undecisive decisions with their vote.
“The Settlement Council will now listen to your request, whoever shall speak, please approach the podium.” announced the speaker.
Another thing Alvin mentioned was that the Council designated one member to speak on their behalf, who inquired answers and announced final verdicts of decisions. Finley and Josie sat in chairs that are nearby while Alice approached the podium.
“My name is Alice. Our request is that we would like to have an army to attack the Nightmare Kingdom long enough for us to use the door and get back to Earth.”
There was a murmur between the Council that sounded like a mix of shock and confusion.
“Did you say Alice!? The princess of the Ice Kingdom?”
“I’m sorry to say that the princess is no longer with us. I have been reincarnated in her body and I took on her name in honor of her life. My friend, Josie, who is the dragon before you, is also reincarnated. We were killed by someone with unknown evil intentions toward the Ethereal Circle. With your help, Josie and I can stop them before their plot is fully realized on my world.”
“Do you believe the Dream World is included in their plot?” said the speaker.
“I don’t fully know their goals, but I believe in the possibility.”
“Thank you for speaking Alice. Josie may step up to the podium now, we would like to hear from her.”
Alice stepped down from the podium and Josie took her place like the elves wanted.
“First, we would like to ask you to verify if everything Alice has said is nothing short of the truth.”
“It is speaker. I was going home with Alice until someone stabbed me in the back, taking my life.”
“I see. If we send an army of elves to help you fight your way into the Nightmare Kingdom, can you guarantee that you will take down this villain or villains?”
“I cannot. I only learned about how to fight and use magic not too long ago. However, I am confident that Alice and I can handle whatever’s thrown our way. And I can guarantee it because we will not give up!”
Alice nodded her head with a smile.
“Thank you for speaking Josie. Finley may approach the podium now and speak to us.”
Josie left the podium for Finley. A couple elves swapped the podium with another one that was the right height for him.
“What is your relation to these two and why do you think they need an army from this settlement?”
Finley explained to them about how he found Josie in a trap he set up for his class and how he helped her save Alice because of the distress signal she told him about. Josie couldn’t help but blush a little while Alice looked at her clearly enjoying his recount of events.
“…With all that said, I believe my friends should get an army because to me, they are capable fighters, but they will not survive the Nightmare Kingdom without our help. Elves have always been known to help outsiders, even our own kind. For the greater good, we must help them. That is all I would like to say.”
“We the Council thank you for all that you wanted to say, Finley.”
After Finley left the podium, the speaker spoke, and he said, “It is time for us to vote on our decision. Please stay seated and await my announcement of the resulting vote.”
A few minutes went by until the speaker’s voice broke the silence. “We have come to an undecided vote, so the Lower Council will vote on this now.”
Small pieces of paper were passed over to the speaker from the Lower Council. He checked their votes and shuffled through each one a second time just in case. The speaker stood up and declared, “The Lower Council have spoken. Their judgement states that we will not give you an army from our settlement.”
Alice, Josie, and Finley went outside in disappointment. Finley let out a sigh and said, “Reality sure stinks when the words from your mouth come true. I’m sorry my friends.”