“I think mom isn’t getting my messages,” I murmur, staring at the System readout. “She’s not responding.”

My legs are dangling down one of Treeka’s roots. She’s growing out some thick ones for me to sit on now that the pioneer roots are crowding the yard. It’s a bright summer day, but her canopy casts most of Dema’s house in a cool shadow.

Treeka’s spirit body straightens up from her crouch on the roof. She huffs while rustling through her long leaf hair strands, to get them back in order. “Theora’s always unreliable…”

I can’t help but smile, clicking my mandibles. “She’s trying her best!”

“They’ve been gone for thirty years.” Treeka leans back down to inspect the faulty roof. “Is this where it rains inside, or is it the hole further up?”

“Main hall in front of the library,” I say. “That’s where the bucket is.”

She gives me an annoyed look. “Isobel… I’m bad with three dimensional structures.”


“But you grow the roots perfectly!”

“Yes, but that’s different. Architecture is harder to understand than plant growth.”

I take a moment to make sure. “It’s the one further up, I think.”

She sighs — she doesn’t enjoy moving around — but climbs a few more steps anyway. “You know it’s going to take weeks right? Until I grow the foliage dense enough to shield from the rain. The bucket will stay for a while, unless we plug the hole some other way.”

“Sorry. Normally—”

“Yes, yes, I know,” Trekka huffs. “Normally someone else would do it, but they’re all gone, so now I’m stuck doing everything at a snail’s pace. Even though mould doesn’t wait for snail’s pace.”


I think she’s in a bad mood. Maybe because Theora is still not responding. “Do you miss her?”

“I don’t miss her.” Treeka frowns down the opening between the blood tiles. “I only met her once. But she’s all everyone ever talks about, so she’s… on my mind. A lot. Would sure be nice if she didn’t leave you hanging like this.”

I waggle my feet and graze over Treeka’s bark. “I don’t mind hanging around a bit, you know?”

She shoots me a stare, then shakes her head, leaves rippling. “That’s not what I meant, and you know that. She wasn’t meant to be gone for this long, and you’ve been taking care of everyone the whole time.”

Oh, right, that reminds me. “Actually, where’s our girl?”

“She’s playing outside.” Treeka stands up, pointing at the cliff. “With An.”

“Oh, An’s here?” I let out a sigh of relief. “That’s good.”

“What were you worried about? Even without An there, wouldn’t it be fine? Do you think she might run off?”

I shake my head. “No, I’m worried she might start an argument again. I mean, arguing is fine, but…”

Treeka winces. “Yeah, last week was a bit… Things must be difficult for her. She’s got some big shoes to fill.”

I giggle. “She doesn’t even wear shoes.”

“Well, none of us do. It’s a figure of speech.”

“Thanks for helping me out so much with her, by the way. I’d be a bit overwhelmed on my own, sometimes.”

Treeka slides down the roof, landing on an arched root, and balances along a few others to get over to me. “You raised me from when I was a sapling. Twice. Why wouldn’t I help?”

“That’s a good point, actually. We kind of keep raising each other! Like we’re a big family.”

“That is quite literally what we are, None,” Treeka murmured.

“None!” I let out, laughing.

“Oh! Sorry. Bell keeps calling you that. So I’m not sure if—”

“Any is fine,” I say. “I’m just not used to it. I think I only might be sad if my moms started calling me that. The name’s a bit embarrassing, I just misunderstood a System prompt, and if I had to choose, I’d rather be named by them than by the System, but in a way it’s still a name I chose, so… Yeah, any is fine!”

Treeka nods. “But yeah, as I was saying, I’m just upset that they both left you. And I mean, An is barely doing anything, either.”

“What do you mean! She’s here right now, isn’t she?”

“Yeah, because you sent her a message that you managed to establish contact. She rarely comes to meet us.”

I hum thoughtfully. “I mean, someone has to do Theora’s tasks, right? She’s drowned in quests.”

“Yeah, but still… it seems a bit overt. Doesn’t show up for decades unless Theora is on the menu… She could drop by for us sometimes.”

“Aw! You miss her too!”

“I don’t miss her,” Treeka claims. “As I said, I’m upset that all the work to take care of everything falls back on you.”

“Thank you. For what it’s worth, An has told us from the start that she’d be travelling with us in hopes of meeting Theora one day. That was the whole point of why we formed a group with her. I assume that’s why she’s making time.”

Treeka shrugs, and then points at the iron bucket I have wedged between splitting roots right next to me. “So… Theora isn’t responding?”

I nod, and kick the bucket. The otherworldly purple goop inside wallows in disturbance with little sparks, before settling back down.

Miasma. The stuff between realities.

When I heard that mom and mommy were visiting another world, I figured I could help by establishing a connection to them, like I did as Theora’s handler during her space mission. But the only lead I had on how to do this were people with the [Summoner] class in Lostina’s world — but both Lostina and her [Summoner] friend are still locked in the fridge, and she’d taken her copy of the book inside with her.

I counted myself out of luck, but when the two didn’t come back even after months, I investigated a bit more, and luckily, the Observatory still had an old version of the world in suspension.

That way, I was able to meet up with [Summoners], and they helped me figure out a lot of stuff, especially with the aid of Bell’s [Identify] and my [Compute].

“Well… Mom did respond, a few times, but she seemed a bit… difficult.” I bite off a chip from my rock lips so I can throw it into the bucket, where it fizzles away into the Miasma.

Treeka’s expression is a mix of worry and disgust. “Would you stop doing that?”

“What? What? Oh, that? That’s how I send messages. I encode thoughts into the structure of my rock by having moss grow through.”Stolen from its rightful place, this narrative is not meant to be on Amazon; report any sightings.

Treeka stares at me, absolutely horrified. Then, she shakes her head. “You know how much I trust you to not be messing with me, right? You keep staring at a bucket of purple goop, throwing pieces of yourself inside. And don’t think I didn’t see you on that cliff a few days ago, when you had lightning strike into it.”

“Oh yeah,” I say. “To be honest, it was a lot more than just lightning. I sent an energy surge.” At her questioning gaze, I continue, “The [Summoner] I mentioned helped me scan a variety of otherworldly realities, and we excluded any that did not appear to have foreign signatures in them, and then we ended up eventually finding this one, after anchoring the search parameters to some of Theora’s [Obliterate] damage… And that reality has three foreign entities inside, so we can assume that it’s Dema and Theora, and a third one that also appears to be technically a person. So I had the Observatory send a sample of the surrounding Miasma.”

“Theora and Dema are stuck with… something that is… technically a person?”

I nod. “Yep!”

Treeka is about to say something else, but then her head pivots to the north. A few moments later, Antankla steps into my view from behind the tree trunk. She’s wearing her robes of concealment with a black cloth draped over her entire head, to keep her body from decaying in sunshine.

Two steps in, she stumbles over a root.

“Treeka!” She kicks the arching wood, annoyed. “You changed the layout again?”

“Sorry.” Treeka begins to rush over the roots to help An out, and I close my eyes for a moment to allow her to teleport the remaining distance. When I open my eyes again, her fingers are wrapping around An’s arm. “That root’s supposed to close a hole in the east wing in five months.”

An clicks her tongue. “Why are they all over the place anyway?”

Treeka’s hands tighten slightly around An’s arm. I wonder if An can feel that. People say they perceive Treeka’s touch as a cold breeze. “Sorry,” she mumbles.

“Isn’t it fine if she spreads her… roots?” I say right as Treeka is about to start crying. “After all, she can’t even leave the premises.”

An tilts her head. “I guess. I spent like three hours learning them all last time I was here, so I was just surprised.”

“Really?” Treeka bites her lips. “You don’t have to, you know? I’m always here. I’ll help.”

“Yeah but what if you’re hibernating? I’m just wondering why you’re growing out so many. Seems excessive.”

“You can wake me up. Anytime.” Then, a bit smaller, Treeka added, “And this is my body, you know.”

I nod. “Yep! Important to take care of her body. I’m a bit heavy, and some of those roots are very fragile. So I have to be really careful where I step so I don’t kill her.”

An carefully steps over the root system, and then lays down leaning against the trunk. “If it makes it more dangerous even to yourself, then… wouldn’t growing them underground be better? Do whatever you want, of course. Just curious.”

Treeka looks a bit discouraged. “Just wanted to hug her back,” she mumbles.

An tilts her head. “Hug her back?”

“Oh, yeah,” I say. “Dema’s made the house so it wraps around where we plant Treeka. Like a hug!”

“I see,” An says. “You do realise Dema is going to trip over these too, right?”

“Really?” Treeka lets her shoulders hang. “I’m making things difficult for everyone?”

An shrugs. “For what it’s worth, I think Theora won’t have any issues with this. And I guess Isobel’s right. You can’t leave this place, so do whatever. Didn’t think it through properly.”

“Yeah, I guess. And, sorry. I’ll tell you next time when I change the layout.”

“It’s fine. I may have overreacted.”

“Bad mood?”

An clicks her tongue in annoyance. “I guess. That little imp started to argue with a classmate again, so I bailed.”

I look up in alarm. “Oh no! Are things fine?”

“Yeah. I mean, she does feel bad for last time, so I’m sure she’ll hold back.” She scratches her neck with her short arm, and shrugs. “And she kept giving me advice while I was training her.”

“Oh yeah,” Treeka goes. “That’s why you’re moody. Have you tried staying above it?”

An shoots her the finger.

I giggle. “I’m sure she means well.”

“She’s totally full of herself. If I didn’t know she’d grow out of it…” An sighs. “Whatever. How’s progress? Did Theora respond?”

“Nope. I keep trying to get in contact, but…”

“So that is why you’re back?” Treeka asks. “You barely even know Theora.”

“What do you mean, ‘barely even know Theora’? I met her once. And that aura of hers is scary. And she promised to help me find the Silver Quaints.”

“Either way,” Treeka says, turning her gaze back on me. “What did you mean when you said ‘technically a person’?”


She points at the bucket. “You said there is another ‘visitor’ in their world besides Dema and Theora themselves. You said they were ‘technically’ a person? What does that mean? Technically? I’m a little worried.”

I shrug. “I mean like, ‘technically’ as in, only when you apply a narrow definition to it? Like let’s say you have a cake, looks like a cake and feels like one and everything, but the cake is made of sourdough bread. Is it still a cake?”


“It really depends on what you consider to be the defining traits of a cake. If you say a ‘cat’ is something with four legs and whiskers, then is a cat with only three legs still a cat? Of course! But how would we codify that? It’s all made-up!”

“I have no idea where you are going with this.”

“I just mean that this third entity appears to be trying really hard to be a person, and technically, they appear to be one, but based on intuition, it makes me go… oh… that’s not really a person, is it…” I shrug. “It makes me realise how many preconceived notions and biases I have. I’d love to get to know them.”

“This argument is a bit eerie, you know?” An’s still lying between roots, grazing her fingers over Treeka’s bark as if reading Relief. “You’re a revived conglomeration of different fossil creatures, I’m occupying a dead body. Treeka’s a ghost. And who knows what Theora is. So you have no issues seeing any of us as a person — but the one in that world gives you trouble?”

“I wouldn’t say ‘trouble’.” I slide a finger across the edge of the bucket. “It’s just… curious. I didn’t know a person could be like that.”

“That’s exactly what makes it eerie, coming from you.”

Treeka frowns. “Why are you putting Theora in there? I thought she was like, the closest to an average human of any of us.”

An turns her head to Treeka. “Are you for real right now?”

Treeka just shrugs, saying, “Oh well.” Maybe she gave up talking about this?

An turns to me. “Anyway, what’s so difficult about establishing contact with Theora? Just say, ‘Hey, here’s Isobel. What the fuck is taking you so long?’”

I giggle. “I tried! If I come on too strong, she just flat-out ignores me!”

“What?” Treeka grips her upper arms. “That doesn’t make any sense to me. Do you think she’s mad at us?”

“Nah.” I stretch, not because I have to, but because I love the clonky sounds. “My working theories are… Compartmentalisation and denial. Maybe. Could be anything really, but judging from the tone of her responses, she doesn’t really seem to be in trouble.”

“Compartmentalisation and denial?” Treeka echoes. “You’re saying she’s like me?”

My eyes go wide. “Oh, yeah! Now that you mention it! It’s the same! I think she got really hurt here and is trying to grow bark over the wounds and not think about it. You know, back when they left, Dema was worried she’d end up in a terrible place if she went to a world that she thought deserved her. But Dema joined, and now they’re there together. What if Theora found a reality where she doesn’t have to feel terrible?”

Treeka’s expression turns slightly alarmed as the realisation hits her.

I shrug. “It’s like. Maybe she’s in a good place now. Maybe she doesn’t actually want to remember this world. Maybe she doesn’t want to return to a place where there’s an evil System trying to make her kill the love of her life. Subconsciously, of course. I don’t think she’s doing it on purpose or anything. If she realised what was happening, she’d come back, because she’d know that her Time Fragment Quest expired by now and she’d feel bad about it and also she’d probably want to squish Bell again at some point.”

“I mean—” Treeka hesitates, before adding, “if your best theory is that they’re actually happy there, shouldn’t we… leave them alone?”

I shake my head. “No, it’s not so easy. I don’t want to make assumptions about her choices. And I don’t want her to be left in the dark and not know what’s happening. If Dema and Theora want to stay in that world because it’s great for them, then I’d be happy for them too. But I want both to be aware of the circumstances so they can make a proper choice for themselves, rather than accidentally getting stuck somewhere with no memories.”

Treeka bites her lips. “But isn’t trying to lose bad memories a choice? How can you be sure that it’s not on purpose? Didn’t the thing lead her ‘wherever she wants’?”

I shrug. “I see what you mean, but that’s still all assumptions. I don’t think she would have made that choice without discussing it with us first, especially not with Dema involved.”

Treeka lets out a dissatisfied sigh. “You are so clingy…”

I laugh. “No! Treeka, no I’m not! You are the one who is quick to think yourself abandoned. Bad habit! Mom wouldn’t just abandon us. She made excruciatingly sure that you’d be in good hands before blasting off into space.”

Treeka does blush as I call her out, and gives a cute little nod in acceptance.

An shrugs. “Well, I hope you figure it out soon. I can’t stay for long, but let me know if there’s something I can do.”

I nod slowly, and stare at the otherworldly goop for a while.

I just want to make sure they have a choice. That they don’t get stranded. “I’ll keep trying. I want to help Theora remember, to make sure she at least knows.”

And if they decide to stay in that other place because it makes them happy, that’s alright. I will cry my heart out, of course. But I’ll try to be happy too.