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The gentle flapping of wings catapulted her awake.

Her eyes shot open, darting from side to side in the pitch black void she found herself in. It was cold. Her arms instinctively shot up to cover herself as she began to shiver, their movements accentuated by the familiar sound of splashing water. Wherever she was, it was somewhere damp.

When had she fallen asleep? The last thing she remembered was correcting some errors in the anomalous objects log during lunch before everything went dark.

She looked up in desperation, finding only… no… There it was.

A pair of wings, easily identifiable as a Queen Alexandra's, opened and closed a distance ahead. They glowed in the ever-present darkness, beckoning to her. She could almost hear it calling her over.

She got up, weighed down by the liquid. Moving was difficult, as whatever liquid she had found herself in was about knee-deep. Every slosh brought her closer to the winged insect, which became more and more insistent upon her approach.

"Come."

Its voice was like nothing she had ever heard before. It was androgynous and wore an unfamiliar accent. Concluding she must be in a dream, she followed and it lead. It lead her through caverns made of the night itself. It lead her through the bitterest of colds. It lead her through time immemorial. It lead her to the light.

She emerged, taking a moment to adjust her eyes to the light.

A forest of dead trees greeted her, twisted branches grasping towards the sun without a single bit of green in sight. The grass crunched beneath her feet, Its dull orange colors weakly withering before her eyes. Not a single bird was singing. There was no gentle rustling of squirrels in the treetops. Nothing seemed to be alive.

Nothing but herself and the butterfly, which rested on the gnarled fallen trunk.

A cold wind gusted by, revealing a path made of stone. She folded her arms tightly, enduring the bitter cold through chattering teeth and shivers. Her companion fluttered its wings once more, starting along the path. She would follow, just as she had before.

She walked through winding paths dizzying to behold. She walked through tall patches of dark, dead grass. She walked through a patch of pumpkins, all of which looked at her with judgmental eyes. She walked for years, but the orange sun did not move.

She walked until the grass became green.

There, in the distance, she saw a tree. An oasis in the desert, dawn breaking dusk. Its leaves were vibrant and green, its trunk was sturdy and healthy, and there was life surrounding it. Her guide abandoned her, flying towards their destination with haste. She followed suit, only to slow her pace at the sight of what hung from the tree.

Hundreds of men and women, all with their eyes closed were gingerly held aloft by soft vines and branches. Bonnets, caps, kilts, and cheongsam, each was dressed like a painting or picture in a history book. She swallowed.

"Greetings, seeker."

The familiar voice of her companion called her forward.

"Hello? Who are you?"

"A friend of a friend. Would you like some tea, wanderer?"

She hesitated, unsure of what to do. Deciding to err on the side of caution, she slowly approached the base of the tree. A plain table and cover awaited her, alongside a simple chair and cup. The lepidopteran sat opposite to the chair on the table, its wings slowly moving.

"Yes, thank you."

A long and smooth branch moved from behind her, carrying a wooden teapot. It poured the boiling contents of its pot into the wooden cup before a second and third branch approached. They rubbed against one another, dropping a number of nettles in the hot water. The first and third retracted, leaving the second to stir the green liquid. By the time she took a seat, the nettles had been cleaned off the wool cover and the branch had retracted.

"Please drink while it is hot. I insist."

She took the cup into her hands, gently cooling the liquid with her breaths.

"Where are we?"

"The place between places."

"Like, some sort of pocket dimension?"

It laughed. "If you wish to call it such."

She shifted in her chair. The cold air and voice of her winged friend were rendering her uneasy.

"What is your name?"

"I'm afraid such a topic is taboo, inquisitive one."

They sat in silence. She sipped her tea. It was bitter.

"Why… why am I here?"

"You have been selected to carry the torch."

She stared. It sighed. No matter how many times it explained, they never understood.

"A long time ago, when the forests were young, the hunters sealed me and mine away in the woods of darkness. They cut down everything in their path, leaving only this." The luscious tree rustled gently in the wind, the dormant bodies of its offspring's guardians swaying gently with the breeze.

"To enter the green forests again, they need one from the land of trees to hold open the door. Such will be your duty."

She thought of her job. They would not permit such a thing. They would imprison her. She would become like the beings she worked to keep from others. She would not abide that.

"I-I-I'm sorry, but I don't think I can do this. I need to go."

"Please stay. I insist."

The branches of the tree began to close in on her, each bringing one of the previous gatekeepers. She screamed. The branches wrapped around her waist, dragging her up towards a male. He wore a lab coat, similar to hers. He wore a beard. He wore a brown cap.

She stopped screaming.

Her eyes went wide.

"Doctor Kondraki?!"

He turned to her, his eyes and mouth shooting open before erupting into butterflies with black, leathery wings. Again, she screamed. Everything went dark.


"Zyn… Zyn… Zyn! Wake up, sis!"

She was catapulted from her sleep, hyperventilating and spilling papers from her desk everywhere. Mark, her brother, chuckled at her startling. He leaned down to pick up the fallen documents and was quickly joined by his sister.

"Jeez, Zyn. Riven was wondering where you were!"

"Sorry, Mark, I just… I fell asleep and…"

"I know. It's okay, sis. Don't worry about it… But hey, when was the last time you took a vacation?" He got up, dropping the papers onto Zyn's desk in a neat stack. She got up and took a seat on her rolling chair, thinking deeply.

"You know, it's not a good thing if you really need to think about it that long." He chuckled.

"You're probably right. I had the weirdest dream though…"

"You can tell Riven and I about it at lunch. Also, we need to schedule you a day off when we get back."

The two left Kiryu Labs's computer room under the watchful eye of a Queen Alexandra perched atop the internet router.

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