"FOUND YOU!" The two children's laughter rang out among the tree leaves, tumbled through the branches, and burst out among the leafy treetops like fireworks. An explosion of joy that bathed the Sadida kingdom in sweet innocence. A pause in the sometimes cruel World of Twelve…

"My turn!" shouted Armand, still out of breath.

The prince covered his little sister's eyes.

"Count to 50! I mean… If you know how! Ha ha ha!"

Then he ran and hid in a hollow tree trunk.

"If I find you, you have to give me all your kola rabmarac bars! The ones you keep hidden under your bed! Unless you'd rather I tell mommy and daddy everything…"

"In your dreams, lil' sis!"

Armand's voice was muffled. Amalia loved spending time with her older brother like this, being close to him and having fun. Under her capricious, posh little girl facade, the young Sadida was something of a tom boy. She was always quick to romp through steep and muddy corners of the forest and climb the highest trees. Much to the dismay of her mother and the beautiful dresses she'd make for her…

"47, 48, 49… 50! Ready or not, here I come! I'm going to flush you out like a Lenald, you moldy old Bwork!"

The little princess opened her eyes. She noticed something immediately. The forest seemed different somehow… Brighter. The grass was bathed in a light that seemed almost fake. The trees seemed to be made out of paper-mache. The flowers were too brightly colored to be real.

Something was off… Something else caught her attention: the silence… A heavy silence. As if time had stopped. As if everything had stopped and the entire forest was holding its breath.

"Armand? Armaaaand? I'm… Look out, here I come…"

Her tone was worried. She couldn't have said why, but Amalia could sense her brother wasn't nearby. Or maybe she was the one who was somewhere else? Then suddenly she heard a voice, a voice from elsewhere too. It was both gentle and deep. Full of kindness. It enveloped her like a blanket that warms your body and soul on a cold Descendre night. At the same time, there was something compassionate about the voice that only fanned the little girl's anxiety…

"Amalia, my lovely little princess…"

The Sadida spun around, like a weather-vane blown by a strong wind.

"It's all right, it's all right… I don't mean you any harm. Just the opposite… Your brother's not far. I can hear him giggling in his hiding place, sure you won't be able to find him. He's already gloating at the idea of eating all his rabmaracs right in front of you!"

Amalia smiled faintly, but didn't seem at all reassured.

"Amalia… Forgive me for interrupting your game of hide and seek. I know how much you and Armand both value the time you get to spend playing with each other.

The Tree of Life paused, searching for the right words.

"I… I wish that the world could be made of only that. Of moments of carefree joy…

"But… Who are you? Are you Sadida?? Where are you? I can't see you!"

"I'm the Tree of Life. I'm the one talking to you."

The little girl moved back slightly, startled. Her mouth formed a "whoa" but no sound came out.

"Amalia… How you've grown… I know you're only five years old, but I can already see huge potential in you. You're going to do great things, I'm sure of it."

Slight nod. The Sadida couldn't rid herself of her reserved air.

"Your parents must be very proud of you. Your brother, too, even though he does like to tease you. They all love you very much, you know. I know how important you are to them. And how important they are to you…

"Yes… My daddy's the king and my mommy's the queen! And I'm a princess…" simpered the little girl.

"A princess, and certainly a future queen! Time will teach you that life is full of many surprises, Amalia. Some are nice surprises. But others… we'd rather do without. You and your family have already been through so much. And as we say, 'Life's not a long flowing river as peaceful as a sleeping Sadida', right?"

"Daddy always says it's like a box of Saint Ballotwine chocolates!"

"Ha ha ha, that sounds just like him! The poet with a sweet tooth and healthy appetite!"

"Oh, yes, mommy's always telling him to stop sopping up all the sauce on his plate! But he just can't help himself. She slaps the back of his hand every time he does it. 'You wouldn't like me without my curves!' That's what he always says. It drives her nuts… But I'm sure he's right!"

Amalia couldn't see it, but this little anecdote brought a sad smile to the Tree of Life's face.

"I'm sure of it too. Your parents love each other very much. And nothing, absolutely nothing, can stop a love that sincere. Amalia… dear… I'd like you to make me a promise… Will you?"

"To stop eating my boogers? Mommy always says that that's not something princesses should do…"

Amalia's answer shook the Tree of Life's composure a little.

"Uhh… That too. But there's something more important than that. Whatever life throws at you, whatever events, obstacles, and pitfalls you must face – because there will be those, you know – promise me one thing, promise me you will always watch out for your brother. I know he's the oldest, but… well, you see… He can sometimes be… How shall I put it?

"It's true he can be a bit bonkers!"

"I couldn't have found a better way of saying it," answered the Tree of Life, amused.

"But deep down, he's nice… Even though is breath is kind of stinky."

The Tree of Life was charmed by this ever-so-spontaneous little girl.

"Your father is a strong man, Amalia, strong as if he had been carved out of Crackler rock. Nothing can shake him. But your brother, under his mask of a young, arrogant teen full of himself, hides a weakness in his heart. You're only five years old, but you already have a strong character. You are resourceful. I can feel it deep in my sap… A sister's love and support can never be underestimated. Promise me you'll never forget that, child."

She didn't quite understand what the Tree of Life was trying to say, but Amalia was flattered and agreed. She raised her head.

"Oh, yes, I sure will watch out for him. And keep an eye on him especially! Because he sure is one for getting into trouble!" said the little girl proudly, sounding a bit like a schoolmarm.

"I wouldn't expect any less from you. I won't keep you any longer. Go play with your brother. Don't tell anyone about our talk, please. It'll be… our little secret. And do me a favor… Enjoy every minute with your loved ones. And listen to your mother, she's right too. Boogers aren't very good at all!"

"I promise, Mr. Tree!"

Amalia emerged from this haze like someone waking up from a dream.

"What's keeping you? Are you coming today or tomorrow? Pffft, you're no fun at all!!" yelled Armand, starting to run out of patience.

"Mumbling Moskitos! I'm coming! The rabmaracs are mine!"

Amalia kept her promise. She watched over her brother as best she could. At the time, she was much too young to understand the full importance of that "talk". It was only years later that the princess, having grown into a woman, understood the depth of the Tree of Life's words. More than entering people's minds to show them what they wanted to see happen, this entity, revered by the entire Sadida people, had the power to predict the future. Or at least to sense its currents, both negative and positive, and the outline of future events…