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"To your right, you can see the kingdom's prison. A little further on the horizon, the gigantic tree emerging from the forest is none other than the Tree of Life. There was a time when it..." Ash trailed off. The monotonous tone with which the guide from the Mighty Mallow hospice delivered his speech had plunged him into a stupor. He was bored stiff, ready to doze off...

An entire life spent living the most gripping adventures, embarking on quests for the hardest to find treasures, living the most beautiful and, at times, impossible love stories... This is what it has all led to. To a den of decrepit old men without teeth, where the days were organized around naps and never-ending bingo parties, and where a somewhat too thick pumpkwin soup could cause an uproar, or even a mutiny. This special trip to the Sadida Kingdom might have spiced up his new life as a senile retired Enutrof, if only it didn't resemble the countless other insipid treks where gathering acorns was the one and only interesting activity...

From all of his 146 years of age, Ash overflowed with energy and youth. He had to get out of this Shustuft Crust.

"ShwooouuuiiiZ... TONG!!!". As an answer to his inner call for help, an arrow lodged itself a few milikameters from his nose, in the ancient bark of a treechnid just as wrinkled as him. In passing, the bolt had also managed to skewer several arachnees and take their life as a result.

"They didn't suffer, don't worry."

The Cra appeared like a Shushu coming out of its box. Her odor had preceded her by a few seconds... She pulled the arrow out and, with her few remaining teeth, bit into the skewer of plump, hairy paws with all her strength.

"Hmm… Hmmm… Well, 'sbetter when it's cooked..."

Ash was half surprised and half disgusted.

"You're not from around here, are you?"

The Enutrof stood there dumbstruck, hypnotized by the Twelvian's mouth. Drooling, revealing her blackened teeth with each bite. Bits of arachnee meat, reduced to a pulp, bunched up in the corners of her lips.

"Me, I'm Mimi. Let me guess... You're with the geezers and old fogies from Mighty Mallow?"

The Cra nodded her head slightly toward the group of seniors. She added,

"I know 'em well. I'd rather die than end up like that... I mean, just look at 'em... They're drooling over a clump of grass without knowing what's under it. They overlook everything!"

Ash watched the small flock move away. Mimi continued, in a more solemn tone.

"The Sadida Kingdom, haven of peace, the lungs of the World of Twelve as the saying goes! They aren't lying... I have to admit I've rarely seen such a beautiful place. But don't go assuming... We aren't at the Teddybearbarian's either! Danger is everywhere in the World of Twelve, even where you least suspect it!"

The hospice's tenants and guests had gotten ahead. No one noticed Ash was no longer there. The Cra continued to chew away at a visibly tough piece of arachnee. A paw protruded out of her mouth, giving her a look that was equal parts savage and grotesque.

"They really take you for a bunch of crusty old geezers! A hike isn't what you need. You need some action, some danger, some strong sensations! Aren't you tired of sitting around on your duffs?"

Ash cracked a big smile and nodded. This outing was starting to taking a turn for the better. He was finally starting to appreciate it...

"Good news old pal. You're come across THE one and only guide from around here... In the Sadida Kingdom, we don't just meditate, breath in the fresh air or "reconnect" to nature like all the Bontarians who drop everything to come live here say. True, it's a nice place... But that's not all! Come, follow me..."

Mimi spit on the ground, then wiped her mouth with the back of her sleeve. Ash was as happy as a lark. He followed the adventurer, who quickly disappeared behind the branches of the majestic trees. After a few good minutes walking at a brisk pace, they abruptly stopped. The Cra bent down and invited Ash to do the same. She brought her filthy finger to her lips to tell him to make no sound and then lifted a branch weighed down by long leaves resembling those of a citronana. Facing them, in the hollow of a tree, little balls of fur snuggled up against each other...

 

"Shhhhhh... Look! Baby gerbeans," whispered Mimi.

"Too cuuuute," murmured Ash.

Yeahhh. But they only look cute... If you get a little too close to them, mama gerbean won't hesitate to come and rip your head own in one bite."

The Enutrof gulped.

"Don't worry. You'll already be half reincarnated by the time she nibbles on the bones in your toes..."

Right then, a scream pierced the air. Ash put his hands over his ears.

"Ah, speaking of a Boowolf..." said the Cra.

The gerbeans' mother appeared, or rather her shadow did. Menacing. She sensed their presence. It was time to split, and fast.

From the corner of her eye, Mimi watched Ash fidget, not without a certain wicked delight... He had moved her. And she was in a playful mood... She startled the Enutrof as she took his hand in hers to take him with her. Together, they doubled back and followed a trail that forced them to crawl. Unlike his guide, Ash was not insensitive to prickers or insect bites. The poor Enutrof was having a hard time making his way through the lush forest. The many months spent at the hospice had made him stiff. When the ordeal finally came to an end, the two adventurers arrived at an idyllic place.

An adorable little bridge bathed in light. The splash of the water. A rainbow connecting a clear waterfall the land below put the finishing touch on the romanticism of the surroundings. It was a small preserved cocoon for lovers of nature or just loversreally. Mimi leaned against the the small bridge's low stone wall, closed her eyes and then took a deep breath. Ash took a moment to observe her more closely. Her physique was impressive, as if chiseled from stone. Her arched shoulders and thick, dusty, tangled hair gave her the look of a small trapped wild animal. There was nothing graceful about her. And yet... Ash was glad for her presence. There was something about her he liked. Her spontaneity, her grit. She abruptly reopened her eyes and, with a big smile turned toward the Enutrof.

"We're better off here than sitting around on our buns, right?" she let out in a way would have scared a gobball straight.

Ash came up beside her to get a view of the small lake. A light mist from the waterfalls refreshed his face. It was pleasant.

"How I love it here... You go from the Shustuft Crust to Incarnam. Look at how beautiful it is..."

The Cra pointed at a majestic mauve rose. Its petals fell with a grace that resembled a dancer in a tutu.

"I dream for a guy to offer me something like this..."

The Enutrof held back a laugh. While he appreciated Mimi, it was hard to imagine a Twelvian falling in love with such a grubby adventurer.

She continued.

"It smells so good. And did you see its petals? Yet... they can conceal some bad surprises..."

Mimi raised one of the petals, flushing out a hideous hairy arachnee. A shiver ran up and down Ash's body. The creature stared wildly at the two adventurers with its 4 bulging eyes. Caught off guard, she had no time to fly: "SCHLACK!" the Cra cut it in two with the sharp string of her bow.

Ash jumped.

"Don't make that face. It was it or you," Mimi said while cleaning her bloody bow with a part of her tunic.

A small red drop dripped down the Enutrof's nose.

"Well now my boy! It didn't miss you by much! Sorry, I almost amputated your nose in the process, one might say... Part and parcel of the trade! When I tell you the Sadida Kingdom isn't exactly a bed of roses... I mean, exactly all green!"

Mimi started laughing exaggeratedly at this bad joke.

"Come on, I'm going to show you the most incredible part of the kingdom. Almost as incredible as the The Tree of Life..."

The two new inseparable companions journeyed places where words fail to describe the splendor, where the deep green of the trees mixed with the glimmering blue of the lakes, where the whisper of the wind and the songs of the birds composed the most peaceful of melodies. Here, time has stopped. The landscape was as if frozen in time.

An endless stone stairway stood before them. Mimi climbed the stairs 4 at a time with a troubling agility for someone of her kind. Once again, Ash had trouble keeping up with her. At the top, a bluff offered them a sensational spectacle. The tops of the trees formed a thick, quilted carpet. Flocks of birds took flight in a milikametric choreography. The flapping of their wings gave a strange impression that the gods were applauding.

Ash started laughing nervously. Laughing with joy. In the space of an afternoon, he had come face to face with a giant moumouse prepared to defend its offspring at all costs, he had faced his arachneephobia and, more than anything, he had breathed the great air.... All that, in one of the most magnificent and preserved places in the World of Twelve, and in the company of an adventurer whose charm, it was hard to admit, he was slowly falling under...

The Cra's hair, in spite of how sticky it appeared to be, fluttered in the wind. She took in a deep breath of air and stared at the horizon as if she was discovering the places for the first time.

Ash could no longer take his eyes off this bizarre individual. He was so grateful to her for helping him feel alive again. Mimi sense him looking at her. She turned toward the Enutrof.

"Why are you looking at me like that you old fart?" she said, picking her nose.

Suddenly, the Cra's face turned pale. Looking a few meters behind Ash, her expression betrayed her terror.

The Enutrof looked back over his shoulder. A pack of Boowolves, fangs bared, had them surrounded. They were trapped. Ash took his shovel from his back. This time there was no doubt: retirement would have to wait.

For him, it was time for adventure again...