Eleventh Chapter, First Part: Revelations

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After a while of following the bound spirit's sprightly but rather ungainly pace, Iris tired of their silence.

"Do you have a name?"

"One that no longer fits."

"Well, I have to call you something. Will Pumpkin do?"

"It most certainly will not. It's completely degrading and beneath my station."

"Well pardon me, your Majesty. Will Pumpkin Prince suffice?"

"Once again—"

"I'm glad we're in accord. Now, where are we going?"

"The Sunset Fields." He said this as if it were a self-evident truth.

"Right, now what is that exactly?"

The Pumpkin Prince let out an exaggerated sigh, but it was an improvement from his earlier dolorousness, so Iris didn't comment.

"It is, as the name implies, a place of repose before the spirit returns to the mortal coil. A final place to contemplate and come to terms with the cycle of life. It is also, if I may be so bold as to assert so, the most beautiful locale in this realm. Picture, if you will, red and gold lilies blanketing a flat expanse of grassy field. In the light, they shine with muted warmth and wave in the gentlest of breezes, murmuring as spirits picnic together, sharing company and elderberry wine as they prepare to fade into their next existence."

Iris smiled at the imagery, feeling the ghost of warm breeze on her cheeks. "Certainly better than the Candlewood, or that puddle-filled mire."

The Pumpkin Prince shot her a narrowed-eyed glance.

"What were you doing in the Candlewood?"

Any pleasantness from the Sunset Fields imagery vanished as mud sucked at Iris's chest and panicked fog filled her head. She tripped and grabbed onto the Prince's arm, which felt like a gnarled branch.

"It was awful. The Candlewood, the Maze. I wasn't myself in either of them. I didn't mean to enter them, I didn't know, and they sucked me right in. If Mother Hall hadn't found me, or if I hadn't ended up at the Snake-"

"Snake?"

"Huge snake, with the world in his eyes. He told me a nursery rhyme." Iris laughed a hiccup laugh. "I thought this place couldn't get any stranger." She shrugged and looked at the Prince, expecting a commiserating camaraderie. Instead his eyes held a light like awe.

"You met with the World Snake? With Tavaros?"

"Accidentally," Iris said hurriedly. "And that was after the river had 'washed me right clean.'" It was an important concession, but she wasn't sure why.

"Right," the spirit said, unconvinced. "Well, you are a playing piece."

"And isn't that just grand. I get to travel this lovely place. Might be worth it to see these fields of yours, though."

The Prince shifted his shoulders, uncomfortable. "This isn't the land at its best. My absence— that is, in my absence, the state of the realm has deteriorated. Rapidly." He threw out an arm, and it took Iris a second to realize he was gesturing at the realm and not just flailing for balance. "Usually there are spirits everywhere, walking about on their paths so that the hills glimmer with them, not shut up in the grave towns, Candlewood, or memory caves. People are passing on without passing through their paths. Death is not as it should be."

Strange to think that Death, mysterious and foreign, had a status quo. Iris smiled at the thought, a bit wistful.

"What is it like? Normally?"

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