There was a period of nothingness. Then bright sunlight blinded Arwin. He rocked and rolled in his seat as the car sped along through the musical blue field. Instinctively, he slammed on the brakes and twisted the wheel. The car swerved, slid sideways, and came to a halt a hand’s breadth from the bluebeard tree.
The aristocratic little man living inside the tree opened the door, poked his head out, frowned, cursed until he was blue in the face, and then slammed the door.
Arwin sat quietly in the car seat. Heart pounding, he tried to bring his thoughts into order.
He’d been trying to rescue those people. Then there’d been the fire. Then the blue screen of death. He remembered dying.
And yet here he was. Why?
It must’ve been pure luck. His hand must have hit the restart button just in time and now he’d restarted. Yet he felt no joy, not even relief. It didn’t feel like a victory. After all, he’d died.
He felt shaken to the core. It was difficult to think. His hands trembled on the wheel.
Looking out the car window in a daze, everything was just like it had been when he’d first arrived in this world. He climbed out of the car. A bluestone gave a despondent cry, just like it had before. There was the sandalwood tree full of sandals. The field of blue grass made soulful music as wind blew through it.
He felt himself falling once more into depression, that familiar, sinking feeling he was becoming all-too-used to.
Was this the sum total of who he really was in life: a failure? He’d failed to keep Kelli’s love and Eddie’s friendship. He’d failed at living the life that was expected of him, the life so many other people seemed to throw themselves into without question. Coming here, he’d failed to protect Bleu and Aoi, leaving them either injured or dead. Then he’d failed once more with the collared workers.
Maybe he should give up on everything. What was the point of trying in life if it only led to so much disaster and pain? He’d been restarted in this world, out of nothing but luck. Perhaps this was life’s way of telling him to turn around and go home. He’d get a normal job, live a normal life, even if it was alone and miserable.
A spark of anger flared from within the darkness coalesced around his heart.
“No,” he growled. He slammed the car door shut and stalked through the blue field and into the forest, only coming to a stop once he’d left the melancholy area behind.
He stopped amidst the trees and looked up through a space between the branches. There was no smoke over the forest, so the fire hadn’t happened. Probably all the blue collar workers were still alive and well. The white collars and the mooner and the belles were hopefully alive and well, too.
He looked up at the brilliant sky and contemplated the fluffy white clouds floating by. A pair of gryphons soared overhead.
Arwin new that he was being negative. He knew that it was depression and disappointment and pain pushing his thoughts around, and that he shouldn’t give in.
He thought about returning to Earth, about giving up on this strange, fantasy world and going home. He thought about trying to live his old life or some version of it, the life that Kelli had wanted him to lead. Find a corporate career or something and force himself to stick to it. His hands bunched into fists.
He didn’t want that life. Was it so wrong to want to live differently? Could he stay here, at least for a while, and see what he could make of life in this world?
He thought about the belles and the collared workers. He’d made mistakes and people had gotten hurt. But he could go back and do it over, do it better, couldn’t he?
He turned his back on the way home and faced the direction of the belles and nobles. He was not going to define himself as a failure. He was going to stay and give things another shot.
Having made the decision, he felt lighter and happier, enough that he could smile again. Armed with a sense of purpose and determination, he set off.
He found the beautiful, blue women where he’d met them previously and felt a powerful sense of relief that they were unharmed. He approached as if it was the first time. Conversation with them played out much as it had before. Soon enough, he was on his way back towards Azamont’s lands in search of the magical flowers.
Tricking the wallflower once more, he scaled the wall and entered the magical botanical garden. This is where he began to do things differently.
Arwin knew that he needed to get the job done before being discovered. Thankfully, he was able to move with a great deal more speed now that he was sure of what he was doing.
As he passed the naked ladies, sack of bluebells over his shoulder, an idea sparked in his mind. He grinned and rooted around the lovely ankles of the ladies, doing his best to rush, despite the feminine temptations reaching down and running their hands all over his head and shoulders, begging him to pollinate their flowers. After a few seconds, he found what he was looking for and added it to the sack. Then he sprinted to the wall and threw himself over it.
Hiding on the other side of the wall, he waited in tense silence until he heard the voices of Azamont and the other nobles on the other side. Luckily, they spoke in calm tones and gave no sign of having noticed Arwin’s intrusion nor the theft of the bluebells. It was safe for Arwin to return to his quest givers.
Bleu and Aoi smoothly rose to their feet at his approach.
“Arwin!” Bleu cried.
“Be not blue, blue belles for I have your bluebells.” Arwin opened the bag and revealed the contents. Much like the previous time this had happened, the faces of both women brightened.
“You’ve brought the entire plants!” Aoi gushed in surprise. “You brilliant man! Now we can plant these anywhere.”
“And enjoy them anytime,” Arwin agreed.
“You have more than earned your reward,” Aoi breathed happily, dragging him towards the bench and pressing her plush blue lips to his.
“And three times that reward from me!” Bleu exclaimed, tugging Arwin away from her friend. She gave him a kiss with three times as much passion as Aoi had given.
Not to be outdone, Aoi pulled him back to her and kissed him even more deeply than before.
Arwin’s head spun and he found all kinds of splendidly soft womanly parts pressing onto him from both sides. And this time, there were no interruptions. Best of all — nobody got hurt.
The ladies eventually pulled away, leaving him breathless and excited, head spinning pleasantly, his face covered in blue kiss marks.
“Thank you so much, Arwin,” Bleu enthused. She picked up half of the sack.
“We should plant these immediately, where they won’t be heard or seen by the nobles,” Aoi insisted. She tilted her head as she looked at Arwin. “Will you come to Blue Village with us?”
“Not right now. I’d like to see if I can help free the blue collar workers first,” he replied.
Bleu gasped and stepped forward. “Free them? Really?”
“That’s the goal. Oh, just one thing, before I forget.” He reached into the sack and pulled out the final item he’d stashed there.
“What’s that?” Bleu asked.
“A present of sorts for someone else.” He grinned and waved and the three parted ways.
“Good luck, Arwin!” they both called out after him.
Arwin made his way towards the where the forced labour camp of collared workers. He avoided notice and circled around to where they’d discovered the mooner earlier in search of the dental key. He was going to need that key again, but this time, he had a plan.
The mooner, nude as ever, lazily reclined in a mossy hollow at the base of a thick pine tree. A few flies buzzed around him and he slapped at a mosquito. When he caught sight of Arwin, a brow rose. “Yeah? What you want?”
Arwin gave the man his best smile. “I’ve come to make a trade. I need that dental key that you keep tucked away in a very unusual place.”
“Huh? How do you—“ The man huffed. “Ain’t givin’ you nothin’, buddy. Beat it.”
“Hear me out. In exchange, I’ll give you this.” Arwin held out the object he’d taken from Azamont’s garden.
“A plant?” The mooner chortled. “I live in a forest. Whaddya think I need that fer?”
“It’s not just any plant. I took this from Azamont’s garden just a short while ago.”
The mooner’s eyes widened with a measure of respect and wariness. “Lord Azamont?”
Arwin held up the root ball and seedling. Together, they easily fit in one hand and it was impossible to tell what kind of plant it would grow into. He grinned. “It’s a belladonna flower.”
The mooner looked at him suspiciously. “A what now?”
“The common name is naked lady.”
“Its…it’s a what now?”
“You know, the type of plant that grows into a full, life size, real woman?”
The mooner looked in awe. “It…no, it can’t be.”
“Plant this somewhere private, water and care for it, give it all your love, and you’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous, beautiful, sexy, tantalizing lady to keep you company here in the forest.”
The mooner’s mouth watered even as he vainly struggled against giving in. “No, I won’t…I just… No… All right! Deal!” he capitulated and lunged for the seedling.
Arwin snatched it back. “Uh uh. Dental key first. And it had better be clean.”
The other man squatted and ferociously grunted for a couple of minutes until the key came forth. After washing it in the nearby streamlet, he and Arwin made the exchange.
Arwin felt triumphant, and much cleaner. Now for the next step. “It’s a shame you probably won’t live long enough to enjoy that flower much.”
The other man perked up at that. “Huh? Why’z that?”
“Your teeth are extremely rotten. They’re blackening and ready to fall out. I’ll bet they’re something painful, right?”
The mooner frowned. “Maybe. What’s it ta you?”
“Rotten teeth can lead to heart disease and early death. Give me a few minutes and I’ll pull those out for you. It’ll hurt, I won’t deny it. But you’ll end up healthier and a lot more likely to live longer. And eating won’t be such a painful experience.”
The mooner looked doubtful but also thoughtful. He looked down at the seedling in his fat hands.
“And,” Arwin added, “getting rid of those nasty, rotten things will probably make your smile a bit more attractive. Not to mention, if you ever plan on kissing anyone in the near future…”
“All right,” the mooner grumbled, “ya convinced me. Let’s git it over with.” He very gently set the seedling down in a protected nook at the base of the tree and then lay on his back.
Arwin extricated all the foul, blue teeth he could.
The mooner screamed and passed out twice, but remained determined to see the process through. Guess he really, really wanted to be able to kiss someone in the near future and not get rejected.
Key and blue teeth in hand, Arwin left the mooner, the latter giggling madly with a bloody mouth and scampering about for a place to plant his new treasure.