The Moving Hills and Helpful Knockers of Croatoan

 

The world of Croatoan was just as beautiful as they promised her it would be.

 

Above her the cloudless, sunless sky was a blue Shika had never seen before in her life. Tiny iridescent sparks (or so they seemed from such a great distance) called stars danced in slow circles around each other did the work of a single sun. They fed the plants and scattered the darkness and warmed the Earth but unlike a sun and no one was hurt when they looked at them. The stars wouldn’t dream of being anything but pleasing for the eyes and unlike the stars of Shika’s home universe the stars of Croatoan were terribly vain. They lived for an audience to lift their faces toward their dances.

 

Below her the shaggy hill almost a straw-yellow from age seemed to stand perfectly still as hills did back in Tokyo. But when Shika rolled from seat of soft grass and warm dirt that dusted itself from her fine Croatoan clothes she could see the very bottom of the hill coasting along the country roads like a sailboat over water.

 

Croatoan hills were not known for their quick service. Nathanael had pestered Shika about getting something swifter like a gale or a cloud to ferry them to Solomon Academy for her first lesson with Empress Kijutsu, but Shika hated doing anything for the little agathion when he pestered her. She made it a habit to treat him like a pest when he acted like one and he being an ancient tutelary spirit meant absolutely nothing to Shika. If he ever tried to use his age or his job as an argument (which he did today) Shika would double down on her obstinance (which was why they were riding the hill).

 

The little agathion sulked in the brim of Shika’s wide Croatoan style hat she purchased just a week ago to prepare for her lesson. But after a few moments he started to relax and enjoy the ride. It was hard for even a grumpy agathion to not enjoy a hill ride.

 

The hill coasted along silently and steadily allowing his passengers to fully take in the beautiful Croatoan scenery. The hill even shifted itself around Shika to make the trip more comfortable. Shika found it very unnerving at first. She could feel the hill slowly sink in around herself and felt like she was falling into a hole in slow-motion. But once Nathanael told her that the hill was just trying to make her comfortable by folding itself around her like a blanket she was more than able to relax and enjoy the trip.

 

Denying Nathanael wasn’t the only reason Shika wanted to ride the hill. In all her twelve years of life Shika had never gone outside of Nagoya let alone outside her universe. She wanted to see what another universe was like and felt like a view from the ground where everything was large and detailed would help her in really experiencing Croatoan more than a view from above where everything was small and featureless.

 

And Shika simply wanted to patron the hill, which seemed like such a kindly old hill wooly and yellowed with age. The hill was charming from what Shika thought had to be the hill equivalent of a nifty hat: a tiny patch of multicolored wildflowers at its summit fenced in by stones to his dapper little scarecrow-looking object near its base only a head taller than Shika and dressed like a Croatoan that he used to solicit passengers. Next to it was a little mailbox-looking object in the novelty shape of Empress Kijutsu’s palace From-Above at the capitol city Increase. Hills accepted Croatoan coins for payment but also jewels, interesting rocks, pieces of amber, shards of glass, bits of poetry, books, and anything with a good shine.

 

Nathanael had to make a show out of explaining that the scarecrow-looking object was called a manikin (and insisted that Shika refer to it as such) and that the mailbox-looking object was called a Fear-Not (and explained the history behind the name and why they were shaped like From-Above palace. It had something to do with how in ancient times Emperor Fear-Not Freegift rode every single Hill in Croatoan in a gesture of goodwill to his subjects, Shika didn’t pay that much attention) and that hills took currency for their services so they could construct little caverns inside themselves filled with shiny objects that attracted knockers.

 

Shika put the customary fee of three crux and one rose into the Fear-Not along with a little extra-a couple of yen coins she found in her pocket. She didn’t think that the hill saw many girls from Nagoya and wanted to leave him something to remember her by.

 

A little ways into the trip Shika asked Nathanael to tell her more about knockers and why a hill would have to have them. The agathion for all his crabbiness was very knowledgeable about things. It was hard not to be knowledgeable after centuries of life.

 

Nathanael told her (after expressing surprise that she didn’t know anything about one of the most common races in Croatoan) that knockers are beings made of light, sound, and shyness related to the stars of Croatoan. They share the stars’ radiant beauty and vanity but unlike stars who crave attention knockers are furtive beings. They only feel comfortable underground with a layer of earth between them and the world.

 

Knockers seek out the brilliance that lies below the surface-diamonds and crystals and jewels of all kinds. In the subterranean darkness a knocker’s light continues unbroken and unchanged and uninteresting-unless it shines upon a precious stone. Through the precious stones knockers can not only see themselves but see themselves in countless different ways. Precious stones tint their colors and stretch their shapes and knockers are always looking for different objects and combinations of objects to fill the walls of their subterranean homes. They have a particular fondness for Croatoan coins because an enchantment cast over them during the reign of Emperor Fly-Sin by the imperial bankers in response to a spree of magical counterfeiting. The enchantment made each coin slowly change its shape and color in a complex pattern known only to the bankers. Knockers love to gather as many coins as possible and watch their slow transformations for the perfect form. Once they find it they freeze the coin in place rendering the coin useless on the market but priceless to themselves (a Croatoan saying for finding something that appears useful at first but reveals itself to be useless in time is “To find a knocker coin”).

 

Knockers live their lives collecting objects and moving objects and growing their warrens to house more objects. They believe that the larger and more complex the reflection the larger and more complex the person is. Their cousins the stars believe that there is only one unchanging form to  being and live their lives dancing in celebration of this idea. For why would they not dance knowing that stars are the most beautiful creatures in all of existence and that nothing can stop them from being stars? They don’t understand when people talk of changing. They don’t understand when people talk of being different because of age or learning or experience. A being cannot change their true nature just as a star cannot change her light. Being can only be obscured like how a star’s light can be obscured by clouds or roofs. Any apparent change in an individual is the result of the removal or addition of obscuration. For this reason they detest having poems written about them or pictures drawn of them (a Croatoan saying for taking a useless or futile action is ‘to draw a portrait for a star”) because they believe these representations of themselves obscure their being. Nothing can be as perfect as a star. And they live in terror of mirrors for mirrors are like portraits of themselves but worse. Mirrors seemed to challenge stars for their very identity and uniqueness and this terrified the stars so much that when the infamous wizard of the White Way The Teacher of Fear attacked Croatoan in revenge for Empress Kijutsu foiling his schemes on Earth he attacked the stars by conjuring a star made of mirrors that frightened the stars so badly they huddled around the other side of planet while it burned away the oceans with the heat of its gaze (The Teacher of Fear wanted to prove that if faced with their greatest fears the races of Croatoan wouldn’t act to save their fellows. While temporarily barred from entering Croatoan by one of The Teacher’s spells Empress Kijutsu sent an image of herself into Croatoan that inspired the subjects of her realm to prove him wrong and saved her home. Shika did a report on the episode for her history class).

 

But knockers love mirrors, and they love pictures, and they love poetry, and they even love the rare portrait (a Croatoan saying for taking a difficult but not impossible action is “to draw a portrait for a knocker”). Knockers create little worlds filled with their light and paneled by their reflections, and not just physical reflections. They appreciated anything that shows them in a different light, and that is why hills also accept payment in poetry and books. And it doesn’t have to be poetry and books about themselves or even about knockers. They appreciate anything that can make them feel different emotions and make them think different thoughts. For if they can feel an emotion and think a thought then that thought or emotion is part of them and the a brings it to the surface for the knocker to see just as gemstone casts a strange reflection for him to see.

 

Because of their voracious appetite for the written word and their tireless meditation on the many facets of the self knockers have been praisingly called “philosophers of the soil”. They have also been disparagingly called “mole stars” for the same reason. But the hills weren’t interested in attracting knockers for their knowledge. They were interested in attracting them for their helpfulness.

 

For all their vanity and cowardice knockers are known for their loyalty. All of Croatoan sing the praises of the little knocker, too shy to even name himself, who aided Empress Alice Kijutsu when she was a teenager in Japan. The little creature lived inside an emerald ring worn by the Empress and provided her with a potent source of additional magical power for her spells, for being one of the oldest knockers in Croatoan with untold centuries of life he knew many of the ways of magic. He never showed himself to anyone except the Empress, not even her close friends. The knocker only appeared to them as a faint light softly pulsing in the ring and they only appeared to him as shadows on the emerald walls of his home.But for one so shy he was a true friend to the Empress and fought by her side against her enemies like the Black Crystal and The Choir of Wails. In one dire occasion he burst the walls of his emerald home to assist the Empress. And all knew of the imperial library beneath From-Above called More-Trial (the studiousness of Croatoan scholars was matched only by their humor) organized and staffed by knockers. The library knockers were exceptionally brave members of their race and for the sake of scholarship suppress their natural cowardice. They help the brightest minds of Croatoan navigate the labyrinthine halls of More-Trial and guide their studies by answering all questions passed by note to their private chambers. The bravest library knockers even invited select students into their dwellings for tutoring. When knockers are cared for they care back, and the hills of Croatoan are well aware of this fact.

 

In return for little caverns lined with bright Croatoan coins knockers tend the roots of the flowers that decorate their surfaces, aid in locomotion, break up clumps of choking sediment, and best of all warm the hills down to their coldest mineral and clod with their warm light. For a hill there was nothing better than being able to sit still and feel warm in their deepest, coldest parts.

 

Shika turned her questions from the knockers to the hills that housed them and asked Nathanael for the name of the hill they were passengers on. He told her that hill’s didn’t have names, they had ages, and that this hill as 300 Lughs and 5 Georges by the Croatoan calendar which made it older than most countries from Shika’s Earth. This revelation started off another one of Shika and Nathanael’s arguments. Shika argued that the old hill had to have a name. Back on Earth hills and mountains had names and none of them were even alive. Nathanael argued that those weren’t actually the name of the hills and mountains but were instead the name of the location of those hills and mountains. Mt. Fuji was the location of Mt. Fuji. But it wasn’t the name of the hill anymore than “girl standing at longitude and latitude such and such” was Shikah’s name. Earth hills simply didn’t have actual names just like Croatoan hills.Nathanael concluded that no hill anywhere in the multiverse had an actual name.

 

Shika responded by asking why didn’t Croatoan hills have names for their locations then?

 

Nathanael replied that they simply didn’t have locations to name. They constantly moved around so they couldn’t have locations.

 

Shika said that was silly. And then Nathanael called Shika an foolish little girl. And then Shika called Nathanael an arrogant dust bunny and then Nathanael called Shika a vacant headed dummy and then Shika called Nathanael a stupid imp with stupider wings and then Nathanael called Shika a loud-mouthed babbler and then Shika didn’t say anything because she was far too engrossed in the scenery to really care about their argument.

 

It was winter in Croatoan.

 

And everything was beautiful.

 

Winter in Croatoan

 

The snow was soft and bright and slept calmly over the miles of land sleeping beneath. The ground slept, and what stretched over the ground slept as well. The world was at peace.

 

The snow’s crystals crackled with happy sparkles of light. The naturally alabaster trees of Croatoan proudly displayed their crowns of icicles resting on their deep green leaves. The water not resting in the snowbanks was busy, for when water is not at rest it must be busy doing as many things as possible, such was its nature. Water in the form of flowing animated ice formed prismatic mimics of people and buildings. A group of these mimics taking the form of Empress Kijutsu when she was a teenager known on Earth as Magical Alice danced with one another in front of a small mimic of the Tokyo Tower that bobbed and swayed to the music. Tokyo served as the Empress’ home on Earth ever since she chose to take up residence there in the late 1960’s to help reestablish ties between Earth and Croatoan after centuries of separation. When the teenaged Empress was portrayed by Croatoan ice mimics or in Croatoan art it was often with reminders of her home-away-from-home.

 

Shika was happy to see that the Empress was well loved by her subjects. Shika, her family, and Japan at large owed the Empress an enormous debt of gratitude. Empress Alice Kijutsu was more than just her tutor. She was more than just the Empress of Croatoan. She was Alice the Magical Girl and because of her actions in Japan what could have been a magical curse carried by Shika and other Japanese girls was turned transformed into a blessing.

 

It was not just for her own pride that Shika wanted to prove a worthy pupil to the Empress.

 

But Shika began to doubt her abilities as she saw the Croatoans participating in their tree decorating customs.

 

Shika saw Croatoans walking on the snow (not through the snow as Shika would have back home with her own inert version of snow. The snow on the ground was resting and it would have been rude to disturb their rest by trudging right through them, so the Croatoans walked on the snow as light as feathers) and was struck by their unearthly grace and beauty. Each one was just as beautiful as their Empress in her youth. Their skin had a slight luminescent glow, a feature they owed to the Croatoan native half of their ancestry. Their eyes reflected light like gemstones and came in shades of sapphire, emerald, ruby, and never black like Shika’s eyes. Their clothes they owed to the other half, the half that came from New England colonists who tumbled through the quintessence walls between the worlds in the late 16th century due to a magic staff unknowingly in their possession, a staff older that once belonged to a great Puritan warrior and hunter of evil and was older than the Earth. Their large pointed hats with wide brims, ornate dresses with long flowing skirts, and black shoes with shining brass buckles all descended from Puritan dress beautified over the centuries. Because of the influence of Empress Kijutsu on the magically gifted young women of Japan Shika’s own clothes were similar-her hat was even authentic Croatoan imported from the cosmic border city Has-Descendants. It was tradition for a mahou shojo to wear Croatoan style clothing and while modern fashions have introduced influences from American superheroines and German uberverteidiger Shika’s mother and grandmother adhered to the traditional ways of dress. As the first mahou shojo of her line to be chosen to learn from the Empress she felt like representing them.

 

But looking at all the young Croatoan girls and their dresses made Shika feel very self-conscious.

 

She wore their clothes. She knew their spells. But she was not them.

 

She could use magic. But they were magic. And they looked like magic.

 

Shika’s skin as not perfect and it did not glow. It had freckles and marks and veins and none of the flawless beauty of Croatoan skin. Their hair was long and lustrous and they laughed pretty laughs as the playful wind caught and twirled it. Shika’s hair was short and black and she worried that it would stay that way.

 

Shika suddenly noticed she was sweating. Her clothes stuck to her skin and she felt a slight chill from a gust of wind not blocked by the hill.

 

Did Croatoan girls sweat? She bet they didn’t. They seemed too perfect to sweat.

 

The Croatoans were tending to the trees’ crowns of icicles. Trees were naturally self-sufficient loners. They seldom pulled up roots and were perfectly content to stay where they stood, sometimes for centuries. They rarely tolerated visitors. Mischievous Croatoan children that violated the privacy of their woods were lucky be herded to the edge of the forest by angry roots. If they were unlucky the trees would trap them in a winding maze of shifting branches until they cried for their parents.

 

But even the trees were affected by the spirit of holiday cheer. And they gladly bent their trunks to the Croatoans so that they could fill their branches with decorations that could only come from Croatoan-silver crucifixes and golden apples, mirrors of moonlight and ribbons of starlight, green bubbles from fresh seafoam and white rays of light from ancient waterfalls, and more, and more, and so much more.

And Shika was reminded that the Christmas trees back home were decorated with plastic.

 

The most important decorations were the ones locked inside the trees’ icicle crowns until Christmas: lights collected from all corners of the Croatoan empire from the capitol Increase to the outpost cities on the quintessence wall What-God-Will and Has-Descendants. The nature of light in Croatoan is to illuminate and record all that happens in the 48 hour Croatoan day, and what they recorded throughout the year was now collected.

 

Images of marriages, births, the rare funeral (for while Croatoans could not die natural deaths like humans they were just as vulnerable to unnatural deaths as humans), and fondly remembered moments of Croatoan life-the dances of the stars, wind carnivals, hill rides, pub celebrations, and bestowment ceremonies where young Croatoans are granted their adulthood responsibilities and the dreamstaff necessary to fulfill those responsibilities-were recorded by the light. And now the light was gathered by the ever-helpful wind in rainbow currents that wound throughout the air of Croatoan like a ribbon. Shika saw the Croatoans dip their dreamstaves into the rainbow currents and draw out the light. Then, touching the heads of their dreamstaves to the ice crowns of the trees they filled the crystals with the long-traveled light.

 

The Croatoans were preparing for Christmas, the most important holiday on the Croatoan calendar, even more important than the Empress’ birthday. On Christmas Day all the stored light would be released and the world would be transformed into a living memory of the year gone by, a living dream-a dream by Croatoan standards. Because as far as Shika was concerned, by Earth standards Croatoan was already a dream.

 

Shika marveled at the Croatoans’ skill and grace in directing the wind and gathering the light. The Croatoans laughed and joked with one another as they carried out their task effortlessly. Shika wasn’t sure that she would be so graceful in their place. She always had to concentrate very hard to use her magic powers. Once she concentrated she was capable of accomplishing quite a lot, the Empress wouldn’t have offered to tutor her at Solomon academy if she was incompetent, but she never acted with such effortless grace as the decorating Croatoans. And some looked to be about as young as she was.

 

And then there were their dreamstaves- their beautiful, bright, dreamstaves.

 

Shika had a dreamstaff of her own. Every mahou shojo had a dreamstaff. Empress Kijutsu visited each and every one of them when they were newborns and whispered a secret word in their ears that planted the seed of a dreamstaff deep inside their souls. On their 13th birthday, the day Croatoan youth are presented with their own dreamstaves, their dreamstaff finishes growing and can be summoned out of their soul to assist each mahou shojo in the use of her magical powers.

 

Self-consciously Shika withdrew her dreamstaff to her hands out of the depths of her magic-stained soul. She looked at it. Her dreamstaff’s body had the appearance of knotted oak roots and the green color of fresh spring plants. It was crowned with a hyacinth the color of a tourmaline.

 

It was impressive. It was pretty.

 

By Earth standards.

 

But Shika could clearly see that her dreamstaff was unimpressive by Croatoan standards. She could even call it plain.

 

The Croatoans had dreamstaves with bodies in the shapes of waterfalls, moonbeams, rainbows, and starbeams, and shapes Shika could not name but felt deep inside that they were somehow familiar as if she had seen them in a dream, once. Some were crowned with animal heads-owls with wide, startling eyes, falcons with deviant, prideful eyes, or like the Empress’ dreamstaff cats with mysterious, curious eyes. Some were crowned with geometric shapes that tumbled over one another like puzzle boxes solving themselves. Some were crowned gems that shone like little suns.

 

But Shika couldn’t see a dreamstaff crowned with a flower like her own.

 

Were those not common? Why?

 

What did it mean that flowers weren’t common?

 

Did that mean anything bad?

 

Shika closed her hands tight around her dreamstaff. It was similar to the dreamstaves of her mother and grandmother. They were not powerful witches. They were florists. They used their magical powers to create and grow flowers.

 

But Croatoans never had to grow anything. Their world was so magical things just grew themselves.

 

Comparing her dreamstaff to their own Shika had to wonder: was she a witch, or was she a florist?

 

Empress Kijutsu had promised her that if she proved worthy she would strengthen her dreamstaff. If Shika passed her tests the Empress would alter her dreamstaff to not only draw upon Shika’s own inner magic but the magic in the world around her. She would heat Shika’s dreamstaff in the heart of a young imaginative nova and cool it in the heart of an ancient wise star and forge it anew into whatever form she saw inside her heart.

 

But Shika wondered if there was anything in her heart worth shaping a dreamstaff into.

 

Shika wondered if she ever would become a witch skilled in Empress Kijutsu’s White Way. She would if she could.

 

Or would she be a pretender? Would she be a girl dressed up as a powerful witch, tutored by a powerful witch, taught the techniques of a powerful witch-but still just a girl, and not a witch?

 

To be a witch she would have to be as magical as a Croatoan. But she so clearly wasn’t a Croatoan. She was a human girl. Croatoans were magic. It was in their blood, it was in the air they breathed, it was in their souls. Shika was not magic. Like her mother and grandmother and all other taiyo shojo she only used magic, magic that came not from within but from a divine shadow that stained her soul.

 

Could she be a Croatoan?

 

Could a taiyo shojo ever be a Croatoan?

 

The Sun Girls, The Magical Girls

 

Shika, like her mother and her mother before her, was a taiyo shojo, or in English a sun girl. They were named so after the source of their powers, the sun goddess of Japan Amaterasu. She was also known as a mahou shojo because taiyo shojo were more commonly called “magical girls” throughout the rest of the world and in modern Japan the Japanese translation of “magical girl” mahou shojo has gradually risen to rival taiyo shojo in prominence. The two terms were virtually indistinguishable, but taiyo shojo tends to have old-fashioned connotations while mahou shojo has modern connotations. Shika was more likely to be called a mahou shojo than a taiyo shojo, and even though Empress Kijutsu was not a taiyo shojo by strict definition (her powers did not come from the same source all mahou shojo drew their powers from) and the name the papers called her when she first arrived on Earth was “Alice the Magical Girl” Empress Kijutsu was far more likely to be called a taiyo shojo than a mahou shojo out of deference to her age. And while she might not be a true taiyo shojo without her there may very well have not been such a thing, and to respect this fact the name mahou fujinsama or in English magical lady was used exclusively for her.

 

In the 1940’s Imperial Japan went to horrible, bloody lengths in its attempt to establish its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The Imperial state was not above manipulating its own people and using them as blood to grease the wheels of power. Nor was it above doing the same to its gods. For what were the people and their culture but tools to be sharpened and used by the state? Through lies, promises, and threats Japan raised an army of kami to counter the superhuman army of America. Even the beloved Amaterasu was not spared the draft.

 

During an attempted invasion of North America through the Hawaiian islands Amaterasu encountered the goddess Pele, furious that alien gods would trespass on her land. Pele battled Amaterasu across the entire Pacific, boiling the oceans and crushing islands. Eventually the battle ended inconclusively as the two goddess retreated to their homelands. As the sun goddess limped over Japan, orange and yellow in her great tiredness, her blood-colored light rained down on the people in a celestial phenomena that was neither sunrise nor sunset but flooded the land with crimson light. Amaterasu’s blood stained the souls of several women with the indescribable color of divine radiance, and this radiance was passed down from mother’s soul to daughter’s soul creating the taiyo shojo.

 

The day Amaterasu’s blood fell on Japan, December 5th, is called the taiyo chi matsuri or day of the sun’s blood. But it could have easily been called the day of the sun’s curse if not for Empress Kijutsu. The blood stained souls were originally viewed with trepidation. Amaterasu had never intended for her blood to color the souls of mortals. She didn’t even know that such a thing was possible. The post-war government was at a loss to explain what had happened to the transformed women. The United States had several powerful magicians among their superhumans and they determined that the souls of the taiyo shojo had been more than colored by Amaterasu’s blood. They had stored her power which was her light, which was the thunder of Thor, which was the fire of Vulcan, which was in a word, magic.

 

The magicians explained it like this: cosmic light from the third universe, the home of the mythological gods, constantly radiated over Earth. This cosmic light, which was also called the invisible shadow, the prime entropic principle, the echo of creation, or simply in a word magic, normally bounced off the clear and colorless souls of humanity like light bouncing off a mirror. But the blood of Amaterasu tinted the souls of the taiyo shojo and transforming them into prisms that could refract the normally invisible and intangible cosmic light into shades and colors that had physical presence and power within our universe.

 

Magic grew on their souls like flaming moss, and no one was quite sure what to do about it.

 

The early taiyo shojo fearful repressed their powers out of fear of accidentally hurting themselves or others. Some annulled their marriages fearing bringing a daughter with their burden into the world. The magicians of the world wanted to help, and they were certainly powerful enough to help. But the problem wasn’t a matter of power. It was no hard feat of magic to take a soul and wring the color out of it. It was another thing entirely to gently and gradually pale a soul back to normality. And hardest of all would be to find a way for a taiyo shojo to safely harness and control her powers.

 

The problem was a matter of time. A magician would have to spend months if not years in Japan studying the taiyo shojo phenomena to devise a solution. And none of Earth’s greatest magicians had time. The 1960’s were a chaotic time for magicians. The Age of Aquarius was dawning. The quintessence walls between worlds were thinning. There was simply no time for any of them to help.

 

If help was going to come for the taiyo shojo it would have to come from beyond the world.

 

And help did come from beyond the world.

 

Empress Kijutsu, then the 13 year old Princess Alice Freegift, chose Japan as the portion of Earth she wanted to take up residence in during her visit to Earth in the late 1960’s to reestablish ties between Croatoan and Earth after centuries of separation. And she found a way to turn what could have been a cursed generation into a blessed one.

 

Alice Freegift, who the newspapers called Alice the Magical Girl, was not a taiyo shojo. She had never met Amaterasu or any other Earthling god. But her powers, the powers of Croatoan, were from the same universe that birthed the gods called the third universe, the universe of the moon, the mystic universe, and the entropic universe. She could help like with like.

 

Alice the Magical Girl became the teacher, guardian, and fairy godmother to generations of taiyo shojo. She adapted the dreamstaff invention of her homeland to create the dreamstaves used by every taiyo shojo. She planted a dreamstaff as a seed inside every newborn taiyo shojo’s soul. The dreamstaff grew alongside the girl and the magic inside her soul. It fed on the magic to keep the girl from accessing it until she was old enough to command the magic responsibility. At that time the dreamstaff  would stop feeding on her magic and emerge full grown out of the soul of the taiyo shojo when summoned. Because it was grown from the magic of her soul the dreamstaff could help her utilize her inner magic down to its coldest spark and with greater potency than had she grown up without a dreamstaff in her soul. And throughout the growth of their dreamstaves Alice was there to guide the taiyo shojo and teach them how to use their powers. She taught taiyo shojo how to help and teach other taiyo shojo though she always tried to be a presence in the lives of all taiyo shojo. She attended their births and funerals and weddings and graduations. She would check in from time to time on all of them, even the ones who for whatever reason refused to use their powers, even the ones that squandered their gifts on a life of crime. She was the grandma of every taiyo shojo.

 

But even a woman with the powers of a universe at her fingertips could not be everywhere at once. She was responsible for the operation of an entire world. Even when she was standing still her mind was spinning the gears that controlled up and down and hot and cold and now and later.

 

Not all mahou shojo could be tutored by Alice the Magical Girl. Not all mahou shojo had the potential to be worthy of being tutored by Alice the Magical Girl no matter how badly they studied or practiced. The mahou shojo were not equal in ability. Their prismatic souls were tinted by the same divine blood but all souls have variation in their shape. And differently shaped prisms break down light in different ways. Some break down light into a rainbow of useful colors. Some break down light into barely-usable gray shadows.

 

Shika’s mother and grandmother were those that had barely-usable gray shadows. Alice the Magical Girl did not turn her back on them for their weakness. She never turned her back on any mahou shojo. When she heard that they ran a flowershop in Tokyo that sold magic flower seeds that revealed a unique species never before seen on Earth when they bloomed she dropped by, visited, had coffee, and bought a plot.

 

But that was one day.

 

Shika would be seeing Empress Alice Kijutsu every day until she either quit or was told to quit.

 

Shika would be the first of her line to truly study the mystic arts.

 

And when she thought about her family and how they cheered her on and bought her a real Croatoan hat and cried happy tears when she set off with Nathanael to Croatoan she could not help but fear what it would be like if all their feelings and hopes were in vain.

 

Shika quickly decided that such thoughts felt out of place among so much wintery, magical beauty. So she did her best to push the thoughts out of her mind and did what had always come natural to her-she daydreamed.

She took a deep breath and filled her eyes with the wonders of Croatoan in winter. And the more she watched the more her thoughts wandered away from what she saw of Croatoan to what she knew about Croatoan.

 

Shika thought deeply on the idea of winter, on what winter meant for Croatoans and the animated nature they lived with. She thought back to what she knew about Croatoan winters.

 

She knew that it was winter in Croatoan.

 

And that all of it was artificial.