Celeste studied me. “You were dead?”
Nodding, I breathed in deeply. “Magic faded from the world. It was a slow process, one I tried to stop, but in the end I failed.” Running my tongue over my bottom lip, the words harder to find than I wanted them to be, I nibbled my bottom lip. “Those of us who were connected to it faded along with it. I was the last to go, as Paige fought to keep magic in the world, until she couldn’t any longer.
“Paige… she was a member of one of the farming families, and she’d made the decision to come to Matlocke, not knowing what it is she’d walk into. Our relationship, at the beginning, was…” I shook my head. “Even though I shouldn’t have done I took my anger out on her. Nothing that happened was her fault.
“She came, when no one else did. I’d been calling for years, ignored by all the others who could have helped, their understanding of what was going to happen limited. Very few believed the loss of magic was going to bring about the end of the world as they knew it, until it happened. By then it was too late to do anything to stop it. Fortunately this was something they accepted, and focused on protecting the survivors.
“Had it not been for them you wouldn’t be here now.” I looked between the two of them. “When the end came there was no way of knowing whether or not magic was going to return to Ieria.” I shrugged. “My hope was that it would, which is why we prepared for it. Until you arrived I was elsewhere. I couldn’t tell you where, exactly, but I wasn’t here. Then I was.
“Even with my hope the magic would return it never once crossed my mind I’d return with it.” Slowly, memories wrapping around me, I let my eyes explore the farm, as the snow slowly melted around us. “This… apparently I was more entwined with the magic than I realised. Being here… well, it’s going to take some time to work through the emotion. It does mean it may be possible the others will return too.”
“Others?” Leah sounded curious, and when I turned back to her I could see the excitement light up her eyes. “I think I may have dreamt of them, the same way I dreamt of you. What we know about the farms is limited. No one believed this time would ever come, so the more we can learn the better off we’re going to be.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you have. Their return is likely to take longer than mine. Unlike them I’m connected to the farms, the strongest points of magic now, so it makes sense I’m here. Everything you do here will help to increase the magic in the world, and I’m certain they’re also calling out to those who may be able to rebuild what was lost.
“Matlocke, as far as I know, was the first of the farms to exist. There was a long history, one I’m certain only the others could tell you, but Leander spent some time, before he faded away, sharing his knowledge with me. He thought it was important I knew. Maybe he knew something I didn’t.
“Before I became something more I was the farmer for Matlocke. This is my home, which may also be why I’m here now. I wasn’t the first, and yet I was in a way, because I understood the magic here in a way no one else did. From here the magic spirals out to the rest of Ieria, touching each of the farms as it goes.”
“Having other farmers would have saved Ieria?” Celeste did the same thing I had, slowly looking around the farm. “If Paige wasn’t the only one fighting we wouldn’t be here now.”
“No, we wouldn’t, but there’s no changing what was.” I didn’t bring up the failed spell, because it wasn’t going to help. “All we can do is move forward, Celeste.” Stepping closer to her, I put my hand on her shoulder. “I know how you feel. The emotions, even after all this time, are still a lot to deal with. Having the two of you here gives me a reason to fight, the same way Paige did.
“Back when Paige first stepped into Matlocke I promised I wouldn’t lie to any of the farmers who chose to make the journey. I’m going to keep that promise with you, because this is going to be a struggle. The magic of the world needs to grow from almost nothing, and it’s going to take time, but having farmers here means we have a chance we wouldn’t have had otherwise.
“The two of you have a decision to make. If you want to return back to the place you called home before then now would be the time to do it.” I did my best to keep my emotions from getting the better of me, but even I could hear the crack in my voice. “Others may come, if they’re heed the call, or it might be the two of you alone. Having that weight on your shoulders…”
“We already made our decision, Anna. Making the journey here was complicated enough. Going back, knowing the farm exists, isn’t something I’d be willing to do even if you weren’t here, and we had to begin with nothing.” Leah’s eyes met with mine. “This is where we’re meant to be. I was dreaming of the farm for months. Being here…” She smiled. “It feels like home. We’re meant to be here.”
“Yes, you are.” Looking between the two of them again, seeing the determination, I saw Paige once more. “Then we start at the beginning. How much do you know about the farms?”
Celeste and Leah glanced at each other, before Leah shrugged. “Not enough. We know they existed, but the farms aren’t something anyone talks about now. My dreams… they didn’t change anything, even though I wish they would. All I can do now is take the next steps, to start to build up Matlocke once more. Maybe then they’ll make the decision to join us here.”
“Like it was for Paige the future is in your hands. I can help, but I’m weak. Until Matlocke is stronger I won’t be capable of doing much. What I can do is teach you what I know, what worked before and what didn’t, and what I believe the best next steps probably are. That doesn’t mean you have to do anything I say.
“Our world was a very different place back when I was a farmer. It was early, before magic became as entangled with the farms as it would become, and at the time this isn’t something I could have imagined. Yet I could see it having an effect. This came about because magic and technology ended up… it’s hard to find the right words to describe it. They were on opposite sides, for a want of a better way to put it, as though there was an ongoing war between the two.
“Unfortunately for everyone what Ieria needed was balance between the two. Losing that balance is how we ended up here.” I sighed. “Without an understanding of Ieria I think in some ways it was an inevitability. Looking at the farms they didn’t seem important, and yet they were the very heart of the magic. Maybe if the two hadn’t become so entwined this never would have happened.”
“They did, though.” Celeste knelt, touching the ground, and I could see the wonder in her eyes. “Most couldn’t feel this?”
“No, they couldn’t. It was those who had the strongest connection to the farms who could. This, compared to what it was like when all the farms were inhabited, is nothing.” I smiled. “Give it time, and we may even get back to that point.”
Leah smiled back, and I could see the hope in her eyes, which I was sure mirrored mine. Being back at Matlocke was something I didn’t believe was possible when I felt myself fading away, Paige only leaving because I made her. I wanted her to have a chance to live her life, even though it wasn’t going to be the way she imagined, and I believed she had a chance to build something new wherever she ended up.
“For now the most logical thing to do is assume we’re going to be the only ones.” Celeste stood once more. “The problem is, from what you’ve said, one farm could never be enough.”
“It couldn’t then.” I ran my tongue over my bottom lip. “Ieria is different now. What I can’t be certain of now is how things are going to work, so I can tell you how they did in the past, to give you an idea of what does needs to happen in order to give us a chance to rebuild the lost magic. Every step we take is toward a future none of us can truly understand.
“Matlocke might be enough.” I moved away from the cottage, still not quite feeling settled in my body. “This farm was the first, so it may be the first again, or it might end up being the only.” Looking at the two new farmers once more, wondering if they could see how I felt, I gave them a smile, remembering how different my first meeting with Paige was. “We make the best choices we can. Maybe they won’t be the right ones, but this is a chance, and it’s more of one than I could ever have hoped for before.”
Nodding, Lean moved over to Celeste, reaching out to take her hand, their fingers entwining. “One step at a time. It’s all we can do. First we need to start growing.” She looked at me once more. “We have struggled underground. The life we led down there isn’t the same as the one we could lead up here. I believe the time will come when they’ll return to Matlocke, but in order to get to that point we need to make it a viable option.”
Turning back to the farm, seeing it as it was in Paige’s time, how hard she fought to keep going even when things were at their worst, I bit down on my bottom lip. “Nothing survived. All the buildings are gone, the trees, the beehives…” I closed my eyes for a moment, memories of the very early days sweeping through my mind. “We start from the beginning.”
Feeling a hand on my shoulder, I opened my eyes, glancing back at Leah, who was still holding Celeste’s hand. “The beginning is a good place to start.” There was no worry in her eyes, her belief in what she needed to do far stronger than mine would have been in her position. “I didn’t expect anything, Anna, but we have you. We have the seeds you gathered with Paige. You can teach us lessons we never needed to learn before, as well as about Matlocke. I want to know everything.
“The history of the farms is mostly lost. From what you’ve said it makes sense, considering Paige being the only one to make the journey back, and their decision to walk away is what led us to where we are now. To a frozen world we can’t call home, unless some of us choose to walk the same path she did. She didn’t walk away. Instead she fought, and we’re going to do the same.
“Whatever happens, however this turns out, I know this was the right decision for me.” She looked at Celeste for a second, who nodded. “Celeste was the only person to believe in me. Finding you here is something I hoped would happen, because I saw you more than once, but I couldn’t be certain until it did happen. The dreams I had are already coming true.”
Celeste studied me. “You were dead?”