The creature stopped about one foot away from me, towering over me by about a foot and a half. I couldn’t read his intentions, for his body stopped moving completely, no breathing, no shaking, and nothing could be seen through the lifeless mask that covered their face, but a pair of glowing bright otherworldly orbs of light where their eyes should be. Being so close to them, I could smell a mixture that of smells that blended together: fresh flowers, soil and decay. He tilted his head to the side, as if examining me, hopefully only out of common curiosity and because he wanted to imagine how best to dissect me. After a moment a muffled voice came from underneath the mask, but though the voice was quiet and muffled it seemed to echo within my skull, as if someone was whispering right in my ear. The words that were accompanied by this voice were: “Are you not afraid child?” The voice was very calm and smoother than I had anticipated. Also, when they spoke, a small cloud of green gas began protruding from where the beak of the mask was stitched to the hood and from various small holes in their mask. It might sound scary, but there was no threat or mockery in their voice…no, it sounded more like genuine curiosity mixed with comfort and concern. “I think there is nothing to be afraid of.” I said. The Gardener then replied “Ahh…It has been centuries since someone like you found themselves in my garden. An unafraid soul; full of life, full of curiosity, full of optimism. The people of this city have already forgotten the meaning of these words. Please, follow me child, I believe you came with questions.” At that moment, Squeakly, who I have thought had already ran away, yelled from behind me: “Don’t listen to him, he is evil. He can kill us both with but a word, yet he can’t die himself. He is unnatural, he…he…Run! I will try to hold him off!” The Gardener quickly looked up at Squeakly and his voice gained a more menacing element to it: “You fear me only because seeing me brings forth the truth that you try to ignore. You fear me because of your little safe cage that you dare not escape. You fear me because you believe that the mere idea of me might summon me to your doorstep.” Squeakly stood silent. These words seemed to hit him like a hammer to the chest. The gardener then focused his attention back to me: “Come child, don’t worry about him. He will deal with this memory in the only way he knows, he will put it into the deepest crevice of his mind and deny it ever happened and eventually forget it.” I didn’t really know what was going on, but I followed the Gardener to a small wooden arbour in a dark corner of the garden. There we sat down and I finally got to my questions: “Sir, I’ve been told that you posses some miraculous ingredient or compound that can cure the foulest of diseases and heal the gravest of wounds, and perhaps give one eternal youth.” The Gardener sat silently for a moment before he answered: “I do posses the thing you are searching for, but I am unsure whether you are aware of the consequences that the usage might cause. To gain something, something of equal value must be given. The balance must be maintained, the cycle cannot be broken. Lives are meant to end, trying to change that will only bring you despair.” This was all nice and all that, but it was the answer I neither needed nor wanted. “I understand that completely good sir, but my companion will die if we do not bring this item to the Ratxellence and I won’t have a way to return back to my world.” “If that is the case, then two paths stand before you: Following the shorter one will end in you being showered in riches, returned to your world and free to do as you please, however it would result in the death of your little rat friend. It would be painless and quick, almost like going to sleep. He wouldn’t blame you, and he would see himself once again with his loved ones. If you follow the second path, you will not gain any riches, you will have to endure great pain, hardships and you may never return to your world again.” I would like to say that I answered without hesitation, I would like to say that I immediately choose the second path, but I have to be honest for once. I was scared. I wanted to see my family again. I didn’t want to endure pain, suffering, and all those other things. Squeakly put me into this situation, this was all his fault, he kidnapped me. Without him I would be joyfully running around my town playing tag with the town watch, and I wouldn’t have to be making this stupid choice. He surely only cared about me because I could save his life. And it would be quick and painless. Tears were slowly pouring through my eyes now. And then I remembered what he said when we met The Gardener: “Run! I will try to hold him off!” He was willing to risk his life to protect me. Even though he was so scared of The Gardener, he was willing to confront him to protect me. I couldn’t do this to him, I couldn’t. And so with fear in my voice and tears in my eyes I faked a smile and told The Gardener “Well I never wanted my life to be boring, the second path it is.” It was impossible to see through his mask, but I believe I could see the comforting smile anyway.