Summary:

Britain is an independent twenty-something who wants nothing more than to remember the days when her mother still seemed like a strong woman instead of the person she had become. Britain had to put her mother in the mental hospital to get her the help she needed after her father's suicide. Her mother had come up with numerous stories to explain the reason he jumped from a boxcar into a ravine.

With her passing, Britain thinks she has finally gotten peace, but she receives a letter written just before her mother's death, explaining that her father didn't die when he jumped from the train. In fact, he was transported to a place called Minophyre, a country of which he was king. However, opposing groups are fighting over control of the country, and there have been many uncovered assassination plots. When her father is kidnapped, it is up to Britain, the princess of the world, to save her father's life and the future of the magical land known as Minophyre.


Chapter One:

Britain brushed the ebony hair away from her left eye, the green one, as she gazed out the window. This was not where she really wanted to be. The highway traffic rushed by, separated from her house by her front yard, a narrow street, a small strip of grass, and a fence. It probably wouldn't be long anyway. They had been threatening to tear down the old neighborhood since a year after she had moved in, in order to expand the too-busy and often-congested route of transportation. As she watched the cars whiz by in front of the orange-pink sunset, she sighed and started to rethink her boyfriend's offer to move in with him.

A van painted with the somewhat familiar logo of a white swan in front of a mauve circle was proceeding slowly down the street, and she paid no real attention to it until it stopped in front of her small yellow house. A woman exited the vehicle, her frizzy red hair blowing in the cool breeze of the approaching night. Britain watched her discreetly from the kitchen as she climbed the steps up to the house, her hair bobbing with each step, until she finally reached the main step and rang the doorbell.

Reluctantly, and not much in the mood for company, especially from that god-awful place, Britain went to the only object that separated her from the unwanted guest: the inch of wood that was her front door.

"Hello. Is this the home of Britain Westwood?" The woman said cheerfully. Britain felt like punching her, for fake happiness bothered her more than anything.

"Yes. That's me." She swept her hair away from her face. This time it had fallen into the right eye, the one that was blue.

The woman gave a sad smile.

"I'm from the Watergrove Mental Heath Center, the institute that cared for your mother."

Britain felt the familiar pang of pain in her chest. Her mother had passed away just two days ago. It was, of course, of no fault of the institute's. Not only that, it was probably for the best, just to end her sufferings and delusions. But still, it was difficult for Britain to say goodbye to the woman who had raised her, especially after she had lost her father to the tragic last-ditch effort to escape his meaningless existence, his suicide, the very thing that had driven her mother to such delusions. The decision to have her committed was the hardest decision Britain had ever made. Losing her, however, was much more depressing. For the first time in her life, Britain was utterly without guidance. She didn't like the feel of the word "orphan" on her tongue.

"Your mother wrote this letter several days before her death. She asked that it be hand-delivered to you in the event of her passing. We try to honor last requests as best we can." The woman handed over the simple white envelope. "Keep in mind as you read that your mother was of unsound mind when she wrote this. The details may or may not be true."

Britain nodded firmly. She was used to this speech, but it usually was given before she went into the plainly-adorned room that had become her mother's world.

"Has anyone else read this?" Her voice was dull. This last surprise could prove to be the nastiest yet. Who knew what type of things her mother had lived with secretly until the grim reaper stood over her bed and captured her breath with his frigid lips? Britain wasn't entirely sure she wanted to read her mother's dying words. She was pulled back to reality by the soft voice of the redhead.

"No. Usually all mail is screened for suicide threats and threats of escape, but we agreed that since your mother has passed on, the process could be skipped."

"Thank you." Britain clutched the letter in her fist.

"You're welcome. Feel free to call if you have any questions."

Britain nodded and shook hands with the woman.

"I'm sorry for your loss, Ms. Westwood."

"Thank you."

Britain stood for a second, envelope in hand, and watched the middle-aged redhead depart in the company van. When there was nothing left to observe, Britain closed the door. She retired to the living room and paced for a few seconds before sitting on the couch. The lack of movement was making her tense and she began to tap her foot on the old wine-red carpet. With shaking hands, she tore open the envelope and unfolded the blue stationary.

Dearest Britain,

No. It was too much. She refolded the letter and set it down on the coffee table in front of her.

The phone rang, its sudden noise making Britain start.

"Hello?" she asked, her voice tired and quiet.

"Hey—if it isn't the most beautiful girl in the universe!"

Britain rolled her eyes and sighed. After all the months of dating him, his crazy greeting still made her smile. His voice still cheered her up and sent the wild energy of happiness humming through her veins. After everything, he was still there for her. She realized with a frown that he was an orphan too, though she had never thought of it that way before.

"Hey Max. How are you?"

"I happen to be just wonderful, thank you! And yourself?"

He was such a complete and total dork, but maybe that was why she loved being with him in the first place.

"Well, I'm hanging in there, you know."

"That's my girl!" he said, and she could hear his smile on the other end of the line. "Anyway, I was just calling to find out if you have plans tonight."

"Not really. Why?"

Britain heard her boyfriend sigh on the other end of the line.

"Well, I don't want it to interrupt anything—it's not really that important."

"I was gonna go to Wal-Mart. Really, like that can't wait."

"Well, the museum has just informed me that they've moved my exhibit up a week. It opens tonight at eight. Do you want to be my date tonight?"

Britain thought it was adorable that he still "asked her out" even though they'd been dating for almost a year. Talking to him always brought her emotions soaring higher.

"I'd love to. I told you I'd be there no matter what. Do you really think I would miss such and important thing? This could be your big break, Max!" Then, in a voice less ecstatic and more serious, "Do you need me to drive?"

"No, actually," Max said, sounding a little bit embarrassed. "I rented a cherry red Mustang."

This was no small thing for Max. He held on to his money so tightly that it wasn't like him to spend a lot on something that would only be beneficial for a short period of time.

"Wow. You're really going all out for this, eh? When will you pick me up?"

"Around seven. I was hoping you'd wear your green dress."

"Don't you think it's kind of low-cut?"

"Well, I don't mind…" his voice trailed off a little suggestively.

"Max, you're terrible."

"I know…but will you wear it? It would look stunning in the room of rich people that will come to see my amazing artwork! You know you love that dress and have no reason to wear it, usually."

"Yeah, alright," Britain said with a mock-angry sigh. "I cave. I'll see you at seven?"

"You bet," Max replied in his most charming voice. Britain knew that if he was there, he'd give her his all-too-familiar wink.

"I love you, Britain."

"I love you too, Max. Bye."

"Bye."

He kissed once into the phone and then waited for her return kiss before hanging up.

Britain's heart thumped excitedly in her chest. She was so very proud of him, her wild artist of a boyfriend. She glanced at her watch and cursed that it was already 6:30. There was, therefore, no time to read the letter if she were to look descent for the opening of Max's exhibit.

Britain slipped the envelope into her purse and headed toward her bedroom to get dressed.

.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.

At 6:57, the doorbell rang.

"If this is your idea of 'around seven,' then I think we need to talk," Britain said. She swung open the door with one hand while adding another bobby pin to her hair with the other. Max stood there, his untidy brown hair blowing slightly in the wind as his dark eyes looked Britain up and down.

She wore a tight emerald green dress that almost reached the ground. Her ebony hair was perched elegantly on the back of her head, curls hanging down to her shoulders. Her lips were painted a dark red and her eyes were framed with shining green.

"You look wonderful," Max said in a low voice as he stepped forward and pulled her into his arms.

"Thank you. You don't look half bad yourself."

He did clean up nicely. His tux was black, with a green vest that almost perfectly matched her dress, though his hair was still being unruly. He looked like a middle-class man trying to look rich, which Britain supposed he really was.

"Are you ready to go?"

"Just a minute. I have to find my silver shoes."

"Okay. I'll go start the Mustang." Max's voice had a proud quality to it as he walked out the door.

In a few minutes, Britain stepped out the door and walked toward the purring Mustang waiting outside for her.

"So, how are you really holding up?" Max asked as he pulled away from the curb. "I mean, you sounded pretty depressed when you answered the phone."

"Yeah. My mother is haunting me from the grave."

"What happened?"

"Well," Britain started. "I got a letter from her that she wrote just before she died."

"And what did it say?"

"I don't know. I haven't read it yet," Britain answered, twisting one of her curled black locks onto her finger and looking out the window, pretending to be unconcerned.

"Why not?"

"Well, you called. And then there's the fact that I just don't know if I want to."

"How come?"

"Well, I'm afraid it'll just be another one of her delusions, explained in detail. I think she made them up so that she didn't have to deal with my father's suicide. I think deep down inside she felt like he was alive. I didn't ever think that was true."

"That would be a hard thing for anyone to go through."

"I went through it, and I'm not sitting in some mental hospital awaiting my death."

Max paused. It seemed like he was chewing his words, trying to find the ones that were perfect.

"You've handled your father's death very well, Britain. I'm proud of how well you've done with it. But different people handle great losses in very different ways. Your mother may have blamed herself. She didn't know the reason for his suicide, after all. Perhaps she thought it was her fault. Maybe this letter is her ultimate confession. Maybe she's writing to you to apologize for what she's put you through. It would be a good idea to read it, love."

Britain turned from gazing out the window to look at him. She lightly rested her hand on top of his. Yes, he could be funny and sometimes obnoxious with his stupid jokes, but he did know when to be serious about things, and he could sense when she needed his support. Now was one of those times.

"It would just be so much easier if it were all over. Now, I love my mother, I really do, but I think her death put a lot of people out of their misery. I just don't want another nasty shock. I don't know if I can deal with everything again."

"I know, Honey. I know."

Max stopped the car in front of the Denver Museum of Fine Arts. He took his beautiful black-haired girlfriend into his arms and held her tightly.

"I mean, of course I'm going to read it. Whatever it is, it was obviously important to her...I just…"

"Would it be better if we read it together?"

"Maybe."

"How about if we go back to my house after the exhibit closes tonight and we sit down, have a glass of wine, and read it? Then if you need to cry, I'll be there. If you need to take action, I can help you. If you need to burn it, well, I have a fireplace."

Max gave her a hopeful smile and kissed her forehead, right between her two different-colored eyes, and then took the keys from the ignition.

"Here I am bothering you on your special night. I'm sorry," Britain said in a pouty voice.

"Hey, whenever you need to talk, I'm here, no matter what. I love you," Max said, brushing a stray curl back behind her ear and letting his fingers rest on her cheek.

"I love you, too," she said, closing her eyes and savoring the moment.

Suddenly the moment was over.

"Should we go inside?"

"Yes, of course," Britain responded, unbuckling her seat belt.

Max was fiddling nervously with his hands as they walked up the front steps to the impressive copper-covered building. A huge fountain was shooting jets of water into the air in different patterns and small drops of water coasted to the couple on the air, cooling them from the approaching summer heat.

"Are you nervous?" Britain asked him as she twirled in the droplets of water.

"Yes, a little…well, a lot, really," Max said, stopping his fidgeting and putting his hands in the pockets of his tux jacket. "I'm afraid they won't like it."

"Don't be silly," Britain said, rejoining her boyfriend and slipping her hand into the pocket of his jacket to hold his hand. "They'll love it."

They paused just outside the door.

"Are you ready?" Britain asked him.

Max took a deep breath.

"I guess I'm as ready as I'll ever get."

The door was swung open for them by a young greeter and they went inside.

"It's big," Max said nervously. "I hope my paintings filled the gallery alright. What if they didn't? Would it be bad if it looked bare?"

"Max, shh. It'll be fine."

The woman at the counter smiled at them as they approached.

"Welcome to the Denver Museum of Fine Arts. How may I help you?"

"My name is Max Roberts. I'm the featured artist for gallery eight." Max's voice sounded damn confident for how worried he was.

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Roberts. You and your guest may head upstairs. Gallery eight is in the east wing. Take the stairs immediately to your left and head up two levels, then take an immediate right and there you are!"

"Thank you."

Max and Britain raced up the stairs. Just before they reached the landing of the third floor, Max stopped.

"I don't know if I can do this."

"Of course you can! Get in there!" Britain sounded almost scolding. She knew exactly when to be this way with him. It was sometimes the only thing that got him going.

Max swallowed, took a deep breath, and nodded. He then climbed the remaining three or four steps, holding Britain's hand tightly in his own.

He was pleasantly surprised as he peered around the corner. The head chairman of the museum, a plump and balding gray-haired man, was talking animatedly to several well-dressed guests. Twenty or so others were floating around the room from painting to painting, and their faces seemed to light up like fireflies as they found something they liked.

Max was not a "subject-painter," as he liked to call them. He tended to paint whatever, wherever, whenever he felt like it. He called himself a "spontaneous painter," which was, apparently, much more interesting than those stuffy people who painted different versions of one thing.

"There he is, the man of the hour!" the head chairman said cheerfully. From his demeanor, Britain guessed it was his fourth glass of wine. She also inferred that there would be much more to come. "Attention, guests. This is the Local Artist of the Month, Mr. Maxwell Roberts."

The small crowd clapped politely.

"If you would like to inquire about the availability of the pieces for sale, please talk to Mr. Roberts, for I do not have the answer! Enjoy!"

Max turned to Britain and smiled.

"I have a surprise for you," he whispered into her ear. "Follow me."

"What kind of surprise?" she asked curiously as his hands came over her eyes.

"Well, it's a new piece," he explained to her, still whispering in her ear. It tickled the little unmanageable hairs there. "I dedicated it to you."

Britain felt him lead her around the large central pillar of the room and to the main wall, where the best piece of work was often featured. His hands drifted away from her eyes and came to rest on her hips as he pulled her closer to him. She gasped in delighted surprise.

The painting hosted a creature plucked straight from her imagination. A smile lit her face as she remembered the night she described the strange, unearthly creature to Max. He had asked her what her pet would be, if she could have anything in the world. She had responded by describing the image of the creature staring at her from the painted world of its canvas in its extremely life-like state. She had come up with it as a child and had wished forever that she could meet something just like this animal. It seemed not only familiar from her childhood, but from some time before that. She wondered if they had such creatures in Heaven.

The monkey-like animal was hanging in the tree by his tail. Large, ram-like horns seemed to sprout from his head and they curled up just above his ears. His tongue was long and frog-like, and painted in its extended state, halfway between his mouth and a tantalizing-looking green horned bug. But the most miraculous thing about the monkey was how Max had portrayed his chameleon-like color-changing properties. On first glance, the monkey barely existed; however, as one stared longer at it, his contours seemed to pop out, becoming glaringly obvious. Where he was touching the wood of the tree he was in, he was brown, but where his body was shown against the sky, he was the matching powder blue, even mimicking the clouds that hung in the blue orb. He matched the leaves, imitating even the slightest change in the shade of green. Max seemed to have painted him straight from Britain's mind.

"Max, it's just—incredible!"

"I thought you'd like it," Max said. "That's why I had this made."

Britain glanced over to where he was pointing. A golden plaque hung next to the painting. It read "Dedicated to Britain Westwood, the most beautiful girl in the world, whose imagination inspired this piece."

"Wow, Max."

Britain couldn't stop gazing at the painting. Something about the creature seemed so incredibly real. Max made it seem like the creature lived at the zoo and could be seen any day of the week. But Britain knew, as sad as the thought made her, that it wasn't a real creature.

When Britain turned back to Max, he was talking to one of the prospective customers.

"Well, it's just brilliant. It looks so alive. How much do you want for it, Mr. Roberts?" asked a plump white-haired woman dressed elegantly in purple.

"Really, ma'am, it's not for sale," Max said with an apologetic smile.

"Twenty thousand?"

"I'm sorry. It's just not---"

"Fifty thousand?"

"Ma'am, please…I--"

"One hundred thousand."

Britain took Max's arm and watched the scene curiously. The painting must have meant a lot to him, because it wasn't like Max to refuse such a large amount of money.

"Two hundred thousand!" the woman said, her voice now almost hysterical.

"Really, ma'am, money is no object in this case. The painting is not for sale."

"Well, how about the one there?" The woman pointed to something far off. "The impressionist painting of the bridge?"

"We can talk about that one."

Max and the woman drifted away to look at the painting.

Britain was happy that it was going well for him. He seemed to be occupied by people most of the time. Eventually, people were writing their bids on the back of business cards and handing them to Max. He had a large pile in his pocket by the end of the night.

Max looked through them as he and Britain walked back to the Mustang.

"Tonight was amazing, Britain. I got so many offers! I mean, look at these! Who knows how much money I'm about to make. I can't wait to look through them at home, after we read your letter, of course."

Britain frowned. She had been having so much fun that she had nearly forgotten about the letter. Now the knot of worry returned to her stomach. She reached into her purse and stroked the envelope with her fingers, contemplating the secrets it could contain.