Chapter 3

Her dark green eyes slowly opened to stare at a white ceiling. There was a low beeping somewhere close to her. She used her hands to push her up into a sitting position, leaning back against the pillow on her bed. Where was she?

"Hello?" There was a knock on the open door on the other side of the room as a woman walked in. Alicia just looked at her blankly, unsure of who she was. She was short and slightly chubby, but she had a sweet face. It took Alicia several moments of staring at the nurse's uniform on the woman before she realized she was sitting in a hospital. She came over to check the young girl's temperature. "How are you feeling, Miss Sain?"

Alicia's head throbbed lightly but she smiled anyway. "I feel fine."

The nurse nodded and told Alicia she'd be back to check on her and bring her some lunch later as she left the room. Alicia rubbed her eyes, confused about everything. What had happened to her that she needed to be hospitalized? She remembered being in the police station and then…That dream. What was that all about? The castles, the people… Everything seemed so real to her. Why did that girl, that princess, seem so familiar to her? Her body shook from the memory of that world.

"You awake?" Officer Evan Meyers poked his head into the room, not wanting to disturb her if she was trying to sleep. She gave a small smile, recognizing his friendly face. He took that as a sign to come in and took a seat next to her bed. "It's good that you're awake again. You've been out for two days." Her eyes widened slightly. Two days? He gave a small chuckle at her reaction. "You gave us quite a scare there. You had a panic attack, which is understandable considering everything you've been through. The doctors say you should be fine though."

"Everything I've been through…" she looked down at her hands as the events of the last two days came back to her. She was an orphan now. She fought back the tears that sprung to her eyes, knowing Evan would have more questions for her.

He placed a hand on her shoulder and patted it consolingly. "Did you have any luck remembering what happened? Maybe something came to you in your sleep? I mean, if you feel up to talking about it."

She pulled her knees up and rested her chin on them, sniffling. "No…I'm sorry. I really just want to get some rest right now, if you don't mind."

Evan stood up, giving her shoulder a light squeeze. "Not a problem. Just holler if you need anything. I'll be here all day."

He left the door open a crack as he left just so he could hear her if she called, leaving her by herself. She let a tear slip down her cheek onto the sheets around her. What was happening to her? She couldn't get that world, Lynx, out of her mind. It was as if it was taking over her mind. She couldn't stop picturing it. She didn't like it, though. She wasn't quite sure why, but it gave her chills. There was something wrong with the dreams she was having, something ominous.

She gasped suddenly as a memory flooded into her mind. Digging her hands into her hair, she tried to fight it but it overwhelmed her in the end.

"I don't understand," the little girl sobbed into her sister's shoulder. "Saika, I just don't understand."

Saika wrapped her arms around the child. "I know, Alicia. It isn't fair. But you will understand this someday, I promise. It won't always be like this. Someday you'll be able to be yourself."

The sobbing girl looked up at her sister, relieved that she still believed in her. "I'm not perfect… I can't be what they want me to be."

Saika held Alicia's head to her shoulder, letting her cry. "I know, honey. We'll show them one day."

= - =

Arastelle opened her eyes, leaning her forehead against the cool glass of the window. What was that? She had fallen asleep again, which she had promised herself she wouldn't do. She couldn't risk losing herself again like she just had. She could never be sure how long it would last.

She sat in her room on her window seat, watching as the children of the castle servants romped around in the snow. It seemed like it had been snowing all day now, creating an endless amount of fun for those who reveled in the fresh air.

Unlike her. Her parents forbid her from leaving the castle unless it was for something educational, like school. She hated it. Inside the castle, she never got any fresh air, except for the times when a door or window was open. She never got to feel the warmth of the sun casting its rays down on her as she frolicked with her friends. It was unfair. And it was time she did something about it. She slipped her bare feet into the silver flats that waited at her bedroom door as she grabbed the royal blue cloak that hung on the back of the door, throwing it around her shoulders and tying the front of it closed. It was long enough to reach the bottom of the blue and silver, the royal colors of Losella, gown she wore. It covered her back and if she put the hood up and kept her head down, no one in the city would ever know it was her.

First things first, however. She wouldn't need all the secrecy if she could get her parents to oblige to her wishes. She would have preferred talking to her mother, but Queen Crystei refused to make any decisions concerning her daughter without conferencing with her husband first. Deciding it would be easier just to quarrel with her father over the matter, she set out through the castle to find him.

The servants all smiled and greeted her as she passed them in the halls. Arastelle knew them all fairly well, considering the free time she didn't spend with Jemni learning how to fight with her sword, Celoa, was spent talking with the men and women who worked for her family. She could trust them to keep a secret if they happened to see her sneaking out of the castle. Alexei almost passed her on his way out of the kitchen, but decided not to and fell into step with her. "Where are you going?" he asked as he juggled a red apple between his hands.

She grinned and snatched the apple from him as he went to toss it again. She took a bite from it and sighed. "Do you know where my father is?" she stopped walking, waiting for his answer.

"Give me back my apple and I'll tell you," he bargained, gaining a pout from the princess and his snack at the same time. He used the handkerchief in his pocket to wipe the apple quickly before eating. She tapped her foot impatiently on the tiled floor. "Your father is in the kitchen checking on tonight's dinner. Seems like he woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. He almost bit my head off for asking one of the serving girls to hand me an apple."

She didn't wait to hear the rest of his story before thanking him and heading into the kitchen. Chefs scurried around across the floor, grabbing different ingredients for tonight's dinner. King Fevro stood in the back of the kitchen, berating a chef for making their steak too tender. Arastelle shook her head and clapped, the sound echoing off the walls and gaining the attention of everyone in the room. "Father? May I speak with you?"

She stepped back out through the doors, the kitchen becoming too hot to stand without sweating. Fevro joined her a minute later. "What is it, Arastelle? I'm very busy right now."

"Yeah," she grunted in annoyance. "Busy chewing out almost everyone in the castle. What is wrong with you today?"

"Nothing is wrong with me," he stated firmly. He started to continue but noticed she was wearing her cloak. "Why are you wearing that?"

"That is what I wanted to talk to you about. I was wondering if it would be alright for me to go outside. Jemni is building snowmen with some of our friends and I want to join them."

Fevro scoffed, looking at her sternly. "Arastelle, you know how I feel about you going outside. Besides, that boy is not worth your time. Your mother and I forbade you from leaving the castle, or have you forgotten?"

Arastelle twitched, her temper bubbling. "How could I forget? Everyday I look out the damn window and I am reminded of how you people keep me sealed up in this forsaken castle like a prisoner."

"We do not treat you like a prisoner-"

"Sorry, I meant to say rat. You keep me holed up like a fucking rat. Prisoner's have the privilege of at least knowing they did something worth being sealed away for, whereas there is no good reason for why I get treated like this," she put her hands on her hips, fuming now. She was almost starting to scare herself. She had always kept her emotions intact around her parents, not wanting them to think she was ungrateful for having them there. But for some reason, everything was just pouring out of her now. "And damn it, you don't even know Jemni. Stop treating him like he is just garbage that someone threw away because, quite honestly, you are no better than him. The only difference between you and the majority of the people in this kingdom is the fact that you wear a crown on your arrogant head."

"Arastelle, be quiet," Fevro ordered his daughter and grabbed her wrist, dragging her with him as he headed to his room. "You are causing a scene."

She stomped her foot on the ground, creating enough friction to stop herself and yank her arm away. "I am so sick of this. You think that just because we are royal means that we have to be perfect. I am not a doll, and this is not a dream house. Being royal does not mean you have to be royally ignorant as well. When was the last time you or Mom went outside to see how the citizens of your kingdom were?"

He looked at her, still not sure what point she was making. "What are you talking about, Arastelle?"

"Do not change the topic. When was the last time you even thought to see what the hell was going on in Losella?"

"Nonsense. Why we just went out…" Fevro stopped to think. When had the last time been? "A month ago."

"Wrong," his daughter snapped, disappointment showing on her face. "It was over three months ago. How are you supposed to rule a kingdom and help your subjects if you do not even know what is going on in their lives? For all you know, they could be in the middle of a famine and you would not have the slightest notion because you are so preoccupied with making yourself look tall and powerful." She shook her head sadly at her father, her respect for him slowly dissipating. She started walking away, heading back to her own room, and looked back at him only once. "But honestly, Your Majesty, I have never seen someone look so short."

= - =

Arastelle waited until the snow stopped falling and the sky opened up to reveal the pinks and blues of the sunset before she stepped out of her room. She knew her family would be busy preparing for dinner and wouldn't notice her absence for quite some time still. Sighing dismally, she closed her door and headed for the back of the castle where they kept storage and the servants' entrance. She had to get out of there.