20: DREAM THE DARKNESS AWAY
Early in the morning, the sun rose on the horizon, promising another chance to right what was wrong. Windows reflected bright rays that filled the bedroom with a golden glow until the warm light on her face woke her up. She laid still there, her body not responding. Princess Alice yawned and slowly opened her eyes. Then she stretched and shook out her hair.
Maybe she's still meditating, withdrawn from the world.
An angel walked up the long, spiral stairway and knocked on her bedroom door. "We're having a meeting."
Thousands of servants gathered in the Great Hall. Gabriel filled her in on the details of the discussion she missed. It felt awkward standing among so many strangers. She sat next to the prince at the table head as the conference closed.
Michael, leader of the Angelic Alliance, began speaking. "Concealed in his castle, the Dragon King has secretly been building up his forces. Soon he'll be able to launch another assault. We shall adjourn this session until further notice."
"The prince hasn't dismissed you yet. Go on," Gabriel said.
Princess Alice rose from her seat and followed Paladin outside. He turned and walked past her. She swallowed, approaching him. The angels left them alone for a while.
"Can you tell me what's going to happen?" Alice asked.
"Few people are willing to accept me for who I really am. Most men would rather recreate me in their own image – into any form they deem fit. In the end, true change comes from within. They must be reborn with a new nature."
"There's so much happening at once I can't keep track of it. I need to take it easy for now until I have all the armor."
"If you're not careful, you'll make the same mistake your sister did. The Dragon King will do all that he can to stop you."
"Then how am I supposed to follow you?" Alice asked.
"Trust in me instead of your own power. I have chosen the weak and foolish things to put to shame the strong and wise."
"I want more than anything to be free," she said.
"Faith sets you free. The truth is above and beyond your reach. Look at the stars. To travel through space, you need to know how far they are. If you miscalculated by one degree, you'd miss your destination by millions of miles." The prince didn't have to explain everything to her now. "My servant shall address any further questions you may have."
"Come, with me child…" Gabriel walked beside her. "Vigilance is a virtue. If you fall down, get back up and try again."
"I wouldn't mind so much if what he told me wasn't true."
"Truth can show you things you never wanted to know."
"I wish I could see life his way. Then maybe I would make the right choice," she said.
"He may only give you enough light to take the next step."
"I don't understand." The princess shrugged.
"It is not necessary to understand in order to obey. At times in life, very little makes sense, but when you look back later, you'll see they were turning points. Leave the past in the past. Focus on the future, trusting him for tomorrow."
"Going back home won't change anything. What difference would it really make? I try so hard. Why does everything I do turn out wrong?" She crossed her arms and turned her back on him. "I'm the last line of defense. Unless I warn them, they're doomed."
"Then perhaps it's time to trust the prince. He never gave up on you, even in the face of death. You have to let him handle this now. He gave you his word that he would."
"If he's so powerful, why would he allow all the problems in the world to continue? How could he let it happen?"
"There is a reason – a season for everything."
"I wish none of this had ever happened to me."
"Be careful what you wish for. These changes are all part of a process. If the prince broke you then put you back together, you'd be torn apart. The evil in your heart is tangled around the good. He can't pull it away while it's still twisted together."
"Wake me up when this is all over," she said.
"Destiny won't let you deny who you are. Your training is complete. One final test remains. You must face yourself."
"I can't save me from myself." She shook her head.
"Then the witch has already won this battle."
That thought was unbearable. She pushed it away to the back of her mind. As her shoulders drooped, her crystal heart necklace turned gray as stone. "What if I fail?"
"Then your world will suffer the same fate," Gabriel said. "If you don't fight evil, you'll become it. As the night turns to daylight, shadows of the past fade into the future. Your past is dark, but your future is still bright."
"Does the prince have a shadow like me?"
"A shadow is the lack of light, not the opposite of it."
"So she never existed because I never became her, right?"
"You're the only one who can stop her."
"But how?" Alice asked.
"You must trap her on the other world, but soon they'll separate from each other forever. The barrier between them is like a mirror. When gray is gone, all shall be seen in black and white. Light and darkness, life and death, and good and evil can't coexist. You can't have the best of both worlds, being in two places at once. Whatever part of you isn't in the light, that's where she'll be. When you are weak, your shadow grows stronger. If you come closer, the light will live inside you until the darkness disappears."
"Well, what comes next?"
"You ask a lot of questions." Gabriel grinned.
"How else am I to learn?" Alice asked.
"Sometimes it's better to say nothing and listen."
"I know what I have to do now. I'm just afraid to do it."
"You have learned much about yourself after having been assaulted physically, mentally, and spiritually. The day will come when you must risk everything or run away. Time will test your mind and heart like never before. I wonder if you have what it takes. We'd better get back to the meeting now. I'm afraid the answer will have to wait." Gabriel guided her home.
Princess Alice headed over to the main hall. Taking a seat, she wrestled with matters in her mind, finding courage to face the crisis and reclaim her reality without any regrettable repercussions.
"I have summoned you here to face a terrible threat none of us can escape easily. Yet the Dragon King lurks in his lair. Though we're busy guarding this world, we can't simply watch while he deceives humanity. The enemy won't give up without a fight. Unfortunately, we can't afford to spare any reinforcements. Someone must step forth, volunteering to warn Earth before it's too late. Who among you will rise to the occasion and take my place?" Michael assessed his audience then waited a while.
For a moment, no one spoke; they knew how dangerous this quest would be and how crucial it was to their success. The prince expected the princess to be brave, but he would never force her to go. She sat there uncomfortably, but then nodded wistfully. Before she even knew what she was doing, she coughed and cleared her throat to address the congregation. She stood to make a statement, interrupting their important meeting as her voice broke the silence.
"I'll go! Send me!" She found it a bit frightening that everyone's eyes focused on her. "With your help, I'll return everything to the way it was supposed to be. I'll do anything to prove I love you. I'm in your hands. It's now or never."
"Change your mind?" the prince asked.
"Actually, it's more like a change of heart." She winked.
"Finally you are ready to complete your calling. From this moment forth, you shall be known as the princess of the angels."
"Let's do it." She smiled and nodded, making eye contact.
"I'm leaving you in charge until I return." Paladin pointed.
"My lord, there would be no higher honor," Michael said. "If anything happens while you're gone, I'll take care of them all."
The noble prince had to restore order to his realm as his divine duty. He wouldn't return without setting things right and fighting any evil he encountered in the land. They were confident he would win the victory. Now it was only a matter of time.
That was the end of their stay there at the Crystal Castle. Heaven would be waiting after they saved Earth. Just before she left, the princess looked back, preparing herself for what lay ahead. With a heavy heart, she took his hand. They vanished from the dream dimension and returned to reality, passing through the portal with a bright flash of light. The unicorn followed after.