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Chapter 1

I had been hiding under my bed for the past couple of hours. My mother had attempted to coax me out three or four times by now. Everything from offering me rewards to saying I should stop being so scared and get it over with. But I was scared. I wasn't ready for this kind of responsibility.

But she was quickly losing patience. I couldn't really blame her, given she'd been dealing with me for the past thirteen years. And today of all days, she was stressed and anxious. Everything had to be just so.

I watched as the feet of Lumina, my mother, appeared. "Amaris, honestly. You have to get out here. I've let you stay down there for as long as I can, but you have to get out and get ready." It sounded like she had run out of patience by now. But I didn't move so much as a centimeter. (Aside from breathing. Still had to do that.) She knelt down on the floor and leaned over to peer under the bed at me. "Amaris, please. I know you're scared, but you simply have to come out now." Her voice sounded exasperated, but sympathetic.

"No, I don't want to. I'd rather just stay down here." I scooted just a little closer to the wall, and further from my mother.

"I know. But this is important. It's just one day, and it only ever happens once. You can even go back under your bed later tonight."

"Why can't it just never happen at all?" I asked, although mostly to myself. I kinda wished I hadn't, because I didn't want my mother to say anything in response to that. Naturally, of course, she did.

"It has to happen. There comes a time in everyone's lives when they have to start growing up. Don't you want to grow up, to get stronger?"

"Not really. I don't want to fight."

"I know you don't. But one day you'll probably have to. And you need to be ready. One day, something might happen to me and your father. We can't live forever. And you'd have to take over in our place." She sighed at my silence. Of course, this meant bad news for me.

She stood up, but instead of leaving like the other times, she just started pulling my bed away from the wall. Being as strong as she was, it didn't take her long to make a nice big gap between my bed and the wall.

I attempted to stay under the bed, but in one fluid motion, she grasped my arm and whisked me out from under the bed. I whimpered and struggled a bit against her grasp, but she easily scooped me up and carried me to the closet, where she pulled out the dress I was supposed to have already changed into. The next stop was the bathroom, where she set me down and set the dress in my arms. "Get changed, please. We really don't have time for your dawdling."

She closed the door, and with reluctance, I changed out of my comfortable pajamas and into the dress. It was mostly white with gold trim. It was pretty loose and comfortable, though. The sleeves were pretty open at the ends, and the skirt, which had multiple layers, only sort of got in the way of my walking. I could still walk, though, which was an improvement over some dresses. And I was really actually quite used to wearing dresses, having done it most of my life.

I opened the door and walked out. I would still rather be pretty much anywhere but here, but I knew better than to keep trying to object. She'd just get more upset with me.

"There. That's better. Now come on, dear." She grabbed my wrist and started leading me down the hallway. "Don't worry. It's not going to be as scary as you think."

Not that I believed that. Well, maybe just a little. Maybe it wouldn't be quite as bad as I was imagining, but probably pretty close. Realistically, what was the worst that would happen? Probably, I would trip or otherwise do something stupid, and embarrass me, and my mother, and probably everyone in the entire room. But it likely wouldn't ruin the entire night, or anything important. Although then maybe she might be convinced that I'm really not ready for this. That I'm not nearly capable enough for anything like this.

We were silent on the rest of the way, though. Through long hallways, down a few flights of stairs, and finally, into the main room. I had pretty much prepared myself for the huge gathering of people - I'd been to lots of parties like this before- but I was still taken slightly off guard. Literally hundreds of people gathered in the room. Talking, laughing, singing, dancing, and any number of other things. My dad was at one end of the room, standing beside the throne, talking with a few of his friends. There were various doors along the walls with servants ducking in and out of a lot of them, and at the opposite end of the room (opposite the aforementioned throne, that is) was a huge wooden door. The main door, through which all these people came in.

"Come along," my mother said quietly, leading me over to my father. Naturally I just followed silently. A few people pointed at us and whispered things to each other, but I couldn't catch any of them. Not that I wanted to know what any of them were saying. I just kept my head down and tried to ignore them.

"There you are, Ammy. Glad you finally found your way downstairs!" My father greeted me happily, and put one arm around me. I smiled up at him somewhat weakly. He talked quieter in my ear, so I was the only one who could hear him. "Don't worry, sweetheart. Me and your mother will be here the entire time. You're gonna be alright."

"I know," was all I could really manage. I wanted to try and insist that I was alright, that I didn't need help, but I couldn't manage any more words. And everyone would've known it wasn't true, me most of all. My parents would never be fooled by me saying I was alright. I was never alright, except sometimes by myself or with just them, in nice and quiet little places. Not that it ever got too quiet around here. And there were always other people around somewhere.

The next few hours all seemed to pass by in sort of a blur. I was introduced to several people, someone put my tiara on me at some point, and probably an assortment of other things happened, but I wasn't really paying attention to any of them. I was just trying to live until it was all over. I mostly stayed at the back of the room, hiding out behind the throne whenever I was allowed. And finally, the moment everyone had supposedly come for. The whole reason I was even here at all.

My mom brought me out from behind the throne for the millionth time, and led me to stand in front of everyone. All eyes were on me. She and my dad spoke, addressing the room, talking about me a bit, but I couldn't figure out how to pay attention to anything that was really going on. My mom directed my gaze more upward, and put a necklace around my neck. We'd gone over this whole thing before. It was important, and would help me to be able to control my powers. Not that I really had any yet, but sometime soon. The necklace was supposed to help with that, too.

It was almost over. Soon, I'd be able to retreat to the safety and solitude of my room. Or at least, that's what I thought. But then there was some sort of commotion, and a collective gasp. Something broke, and the lights went out. The stars and moon illuminated the room through the windows, but it was barely enough light to see by. I think some people started to panic, and my mother grabbed my arm, and started leading me away. I have no idea to where, and I didn't get a chance to find out.

Someone else grabbed me, and I vaguely had the idea I should try and get away, but I couldn't figure out how to move. I heard my mother calling me, which seemed to spark something, and I tried to escape the grasp of whoever was holding me. But I wasn't strong enough. I was taken outside, but I don't remember much of what happened next. Maybe I fell unconscious at some point. I just know I was taken away. And everything was going to be different now.

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Chapter 2

I laid there on the grass, thinking over the scene again and again.  It had been nearly a year since that day. And things had changed a lot. Everything that had happened from the moment the lights went out was new and unexpected. And I actually kind of enjoyed a lot of it.

For the first couple of months, I barely did or said anything. I spent most of my time tucked up in the corner. The people who kidnapped me were generally fairly nice, though, and I started to grow used to them. They'd bring me food every so often, and they'd sit and talk to me sometimes. No one explained to me exactly why they wanted me. I couldn't work up the courage to ask, either.

There was one of them, a girl, who I came to be pretty good friends with. She'd come and visit me most often, and started to take me on walks around the area when I stopped trying to pretend I didn't exist. She usually held my wrist when she showed me around. They still didn't really trust me to not try and escape, after all. Which maybe I would have. If I actually had any idea where I was, or how to get home.

She had told me one day, after I finally gave up and decided to ask, that her name was Myla. Of course, if I was restricted to only a few syllables at a time, I could shorten it to just "Mai". I had actually sort of giggled at that, which only made her grin.

Myla explained that she already knew my name, so I wouldn't have to waste my breath. She also told me she knew that I was a princess, and, well, not too much besides that. I wasn't exactly a celebrity, and my life wasn't public to the world. But she knew I had magical abilities, like my parents. That much was apparent by the horns on my head. (Although she didn't mention that bit, exactly.) Everyone had been looking at me like I was... well, obviously different. Some seemed more in awe, and others seemed to just think it bizarre. Which I guess it was, really. Not very many people do have horns on their head.

She was sitting there beside me now, as I thought about that night, and a lot of the things that had happened between then and now. She had her own thoughts, so we were both pretty much silent. I never dared to ask her about her thoughts, but occasionally, she'd ask about mine. It turned out this was one such occasion.

Myla stretched and leaned back onto the grass beside me. "So now what are you thinking about?" Despite that she was turned towards the sky, I could tell she was actually just watching me.

"Home. My parents. What's happened since then." The usual. If I was lost in thought, it was mostly the same thoughts.

"You really miss it, huh? Do you wish you could go back?" There was a tone to her voice that I couldn't quite place a name to. But I was pretty sure it meant she didn't want me to want to go back.

"I..." I had thought of this question before, and the obvious answer was "yes". But I hesitated this time. Part of me didn't think the answer should be yes. But I had ignored that recent development. Somehow, Myla made me think about it, though. "Sometimes."

"Sometimes?" She seemed slightly surprised when I hesitated, and more surprised when I just said sometimes. She'd asked me the same question a couple of times, really, but both a while ago, and separate from each other. The answer at the time had been a slightly scared and hesitant "Yes", but mostly just because I hadn't wanted to respond.

I just nodded at her, so she pressed more. "Why 'sometimes'? Before you said 'yes'. What changed?"

I shrugged at her, and she let out a quiet sigh. Against my better judgement, I decided to try to elaborate. "I just... well, I guess I don't think about it as much as I used to. And... part of me kind of likes it here. I was scared, at first. I just wanted to go home, but... it's really not so bad. Here. With- with all of you. And..." I rolled onto my side, away from her, debating whether or not to add the last part. "Well, just maybe, part of me doesn't really want to go home anymore."

She moved onto her side, too. She reached over and gently rubbed up and down my arm. "You don't have to sound so upset about it," she said, in an attempt to be reassuring. "It's not like one place is all good or all bad, or anything." After a couple of silent minutes, though, neither of us could figure out anything else to say. Myla decided, in an attempt to lighten the mood, to say, "You know, I don't think I've ever heard you talk so much in one go."

I half-smiled at her, but honestly, I still felt kind of upset about the whole thing. And I while it sort of made sense, I still didn't really get it. Shouldn't I want to go home? It was where I had spent my entire life. My parents, who I loved and trusted, were still there. Almost the only people I knew. But at the same time, this place felt... free, even though I was a sort of a prisoner.

Myla sat up. "I've been meaning to ask you... I know you don't really want to, but I was thinking it might be a good idea for you to start training." I tensed up slightly. I always tried to avoid this topic if she ever seemed inclined to bring it up. She'd done so a few times by now. "It doesn't have to be anything drastic, just... basic self defense. It'd help you a lot. And, well, I know this is a touchier subject, but I think it'd be good to try and learn to work with your magic, too."

"I don't want to." I sat up, too. The tone in my voice clearly said the conversation was over, but Myla was too stubborn to let that stop her.

"Come on, don't be like that." She reached over and put her hand on my shoulder. But I didn't want to let her try to persuade me. But as persistent as she was, she didn't stop there, either. After that didn't get her the response she wanted, she leaned over so she was closer to me, and turned my head so I had to look at her. "At least promise me you'll think about it? Actually think about it?"

I thought about it... and nodded. "I'll give it some thought." I really didn't want to, but, she wanted me to. It wasn't like I had to reach a decision, or start training or anything. I just had to think about it, which was easy enough. I wasn't really committing to anything. ...Or at least, that's what I kept telling myself.

Myla smiled. "Good girl." She released me and sat up straight, and then stretched. "So how about we go get something to eat? It's about that time."

I nodded, and we both got up.

And I did think about training. A whole lot more than I wanted to. Over the next few days, it kept coming into my head, and Myla didn't help with that. She left me alone to reach my own decision, but I knew what she was hoping for. I eventually decided, maybe, just maybe, basic training for self-defense only might be okay. Myla was probably right. It probably would help me a lot, in the future.

When I somewhat reluctantly told her my decision, she was naturally excited. We started training that same day. I was of course scared at first, but it turned out to not be so bad, really. Myla was there almost every day while I was training, and I started to actually get pretty good at it. We started sometimes playfully fighting with each other outside of training. She was still obviously a bit better than me, but she'd sometimes let me win. And my mind was so busy with all of this that I started barely thinking about my parents, or home. But I was actually happy, which was a nice change. Thoroughly exhausted at the end of the day, and often with a few scrapes or bruises, but happy. It wasn't really my ideal scenario- part of me still wanted to go home, even though I thought about it a lot less now- but... maybe it was good enough.

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