Chapter 1. And Around Again

Not again.

Please, not again.

I, Lucette Riella Briton, the Crown Princess of Angielle, force myself to take a deep breath and open my eyes to examine my surroundings. The soft morning light reveals myself alone in my own familiar room in the palace. I rise from my bed, walk over to the shelf that holds my dolls with bated breath, searching for one particular doll.

"Delora," I whispered, my eyes falling on a dark haired, unusually realistic looking doll. If Delora is here, in doll form, it has happened again.

For what seems like years, for what has actually been years to me, I have been repeating the same months of my life over and over again. There have been a few consistent events. I have been cursed by Delora, who was actually a witch that had pretended to be my doll for nearly a year, every time. My father, King Genaro Britton III, was betrayed by one or both of his advisors Sir Alcaster Leverton and Sir Mythros who then seized power and sometimes my mother Hildyr was freed from her confinement.

There had been a time when it had been my greatest desire to see my presumed dead mother alive again, but now that I knew who and what my mother was the very thought of Hildyr brings a chill to my bones. Hildyr had once been a good witch tasked with Bearing one of the crystals maintaining magic. The witches' magic was powered by the Crystallum Tenebrarum, which fed on anger, fear, and hatred but was balanced by the fairies' Crystallum Lucis which fed on love, happiness, and joy. The balance between the two kept harmony, after all there is no courage without fear or love without the potential for pain. However, Hildyr had become the very antithesis of what she should have been.

Fairies and witches had lived in harmony with both humans and each other for years before a storyteller named Grimm had spread fairytales branding all fairies as good, and all witches as evil. There had been resulting Witch Hunts in which humans had killed witches regardless of whether they were good or evil, and the Great War, which claimed many lives after the witches claimed their revenge. My mother, as the Tenebrarum Bearer and leader of the witches, had felt every witch's death and the pain of it had driven her insane. Among other deeds, Hildyr had killed the reigning king of Angielle and had forced Genaro to marry her and make her queen by threatening the life of Ophelia…the woman he loved. She had also gained one of her apprentices by, unbeknownst to him at the time, murdering his family who had not wanted her to take him. Waltz had later betrayed Hildyr, because of what my mother was trying to do to me, allowing a successful attack which most believed had resulted in Hildyr's death. However, Waltz had been unable to escape being cursed by my mother…and my mother had survived the attack.

Hildyr had taken sanctuary in the Crystallum Tenebrarum itself and can only be freed by myself as I turn eighteen, when my own magical power awakens and the Crystallum Tenebrarum begins to recognize me as its new mistress. During that brief time, before the transfer of power to myself is complete, Hildyr can be released to walk the world again. And when that has happened, sometimes the very first thing my mother does is murder my father.

My nightgown balls in my grasp as I think about what has happened before, my knuckles turning white. I cannot let it happen again. Whatever happens this time, I cannot let her mother get free. What if this is the last time I cycle through these months? What if, this time, I have to live with the results of my actions, good or bad?

I have to be perfect this time. Nearly every other time, someone that had become important to me had died. Sometimes it was my father, or Delora who had come to symbolize everything I wished my mother had been, or Parfait the current Crystallum Lucis Bearer who had become a friend and mentor. Sometimes it had been one of the cursed young men I had fallen in love with that had died, or worse. Chevalier, the flirtatious doctor who went by the name Rumpel until he dispelled enough of his curse to remember his own name. Fritzgerald Aiden Leverton, my personal knight with a ruffian of an alter-ego, the son of the traitorous Sir Alcaster Leverton. Prince Klaude Aidric Renaldi Mattheus Almonte Crown Prince of Brugantia who went by Karma and cross-dressed due to his own curse. Waltz Cresswell, who would appear as a child until I opened a magical box hidden in my own room. Even my own mute step-brother, Rod Benedikt Widdensov who used a magical plush bunny Sebby to verbalize his thoughts.

I had loved them, all of them, in their own unique ways. However, it was either in the hopelessness of a love lost or the ecstasy of a love found that my world stopped, and I returned to this very moment. I had tried one man after the other, thinking I may have to be with someone in particular or make other different choices to end this circle I was running in. During my last go around, I had confessed what was happening to Parfait and asked for advice in making it stop. The Lucis Bearer had not been convinced at first, but had come to the conclusion that I was not crazy or lying when I had started correctly predicting events before they happened with perfect detail. Parfait had been mystified herself, saying that she had never heard of it happening before. Her only theory had been that perhaps, after being without a Bearer for so long and the fact that the last Bearer had thrown balance to the wind, the Crystallum Tenebrarum was requiring me to find the balance within myself that I would need to correctly maintain it.

I sigh irritably, turning from the doll shelf. It is one of those things that is much easier to say than to do. For now, I may as well get on with things.

After performing my morning ablutions, I ring a bell and a maid comes to help me dress. As the maid laces up the back of my dress, my eyes fall upon the box that holds the solution to Waltz's curse. It has always remained unopened until near my birthday that is months away.

Perhaps it is time to mess with some of the constants of my circular life, instead of trying to maintain previous patterns. Not just in the large things, like breaking Waltz's curse early, but in the little things as well. Perhaps this time I could make it different…and it would stop.

I nod to myself, making a mental note to open the box upon returning to the palace after seeing Waltz in town. Absently, I wondered why Delora, who had sat on her shelf for about half a year, had not used it to release Waltz from his curse. Either she did not know that it was the key to his curse, or Hildyr had done something to it to hide it from witch eyes.

I dismiss the maid after finishing dressing, then I fix my hair and walk into the hallway. As always, I pass two maids gossiping about more people being cursed on my way to breakfast. The Fairytale Curses had begun before the Great War, each curse inspired by one of Grimm's tales. This one concerns the Pinocchio curse that made someone's nose grow longer with lies. Originally, curses had only been cast to help reform an individual, but during the war they were used indiscriminately conveying malice instead of instruction.

Instead of berating the gossiping maids, I clear my throat, causing the maids to startle, sink into curtsies, and then continue their cleaning at a much faster pace. Yes, everything will be different this time. Even if everything around me is the same, I will be different in the way I respond to it.

After getting some of my horrifying endings, when going back I had tried making only single changes. This resulted in happy, or at least somewhat happy, endings but it had not changed that I had started again at square one. This time I will make lots of changes.

"Princess? The king and queen are waiting for you in the dining hall," a maid tells me as she curtsies before me.

"I'm coming," I reply.

Upon entering the dining area, I see my father the king, my stepmother Ophelia, and stepbrother Rod already at the table.

"Good morning Lucette," the king says.

"Good morning Father," I replied, enjoying the brief startled look on his face at the informal address. This might actually be fun. I very carefully do not break into a grin at the look on my father's face. If his Ice Princess actually smiled at him, the king might be surprised enough to have a heart attack and that would change things more than I intended. This time, I am going to try and be perfect. I am going to save my whole family this time, as well as the man I choose, and as many of the occupants of the Marchen as I can.

"Good morning Lucette," my stepmother greets me.

Instead of staring blankly at her, I reply, "It's mutual I'm sure," which is far more civil than my usual greeting, or lack thereof. This has not gone unnoticed, and as I take my seat beside my father, Rod is staring at me as if he is wondering if I am sick, or simply in rare form this morning.

Before Rod has had proper time to assess if my face is red with fever, his older sister Emelaigne burst through the doors. She is one of those bubbly people that never seems to diminish, but I have decided that, at least at times, the happiness is her own mask when she does not want to admit to pain. She tries not to disappoint those around her, and is friendly to everyone whether they deserve it or not. I had once though that she envied my position as crown princess, but now realize that she simply does not have sufficient ambition for that. She misses the freedom she had as a middle class girl, and would shun my greater responsibilities had she choice in the matter. "I'm so sorry I'm late!" she apologizes. "I was reading and forgot the time. Good morning dear Father, Mother. Good morning Rod! Good morning Lucette! It's a beautiful morning, isn't it?"

Yes, yes. It is another lovely day in which I woke up to find Delora on my shelf…again.

"Now that everyone is here, let us begin," the king says, and servants enter and serve us breakfast.

"So Emelaigne," Ophelia begins, "you were reading the Fairytale books that the king brought you?" I begin eating, knowing that if I don't start now I might not have a chance later.

"Oh yes," Emelaigne practically squeals. "There are so many and they are all so wonderful. Thank you so much Father!"

"I am happy that you like them," the king replies.

"I love them!" Emelaigne replies. "It's so strange that the library didn't have any of them to begin with."

"Mother burned them," I say, changing what I would have said slightly. "Either she did not want me reading them, or she simply liked burning things at that point."

"But why? They are such charming stories," Emelaigne says.

"They give an inaccurate view of the world," I say, trying to change what I typically say, but not so much so that I am put to bed and a doctor fetched for me. "Life is a mixture of success and failure, triumph and tragedy. If there was no failure, success would mean nothing. In the fairytales the 'heroes' always succeed. Their suffering is always deemed unjust by the storyteller, even when they were complicit in causing their circumstances. Without exception, every witch is portrayed as evil even when they simply make a bargain for what the hero requested of them, and every fairy as good even when there are strings attached to their favors."

I have read some of the fairytales from a book in the Marchen, and I know that everything I have said is accurate. Still, the king asks, "What exactly are you implying about witches, Lucette?"

"Merely that humans are as capable of victimizing each other and themselves as any witch is," I reply. "I also prefer to make character judgments based on actions or inactions rather than whether an individual was born fairy, witch, or human."

"Do you know what you are talking about child?" the king says. "Witches have caused nothing but pain and suffering to this kingdom. Even now, they still spread the Fairytale Curse to our innocent subjects."

"So you have never met a good witch? There is not one witch that either you yourself or the kingdom owes anything to?" I say, thinking of Waltz.

Father opens his mouth irritably, then closes it before letting out a soft sigh. "They are in the minority," he finally answers. "But you are right Lucette, there is one witch the kingdom owes much to, but many others who have only caused harm."

"And how did you repay her? Or, how did you repay him, if that is correct?" I ask. "Perhaps if Angielle paid its debts properly there would be more motivation for actions that are beneficial to the kingdom."

I know that my father has done little or nothing for Waltz who is working as a street magician, but I do not know if it was because my father was unwilling or unable to do so. "Perhaps you are suggesting I should offer him your hand in marriage as reward, Lucette?" he says wryly.

For a moment, it is all I can do to maintain a straight face. This is definitely different, and I wouldn't actually mind being married to Waltz. "It's a more interesting proposition than attempting to have me pick a suitor at a ball, and I know I'll have to find a husband eventually. Of course, you realize that it would be a recipe for you having witch grandchildren, but I would rather not give you grandchildren that you would dislike on principle," I say, knowing full well that Father knows that if give him grandchildren they will be witches anyway, regardless of who their father is. The responsibility of Tenebrarum Bearer now travels with the throne. "If you are indeed considering this course of action, I would require a courtship of some sort before making a decision to go along with it."

My father's mouth opens and closes a few times soundlessly, and I glance at the rest of my family who appear quite shocked. "I was not being serious Lucette," he finally says, sounding somewhat hoarse.

"Perhaps you should be," I answer, and take a final bite of breakfast before delicately blotting my mouth with a napkin. "I am finished. Excuse me," I say, leaving my gaping family behind at the table.

I almost smile in triumph. I have succeeded in changing an argument with my father and stepmother into a discussion about the plausibility of myself choosing a witch suitor. It is a small change, but small changes can lead to bigger changes which are exactly what I am after.

"You look almost happy today Princess," Fritz says as he walks up to me. As always, my personal knight is dressed in white and grays, with hair that is as white as paper. He has been with me for three years, and is arguably the only person whose presence I tolerated during that time.

I usually ignore meaningless observations, but today I answer him. "I decided to amuse myself at breakfast this morning," I say, but do not specify how this was accomplished. "You are here early."

"I'm running some errands for my father," Fritz answers. Oh yes, his father—my father's trusted advisor that is currently, unbeknownst to the king, plotting against him. To be more accurate, Father was warned, but then he disregarded the warning. Perhaps as terrible is the fact that Fritz's father is complicit in cursing his own son to make him into an obedient, if coarse, tool.

I wonder if Fritz has been cursed yet. If he has not, I could tell him to leave now and escape the curse…but once my curse takes effect, he would not remember me and therefore forget any order I gave him. He would return to his father, and then be cursed himself. I see no way to help Fritz avoid it, and it puts a damper on my previously happy mood.

"You should wait in the throne room then," I tell him.

"Thank you," he says. Then his face turns glum. It always does at this point, but I wonder if he has noticed my shift in mood as well. "Princess?"

"What is it?" I ask.

"You know," he says, "I haven't seen you smile once since I met you."

"Are you merely stating a fact, or implying that that should be changed?" I ask.

"I do hope to see you smile one day, Princess," he replies.

'Even if it's not you who makes me smile?' I wonder, but then startle as I realize that those words left my lips. I look over at Fritz, who appears surprised.

"What…excuse me Princess?" he asks.

"Forget I said anything," I answer.

He looks at me warily for a moment before shaking his head. "Anyway, I won't take up any more of your time. I'll see you at ten."

"Of course," I say, knowing that he is referring to my outing to town. Two days ago…it actually years with all the cycling I have been doing…my father had ordered me to go to town for the first time in four years with Emelaigne. It was an effort to encourage me to get along better with my stepsiblings, and better see the kingdom that would one day become my responsibility. I had argued with him, but had ended up taking his order to do so.

"It won't be that bad," Fritz tells me. "The townsfolk are good people."

"I didn't get that feeling four years ago," I say.

"Times change, people change," he insists.

"Change can be so subtle that it may as not exist, or so abrupt that you don't have even footing. Change needs to be defined before I will accept it as a good thing," I tell him, then wonder for a moment at my own statement when I have committed to myself that there will be many changes.

"I hope you will see good changes today, then," Fritz answers. "If you will excuse me, I shall see you later."

I return to my room. I usually talk to my dolls at this point, but my talking to dolls seems increasingly silly to me. I had treasured them because inanimate objects could not betray or hurt me. But, they also were incapable of helping me in any way, or even offering sympathy. Now, it seems doubly silly because talking to Delora makes sense because she is a person so I could talk to her without feeling silly. However, she does not know that I know that she is a witch sitting on my shelf pretending to be a doll until she curses me tonight.

It occurs to me to wonder if there is something I can say or do to make Delora not curse me, but then I would be within the palace where Mythros can reach me easier. Or, I might be Sir Alcaster's prisoner instead. I decide not to attempt to avoid my curse.

A knock comes at my door. "Yes?" I say, and a maid enters.

"Excuse me Your Highness," the maid says. "The king has requested your presence."

"Very well, inform His Majesty I am coming," I say. The maid curtseys, and leaves.

On my way down the hall, I run into Myth…or Sir Mythros as he currently calls himself. My father's other betrayer who will attempt, if given the chance, to have me help him loose my mother upon the world. At one time he had been my mother's other apprentice…the devoted one. I still do not understand his loyalty to her. Once, when Waltz killed him, Mother merely commented that he was disappointment as he died at her feet. Once she had even killed him herself for what she saw as his failures. I also think that he had been wounded at some point during the Great War, but I am unsure of the details.

"Oh…good morning, Your Highness," Myth greets me.

"Sir Mythros," I answer, unable to attempt a more civil answer to this snake of a man.

"Every day you look more and more like your mother," he tells me.

"As often as I see you admiring her portrait, I presume that was a compliment," I reply.

"Of course Your Highness," he says, "to say that you resemble your mother in any way is always a compliment from myself. However, are you on your way to the king? I shall not keep you. Until our next meeting, dear princess."

I turn and leave him to go into the throne room. When I enter, only my father is there, standing by a pillar instead of seated on his throne. "Your Majesty," I address him.

"Lucette, are you ready?" he asks.

"To go out you mean?" I ask him dryly. "I need only collect my cloak on the way out. I presume you are not inquiring about my state of dress?"

"You will enjoy this Lucette," the king tells me. "I hear that the toy shop has lovely dolls. This will be good for you. You will get to know your sister better, and you will be able to interact with and learn about the people of Angielle. About our subjects."

"Is there something specific you wanted me to look for, or are you merely expecting them to look at me with less animosity than when I was out four years ago?" I ask.

My father sighs. "Why do you always expect people to be incapable of good?" he asks.

"I would believe it more readily had you demonstrated it more yourself," I answer. While some part of me longs for the relationship we have never had, I am unsure if that can happen before he accepts responsibility for not offering it when I needed it the most. "Where were you when I needed you four years ago? What occupied your time so much that I rarely heard your voice for months? What was so much more important than comforting your own newly motherless daughter? What about me did you hate so much to do that?" I ask, knowing that he hated that I was the witch's daughter.

My father is silent for a long moment. "I know that I've hurt you. I know that there is nothing I can do to atone for what I did. But please…Ophelia and her children are not a part of that. They do not deserve to be hated."

"Yet you show them considerations you never offered to me," I say. "I do, however, acknowledge that that is your fault instead of theirs."

"What considerations would you like of me?" my father asks.

The question startles me for a moment. If I could ask anything of him…. "What about me did you hate so much that you left me alone when I would have been most receptive to developing something like a normal father/daughter relationship? If you dare say my temperament, as far as I am concerned grieving children are allowed whatever temperament they wish. All I am inquiring of you is the truth."

Of all the things I could ask him, asking this thing makes my father turn pale. "I…I knew that you would ask this one day. It's probably better that you hear it from me than from someone else, but…." He sighs heavily. "I ask that you not require it of me today. There is something I have been keeping from you, but I had my reasons. Perhaps it is time soon." He leans back against a pillar, rubbing his head. "It will be a lengthy discussion if you don't storm out on me early, and your sister and the others are waiting for you outside. Tomorrow, Lucette."

But there will be no tomorrow. At least, you will not remember me tomorrow. But I can see the distress on my father's face. He is worried that I will not believe him when he tells me the truth about my mother, or that if I do believe him whatever pleasant memories I might have of her will become tainted. He believes that I will be furious with him for hiding it from me for so long, that it will drive me farther away from him.

And none of that changes the fact that I need to be told.

I remember the few hours we shared together in a cell, both weeping, asking for and receiving each other's forgiveness. They were the sweetest hours I ever spent with my father. I could demand it tonight but…if I reconcile with my father tonight, would Delora still curse me? If she does not, that could lead to an increased risk of my mother getting loose.

"Very well, tomorrow then," I answer. "I do not claim to have been the perfect daughter either. I do not doubt that I have caused you pain as well. Perhaps we deserve each other."

When I leave my father, there is something akin to hope in his face.