Nicola felt as though she had been hit in the head with a train as she opened her eyes. She was lying on damp, cold ground and the only light came from a torch outside the barred cage. All she could remember was standing in her room, late at night and then... darkness. Nicola was a tall girl, about 21 years old and had long beautiful raven black hair, light skin and pretty deep brown eyes. She suddenly looked down to find that the slacks and T-shirt she had been wearing were gone and replaced with beautiful light blue robes. Her hair was pulled back and several bracelets adorned her wrists. She had seen dresses like this, but only in.... no that was impossible! She rose to her feet and went to the gate of the cage she was in. It was heavily armed and it looked as though any who had tried to escape had been impaled on the sharp stakes in between the bars. Her eyes were finally adjusting to the dark glow of the room and she let out a scream! She knew this place, she was sure of it. This fourteenth century palace was so familiar to her; she could have navigated it in her sleep. Backing away, she felt something close to her feet. That's when she looked down and saw a small figure, unawakened by her scream. Curious, she dropped down beside the figure. Nicola was shocked to discover it was a young girl.

She couldn't have been older than 15 and looked around regular height for her age. Her hair was a mixture of golden-blonde and dark brown. Her skin was very pale and she seemed to be holding a rose in her fingers. She wore a deep brown turtleneck, light brown poncho, dark pants, knee-high leather boots and a very strange looking hat that Nicola swore she had seen before. A charm bracelet was on her wrist. This girl had not been touched by their captor, she could tell. Very carefully, she reached out and gave the girl a gentle shake.

"Hey," she whispered, "cherie, wake up."

The girl moaned and opened her eyes, looking up at Nicola. Suddenly, her true blue eyes went wide and she backed away from Nicola, a look of surprise and terror in her eyes. She looked ready to attack if necessary. Nicola smiled at her.

"Don't worry, I'm not going to hurt you," she said in a soothing voice.

The other girl looked at Nicola for a moment, then smiled. " Take it you're a prisoner here too, eh?" she asked.

"Yes," Nicola replied. "Do you know how we got here?"

The other girl shook her head. "No... all I can remember is standing over my mother's grave and then... darkness." She looked down at the rose in her hand. "My mother died five years ago, this very day."

"Oh, my God," Nicola said, "I'm sorry."

The girl shrugged. "It's okay, she's in heaven now... with my father... I guess."

Nicola looked at her. "You guess?"

She looked at the older girl standing in front of her. "I don't know. My mother died when I was ten and I never knew my father... except for when I was really little. Everyone says he loved me and he cared deeply, but he vanished when I was only a year old and I never saw him again. I don't even have a picture of him." She sat down on the cold floor. "I was shuffled between ten different foster homes since then... that's two per year..." She started to cry. "They all hated me! They all called me a danger, a monstrosity, a burden! I don't even know what I did!" She let the tears pour down her face and Nicola came close and wrapped her arm around the girl. She suspected that this girl, this girl who put up a strong front, had not been allowed to cry for a very long time.

"It's alright cherie," she said then, after a moment, she added. "What's your name?"

The girl smiled. "Arene. I don't know my real last name. My mother kept on changing it until finally we just went by our first names." She held out her hand. "It's nice to meet you, Miss..."

"Nicola," she said, smiling, shaking Arene's hand. "Just Nicola."

"Okay," Arene said. "It's strange, Nicola, I've only known you for exactly five minuets and already I feel like your the sister I never knew."

Nicola smiled. "The feeling's mutual... by the way...why the hat?"

Arene let out a light laugh and was about to explain when the gate to their cell opened and a man walked inside. He didn't even need to step into the light for the girls to recognize him. Both girls jumped to their feet. Arene stood in front of Nicola at once, as if to protect her.

"Stay behind me, Nicola," she whispered.

The man let out a slight laugh. It made Nicola's heart leap and it made Arene shiver.

"Dearest ladies, Welcome to my home."