Chapter 3:

Chapter 3. The decaying sun

I hate loneliness but it loves me dearly

She woke up in the hospital room. There was a nurse present — as soon as she noticed that her patient is awake she called someone in. As expected, her mother and aunt instantly broke in, rushing to girl's bed:— What were you doing on the other side of the town at such late hour, honey? — she started to shower Alice with numerous questions. — I spoke to Susie, she told me you ran away from school, is that right? I almost had a heart attack as soon as the hospital called me from work!— Alice, I know you're at that age but you should at least call your mom before wandering away to distant places!— What if something bad happened to you?!— Calm down, ladies, — someone else walked it, interrupting them. But instead of familiar face, this time it was a grumpy policeman who was holding a notebook. — Alice Bergliez, am I right?His sudden appearance really scared Alice so she had hard time speaking. Her mother answered instead:— Yes, that's my daughter. Did something happen?— I got a call from the hospital. A lone i girl at the end of the town — it's our job to check on these cases. So, is it the first time the girl run away from home? Is such behavior common for her? Was she ever caught drinking or doing drugs?— What?! — her mother rose up, disgusted. — Of course, not! Alice would never do something like that!— Do not yell, please. Kids at her age often tend to do something illegal, it's pretty common. Since we got a call I should investigate the case properly to make sure nothing serious happened. Listen here, kid: just confess your little crime and I'll turn a blind eye on your little scheming: I have better things to do.— I.. did not, — Alice finally spoke, hiding her mouth behind the blanket. That was her first time dealing with an officer.— Do not lie to me, young lady, — the policeman insisted as he moved closer. — I told you I won't punish you, but lying to an officer is a way more serious crime. If you're ashamed to admit it in front of your mother — I can ask her to leave this room for a time being.— Hey, you have no rights to do that!— I do, in fact.They were about to argue and Alice couldn't allow that — her mother must've been in trouble for just leaving her work to visit Alice in the hospital in the first place.— I'm not lying! — she shouted in confidence. — I... M-my classmate upset me so I ran away. The moment I realized what I was doing — I-I got lost. That's it.— So you're saying you were so upset you were found on the other side of the town? On your own, without any vehicle?— Y-yes! — she knew it sounded crazy but decided to roll with it til the very end. She couldn't tell him about portals and magic world — this will only confirm his suspicions.— Right, — of course, he didn't believe Alice. — Well, since it's your first time — I won't make your life harder. But if you'll be caught "running away" once again — the police will be forced to investigate your case closer. Do you understand it, Alice Bergliez?— Please, leave at once, — the nurse finally interrupted. — She's still weak cause of collapsing, you'll only upset her more.The officer finally left. Both mom and aunt continued their interrogation, ignoring nurse's warning:— He left, honey. Now, tell me: was he right? — Molly, I understand you're upset but that's a bit too much, don't you think?— I'm not lying! — Alice was about to cry. Even her mom didn't believe her. — I really got lost! You can ask Susie, she'll tell you the same!— I already did, — her mom finally gave up and moved back to sit in the chair. — But why didn't you call me? Do you really hate me so much you won't share anything with me..?As soon as she said that she stood up and quickly left the room. Aunt tried to stop her but she didn't listen.— Wait, mom! — Alice shouted as well but to no avail.— Do not worry, I'll go talk to her, — her aunt calmed her down a little. — I know you're not lying, you're a good girl. For now, just rest and I'll handle everything.— Thanks, auntie... — she sniffed quietly. The nurse was finally able to do her job after everyone left the room. "Was it really a right decision — to hide the truth? I could tell about that Hatter, at least..."***Since Alice was fine apart from minor exhaustion, she was sent home the very next day. Her mother said nothing about that — on the contrary, she acted way too caring, which she hadn't time to since her husband's death. Was it auntie Becky who persuaded her or maybe her mom felt guilty for saying such harsh words — Alice never knew. A whole week passes in such casual manner — Alice even started to suspect that whole fantasy world was a dream caused by her exhaustion. But there was one thing that proved her theory wrong: — the picture in her album forever changed. There was no Felix — just a lonely tree and an empty flower field. No matter how often she checked — the drawing was always the same. — Alice! Come down! — her mom called her one day at the morning. Yawning profusely, Alice slowly came down to the kitchen, rubbing her sleepy eyes. Something was wrong — her mother was packing the luggage in a hurry, almost burning her breakfast in the process.— What's wrong? Are we going somewhere? — Alice asked in surprise.— No, we aren't. But I do. — Her mom finally turned off the stove. — Mr. Edison called me this morning so I'm leaving on a business trip overseas. It's very important and he'll pay me lots of money.— I see... But isn't that good? — Alice sat down, still trying to process her mother's words.— Incredibly good! But that's not why I called you here, — she sat and quickly shoveled the breakfast in her mouth, checking the clock almost every second. — Since I'll be absent for at least two months... This means you'll be on your own for such long time as well. Will you manage? Should I call Becky to check on you from time to time? Actually, I'll just do that, considering what happened a week ago.Alice was about to protest but the phone rang before her mother could make a call.— This is Molly Bergliez. Yes. sir. Of course, sir. I'm on my way. No worries, sir.The call ended abruptly. Her mom left her unfinished breakfast and rushed to an exit, almost forgetting about her luggage. — Alice, dear, close the door, please! I'm in a hurry! I'll call Becky later, don't worry about that!And thus, she disappeared. Alice could see how her mom rushed to the nearest taxi and jumped in. A minute — and the car was out of her sight completely.Everything happened so fast that Alice didn't even realize what just happened. Only after a solid five minutes it struck her — she was free for at least two months, alone in her apartment, with no one to constantly check on her moves!Well, not completely alone — but she was confident that aunt Becky won't check on her as frequent as her mother wanted to.So, the first thing she did is to lay on the couch in the main room in her night shirt, watching the TV without having breakfast — something her mother would never allow her. She even fell asleep in front of it without locking the apartment. Luckily, nothing bad happened.She spent whole three days doing nothing but being lazy and there was no one to judge her — even aunt Becky wasn't in a hurry to check on her. And yet, the endless loop of junk food and TV shows finally became boring on the forth day — Alice suddenly realized that her sudden freedom wasn't that sweet without any friend to share it with. Her only friend, Susie, was out of town for the whole summer, and her classmates wasn't someone she wanted to invite to her house. It was inevitable — she finally opened her drawing albums once again. As expected, Felix was absent from the picture — at this point Alice wasn't even sure if he ever was there at all. A part of her wanted to touch the flower field with the signed palm but she felt too guilty. What will she say to Felix? She just abandoned those nice people without saying a word — as soon as Felix confessed he spent his whole life searching for her. Well, not exactly for her — but Alice didn't have time to prove him wrong anyway. — I need to apologize at least... — she said to herself but was still reluctant to touch the paper piece. "Isn't that dumb and even crazy?" — she thought to herself, shutting the album and opening it back the very second later. Finally, she jumped out of her bed and rushed downstairs with a pen and a sheet. The words came out easier than she thought: "Auntie, if you find this note — I'm at Susie's place. Do not worry about me. Alice".She put the note on the fridge. Her alibi was perfect — not only her aunt was aware about Susie (her mom mentioned her name at the hospital) but she had no way of contacting her to check on Alice as well. The flowers are watered, the TV is off, the door is locked — Alice had no more excuses to drag the apology any longer. To prevent any second thoughts, she swiftly grabbed the album and stuck her magic hand through the drawing. The world started spinning around her once again as the void slowly took her in.***She woke up at the flowerbed — just like the other time. She hoped it was at the castle as well — it would've been problematic to search for familiar faces on her own. Turns out, she was lucky — there was a door on the other side of the field — the very same one she remembered from the other day. Alice slowly moved towards it — she didn't want to stomp the flowers so she took her time. It was the same corridor — Alice guessed it must've been another gallery inside the castle for whatever reason. Struggling to remember the way she came in here Alice reluctantly moved down the hallway. It was surprisingly empty — no guards, no maids — as if this place was forbidden for common folks. Finally, she stumbled upon familiar door — it was the guest room where she woke up. She was about to come in as she suddenly heard a terrible shriek right around the corner. Alice froze in fear, contemplating whether to hide or check what happened. The scream repeated itself but this time it was much quieter than before — as if someone tried to silence its unfortunate victim. Despite the loud screams, nobody reacted to it — there was no sounds of footsteps or, at least, voices. Without even realizing, Alice rushed down the corridor to check what happened — something she would've never done in her right mind. As soon as she turned the corner she saw a kid — it was Seth — who was strained by weird black substance resembling a massive ivy thorns. The black goo was swiftly devouring him, starting from his face — no wonder the second scream was muffled and there was no third one. — M-m-m-m! — he mumbled in hope as he saw Alice. He tried to reach his hand to the girl but the thorns quickly prevented him from doing that, straining him even harder.Even after so long, no one was coming to save him.Alice couldn't bear the helpless look on his face any longer so she rushed to him at a full speed without any plan. To her surprise, the vines ignored her completely, even after she almost stomped upon them. In the meantime, Seth almost stopped moving — Alice needed to act really quick.— H-Hold on! — she yelled, trying to figure out what to do next. Nothing clever came to mind. — I-I'll release you in a m-minute!Having nothing else to do, Alice furiously grabbed one of the vines with her bare hands in an attempt to move it away. The black substance didn't like that — hissing angrily as if it was alive, it squirmed one of its branches towards Alice, trying to devour her as well. Frightened, she tighten her grip instinctively to the point her signed hand flashed in blinding light. Sh-h-h-h! — the black goo hissed even louder as Alice's bare skin was literally burning because of strange light. She tried to let go but the strange spell didn't let her — instead, it brighten up even harder, making it impossible to see anything at all. A few seconds — which felt like eternity — and both Alice and Seth dropped free on the floor, breathing heavily. The boy was holding his throat — red blood marks from the thorns could easily be seen both on his neck and face. Alice was even more injured — both of her palms were severely burned with the exception of the lunar sign — it was as bright as ever."H-How vexing... H-How do I explain these burns to auntie and mom..?" — was the only thought that troubled her clouded mind.— I'm s-sorry! I'm so sorry! — Seth coughed, trying to stand up. He failed — it seems that his whole body was streaked with wounds, probably to even worse extend than Alice's. — D-Don't... — she whispered in pain, trying not to look at her hands. The pain finally kicked in, making it almost unbearable. She wanted to scream but tried not to make Seth even more uncomfortable. And suddenly — the wall creaked once again. A bunch of pitch-black thorns came back from the crack, immediately targeting weakened Alice. But as soon she raised her hands, a swift slash chopped down the blackness, destroying it completely. She raised her eyes up — it was Felix, who breathed heavily as if he ran a marathon.— Brother! — Seth groaned in relief, falling on his knees once again. — Brother, please... Help the Lunar lady... It was my fault... Please, Felix!— Calm down, Seth, — he commanded calmly as he briefly checked his wounds. It was nothing major. — B-But..!— Worry not, I'm here, — Felix smiled softly as he carefully lifted Alice's palm. The pain suddenly faded away — whether because of some kind of spell or just relief. — I'm sorry for leaving you alone.As soon as Felix said that, he casually lifted her up like some kind of princess.— Huh..? — Alice reacted, embarrassed. Despite her weak attempts to ask to put her down, Felix didn't listen and swiftly carried her to the moon flower gallery. Seth tried to follow them too — Felix must've done something to ease his pain like he did to Alice.— My apologies, — he sighed in guilt. — To think I will be so foolishly tricked by one of Witches' shadows..! She became way too strong if she's able to invade the castle now. I'm not worthy of my title after all...— No, you're not! — Alice exclaimed, to her surprise. She realized her insolence the moment after and continued, mumbling: — I-If it w-weren't for y-you, I'd end up d-dead!— No, my Lunar Princess, — he shook his head in disagreement. — If it weren't for YOU, Seth would've been dead.— T-thank you for saving me, — Seth sobbed, following them from behind. — I-I'm so sorry...— Good thing I didn't wander too far from the gallery, — Felix said as they entered the flower field. — Otherwise I would fail to find you both in time."Didn't wander too far..? But I was absent for about a week, wasn't I?" — the sudden realization flashed through her mind so she asked aloud:— Um-m-m... How long were you away, exactly..?— For about ten minutes, I think..? — Felix answered, surprised by her random question. — Does it matter?— Ten minutes, huh... — she mumbled to herself and then asked another question: — And for how long was I asleep..?— For about a week! — Seth answered proudly, glad he can be useful as well.— I-I see... It seems time flew differently in this realm. This fact can become extremely handy during future visits.— We finally arrived, — Felix announced in formal tone. As soon as he said that he carefully put Alice down on the flowerbed — right beneath the giant moon tree — or at least, Alice thought it was a moon tree. — Do not move and let the Elder Tree to heal your wounds. Seth, come here too.— I know, I know! — he mumbled to himself as he sat beneath its branches.The warm blue light gently poured though the leaves, putting her soul at ease. Somehow, its warmth felt oddly familiar — as if Alice forgot something extremely important. But it didn't matter now — her wounds stopped to hurt completely. She looked down at her hands — the scary burn marks were completely gone. At least it was one less problem to explain to her auntie.— Thank you, — the prince said as he bowed before the tree. Seth did the same.— I know I have no rights to ask you anything after I failed you, — he then continued, talking to Alice this time, — but please... You need to check on my father! He's suffering from the "decaying sun" illness and you're the only one who can save him! — as soon as he said that he fell on his knees begging Alice for her mercy.— Huh..? You mean t-t-the king himself?! — she exclaimed in sheer horror.— Of course! — he answered without looking up. — Please, Your Grace, help us once again!This was the moment Alice regretted coming back to this world the most. She even contemplated running away through the album but it was too late for that. She had no choice but to play her role to the very end.Bookmark here

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