Chapter 2:

A Princess, an Artist, and a Blank Canvas

Ad Novum Initium

18:30 - September 13, 3756 - 12 Years after reset (12 A.R.)

New Pastoria Kingdom - Province 1 - Imperial Palace - Interior Living Quarters

Bland would be too vague a word to describe the walls that made up my room. White—Pure white—not off-white. Day in-day out, I stare at these blank walls. My bed frame—white, my sheets—white, the cold marble floors, buffed to a high luster—but still white. White drapes enclose my bed, hermetically sealing me away in this white prison.

A single window allows for natural light to shine through. Beyond is the sky, the plain blue sky above—giving this insipid white prison a tinge of color. Beyond the window is a false balcony, similar to myself—just for show, serving no real purpose.

For an hour every day though, this changes. The bright red rays shine through the window, spilling its blood across the dull featureless walls. Just for this hour every day, my room glows vividly. During this period and only during this period, I appreciate the tasteless white walls; The artist descends from his perch high-in-the-sky, painting the blank canvas an illustrious red.

Two polite taps on my door disrupts the peace, followed by a familiar soft voice.

“Miss Annaliese?”

I wince as the soles of my feet touch the cold marble floor. I toss my annoyingly long golden locks over my shoulder. The ends of my white frilly gown drag as I approach the door.

“I’ve brought dinner.” The voice on the other side of the door continued.

As I open the door I’m immediately greeted by the scent of cream of mushroom soup. My least favorite. The lifeless gunk in front of me was accented with thyme and had more color than my boring white prison.

“Thank you, Angela.” I thanked her before taking the sludge from her hands.

Instead of bowing and excusing herself, she stood nervously, looking as if she wanted to say something. I shot her a questioning glance, urging her to speak up.

“…Um, I’ve been ordered to watch over you as you eat.” Her voice shook anxiously.

I opened the door wider, stepping to the side and signaling her towards the small white table by the window. She bowed slightly before entering.

She pulled out a chair and waited as I approached.

“You’re my guest in this room, please drop the maid-formalities.”

She hesitated for a second, like she was about to retort, but she knew I wouldn’t take no for an answer. She squatted down into the chair, her posture rigid and tense.

I took a seat in front of her, setting the muck down on the table. My parents were right to make Angela supervise me, I wouldn’t have eaten it otherwise. I grabbed the spoon and dipped it into the soup, the thick top layer tearing as I dug into it. I lifted the spoon to my mouth and took a small sip, grimacing as the ooze slid down my throat.

“Have you been outside the palace recently?” I asked Angela, breaking the awkward silence.

“I went and visited my family in the 4th province last week, Miss Annaliese.” She replied politely.

“Call me Anna and drop the formalities.”

She hesitated again before correcting herself.

“The 4th province is the mountainous territory, right?”

“Yes, it is.”

“I never pictured you to be a mountain girl.”

Again, I had never seen the mountains nor the people from there so I had no way of knowing what a true ‘mountain person’ is.

“I moved to the 1st for work at a young age and ended up here.” She kept her polite tone.

I nodded, showing I understood as I took small sips of the soup.

I had never actually had a conversation with her. There was an entire assortment of maids that worked around the palace and up until a year ago the rotations changed and I’ve been getting maids at random ever since. I personally don’t want or need a maid, but people do need to work.

We sat in silence for what felt like an eternity as I slowly continued on my soup.

“Tell me about the mountains.”

“What about them?” She seemed confused.

“I’ve never been.” I replied curtly.

To be honest never in my life had I seen outside the 1st province. I only left the palace on several occasions for which I was chained to my parents or a maid with direct orders that prevented me from exploring.

Still confused, but compliant, she started a detailed and comprehensive description of the entire 4th province. Before I knew it, the muck had run dry and my spoon was clinking against the white ceramic bowl.

08:22 - September 14, 3756 - 12 Years after reset (12 A.R.)

New Pastoria Kingdom - Province 1 - Imperial Palace - East Wing Library

I knew something was up. My father, the King of New Pastoria, fully exhausted all of his time in leisurely activities. Whether it be the ancient game of golf, where you use a stick to hit a ball into a hole, or getting drunk and passing out in the palace bar. Lately he hasn’t been doing these things which either means he’s gotten himself together or there’s an issue with the country. The latter is more likely.

Prior to the events that took place twelve years ago, my family ran a small seafood market on the coast of what used to be eastern Europe. My father would take me out on a boat to fish every evening—not for work. Whatever we caught then would either be released, or eaten for dinner. We’d laugh and talk, play board games, try to make sense of the shapes of clouds, father and daughter activities.

At the time, I was too young to help with the family business. The most I did was help clean or act as the cute store mascot. My dad would do the fishing and prep work, while my mom did the majority of the selling. My mom also taught me how to read and write—she’d read me a story every night before bed as well.

I walked down the long aisle, books of all kinds and colors lined the shelves. I read mostly to overcome boredom. My parents have put me on a pedestal, making it hard for me to make friends within the palace. It was made a law for all citizens, including nobles, to honor my presence with silence and a polite greeting or bow. Not only is it difficult to make genuine connections, but I can feel the envy of others. They believe I have it all, when in reality I have nothing. That might be an exaggeration, I have a lot, and I don’t mean to take it for granted.

I continued to walk down the aisles looking for something to read. With the passing of the digital age, finding intact hard copies of original books was no easy feat.

I reached for a book that caught my attention and felt something brush the side of my hand.

To my left was a boy, no older than me. I’d never seen him before, I knew for sure because there was no one in the palace with black hair. I made eye contact with him, expecting some wild apology like most did even for something as minor as this.

The boy said nothing. I didn’t know how to react, I hadn’t experienced something like this in years. Instead, he took the book I was reaching for and flipped through the pages, completely ignoring me.

“H-Hey!” Taken aback, I let my reaction slip through my teeth.

He looked over at me and gave me a questioning look.

“Do you know wh-“ I quickly halted my words. “Could I see that after you?” I asked politely.

“Yeah of course,” he replied. “Are you a fan of Oscar Wilde?”

It was rare to find someone who knew their books, especially someone my age.

“Yes, I am.”

“The library here has an enormous collection, I’ve never seen anything like it.” His dead eyes glimmered for a second. “I’ve read this one already.”

He handed the book over to me.

“I definitely have to come back here in my free time.” He said before turning and walking off.

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