Too overburdened, I decided to take a walk. I had had trouble sleeping thanks to the Queen’s nervous breakdowns. She tested me question after question, reminding me of every manner, and forcing me to repeat an action until I had perfected it. I had curtsied too many times that my knees and my waist had grown sore. Still, I had no intention of lying awake in my bedroom, being alone in the darkness, which reminded me of those times when it was too dim to even sleep or too vivid to say I had been dreaming. Even when I was awake though, I could barely concentrate, and so to clear my mind, I escaped in the middle of the night.
          I walked to wherever I could and in the end, I stumbled upon creatures . . . or more like, ravenous Leogartos that had completely surrounded me. Leogartos was a hybrid between a lion and a singular species of alligator, the Urcisian Alligator, found only in Urcis. It had a head and the feet of a lion, along with an elongated, steel-like tail and jaws of an alligator. Until now, I had only seen drawings of such a beautiful, yet deadly creature. 

          I had ventured to a forbidden area, the area where the Leogartos were housed, the area known as Cerebus’ Swamp. The leader of the Leogartos assumed the role of Cerebus, the Devil’s Dog, and its function was to lead the creatures to protect the army and attack the enemies. The problem was that if the alpha Leogartos did not recognize one’s scent or breath, the person would be deemed as an enemy and in turn, annihilated. Knowing that I was better off standing still than moving, I closed my eyes and prayed that they would not sense me. Maybe, their eyes were not so effective in the dark. To my dismay, the alpha Leogartos had howled, beckoning his minions to charge towards me. I thought I would die, but instead, I heard striking whistles, and then saw the creatures retreating.
          “Are you all right?” I heard a crisp voice echoing in the cool, night air.
          “I-I-I think so,” I murmured while watching the approaching figure. “I-I-I better go now.” I suddenly remembered what the Queen had said before. She had told me not to meet anyone for the time being, and if she knew about this, she surely would punish me.
          Unfortunately, I had tripped backwards, and although the boy had caught onto my wrist, I had managed to lull him into the grimy bog with me. We were quickly sinking in the mud, and he must have sensed my anxiety for he noted, “Don’t be scared, Little One. Just step back slowly, and pull one of your legs out. Good. Now, pull the other out, and roll out until you reach the surface.”
          When I finally reached my destination, I heard a different sort of whistle from him, and the alpha Leogartos had emerged and bit his collar to hull him out of the bog. Then, he carried me until we reached a large pond. Carefully dropping me into the pool of water, he instructed, “Soak yourself clean, and then I will too.”
          He turned the other way and never peeped at me. When it was his turn, he bathed alongside the Leogarto. I took the chance to further examine his features. He had a delightful smile with a few crooked teeth and his wavy hair, I noticed, resembled the colour of a lion’s mane. From his gentle visage, I speculated that he was only sixteen or seventeen.
          “You know it’s rude to stare,” he lightheartedly joked.
          “Sorry,” I mumbled.
          He uttered before diving down to submerge himself with fresh water, “You also should know that you shouldn’t be out so late at night. It’s not safe for little ones like you.”
          I was tempted to say that I wasn’t little at all, but one glimpse at my petite hands reminded me of my tiny stature. “I-I just never had the chance to walk around the castle grounds,” I moped.
          “I’ll take you home now then,” he announced while swimming towards the shore with the animal. The Leogartos started to bark at me and even growl once he placed me in a position forcing me to rest my chin on his shoulder and to grab at his neck for support. “Don’t worry, Cerebus won’t bite. He just doesn’t know your scent yet. Here, extend one of your hands out for him to smell,” he suggested.
          Listening to his advice, I released my right arm from his neck. Soon, Cerebus sniffled, but almost bit me when his nostril touched my finger tips. The boy chuckled, “Cerebus, don’t purposely scare her. She’s just a little girl.” Using its nose, Cerebus nudged my hand, to which the boy translated, “He wants you to pet him.”
          The boy lowered me to Cerebus’ height, and I softly brushed my hand along its cheek a few times. “He’s not so bad,” I murmured.
          “He’s just a tad defensive,” the boy replied, “but, he seems to have taken a liking to you. Usually, he hates it when strangers stroke his cheek.”
          “Anyhow, I think it is time for you to go home,” he added. “Cerebus, I’ll see you soon.”
          “Bye,” I mumbled.
          He had now held me so closely that I could feel the iciness of the water saturating the fabric around my chest region, which was pressing against the bottom of his shoulder blade. He must have sensed the chilliness from his skin transferring to mine for he muttered, “I apologize for making your clothes damp.”
          A gentleman, he was. Surprisingly, I felt protected in this stranger’s arms. I didn’t even ask how he knew where I lived. I didn’t even ask for his name. I only asked once he gently placed me on the ground, “Will I see you again?” I never would have asked that question before, but after I realized how effortless it was to lose a friend, I knew it was appropriate to pose such an inquiry.    
          He just smiled, revealing his disoriented teeth. “If you remember the way, then you’ll find me there, Princess.”
          This boy knew who I was, but how? No one else besides the Queen and Marie had seen me.
          Marie had appeared at the entrance of my chamber, shrieking, “Princess! Where have you been? I woke up in the night, and I checked your room, and . . . Your Highness, you are all wet! We must have you changed before you catch a cold!”
          Such a familiar phrase, I sighed and collapsed in Marie’s arms.
          I saw him waiting in front of the school entrance with an umbrella in his hand. He was dressed in all black, complete with a suit, and briefcase, and in his other hand was a bouquet of lilies. I knew I should have just passed by him without mustering a word, yet I felt obligated to say, “Alanna is at a council meeting, so she won’t be done until five.”
          “I know,” he murmured.
          “Then, why are you still standing here? It’s only four,” I retorted.
          “Why are you standing in the rain then?” he asked. “You’re going to catch a cold this way.”
          “Why do you even care?” I glared at him. “Why . . . did you even paint me?”
          “So, you saw it.” He placed his umbrella above me, soaking himself, instead, with droplets of rain. “Did you like it?” he confirmed.
          “I didn’t understand,” I confessed, “the reason behind your message. What . . . do you want from me?”
          He whispered in my ear before handing me the umbrella’s handle, “I wanted to draw my dreams, so that I would never forget them and you would—“
          “Renelle, sorry about that! I was caught up with soccer practice,” Thayne panted. He then snatched the black umbrella from me, and I could feel his hand drenching in sweat and rain.
          I knew I should have faced him, but my eyes were more concerned with the dark figure blurring with the droplets of water. I thought I heard Eury say, “You should get changed before having that date with your boyfriend . . . unless you’d like to catch a cold.”
          “Renelle!” Thayne had to wave his hand in front of my face several times until I finally reacted.
          “Who were you looking at?”
          “N-no one.”
          “Don’t lie to me,” he urged. “Who was that man you were talking to?”
          “Just Alanna’s brother.”
          “The guy who painted that portrait of that lady who looked like you?” Thayne continued to interrogate. “At that art gallery Alanna made us go to?”
          “What a creep,” Thayne harked and gripped my hand too tensely that I wanted to squirm free. “You should stay away from him. I’ve heard a lot of bad rumours about him. Did you know he used to go to our school?”
          “Well, from what I’ve heard, he’s brilliant, you know, incredibly talented at designing software, and making websites, and painting . . . but . . .”
          “But what?”
          “Extremely antisocial, awkward, and troubled. I’m pretty sure that’s why Alanna and Xander never invite us over. I mean . . . who would want to be known to have that kind of weirdo in the house?”
          I remembered clenching my fist and harking, “Thayne! You shouldn’t say those things! You don’t even know him that well.”
          “And you do?” he scoffed, folding his arms in contempt, and when I didn’t respond to his speed, he added, “I still can’t believe you asked him to be your model! You should have just asked me.”
          “I didn’t think you’d have time, and you said you never cared about art,” I halted to say, swinging my arm away from him as well.
          “I don’t, but isn’t it weirder for you to paint another guy other than your boyfriend?” He again clung onto my palm.
          I believed that was our first argument as a couple, and I remembered ending our fight by agreeing to paint him next time. I never kept my promise and instead, I never touched a paintbrush nor did I ever draw a portrait again. I chose to draw still-life, architecture or nature. As for Eury, I saw his final art exhibition during his graduating year of university and my last year of high school. He had painted a morbid ocean, which had waves resembling a tsunami, engulfing a lady in grey. Again, there was the translucent hand diving deep into the waters to cradle the woman. He titled it: “Lost in a Rainy Day”.
           I had already awakened from my slumber and was now gazing out the window of my bedroom now, and there it was, pounding rain battering against the glass. It was raining too hard that I could barely see the night sky or my reflection. I exhaled deeply, knowing that I was lost in a rainy day.
Chapter 8                                                                             Chapter 10