Continuing Tales

If I Apologised

A MirrorMask Story
by Caitastrophe8499

Part 18 of 29

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"Are you sure?" Helena asked quietly, staring at her clasped hands.

The council, including the Queen, the Prime Minister, the Judge, the Librarian, and Drag, sat at their benches, though the room was empty of the crowd. Helena was the only one still left on the floor, though she wasn't in the podium any longer. She tried to avoid looking at it, recalling how it felt to list out all of her mistakes for the whole world - minus one - to listen to.

"Yes," the Prime Minister answered, his frown clear even through his mask.

Helena wasn't so convinced. "But-"

"Look, girl," the Judge cut in, his voice assured and allowing no argument, "you wanted to be put on trial. You wanted us to judge you and we have. You wouldn't have questioned us so much if we had decided the other way."

She nodded a little. "I know."

"Then trust us with this," he announced, standing up and starting for the door. "Though," he added, hesitating with his papers in his hands, "perhaps you should take some time for self-reflection to discover why a sentence of not guilty fills you with such discomfort."

He left, leaving Helena reeling slightly with his statement.

The others started to follow him out of the room, leaving just the Queen and Drag behind. They came down the stairs, joining Helena on the floor.

"But I did consort with the enemy," Helena commented quietly as they got closer.

"You spoke with Valentine," Drag pointed out, leaning on the chair next to her. "I'm not certain he could be labeled the enemy."

"I never wanted you to be tried in the first place," the Queen added in. "The Princess caused this war. The deaths are on her hands."

"But I gave her the tools and opportunity," Helena admitted for the second time today. "If I hadn't been so selfish, I could have stopped this before it ever began."

"Yeah, you only risked your life to stop her now. That's not worth anything," Drag drawled.

"I'm being serious," Helena said, glancing at him.

"So am I," Drag said. "Judge has the right of it. You feel guilty, but not for what happened in the Battle. Maybe you should figure it out in the next few weeks."

"And about that," Helena said, looking at the Queen and avoiding Drag's uncomfortable observation, "are you certain?"

"Are you questioning me?" the Queen asked with a faint smile.

"No. Well...a little, yeah."

"I think it'll be good for you. It gives you something to do while keeping you out of the limelight for a while. It'll give you some time to recover and think. I believe it will do a world of good," she answered, sounding certain.

Helena didn't argue again, but nodded. "I won't disappoint you."

"You never have." The Queen looked towards the door, "Would you like to inform Valentine of the ruling?"

"I'm not sure that's a good idea," Helena commented, recalling the anger in Valentine's eyes while she questioned him, pulling out the information he hadn't wanted to release.

The Queen glanced back at her, "You two are very strong. You'll be alright."

Helena forced a smile. "I'd best go and help the others pack up."

The Queen nodded and Helena escaped into the hallway, hurrying to her room.

The old Valentine would have paced in his cell anxiously, wondering not only about his sentence, but Helena's as well. But he would have been laughed at, caught unaware and unprepared.

Instead, Valentine reclined against the wall, throwing one of his juggling balls against the opposite wall and catching it as it flew back.

Bounce, catch.

Bounce, catch.

Bounce, catch.

Calm, collected, unruffled.

When the door to his room opened, Valentine didn't so much as flinch. "Back again, Creator?"

"Not quite."

Valentine caught his ball, turning to see the Queen of Light walk into his room and settle herself onto the bed.

He had to admit, despite not looking as though it had, he was slightly ruffled. He rolled the ball between his hands, giving him an excuse to look away from her piercing eyes. "Hello," he said.

"I quite enjoyed your show, earlier," she said, straightening her dress. "I have to say, you had us all quite convinced until Helena stood up."

He didn't respond.

"It's admirable, what you're trying to do," the Queen said, still staring at her dress instead of him.

Valentine swallowed, then made himself smirk, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Just because there's no stone, that doesn't mean I don't know when you're lying, my dear juggler."

He met her eyes, without flinching this time. She didn't glare or accuse or force him to say anything, she just looked at him.

"The Council reached a decision."

"Figured. So when do I take that shot drop and sudden stop?" he smiled callously. He wouldn't ask about other decisions like those of the soldiers' or Creator's fate.

"You don't."

He took a few breaths, keeping the calm.

She continued, those eyes still on him. "You were judged innocent, Valentine. Not guilty of any charges."

"I'm not innocent."

She smiled, looking away from him. Valentine found that he could breathe a little deeper without those eyes on him. "How interesting."


"Such a strong abhorrence to innocence today, is all," she said vaguely. "However, due to the nature of your activities, I'm asking you to complete a difficult task for me. To help the country recover from the Battle. To give the Shadow soldiers a chance to recover. To give everyone a moment to breathe."

"What do you need me to do?" he asked.

"You would be charged with the responsibility of recovering and rehabilitating the Shadow Kingdom. That includes not only the castle and the surrounding areas, but the inhabitants, those who were deemed innocent in their trials, and the others assigned to work here. You'll work directly with the regent, who'll be the acting monarch of the kingdom until I deem it's been sufficiently recuperated."

"If I refuse?"

The Queen looked startled, "I'll be disappointed?"

Valentine's surprised frown wasn't completely smothered.

"You'll find no threats here, Valentine," the Queen said gently. "No abuse. No torture or pain. Should you accept, I will hold you to your word until it's been completed. However, you can also choose not to do this, and you'll be free to rejoin society or take to your Tower and fly off into the distance," she said. "It's up to you."

He was ready to decline.

"Of course," she added, "if you feel the remorse I know you do, then I'm almost certain you'll take this responsibility. Despite your claims to the contrary, you're not an awful man. You're an incredible one."

"I'm not," he responded, wishing he could choke the words down, but finding they slipped out anyway.

"You may not see it right now, but I do. And I'm not the only one," she said with a smile. The subject changed quickly. "Your decision?"

Valentine stared at the colored sphere in his hands. He should run. He should run and never come back. That's what the awful man would do. The Princess' Val. He would run away from it all and them all and her, and never look back. He wouldn't care that this damage had been his doing and the soldiers suffered because of what he'd done and what he'd failed to do. He wouldn't have any remorse.

He wished he could be that awful man.

"I'll do it," he agreed quietly.

"I'm glad to hear it. The rest of us will be leaving tomorrow, back to the City of Light to begin rebuilding there," she said, standing. "You'll meet the others tomorrow morning."

Valentine nodded, still staring at his hands.

He nearly jumped when the Queen put her hand on his shoulder, "Should you need anything, Valentine, anything at all, please don't hesitate to contact me."

"I won't need anything."

"I owe you my life, juggler," she said with a smile. "Everyone does. Soon that'll sink in."

He forced a smiled as she let go of him. "People tend to hold grudges against the man who ruined their lives."

"I meant it'll sink in for you."

She left the room, leaving the door open and calling the guards away.

Valentine watched them leave, walking down the hallway after the Queen and vanishing around the corner.

He waited.

And waited.

And...they didn't come back.

Valentine got to his feet, leaving his juggling balls on his bed and walked towards the open door. He stopped just before the jamb, glancing up and down the hallway.

No one was there.

No one was watching.

No one was waiting for him to misstep.

No one was keeping him where he didn't want to stay.

Valentine stepped over the threshold.

No one stopped him.

He let out the breath he hadn't known he'd been holding in and didn't bother to stem the smile that spread across his face.


Helena waved as the Tower left with the last carriage of goods finally from the Shadow Kingdom's courtyard. It had been an enormous parade as the Queen left the kingdom but, three hours later, the only people left were those who were to stay to help fix up the Land of Shadows.

And Helena.

The new regent of the Shadow Kingdom.

She still didn't like that title. Or the idea. But everyone else seemed to be in favor of it.

Her fingers clenching and unclenching in her pockets, Helena hid the nerves that had been building up since yesterday afternoon, when the Queen had decided this for her. About thirty people in all stayed behind.

Helena tried not to dwell on the fact that the number was so low because that's all that survived of the Shadow Army once the re-animated soldiers collapsed.

"Ready, regent?" Mags asked from her side.

"Stop calling me that," Helena ordered for the fiftieth time, still happy that the small soldier had been among the ones who'd chosen to stay.

"But you are," Laurel pointed out.

Nodd piped in, "Can't deny it."

Helena rolled her eyes at her friends, then sighed. "Can't put it off any longer. Let's meet our new best friends and get the basics out of the way."

"Still not loving this idea," Nodd muttered, falling into place behind her.

"You could've left," Laurel said from Helena's other side.

Helena let the two of them bicker and spoke quietly to Mags. "I'm not sure how to handle this."

"Just be yourself. And don't take any shit from anyone."

Helena chuckled, finding the advice unhelpful, but her friends brought her some comfort.

"Where are we meeting them? Throne room?" Nodd asked.

Helena shook her head, "No, I'm not a queen. Mags told them to gather in the kitchen."

It was on the ground floor, down the hall from the huge dining room. Helena wanted to avoid that, too. So, kitchen it was.

She pushed the door open, noting that the noise immediately stopped as she walked in. She tried not to let that affect her, standing near the front of the room. Noting that Mags, Laurel, and Nodd sat with the few others from their squad who chose to stay rather than any of the Shadow soldiers, Helena pulled her hair back. At least she didn't have to worry about getting their attention - every eye was fixed on her.

Helena had a brief idea of making an inspiring speech that would make all of them thrilled to help her. That was quickly squashed as she looked over the tired, stubborn, angry, guilty faces that lined the tables. These weren't warriors looking for a battle speech. These were people looking for forgiveness.

Helena started quietly, "Most of us are here because we aren't quite ready to start our lives out there. We might feel guilty about what we've done or didn't do. Or a little lost and a little nervous about what's waiting out there. But we're all here because we want to change that. We want to change ourselves. So from this point forward, there won't be any talk of Shadows versus Light. We aren't soldiers anymore, we're just people."

No one was yelling at her yet, so she kept going. "Everyone is going to pull their weight. That means everyone gets kitchen duty. Everyone gets laundry duty. Everyone helps. Everyone works. That being said, if you prefer something over another, let me know and I'll do my best to work it out. In fact, any questions or concerns can be addressed to myself or Mags over there."

Mags smiled encouragingly at her and Helena took a breath. "We're going to have to jump right into this. Today we'll focus on getting everyone a room to sleep in and making sure it's safe and clean, taking inventory of what we have and what we need, and getting into a schedule. But for now, does anyone have any questions?"

A hand in the front went up.

"My name's Ginny. Do you mean we're all here, working together to fix this place up? Why aren't we leveling it and starting over?"

Helena faced the brown-masked girl with the red hair. "The easy answer is, there may be dangerous things within this castle and we don't want those coming up as we knock it down, or a hundred years from now when there's a new town here."

"And the hard answer?" Ginny asked.

"We need the Shadow Kingdom."

"We don't need this hellhole!" cried a soldier in the back.

Others began agreeing with him and Helena raised her voice slightly. "Look, I know the Princess twisted this place. But how many of you grew up here?"

At least half the hands went up.

"And was it always like this?" she asked them.

Most of them answered with no's or shakes of their heads.

"The Princess, and the Queen before her, ruined this place. The Shadow Kingdom was never meant to be a bad place. This world needs balance. The Light needs the Shadow. So we're going to turn this place back into what it was meant to be. An equal balance for the Light. Not worse or better, just different."

A single hand rose up after the silence her remark created.

"Yeah? What's your name?"

"Finley, ma'am."

Helena smiled, "Just Helena. No ma'am."

He nodded, his blue-grey mask covering the left side of his face. "Helena. You're the Creator. What in the name of the dark are you doing here with us?"

Her smile faded as she looked at Finley. His clothes were too large for him and his arm was in a sling. He'd been wounded in the Battle. Perhaps by one of her friends. Perhaps by her. "Like I said," she reiterated quietly, "we're here to change." She moved them along, "Anyway, enjoy breakfast. Choose your rooms from the next floor and clear them out as best you can before lunch. Afterwards, we'll work on getting clothes, bedding, and bathroom sorted out."

She nodded and smiled at them as they tucked in, walking up and down the aisles and introducing herself to each of them. Most of the names she'd have to be reminded of, but she wanted them to look at her as a person, not some lofty regent.

Finishing with her introductions, Helena turned to leave, anxious to get started, and saw a familiar robed figure leaning against the door.

Not wanting to turn back, to let him know that she was uncertain when it came to him, Helena continued towards the door, pausing as Valentine remained where he was, blocking the exit.

She tried on a smile, "Glad to see you up and about."

"I didn't know you were the new regent."

So much for small talk. "It happened rather quickly. Yesterday, in fact."

"I wouldn't have stayed if I'd known."

Her smile slid. "I'm sorry to disappoint you. Excuse me."

He moved aside, but not very far. Helena brushed against his good arm and swallowed. What she wouldn't give for the dream Valentine to wrap her in a hug and tell her things would be okay. Now, she had to go it alone, making things up as she went and hoping she wouldn't ruin anyone's life even more than she already had.

But she couldn't just pretend he didn't exist. They had to work together. She stopped, a safe distance away, and turned. "I was happy to hear about your trial. I knew you weren't guilty."

"Did you, now?" he asked.

"Yes," she said firmly.

"How is it that you ended up here?" he questioned her. "I thought only the non-guilty-but-guilty-feelers ended up here."

"Guess you just answered your own question," Helena stated, turning on her heel. "See you at lunch, Valentine."

If I Apologised

A MirrorMask Story
by Caitastrophe8499

Part 18 of 29

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