Continuing Tales

If I Apologised

A MirrorMask Story
by Caitastrophe8499

Part 2 of 29

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His first year in the City of Shadows was bad.

Valentine'd had bad years before this. The year of perpetual winter. The year his mother returned him to the no one he was bought from. The year he lost a fish in his Tower and couldn't remember where.

This was worse. Worser. Worst.

It had started out bad, what with Helena returning and then vanishing once more. Permanently. Because of him. That was bad. Very bad.

He hadn't thought it was possible, but it got worse after that.

She had him bring his Tower to the outskirts of the Shadow Kingdom. Then he was told to stay, like a dog. She walked out and vanished into the dark, heading towards her mother's castle with the MirrorMask in her hands.

He thought about leaving a thousand times in those two days. But every time he did, he remembered the spider on his wrist. The one that would kill him when she found out he disobeyed. The one that would kill anyone around him if he tried to find someone to help him. Valentine thought about it, but never moved.

He was scared of the Princess. He was just more scared of dying.

On the morning of the second day, Valentine was driven from his bed by the most horrible screams he'd ever heard. He went to the window and gaped to see thousands and thousands of birds circling where the Shadow Castle was.

He watched the birds circle higher and higher until, with a final, ear-pressing screech, they all exploded. Shreds of shadows wafted down, lost among the branches of the trees.

When the Princess returned that afternoon, she was flanked by her mother's guards. Only they weren't obeying her mother.

"What did you do?" Valentine asked her as she entered his Tower.

"Asserted myself," she said.

"And the Queen?" he asked, earning glares from the guards.

"She was persuaded to step down," she said, shutting the door behind her. "Take us to the castle."

The Tower did as it was ordered, both it and Valentine knowing they didn't have a choice. They stopped in the courtyard and Valentine was painfully reminded about how much he hated the black, uneven castle.

"Come on," she said, leaving the Tower. Valentine knew better than to dawdle. He rested his hand on the door jamb for a minute before stepping out. Two guards stayed at the door, effectively smothering any inklings of sneaking away.

The Princess led the way inside. Valentine, following her and flanked by guards, tried to keep track of where the front door was, but the hallways wound and twisted until he barely knew which way was up. The Princess never seemed to falter, but then again she was raised here. She led the way to a set of double doors and pushed them open to reveal the throne room.

Valentine felt the bile rise in his throat at the scene in front of him. The throne was spattered with black ichor and feathers. What remained of the Queen was lying partway on the throne and the floor, as if she'd slipped out of it. Her chest and stomach were bowed out, as if something had been expelled with enough force to rip her open. Her fingers still clutched a cup. Around her, guards lay in their armor, unmoving. Valentine stared at them, realizing that the seams of their armor had been sealed shut. Even their visors. They would have suffocated. Other people, courtiers mostly, were scattered around the room. Some of the unmoving, some of them cowering on the floor, obviously too scared to run. There were about fifty people in the room and a good thirty of them were already dead.

Valentine watch the Princess walk through the massacre, a faint smile on her face. She enjoyed this. He felt sick just looking at her.

The Princess smiled at the body of her mother, "Anyone for seconds?"

"You did this?" Valentine asked, already knowing the answer.

"Of course." She walked over to one of the guards, nudging him with a toe.

"She was your mother."

"She was in my way. And she was weak." The Princess turned to look at him. "She could have taken this world from the Queen of Light. Instead, she concerned herself with the balance. I'm going to tip the scales."

"By murdering people?"

She tilted her head, "How else did you think world domination was going to go?"

Turning back towards the guard, the Princess leaned over his sealed visor and with a wave of her hand, unsealed it. She slid it open, revealing a discolored face and bulging blue eyes. Valentine wanted to look away in disgust, but then the Princess breathed out, a black cloud expelling from her lips to slide into the nose, eyes and mouth of the dead guard. She sat back on her heels as his body convulsed. It was like a nightmare as the guard sat up slowly. His eyes were now black and his jaw hung open. The Princess slid his visor back down and sealed it again. The guard stood up and went to what must have been his old position at the side of the throne. The Princess went to the other thirty-some-odd bodies and did the same to them, waking the dead men up to stand guard again.

She pointed at two of them, "Remove the late Queen."

They shuffled over to the throne, picking up the body with no dignity or emotion and dragging her out of the room, leaving a tarry, black smear in her wake.

"If there are any questions as to how further betrayals will be handled, ask now," the Princess said, walking up to stand on the dais where her mother reigned not twenty minutes ago.

The dead guards, the living guards, the courtiers that hadn't run or been cut down - none of them made a sound.

"I am now your Queen. Refer to me as such if you must address me." She adjusted her skirts so as to reveal the MirrorMask on her hip.

Not a whisper from anyone.

"I advise against trying to leave the Land of Shadows or contacting anyone outside of these walls," she said. "I will consider it a personal slight..."

Valentine saw one of the guards swallow nervously.

"..and will return the slight onto your family and friends." She looked around at everyone in the room. "Am I clear?"

There was a quiet murmur of assent.

"Excellent. Guards, take Val to his rooms. Remain there and make sure he doesn't go wandering. The rest of you, come with me. We'll do a sweep through the castle and hunt down anyone who would plot against my reign."

Valentine was pushed to turn around and walk out of the hall. He didn't bother trying to figure out which way they were taking him. He just wanted out of that room. None of the dead guards accompanied him, for which he was grateful.

They went up three flights of winding stairs before the guards stopped at a room. They opened the door, shoved him inside and closed it behind him. There was no sound of a lock. Valentine waited a moment and then opened it. The guards outside his door turned and stared at him.

"Just checking," Valentine said.

The guards stared at him.

He slowly shut the door and stepped away from it.

So this was his cell.

Not exactly as important as he would have liked, but it was better than other cells he'd been in. There was a tiny window, with bars so close that he couldn't fit his arm through, but allowed for some fresh air to permeate the room. A small cot was shoved into one of the corners and a chest too heavy for him to move rested against the wall. There was a pillow on the bed and blankets folded up at the end of it. The mattress looked to be mostly clean. He rubbed at the spider absently, rolling his eyes as it hissed.

Valentine sat down on the bed. So here he was. A prisoner of the Princess-turned-Queen. He was under guard here. His Tower guarded outside. Dead-but-not guards roaming the halls. The Queen murdered by her daughter. Now said daughter was on a mission to take over the entire world. Things were definitely not looking good. In fact, he could probably call this as bad as he'd even had it. He couldn't imagine things getting wors-

Someone screamed outside his door and Valentine jumped up, staring at the solid wood that separated him from the hall. They screamed again and the sound of metal came pounded down the halls in a regulated fashion.

The guards were hunting.

Valentine jumped as someone else joined the first screamer. He retreated to the window of his room and started to hum. First quietly, and then louder, trying to drown out the screaming. More and more joined in, cornered out in front of his door. He wondered if she had planned it that way. Made it so he would hear every scream as it was suddenly cut off. So that he could smell the metallic smell that kept growing stronger.

He hummed louder, finally resorting to singing whatever inane song that had popped into his head in an attempt to pretend he didn't know what was happening.

He took out his set of juggling balls, concentrating on them and the song, blocking out everything else as best he could.

"...don't let them see you're afraid," he hummed, eyes on the spheres.

It was a long time before it was quiet enough for him to go to sleep.

It was a few days after that before the Princess herself came to his room. He was just glad he'd gotten up and dressed before she opened the door. He looked over, but didn't bother to get up off his bed. She was flanked by two of the dead guards. He couldn't see any red stains in the hall beyond her, but he knew they had been there.



One of his guards, a live one, corrected him, "The Queen, prisoner."

"Princess is fine," she told them. "Let's go for a walk."

"No thanks. I burn," he said.

"I'm not asking."

He swallowed and stood up. The Princess led the way out of his room. It was only when she had gotten down a flight of stairs that he realized the guards weren't with them. He glanced behind him, wondering if maybe he could get-

"You'll be lost in a second. And then I'd have to kill you," the Princess commented without looking back.

"Like you did half the castle already?" he asked. It was under his breath, but since there wasn't another living person in the halls he may as well have shouted it.

She glanced over her shoulder, "Isn't it much better this way? Now, I can trust everyone within these walls. With one exception." The Princess pushed open the door to a room.

There was a glass pane in front of them, but it didn't reveal the outside. Just another small room lined with boxes around a small platform. A door opened in the room and a courtier was shoved in, his quills shaking in terror.

"This is a dissenter," the Princess said, sounding at ease. "I've killed most of others, but I think he can be salvaged."

Valentine watched as the door was shut. The courtier wandered over to the platform, looking around. Faint music started and the courtier seemed to calm down, until his eyes drifted half closed. The boxes opened up and these...robots came out of them, brushing the courtier's quills and face, all the while singing.

"What are they doing?" he asked, trying not to sound as uncomfortable as he was.

"You could call it re-teaching him. This is the Choir. They're emptying him of the kinds of thoughts I don't want and filling him up with the things I do."

It was horrifically fascinating. When the song ended, the courtier was dressed all in black and his eyes were dark as pitch. The robots - the Choir - returned to their boxes and the music vanished as the courtier turned to face them. He looked directly at the Princess and bowed before drifting out the door.

"That's what the Queen did to Helena," Valentine thought aloud.

The Princess turned on him slowly and Valentine realized his mistakes.

She was silent for so long that he was certain she was going to have him killed. Or worse, put in that little room and unmade. He waited for the word.

"I like you, Val. I'd rather not turn you into a mindless shadow like everyone else," she said. She looked out the window. "But that doesn't mean I won't."

He swallowed, "Understood."

"Do you?"

He decided silence was his better choice.

The Princess stared at him. "Good. Go."

He walked out of the room, only to find himself face to face with the courtier he'd just watched be emptied. He led Valentine back to his room in utter silence. He thought about running again, but there were silent guards in nearly every corridor. And he'd heard the sounds of people who'd tried to run the other night. There was also the ever present threat of the spider on his wrist, and now the Choir. He didn't have a lot going for him in his life, but he really didn't want to die. The guards opened up his door and secured it behind him.

That night, he had nightmares of black eyes and singing boxes surrounding him.

He was exhausted the next morning when the Princess came into his room. She didn't waste time and began asking him about his adventure with Helena. He didn't say much.

"We talked to the Queen, found the Mask, and dragged you back. That's what happened."

"There's more to it."


The spider tightened as his 'mmm' continued longer than was proper. He winced. "No, that was it."

"Tell me the details."

"Well, we came up against sixteen…seventeen…some-teen sphinxes. They like books, did you know? And future-fruit tastes like palimpuffs and semicopples. And just a pinch of questiwis. With a dash of-"

"Enough," she hissed. "You're wasting my time. Guards."

They hoisted him up off his bed, dragged him to his feet and marched him out, following the wake of the Princess.

They led him upstairs, which was a direction he really hadn't been in. The hallways were quieter here. Not that any place was loud.

"In here," she ordered, turning into a side room.

Valentine was pushed into the room, stumbling a few paces. He looked around. It was dark, shadowed and close. He felt like he couldn't breathe. The air was too heavy and thick in his mouth. The Princess walked over to a desk and opened a drawer, taking a vial out of it and turning back to him.

She opened the vial and glanced at him, "Do you know what this is?"

"No. And I'm okay not knowing. Can't keep a secret, me."

"How about I just show you?" She tipped the vial and out poured black powder into her hand. She smiled and clenched her fist around it as she walked towards him. He hated her smile. It was fake and cold and not like a smile should be. Valentine tried to move back, but the guards held him fast. The Princess opened her palm and blew the powder into his face.

He tried not to breathe it in, but he had to breathe. It was a stupid, involuntary thing to do. Stupid lungs. He coughed, but his vision was already clouding.

"Killing me already?" he choked.

"Oh, don't be so dramatic," she told him. "I just want a little chat, is all."

Valentine's eyes rolled up and though he saw the ground coming up to meet him, he never felt it.

When he woke up, he was on the floor of the dark room and his throat hurt like he hadn't shut up in hours. He coughed, his mouth feeling coated with dust.

"Get yourself a drink," a voice told him.

He looked around, sitting up slowly. The Princess sat in a chair, writing out something. He got to his feet, his head feeling musty. "What happened?"

"Well, Val. You spilled your story."

"I didn't…" he tried.

She turned in her chair, those dark eyes catching what little light there was and whisking it away. "Oh, but you did. And you've provided me with the most useful information."

He coughed again, shaking his head. "No."

"And now, I have a job for you."

"I'm not doing anything for you," Valentine choked out, spitting black phlegm onto her floor.

She wrinkled her nose at that. "You don't even know what I want you to do."

"Don't care. As my own manager, I advise myself against helping the enemy."

"Enemy? Oh, that hurts, Val." She stood up and walked over to him. "I want you to take your Tower, go to the City of Light and bring me back someone. I want-"

"No." He wasn't bringing her the Queen. Or the Prime Minister. Or anyone else she could use as leverage to take over the City. He wasn't a brave man, but he wouldn't hand over someone to a monster like-

"A Mrs. Bagwell."

He blinked. "Who?"

"Mrs. Bagwell. She gave you those lovely cakes. I want her. Bring her to me. Take your Tower to the City and bring her back to me."

Valentine frowned, "What do you want with her?"

"A chat."

He shook his head again. "No. I'm not doing that."

"Do it, Val."


The guards he'd forgotten were there started towards him, but the Princess waved them off. "No. If he doesn't want to do it. He doesn't have to."

Valentine waited for the other proverbial shoe to drop.

"Take him back to his room."

"What?" he asked before he thought about it.

"Go back to your room. We're done for today."

As Valentine was led back to his room he thought he'd proven his point. He thought the worst was over.

He was wrong. Utterly and completely wrong. Always wrong. Just when he thought he couldn't be more wrong, he was. He knew it. But he kept thinking it wasn't possible.

Two days later, the Princess summoned him again. Back to the dark room. Her room, he'd finally realized. She barely glanced at him as he entered.

"Val. Thought about my job offer?" she asked him.

"I told you. No," he said firmly.

"I thought that would be your answer." She put down her pen and faced him, "Come with me."

She led him to a door, which led to stairs, which led up. And down. But they went up. Valentine heard the guards stop at the door, leaving him and the Princess to walk up alone. She kept them going up, until she stopped at another door. Pushing it open, a horrible noise filled the air. So much so that Valentine paused upon leaving the stairwell.

The Princes stepped out into the noise and smiled. Valentine shuddered at the smile, but stepped out all the same. He flinched as something nearly collided with him, but it flew off in another direction, grappling with a sticky black ooze on its face.

Valentine gaped at the air around this tower. It was filled with Monkeybirds, most of them already fallen victim to the black ooze that latched onto their faces. Those that hadn't been infected yet screamed and howled, trying to save their friends, escape the horror.

"You see," the Princess said, her voice coldly calm, "when you refused, I was disappointed, Val. I thought we had an understanding." Her voice was barely audible over the scream and cries around them.

He saw a group of dark Monkeybirds corner a smaller one, leaping on him and smothering his screams with shadows. "Stop this," he said.

"I didn't kill you. I offered you a job. I give you a room, food, drink, clothes. I've been merciful. But I ask you to do one little job. One little old lady. Who you didn't even like in the first place! And you reward my hospitality with rudeness and refusals."

Two free Monkeybirds flew up, out of the horrific cloud of their brothers and sisters around the tower. He thought they'd get away. Then they screamed, dragged back down by shadowy tendrils that the Princess flicked up without a thought.

"Let them go," Valentine said. His voice shook, he wasn't proud of it.

"You hurt me, Val." The Princess looked at him. "Next time I ask you to do something, I want you to do it. Without the fighting. I hate it when we fight."

"Yes, okay, I'll do it. I'll get the Baglady. Just stop it," he pleaded. There was only one Monkeybird left.

"You see, I don't think you mean it. I think you're just saying what I want to hear."

He turned on her and shouted, "I said I'd do it!" He was past the point of caring about how angry she would get.

She grinned. "Good. I think you and I finally understand each other, Val. I'm glad."

He closed his eyes as the last Monkeybird was swarmed by the others. They calmed now that all of them were infected, hovering around the tower. He hadn't been able to save any of them.

"And, Val? Just to prove how serious I really am…"

He opened his eyes, the Princess's hands raised above her head. He glanced at the Monkeybirds around them.

"No. Plea-"

She threw her hands down and the Monkeybirds went with them. He almost cried out, but he bit his cheek and stared at her instead, trying not to flinch as wet thuds echoed up from the ground below.

The Princess brushed off her hands when it finally went silent. "Just so you know, there are a lot more people in the City of Light. I'm asking for one. You bring me one, and I'll spare the rest."

"For now."

She smirked. "Let's cross that bridge when we come to it. Will you get me Mrs. Bagwell?"


"Will you refuse me again?"

Valentine didn't let his eyes waver to the ground. He knew the consequence if his answer wasn't the right one. "No."

"Good. Now get me what I want."

Valentine turned around and went back down the stairs. He hadn't been able to save the Monkeybirds. He wouldn't be able to save Mrs. Bagwell. But he could save part of the City, at least. That had to be worth something.

It wasn't hard getting into the City of Light. He was still a hero. And it took moments to find where Mrs. Bagwell lived. All he had to do then was pretend there was a wounded sphinx outside. She came out, he hustled her into his Tower. It was easy. She was old. Weak. He was young. Desperate. He pretended he couldn't hear her pleading, her begging for him to release her. He stared out his window as he brought her back to the City of Shadows. The scenery flew by him. He'd never tried jumping out of his Tower while it moved. He wondered if it would stop. He wondered if he cared.

He marched Mrs. Bagwell up to the Princess, who was waiting on the steps for him. The Monkeybirds still weren't cleaned away. Valentine tried not to look and Mrs. Bagwell didn't seem to understand what they were.

The Princess smirked as he walked up and let go of Mrs. Bagwell.

"Well done, Val. I'm proud of you," she said.

He walked past her without speaking, the guards starting to block his way.

"Let him go. He's done for now," the Princess told them over his shoulder. "Mrs. Bagwell. Pleasure to meet you. I'm the Princess of Shadows. I have a few questions for you."

Valentine went up the stairs, to his guarded cellroom. He shut the door behind him, starting to pace. He'd done what he had to do. In war there were casualties. Needs of the many. All for one and one for…no, wait, wrong thing. He pulled at his robe, his mask, his hands shaking. He couldn't stop. Couldn't hesitate to think because if he thought, he'd see the Monkeybirds. He'd see Mrs. Bagwell. He'd see Helena. No. He reached into his robe and took out a set of three juggling balls. Keep busy. Keep moving. Keep distracted. Just keep from going still. He got all three into the air for a few catches. His plan was working. He wasn't thinking. He was just juggling.

…and then one dropped.

He caught the other two, staring at the one on the ground as it rolled to bump against the wall.

Valentine backed up until he hit the stone and slid down it, the other two balls falling out of his grip and he grabbed the back of his head, tangling his fingers in his hair and pulling.

Letting his head hit his knees, Valentine stopped running and felt himself being dragged down.

A quiet chuckle made his head shoot up.

The Princess leaned against his door jamb, her arms crossed and an ugly smile on her face. She stared at him for a moment before pushing herself away from his door and walking off.

Valentine closed his eyes and his head fell back against the wall.

He had refused once.

The Monkeybirds paid the price.

He didn't refuse again.

Valentine could feel it growing. A shadow on his soul. Her shadow.

He hated it and that made it grow more.

He couldn't juggle. Every time he tried, he'd drop one. So he stopped trying. He'd lie in his cell. He wouldn't get up. He'd just lie there, day after day.

And then he'd be summoned.

He'd be sent out to retrieve things. Books. A few sphinxes. A mirror. A window. He didn't know why. He didn't ask why. She never told him. He wasn't asked to bring back people, though. Not anymore. He'd do whatever dirty work needed doing and then she'd pat him on the head and let him return to his cell to be numb. To pretend to be numb. To fake it. Only to himself. No one else was fooled.

He only saw Mrs. Bagwell once. She looked at him as he passed her on the way to the Princess's room.

When he saw the black, dead eyes, he dropped his to the floor and didn't look up again until Mrs. Bagwell's unsteady footsteps faded away.

He walked into the dark room. He didn't say anything.

"Val, darling. I need you to get something for me."

He didn't ask what.

"I need a book."

He didn't ask which one.

She'd tell him.

And so it went on for a year.

And then Valentine woke up one morning and it was year two.

If I Apologised

A MirrorMask Story
by Caitastrophe8499

Part 2 of 29

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