Continuing Tales

If I Apologised

A MirrorMask Story
by Caitastrophe8499

Part 5 of 29

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After a few hours of walking, Helena sighed when she finally reached the gates of the City of Light. Helena looked around, but the view only deepened the pit that was starting in her stomach – the Tower wasn't anywhere in sight. The gates to the City were closed. Of course that was her luck. She knocked, not really expecting anyone to answer.

A small window opened up a few feet to the right. "The City is closed."

"Closed?" Helena asked. "How can you close a city?"

"Like this." He slammed the window shut.

Helena rolled her eyes and knocked again.

The window opened. "The City is closed."

"I heard. Could you let me in, please?"

"No. I am the City Gatekeeper and the City is closed."

"Could you open the gates and let me in?" Helena tried.

"I could-"

Finally, some good news.

"-but I won't."

Helena huffed, "Look, go to the Queen and tell her Helena is here to see her."

"Helena? Who's she?"

"I'm she."

"Funny, that's the same name as our Creator," the Gatekeeper said.

"Funny," Helena drawled. "Could you please inform her Majesty?"

"I'll tell her, but the City is-"

"Closed," she interrupted. "Yes, so I've heard."

The small window shut and she heard the sound of feet hurrying away. Helena leaned against door and yawned. She didn't feel like she'd slept much, and then she just went and walked a mile to get to a door that was closed to her. She slid down the wooden gate and leaned against it, her eyes already starting to close...


She woke with a start, seeing her mother - no, the Queen kneeling next to her. A surprisingly short man stood next to the open door and from the large 'G' that took up most of his chest and pants, Helena figured this was the Gatekeeper.

"Hullo, your Majesty," Helena said, trying to get to her feet.

"My dear, you look exhausted," she said sympathetically, taking her arm to help her up.

Helena yawned, "I am. I'm sorry."

"That's quite all right. Let's get you inside and in bed." They walked through the gate and the Queen nodded at the Gatekeeper, "Well done, Gallant. Make sure to lock up again."
Gallant nodded, "Yes, ma'am."

Helena heard the sound of heavy chains being put into place though her vision was suddenly blocked by several dozen small guardsmen. They flanked the Queen and Helena at least three guards deep, all of them on high alert. Helena couldn't see a reason for it, even though the streets were completely empty except for them. Between her dream and this, Helena had an uneasy feeling growing in her stomach.

"Your Majesty? What's going on?" Helena asked, looking for any information in the streets around them.

The Queen wasn't smiling. "Nothing we need to discuss right now, my dear. You need some rest."

Helena wanted to argue, but another yawn built up. "But, we will discuss it?"

"Absolutely," she said, putting her hand on Helena's shoulder. "I'd been hoping that you would return."

Helena smiled, but didn't say anything. That made one of them.

"How did you return?" the Queen asked. "I don't see the MirrorMask."

"I don't…I don't know how I returned." Helena looked at her hands. "I didn't draw, or use the Mask, or anything. I think I fell asleep. I had this weird dream. You were in it, and the Prime Minister, and, um..."

"I see," the Queen said quietly.

Helena took a breath, "You know something about him, don't you?"

"Now is not the time for…news."

That did not sound good.

They were led to the castle by the guards, who led them to the castle doors then stood watch outside it. The Queen waved away her servants and led Helena up to a door herself. "It's not much, but it should do."

Helena eyed the most important feature of the room – the very large bed. "It's perfect."

"Sleep well, my dear." The Queen turned to leave.

Catching sight of the deep, dark bags beneath the Queen's eyes, Helena said quietly, "Your Majesty, whatever it is, you know I'll help."

"I certainly hope so," she answered. "We'll talk once you've rested."

The Queen shut the door behind her.

Helena slipped into the bed and lay on her side. The pit in her stomach hadn't lessened any, and she didn't understand how she'd gotten here, but there was something comfortable about the MirrorWorld. She felt at home here.

She tried to remember what had happened before arriving here, but all she could recall was a vague light and the sound of metal screeching. With a huff, she rolled onto her back and clenched her eyes shut. She wouldn't think about anything else. Just get to sleep. She hadn't gotten a full night's sleep in weeks. It was very important that -

"I'm a very important man."

"Oh, dammit," she muttered. Grabbing her pillow, Helena wrapped it around her head, trying to drown out the inane voice in her head. It had been silent for a while, then had started randomly popping up after her break-up with Andrew. And she'd encouraged it, conversations and concerns got raised to the mirror rather than to her parents or any of her friends in the carnival. Not that any of them were fantastic conversationalists. And the few that she could talk to didn't really understand her. Not even her parents, as much as she wished they did.

Fact was, her best friend was and always will be on this side of the mirror.

She just hoped they were on the same side of this fight.

When Helena woke up, the sun was already high in the sky. A tiny girl stood by the window, her squiggly line mask covering her face from her left temple down to her right cheek.

"Hi," Helena mumbled, sitting up. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to sleep so long. Um, who are you?"

"I'm Taffy, miss," she mumbled, her voice shy.

"I'm Helena."

"Yes, I know."

Great. She got up, throwing the covers down. Taffy stepped up, "If you'd like, I can help you dress."

"No," Helena smiled, "I'm okay. Did her Majesty stop by?"

"Yes, she wished for you to join her once you had awoken."

"Great," Helena said. "So…where should I go?"

"I'll take you there as soon as you're ready."

Helena glanced in the mirror and figured it was as good as she was going to get. "Let's go."

"Miss, her Majesty also requested that you wear this while walking around." Taffy held out a mask that would cover Helena's entire face.

She took it, "Why?"

"I'm sure she'll explain. If you'll follow me?"

Helena put it on and followed Taffy down the stairs. For every one step that Helena took, it took Taffy's tiny legs five or six, so the walk took quite a long time.

No one, not the servants, the guards, nor the courtiers, gave her a second look. When Taffy led her down a hall, the Queen even had to take two looks before recognizing her.

"Oh, Helena. Good, you're here. I was hoping you'd awaken before the meeting. Thank you, Taffy."

"What meeting?" Helena asked as Taffy bowed and walked away.

The Queen hesitated until the hall was empty except for the two of them, "You did say you wanted to know what was going on here."

"I do."

"Then follow me, my dear." The Queen turned and entered a door, "You can also take off the mask if you wish. But I believe it will be safer for you if you keep it on when you're in public.

Helena followed the Queen into the small chamber, where the Prime Minister was already waiting with a few others. He stood and smiled at her and Helena felt her smile grow a little warmer. She couldn't help it - he was exactly like her father.

"Helena," the Queen said, "You remember the Prime Minister. This man here is the Judge, the head of our courts. This is Drag, my Captain of the Guard. And our Librarian." Helena nodded to each of them in turn. "You all recall Helena, our Creator."

The Queen took a seat and Helena took the last empty one between the Prime Minister and Drag. Drag wore a very serious uniform and blue hair. It was all very intimidating until she saw his violet eyes. Then it was a little unnerving as well.

"As you are all aware by now, we have increased patrols throughout the City and surrounding borders. Though there has yet to be an actual attack, I fear that it's very near," the Queen said.

"But the Shadow Queen would never begin a war with you," the Librarian said. "The worst she ever did was search for her daughter."

The Queen glanced at the table and the Prime Minister spoke up. "Drag's scouts have confirmed that the Shadow Queen is no longer in charge."

The Judge sighed, "The Princess."

"Yes. Our contacts in the City of Shadows stopped reporting a long time ago," Drag said, his voice gruff. "The few bits of unscripted information we did get mentioned a coup and the Princess wielding strange new powers."

"We've had odd break-ins over the past few years. So varied and strange that we didn't realize they were connected until Drag's second put together a report and showed us the connections," the Queen said.

"What kind of break-ins?" Helena asked.

"A few people have gone missing, Mrs. Bagwell and the Librarian's assistant, Deci," Drag said, reading from a piece of paper. "Shops have been vandalized, with the only things disappearing being the windows or mirrors. Most of the items have been books, from the library."

"Did you bring that list?" the Queen asked the Librarian.

He nodded, pulling out a piece of paper with fifteen or so titles written out. "I didn't realize for a while that they had gone missing. It's not a very popular section. And when I did notice, I thought they'd been mis-shelved, or that Deci had taken them, but when you sent the request..." He passed the list over to her.

Helena leaned over to Drag as the Queen and Prime Minister read over the list, "How are the thefts connected? They sound like all different things."

"Oh, it's not the items that linked them together. It's the fact that every night something disappeared, that damn Tower-"

"Drag," the Prime Minister interrupted. He shook his head, his mask wiggling.

Helena swallowed, already suspecting the truth. Between her last visit and her dream, she knew. "He was here every time something went missing. He's working with the Princess."

The table was quiet for a minute. Helena took that to mean she was correct.

"But," the Prime Minister said, "it's okay now. You're back and with the MirrorMask, we can defeat her easily."

Helena felt her stomach drop even further. "I don't have it. The last time I was here, I gave it to him to give to you." She looked up at the Queen. "I'm guessing he didn't."

"Why would you give something so valuable to someone like Valentine?" the Judge scoffed.

"Because I trusted him."

"He's a conman, a swindler, and a petty thief and he's got the record to prove it."

"He saved my life."

"A young man saving the life of a pretty young girl doesn't mean he's a good man," the Judge said coldly.

"It doesn't mean he's a bad one, either," Helena snapped, clenching her fists beneath the table.

"Regardless of what he did in the past," Drag said, drawing the tension away with his deep voice, "we have to face the fact that a man who knows this City backwards and upwards is now working for the enemy, who is also in possession of one of our most powerful artifacts and has the moral center of a cockroach."

"All of these books are histories," the Queen said.

Helena looked over at her, grateful to have a slight change in subject. The ache at the pit of her stomach wasn't exactly welcome.

"Yes," the Librarian said. "Our creation."

"Why?" the Prime Minister asked.

"I don't know," the Librarian said. "They're old histories that no one ever reads. I don't know what she could possibly want with them."

"How to create a new land?" the Judge suggested.

"Doubtful. She wants to rule over what's already here. Not create someplace new," Drag muttered. "Too much work."

"Perhaps she's trying to travel back to Helena's world?" the Prime Minister said.

"If she has the Mask, it would be simple. And she's done it before," the Librarian said. "She wouldn't need reference materials."

"Maybe not for the traveling," Helena said, glancing at Drag. He seemed like the most level-headed, aside from the Queen. "But maybe some reference materials for the Mask would be useful."

The Librarian tapped his mask, "Now that we know she has the Mask...yes, I believe there would be some record of it in our creations."

"That would have been helpful the first time around," Helena muttered. The corner of Drag's mouth twitched.

The Librarian's eyes tightened beneath his mask. "Indeed."

"Is there a 'How To' guide for the MirrorMask?" Helena asked.

"No, no, of course not," the Librarian said. "But...there are mentions of it in each of the creations. If she put all of it together...perhaps...?"

"Do you know what the histories say about the Mask?" the Prime Minister asked.

The Librarian flushed beneath his mask, "I didn't memorize every book in the library!"

"No one is asking you to do so," the Queen said, soothing the ruffled masks. "I will ask you to collect any of the other histories we have. Today. Before she escapes with anything else that we should know."

She looked pointedly at him when he didn't move. "Now would be best."

"Yes, your Majesty." He stood and bowed, leaving the room.

The Queen sighed and put her chin on her fingers. She closed her eyes and Helena could see the tightness around them. They were the same marks that her mom got when she was stressed. And she knew exactly how to fix it, at least temporarily.

"I'm starving. When's lunch?" Helena asked, ignored the surprised looks from the Prime Minister, the Judge, and Drag.

The Queen, however, smiled. "Right now, actually. Let's break for lunch. We'll come back with full stomachs and new ideas."

They stood and followed the Queen out of the room, Helena falling to the back and slipping her mask back over her face. She fell to the back of the group, not really feeling very hungry. Not after that.

The Princess has the Mask. The information. The assistance of someone who knew this place...backwards and upwards. Stopping at a window, Helena touched the smooth sill, staring out at the fish.

"Just what have you gotten yourself into, juggler?"

"Just look at what you've gotten yourself into, Val."

Valentine grimaced, his hands tightening on the doorframe, "Can't fault a juggler for trying." He eyed the circle of guards around him and his Tower and stepped down from the stoop.

"Why do you keep trying, Val?" the Princess asked.

"Perseverance in the face of adversity and all that," he muttered. The guards grabbed his arms and pulled him away from the door.

"It's pathetic, Val, really," she sneered, stepping in front of him and staring up at his Tower. "The Queen of the City of Light knows that I'm coming for her. I've got the Mask and the army. Your Helena is gone. There is no one else to stand up to me and you know it. So why bother delaying the inevitable?"

"Because you're a cowardly, manipulative brat?" he spoke without thinking.

The Princess spun on him, her eyes sparking, "What did you say?"

Valentine thought back on his words and laughed to himself. "Huh. Did you want me to repeat it?"

"Your attitude leaves a lot to be desired as of late, Val."

He figured it did. He just couldn't bring himself to care. Helena was gone. Three weeks without any sign of her and her parents just getting more and more depressed. He couldn't stand the mirror anymore. Even if her disappearance had nothing to do with the Princess, he was going to take it out on her.

"Well, I won't let your attitude and pathetic optimism ruin my day. Big things are about to happen, Val."

"Brilliant," he said to himself.

"And you get a front row seat to it all," she said. "Guards, let's go."

Valentine stared as she stepped into his Tower, the guards pulling him in after.

"Where are we going?" he asked her, hating to ask but doing it anyway.

The Princess stepped up to the window, her fingers clutching the sill. "We're going to start war."

Three weeks.

Helena'd been here for three weeks without any idea how she'd arrived. They were no closer to stopping the Princess. She hadn't left anything in the Library that would help them. Not a single history was left.

They'd been combing through the rest of the Library, but there was nothing so far. They were only a quarter of the way through the Library and still nothing to show for it. She sat in a corner of the library with her pile of books and feeling a migraine starting in her temples.

"Doing all right?"

Helena glanced up at Drag, who had glanced into her little alcove.

"You know me, can't get enough of this place," she smirked, rifling through the pages of her book.

Drag almost smiled. It was now a personal goal of Helena's to make him smile fully. So far she'd gotten a twitch. It was rough going.

"Are you busy?" he asked.

"Just reading until my eyes fall out, nothing I can't put off."

"This is my second," he said, waving his hand to indicate someone standing to his side. A woman who was just over half Helena's size stepped forward. She had the same shocking blue hair and bright purple eyes.

"Hi," Helena said, putting the book on her chair as she stood. "I'm Helena."

"I know," she said. "I'm Mags."

Helena glanced between the two. "Brother and sister?"

"Yes," Drag said, sounding less than pleased.

"You're his second. So you're the one who put the report together?" Helena asked.

"Yes, ma'am," Mags said.

"Not ma'am. Just Helena. Please."

"Then, yes. Helena."

"Awesome," Helena said. "Nicely done."

"Thanks. Glad someone thinks so." Mags glanced at her brother.

Though she didn't have a sibling, Helena could see what was going on here.

Drag's mouth tightened, "Not the place, second."

"Never the place, first," Mags mimicked poorly.

Helena hid her smile, "Look, guys-"

The explosion rocked the Library, sending Helena's stacks of books to the ground.

"The Princess," Drag said.

"The Queen," Mags said at the same time.

Both of them bolted from the alcove, with Helena hot on their heels. Her mask was already on her face; Helena had gotten used to used to wearing it.

The Queen wasn't in the Library, but on the steps of it. She stood in the front of a large crowd, her face calm and collected, but her shoulders tight. Helena edged up along the side of the crowd, staring at the girl that faced the Queen.

The Princess. Helena's doppelganger. The Tower stood behind her, having crushed a few buildings in order to settle in the City. That must have been the explosion.

"I'm here to arrange your surrender," the Princess said, her voice carrying.

Helena could see the Prime Minister, the Judge, and the Librarian on the steps. Unhelpfully, Helena's eyes were drawn to the crowd behind the Princess. Guards, guards, and more guards. She looked up unto the Tower, but there was no flash of white anywhere to be seen.

"And if we aren't willing to negotiate?" the Queen asked.

"Then you'll all die," the Princess said. "Slowly. Painfully."

Helena felt sick. There was no indication on the Princess' empty face, but Helena could hear the joy in her voice.

"I can kill all of your people. Is that what you want? Is that what your people want?" the Princess asked.

Glancing at the people around her, Helena saw the clenching of fists, the tightening of jaws. She also saw the fear, the sidelong glances at their neighbors, the hope that someone else would say the words. The despair that no one would.

"Will anyone stand up for their Queen? For the woman that asks you to die?" the Princess asked, an evil smile on her face.

Helena bit her lip, the action hidden beneath her mask, and glanced down. She caught a flash of blue at the corner of her eye.

Mags stared at her, with violet eyes that asked the words she wouldn't say.

"No one?" the Princess asked. "Then I'll accept your surrender under the following conditions. First…"

Helena took a half step forward and Mags glanced at her, "Be careful."

As she walked forward, the crowd parted in front of her. It took the Princess a moment to notice the movements. She turned, staring at Helena without recognizing her.

"And who are you, little masked girl?" the Princess sneered.

Helena didn't stop until she was in front of the Queen. She took a breath.

"I'm the one standing up to you," Helena said loudly. "And here, I'm more infamous for not wearing a mask."

She removed her mask, facing the Princess. She ignored the surprise from the crowd behind her.

"You," the shadow girl sneered.

"Me," Helena said. "And we do not surrender. Not to you."

"Then you've just single-handedly started an unnecessary and bloody war."

"No. We're standing up to a cowardly, manipulative, brat."

The Princess drew back like she'd been struck.

"And you speak for everyone?" she asked, recovering her composure.

Helena hesitated and Mags stepped up.

"Yes, she does."

The others swiftly took up Mags' cry and Helena was supported by a vehement crowd.

"You think you can win?" the Princess asked, meaning her words for Helena's ears only.

Helena responded in the same exact tone, "All I know is that you don't deserve this world."

"You will lose. But before you do, I'll make sure you realize the cost of this war," the Princess promised. "You don't even know how much you have to lose."

Helena shook her head, "You don't have to do this. If you walk away now, you can go home. You don't have to hurt people."

"Aww, Hel," the Princess said, tilting her head. "I really do. But I'll tell you what. I will give you one day to evacuate and give up the City to me. Save who you can."

Helena glared, "We won't run away from you."

The Princess laughed, "It wouldn't matter if you did."

The shadow girl turned and walked back towards the Tower, her guards leading her in. "One day. If you're smart, you'll run. If you don't, you'll die. Your choice."

"You're making a mistake," Helena said after her.

The Princess stepped up onto the stoop, standing in the doorway, "So are you. See you tomorrow, Hel." She slammed the door and the Tower lifted up.

Turning back to the Queen, Helena hoped she hadn't done what the Princess has said and made a huge mistake.

The Queen smiled at Helena, tears in her eyes. "Thank you."

Drag and Mags stared at her, until Mags laughed and Drag shrugged, "Let's go to war."

Helena swallowed on the word that choked her.


If I Apologised

A MirrorMask Story
by Caitastrophe8499

Part 5 of 29

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