Continuing Tales

If I Apologised

A MirrorMask Story
by Caitastrophe8499

Part 8 of 29

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"Make the neck guard a little higher."

"And that seam right there should be filled in."

Helena made the corrections on her paper, presenting it to Mags and Drag for another review. "What do you think?"

Drag nodded. "I think it looks good."

"Best soldiers I've ever seen," Mags added.

"All right," Helena said, ripping out the page. "Let's give it a go."

She dropped it to the ground and the metal soldier appeared in front of them. At seven feet high, with multiple arms and the fastest legs she could draw, this was a killing machine.

The very best part was that it was completely metal. No one would get hurt if these soldiers were destroyed. They were lifeless. Helena shifted, still feeling the faint pain of her stitches pulling. They wouldn't be killed or injured.

Mags pulled our her sword and grinned at the giant. "I'm going to take him out and put him through the paces."

She started by running off, testing the soldier's speed. It followed, passing her within moments.

Drag and Helena kept an eye on her and Helena sighed. It had taken about a week to get everything right. The size, the speed, the weapons. In the meantime Wesleyton had been abandoned. It had been a preemptive move by the Queen of Light. Everyone knew that the Princess could and would attack at any time. Part of the reason it had taken so long to perfect her metal soldiers was because Helena was also creating a veritable city of tents for everyone to live in as they moved across the Land of Light. They hadn't been moving towards or away from the Princess, but moving parallel, preparing for the day they would be able to attack.

"So far, so good," Drag commented, watching Mags test the soldier's swordsmanship. Helena saw the blade flash back and forth so quickly she could barely follow. When the machine disarmed Mags, Helena knew they had a winner.

"Excellent," Drag murmured.

Helena finally said what had been on her mind for the past few days. "I want to learn how to fight."

Drag didn't comment, so she took that as a maybe and continued. "I know we've got these soldiers now, but we saw when they first attacked, that the Princess might not be just going after soldiers. The rest of us need to know how to defend ourselves as well. I want to be able to fight back."

Still staring out at his sister, Drag said, "Mags has been itching to do the same. Teach others how to defend themselves. I believe she petitioned the Queen to start a class, teaching the basics. I think that would be a good beginning for you. If you show promise, perhaps we could arrange for you to be challenged more."

Internally, she was cheering, although she didn't show it on her face. "Thanks."

Valentine never asked for permission. He was just tired of doing nothing. Movement after weeks of so much apathy must have left the guard unprepared. When Valentine stood up and walked out the door, the guard had to run after him.

He walked unerringly over to where the few living soldiers practiced and exercised. He stood at the back and joined in without ever uttering a word. When they used swords, Valentine used a stick. When they sparred with one another, Valentine watched and mimicked the moves he saw.

His exercise was apparently viewed as innocent enough. The Princess came by and watched him for a while, but never ordered him back to his Tower.

It wasn't about learning how to fight, not at first. It was about keeping his mind busy and off the bloody sword that always infested his dreams. He exercised every day, going until the sweat made his shirt stick to his skin. He didn't wear his robe outside. No matter how cold it was to begin with, he always made sure he moved long and hard enough to get unpleasantly warm.

He didn't notice the aching from working out. He didn't notice the bloody knuckles from doing the same punches over and over again. He didn't notice the pain when he took a turn too hard or a lunge too deep. He didn't notice, as the weeks wore on, when the other soldiers were unable to keep going as long as he did. He didn't even notice when the living commander began correcting his movements.

He did notice the Princess lurking around their practices more often. He had been allowed to start sparring with the other soldiers (with a wooden sword, only), and had successfully disarmed one of the veterans. He wasn't sure how it happened, but he knew he started moving and then the veteran was suddenly without a sword.

"Nicely done," the commander murmured, not drawing too much attention to it.

Valentine nodded and the commander and veteran moved away. The Princess was standing a few yards back, watching their match. She stared at Valentine for a moment before turning and walking away.

Even though her eyes were little more than black pits, Valentine had liked part of what he'd seen. Concern. It certainly wasn't for him. It was for herself.

The other part, he wasn't so pleased with. It was similar to the look he'd gotten when she had pretended to be...someone else. Except this time it was much darker.

It was at that moment that Valentine decided he wanted to learn how to fight. Not just to keep busy, but to really learn.

He figured he was going to need it.

"Get up!"

Helena pushed off the ground and back onto her feet as quickly as she could, trying to avoid another deafening shout. Her sword was in guard position as she faced down her personal blue-haired nightmare.

Mags was merciless. Helena, who was an athletic girl, who could juggle and bend and do things that most other people couldn't, had never been so exhausted in her life. For the past two weeks, Helena's life had consisted of drawing hundreds of metal soldiers (all under the sharp eye of either Mags or Drag, who made sure Helena kept the same design) and letting Mags torture her from morning 'til night.

At least she wasn't the only one. About two dozen others joined the optional self-defense course. The actual defending was perfected through hours of attacking. Mags beat them black and blue just to teach them a simple rule-

Never drop your sword.

Helena hadn't dropped it when Mags had thrown her over her shoulder. She didn't drop it when Mags flew forwards. She didn't drop it when the woman attacked her. Helena twisted her sword beneath Mags's, just like she'd been taught day in and day out, and wrenched the sword out of her grip.

Helena didn't drop it when Mags grinned and said, "Good."

At the end of the day, Helena and four others who had begun the class with her were sent on to Drag. He looked at each of them in turn, lingering for a half a breath more on Helena, before saying, "You've just graduated from civilians to soldiers, if you choose."

Not one of the five declined.

"Welcome to the City Guard."

"Absolutely not," Drag said firmly.

It was the most emotion Helena had managed to get out of him, but she couldn't appreciate it at the moment. Helena was standing in front of him, her hair tangled down her back, still in her black and blue uniform of the City Guard. Drag's helmet was under his arm and the Queen watched both of them with more than a little concern.

"Everything you've told me to, I've done," Helena argued back, her own voice rising. "I'm one of the best you have. I deserve to be on the front lines with the others!"

"You are the Creator."

"Even more reason for me to be out there, then."

Drag glared at the Queen, "A little help, Your Majesty?"

Helena looked at the Queen as well, hoping she would see Helena's point. She'd been training as a City Guard for a month - a month! They had a sizable metal army that was going to be put to the test in a few days. The Princess had burned Wesleyton to the ground, but there hadn't been anyone still living there. Since then, it had been quiet from the Princess's end, while the Queen and her supporters were working day and night to get their army ready.

Drag had announced the Guard that only those who could pass his tests would be allowed on the fronts lines. With the metal giants, the danger was decreased, but it was still there.

Helena had passed every test he'd thrown at her and now he was telling her she was to stay behind in the camp.

The Queen sighed, "It is a risk, having you out on the front lines."

"The Princess thinks I'm dead. Anyone would. When I'm in the uniform and helmet, no one knows who I am. I won't be in any more danger than anyone else out there," Helena argued.

The Queen looked at Drag. "You did say those who passed your tests would be allowed."

"She's compromised!" Drag shouted.

Helena and the Queen blinked, shocked at Drag's temper, which no one had seen before. Then his words sank in.

"I am not comp-"

"What about Valentine?" Drag interrupted her.

Helena drew back, the juggler's name having been absent from her vocabulary since she had arrived back in the MirrorWorld. She collected herself. "What about him?"

"You can't even hear his name! Do you think you could face him on the battlefield and wound him? Kill him?" Drag shot at her.

"Well, he tried to kill me," Helena said, trying to keep her voice light. "I think it's only fair that I do my best to-."

"Do you still have feelings for him?" Drag interrupted coldly.

Helena swallowed. They would know if she lied. "I don't know. The man I met the first time, my friend...yeah. I still care about him. But the man I faced on the roof is a completely different person."

Drag wasn't convinced.

"Look," Helena ran her fingers through her hair. It had gotten even longer since being here. "I don't want to kill anyone. If I found him in battle, I would try to stop him without killing him, just like I would do for anyone else. I don't want to kill people, but if I have to, I'll do it."

"Your Majesty-"

"She has a point," the Queen said smoothly. "You made the deal with your soldiers and Helena achieved what you asked."

Drag saluted her with some vehemence and stalked out of the tent.

Helena didn't like fighting with Drag, especially when he was her commanding officer. But at the same time, she knew she was right. "Thank you."

The Queen nodded. "He is a good man. But he worries."

"I know." Helena turned to leave.

"Don't disappoint him. Or me."

Helena nodded and left the tent.

Mags, Nodd, and Laurel were waiting for her when she got out.

"How'd it go?" Laurel asked. She was one of the others who graduated from Mags's self defense class to the City Guard. She was a little taller than Helena and her hair was buzzed close to her head. Her mask was dark blue and black - as if she'd been born to do this. Being the one of the few girls in the Guard had kind of shoved Mags, Helena and Laurel together. Helena didn't mind. Both women were amazing fighters and hilarious in their own ways. Neither one of them called her the Creator, either.

"Could have been better, but I'm in," Helena said.

Mags grinned, "I'll feel much better knowing you're up there to watch my back."

Nodd agreed, "You earned it."

Helena smiled, but it was tempered. Nodd was a great friend, but he was looking for more. That wasn't what Helena was interested in right now. She'd explained things to him, and he said he understood. Helena still saw the looks he cast her when he thought she wasn't looking, and the way he went out of his way to get closer to her. She really valued his friendship, but she didn't want any more than that.

He sighed, "Well, I'm going to turn in. Especially if we're going to head out tomorrow. It's amazing how much stuff has gathered in my tent. I should pack before the morning."

"See you at dawn," Mags said. The four of them were in the same fifteen-man squad, under Mags's command. There were three other squads of human soldiers, then two 100 piece companies of the metal soldiers. Drag was their company leader, with two of his best strategists as his right and left hands for the metal soldiers. Helena, with the Librarian's help, had created a map that let the strategists see the battle in real time, with all the pieces moving as their real life counterparts did. From the safety of the camp, they could rearrange and give new commands to everyone. It had taken a long time, but not nearly as long as the communication devices between Drag, the Queen, the squad leaders, and the strategists. Luckily, in a world of paper, the physics and engineering didn't have to be exact for it to work. It had taken some fiddling, but they finally had working devices.

Less successful were Helena's attempts to create some sort of projectile weapon more powerful than an arrow or crossbow, but easier to manage. She'd read about the boom-sticks that divers used to fight against sharks, but reading a few sentences hadn't really prepared her for recreating them. It was still in the trial and error phase, where sometimes nothing at all happened when she pulled the trigger, or the entire thing exploded.

The ladies headed off to their tents; Helena and Laurel shared one, while Mags had her own. They were located off the side, so they could have their own latrines (not one of Helena's favorite parts of camping out) separate from the men.

"So how did it really go?" Mags asked once Nodd had left. "I've never seen my brother so irritated, and that's saying something."

"Drag implied that my feelings would get in the way of me doing the job," Helena said under her breath. "He also thought having me at the front would be too risky."

"But no one knows you're alive. That's why you've been wearing the mask," Laurel pointed out.

Helena touched the mask on her face. It covered her eyes and left cheek, spreading down into a fanned edge. It had been cumbersome at first, but she was used to it now. "I told him that."

"What feelings? You don't have any love for the Princess, we all know that."

Mags and Helena shared a look.

"Not the Princess," Helena said quietly.

Laurel's eyes widened behind her mask. "Oh. Va- the juggler."

Helena nodded. "Yeah."

"But he tried to murder you. And came very close," Mags pointed out.

"I said that as well. Drag doesn't think that if I were to face him on the battlefield, that I would be able to kill him. And he might be right."

Mags stopped. "If he was heading right for you, knife to your throat, would you try to stop him?"

"Of course."

"And if he was heading towards me? Or Laurel?"


"And if he didn't stop after you wounded him?"

Helena thought about it, staring at her friends, "I would make him stop. Whatever it takes."

"Good enough for me," Laurel said. "I don't want to kill anyone, but I will if I have to. I know you'll watch my back."

Helena appreciated the support. "Thanks."

Mags smiled and sent them off to bed with a salute. Helena and Laurel returned it, retiring into their tent.

Laurel quickly fell into a deep sleep, her steady breathing making Helena's wakefulness even more apparent. It took her hours to fall asleep and when she did, her dreams were interrupted by scenes of bloody juggling balls and a familiar, Irish laugh.

If I Apologised

A MirrorMask Story
by Caitastrophe8499

Part 8 of 29

<< Previous     Home     Next >>