Continuing Tales

If I Apologised

A MirrorMask Story
by Caitastrophe8499

Part 9 of 29

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"Everybody up! Guards to the front!"

Helena's eyes snapped open, but it took her a minute to get the image of spiked hair out of her head. Laurel was just slipping out of her cot, reaching for her armor.

"They're coming," she said.

The shouts continued down the alley of tents, but Helena and Laurel were up and moving. Before long, they'd donned their armor and picked up their weapons, just like they'd been trained to do. Together, they headed towards the southwestern corner of the camp. It was quiet, despite the fact that dozens of Guards were walking in the same direction.

It had been a week since Helena's fight with Drag, and since then there had been several small skirmishes with the Princess's army. They'd run in and attack, then retreat. So far, thanks to the metallic soldiers, there hadn't been any casualties.

At least, not on the Light's side.

Helena had already drawn blood. She'd already killed someone. More than one someone, actually.

She'd thrown up after her first kill. Right there, in the middle of the battlefield. Laurel had helped her up and they continued on, like they'd been trained to do. She had nightmares now, though.

This wasn't like those other times, though. The Princess's army was marching on them, a huge, black force rolling toward them like a wave.

Helena and Laurel stepped into place beside Nodd. He looked pale beneath his mask, but smiled when he saw them. "Some wake up, huh?"

Helena nodded, looking through their small squadron over the faces she had grown to know. There was no time for formalities as Mags came through the ranks. The short woman touched their arms as she passed, but didn't say anything until she got to the front.

"This is different," Mags said. Other commanders were shouting, but Mags barely raised her voice. "This is a real battle. They're coming and we're going to lose some people today."

Helena gripped her sword tighter, staring at Mags as if the Shadow army wasn't about to roll over them.

"But we have something they don't," Mags said, her voice carrying. "We have each other.

"The Princess is fighting for land. And power. We aren't. We're fighting for something smaller. Something real. Something more important than land or titles or power. We're fighting for each other. When the battle's raging, forget all thoughts of royalty and land. Look around. You're fighting for the person next to you and behind you. When you're down in the mud, when you think you can't go on, it'll be the person next to you who'll help you up and keep you going. They'll fight for you. I'll fight for you.

"Do the same for me."

The adrenaline coursing through her skin, Helena nodded, able to believe in that.

Mags turned and faced the black wave. "Let's have ourselves a fight, then."

"I'm not ready for this," Laurel whispered as they began marching forward. The metallic soldiers led the charge and it was the Guard's job to pick off the ones who made it through. From the looks of the force, they'd have their work cut out for them.

Helena touched her arm, feeling Laurel shaking even through her gloves. "Don't worry. We'll just stay together. You'll watch my back, I'll watch yours." When the woman continued to stare ahead with side eyes, Helena shook her. "Hey. We've trained for this. We'll be okay."

Laurel nodded. "Okay. Yeah."

Despite the movies Helena had seen, there wasn't one huge moment with the battle started. It just came closer and closer until she was suddenly face to face with the enemy.

They had formations. They had plans and rules and ideas. Most of it went out the window. Helena wasn't focusing on the pincer movement Mags made them memorize, she was focused on not dying.

Still, her training did her well. Helena moved quickly through the crowd, using what Mags and Drag had taught her to dispatch one enemy after another. She stopped looking at faces and just focused on chests and arms. It was easier if she didn't look into their eyes. She wished she had more time to work on the boom-stick, but the prototype was still too dangerous to use in close quarters like this. It would hit a friend as often as an enemy.

Helena shoved someone off her blade, immediately moving on to the next opponent. Odd. This one wasn't wearing the black armor. Instead, he was wearing a dark shirt with a white robe and -

To her credit, she didn't freeze or panic. She still struck out with her sword. It was blocked by him, but she tried. She struck again and again, but couldn't get past his defense. She hadn't realized he'd been taught.

He never spoke, never said her name like he had before. Perhaps the Princess still thought she was dead. That would be ideal. She stowed it away, glad that she wouldn't have to deal with his manipulation right now.

She shook her head clear of those thoughts, grateful that her helmet covered most of her face. Doggedly continuing, she fought to get past his defense and at least disarm him. If he was unarmed, she had a chance to do this without killing him.

His sword broke through and she felt the pain as the blade sliced past her side. It was shallow, but it hurt. She had her doubts about the man on the rooftop, but she wouldn't trust him. Not when he was doing his best to skewer her.

She ducked her head and cut down sharply, knocking his sword aside and slicing into his shoulder. The familiar Irish voice swore as the wound turned red. Ignoring the ache in her chest as she saw him favor his shoulder, Helena landed another blow on his arm. This one was deeper and he cried out in pain.

Biting her cheek, Helena refused to respond. She wouldn't give in to him. He stepped close, twisting his blade beneath hers and wrenching it out of her grip. Before she could get it, he had his blade at her throat.

Only then did Helena look at him. There was nothing familiar on his face. No sense of recognition, or guilt, or anything but a vague tightness on his face from the pain. He looked blank. Helena closed her eyes and felt the sword push against her skin-

-and then she heard a gurgle.

Helena opened her eyes and saw that red was blossoming over the front of his robe. The stain got darker and bigger, and eventually he dropped the sword and fell to his knees. His face was pale, except for the ruby stream that poured out from his mouth. Drag was behind him, his sword pulled free from the juggler, but still red.

He hit the ground face-first and didn't move again. Helena stared at him for a moment, wondering why it felt like she had been the one stabbed, instead of him.

"Can you go on?" Drag asked her. He didn't seem angry, just concerned. She was grateful they decided not to use her name on the battlefield. Especially now that she knew the Princess had no idea.

She nodded, then bent and picked up the juggler's discarded sword. "Yes," she added, in case he hadn't seen her.


She jumped back into the fray with Drag at her side, moving even faster than she had before. He didn't comment, didn't speak other than to order others around them to keep moving forward. Every step they took forward was a step away from what had happened, so Helena kept moving forward. She gained a few more cuts, but that was due to the fact that her eyes wouldn't stop watering.

In the end, they had driven the Princess's army back far enough that they moved the camp forward. They had gained about seven miles of bloody ground and they had earned every saturated inch of it. The camp was guarded and Helena was near the center. She took the time to strip off her armor and clean off the smears of the day. Then she sat and cleaned her new sword, removing any trace of its successes.

She drew for an hour or two, replacing the three metal soldiers they had lost, wandering about the camp in her civilian clothes to make sure they were placed in the right areas. Mags saw her and ordered her bed. She had no choice but to obey. She returned to her tent, drawing up another prototype of the boom-stick. She wouldn't be able to test it until tomorrow morning. The living soldiers deserved their rest. They wouldn't take kindly to Helena creating explosions when they were supposed to be sleeping. There was nothing else for her to do, so she washed her face and got into her bed.

It wasn't until she got into bed, until she had finally stopped moving, that Helena thought about the juggler. She'd been able to avoid it up until now, keeping her mind blank and focused on the next task, but there were no tasks now. She was alone and still.

For the first time in more than three years, Helena cried herself to sleep over a juggler.

"Well," the Princess said. "That's interesting."

Valentine ignored her, sitting in his armchair and staring at the wall. It was his normal state now. Ever since his outburst, the Princess had been treating him with kid gloves, taking care not to speak to him often. Even though she watched him when he practiced with the living soldiers, she almost never spoke to him.

"It appears that you've gotten on the wrong side of the City's Guards. I wondered what you did that made you deserve to die, according to them."

He didn't move or turn.

"Oh, right. You murdered their Creator. How silly of me to forget."

Valentine's hands clenched on the arms of the chair.

"Look, isn't it lovely?"

She waved her hand over the window, turning it black before something began to show in the darkness. Valentine witnessed a battle through his hazy eyes, following along with a fellow that looked just like him. The copy of Valentine cut down soldier after soldier, but not as quickly as he could have been. Every step was taken with an effort, every opponent dispatched with a fight.

He approached another warrior, this one with a helmet that covered his face. Like the others, this one gave as good as he got, drawing blood from the fake Valentine more than once, even after being wounded himself. He wondered if the Princess sacrificed a real soldier for this show.

"The copies of you bleed better than the dead soldiers wearing the Mask," she murmured.

Valentine ignored her and saw the fake him disarm the soldier and press his blade to his throat. It was unfortunate, he was a good-

Valentine didn't move, or blink, or even breathe for a moment as the soldier's eyes flickered up into the fake Valentine's face. He knew that brown. Only one person he knew had those eyes. Come to mention it, he recognized that mouth, not blocked by the helmet. The way those lips pressed together tightly. He knew those fingers, even if they were wrapped around a sword instead of a pencil.

He knew this soldier.

He barely noticed the way the fake Valentine was dispatched, just in time to save the soldier. Valentine was more concerned with the way the other soldier stared at the body. The way the soldier picked up the sword and continued forward with the blue-haired man. Valentine saw the way the soldier wiped their eyes clear when the blue-haired man was distracted.

The Princess was watching him, looking for a reaction. He didn't dare give anything away. People were only safe if the Princess didn't know they were there.

"That gives you one less tool to use," he finally said.

"Well, it already completed its purpose. You murdered Helena," she laughed.

Valentine looked at her and didn't speak. Her laughter faded and she stood.

"I thought you ought to know that your so-called friends, or allies, they murdered you and left you lying in your own blood. And," she added, collecting the black from the window and letting the MirrorMask appear in her hand, "nobody cared."

Valentine turned his gaze back to the wall, so used to the numbness that he knew how it looked to outsiders. He didn't let on that his insides were twisting and shouting. Eventually the Princess left, leaving him alone with his guard.

Even after she left, he didn't dare give a hint as to what was happening. He sat back in his chair and closed his eyes, as he'd done a thousand times in the past few weeks. He didn't shout it, he didn't even think it loudly. It was just the tiniest whisper, the flimsiest thought that would blow away if anyone looked at it too closely. Just a momentary flicker.


Valentine opened his eyes and resumed his normal position. Inside though, he was no longer numb. No longer a victim. No longer waiting for the inevitable end.

He was a Valentine.

Helena looked up, seeing Valentine sitting on the edge of the pool. He looked like she had remembered him. He leaned forward, his hands hanging between his knees.

She kicked a rock, partially out of weakness. She wasn't sure what she should say, so announcing her presence like this was easier.

His head snapped up and his gaze locked on her. For a moment, he just stared. Helena drank in his image, unsure if this was something she would regret dreaming in the morning. If he was dead, she wanted it to be over, not to be reminded of him every time she closed her eyes.

"Hullo," he said.

That voice was like a punch to the gut. Helena flinched away.

He stood up slowly, but he didn't walk any closer.

Helena smiled tightly, "I watched you die today." She almost said it with a calm voice. Only a slight quaver betrayed the truth.

He still hadn't looked away. "No. You watched a copy of me die today."

"So you're still alive?"

"In a manner of speaking. Now, my turn. You died weeks ago."

"No. You stabbed me in the back. I nearly died."

This time he flinched. "Not me."

"Right. A copy." She had missed the juggler, but she'd been fooled twice already by this man. She wasn't so willing to believe this one. "Convenient."

He smirked and put his hands in his pockets, striding around the pool. "You weren't always this quick, Helena-na."

That was a second punch to the gut. That nickname. In that voice.

"You know the saying; fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice..."

"Shame on me a second time?" he finished.

She smiled against her better judgment. "No. Shame on me."

"Ah. Stupid saying, really," Valentine said. "You're all right, though? Really alive?"

The twist in conversation made her head spin. "Yes. I'm alive. Are you going to spread that along to your Princess?"

He smile turned darker, but it wasn't aimed at her. "No. I think I'll leave that to you."

She smirked back at him, unable to keep herself at an arm's distance.

"I caught your show in the City of Light. You really spun the Princess around." He sat back down on the pool.

"She seemed calm enough when she left."

He laughed, "Trust me, she was planning your murder about two minutes later. You got to her."

"And yet, you're still walking around...not a shadow, not dead." Helena crossed her arms. "Why's that?"

"The Princess is lonely. She'd rather play with her food before, you know...brutally murdering it." He was still smiling, but it was wrong. He was different in other ways. He spoke and moved more confidently, with more thought in his actions.

Helena stared at him. "Why are you doing this?"

"Don't have much control over my dreaming."

"Helping the Princess."

"Because I'm an awful, awful man. You knew that."

"But you're not. At least, you didn't use to be."

He sat down on the pool edge again, "I betrayed you for a handful of jewels."

"And then you came back," she reminded him. "You rescued me."

He glanced down at his feet. "I put you there. It's not a rescue if it was my fault to begin with."

She took a step towards him before she caught herself. But it was hard...seeing him here alive and hurting. Helena wasn't good with ignoring people in pain. Especially when it was one of her best- had been one of her best...argh.

Valentine stood again and walked up to her. Helena stiffened, but didn't step back or turn away. He noticed and smiled. "Don't worry. It's just a dream. Nothing can hurt you in a dream."

Helena arched a brow, "You won't hurt me again, Valentine. I won't let you."

He didn't hesitate, but cupped her cheek and tilted her head up. "Good," he said quietly. "I'm glad you're alive."

She didn't lean in to his touch, despite wanting to. Still, she figured he could have a little of the truth. "And I'm glad you're not dead."

"Keep fighting, Helena-na. She's not as controlled as she seems. You've got her on the run." He let go of her face and walked away.

"Where are you going?" she called after him.

"Unfortunately," he said back, turning and walking backwards, "I'm waking up."

Helena felt the world around her shift and begin to fade. Apparently she was waking up as well. She might be wrong, but she was willing to hazard a guess that this was the real Valentine. Her friend, no matter what he had done. "Don't die before we meet again, okay?"

He grinned, "Will we meet again, Creator?"

Rolling her eyes and unable to keep a smile away from her face, Helena turned away from him. "In your dreams, Valentine."

When Helena woke up, that smile was still there.

If I Apologised

A MirrorMask Story
by Caitastrophe8499

Part 9 of 29

<< Previous     Home     Next >>