Chapter 11

She had nearly cried in relief when she set eyes on the royal city. Meza might have been damaged, but to her eyes it was still pristine and beautiful. And most importantly, safe.

She had nearly rolled her eyes when May had attacked her, latching on for dear life and apologizing profusely for failing in her duties. Olivia had nearly patted the poor girl's head and told her it was alright. And more importantly, there was work to be done.

She had very nearly scarfed down the food that was set in front of her at the dinner table, but she held back, eating with as much poise and grace as exhaustion would allow. Each bite was carefully placed in her mouth, chewed, and then expertly swallowed. Not a drop of her drink spilled down her chin.

And she had quite nearly kept it together after slipping into the hot bath, but the tears that sprang forth could not be stopped and so she wept. In her first real moment of privacy that day, she cried her eyes out and sobbed as loudly as she wanted.

Sitting there in the deep bathtub she splashed her face once more to rid herself of the stray tears and then took a deep, calming breath. "I'm okay," she told herself. "I'm going to be okay."

Taking a small amount of shampoo into her hand, she worked it into a lather and then spread it throughout her hair. When that was done, she scrubbed her body down with a sponge and soap. As she rinsed it all away, she closed her eyes and pictured leaving behind her old life and her old self. She imagined being reborn into something greater and stronger.

It was corny and cliché, and she knew it well. But the circumstances were dire, so what worked...worked. And it definitely worked. As she stepped out of the bath and emerged into her bedchambers clad only in a thick purple robe, she felt it inside herself.

The maids must have sensed a shift as well, because suddenly they behaved much more reverently. May was no longer openly smiling at her lady, but the mirth was still in her eyes, along with a knowing look.

May herself been seemingly been transformed. She'd cried herself sick upon finding out that her mother had been killed in the attack on Meza, but a small part of her was also relieved. She could now face the fact that her mother was never going to be well again and that May would always have had to struggle to make ends meet and keep the woman from being in too much pain.

In a sense, she was free now. And she felt free. Now May could focus on assisting and pleasing her princess. All her income would be her own. There was...nothing to hold her back.

She'd miss her mother terribly of course, but by telling herself that her mama had gone on to a better place seemed to put to rest her grief.

May watched silently as Olivia stalked over to her bed and crawled beneath the covers. She set to shooing the other women out and was just about to turn down the lights when Olivia's voice reached her ears.

"Tomorrow," the princess began. "Tomorrow you will help me dress in the most regal thing you can find and then make it known that I am going to address the people of Meza. Something's gotta give..." her voice trailed off as she slipped into sleep and May nodded once before closing the door.

"As you wish my lady."

He ached. Barely conscious, Yuei took a ragged breath. Oh, how he ached. His arms were still strung up above his head and he didn't dare try moving them. Any twitch in his upper body caused the searing pain in his back to spring to life once more.

The blood had clotted and the skin was probably trying to knit together, but to the Celestial it felt like fatally open wounds. Surely...he would die from this. The sooner the better, he thought ruefully.

Over the past few days, his captor had succeeded in stripping him of not just one, but both of his precious wings. After that, he'd been whipped, burned, and beaten until he was nearly senseless...all for the cruel man's enjoyment.

Several times, during moments of torture, he would call out for his sister Eilana hoping she'd be able to hear him. But he never received a response and he was growing hopeless. Oh when would he just die...?

The door at the far end of the hall creaked open and Yuei braced himself for what he knew would be more taunting. Solumn Noll never came by just to chat. The footsteps echoed loudly throughout the room, each step ringing louder and more fearsome.

Solumn Noll stopped just before his captive and frowned at him. Yuei could barely see the man through his blood encrusted eyes, but he could tell the man was not pleased. That thought made something gleeful rise in his chest, but it was short-lived.

Noll's hand struck Yuei hard across the face. "That bitch!" he seethed. "She's a clever little girl, isn't she, Celestial? Wrapping everyone around her finger with that little speech she delivered in Meza's courtyard..."

He stopped ranting abruptly and smiled. "Well, she won't feel so victorious when she learns about what's happened to you now, will she? In fact, she'll probably be so horrified she'll come to rescue you right away and that's when I'll strike."

Yuei doubted it. She wouldn't come for him. Even if she wanted to, and that he found questionable, there's no way General Nase would let her take such a risk. She would be kept safe in the palace, while squads of soldiers were sent out to discern Noll's hiding place.

If the Celestial actually knew where he was, he'd find a way to help them. But he'd been knocked unconscious during transport. They could be on another planet for all he knew, but that wasn't likely the case. If Noll wanted to take Eloria for himself, he couldn't risk going off-world now.

Olivia....the name sounded more natural now that he'd had time to roll it around his thoughts. She wasn't just "the princess" anymore. She wasn't just that annoying woman. She wasn't just that stupid little girl. She was Olivia. A curious and unique off-worlder sent from the heavens to save them.

He realized with a start that he wanted her to be a great ruler. He wanted her to succeed and grow into the role. He truly wished with all his heart that she had it in her to save them. To save him.

Earlier that day...

Olivia took a deep breath to steady her nerves. What had she been thinking, muttering all that royal nonsense when she was half asleep? And who was May to just run off and alert the whole city that their ruler was going to give a public speech?

Her slender and pale hands slid down the length of the dress, smoothing out invisible wrinkles. It was a beautiful garment, truly. A fitted sleeveless bodice graced the top half of her small frame and her legs were hidden by the long skirts. The fabric was a rich hue that fell somewhere between the realm of purple and blue. Over that, she wore a dark purple coat, with armored shoulder pads that were inlaid with amethyst.

A circlet had been placed upon her head, after May had swept her hair up into a high bun with little braids twisted around it. The handmaiden had explained that the circlet was a sign of royalty and only the ruler of Eloria could don it. It was the very same circlet that the previous king had worn for so many years.

It was overwhelming to gaze at herself in the mirror now. She took another deep breath and tried to quell the butterflies raging in her stomach. The girl who stared back at her from the mirror did not look like anyone she knew. The girl who evenly stared back at Olivia looked like a real princess.

"My lady, it's time." The soft voice of a servant drew the girl from her thoughts and she rose, following the young man down a long hallway and towards a balcony that overlooked the entire city. Already she could hear the clamor of people outside, their voices rising up over the railing and spilling into the hall with her.

Her stomach clenched and she put a hand on the wall to steady herself. I can't to this, she thought vehemently. I'll throw up. I just know it.

General Nase was standing on the balcony beside Sheia, looking down on all the people. As he heard the princess approaching, he turned to regard her and frowned. She was more pale than usual. Quickly, he reached out to steady her arm and drew up next to him.

Olivia took one look at the crowd below and swore she'd faint. But the general kept his arm securely latched to hers and she took what little comfort she could in that.

"I don't know what to say now.." she whispered pathetically.

"Say what's in your heart," the general advised. "It doesn't have to be perfect, it just needs to be honest. That's what the people need right now."

The princess nodded and cleared her throat. The crowd instantly quieted.

"I come before you today," she began shakily, "not only as a confused off-worlder but as your chosen ruler. I come before you as the princess of Eloria, a post I have decided that I need to take seriously. Because it's not only my life and my happiness at stake here. I have realized that I hold the lives of all of you in my hands as well.

"It's a lot of responsibility for one girl to take on. I realize this and I know it won't be easy. But I've come to understand how some things work here. I've seen some of this beautiful world and I've seen how courteous and friendly and wonderful it's people are. I want to protect this world, even though it isn't mine.

"Eloria is in peril. An evil man called Solumn Noll has decided to enslave Eloria and claim it as his own. His intentions are not noble and his methods are wicked. He means to kill me and any who stand against him. But don't be afraid, people of Eloria. Because I won't let him ruin this beautiful land.

"And I won't let him kill me." Olivia's features took on a hardened edge. "I intend to fight back. I intend to defeat him, by any means necessary. It is my duty to all of you. You, who have been hit the hardest by his cruelty. Lives have been lost, homes destroyed, and wills have been broken. But we have not been bested yet! We can stand up to this man. Are you with me?"

The crowd was silent. Nervously, she glanced to her right to find General Nase beaming down at her.

"Well done," he smiled. The words had barely left his lips when the crowd below burst into applause and exclamations. Olivia felt a weight lift from her chest. She hadn't been aware of just how tense she was but now she felt as though breathing were a lot easier.

The general held out his arm to her and she happily took it, letting him escort her back inside the palace. In all the chaos and joy surrounding the palace, no one noticed a lone hooded figure slip away.