I.

The throne room was saturated with incense from the cleansing ceremony the Grand Priest prescribed during the day. What was it but an excuse to pretend as though the Priest was actually half of what the former Priestess and her father were, and that Lord Claud — for that was the name of the priest — was actually not completely useless in the current state of affairs with his lacking spiritual gifts?

So the incense remained there, useless and cumbersome like its creator; in a similar fashion, ten imperial advisors remained seated there, mindless and clueless without their Emperor. Then at last, one of them decided to break the murmurs of uncertainty.

“We cannot risk upholding this pathetic excuse any longer: His Majesty’s supposed prolonged illness is as foreboding as the truth.”

“What would become of us, then?” A stern voice went against the crumble of resolution. “The rebels would overrun us…our allies held in their places merely in fear of Emperor Luctus would turn against us…do you wish to die so much?”

“…No, but if we are to escape now…”

“They will hunt us down,” A third voice interjected, and it rang and settled at the weight of truth; the minds churned in silent contemplation before the mahogany doors were thrown open, allowing the entrance of the head of these men, Lord Horatio, and by his side the unexpected figure of Princess Lyra, her head held high against the advisors’ disapproving murmurs.

“Gentlemen, apologies for my belated arrival,” Horatio started. “Please be seated. I have found a solution to our unfortunate situation.”

There was a shift among the table in agitated apprehension.

“We must uphold the lie, to put up an act for the maintenance of our states. But, for that, we must have a replacement,” one of the advisors realized the Princess’s presence in relation to Horatio’s words and began to protest but only to be shushed by reason.

“There are very little difficulties in imitating my father’s aura,” The Princess began. “I–”

“– With all due respect, Your Highness, His Majesty was…far more powerful than you in every aspect,” An advisor fought the urge to scorn but failed. “Your…imitation would simply make a fool of us before dooming us all the same…while Your Highness would share our demise as well.”

Lyra beheld the speaker with a cocked eyebrow and a smirk: even he had to admit that she was distinctively a mold of Emperor Luctus, “Was my father truly powerful, that he cannot even return himself to his empire? Perhaps my act would only be a futile play because of the common disdain set against me before I even begin, and it would be the lack of cooperation on your part but not my failure to fulfill my role that brings our doom…Excuse me, perhaps I am too inferior to be considered a collective of ‘our’ with your esteemed lordships?”

The last quip was whispered to Lord Horatio, whose façade was lighted by amusement, “Gentlemen, I can assure you that Her Highness is more than capable of upholding the disguise.”

As their audience settled at Horatio’s words, Lyra scoffed, “To think your words can restrain them so, while mine merely amount to impropriety…very well, I shall bear it if it means maintaining the peace of our Empire.”

Discussions went on, and the advisors arrived upon satisfactory conclusions, drew up details until all that was left to do was for Horatio to cast the illusionary spell. He uttered the enchantments as he composed an ungodly concoction with the Princess’s blood drawn from her wrist before the proper symbols were drawn about Lyra.

“I believe you mean Vega and not Sirius there, my Lord,” Lyra pointed to Horatio a corner of the diagram with her slipper.

The room was hushed, and Horatio acknowledged the mistake with compliment and fixed it. So, the ceremony was done, the spell in place, and with a gasp of mists the disappeared Emperor materialized before them in the Princess’s place. All feared breathing as the fake Emperor beheld his hand, aimlessly measuring the symbolic powers bestowed upon this visage. But she scoffed, a frown followed by a quick flick of the wrist as her appearance returned to her natural state, the case of imperial disguise joining the mists of incense into thin air. Unbeknownst to most, she was disgusted with the works of those hands and chose to embody them as little as she can.

“Very well,” Horatio meant to draw a conclusion. “We shall hereby swear that all of us should hold this secret to our graves.”

Oaths were taken, the business done, men with heavy shoulders exited the room to leave Lord Horatio and Princess Lyra within the conference.

“What stays you, Your Highness? It is late…go rest, we’ve much to do.”

Lyra curtsied and made for the door, but paused at the threshold. “Horatio?”

“Yes?”

“What happens if people see through the disguise? For all I know, your fellow advisors could be right, I could be pulling a stupid show — ”

“– You won’t fail, child, their attitudes were only set against you for your sex.”

“I know.”

“Even if you do fail, we will just think of something…”

The Princess opened her mouth to speak, but thought better and pursed her lips into a curt smile, “I will trust you then…Goodnight, Horatio.” She exited with a flourish of silks.

It didn’t take Horatio’s over two decades of mentoring the Princess to translate her hurts and hesitation…emotions not unlike the fears that ruled her father…but then again, doubt was not an ailment that only coursed through this imperial family’s veins. In fact, was it not one of the most common ropes that bounded and tripped humanity?

Horatio paced to one of the windows and yanked the curtains aside, muttering to the lonesome disk of light hanging in the night sky beyond the glass that parted him from darkness, “It will be fine…all will be fine.”

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