I stared at the white-haired woman in front of me, the woman who had been my magic tutor and who professed herself a friend of Rosalind’s.
“When Elysium mentioned that she’d secured the help of a collaborator, the thought that it might be you did cross my mind, but I’m still surprised to find that my suspicions were correct. Didn’t you say you had other matters to attend to?”
“I did, but I wasn’t exactly going to miss my dear Rosalind’s biggest concert, was I? Besides, I’ve done all I can with regard to my main objective in this country, so now I’m free to help you out. In fact, I’ll just alleviate your worries a bit by assuring you that I have a vested interest in making sure that this plan succeeds. Rosalind’s safety and happiness is the main reason, of course, but the success of Plan Crescendo will also help me accomplish my main goal.”
“And the hair?”
Ruth laughed and ran her fingers through her pure-white hair, the light from the lamp in the room granting the action an incorporeal, ghostly quality.
“A little trick to hide my identity. Do you like it?”
“I won’t deny that it’s pretty, but how exactly is having such an unusual hair colour going to help you remain anonymous?”
“It draws attention to my hair, rather than other identifying features. If you saw me on the street without glimpsing my face, would you be able to recognise me?”
True enough, the strangeness of the hair colour invariably drew one’s attention to it, rather than to any other identifying features – if I were to describe her appearance to someone else after merely glimpsing it, the hair would undoubtedly be the focal point of my description. If she could then change her hair colour again afterward, it would basically mislead any attempts at trying to find out her identity based on a description.
“…I see your point. Anyway, let’s get down to business. How much do you know of Plan Crescendo?”
“Elysium told me the reasoning and the endgame. She also told me her prediction of the events that are currently ongoing. I have to admit, I really don’t approve of this. It’s a bold plan that’s far more likely to fail than to succeed. Not to mention, it places Rosalind in an immense amount of danger.”
“I agree, and Elysium agreed too. But Rosalind was the one who chose this plan. We decided to respect her decision.”
“As did I, which is why I’m here right now. Besides, Elysium briefly explained the other possible plans she had proposed, and I’ll admit that Rosalind’s character probably wouldn’t have allowed the other two options.”
Ruth descended into inaudible mumbling for several seconds before turning back to the topic at hand.
“Well, since we’re doing this, we might as well do everything we can to make it work.”
“Agreed. I don’t like the plan all that much either, but we should focus on supporting Rosalind, since she’s fixed her resolve. Well then, your current role in the plan is to bring me up to speed on the situation, so let’s get to it.”
Ruth looked at me with raised eyebrows, clearly surprised.
“Huh. You’re a lot more confident than I remember. Not that it’s a bad thing, of course.” She cleared her throat. “Well, I guess I’ll start with the situation of the town in general. As you no doubt noticed on your way back, people are confused and want to know more about what’s going on. Word of the attempted assassination has already spread, and is common knowledge at this point. There still hasn’t been any official statement of what happened, but everyone who was in attendance has been circulating rumours and speculation. Some of the more worrying ones are the ones that brand Rosalind a traitor, or the ones claiming that you intended to use one of the audience members as a scapegoat. At this point, your customers are just waiting for some sort of official statement, either from the Ezov or the Crown.”
I nodded. The first order of business would have to be reassuring the crowd, and calming them down. They had to preserve Rosalind’s fanbase if the plan was to succeed. Being the man in charge of the Ezov, that duty fell to me. I did have some lines prepared for the occasion: reassurances and half-truths that Elysium and I had jointly devised. Hopefully it would be enough. Noting my acknowledgement, Ruth moved on to the next topic.
“Now, regarding the fates of Elysium and Rosalind: Rosalind is confined to a part of the palace. She is, thankfully, treated with respect and civility – the Emperor has given her free rein of the building, and she is free to explore the palace grounds as she likes, though she is forbidden from leaving the palace itself. Twice a day, at lunch and at dinner, the Emperor summons her to dine with him, during which time he tries to win her affection through various trifling displays of power. Thus far, Rosalind has responded positively, which only serves to further enflame his desire.”
“You think he’s caught, then?”
“Most certainly. As you’re aware, he was already clearly interested in acquiring Rosalind as one of his mistresses, but after seeing her in person, he’s clearly become infatuated with her. I’d venture to say that Rosalind has a real chance of becoming his proper wife in the future.”
“What of Elysium?”
“Elysium is currently held in isolation, in the most secure prison in the Empire. She has unconditionally confessed to the crime of plotting to assassinate the Emperor, and has renounced you and Rosalind as only “pawns in her game”. She has further admitted to several other counts of treason, including inciting the troublemakers in the other cities across the country.”
“In other words, all the treasonous acts that we suspected to be Julio’s work are now credited to her.”
“Correct. In view of her high treason, she has been sentenced to execution.”
“Has a date been fixed?”
“Not officially, but we can probably expect it to be sometime next week. Given the short amount of time to prepare, it’ll probably be death by hanging.”
“I see. In other words, it’s all going according to plan.”
“Exactly. That woman’s foresight is terrifying. I shudder to think what she might put me through if I were her enemy. In fact, she might be even be able to give Mother a hard time – no, Mother would just overpower her.”
Ruth said several things that I didn’t quite understand the context behind, but I decided not to press her. Everyone had their secrets. In any case, everything up to this point, including the Emperor attempting to gain Rosalind’s favour and Elysium being blamed for Julio’s crimes, and even Elysium’s upcoming execution, had been predicted by Elysium on that night when we had drafted this plan. All the players were acting exactly as required, which meant that Ruth’s most important role was about to come into play. It also meant that I could expect a visit from an eminent personage reasonably soon.
“Thanks for the update, Ruth. I trust that Elysium’s told you about your role in the next phase of the plan?”
“Yes. An audacious plan, certainly, but given her unique limitations, I must say that it’s the best option. Still, what were you going to do if you hadn’t been able to secure my help?”
“I did raise that problem to Elysium, but she just assured me that she would be able to find a suitable collaborator. She seemed rather certain of the fact that she would be able to gain your assistance. But I suppose that if you didn’t agree to it, she would have revised the plan a bit to have me play your role, instead, though that might have made some latter bits of the plan a bit trickier.”
“That was my thought – that if I refused, she would turn to you, which would jeopardise the entire plan. When I considered that, I really didn’t have much of a choice. Which I suppose is what that crafty woman was going for in the first place.”
“Yes. We’re all puppets on this stage, and Elysium the grand puppeteer.”
“…I wonder how she would contend against another puppeteer?”
I looked at Ruth inquisitively, but she shook her head dismissively.
“No matter. It’s nothing of significance. Well then, I should get going. I have a jailbreak to prepare for, and you have an angry mob to deal with.”
I sighed, thinking on what I had to do, and reluctantly opened the door for Ruth, gesturing toward it while saying my goodbyes.
“Good luck to both of us, I suppose – though your part looks to be far more dangerous than mine.”
“Ha. It’s just the army of one country. I doubt they’ll present me with much of a challenge. It was good seeing you, Glint. You’ve grown up into a fine young man.”
With that, she exited the door. After a few seconds, I peered out into the corridor, but she was gone. I walked back over to my office and found Eliza still asleep. I gently shook her awake, causing her to start.
“Come on, Eliza. We’ve got work to do.”
Eliza rubbed her eyes for a while, then nodded. I led the way as we joined Marisa and Jasmine on the first floor, then readied myself and rehearsed my lines. Then I stepped through the door to confront the dozens of people who were causing a commotion on our doorstep.