I guided Julio up to the same meeting room I had used for his first visit here. Alpha paused at the door, but I shook my head and gestured for her to come in. It was unlikely that Julio had come here to antagonise us, but neither was I comfortable with her roaming about unsupervised. I kept alert for any traces of magic being used, while not letting it show on my face beyond an expression of vigilance – a vigilance that Julio would expect, given the circumstances of his visit.
After I closed the door to our meeting room, the two of us stared at each other in silence. I silently counted off ten seconds, then broke the impasse. I had to speak first, to convince him of my desperation.
“Lord Chancellor. Good to see you… is what I would like to say, but I’m afraid that you bring bad news.”
I let my voice crack near the end of my statement. I had to appear anxious and confused, beaten into submission. I fidgeted visibly, averting my gaze when he made eye contact. Seemingly satisfied with my response, Julio sighed and clapped me on the shoulder.
“Mister Glint. I know that this must be hard for you. Please, take a seat.”
I let him guide me into one of the chairs. Once I was seated, I made my arm tremble slightly, as if I were holding back great emotion.
“Elysium. Is it true?”
Julio nodded his head slowly, sympathetically. It made me want to punch him.
“Indeed. Though it pains me to confirm this, Miss Elysium has indeed confessed to treason and conspiracy.”
I slammed my fists on the table.
“I- I can’t believe it. I don’t want to believe it. Not Elysium… not her… why? Why would she…?”
I hung my head and started to tremble. I recalled my old days as a thief, when I had faked tears to serve as a distraction. I felt that familiar feeling welling back up, and water collected along the corners of my eyes. Julio, watching me, shook his head quietly.
“I don’t know. She refused to say. She only laughed and bragged about using you and Rosalind.”
“That’s bullshit! That’s bullshit and you know it!”
I made a show of pushing myself off the desk and glaring at him through tear-blurred eyes.
“You were there when she made the plans! She was against the entire concert in the first place! You saw her plan – you approved it!”
“Mister Glint. You will note that I merely said that Elysium confessed to treason, not that she was guilty of it.”
He looked at me with a meaningful glance. I allowed myself what seemed to be an appropriately long period of shocked silence, before responding in a soft voice.
“…You’re saying that her confession was forced out of her.”
Julio narrowed his eyes.
“I said nothing of the sort. I only said that she has confessed to her crime.”
“Fuck that. Fuck your political nonsense. She’s my mentor – my friend. You’re telling me that she’s just a scapegoat. For who? For what? Oh, of course. For your fucking Imperial Guard. The ones that were supposed to be elites, that you insisted be used for the security detail. To let an assassin get past in that kind of closed environment means that they’re either complicit or incompetent. Which is it?!”
I stepped right up to Julio, glaring at him. Alpha, silent to this point, stepped in front of him and faced me, placing herself in my way. Julio touched her shoulder and shook his head – she retreated back to the door. He glared sharply at me.
“Mister Glint. Please do not put words in my mouth. Any further slander against His Imperial Majesty’s guard of honour will be treated as treason.”
I clicked my tongue and spun away, making sure to display disgust with each movement. It wasn’t particularly hard, it was just a matter of letting my pre-existing feelings about this man bubble forth.
“It is indeed unfortunate that the guards on detail were co-conspirators with the would-be assassin. Rest assured that they have already been executed for their crimes.”
“So why is Elysium still detained?”
“The guards were not working alone – someone had given them the instructions, though they refused to reveal who.”
“So you’re framing Elysium as the mastermind.”
“It is what she has confessed.”
I snorted and gave no reply. Julio seemed to be waiting for me to say something, but I held my silence. While it was important to act the part of the desperate, lost child, neither could I afford to let Julio see me as just another insignificant pawn – I had to assert my importance as an agent. After some moments of silence, Julio spoke up.
“It boggles me, though, that Miss Elysium would do something like this, which is of no benefit to her whatsoever. Indeed, I would have expected the orchestrator of this plot to be the person who had something to gain. Instead, the sloppy assassination attempt seems like it was meant to fail all along. It boggles me that she would go to so much trouble to set up this attempt, only to have its pivotal moment be so pitifully executed. I also wonder how she managed to gain influence over the Imperial Guard… perhaps an examination of our recruitment processes is in order.”
I held back my urge to issue a derisive snort. Of course, the orchestrator was likely Julio himself, but he was trying to lead me to the conclusion that the Emperor himself had planned the assassination. In terms of who had the most to gain, it was clearly the Emperor – who had managed to seperate Rosalind from Elysium, thus allowing him to detain and thereby court Rosalind with minimal resistance. But that was just the way Julio wanted it to appear. Still, I had to play along for the moment. I moved on to the next topic that he was expecting, expecting that it would lead him to believe that his attempt at manipulation had succeeded.
“…What of Rosalind?”
Julio’s mouth turned slightly into a faint smile.
“From what you told the crowd outside, I believe you’re already familiar with her current situation.”
“I have only heard rumours and hearsay. Please tell me. Is it true?”
Julio sighed and nodded.
“Indeed… my brother has taken her on as a consort. He seems to show particular favour toward her, as well.”
“How is she?”
“Troubled. The news of Miss Elysium’s betrayal has hit her hard. She is frequently seen staring off into the distance. It worries my brother, who is concerned for her health. He thinks she might be upset.”
“Of course she’s fucking upset. Her best friend has been arrested and charged with high treason. I’m surprised that she’s not crying her eyes out.”
“She was, for a while. My brother worked his charms on her – he has quite the way with women. As she spends more time with him, she’s starting to smile a little more. My hope is that she will move past this betrayal in time.”
“…So you’re saying that just because the Emperor said a couple nice words to her and gave her some presents, she’s forgotten about Elysium.”
“Now, Mister Glint, I never said-”
“That whore. After all Elysium did for her! She goes and leaves her to die, just because of some fucking man?!”
Railing against Rosalind like that made my heart clench, even though I knew it was necessary. Even though I had rehearsed it beforehand. It hurt, but I forced myself to slander the kindest woman I knew. Julio narrowed his eyes and raised his voice.
“Control yourself, Mister Glint. I had expected you to know better than to accuse Miss Rosalind of such. She would likely break down if she were to hear you.”
“What the fuck does that matter?! She abandoned Elysium, why should she care about what I think? I was less to her than Elysium was, and look what’s happened.”
“Mister Glint, might I inform you that my presence here today is at her behest?”
I feigned being dumbstruck. Julio gave me a disapproving glance and continued.
“Miss Rosalind implored me to speak to you – she wishes to know your condition, and to know that you are safe. She was rather insistent on it, when I went to check on her.”
“She… was concerned about me?”
“Indeed. When I told her of your release, she smiled for the first time since your arrest. Perhaps you would rather hear it from her, but I can assure you that she most certainly is concerned for your well-being. She has far from abandoned you.”
I allowed my tears to flow again and collapsed on my chair. Julio smiled sympathetically.
“In her soon-to-be-official capacity as Imperial Consort, she requested for me to bring you to see her, and expressed her desire to have you enter the Palace as her attendant.”
“…eh? Attendant? Me?”
“Indeed. All Imperial Consorts are entitled to their own entourage of servants – she has requested that you be the first and most prominent of her’s.”
“It is my belief that she intends to allow you to share in her newfound fortune as a Consort, and that she wishes for your companionship.”
“Of course, she has left the decision to you – but I sincerely believe that accepting the position would be a great relief to her.”
“…I have to manage the Ezov.”
“You can still do that in the position of her attendant. In fact, it would provide you numerous resources and connections which I have no doubt you will find useful in the continued expansion of this establishment.”
“Well, I am here merely as messenger. Miss Rosalind desires you to take this position – she desires for you to stand by her side. Whether you decide to take the position or not is your decision. No need to reply immediately. Think on it for a few days. If you decide to accept this position, come to the Palace gates in three days’ time and give your name to the guards on duty – I’ll make sure they know to bring you to Miss Rosalind.”
Julio stood up and made toward the door. I got up and followed behind, but kept silent the whole way, as if deep in thought. Once I had shown him out the door and watched him walking down the street, disappearing from sight, I shut the door and collapsed on the ground, exhausted. Marisa hurried to me with a towel, her face bearing an expression of concern. I grinned and gave her a thumbs up.
“A complete success. I’ve got my in.”