Celeste has shocked me with her words. I had no idea Traegr had been affecting her to the point that she wanted to take her own life; to test his love. It angered me beyond recognition, it made me want to confront Traegr myself about the issue.
Right now, however, I wanted to distract her. So, we walk together, out of the Green Sanctuary. I make sure to hold her hand the entire time so she knows she is not alone. We wonder down the halls, finding a media centre located next to the entrance.
Dark Gems in soldier suits, man the solid gate, old world entrance. Their backs straighten when they catch sight of Celeste and I.
I grip her hand tighter and pull her along faster, but out of nowhere she forcefully tugs me to a stop.
“Look,” she whispers, nodding towards a rolling iron cage on wheels, rounding the bend ahead, being escorted by females tugging the cage along.
I stand back with Celeste to the side as the cage comes closer.
The girls hauling the cage had scrappy clothes on and as they move, insults in the Kiyr language, were thrown their way by complete strangers witnessing them pass.
They are approaching fast and I can see a female figure inside the cage, hunched over in her own vomit.
“Stop!” I decide to walk out as they get closer, and the girls do halt, eyes once downcast now raised to meet the one stopping their progress.
There are clinks of metal and boots as the soldiers near the entrance approach.
“Please, move,” one of the girls at the front whispers, her eyes hollow.
“No,” I say more gently, “I just wish to look inside, who is in the cage?”
“Val,” the same girl answers.
“Please move aside,” one of the male Gems comes forward, not touching me, but blocking my access to the cage by standing before me.
“You’re speaking to a princess, so you should address me correctly,” I threaten him and Celeste stands close by me for support.
“I apologise, princess, we have orders from King Traegr to –”
“To make sure we do not leave the premises,” I say, “And nothing else.”
“And to make sure you do not interrupt protocol, this is a standard round of humiliation for the renegades.”
“Why are they all female?” I ask, “I am not interrupting anything, I wish to see who is inside.”
“Male Gems are also punished when they step out of line, inside the Scouting Stadium,” he informs me, still refusing to move.
“How?” I ask.
“In battles, of course, with Dark Gems. Only Dark Gems have the authority to lead, everyone else falls in line –”
“They prove their worth through battle, correct?” I ask, “Is there a... legal book on all this?”
The soldier looks taken aback by my question.
“Of course, princess, as soldiers we’re trained to know all it’s details inside out, off the top of our heads.”
“Please quote to me the lines on punishments for those who... rebel against the King, exactly as you know it,” I see him think to himself but he also seems eager to explain.
“Those who decide to revolt against law, are not innocent until proven Royal or otherwise. Any means necessary to prove Royalty is up for grabs, princess,” the soldier shrugs, relaxing when I smile, “Words are not as powerful as action... it is a part of our core values Traegr holds most dearly.”
“Oh, I know. Proving one’s worth in winning a battle, yes?”
“Correct,” the soldier nods and I also nod.
“Thank you for enlightening me, except I do not wish to stop the protocol ‘humiliation’... I only wish to see who is inside the cage, if you would be so kind...or perhaps if you continue to stand in my way, you’ll have to battle me to prove Royalty?” I lightly threaten, with a smirk, “Please step aside for your princess.”
The soldier hesitates but eventually steps out of my way. I feel he trusts me.
He returns to the other soldiers but they continue to stand by closely, keeping an eye on what I’m doing.
At least for the moment, there is nothing in between myself and the female Gems hauling around Val.
“Please forgive me for asking, princess,” the girl who spoke the prisoners name at the beginning, asks me now, “...but where did the Royal female Gems go for a thousand years?”
“We ran away from cruel leadership,” I explain, “We become more educated... in another place. We learnt that ignorance is bliss but it is a false bliss that can turn into a nightmare, at any moment, and you will be totally unprepared for the consequences,” I’m sure I don’t have to explain further to her, they clearly didn’t know what they were getting themselves into by rebelling against the King, “I now have knowledge that will help me, her, you,” I explain, nodding to Celeste and speaking to the girl directly, “All of you,” I add, “Including Val.”
There is movement in the cage and I walk forward to the hunched mess inside.
Curled up, hair scraggly, tangled and a mess.
“Val,” I call out to her, but there is no response, “What did she do?” I ask, aloud, for anyone to answer, “What is she being punished for?”
“Treason in her Star Cursed life, princess,” the soldier from before calls out to me, to explain. I look over my shoulder and see a crowd has formed, “You are speaking to Valencia Madeira Citrine. She was feared in another life and now is being proven otherwise.”
“But what did she do in this life?” I ask.
“She was picked from her school, identity recognition picked up on her features; similar to our history books,” the girl explains, “While we thieved and refused to be educated; she did nothing. I went to school with her.”
“She is imprisoned for being Valencia?” I ask.
“She is Val,” the girl corrects me, “She was not born as Valencia, she is Val. New memories, new life.”
“She has a new innocence too,” I proclaim, “How can she be punished for a past life?”
“As we were,” Celeste whispers in my ear, “We may not be Star Cursed but we are being punished for a thousand years ago, as she is being punished for two thousand years ago. It is no different.”
“Val, please talk to me,” I call out to her again but she does not move.
She is closed off from everyone.
“We must keep going or we’ll be next,” the girls tell me, “Like her.”
“Where are you taking her?” I ask.
“To the lab, to be tested... we must follow our orders... it was very special to meet you in real life, princess Sapphire,” the girl at the front answers me and as I stand back to allow the girls to continue on their way while I am left speechless.
As the cage rolls on, there is a loud boom from hidden speakers.
“May the princess and her maid return to their chambers, preparation is required for tonight’s games.”
Celeste and I look at each other nervously.
All at once, the soldiers come close and surround us.
“Let us escort you back safely,” they are kind enough, only following what they have been taught.
Celeste and I agree to be escorted.
The day’s troubles were just beginning.
I didn’t want to ignorantly believe tonight would be a smooth transition of events.
Victories never came that easy.