Chapter 34: The Face Behind the Mask

Stellar leaned against a tree to catch her breath. She has been watching herself to avoid getting caught by Azreal's men. Those men were relentless, coming after her like that.

"Sigh…" Stellar wondered what she could do to shake them off her trail. She thought about a few possibilities.

"I wonder what I can do…" The lady thought long and hard…

After a while, she smiled delightfully to herself. She knew exactly what she has to do.

"How's His Majesty doing?" Rey asked Shiho, as she stepped out of the royal chamber.

"He's recovering." Shiho said shortly. In the days after Lacus left, Shiho and King Uzumi spent more time together. Shiho's presence eased the king's pain of missing his daughters and Shiho found the king to be a generous father figure to look up to. The girl was thankful to Cagalli and Lacus for asking her to stay in their stead.

Rey nodded expressionlessly and walked away. Shiho watched him go with a bitter expression.

She knew she was venting her anger over her aunt's death at Rey, but there just isn't anyone she could take it out on. Rey had endured her spiteful words with the same calm attitude as always, never returning a single word to her. The blond man now worked under the King of Orb with loyalty and dedication, but Shiho could detect a hint of sadness in his eyes. But the reason for such a melancholy escapes her.

At first, Shiho only pretended to be caring, but as they spent more time together as 'family', acts were turned into reality. She began to see Rey as a real brother. A part of her actually accepted him into her life. That was why she was so furious to see Rey take another's side when her aunt has passed away. She felt betrayed and hurt.

Shiho just hope that no more misfortune will befall on those she cared about.

She sighed to herself and followed Rey's direction down the hall.

As Rey closed the door to his room, the sound of a deep chuckled made him react instantly. He pulled a dagger into his hands and swirled around, only to find his 'father' smiling up at him.

"Rey, my son. You've grown taller." Dullandal said proudly.

Rey put his weapon away and relaxed visibly. He walked next to Dullandal and bowed to him.

"There's no need for such formality." Dullandal waved it aside. He stood up and put his arms on Rey's shoulders.

"Rey, it's time to take steps in the next part of my plan. It's your move and will take me one step closer to our dream."

"What do you have in mind, Gil?" Rey asked his 'father'.

"I heard you're now extremely close to the king. You can get me in to see him without a problem, I am sure." Dullandal sat down again, staring at Rey.

"I…it's true." Rey answered.

"Good, then make the arrangements." He commanded.

Rey hesitated. He has never disobeyed or doubted Gil's words. But this time, something was bothering him and he just needed to ask.

"Gil…Did you really…really have Talia killed?" Rey asked cautiously.

Dullandal did not look back at him. He tapped his finger on the arm rest and became quiet for a while.

"What are you expecting to hear?" He said finally.

"I…" Rey looked away. The truth was he didn't know what he wanted to hear. He has his suspicions about Gil's involvement but didn't want to believe the possibility. Talia had been kind to him. In a way, he looked up to her as a mother so when Gil assigned him to watch her, Rey thought of it as a chance to protect his 'mother'. After the misfortune, he truly grieved for her death.

"Will you believe me if I tell you I was not involved?" Dullandal asked.

Rey looked deeply into the eyes of the man he called 'father'. "…Yes. I believe you." Rey said finally. He believed in Gil, or rather, he wanted to believe him.

"Good." Dullandal smiled at last, "Now make the arrangements."

Rey nodded. Though he respected King Uzumi, he still could not betray his true master and 'father', Gilbert Dullandal.

Shiho covered her hand over her mouth. She came to Rey's room and was about to knock on the door, but the sound of a familiar deep chuckle stopped her dead in her tracks.

"This voice…it can't be…" Shiho thought in disbelieve. She put her ear on the door and listened carefully. Everything Rey and his 'father' said were heard.

Shiho backed away from the door silently and left. A million thoughts were running through her head.

What is that man doing here?

Shiho knew who Gilbert Dullandal was. He was Talia's former lover. But suddenly, they broke up and he never visited again. Back then Shiho never knew what happened between them or where the man went. Shortly afterwards, Rey appeared at their door and Talia took him in. The only thing Shiho was told was that Rey was the adopted son of Dullandal and Talia has decided to watch over him. It was not long before her aunt accepted Uzumi's proposal.

That was why Shiho blamed Dullandal for her aunt's death. Deep inside, she knew Talia still loved Dullandal. Gilbert Dullandal deserted her aunt and turned her life into days of grievance and regret. If not for his desertion then perhaps her aunt would never have accepted-

Oh, how she hated the man!

And Rey, to think she was coming here to apologize for her behaviour towards him lately. After Talia's death, Rey warned her about what they have at stake. Shiho didn't care about losing her status or title, but Rey told her to think of her future. This made her even angrier for his inappropriate consideration for the dead. But after her immediate grieve, she knew she was wrong in thinking Rey did not care.

He poured all of his energy into serving this nation. Rey did not shed a single tear for his aunt. He transformed his bitterness into strength and for that Shiho respected him. Later she found out that Talia had asked Rey to watch over her just days before her death. It made her even guiltier and ashamed of her recent outbursts.

Why Rey? Why are you betraying me? How can you betray my trust now? How can you pick that man over us? Shiho cried inside. She didn't know what to believe anymore. It suddenly made her realize she was without allies here. If Rey truly sided with Dullandal in some kind of evil plan, then she was the only one that could stop them. The only fact Shiho knew for sure was that it was her responsibility, to her friends, her liege and to herself to protect King Uzumi at all cost.

"Dammit!" Athrun swore as his head throbbed in pain. His search came up empty again. There were still no signs of Cagalli and Murrue. By now even he could hear the palace gossips of the princess' misfortune. Upon hearing such disrespect, Athrun ordered to have the gossiping servants thrown in jail.

Gone was the casual flirtatious prince, as anger and frustration claimed him. Everyone tried to stay out of his way. Even Yzak and Dearka were having a hard time dealing with Athrun's dark temper. Only the ever gentle Nicol could keep the prince calm.

"Tell me, do you think they're dead too?" Athrun rubbed his head, asking in a low tone.

Nicol shook his head, "They are ladies with an iron will. Do you think they will perish that easily?"

For the first time in days, Athrun offered a smile, "Thanks, I needed to hear that."

Nicol patted him gently, "They're out there somewhere, waiting for us to find them. I'm sure they haven't given up hope so we shouldn't either."

"Thanks, my friend." Athrun look appreciative at the future high priest.

"Your Highness, there's a man here to see you at the gate. He seeks entry with this." A guard announced and showed the prince of a signed letter.

Athrun took the letter and opened it, "It's Miguel, what's he doing here? He's never used the letter of entry I gave him before. Send him in."

"You have a visitor?" Meer said as she walked in.

"Miguel's a good friend." Athrun said simply. Meer noticed his discomfort and went to his side immediately. She massaged his aching head a few times before he waved her aside. Miguel walked in at the precise time and bowed to his prince.

"Your Highness." Miguel said.

"Miguel, you can skip the formality. What brings you here to the palace?" Athrun said shortly. He was not in the mood for a little get together.

"Athrun, I came on behalf of the one you love." Miguel said as he carefully took out a large ruby ring.

Athrun let out a huge breath of relief and took the ring with trembling hands. "Where is she? Where is Cagalli?"

"She came to my house a few days ago and gave me this to be delivered to your hands. The only message she would like to have me bring to you before she left was she loves you and beware of Le Creuset. This man wants to start a general war between the royal houses."

"Le Creuset!" Athrun said through gritted teeth, "Why would Cagalli not reveal her location to me?"

Miguel shrugged, "I do not know. But I swore on my life not to betray her. The princess and the lady Murrue are both safe and in hiding."

Athrun was visibly happy to hear that.

Meer, on the other hand, was far from being happy. This Miguel brought important information. So Cagalli and Murrue have eluded Le Creuset's grasp and now their whereabouts were inconclusive. Even worse, they were able to send news to Athrun without giving themselves up. Meer feared the princess already suspects an insider and therefore kept her location hidden. If that was the case, it will make her operation much more difficult. Yet Le Creuset had already warned her about sending men after Murrue and Cagalli. She could still remember his cold eyes staring down at her as pinched her life out of his hands. He was not a man to be trifled with.

"Thank you, my friend. You don't know what this means to me." Athrun shook Miguel's hand with sincerity.

"I'm only happy to return the generosity Your Highness has been so kind to bestow upon my family." Miguel returned, bowing deeply.

"This gives me more hope that I can express and the strength to go on." Athrun swore, making Meer pale at the prince's renew determination.

"Your Majesty, this is my uncle, Gilbert Dullandal." Rey introduced to the King.

"Your Majesty." Dullandal bowed deeply.

"Your uncle? How unexpected." King Uzumi replied, "Why does your uncle seek a private audience with me?"

"It is a matter of great importance. Would your majesty excuse the others please?" Dullandal said while looking to the guards to the side as well as Shiho.

"?" The king felt unsure and looked to Rey. The blonde young man nodded and have the guards dismissed from the throne room. Yet Shiho refused to go. Rey looked pleadingly at her but Shiho stood her ground.

"Lady Shiho…this is a state matter…"Rey began but was cut off by his uncle.

"The lady may stay. This concerns her as well."

"Gil?" Rey looked alarmed at his uncle.

Dullandal took a few steps closer to the king and said, "Your Majesty, I have been recently disturbed by news from Zaft and Alliance and felt that it was my obligation to share it."

"What have you heard?"

"It concerns the princesses…They are…"

King Uzumi stood up, "What has happened to my daughters?"

"Princess Lacus has apparently been poisoned and now sleeps in comatose. As for Princess Cagalli, she has been abducted from the palace and her whereabouts are now unknown.

Shiho gasped at the turn of event. Uzumi staggered back and collapsed on this throne.

"My girls…my beautiful daughters…how can this happen?"

"Your Majesty!" Rey said in concern while Dullandal side glanced his son's reaction.

"What has Zaft and Alliance been doing? How could they keep something like this from me?" The king demanded in anger.

"I'm sure they are doing everything they can but it doesn't look too promising, if you would forgive me for saying so. Dullandal continued.

King Uzumi breathed heavily as he put a hand on his heart. A look of pain overtook him as Shiho came to his side quickly.

"Your Majesty! Guards, get a doctor!" Shiho yelled as she put a hand on the king's back, hoping to ease his pain.

As the door to the throne room opened and guards rushed in, Rey clenched his fists tightly and hung his head down. Dullandal secretly held a dark smile on his face as he watched the king struggled to breathe.

Without success, the king collapsed on the throne. As darkness claimed him, he uttered a few words before falling unconscious, "Cagalli…Lacus…"

"Since the king is ill, I will be acting as the Regent for now." Rey announced quietly to a room of advisors of Orb.

"What? On who's order?" One of the advisors stated angrily.

"This is a formal decree by the king himself; does anyone wish to challenge his king?" Rey said coldly.


The other advisors held him back and whispered, "He was the king's most trusted subject after all. Not to mention the kid's got quite a standing in the military as well."

"Tsk…" The angry advisor shook his colleagues off and stormed out of the room.

The rest of the advisors bowed, "My lord Regent!"

Rey noticed Shiho at the back of the room, staring coldly at him. He turned his sight away from her quickly and looked away in sadness. To the side, Gilbert Dullandal smirked as he watched Rey being showered by glory on the throne of Orb.

"Your Majesty…" Shiho wept as she held on to the king's hand.

"How is he?" Rey asked as he entered the room.

"Why do you care?" Shiho spat, turning an angry face at him, "How does it feel to be on the throne?"

"It wasn't my intention to…"

"Save it! I bet you and Dullandal has it all planned out. Oh, I see how it is now…Everything is coming together…Aunt Talia…us coming to Orb…All of it…" Shiho wiped away her tears, "And here I thought you were really like a brother to me…"

Rey wanted to explain. He never thought it was going to turn out like this. He respected the king and appreciated his affection the elderly man has showed him. Though he knew Gil has some plans that needed to be carried out, he had not expect the king to suffer such harm.

And Shiho, she had been shy and distant at first. But later she too has offered her hand of friendship to him.

Rey almost dropped as her accusing eyes pierced him, convicting him of the crime he has committed. Pathetically, he ran out of the room and away from the hate filled eyes of Shiho.

"Now the pieces have finally been set in place. We shall commence with final stages of the plan." Dullandal said in satisfactory.

Rey busted into the room and slammed the door shut.

"Rey, you have done well, my son."

Rey trudged forth and placed his head on Dullandal's lap, looking very much like a lost child. "Gil, is what we are doing right?"

"Of course we are. Don't you want equality for the people?" He gently brushed Rey's hair.

"I do…but…"

"Rey, don't you remember the time when hunger claimed you and when you tried to beg for something to eat, the lords and ladies laughed at you?"

Rey's mind snapped back to when he was young. He was an orphan who wandered the streets. His only drive was to have something to eat…anything to eat. He would often stand on the side of the streets and watch the coming and going gold carriages and the nobles inside of them. One day, he lingered outside of an opera house and begged to be spared some food or money from the exiting nobles. When these grand lords and ladies saw him, they shunned him and have their guards pushed him away. As he fell into mud, he still remembered what they said to him, "Be gone, pest. Take your begging to someone that cares."

Someone that cares…someone that cares…someone that care…He still remembered those haunting words. It was not long after when Gil found him and gave him a home.

"We are freeing the people…" Rey echoed softly. If the nobles would not care for those in need then who would?

"That's right…now sleep, my son. We have a long day tomorrow."

"You are sure about the princess' condition?" Azreal demanded.

"Yes, I'm confident. As her childhood friend, I know Lacus' every reaction and thoughts." Fllay smirked.

"Excellent! Keep your guard up and this is what we are going to do…"

As Azreal and Fllay busily chat with each other, a figure in dark listened with amusement above them.

Lacus stared into nothingness as she lay on the bed. Her eyes followed the lining on the canopy of her bed when a sound appeared in the room.

"Meow!" Someone purred beside her. Lacus didn't respond to the sudden appearance nor showed her surprise.

"How interesting. You are truly like what others have said, not responsive at all. But I wonder…" The figure moved closer, putting a hand on Lacus' face, "How calm you can remain in the hands of the enemy?"

The intruder traced his hand on her face and down to her neck. Then his hand moved to caress the slender arms and eventually settled on her hand. Lacus' finger jerked but no change came to her expression.

"Oh…I see…" He laughed. His masked face covered her face as he brought his face down to her. Right before his lips touched her's; Lacus pushed him and rolled to the side.

The figure threw his head back and howled with laughter. "You see? Now that wasn't hard, was it?"

"Who are you and what do you want?" Lacus said angrily, putting her arms around herself and ready to yell for help.

"Careful, if you scream now, all the hard work you've been doing will be wasted." The mysterious figure chided.

Lacus bit her lips as she struggled with herself. If she calls out now, then her cover of feigning illness will be exposed, but if she does not, she would have no idea what this person might do to her.

"What do you want?" Lacus said again.

"Only to check up on you."

"Why should I believe you?" She said cautiously.

"You shouldn't under the circumstance. It's just that Kira's totally worried about you and I thought I should test the validity of the rumour myself." He chuckled.

"You know Kira?"

"All my life."

"Who are you anyway?" Lacus asked again.

"My name is Mischi, at your service." He bowed.

"You're Mischi? What proof do you have?"

"Nothing, I guess. You either believe me, or you don't, take it or leave it."

Lacus eyed the stranger suspiciously.

Mischi sighed, "Fine, since it's so hard for you to believe, why don't I show you something interesting?"

"Like what?"

Mischi smirked and drew out a pair of twin daggers. Lacus stifled a gasp and moved back. Mischi chuckled and threw the daggers into the air and catching them with the point down. Lacus covered her eyes as Mischi cut deeply into his face.

Lacus didn't know what this person wanted to prove by doing so, but she refused to see the blood in front of her.

"Princess, you can take a look now." A soft voice came.

Lacus slowly removed her hands from her eyes and saw the torn fabric of the mask on the floor. As her eyes travelled north, Lacus couldn't help but exclaimed-

"It's you!"

Mischi's identity will finally be revealed! I haven't been working on this story for months and it has taken me quite a while to get reacquainted with her again. Sorry for the long wait! But I definitely still have the fire to finish this story. Thank you once again for all those who have R&R!! Love you all!