Thinking about it now it really hadn't been her greatest idea. Now she was a traitor to the empire that she was sworn to serve. If Celeste's plan failed they were all screwed. The Empress would definitely kill them for this betrayal. But Annie would rot in hell before she let anyone hurt Willow.
As she approached the main hallway she noticed Celeste walking towards her. When they passed by each other, Celeste handed her a folded piece of paper. She waited until she was alone to open it. On it was a map of the castle, marked with all of the places Annie needed to rig with explosives. So this was it. The plan was now in motion.
They chose today since the Empress would be spending the morning meeting with her advisers in the war room, located at the heart of the castle. Most of those advisers would be lucky to leave the room alive on a good day. But if all goes according to plan, none of them, not even the Empress would be leaving that room.
Celeste tasked her with setting up explosives in the most secure areas of the castle. She had the experience to do it too, years of stealth missions had made her very good at what she did. Sneaking past the guards was the easy part. It was rigging the bombs that proved to be the hard part. Celeste is a genius, she had built the bombs herself from scratch, but she was shit at explaining how to set them up.
Annie gave up on trying to decipher her friend's scribbled notes, it was just an extremely deadly piece of weaponry, how hard could it be to set up? She did what she could and moved on. She still had several other areas to get to in a short span of time. If she didn't make it to the rendezvous point on time, the agreement was that the bombs would be set off regardless.
If they didn't succeed today, what other opportunities would there be to overthrow the empire? Licentia was a dying country thanks to Nefertiti Hart, and it was only going to get worse the longer she remained in power. Her daughter wasn't any better, if she took the throne, who knows what she would do? The royal family had to die.
And Annie was going to do everything in her power to make sure that the Hart's burned.
This was a stupid plan. Willow was sure of it. Celeste was smart, sure, but she had barely thought this through before she started building the bombs. Not only that but she had Annie convinced that today would be their only chance to strike. Willow hated going along with this, but when Annie got passionate about something, she refused to see reason. And if she was going to be an idiot, well, she ought to be an idiot under supervision.
At least, when the dust settles, there would be no more pointless wars. No more senseless violence at the hands of the Empress. No more of Annie being used as nothing but a pawn. But first, they had to all make it out of this nightmare alive.
Willow and Celeste never saw each other during the day, so that meant that Willow had to carefully worked their way to the rendezvous, avoiding the guards' eyes and keeping to themselves as they usually did. When she got there, Celeste handed her a folded piece of paper.
"Here's a map of the castle, I marked all of the places I need you to go," Celeste explained quietly. "You remember how to set up them right?"
Willow rolled their eyes. "Of course, how could I possibly forget the four hour lecture you gave Annie and I?"
"I'm just checking, any mistake could cause a catastrophic failure." She seemed genuinely worried, so Willow tried to ease her concerns.
"There is no need to get so worked up, we have everything under control," they look up at the clock, "we better get moving though; time's running out."
Celeste took a deep breath and nodded. Willow patted her on the shoulder, before heading in the direction of the first area they needed to set up their bombs. They weren't nearly as stealthy as Annie, and so Celeste had given them areas of the castle that were rarely patrolled by guards.
Unfortunately, it seemed as if they weren't the only one looking to get away from prying eyes. The last mark on their map lead them to a corridor in the East Wing that was rarely used by anyone, guards or servants. But as soon as they stepped inside, a bitter smell hit their nose, nearly making them gag.
Alexandria Hart's drug abuse was no secret among the castle staff. Finding dirty syringes or the butts of cigarettes in the princess's room was not an uncommon thing. But stumbling upon the princess smoking in a semi abandoned corridor of the castle when she was supposed to be preparing for her engagement party was an uncommon thing. Especially when you are attempting to plant a bomb in said corridor.
She seemed to notice Willow almost immediately, turning to face them as she took a long drag of her cigarette. "What are you doing here?"
"Just passing through, your highness."
She raised an eyebrow, the scar that runs across her face moved with the expression. "There's only a few maids who pass through here during the day, and I don't remember you being one of them."
Willow thought for a moment what this corridor was connected to? What reason would she have for being here besides kick starting a revolution? "I… am headed to the armory, your highness."
"The armory?" The princess asked, taking another drag of her cigarette. "Damn, you really took the long way 'round, huh?"
"Uh.. yes, my deepest apologies-"
She waved her hand dismissively. "Don't apologize to me, you've done nothing wrong." Her eyes traveled over Willow for a second, they saw her eyebrows furrow a bit. "Say, aren't you one of my mother's little dogs?"
"I am one of her personal maids, yes."
"I knew I've seen you around before," the princess stood up and snuffed out her cigarette on the wall before tossing it to the ground. "What's your name again?"
"Willow, your highness."
"You one of Celeste's friends, Willow?"
"I… am your highness." Where was she going with this? The longer they talked the more nervous Willow got. They had to make it back to the rendezvous point soon or else they would end up among the rubble.
"Tell her off for me next time you see her, would you? She keeps glaring at me whenever she thinks I'm not looking." She started to walk away, which was relieving, but then she stopped suddenly, turning back to Willow with a suspicious look on her face.
"Hold on, what do you need to go to the armory for? My mother is in a meeting this morning in the war room, so who did you get those orders from?"
Willow scrambled for an answer, but they hesitated for a moment too long. The princess pulled out a silver rod from her boot and twisted the handle so that it grew into her trident.
"Answer now, or die for disobeying a direct order."
Once Willow had turned the corner, Celeste felt her worries returning to her tenfold. This plan was admittedly not as well thought out as she would've liked for it to be, but she didn't have a choice. If she didn't act now, the rebellion would fizzle out and die, and she couldn't afford to have that happen. People trusted her to save them, and she couldn't let them down.
Just as she prepared to go and place her bombs, she heard footsteps coming from behind her. She turned to see someone that she hadn't spoken to in almost a decade now. Leah Hart was an adopted member of the royal family, just like all the royal oracle's before her.
She looked tired, almost… sad. She had bags under her eyes, and seemed to be unkempt overall. She stared Celeste directly in the eyes and asked solemnly, "are you sure about what you are doing, Boucher?"
Under the assumption the Leah most likely already knew what she was doing, Celeste responded, "would I be here if I wasn't?"
"You've always been stubborn," the oracle shook her head. "I pray then that you are ready to face the consequences of your actions."
"Are you going to warn her then?"
Leah gave her a long look. "No, my friend. Those are not the consequences I am referring to."
"Then what are they?"
She sighed. "Honestly? I wish I knew. It's always different." And on that cryptic note, she walked away.
Celeste decided not to dwell on it, she had work to do, and she had already wasted enough time on her nerves. She moved quickly, setting up her explosives with ease. But when she returned to the rendezvous point, two guards were standing in the middle of the corridor, talking.
They saw her before she could hide. "Hey! What is your business here?"
Before she could come up with a response, the guards froze, then fell flat onto their faces. A knife stuck out of the back of each of their heads, and Annie stepped out of her hiding place and took her knives back, cleaning off the blood with the bottom of her skirt.
"Thanks for finally getting these two to turn around, I was beginning to think that I would have to just confront them."
"Well, thanks for killing them before I had to come up with some bullshit lie."
Annie grinned, then looked around, her smile faded. "Willow's still not back yet?"
"No, not yet, but they still have time, we just have to be patient."
"I know, but I just can't help but be worried about them. Anything could go wrong. I mean what if-"
Celeste shushed her and put her hand on Annie's shoulder. "Willow will be fine. I'm sure of it."
Willow was absolutely not fine. The heir to the throne was losing patience with them fast.
"Come on, I don't want to have to kill you, mother will be pissed if I kill another one of her maids. Just give me an honest answer and we can both be on our ways."
Now or never.
"If I'm truly being honest your highness, I'm here to give you this," Willow reached down and pulled out a small pouch with the final explosive they were meant to set in this hallway. They pressed a button through the fabric of the pouch and held it out to the heiress.
Alexandria did not seem to be convinced. "From who? And why are you only giving it to me now?"
"Forgive me your highness, I get nervous very easily and I panicked a bit when you asked me why I was here. This is a gift from Celeste."
"Celeste?" The princess eyed the bag. "What's inside it?"
"I wouldn't be able to say, Celeste made me swear not to look inside. Said it was for your eyes only." Willow's heart was pounding in their chest. A nervous sweat building on their brow. Please, please, just take it.
The princess retracted her trident and put the rod back inside her boot. She then reached out and took the pouch from Willow's hand. "Don't know why Celeste couldn't just give this to me herself, but whatever. You can go, just don't lie next time alright? For a second there, I was ready to kill you."
"Yes, of course your highness, it won't happen again." Willow bowed and left the corridor in a hurry. Any moment now, the princess would open up the pouch and see the bomb inside, they had to move fast.
As the clock ticked on, Annie grew increasingly more fearful as to what could be happening to Willow. Had they been caught? Were they being tortured? Were they taking a really long bathroom break and making her anxious over nothing? Celeste was leaning against the wall, fiddling with the remote detonator in her hands. But Annie couldn't help but pace. Willow was taking way too long.
"I don't get it, they've never been late to anything before. Especially not to something this important," Annie finally said. Celeste gave her a sympathetic look.
"We'll wait on them for just a little bit longer. I'm sure that they are just being extra careful setting up the explosives."
Annie nodded and chewed on her lip as she started pacing again. A few more minutes passed by, and suddenly, Willow came running around the corner. Their cheeks were flushed, and they were breathing heavily.
"Willow!" Relieved, Annie ran up to them and gave them a quick hug.
"What happened to you?" Celeste asked from behind Annie.
Willow gripped Annie's hand tightly. "It was Alexandria, she caught me in the East Wing corridor, I wasn't able to set the bomb in the wall."
"Where... did you set it then?" Celeste asked, her face visibly more pale than usual.
"I-" Willow didn't have time to answer as a sudden explosion occurred in the East Wing.
"We have to go, NOW!" Celeste screamed and the three took off running. The first explosion had set off a chain reaction of other detonations across the castle. In their rush to get to the exit, they grew careless as to where they were going.
Annie saw it wedged deep into the wall before anyone else.
"GET DOWN!" She screamed, throwing herself on top of Willow, and looking up just as the bomb detonated.
Willow's ears were ringing painfully. They groaned and pulled their hearing aids out. The world went quiet, but at least they could focus now. There was a weight on top of them- Annie they realized and blind panic took over them as they carefully moved her off so that they could stand.
Annie wasn't moving. Willow turned her over and had to cover their mouth in order to keep themselves from vomiting. It was a horrid sight. Willow felt tears running down their cheeks as they checked for a pulse. They couldn't breath until they felt the faint steady pounding of Annie's heart. They looked around and saw Celeste lying on the ground. It looked as if she had been blown back by the blast, knocked against the wall.
Leaving Annie for just a few moments, they went over to Celeste. The entire left side of her body was torn apart. Shakily, they checked for a pulse. Barely there, but definitely alive.
They looked back towards Annie, how were they going to get her and Celeste out of here safely? They sobbed. This was hopeless, they weren't strong enough to carry both of them out. Pieces of the ceiling were already beginning to fall, it would kill them all if Willow didn't move fast. They'd have to choose who to save, and what an awful, awful decision to try and make. They knew who they wanted to save, but only one of them was capable of leading an empire.
A figure stepped out of the dust and debris. Leah Hart. She looked horrified, she signed to Willow, are they alive?
Deciding that now was not the time to question why the oracle knew that they were deaf, or how she knew sign language, they signed back, yes, but barely.
Leah nodded and moved to Celeste, picking her up with a strength that Willow had never known that she had. Moving quickly, Willow picked up Annie and the two moved quickly towards the exit. Once they were a safe distance from the castle, Leah set Celeste down on the grass and began performing what seemed to be a spell, chanting words in a language Willow couldn't understand.
Willow set Annie on the ground and sat down. They looked back towards the castle and watched the smoke rising into the air. They noticed a brief flash of purple light but thought nothing of it. They looked back at Leah who was now staring at them. The oracle signed, She will be fine for another hour, but she needs medical attention.
Willow nodded. Thank you
Leah left after that, no explanation. Willow was a bit too tired to have asked for one anyways. They should've called Altaïr. But Celeste had been stubborn, she hadn't wanted his help on this, but they sure as hell needed him now. Just as they were about to lay back onto the ground, they saw cars approaching from a distance.
They laughed, though they couldn't hear it they knew that they were laughing loudly. Relief and fatigue washed over them as the cars parked and Altair and a few other rebels stepped out of the vehicles. Willow stood and waved them over. Upon seeing Celeste and Annie's conditions, Altair barked some orders and had them taken to the the van so lovingly dubbed as the med car.
Altair turned to them and asked, "Are you okay?"
Reading his lips, Willow just nodded. Celeste was safe now, Annie was safe now, they were safe now. Altair lead them to his car and they sat down in the front seat, and as they finally relaxed, their eyelids drooped shut and they were asleep before the car even started.