A month later, Douglas was released after Vince reluctantly admitted he had no proof. After half a day of reviewing the current state of the army, the strategist announced that they were finally ready for the big battle. He drew up plans for the siege of Decker's castle that were cursorily approved by his subordinates. The camp sprang into action.
After a few hours hard fighting, Vince, Shelley, and Douglas snuck into the castle with the intent of fighting the Emperor. Shelley was left behind in an antechamber to protect their rear and was promptly attacked and taken prisoner. The hero finally confronted his nemesis.
"It's over Decker. I kill you now and then I abolish every last trace of your evil empire."
"I'm sorry Vincent, but it's really not that simple."
Vince stiffened as he felt the sword blade stab through his chest from behind. His last thought before succumbing to the darkness was to wonder how Douglas had allowed someone to sneak up behind him.
Douglas returns from disposing of Vince's body, "Emperor, all of the Second Guard Division have been slaughtered or have defected. Elements of the First Guard have reported initial contact with the rebel forces. We are going to have to leave your palace and move to a loyal stronghold under cover of darkness."
"Yes, yes, you're right…"
"I'm going to need you to change into dark, quiet clothes and prepare for travel, sir."
We have time," Douglas grinned at the clock hanging on the wall. "I think I deserve to… enjoy the company of our new prisoner."
Shelley's heart leapt as she looked up to see two guards escorting Douglas into her cell. He was alive and he was here, and now everything would be all right. Her gleeful relief quickly turned to confusion as he gestured to her guards.
"Leave us now. Go to the main defenses." The two unkempt soldiers grinned and nudged each other before leaving.
"D-Douglas? What's going on?"
"Vincent was correct. I have always been an agent of the Empire. After we left you behind, I quite literally stabbed the fool in the back. This charade of a rebellion is over," if Shelley was not busy just trying to comprehend what Douglas was telling her she would have noted a sardonic smile twisting his lips. "Long live the Emperor".
"You bastard!" Douglas watches unflinchingly as she lunged at him against her chains. His sole reaction was a troubled flicker in his eyes as he stares into her murderous visage.
"I'll kill you! You monster! Was everything a lie!? Every word and every gesture a toll for you!? You betrayed my trust and you killed him! Rot in hell you goddamned soulless bastard!" Shelley continued on in this vein for quite some time, cursing fiercely and furiously enough to make the average man quail under the sheer force of her ire. Douglas waited calmly. Finally, after a particularly colorful invective, he interrupted.
"There, the guards are long gone by now. Be quiet and listen very carefully," Douglas spoke softly but quickly. "Vince is in a closet near where you were captured. I stopped his bleeding by he doesn't have much time left."
"Hush. With the setting of the sun the west gate has been left unguarded. You can take Vince out through the gate and then sneak the army in. Every regiment in the city thinks each other are protecting that part."
"I can't. Forgive me Shelley," Douglas steps forward to press a key ring into her open palm before walking towards the door.
Shelley's vision swam and a horrible sense of bewilderment flooded over her. Through her hopeless confusion a semi-coherent thought floated to the top of her head. She squeezed the key in her hand tightly until the question she wanted to ask came.
"There is no answer to that question, and there never will be." And then he was gone.
The Grand Emperor crashed through a bush and found himself in a clearing that gradually darkened as the waning moon danced behind the clouds.
"I can't see a damn thing. What is this, a sign nailed to a tree? What do you think Douglas, are we far enough to safely have a light?" Without waiting for an answer Decker lit his torch and held it up to the tree in the middle of the clearing. He was still puzzling out the contextual meaning of the word "Checkmate" when a score of arrows struck him, killing him instantly.
When the sun finally rose the next morning, it gazed steadily on a number of corpses that would have appalled less divine eyes. Hundreds upon hundreds of rebellion fighters lay dead on the bloody plains, killed by the flawed plans Douglas gave to his generals. Half of the Imperial First Guard Division lay slaughtered in the streets after Douglas ordered the west gate left undefended and the rebellion forces seized the city. A mile away from the castle, in a clearing in the forest, the body of Emperor Decker lay next to a tree, killed by a complement of archers. These archers were ordered to lie in wait and then to fire at any light they saw. Douglas told these Imperial bowmen that he was going to try to lead Vince there.
A little over a day later, after the celebrations died down, the whole free nation was abuzz with gossip. Vince had recovered from his supposedly superficial wound and was hard at work establishing the government he had dreamed of. People started sharing theories on the fate of the young strategist, who was never seen after the battle.
The next day Vince was unanimously voted president of the new government he had created. His election was overshadowed by widespread rumors to the effect that Douglas really was a traitor and had sabotaged the final battle against the rebellion. General Justin arrested three men for burning an unflattering effigy of the strategist, even though he privately suspected Douglas would have been pleased by stealing the attention away from Vince.
A day later and the new gossip was that Vince had proposed to the Princess of Lahiana. In telling, this rumor was immediately followed by one that claimed she had refused. Leigh asked Drew privately if he didn't think that Shelley was becoming more reclusive and depressed day by day.
Four days after the final battle, Doctor Matthew stated that Douglas' body was never found. President Vince spoke in public that Douglas was "a despicable traitor, who killed many of us and probably fled after his vile master was killed".
Three days after this announcement the gossip had died down drastically. Late at night Matt saw, or thought he saw, something that would have proved incredibly interesting to the nation had he been so inclined as to share it, but that was not in his nature. And how could he even be sure of what he saw, seeing as how it had been seven days since Matt had observed a certain profile. So the good doctor turned his back and told nobody that he watched somebody who might have been Shelley walk out of the castle gate, hand in hand with a slightly familiar silhouette.