[Please read the Instructions before jumping in]
Which of the Lords…? Normal folk try to avoid their attention, but normal folk don’t get on stage before them. Lucien bites his lower lip. He knows where his heart is drawn—to Lord Crow the Carrion Eater. Lord Crow has always been of interest to someone like Lucien: a night lord, a lord of lurking in places where one shouldn’t, of cleaning up others’ messes and laughing about it too loud for others’ comfort.
Still, it wasn’t as if the other Lords weren’t fascinating in their own right. Lord Vine was a wild and driven force of nature, and he’d always been intrigued by Lord the End in ways that scared him to think about. He wanted to know more about that mysterious masked figure, whether or not he wanted their attention.
Shuni has led him to the dressing room, where the centipede-like creatures who work backstage undress them both and pull costume pieces onto them, whispering to each other as they work. Lucien tries to ignore the scratching feeling of their hands all over him. “What about you?” he asks, putting the question back instead of answering it. “Whose eyes will you try to meet as you give your lines tonight?”
Shuni laughs, the sound harsh. “Me? I’m not the lead,” he reminds Lucien, but there is an edge to his voice, hungry. “I don’t know who. It’s easier when just one shows up, isn’t it? Then it’s only natural to act to one of them. It’s not a choice. Perhaps I’ll try to spread myself thin. That’s the safest option, isn’t it?”
“You know it is,” Lucien says, and he knows he won’t do it. Trying to please too many can result in displeasing all.
The costumers finish their work and the bell chimes. The audience is being let into the theater. Lucien’s anxiety swells, and is swallowed into that peace that comes over him. It’s time.
“Well, whatever you pick, break a leg,” Shuni says. He whisks himself backstage where the others are mingling already, and Lucien follows.
They can’t talk back here, not with the audience already filling the seats outside. Instead, he focuses on the line of light where the curtain does not quite meet the stage, and steps out onto it to take his position.
The play is an odd thing, as all plays are, a mishmash of planned story beats and studied lines, and of pure improvisation to move the story between the beats. It has to be like that when Lords can be in the audience at any time, where everything that happens becomes something you can offer to them as a sacrifice or, alternately, which might offend their sensibilities. An actor needs to be able to adjust on the fly, not perform praises to the sun when the Moonlit Lord is present, blinding all from her booth; not speak longingly of the coldness of the earth if Lord the Endless is here instead of her sibling.
The actors are needles, their characters the thread whose motivations stitch these patches of potential scenes together, so that each performance makes sense and has meaning regardless of the differences from one to another.
The curtain rises and Lucien launches into his character Arcane’s opening lament, his gaze searching past the lights. The audience on the lower levels is like a single living beast, shifting and breathing, occasionally coughing or whispering. And on the upper level—
As Shuni had told him, three of the four boxes are occupied. Lord Crow sits far left, hard to see in the shadows there, but Lucien makes out feathered hands folded casually over the head of a cane, lights reflecting off a long, black beak. Lord Vine is in the center left, figure completely buried behind all the greenery spilling out, flowers open to the stage like hearing trumpets. The center right box is empty, and the rightmost box is full of something that Lucien cannot look at directly, teeth and packed dirt and a presence that almost makes him falter his lines.
It goes well. For monologues or asides, he focuses on that figure he can nearly see in the leftmost box. Arcane’s twin, Logos, reveals the dread news of their father’s passing, and Arcane attempts to negotiate the budding love affair between himself and the beautiful Revelle, while Logos longs to seize her for his own.
There are many ways these scenes can go. And so, when the knife appears, and it is time for the murder, Lucien is left with a decision. Will Arcane be the murderer—and which character will Arcane murder if so—or will Arcane be the one murdered? And which Lord should he dedicate the death to?
His heart says Crow, of course, but any of the three might enjoy it the murder, depending on how it is done.
[Please leave a suggestion for Lucien in the comments.]