[Please read the Instructions before jumping in]
Actually, scratch that. Lucien realizes he has tons of questions. “Speaking of Shuni, how come he was the only one you approached about this?”
She winces. “Well. Shuni is… you know. I don’t mean it in a bad way, but he’s sharp, and good at getting what he wants. You’re…” She gestures a few times weakly with a hand, then takes a drink. “You’re not, or you haven’t seemed to be, anyway. You just do your work and go along with things that are suggested to you. You take direction well. So I figured that between the two of you, he’d be the one more likely to be up to something and be the one to confront.”
Ughhh. That’s fair. He doesn’t like it, but she’s not exactly wrong. He makes a face, mostly at himself, and pushes on. “You said something earlier in a weird language when you thought I was Shuni. What was it, and why did you expect him to recognize it?”
This time it’s Katarin’s turn to make a face. “It was faespeech, because. I don’t know. I was trying to make you, him, react. Like, you know, even if he didn’t speak it, the realization that I Knew Something might push him into making a mistake, and… It’s dumb. Sorry.”
Honestly, that embarrassed ramble makes him feel a little better. Like, maybe he isn’t the only one out of his depth about some kind of prophecy to end the world. Even so… he doesn’t know for sure that Katarin isn’t playing her own game. For all he knows, this could all be a lie to manipulate him into… well, something.
“Tell me more about this prophecy,” he says, shelling some bar nuts with slightly shaky fingers. If it is a lie, he can at least make her work for it, and if not, it’s useful information. “What is the exact wording?”
She huffs and takes another drink. “I’ll have to translate,” she says. “Let’s see… ‘a ritual shall begin to make a new Lord. It will use the standard vehicle of deliverance, but it will be started deliberately, with malevolence in heart. Those creatures marked by change who perform will experience symptoms of the potential ascendance through their dreams. The one who masters the finale can, if they know how, claim Lordhood, but if it is the one who started the ritual, they will become a Lord to destroy all other Lords, to corrupt and desiccate from the inside out, and devour the world along with it.’ That’s pretty close, I think, to what I remember.”
“That’s some prophecy,” he manages. It raises more questions than he already had. “So it sounds pretty certain it couldn’t be started accidentally if the prophecy says this specifically. Wow. Didn’t you ask the fae more about it?”
She sighs, doodling strange shapes on the table in condensation. “That’s the problem. They’re full of prophecies. I have hundreds of their bullshit pronouncements floating around in my head in more or less detail. That one stuck out, but it’s in translation and from memory and among things like ‘ware he who carries five pumpkins up the stairs at night.'”
“I’d also beware that. That sounds dangerous.”
“Right. You get me.” She grimaces. “So I didn’t know to ask more. I didn’t realize what was even happening at first until I was here, a changeling with two other actors with ‘change’ in their name, in a play, and the dreams were happening, and then I was like, fuck. I had to search my old diaries even to find the reference to it to jog my memory.”
Lucien rubs his forehead. “Before I go on, what’s ‘the standard vehicle of deliverance’ mean, exactly?”
“Plays. Lords are actors before they become Lords.”
That detail nearly blows all his other questions out of his mind. “What?”
Katarin gives him an impatient look. “That’s why plays get dedicated to them, and why that’s the main method of sacrifice they attend.” She sighs, then, losing her sting. “The number of them showing up for this one also helped make me realize something was wrong. …Honestly, though, I’m not surprised you don’t know. It’s not common information for anyone. If it was, everyone would try to do it, but a play that causes an ascension happens maybe once every few hundred years at best. The fae know about it, so I do. Most humans don’t, so you don’t. …I didn’t become an actor for that, though, being a changeling just made me well suited to playing roles, so why not make money doing what I’m good at?”
This is a lot to take in. Almost too much. He’d had an entire list of questions and it’s dissolving quickly. He tries to focus. “You mentioned symptoms?”
“I meant the dreams,” she says.
He’d originally thought that the dreams were just his, but… she’d asked ‘Shuni’ if he were dreaming. “You’re dreaming too?”
“Yeah. Shuni should be as well, I’d think, since he’s marked by change. Again, this had to be started by someone who would be marked by change and thus able to do the ritual. If it’s not me—and it’s not, why would I even be talking to you about this if so, I’d just pull it off while nobody suspected anything—and it’s not you, it’s probably Shuni. Not definitely,” she adds. “After all, I’m not as obviously marked as you two are by your names, so there might be others less obviously marked. But given the circumstances, doesn’t it seem like the most likely option is Shuni?”
Reluctantly, he finds his thoughts being drawn back to that strange box he found at Shuni’s place. Could it be involved? Something that triggered the ritual, perhaps? He wants to ask, but she’s already so convinced it’s Shuni that he doesn’t want to give her more evidence before he’s sure one way or the other. “So how do we stop it?”
She hesitates. “Well. Probably. We kill whoever it is who’s doing it.”
“We can’t kill people,” he hisses back, horrified.
“We can if it’s to save the world!” She throws up her hands. “Listen, good talk, but it’s not what I thought it was going to be. I’m going home.”
Lucien scrubs his hands over his face. Somehow they’ve drained the pitcher already. “Sure,” he says. “Listen, I do… I do want to help stop this. Can we talk again later?”
She nods briefly. “…Of course. I guess we’re conspirators now. I’ll try to think of a way to help catch Shuni out, to see if we can prove if it’s him or not. Obviously we’re not going to do anything until we have better evidence.”
“…Thanks.” He watches her go, then settles up and meanders his own way home.
The next few hours are spent in a haze, really, of questioning his own reality, looking through his scripts, wondering about how he’s always known about the power of them, and how that power is syphoned off to the Lords all the time, but how he’s never really questioned it. That’s just how things are. The Lords are, and plays help feed them.
But now there is more to it, and Shuni will be here very soon—likely in some kind of state if he did end up meeting Lord Crow—and Lucien needs to decide what to do once Shuni gets here.
[Please leave suggestions for Lucien in the comments.]