[Please read the Instructions before jumping in]
Lucien can’t quite keep himself from giving Katarin an incredulous look. It’s not that the idea bothers him—Revelle is a fascinating character and he always wants to try the parts in a show he didn’t get—but it doesn’t make sense. “Wait, you want me to… pretend to be you pretending to be Revelle so you can sneak around? Since nobody knows I’m here? But then, if nobody knows I’m here, why don’t I sneak around and get into the office instead while you do your normal performance? You… you can just tell me where the keys are.”
“Two reasons,” Katarin says calmly—even smugly, Lucien thinks. She throws up a finger. “First, if anyone does see you, they’ll just know you’re back. No plausible deniability about your absence if you’re right in front of them, and no excuse. But anyone who sees Revelle backstage is not currently watching the play and doesn’t know what scenes she’s in, so they won’t realize there’s a double.” A second finger, flicked up as if she can drive the point home with gesture alone. “Second? I don’t trust anyone here, not fully. It’s fine if you want to keep some things private, but I’m trying to save the world here. If you see something that I need to know, can I trust that you’d actually tell me? What if you thought it wasn’t relevant? No, I need to see what’s there with my own eyes instead of having it filtered through some kind of unreliable narrator.“
That sort of hurts. He can understand her wanting to see what’s there with her own eyes. And he wouldn’t even know about this upcoming Lord-creating, Lord-destroying ritual if she hadn’t brought it to him in the first place. Still, he doesn’t think he’s withheld all that much.
Well, perhaps playing as Revelle will help earn her trust. Lucien looks both of them over. Katarin is standing strong in the corridor, arms crossed, legs braced, as if expecting his resistance. Shuni is leaning against the wall in the stairwell still, his back hunched and head lowered, a sour expression on his face. “Fine,” he says. “But I’ll need you to give me tips. Both on being you and on being Revelle.”
She lets out a breath, visibly both relieved and pleased. “Great, no problem. Keep in mind I’m stubborn, suspicious, and not very polite or refined, but care about my reputation. Keep in mind that Revelle is struggling against a tragedy that is trying to force itself on her at any time, and that the character herself is treated as a source of revelation to both Arcane and Logos, but neither of them really see her as a human. We can do more tips down in costuming. The brownie costumers aren’t that smart, so if you arrive partially costumed and in a wig, they’ll just finish the final touches on the costume and makeup tomorrow.”
That does match his experiences so far. “Sure, why not,” he says. And then, still a little injured from her lack of trust, he says, “I did find something up here, by the way. Not—the missing item. And I’m not sure it’s relevant, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t bear mentioning. Shuni, you come see too.”
Shuni unslouches from the stairwell and joins them. Lucien pulls the cards from the basket, fanning them out to show the others. “Three lords each day,” he says. “Already strange enough. Why three?”
“Fewer is more normal,” Shuni agrees absently.
“Yes, but if they’re all worried about this ritual, why not one more? Up to the maximum four permitted?” He dumps the cards with icons back in the basket and holds up the remaining two, flipping them this way and back. “Which one would you put on the door if you wanted to let people know it was the empty one?”
Both of them pointed to the white card at once. “Black card reads more like the black icons,” Shuni offers.
“Right,” Lucien says. He can’t quite keep himself from saying it with triumph: “That’s what I thought too, but when I went up to join the Moonlit Lord, it was definitely the black card on the empty chamber!”
There is a moment of silence. “So…” Shuni prompts.
…It’s true, Lucien doesn’t actually have anywhere to go with this. “Well, maybe it’s nothing,” he says reluctantly. “It could just be a safety measure. Trying to keep us under the legal limit, rather than at it.”
“Could be that whoever’s doing the ritual is the same person who set the cards up, and is counting on us not going over four when they ascend. Maybe they don’t know about the potential destruction of the Lords,” Katarin says.
“It could be anything, really,” Shuni says dismissively. “Maybe they ran out of white cards and had to replace one. Honestly there should be more white cards here to begin with, maybe they ran out. Maybe a Lord’s already in the building, just not in the box seats. Who knows what it means.”
“I think we’d know if a Lord was already in the building,” Lucien offers.
Katarin makes a face. “Well, I don’t like it, whatever it is. It’s worth thinking about, anyway. Come on, Lucien, I’m heading down to the dressing room.”
She starts down the stairs, and Shuni makes to follow her, but Lucien forestalls him with a gesture. “Did you find anything?” he asks Shuni softly.
Shuni shakes his head. “…Nothing,” he says. “Wondering if this was a decoy, honestly, to get me off the thief’s trail.”
“We’ll figure it out,” Lucien promises. He looks at Shuni’s face, at the mild displeasure there where he thinks most men would show grief. He gives Shuni a quick kiss on the cheek, and is rewarded by seeing some of it lift. For a moment, he considers inviting Shuni over so he doesn’t have to be alone after this…
But Lord Crow said he wanted Lucien alone, and so Lucien lets the moment pass by.
They follow Katarin back to the dressing room, where she unloads costume parts on Lucien, along with various tips and tricks. After, they head out of the theatre separately, trying to go their own ways subtly and quietly, without arousing any attention.
And so, Lucien finds himself alone in the daylight as he walks back to his apartment. He keeps waiting for Lord Crow to show up, to surprise him on the walk, but each turn fills him with more disappointment.
Lucien unlocks his door, heading up the stairs with a sigh, dumping the costume bag on his chair and starting to undo his coat. If nothing else, he can rest. Have a drink or two and try to relax before tonight’s performance…
A crackling laugh sounds behind him, and he jumps, spinning, to see Lord Crow sitting there on the bed. He’s wearing his gentleman’s suit and holding his cane, and his face and head is obscured by the mass of feathers and wings that surround him, silently beating.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” Lord Crow says, with another squawk of laughter. “I thought you might stand me up, after teasing me for so many days.” He holds his arms out in clear invitation. “You must have so many questions, and so many wants, right? Do you wanna come here? Do you wanna commit some taboos in this bed of yours?” He laughs, apparently at himself. “Huh, looks like I’ve got a lot of questions too. Who would have thought it?”
[Please leave suggestions for Lucien in the comments.]