[Please read the Instructions before jumping in]
Lucien hesitates. Of course, he has a lot of questions for the Moonlit Lord—important ones, given how desperate for information he is. But there is one question that feels more pressing than the rest.
He rolls his head against her shoulder to look up at her, at the strange night sky of her face where all the moon phases show at once. “…How are you feeling?”
She…blinks. Or at least, he thinks that’s what happens. It feels like watching the night go by a hundred times faster than it ought to, clouds flickering across the moon, but it also feels just… like a person, taken aback, not knowing how to react. “…What?”
“How are you feeling after last night?” He tries to find her hand to take it and squeeze it. Her cool, elongated fingers slide between his. “I was worried about you.”
“You were worried about me,” she echoes, her voice softly confused. “…I’m all right. Recovering. I’m not at my best, and I can’t promise you clarity. But I could never promise you clarity. That’s not really something I specialize in. I can only promise you the sense of a revelation just out of reach, things that will make more sense in retrospect. I’m sorry.”
He shakes his head, even if it feels more like it’s lolling. “I’m not asking because of what you can do for me. I thought you were going to die on me. Is there more I can do to help you…?”
Another long pause. “…Thank you,” she says finally. “You did so much already. I’m all right. I’ll be on guard now. I don’t think I can get drawn in again, at least so long as we avoid the dream entering reality.”
“That’s good,” he says. He’s already half-asleep, feels like he’s sleep-talking here, and her sentences are making sense in the way that things do only in dreams. “Is that what’s at stake?”
“Yes. Everything. If it goes off, we might lose everything. Or at least, it will look entirely different,” she clarifies. “Especially to me, as I’ll be gone. I don’t know if the world itself will end up dry like that, or if they will just drain all the Lords dry. But I think… a new world that exists in a place where the Lords are replaced with one single emptiness? It would be a terrible place.”
He nods. That matches what Katarin said, which is itself helpful. He wonders again if Katarin is playing him and Shuni off each other, or if she’s just blunt and straightforward. It has to be one or the other. “Do you know who’s doing this?”
“No,” she says. “If we knew, it would be easier to stop. We collectively have a lot of power. I do not think you want to see what happens when we all want someone dead.”
He shudders. Thinks of her brightness, the thorns and poison of Lord Vine, the sharp beaks and hunger for meat of Lord Crow, the instant death of the End, the endless suffering of the Endless. And there are more Lords besides. “No,” he says. “No, I don’t want to see that. Is this… is it a prophecy? Is it meant to happen? Is it required that a new Lord come into being?”
“I do not actually deal in prophecies, only premonitions,” she says. “Otherworldly creatures, they love treating the world as if it is something that can be tracked. Fae, from the greatest fae lords to the smallest brownies who work for the theatres, view the world as a series of rules. Perhaps there are rules to the world, but we are lawless creatures, and I think these premonitions are lawless too.” She just talks like this. It sort of makes sense. He hopes it still does when he’s awake again. “As for a new Lord. There are rituals. There are ways. It is not common, but I have done it, as has every other Lord that is. Yes, this is a ritual, and it can make a Lord, and what I fear is that this is the Lord it will make.”
He’s running out of questions, exhausted. There’s only one still on his mind. “Is there a way to stop me from seeing the bad dream again? Other than taking your offer just this once? I don’t want to see it anymore.”
“You could avoid sleep,” she says. “Or you could try using your key to unlock the eye inside you so that you can control your dream. It is not reality yet. You, and every changeable figure in this theatre, are simply being drawn toward the intended change. So since it is a dream, you can alter it, if you figure out how…”
Lucien cannot hold his head up, cannot handle this exhaustion any longer. She is bright and she is dark and the world is swimming. He says, “Yes, to your offer. Let me rest, just now. Let me see your better dreams with your better premonitions.”
He feels as if he is breaking another promise, but Shuni will forgive him. Shuni saw him receive that invitation and knows what it means to spend a length of time around a Lord. He’d be too high off this contact to help Shuni anyway, so better to dream now, see if he can see something good, get some actual rest, and after… after…
…he can work the rest out after.
“Very well.” She leans over him, and her hair is streams of moonlight falling around him as she gently kisses both eyes, and he is gone, spiraling down into a deep sleep which opens up around him like a yawning maw.
He sees: Himself, Shuni, Katarin. A fourth figure stands above them, blocking the stage lights, silhouetted and indiscernible, casting the three of them in darkness.
He sees: A hand thrust upright, holding a beating, bloody heart, and a knife, and the two being brought together in a hot spray that coats him and stings his eyes.
He sees: Two identical shapes struggling together with swords, a choreographed duel with an overhead light and shadows cast in every direction. The stage is rotating, but rotating out of control, spinning fast so that he is seeing the duel from all angles at once but cannot make anything out.
He sees: Long brown hair sliding through his fingers.
He sees: Black wings everywhere, beating around him as if it is some huge living thing, and he reaches up his bare arms to it.
He sees: Twelve figures standing huge around him, impossible, inhuman shapes, and there is a gap where a thirteenth should go, and the gap is widening, collapsing, the earth is shaking, the earth is opening, those twelve figures are tumbling into the gap, and the gap is a mouth that is parting and he
He wakes up alone in the boxed seat. The Moonlit Lord is gone and the stage is abandoned and dark below him. He feels… refreshed, without the lingering druggedness he’d usually expect from this experience, as if the dream itself burned through all of it to leave him nothing but awake.
Lucien draws a breath, rubs his face, and steps out of the booth. The four cards have been removed from the doors.
With an unexpected amount of clarity, he thinks that he should go find Shuni now. He will need to make an excuse, and apologize, and explain what he saw so they can work out next steps together—for real, this time. When he steps outside, he sees it’s long past dawn. Shuni would have finished his own search of the theatre, and gone off in the hopes of meeting Lord the Endless, as they’d discussed. But all their previous encounters with the Lords were over by the time the sun rose, and so likely Shuni has already headed home.
So Lucien heads there, and he knocks, but—nobody answers, the windows are dark, and the place seems locked up tight.
All his plans stymied, he hesitates, trying to decide what to do instead.
[Please leave suggestions for Lucien in the comments.]