[Please read the Instructions before jumping in]
“If Shuni were home, he’d let me in,” Lucien says. Even as he says it, despite Katarin’s dubious look, he feels utter confidence. “So he’s not home right now, or is too deeply asleep to hear me.”
After all, Shuni had been concerned for him when he got back from Lord Crow. And Shuni had understood when he’d needed to go see the Moonlit Lord. Even if Shuni’s feeling sore about it, Lucien doesn’t think Shuni would just ignore him. Be sarcastic, acerbic, whatever—but he’d do it to Lucien’s face.
“Well, if you say so,” Katarin says, less convinced. “So you want to go to the theatre?”
Lucien nods. He can see the reluctance on her face, and says softly, “I know you just got home, and if you can’t come with me, I understand. But if you can come, I’d appreciate the help. Besides, maybe we can find some evidence of whoever’s started this ritual.”
“Fair enough,” she says, sighing. “I need to get sleep sometime before the show, but… well, this is more important than a good performance anyway. Give me a moment to change.”
He nods, and he spends the time trying to put his thoughts in order, albeit without much success. When she comes back in, she’s gone from her nightgown to a pair of trousers and a loose shirt, her hair bound back in a braid. “Well, let’s go break into our workplace,” she says, resigned.
It does get locked after hours from the outside; anyone who stays late can leave, but not come back in until the keyholders unlock the doors. He should be worried that they’ll get caught—but the idea’s exciting, and he grins. “Do you have any skill in that?”
“Not much,” she says. “I mean, maybe I can break it. Guess we’ll find out.”
They walk back together, and it is strange, surreal, to be out and about in the day. Plenty of others are around, of course; maybe thirty percent of people do have jobs that keep them out through the day. Lucien can’t imagine wanting one himself. The hot and bright eye of the sun stares down at them, and he feels terribly exposed.
“I hope you dedicated a scene to Sol, to give us blessings at this time,” he murmurs to her.
She grins. “Like the Blazing Sun would smile on things best done in darkness,” she murmurs back. And he knows that they’re really conspirators now.
By silent agreement, they head behind the theatre to enter by the actors’ door, and Katarin jiggles the handle. “Definitely locked,” she mutters. “Do you have-“
And then she freezes, staring past Lucien with an expression of shock. Someone’s behind him. Lucien starts to turn, tensing, but a hand covers his eyes, and the beating of wings fills his ears, and he hears a familiar voice murmuring out of the susurration of those wings, “No, no, let me. And try to get some time alone later, away from your costars. I do so miss you.”
A hand covers his, guiding it to the door, and the lock clicks. The other hand pulls away from his eyes and he turns for real now, fast, trying to catch a glimpse of Lord Crow—but the flock of birds that takes off, flying out of the alley, reveals no human form.
Katarin’s mouth works a few times. “Was that-?”
“Yes,” Lucien says, his heart beating in his throat.
“I couldn’t quite see him. Did he say anything to you?”
“No,” he lies impulsively. “Just that he could get the door for us. I guess he liked the dedications I’ve given before.”
She looks at him oddly, but doesn’t argue. “Good fortune that the Lord of thievery is smiling on you today,” she says, and gestures at him to open the door, as if she’s a little afraid to touch it herself.
He tugs on the handle, and this time it opens. Lucien slips in, juggling the door behind him so she can slip in too. He’s about to turn to her and speak when he hears a swallowed curse from the first aid room next to the exit. “It’s you two,” Shuni says. “Lord. You gave me a scare, I don’t know what I’d have done.”
Lucien could feel himself light up. “Shuni! There you are. I was worried about you!”
“You were worried about me?” Shuni hisses. He steps out, looking Lucien over. “You look well, given the circumstances,” he drawls.
“She was gentle,” Lucien says. “I’ll explain more later. What are you doing?”
Shuni seems to accept that for now, sighing, letting go of the tension he’d carried with him ever since they’d startled him. “Searching the theatre. Again. I’ve managed to thoroughly check the front of house by now, except the cash room behind the box office. I’ve also searched the trap room and shop area, and pretty much every public space back of house. I haven’t managed to check most of the production offices, wardrobe and props, or the box seats. Their locks are beyond my skill. And I haven’t quite got up the nerve to climb out into the fly gallery.” He jerks his head at Katarin. “What’s she doing here?”
“She came here to help look for you, because Lucien was worried,” Katarin says, with strained patience. “She’ll help you look for whatever you had stolen, too, if you tell her what it is.”
Shuni bites his lower lip. “…We’re running out of time before the run ends. And maybe the world, I guess, if this ritual goes off in the finale. So… sure, if you’ll help, great. If you see something that you definitely do not expect to see here, it’s probably mine. And we can talk about it if you find it.”
Katarin’s brows lift in exaggerated disbelief. “You’re not going to tell me?”
Waving a hand, Shuni says, “You don’t trust me either. Like I said, if it turns up, we can talk about it then.” He turns back to Lucien. “Are you really in a state to help?”
“I promised you I would,” Lucien says, firmly.
To his surprise, Shuni seems to flush a little. “…Fine. But you did just get back from a run-in with a Lord, so don’t overdo it. Which of these parts of the theatre do you feel ready to handle?”
[Please leave suggestions for Lucien in the comments.]