[Please read the Instructions before jumping in]
Lucien considers, trying to imagine where in the theatre someone could hide a still-beating human heart. “I’ll check the box seats,” he says finally. “I was up in one just earlier so I might as well be the one to go back there. There’s a number of places someone might tuck something, and they’re unoccupied except for the Lords usually, so it seems like a likely place.”
“I’ll take the remaining offices,” Katarin says, grinning, her bearing confident. “I’ve got a trick up my sleeve for the office locks.”
Lucien raises his brows at her. “One you didn’t have for the outside door?”
“Yeah, I’ve seen where the SM keeps the interior spare keys,” Katarin says. “But obviously that’s private info, so I wasn’t planning to show you fools if I could just use them myself”
Shuni purses his lips, visibly discontent, but lets it go. “Fine. You get the offices. I guess that leaves me… ugh…”
“Props and wardrobe,” Lucien says firmly. “Which is a great place to hide… just about anything, you know? No matter how weird it is.” More gently, he adds, “…I don’t think we need to check the fly gallery. Those are always busy during shows and are full of moving parts and crew working the lines, so I think it’d be too risky a place to hide anything.”
Surprised, Shuni glances over and searches his face—then smiles an odd smile, tentative and unpracticed. “I’m glad to hear that,” he admits. “It gives me an excuse to back out. I don’t have a lot of fears left after all that, but I’m still bad with heights. Katarin, will you unlock P&W for me?”
“Of course,” she says. “What you lost wasn’t a file or anything like that, right? The offices’ll go a lot faster if I know that much.”
“No paperwork at all, no book, nothing like that. It’s an… an odd object.”
They turn to go, still chatting, and Lucien grabs Shuni’s arm. “One moment.”
“Lucien?” Shuni turns back—and stiffens, as Lucien wraps him in a tight hug.
“I was worried,” Lucien murmurs, keeping the hug firm. “I’m just glad we found you safely.”
Shuni doesn’t seem to know what to do with his hands, uncomfortable, though he slowly relaxes enough to put his arms around Lucien in return and pat his back. “Again, you were the one in trouble,” Shuni murmurs back. “Don’t worry us like that.”
He pulls back finally, and studiously does not meet Katarin’s surprised gaze as he turns back to her. “I’m heading to P&W,” he says. “Meet me there with the keys.”
Lucien watches him go, reluctant to let Shuni out of his sight, and a little embarrassed by the depth of his own feelings. He shakes it off—he’s promised to help search, after all—and heads to the front of house, toward those stairs up for the second time in what feels like as many days.
About halfway up, he curses himself—he’d forgotten to tell Katarin to meet him there with the keys. Well, she’ll likely think of it herself after she’s let Shuni in, and if not, maybe he can use one of the door cards to jimmy the lock.
Once he’s got the idea in his head, he’s not easily getting it out, so when he reaches the top of the stairs, he goes right to the card basket, swiping the top card off to try the first door—but when he turns, he sees that all four doors are cracked very slightly open.
He feels the hair rise on his arms as a chill passes through him. Perhaps someone had left them unlocked after the show today? But he remembers looking back at the doors when he left this morning after waking up from the Moonlit Lord’s dreams, and he doesn’t remember them being open.
And hadn’t Shuni said they were locked? Or had he just said he hadn’t got to them yet? Lucien wishes he could remember.
Well, perhaps it’s nothing. Perhaps he was just misremembering their state when he left this morning. He goes to put the card he’d picked up back in the pile, and looks down to see that it’s a blank white.
That gives him pause yet again. Slowly, he flips through each of the cards, looking at their icons, checking both sides to be sure.
There are fourteen in total: one for each of the Lords with matching icons, the white card he has just picked up, and the black card he’d seen on the door for the unoccupied box seat.
He slowly stacks them again, trying to make sense of it. The twelve iconographic cards make sense, but what do the remaining two mean? He’d assumed originally that the black card was the ‘blank’ to indicate the room was empty, but that would make a lot more sense for the white card. If he had to hazard a guess, looking at all the options, he’d think that black meant unknown or, perhaps, reserved.
But that box had definitely been empty during the performance. He’d looked up at it. Why not use the ‘unoccupied’ card?
Sliding the pile of cards back into their basket, Lucien worries at his lower lip. There are never more than four box seats made available in a playhouse, because any more than four lords in one location at a time tend to destabilize the crowd around them to the point that a play would need to be cancelled. There are rules about it—even though Lucien’s never heard of even as many as three at once showing up to a play before now.
As each shows up, the door is marked off to ensure that it is known how many Lords are currently in the theatre, avoiding having a hazardous buildup of their influence. Why mark off a box that didn’t have a Lord in it?
There must be a reason he’s just not thinking of. Perhaps it’s just a safety measure; just avoiding the risk of ever having more than three. The fact that exactly three Lords keep showing up is likely just a strange coincidence; three is a powerful number, after all, and this is meant to be a powerful play.
One way or another, he’s sure this mystery has nothing to do with the problem in front of him: Finding Shuni’s missing heart.
He enters the first box seat.
It’s odd to be in here in the middle of the day with no play on. He keeps thinking he sees someone standing in the middle of the stage out of the corner of his eye, but when he turns to look, there’s nobody there. Just his own discomfort with being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
He checks the coat cubby, and the drinks tray, and under the bench, and in the glove box, and all around, and there is nothing there at all, let alone a beating heart. It is silent but for the labored sound of his own breathing and the rustling as he searches around.
The second is the same, and the third, and—though it takes him a few moments to build up his courage to enter it—so is the fourth, the boxed seat that has been left empty all these performances and has been marked with the black card. He’d thought there’d be at least something in that one, heart or not, but it’s as empty as all the others.
He jumps as he hears a voice call out—but it’s just Katarin leaning into the narrow hallway outside the box seats. “Any luck?”
Lucien is more than glad to step back in there with her. “None at all,” he says. “You?”
“Nothing in any of the offices I could get into. Just paperwork, scripts, etc etc,” she says. “Unless Shuni’s lost a pair of the ASM’s slippers, I didn’t see anything there that I’d classify as a missing object.”
He laughs, relaxing. “No, it’s not that. But which office couldn’t you get into?”
“About that,” she says, a deep consideration in her voice, “it was the Director’s office. The key fit, but there’s an additional magic lock over it, a visible sigil. The key wouldn’t even turn.”
That’s weird. He doesn’t need to say it; it’s on his face, and hers. His brows crease. “I haven’t seen a sigil on his door before.”
“Neither have I, but we’re not usually here after hours,” she says. “It’s possible he has extra protection during the day after everyone’s left. But I don’t like it, especially since we still haven’t turned up any sign of who set up the ritual.” She lifts a finger. “That said, I have a thought about how I could get to search it during show time, if you’re amenable.”
“Who’s being amenable about what?” Shuni calls from the stairs up. He doesn’t sound particularly triumphant, and Lucien assumes he wasn’t successful either.
Katarin says, “Lucien, as far as everyone except Shuni and I know, you’re still missing. The Director is usually out of office during a show, watching the performance. Your voice is tenor; mine’s alto. We’re near the same size, minus some obvious frame differences, but my dresses are padded as Revelle anyway, and we wear a wig. Could you play Revelle off Shuni and Frederik tonight, while I try to break into the Director’s office?”
[Please leave suggestions for Lucien in the comments.]