[Please read the Instructions before jumping in]
So it’s the finale tonight. So the Lords might be destroyed, so the world might end—
So what? The show must go on. Better that he focus on doing what he knows, and doing it well, Lucien decides. If he panics, he’ll endanger the performance itself, and perhaps everything will go wrong.
If he performs well, if he has his wits about him, perhaps everything will go right.
And doing this will be a challenge, since he’s playing a new role. He makes himself a coffee and pours a generous amount of whiskey in it, sipping the beverage and feeling the sear warm his chest as he runs through Revelle’s scenes. He’s always seen them before from Arcane’s point of view, and then, at least briefly, from Logos’s—but he has to be Revelle as Revelle. What would it be like to love one man, be sought after by his brother, be striving to be her own being and not some sort of signifier to both of them?
That is what he needs to think about. He runs through the hundreds of possible scenes in his head, shifting his position. He feels sympathetic for all three of them, now that he thinks about it, even Logos. Revelle is unseen by them as who she is, Logos is struggling with his own jealousy and sense of lack compared to his brother who has everything, and Arcane simply wants everything to work out without being willing to stand for anything, because he loves everyone involved.
But the play doesn’t need to be a tragedy, not necessarily. It’s all depending on what scenes play out, how and why. So he practices them all, as best as he can in the limited time, drinking and reminding himself of all the options, and which actions would kick off each.
And then he dresses in the padding and clothing to build out Revelle, puts the wig on, and does a first pass at her makeup with a practiced hand. He doesn’t look like Katarin, he thinks, but he does look like Revelle when he’s done, and that’s enough.
There is nothing to do from there but go to the theatre, and so he does that. He cut it close enough with his preparations that there isn’t any time to talk to his costars before the show—which is just as well. Katarin isn’t present—hiding somewhere, he assumes, to step out and check the director’s office while the play’s going on. Shuni and Frederik are both there, but he doesn’t know Frederik, has spent no time bothering to really get acquainted with his spare, and he wouldn’t be able to tell Shuni that today is the finale without telling Frederik as well. And besides, it would only introduce additional anxiety to tell anyone that he’d learned it in a dream.
They’ll find out at the same time that Lucien would under normal circumstances: when the play feels ready to proceed.
The costuming is finished, the final touches put on him to give him the last elements of resemblance to Revelle. Looking at himself in the mirror, he hardly recognizes himself, and he enjoys that, too.
And then it is time for the play to begin. Revelle doesn’t start onstage, and he spends the first part of the first scene in the wings, anxious. When he steps out, he sees the same situation as always: a living audience, with three Lords and one empty box seat above. It is Lord Crow, Lord the Endless, and the Moonlit Lord present today; they are all watching intently, with a focus that almost makes Lucien forget his lines, but he launches in anyway, going up to take Frederik-as-Arcane’s hands and gaze into his eyes as they swear their love to each other. Arcane will not fight his brother; Revelle will duel him in her own name. She does; she defeats Logos, he slinks off to plan his next move.
Act One finishes; he hopes that Katarin’s explorations are going well. Act Two proceeds through dramatic and comedic turns—he agrees with the earlier assessment; Frederik’s Arcane is not as good as his own—then moves on to Act Three. All three characters have lived so far, death avoided, the potential murder turned aside, deferred, and the pressures of their demands on each other are becoming stifling. Revelle’s love is turning to disdain. Why can she not better herself, and leave them both behind? The intermission happens, a break as they all change quickly. Lucien is grateful for the privacy of Katarin’s dressing room, but for the costumers; he’s not sure how he’s pulling this off so far.
He hopes to run into Katarin then, but—still nothing. They are running out of time, and his palms are sweating, but he hasn’t seen anything amiss either, so he can only hope she’s doing this well and that the finale goes off with no ritual. Act 4 happens, and things come to a head with the death of their father and instructions that the household should go to the first son to marry and get an heir. Revelle is betrayed, of course, by their inevitable need to put their inheritance on her. The already-high tension is running even higher.
Act 5, the final act, begins with Revelle offstage while the two brothers finally enter into an argument that will determine all their fates. Here is the moment that Lucien feels the play shift toward a finale. He is sure the others feel it as well. There is an inevitability to it. The show normally ends after the first scene of Act 5. Not this time. The audience, the Lords, the actors: all those will see who can walk away from this final confrontation
There are only a few scenes left. Lucien has barely stepped into the green room when Katarin runs in, dressed as Revelle and nearly Lucien’s double. She is in a panic, carrying a box. “Lucien,” she whispers to him. “Lucien, it’s him. It’s the Director. He set this up—he has this box, it’s got a beating human heart in it—”
Lucien’s hands go cold. He reaches for the box. “This is it. Shuni’s heart.”
“His heart? What?” Katarin lets Lucien take it. “But… the Director isn’t an actor—setting up the ritual should do nothing for him! Yet you said that the item that was stolen was done to lure Shuni to the theatre, so what else could this mean? And I’ve been trying to find where the Director is, but I can’t find him anywhere, and I don’t know what he’s doing, what he’s planning, why he’d set this up if it is him—”
They are interrupted by screaming coming from the theatre, the audience’s building reaction to realizing something has gone wrong, is not in the play, and Katarin goes white.
“It’s beginning,” she says, and tears out the door.
Lucien is hot on her heels, chasing after her as they run onto the stage, where they see Frederik sitting on Shuni, choking him with one hand, stabbing him repeatedly in the chest with a real knife—no stage prop here. Blood is dripping out weakly—not spraying, not without a heart to push it through him forcefully—and Shuni’s lungs don’t sound too good. But his heart isn’t in his chest, and stabbing him here at least isn’t an instant kill, though his flesh bleeds like it would anywhere else.
“Why won’t you die?!” Frederik is shouting. “He promised me I could sacrifice you in the end! A real sacrifice! I’ll undo it all, I’ll take it all away—”
Shuni spits blood in Frederik’s face and slams a fist up after it, rocking Frederik’s face back with a solid crack of his nose. Frederik’s grip on the knife loosens, and Shuni grabs hold of it himself, pulling it out of the empty spot in his chest where his heart should be. “What the fuck,” Shuni spits. “I just want my property back.”
Shuni’s still using Logos’s voice; the effort of switching out of character requires too much focus. The audience is stampeding now that they’ve realized this isn’t part of the play, are a mass of flesh crushing each other as they flee to the exit—but the Lords are still there, or so Lucien thinks. He can hardly spare them much attention, but Lord Crow’s booth is full of an entire murder of crows flapping around in it like they’re in a hurricane; the Moonlit Lord’s booth is too brightly illuminated to see within, and Lord the Endless’ seat is just a solid, impenetrable void.
The ground has started to shake.
Lucien draws a breath. “Shuni!” he yells, holding the box up.
Shuni turns, holding the knife, clutching his bleeding chest, and he sees Lucien. His eyes go huge. “Is that—” He doesn’t finish the sentence, running across the shaking stage, stumbling, reaching to grab the box. Frederik is up a moment later, scrambling after him.
[Please leave suggestions for Lucien in the comments.]