When Mona Veylor awoke that dusk, she entertained the thought of sleeping the night away. Everyone would be in a festive, though hurried, mood. The Feast of Weeks was only a night away, and the Clan would have to move quickly to reach Vitas Noct before the celebrations began.
Mona liked to watch the general chaos that always pervaded the nights leading up to the Feast. She knew all too well, however, that there would be little time to observe the Talons' collective excitement without getting her hands dirty. In a small clan like the Talon's, there were always chores to be done.
She sighed as she crawled from her mound of blankets and folded them neatly into a corner. There's one down, she thought wryly as she pushed open the tent flap.
Outside, the eventide greeted her with a cool breeze that ruffled her bright blond hair. The night was quickly turning dark, and already the tall orange torches that Mona was so used to seeing were being erected in the soft, thick sand.
Mona closed her eyes and pressed her bare toes deeper into the grainy ground. It felt warm.
"Mona!" shrieked a cranky voice from inside the blue and gray tent. "Are you awake, girl?"
The barefoot Mona gave another sigh. "Yes, Grandmother?"
"'Yes,' you're awake?" came a screech from the tent.
"Yes, I'm awake."
"Awake! I'm awake!" Mona turned to yell in the direction of the tent. "Do you need something, Grandmother?"
"Yes! Need something," the old woman's voice became suddenly less grating. "Remind Stello to saddle my camel for me. This old bag of bones cannot—ah, will not—make it to Vitas Noct on her own!”
"Yes, Grandmother," Mona replied. "I'll be going now."
"You'll be what?"
Shaking her head, Mona could not help but smile. She shook the sand off her feet and dashed away.
The problem with nomadic clans, Mona always thought, was the fact that when they moved, nobody's tent was ever in the same place. She had seen Stello (and his enormous moustache) a few times since the Talons last traveled, but never at his tent. She decided to wander the clan grounds for the time being—maybe she would run into him.
It was a beautiful night. The moon smiled brightly high in the blackening sky. On the sandy surface the world was a bright orange against a back drop of dark blue. Most of the tents were made of an indigo fabric; such was the official color of the Clan of Talons.
People rushed by her on all sides, some nearly ran into her. Almost the entire clan was out and about—the Feast of Weeks really was their only holiday. Mona saw Willa Meek scolding her children, perky Angelica Thor washing linens; even blind man Scullier was out of his tent, screaming the obscenities they all loved him for.
Suddenly Mona was knocked flat on her rear by someone on her left. She saw a blur of dark colors and before she even got to her feet, she was ready to pound whoever—
"Mona!" a dark-haired boy shouted.
He was a little taller than Mona, with a gentle face and bright blue eyes. He wore a thin black shirt, cut off at the shoulders, and a splintery, wooden sword was in his hand. The youth halted on his bare heels and grinned as soon as he saw her.
"East?" Mona said, recognition coming gradually.
The boy smiled wider at the mention of his name. "What are you up to, Mona?"
"What am I up to? Sovereign Hells, East. Is that all you have to say? Mona did her best to feign anger, even though she wasn’t. She intended to give East a hard time. "Any reason you knocked me over?"
"We're playing 'Catch the Lumie,'" East explained as he held out a helping hand.
Mona took it and pulled herself up, making sure to put as much strain on the boy's arm as she could. He yelped playfully.
"No need to be bitter, Veylor." East grinned sheepishly. He loved to rhyme Mona's name, even if he wasn’t very good at it.
"I'll be bitter if I want," she said. "Besides, I don't believe I've heard an apology."
Ezra Eastley bowed in mock grandeur, "I am deeply sorry, Your Highness; it was not my intention to knock Her Majesty on her 'Royal' ass."
Mona punched East’s arm and this time the yelp of pain was real. East loved to remind Mona that she was a Royal; that is, that she was born within the mile-thick walls of Vitas Noct. Mona didn't mind though—she loved to hit him just as much.
"Hey now," Mona objected. "I'm no more a Royal than you. I've been a Talon since I was six."
"Yeah, yeah," East waved off her usual argument, "Your parents loved the city."
"They didn't love the city. They just…hated the desert."
East nodded, suddenly somber. "Well," he said, "I better go. Jace is the Lumie—and you know how fast he runs!"
"Wait a second, you," Mona yelled after him. "Don't you have chores?"
"Finished them!" he shouted over his shoulder.
"Hey!" Mona had to shout over the general noise of the bustling people. "Help me with mine! Then I can play too!"
"Swifter!" Mona heard him shout. The horse?
And then he disappeared under the cover of night.
When she finally found Stello (and his moustache) the gleam of the moon had lowered in the sky.
"Don't worry about your grandmother, Miss Mona," the old man assured her, "My Tess is the strongest camel in all the Symviridia. She'll get your grandmother to Vitas Noct just fine."
"I'm sure she will," Mona replied hurriedly, eager to move onto her next job before Stello's wife Maynie could show her face and force-feed Mona her pastries. The woman was always stuffing her children with anything and everything—no wonder they always lost at "Catch the Lumie."
Mona sprinted across the sand toward the center of clan grounds, her yellow hair streaked across her face. Now to help Angelica Thor with her washing . . . It was Mona's most hated chore.
"Let's go, go, go!" squealed Angelica as Mona neared her immaculate-white tent. "We've got tents to move, places to be, be, be!"
At her most melancholic, Angelica Thor was still a lively lady, and on a good day, Mona could tolerate her. But near the Feast of Weeks, the spirited Angelica was downright insufferable.
"Where do you need me?" Mona asked, containing her utter despair.
"Ah, Mona deary!" Angelica glanced at Mona's grime-encrusted hands, still dirty from when she fell earlier.
Mona followed Angelica's gaze and looked back up. The pep had disappeared from the washerwoman's face. "Mona dear, your hands are quite…squalid."
Mona frowned. "I'll just wash them here—"
"No, no, no!" Angelica shrieked, while doing her best to retain a smile. "You mustn't use the soap! We have only a limited supply, you know."
Mona was losing patience. "I'll just wash my hands and the linens at the same time. It will be fine—"
"Ahh!" Angelica seemed on the verge of hysterics. "Away with you, Mona dear. Away! I've sufficient help for the time being. On with your other chores, now."
Mona shrugged, admittedly relieved. She clapped her hands together, gave East a silent thanks for ramming her to the ground, and went on her way.
Ezra Eastley was just an inch away from catching the Lumie . . . when his legs got tangled with each other and he fell face-forward into the ground.
Jace, the "Lumie," laughed as he sped away, turning to jeer: "Nice one, Ezra!"
East shouted back angrily, through a mouthful of sand, "Don't call me that!"
It's not as if East hated his name; he just . . . hated it. It sounded like a girl's name and all the boys would make fun of it. That's why when he was seven he told everyone he wanted to be known as "East." Mona was the first to call him that, and he always loved her for it.
East rolled onto his back and stared at the stars. The moon seemed closer than it ever had been. Just that dusk, his parents had wished him a good night and so far it had not been too terrible, as most nights.
The usual routine was some mocking by the other boys, whether it was his name, small stature, or lack of muscle. If Mona heard their insults she would always be the first to throw a punch.
He was wound up thinking about Mona. "Mona!" he yelled aloud.
East straightened, on his feet quicker than a coyote. He suddenly remembered about Swifter.
Dashing through the night, East weaved his way through the crowds of Talons going about their business. East prided himself on being light on his feet—it was one of his only talents.
Within moments, East arrived at Old Rokko's rainbow-colored wagon, though the light of the torches made everything seem a bit more orange. The old horse master was tending to his prize steed, Swifter, who seemed eager to get moving.
Swifter was an elegant horse, East always thought; his silky black mane and hardened muscles were something to envy, as far as he was concerned.
East turned to his right and his blue eyes fell upon Mona, who was jogging up to meet him.
"Looks like I beat you to Swifter, Veylor." East grinned.
"That barely rhymes," she retorted as she rolled her eyes, but East could tell she was amused.
They approached Swifter, who neighed in greeting.
Old Rokko thrust brushes and a pail of water at them, frowning as he did. "Clean him nice and good now, kids. He's got a hard trip come tomorrow."
"Yes, sir," they said in unison. "We'll spoil him good!"
"Mm-hmm," Old Rokko grunted, feigning dismay. But he knew how much they loved Swifter.
"Right then," Mona said. "You get the rear."
East looked put down. "Why do I always get the butt?"
"Oh, don't be such a girl."
Together they brushed Swifter down and rinsed his coal colored hair. They were done sooner than usual.
"Good horse, Swifter," East soothed as he patted the horse.
"Finally we're done," Mona was stretching her arms. "It seems every year there's more to do."
East was only half-listening. "Sometimes…I wish I was a horse."
Mona raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.
"To just . . . run. All the time. No care in the world. I'd like that."
Mona edged closer, setting a hand on Swifter, next to East's. "Wouldn't you ever get bored?"
East grinned. "Never."
"But what if you did?"
East thought a moment. "If ever I did get bored . . . I'd run away!"
"Away?" It was Mona's turn to smile. "Away to where? This is all there is. The Symviridia Desert. The Symviridia and in its center: Vitas Noct."
"But think about beyond the Symviridia!"
"Well, there is the Roaming Forest," Mona admitted.
"And beyond that!"
"The Stormbound Sea."
"And beyond that!" East urged.
"Nothing," Mona said.
"I don't believe that," East said, his voice low. "If I were a horse . . . I could run anywhere I wanted. I'd gallop across all of Evalace, a hundred times over."
"It doesn't really matter if there is anything beyond the Stormbound Sea. It's impossible to cross," Mona reasoned. Swifter neighed happily, and Mona smiled. "Even on the Talon Clan's best horse."
"The Talon Clan's only horse," said East with a laugh.
True enough, the clans had little use for horses; weathered camels were always a safer bet.
"So," Mona said, turning away from Swifter. "The Feast of Weeks begins soon."
"Yes," East said solemnly. "Excited?"
They stood in silence for a moment, enjoying the cool breeze. Suddenly, East caught movement from the corner of his eye. He veered towards the other side of the wagon, swearing that he had seen something unusual.
"What is it?" Mona asked softly, following East. "Is it the Lumeer?"
"No, it can't be," East whispered, "But I saw a shadow…a strange shadow."
"Maybe it was an animal," Mona reasoned, though East could tell she seemed shaken.
"It's not the Lumeer," he assured his friend. "They only come out during the day."
Mona nodded, but her eyes betrayed her fear. And East knew why. Her parents had disappeared when she was eight, lost in the sunny day when a neighboring tent broke out in fire. Mona's parents were the first to leave their tent that day—they were never seen again.
"I'm sure I didn't see anything," East said, turning Mona away from the distant darkness, "Probably a jackal, or something."
"Jackals," Mona murmured, "Shape shifters. Shadow dancers."
"'Their howls herald the End Times,' I know," East echoed. He grinned, "Probably not as bad as that!"
Mona gave a sharp nod and started to walk away. "I better get back to Grandmother," she said. "We still need to pack up our stuff before the journey tomorrow."
At that moment, Old Rokko appeared from his wagon, waving two brightly colored pieces of paper. "Hold up there, kids; I've something for you."
The strong old man jumped down from his wagon and handed a piece to both of them. "Tickets," Old Rokko explained, "for the show."
"Enticus?" East asked, excited.
"None other!" Old Rokko confirmed. "The greatest company of entertainers in all of the Symviridia. I hear they are putting on The Love and Lies of Lady Dawn this year."
“But where did you get them?” East wondered, holding his ticket as if it were gold.
“Got ‘em last year, from the Company itself.”
"Excellent," East said, punching the air.
"Thank you, Rokko," Mona intoned.
"Think nothing of it," he replied. "You’ve earned these tickets twice over. Now off with you. Give my best to your parents, young Eastley, and to your grandmother, Miss Veylor."
"We will,” the pair said together, and then they were gone.
The next night, as the column of Talons proceeded westward towards Vitas Noct, Mona's thoughts did not stray too far from yesternight's mystery shadow. It was entirely possible that East had seen nothing. But what if he really had seen something—a jackal? Or worse, a Lumeer? She tried to shake off the foreboding feeling, but as Mona walked alongside her grandmother, who snoozed loudly atop a camel, her thoughts kept returning to the Lumeer.
In all her life, she had never seen one before, but stories of the Lumeer were not hard to come by. She heard that they were thin, gangly creatures, with stars for eyes, daggers for ears, and whips for tails.
Those stories did not scare Mona. It was the stories that the Lumeer looked just like humans that terrified her. The Lumeer could live among us and we would not even know.
Mona shook her head violently. No more talk of Lumeer. No more talk of jackals and their evil prophecies. It was the Feast of Weeks—the most cheerful part of the year.
Still, Mona's mind strayed to the night before—this time, she realized how much of a coward she must have looked to East. She was the strong one, the one who did not let an insult go unpunished. Mona was not weak. When her parents died, everyone had expected her to cry, and she had wanted to. But Grandmother would not let her. A Veylor does not cry.
So she didn't.
It was a breezeless, clear night and the glowing bastion of Vitas Noct was visible from a mile away. Its walls were simply luminescent in the night—as they always were—and Mona could not help but smile at the sight of it. From that distance, the Symviridian Capital seemed a perfect fortress: the Lumeer could never hope to penetrate its walls.
The Clan of Talons had made good time arriving at Vitas Noct, and Mona could see that the gates were slowly opening, like a mother stretching out her arms to embrace her child.
Mona stood on her toes to squint over the dark horizon, where groups of tall and shining torches made their way towards Vitas Noct as well.
The other clans.
Mona recognized the fanged flag of the Rattler Clan, the purple banners of the Vulture Clan, and if she squinted, she could even make out the standard of the Coyotes, orange and bright.
Her clan finally reached the gates. Mona tilted her head upwards until her neck hurt. Were the tips of the walls not marked with blazing light, she would not have known the difference between wall and sky.
When Mona's dark eyes were level again, they met bright green ones, accompanied by a familiar grin.
"East," Mona greeted. "How did you get away from your parents?"
"I have two brothers and two sisters," he shrugged. "Sometimes they have trouble keeping track of us all."
They walked on, alongside Mona's grandmother, whose snores had yet to wane.
It was another mile before the clans crossed the outer fortifications of Vitas Noct. By now, the Clan of Talons was joined by others, and there was much mingling between clans.
There was one final wall between the clans and the Principalia, the center spiral of residency in Vitas Noct—the area where the Royals lived. This wall stood lower than the others, and East pointed eagerly at the tip of something bright and distant, in the center of Vitas Noct.
"There it is, Mona," he said in awe, "The seat of Sovereign Dusk—The Tower of Ereba."
As in every year, Mona was at a loss for words.
Then, above the gate appeared a small figure, with bright red robes and an even brighter red headpiece. Mona knew the man to be Maester Wise, the Warden of Vitas Noct and an Arbiter for the Feast of Weeks.
"Welcome, Clans of the Symviridia!" his voice pierced the night with inexplicable volume and clarity. "Throughout our lives, Vitas Noct and the Clans receive the Blessing of Sovereign Dusk: night time. Never has His Lordship failed to bestow upon us the vigilant night. Never is the shelter of darkness denied us by Sovereign Dusk. He is our protector, our shield."
A rousing cheer from every clan erupted at the Maester's latest words.
"It is for this reason that we celebrate the Feast of Weeks, here in Vitas Noct, His Lordship's home and seat of everlasting power. It is for this reason we gather—to show Him our thanks for his gift of night, and pray for his future graces. May the Dark shield you and keep you, brothers and sisters of the Symviridia!”
At that, a deep rumbling shook the ground, and the gate opened slowly, steadily. Mona and East huddled together with her grandmother as the torrent of clansmen rushed into the Principalia. As the people sped by, Mona could see the glee on everyone's faces, the sheer relief to be home.
Vitas Noct was not large enough to accommodate every person of the Symviridia year-round. For the desert clans, the Feast of Weeks was not only a celebration—it was a tradition, a reassurance. Once a year, for two weeks, they would be home.
There were lights in every direction, and the lights were of every color. All around Mona were buildings of every shape and size, and between them, in front of them, behind them, were stalls and stores for every interest. Not a yard of land went unused.
Mona pictured the Principalia without the colorful decorations. The gray cobblestone roads wound up around the Principalia, inclining upwards as they neared the Tower of Ereba. Looming above them all was the Tower's golden structure—taintless, impeccable. Mona wondered at the Tower of Ereba's articulate, windowless body. Was it truly the house of a god?
So deep in thought was Mona that it took a while before she realized East was speaking to her. "Your grandmother is awake!" he was saying.
Mona turned to the shrunken, wiry figure of her grandmother, who always looked like a different person during the Feast of Weeks.
"Now you behave, Mona Veylor. This is a celebration. Not a brawl."
Mona grabbed East by the wrist and began to pull him away, into the cluster of celebrators.
"And remember!" Mona heard her grandmother yell after her, "We are Talons!"
"And Talons stay out of trouble," East finished, with a knowing smile.
Mona smiled too.
The world seemed an infinite place just then; Mona and East were but ants in the largest of colonies. Mona would not have had it any other way. She loved being just a face in the crowd, not a small-clan girl who lost her parents.
She looked at East who seemed equally happy, but for reasons Mona knew, entirely different from hers. East lived in a family of eleven—he longed to be his own person, not one in many. In Vitas Noct, he could be anyone he wanted.
Mona cherished the connection she had with Ezra Eastley, the understanding between them. It was that understanding that told them where they both wanted to go first: the Owl and Tonic.
The Owl and Tonic was their favorite tavern in all of Vitas Noct. The pair would always head there first, to get the finest darkberry wine in all of the Symviridia. Mona knew East hated the taste, but it was tradition.
In any case, the Royals at the Owl and Tonic always seemed to know what the best festivities were.
It took them only a short time to reach their destination; it seemed to Mona that the streets were clearer than in previous years. The humble outline of the Owl and Tonic was marked by a wooden carving of an oversized owl, drinking spirits.
Before they even entered the tavern, Mona knew something was wrong. What was usually a hub of drunken clansmen and foul-mouthed Royals was tonight a dour assembly of placid leisure. Mona glanced at East questioningly, who only shrugged in identical wonder.
At the sound of their entrance, the sparse crowd turned to the pair, who walked gingerly towards the counter. "Two darkberry wines, please," Mona said.
The grizzly bartender turned, his face sneering—the look of a Royal. "Enjoy," he said stiffly.
The pair glanced around, only to be met with leers and awkward stares.
"Maybe we should leave," East whispered in Mona's ear.
"Maybe I should start a bar fight," Mona whispered back.
East gave her a look that said: You don't mean that.
Mona retorted with a look that said: Yes, I really do.
"I admit that it would be very amusing," East conceded.
"Then I can do it?"
"Come on," East urged, pushing Mona out of the tavern before she could make good on her claim.
Outside, the Feast of Weeks seemed a little more normal. "That was very strange," was all East said.
"Yes," Mona was scanning the crowds for Royals. "Everyone outside are clansmen. Do you see any Royals?"
"Not at first glance," East said. "Does it matter? The less Royals, the better."
"That's a fact," Mona agreed. She pushed it from her mind. "Where to next?"
"I was thinking we could visit the Dervish Box," East suggested. "See them dance."
Mona gave a shrug. "I was hoping we could walk the Principalia for a time longer. Look for any new events."
"But I what if we miss the Dervishes?" East whined.
"We shall compromise," Mona concluded, stepping down from the porch that led to the Owl and Tonic. "For now we go our separate ways. Let's meet at the Sphere, just before Enticus performs."
East seemed slightly dejected, but nodded nonetheless.
Alone, Mona meandered through the jungle of clansmen that enlivened the roads of Vitas Noct. The general chorus of shouts and ooh's and aah's became so commonplace Mona barely took notice. She walked her usual path up the winding Principalia, observing many familiar market stalls.
Then there was something new in the sea of known. A purple and green striped tent was sitting between two fruit stalls; an old woman sat at a gaudily decorated table. Her gaze was undoubtedly locked on Mona. The crone reached out a wrinkled finger . . . and beckoned Mona closer.
As Mona neared, she noticed the old woman was draped in several layers of sparkling robes—only the bridge of her dry nose was visible.
"Greetings, sweet girl," the hag said. "I am Madam Masque. And what are you called?"
"Ah, such a sweet name." The old woman drew a deck of cards from the creases of her vast robes. "Would Sweet Mona like her fortune told?"
Mona nodded; she was utterly fascinated. "I have no coin,” she thought aloud.
"Not a problem, my sweet," purred Madam Masque. "You do, of course, know what this is?" She waved the deck of cards with a flourish.
"A Maizon Deck of Times," Mona answered.
"Very good," Madam Masque hummed, and began shuffling the cards. "A Maizon Deck is a powerful tool; indeed, it is more a weapon. What do you know of it? For the more you know, the greater its power."
"There are four suits—or houses. They are sometimes called," Mona answered, recalling the last time she saw a Maizon deck used. "The Maizon de Aube, the Maizon de Nit, the Maizon de Hur, the Maizon de Eter."
"Quite right," Madam Masque intoned. "Dawn, Night, Hours, Eternity—these are aspects of time, as you know. Will you witness what time has in store for you, Sweet Mona?"
Again, Mona nodded.
"The first card tells you what you once were." Madam Masque, drawing a card, flipped it over and onto the table. "Lady. The Queen of Dawn. You were an obedient girl, yes? What changed?"
Madam Masque, not waiting for an answer, drew another card. "This is who you are." The hag's wrinkled fingers flipped the card. "Shrew. The Ace of Hours. A clever girl, are you? We shall see."
"This card is what you will become," Madam Masque intoned, and with a flick of her hand, a third card appeared on the table. "Champion. The Jack of Dawn. A bright future, indeed."
"But what is it you fear most?" The hag began a new row of cards. "Duke. The King of Night. An enemy of the dark, are you?" She flipped over another card. "Yet here is Agent. The Ace of Night. He is your friend. But neither of these will be your greatest influence. That role is left for…"
This time Madam Masque reached slowly for the next card, and Mona found herself immersed wholly in the hag's movements. It seemed like an eternity before the final card was drawn:
"Fiddler," the old woman whispered. "The Ace of Eternity."
And suddenly Madam Masque's face was a face of pure horror. "Fiddler!" she yelled and jumped to her feet. The purple and green robes fell from her body, revealing all kinds of pustules, boils and blisters.
"The Fiddler watches your every move, Mona Veylor! Your every action he knows before you!"
"Fiddler?" Mona gasped. "What does that mean?"
"Eternity House is in slumber!" Madam Masque yelled with a bold fury. "But see how its Ace awakens for you, Mona Veylor!"
"But I don't understand—" Mona began.
"Take it," the old woman said. "Yes, take the Fiddler. He is yours to keep now.”
Mona made no move for the card.
"TAKE IT!" Madam Masque roared.
Mona did not remember reaching for the card, nor did she remember running away, but seconds later, she was lost in the crowd, trying to recall if she had ever given Madam Masque her last name.
The Dervishes were not nearly as fascinating as they were last year, East thought, turning away from the cheering crowds that surrounded the tall wired walls of the Dervish Box.
He would not let the disappointment get to him, however, for he had The Love and Lies of Lady Dawn to anticipate—and Enticus never failed to put on a good show.
He decided he should head over to the Sphere early—he wanted to hear every word of the famous story. The grand theatre of the Principalia was a giant half-sphere of lights and curtains, with the other half a distance away, filled with high-backed chairs and benches. During any other Feast of Weeks the magnanimous stands would have been filled with high-paying Royals—but this year the seats were filled with clansmen from all over the desert.
Where are all the Royals?
Just then, East spied a brilliant blue banner hanging over the theatre-sphere. It read:
Come clansmen, come Royals, to the grandest show in all of the Symviridia: The Love and Lies of Lady Dawn, featuring the proud dramatists of Enticus!
East rushed to the gate and handed over his ticket. It was easy for a thin boy like East to find a comfortable seat in the stands. East bristled with excitement; it was his first time watching a show from the sitting-sphere. He hoped Mona would arrive soon.
As soon as he had taken his seat, torches surrounding the theatre-sphere were subdued. A single light on stage remained bright. Two men emerged from behind the curtains and one turned to the other, saying:
"Oh tell us, Enticus, the tragic story of Lady Dawn!"
The Love and Lies of Lady Dawn was one of many ancient plays about the mythical Terrace of the Gods, and East's favorite of them all.
A woman of passion was Lady Dawn
And Her face was pretty to look upon
Was it Her hair, Her eyes, or dainty lips
That so enticed the Patron's ships?
That even war He would beget
To obtain the song of Dawn's sunset
Was it Her fragile frame that He loved so
That seduced Him to set His city aglow?
Perhaps it was Her warm embrace
That burned the lands of Evalace?
Whatever they were, Her reasons for lying,
It never stopped the people from dying.
Thunderous applause enveloped the Sphere and the actor took a sweeping bow. "Now begins Act I of the Love and Lies of Lady—"
And suddenly, there was nothing.
At the very least, nothing was all East could see. The only torch on stage blew out in a single flicker and everywhere, all at once, the Principalia plummeted into a steep, impregnable darkness. It didn't make sense that East could not see even a hint of light. He looked up, frightened at what he would see.
Or what he didn't.
The people around him were frantic—screaming and shrieking, bustling and scrambling.
"The moon!" they cried. "Where in the Sovereign Hells is the moon?"
It was true—East scoured the sky for any hint of the familiar white circle, but to no avail. What is happening?
A woman's wail cracked the night, sending a chill through East's body. That was no yell of panic. That was pain.
Something collided into East's side, and, falling from the sitting-sphere, his body met the rough dirt with an excruciating thud. He pulled himself up, but still he could see nothing.
He felt movement around him—people rushing this way and that, careening over the gate, falling over the steps. East dropped to his hands and began crawling along the edge of the Sphere—maybe, hopefully—he would find somewhere to hide. To stay safe.
East's hands ran along the soft surface of the Sphere until it ended at a sharp angle—the end of the half sphere. Propping his back against the Sphere, East stretched out his legs, searching, groping, for something familiar. His feet came in contact with a delicate fabric—a flag of some kind? But why would a flag be so low on the ground?
East hesitated. If he left the side of the theatre-sphere, he risked losing all sense of direction. Maybe his best course of action would be just to sit still, and hope the lights returned.
Another wail broke out but a few yards from him, and in that moment East made his decision. He thrust himself forward, on elbows and knees, desperate for shelter.
When had the dark become so terrifying?
For a moment East felt nothing but the ground beneath him. If only for a moment, he felt completely and utterly lost. Then, sure enough, the tent flap reached out to him, and East threw himself inside.
It felt somehow safer on the other side of the tent's entrance, though his surroundings were just as oppressively dark. The ugly sounds of screams and broken things were not muted in the least.
East crawled to the back of the tent, fumbling desperately for something sturdier than linen-thin walls. His hands came upon a crate of some kind, perhaps a trunk. He led his fingers around the edges. Big enough to hide in? In the dark, East grappled with the clasp and it felt like forever before he got it to open.
Ezra Eastley cleared the trunk of as many of its articles as he could before dragging himself inside. He pulled the trunk closed, shut his eyes, and prayed that Mona was safe.
Mona Veylor was as blind as blind man Scullier. After running from Madam Masque, she was lost in the crowd—now the lights were gone and there was no order. Only crying and the reverberation of a feast gone wrong.
Mona did not know which way was up, which was down. Human bodies crashed into her from all sides. Suddenly she felt herself worrying about the Fiddler card. Where was it? For some peculiar reason, she was relieved to feel it in her pocket—what did a silly card matter in a situation like this?
Another body hit her, a man's, but this time it didn't pull away and flee into the darkness. The man was leaning on her, Mona realized and it was all she could do to shove him aside. Another body pummeled into Mona's side, this one determinedly female.
"Get off me!" Mona yelled, but like the man before her, she did not move.
Then Mona was aware of some sticky substance all over her own chest; her hand came out warm and slippery as she threw the woman off her.
It was in that instant that Mona began to see. It was a blurry image, the scene unfolding before her, and it looked like neither night nor day. There were shimmering white outlines of black figures, tall figures, with long claws for hands. The haggard outlines were everywhere; each of them had lengthy, bony legs.
And they had tails.
One of the nearest white outlines was raising its hands above his head, as if carrying something. Or someone. It shook whatever was in its claws violently and Mona heard a bloodcurdling snap.
Mona could not believe her eyes. This is all a dream…a dream! Where was the moon? How could she see in total darkness? And these creatures...The Lumeer.
Mona wanted to yell—to shout, cry, sob. But nothing came. She lay there, amongst the dead bodies, watched the Lumeer rip apart her fellow clansmen. Everyone was dying. No, everyone was dead. Stello, Rokko, Angelica—all dead.
Somehow, despite the blood-freezing sounds of death and dying, Mona heard the jackals howling.