The Greatest Play You'll Ever See
When Viktor's father first formed Enticus Company there were so many things the people of Evalace had not yet known. Comedies, tragedies, haunting songs and joyous hymns—it was a world of wonder that Viktor's father had believed in. He had believed in it enough to make it his life's goal to share it all.
But Viktor's father didn't just believe in it, he loved it. Loved it more than his wife, than his only son. He was the greatest man I ever knew, Viktor thought. But the old bastard is dead, and the world is the better for it.
However, Viktor Enticus did owe his father for something, and it was less a thing and more the treasure of his thirty-year life.
His treasure slapped him in the face.
"Stop leaning over the side like that," she scolded. "You're making Dragon uncomfortable."
Viktor continued staring off into the moonlight sky, "Dragon's always uncomfortable. He's a mule."
"He's my mule, Viktor," Quinzelle Enticus countered. She gave an endearing glance to the animal pulling their wagon, and then turned back to her husband. "And he was my wedding present."
"Mm," Viktor grunted, with his chin in his hand and his elbow on the rail.
"As I recall, the director of the largest theatre company in Evalace proved too miserly to buy his wife-to-be a real horse."
Quinn sighed. "Stop brooding."
"I'm not brooding," Viktor replied, his voice slightly muffled. "I'm thinking."
"You're brooding. That's how you think."
Viktor turned to his wife, stared at her. Quinn's eyes were two beautiful beads of amber and her hair waved gently in the night wind, straight and blond. He looked at her next to him. She sat upright, hands in her lap, with her legs crossed at the knees. She seemed almost…royal.
"You're having doubts," Quinn stated.
"No, not doubts." Viktor leaned back against the wagon. "Reservations."
"That's the same thing."
Viktor shook his head, his green-dyed hair bending with the wind. "I know we can do it. I have no doubts. Whether or not we should…"
"A matter of morality?" Quinn almost smiled. "I rather thought you left that kind of thinking up to me."
Viktor raised an eyebrow at his wife.
"You know—I the heart, and you the head."
Viktor turned, and immediately their gazes locked. "You think we’re doing the right thing?"
Quinn stared back, gold eyes glistening. "I'm thinking what choice do we have?"
Viktor was about to ask for an elaboration when a voice called out from the wagon ahead. Its blue drapes bristled in the dusty breeze and all manner of knick-knacks, pots, pans, and blunted weaponry protruded from its windows. Viktor never understood why he let the prop wagon travel ahead of the caravan. It made such a racket.
"Hey, Boss!" Symon yelled. His head appeared next to a giant wooden mallet, the central piece of the tragedy, The Architect's Folly. "We're here!"
Viktor had spotted the glowing orange speck on the horizon an hour ago and since then, it had only grown larger. Viktor always considered Vitas Noct a unique city—it was the only one within a thousand miles of desert. Even then, for a desert city, it was grander than many cities back home.
"Every year I forget how beautiful this place is," Quinn said from beside him.
Viktor stared intently at the Symviridian capital, and said softly—it was almost a whisper, "I like this city."
Quinn nodded. "I like it, too."
"I like the people," Viktor said, heaving a sigh.
"Yes," Quinn replied, and nodded again. "Yes, they are good people, these Symviridians."
Inside, the desert seemed an imaginary land and the night surrendered to the brilliant orange lights of Noctian braziers and bonfires. Everywhere there seemed to be people buying, people selling, people eating and drinking and greeting. It looks like the clansmen have all arrived.
The Enticus Company caravan weaved its way around the spiraling Principalia with Arbiters of the Feast of Weeks directing the caravan's movements.
Every year during the Season of Long Night, Enticus was invited to put on a show for the Symviridian holiday. The people loved Enticus, and they were particularly popular with the clansmen, the people who lived in the desert. Viktor figured it was the air of mystery that made the Symviridians love them so.
"You better be off as soon as we get settled," Viktor told Quinn.
"Is he expecting me so soon?"
"Most likely," Viktor said, taking in his surroundings. "They don't dally, the Symviridians, whenever their holiday is concerned."
"And the tent?"
"I'll have Symon and Jewel get to work as soon as time allows," Viktor assured. "I need a word with Jolly before…"
"Yes," Quinn said, understanding. "Perhaps I better go now."
Before Viktor could argue, his wife hopped off the moving wagon with an acrobat's grace, landing softly on her feet. Her gray dress remained unblemished by the dirt.
"And take Ripper and Edge with you!"
Over his shoulder, Viktor glimpsed the burly twins jump after his wife from the Actors Troupe wagon, and together, the trio disappeared into the sea of people.
Viktor was about to take advantage of the extra space on top of the wagon when a young girl seemingly sprouted out from the side of coach. "Mr. Enticus?"
"Anjee," Viktor recognized the dark-haired adolescent at once, "what are you doing?"
"Wanted to see you, sir," the girl mumbled, climbing into the seat next to him. "Had a dream."
"You had a dream," Viktor repeated. "I have dreams."
"You do," Anjee stated flatly, though Viktor could see she was nervous. "Do you heed them?"
"Dreams are dreams, little one."
"Dreams are messages from the gods, Mr. Enticus!" Anjee yelled with sudden fervor. "You cannot ignore the gods."
"I hired you as an artist, Anjee, not a fortune teller." Viktor set a hand on the girl's shoulder, hoping to calm her down.
"It is not fortune," Anjee argued, shaking her head. "It has naught to do with what will come. It has come. It is here."
Viktor sighed. "Anjee—"
Suddenly the girl seemed to regain her composure. "You're right, Mr. Enticus. I'm all nerves, I—"
Viktor put his other hand on her shoulder, looked straight into her eyes. "It's all right, Anjee. I promise we will all be fine."
The young artist wrinkled her lip and Viktor thought she was blushing, though it could have been a trick of the light. It looked as if she might cry.
I better change the subject. "How are the costumes coming along?"
Suddenly, Anjee pushed him away, climbed the top of the wagon, and flung herself onto the next; all the while she yelled, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"
Viktor stood and called after her, "I need you to do your job!"
He sat back down, stared straight forward. Why is everyone running out on me tonight?
Ahead, the caravan was rolling onto familiar ground. On the edge of the Principalia sat the theatre sphere of Vitas Noct, a grand stage of tall white curtains accompanied by the half-sphere of smooth benches and velvet seats. It was a solid theatre, Viktor always thought, just next to the Dervish Box, and he had put on many successful shows on this particular platform.
The wagon rolled to a stop and Viktor nodded to his driver as he whistled for Enticus to gather around. The caravan had stopped in a semi-circle just north of the Sphere and most of the low-level troupers had begun unpacking.
"Listen," Viktor rallied, his voice steady, and only slightly louder than the drone of the distant festivities. "You all know your jobs. And you must do them quickly. This night must pass without a hitch.
"We have," Viktor glanced upwards, squinting to see the moon, "but a few hours." He looked around into the eyes of the Enticus troupers, his troupers. "Get it done."
With that, the company dispersed to spread the director's words and only a few remained. Viktor knew them all very well. There was Cordelia, plump, melodramatic Cordelia. She believed the world revolved around her, and that Enticus existed to serve her. She was utterly self-serving and Viktor was not a fan. Still, he knew he could trust her to do anything he asked of her, as long as it benefited her in some way. That, and he considered the rotund woman to be one of the best songstresses in all of Evalace. Viktor made sure never to tell her that.
"My song," she nearly screamed in his face, "My song! Will we have time for my song?"
"Yes, Cordelia," Viktor lied, "The Love and Lies of Lady Dawn could not possibly succeed without you."
"By the Terrace, you better believe it!" the singer huffed.
"Gods, Cordelia," an old man said, shaking his head. "You realize it's not all about you."
"Not all about me?" Cordelia shouted, feigning surprise. "If it's not all about me, then who else could it possibly be? Ha!" And the plump woman cantered away.
Viktor rubbed his temples.
"Boss—" Symon began.
Viktor held up a hand, silencing the one-eyed man at once. He turned to the old man who had spoken. "Jolly, I need your help with something."
"Of course you do," Jolly admitted. "I am your intellectual superior, after all."
Symon interjected. "Hey now, weren't you just giving ol' Cordelia a lesson in humility?"
"What of it, buffoon?" Jolly replied in a bored tone.
"Listen, you crotchety gaffer—"
"Symon, be silent," Viktor commanded.
The one-eyed trouper complied at once.
"Yes, Symon, do shut up." Jolly smiled menacingly.
"Jolly," Viktor said with severity, "We need a way out."
"Out," Jolly repeated, nodding southward. "Of the city, you mean."
Viktor nodded. "Yes. As soon as the day arrives. I want to be out."
"And the brilliant Viktor Enticus didn't think of an escape plan on the way here?"
Viktor gave the old man an exasperated look. "Just do it, Jolly."
"At once, sir," the old man bowed, "at once." And he lumbered away, towards the Dervish Box.
"Why do ya put up with him, Boss?" Symon asked, glaring after the old man.
"You know why, Symon."
"There's plenty of damn playwrights in Evalace. Besides, don't he mostly adapt them for Enticus anyway? Just a damn playwright…"
"He's my father's playwright," Viktor said flatly. "And I'll have no more talk about him."
Viktor stared at the ground, absently tapping his foot against the dirt. "Go find Jewel. Get started on the tent. You know where to put it."
Quinzelle Enticus weaved her way through the tremendous crowds of Vitas Noct, careful not to attract any attention. That feat, however, was not easily done with a pair of muscled stuntmen breathing down her back. Quinn had known Ripper and Edge before even meeting Viktor—she had been forced to go through them to speak to him; they were his personal bodyguards at the time.
Still are, Quinn thought. And mine now, as well.
Edge was the farther twin from her, silent as always. Quinn appreciated him for his calm demeanor, it reminded her of Viktor. Edge's brother, however, was another matter entirely. He loved to chat.
"I hope we're not lost, Quinn," Ripper looking wide-eyed at all the sandmen.
"I am well aware of where we are, Ripper, not to worry," Quinn assured.
"Are you certain? The moon seems all faint, and I don't want to be out here when it's time."
"We have a few hours yet," Quinn replied, concentrating on finding her destination.
"That's all odd-looking, don't you think, Quinn?" Ripper said nonchalantly. He pointed over her shoulder towards a purple and green tent where a blond-haired girl stood.
Quinn glanced in the direction Ripper directed, intending only to humor him. She had to admit that the scene did look rather strange. The girl was at the striped tent, hunched over the table, seemingly enthralled by something. The table, however, was blank, a wooden strip of nothing. Quinn continued to stare at the girl. She seemed to be talking to someone across the table, but Quinn saw no one.
"Little girl must be playing some game, eh, Quinn?" Ripper remarked with a little uneasiness in his voice.
Quinn could not tear her eyes away. The girl had cringed at something; she had something in her hand, and now was sprinting away from the tent, looking terrified.
"Some game," Quinn murmured.
The Dux Palisade was home to the royalty of Vitas Noct, and excepting the Tower of Ereba itself, was the closest one could get to the center of the Symviridian capital. The tall, thin arches of the royal manor reached high into the dark sky where even the smoldering lights on the surface could not reach. The rooftops remained illuminated, however, so brilliant was the gleam of the Tower of Ereba, seat of Sovereign Dusk.
As Quinn understood it, Sovereign Dusk lived in the Tower as the eternal monarch over all the Symviridia. Over the years of performing in Vitas Noct, Quinn had learned a few things. Sovereign Dusk never left the tower; no one had seen him in centuries. Still, the lights on the tower were lit every night and every morning they were extinguished. The tower had no obvious entrances as far as Quinn could see and the rough, curving sides of the tower seemed impossible to climb. Less a tower…more a prison.
When Quinn first learned of the mysteries surrounding Sovereign Dusk, she inquired as to who ran the city. Back then the Royals had not been so ungenerous with their words.
The leader of Vitas Noct was called a Dux. The Dux, an elected official, was said to have the ear of Sovereign Dusk himself. The Dux, once elected, moved to the Dux Palisade; his family accompanied him, and together they were known as the royal family. Quinn learned over the years that the clansmen of the Symviridia did not acknowledge such a distinction—the people who lived in the desert called all city dwellers Royals, a derogatory term, if she understood correctly.
Normally, Quinn would have wanted to explore the origins of the clansmen and the Noctians' hate for each other, but prejudices were not her concern at the moment. She had a job that needed to be done.
Quinn, Ripper and Edge had barely arrived in front of the Palisade gates when they swung open with creak. A man came ambling forward.
"Quinzelle Enticus!" A golden-robed man approached them, smiling wide. "You look radiant. Ah, forgive me, you are radiant."
"Maester Wise," Quinn greeted, offering her sincerest fake smile. "It is wonderful to see you. You look well."
"Ah, but that is due to my noble attire and no inherent quality in myself, I must admit."
"No arguing that," Ripper mumbled, and out of the corner of her eye, Quinn could see Edge smile.
Maester Wise cleared his throat. "If you will come with me please, Quinzelle. Aveena is very anxious to meet you."
"Of course," Quinn replied and the Enticus trio started up the stone path.
"Forgive me, Quinzelle." The Maester looked to Quinn with what looked like genuine contrition. "The Dux has instructed me to let only your person enter the Palisade. No other."
Quinn held her smile, and turned to the twins. "It's all right," she told them, "I will be fine from here."
Ripper and Edge nodded in unison and began their descent, toward the Principalia.
As Quinn and the Maester walked toward the manor, she noticed the Palisade gates close and lock behind her. These Noctians are a cautious lot…but of course we knew that.
Around the path they strode were purple desert lilies, some small, some tall, and every one of them beautiful. Quinn wondered if the Symviridians, who so feared the day, knew that the sun was the reason for the flowers' beauty.
"You will be pleased to know, Quinzelle, that the Princess Aveena is very eager to be in your show." Maester Wise had a way of speaking slowly, articulately, all the while bearing a toothy smile. Quinn hated it.
"And we are very eager to have her," Quinn assured him. "We plan on having her play the beautiful Siren, the Jack de Nit."
"Spectacular!" the Maester exclaimed, "The princess will be simply overjoyed."
They arrived at the front door of the manor and immediately Quinn noticed a large woman pounding a fist against the door, screaming "Open up! Open up!" repeatedly.
Maester Wise climbed the golden-lined steps in a hurry and addressed the guards. "What's this, then?" he demanded.
"The chef," one of the guards said in a deep voice. "She says someone requested her services."
"We have a chef," Maester Wise said, obviously annoyed, "Send her away at once."
"We have," the guard explained. "She will not leave."
"Then escort her," the Maester commanded, then smiled sheepishly at Quinn, as if it was all a huge embarrassment towards his personal character.
"Unhand me!" the plump woman yelled, "I am a certified chef from the Viand College!"
"Viand College?" Quinn asked.
"The one and only!" the chef declared.
"Maester Wise," Quinn said, turning to the wiry man, "I implore you, let this woman in. I've always wanted to sample a bite of the work of a Viand chef; their cuisine is legendary."
"This is true," the Maester conceded.
"I am quite hungry," Quinn added.
"Ah, how inhospitable a host I must seem!" exclaimed the Maester. "Well, let her in, then. Take her directly to the kitchens, and see that her needs are met."
The guards nodded, escorted the woman into the manor, and soon they disappeared through a hallway. Quinn and Maester Wise followed them inside.
The first thing Quinn noticed inside the manner was the grand staircase—grand in every sense of the word. It had been a long time since Quinzelle Enticus had been in such a magnanimous building, and back then her last name had not been the same.
Scarlet and amber tiles plated the floor under Quinn's feet and above her head hung a gleaming gold chandelier that brightened the entire chamber. Along the enormous walls were grandiose portraits of the current royal family: the Dux himself, his wife, and their only daughter, the Princess Aveena.
Maester Wise turned to Quinn, smiling wide. "This way, Quinzelle, if you please. Aveena is in her chambers."
Quinn and the Maester ascended the staircase. They rounded the corner and entered the east wing, navigating a labyrinth of wide corridors and passing through doors of flowery design. Soon they stopped before an ornately-decorated pair of doors with two Gallfont Knights standing guard. Quinn could only assume that this was the entrance to Aveena's chambers and soon Maester Wise announced their arrival with a gentle knock on the door.
It opened in a flash and Quinn came face to face with the Princess Aveena de Noct. The girl wore a sparkling smile, the one only a child of affluence could wear. The princess's dress was pure white with a high-backed collar and elongated sleeves. Atop her head sat a silver diadem, which stood out against her raven-dark locks.
"You are Quinzelle Enticus?" the princess asked immediately.
The princess shrieked in delight, ran forward, embraced Quinn giddily, and pulled her into the room—all in one motion. "You're going to make me into the greatest actress in all of Evalace!" the princess squealed. That sounded strangely like a demand.
Maester Wise spoke from the doorway, "I shall let you ladies have your fun." As he turned to leave, he mumbled, "I'll go see about that Viand cuisine…"
He touched me! Oh, how he touched me!
Anjee spun in her stool, knocking over a rainbow-palette of paints and used brushes. But she didn't care. Viktor Enticus touched me!
Anjee knew that Mr. Enticus was a wedded man, a man in love—and not with her. Still, that little obstacle called marriage would not impede her advances, no! Her love for him was too true to be foiled by a woman like Quinzelle.
Yet, what kind of woman was Anjee compared to Quinn? She was only sixteen—young, too young—and her hair could never be so straight, so yellow. And then there was the matter of her chest…
No! I mustn't let anything distract me. I have work to do.
Anjee straightened in her stool. She looked around her cramped wagon, which was cluttered with paint-stained costumes, scenery backgrounds, and clay figures of anything and everything. Anjee felt comfortable with the mess inside her wagon. She was superstitious like that. All will be well, as long as my wagon stays a mess.
As Anjee worked on her latest project, glimpses of last day's dreams crept into her mind. It had to have been one of the worst she ever endured. There was not much to remember, and Anjee could not think of a specific thing that scared her, yet she had awoken in such a sweat that her heart had threatened to burst from her chest. She remembered war. Swords. Blood and mud and glowing eyes. She knew what Enticus was here for, they all knew. But they couldn't tell. They couldn't tell anyone.
Telling would just get us all killed.
Just as Anjee finished resealing the last horn in place, her door burst open, revealing a large, barrel-chested man.
"Gods damn it," Anjee swore, "I will ask that you knock next time, Edge."
"I'm Ripper," the man said.
"Oh," Anjee said, and her anger abated. "Where's Edge?"
"Here," came a voice from outside.
Within seconds, Anjee found herself inside her already cramped wagon with a pair of near-giant stuntmen. There was little over a foot's length between the three of them.
"Are you all finished?" Ripper asked, crossing his arms.
"Here you are, then," Anjee answered, shoving the satchel across the table. "I rarely work with metal so it's not my absolute best work, and—"
Right, then," Ripper grunted, and pushed his way outside.
Edge lingered, staring at his feet. "Much obliged," he rumbled hastily, and followed his brother out the door.
Jewel really wasn't built for this kind of grunt work. She had a fickle temperament, one that simply could not deal with this kind of physical exertion.
"Jewel, are ya going to make me set up this tent by myself?" Symon shouted, as he struggled with a bundle of rope and tent pegs.
The blue-haired starlet lounged on her feather-like chair, the only item she had personally unpacked from her wagon. She had also borrowed some turquoise tinctures from Anjee to paint her nails—the way it matched her hair was simply marvelous.
She shouted back at Symon without looking up from her fingers, "I just don't feel up to it, Symon dear. Really, I don't."
"You never feel up to anything, Jewel."
"Don't be so dramatic," Jewel scolded him. She tugged the hem of her skirt, making certain not to sully her clothes.
"You're not scared, are you?" Symon queried, his face bore a knowing smile.
"Scared?" Jewel said, finally looking up from her fingernails. "Scared of what?"
"You know," Symon continued, gesturing toward the sewer entrance. "Scared of what's down there."
"You mean of what Viktor said was down there," Jewel corrected.
"Well, you don't believe what the Boss said?"
"Course I do, Symon, don't be silly."
"So you're scared," the one-eyed man said, still smiling.
Jewel rolled her eyes, and then rose in annoyance. "You've got me all up in a snit, haven't you, Symon? Fine, then, let's get this over with."
Together the two erected the blue Enticus tent over the sewage entrance, hiding the circular grate from sight. Symon dragged a heavy trunk full of props over the covering.
"That should do it," Symon declared, smacking his hands together.
"Do you think?" Jewel questioned.
"Is Boss ever wrong?" Symon countered.
"Suppose not," she conceded.
Jolly hated holidays. No, it was the festivities that accompanied them that he hated—all the celebrating. People everywhere: loud, smelly, droning ants that were ignorant of the world, that's what people really were. And these Symviridians are the worst of them all.
And now the great Viktor Enticus had sent him out amongst them, on a mission he had not the slightest inkling on how to accomplish. Such a bother.
Viktor thought he was so great. Everyone seemed to think so. But not Jolly. They wanted great? Viktor Enticus's father was great. His son was a fraud. A fortunate fraud. Enticus Company should have passed to him, not Viktor. Jolly had co-founded Enticus, half of its existence was owed to him. It would be nothing today without his contribution. Yet, it was Viktor that received its blessings.
Enticus Company owed much to Jolly, but Jolly owed everything to Viktor's father. So he bit his tongue, and obeyed.
Jolly wandered the spiraling cobblestone trails of the Principalia, asking the gods to send him a solution to his problem. Out, Viktor said. A way out. The director made it sound so easy, but Jolly knew better. Fleeing the bastion of Vitas Noct could prove just as difficult as infiltrating it. What a mess.
Somehow Jolly found himself in front of a tavern. He stared up at the building. Orange light flickered against its stone walls, casting a sea of shadows that seemed like tentacles grasping desperately at the tavern. Over the doorway hung a wooden sign that depicted an owl drinking wine.
"Might as well have a drink then," Jolly grumbled.
Inside, the tavern was quiet, much too quiet for a tavern during the Feast of Weeks. Jolly raised an eyebrow at the scene, but said nothing as he took a seat at the bar.
"A darkberry wine," Jolly called.
"What clan are you?" the bartender asked, venom laced his words.
"You heard me," the bartender said, making no move to pour Jolly a drink. "You Coyote? Talon?"
"Neither," Jolly answered. "I'm not a sandman."
"Really. Well, you're no Noctian."
"No, I'm not a Noctian," Jolly sighed. By the Terrace, was this man slow. "I'm with Enticus Company."
"Enticus, eh?" the bartender muttered. He seemed to be letting his guard down.
"Yes," Jolly said. Then decided he might need to elaborate. "It's a theatre company."
"I know Enticus," the bartender nodded, procuring a bottle of darkberry wine from under the counter. "I watched you people put on High Heavens last year."
"Did you, now?" Jolly took a swig of his drink. Bitter. "I wrote that one."
"Truly?" the bartender leaned forward. "My wife and I enjoyed it immensely."
"Of course you did," Jolly said. "I just told you I wrote it, didn't I?"
The man laughed. "Indeed you did, sir. My name is Benji." The bartender stretched out a hand, which Jolly took, if only to placate the man's rising enthusiasm. "How long are you staying?"
"The whole week," Jolly lied. "Though we may have to take our leave a little earlier than planned…it all depends on the circumstances."
"Oh, I'm not too sure you lot should hurry off too soon," Benji said, his voice grave. "I know you foreigners don't respect the day as we Noctians do, but there's more than..."
The bartender hesitated.
"More than what?" Jolly urged.
"I mean to say," Benji articulated, "that there's a storm on the horizon. A Symviridian sandstorm is no partner to be dancing with, foreigner. Can't see anything in the mess."
"A sandstorm, you say?"
"Aye," Benji affirmed. "Worst one in a couple of years, I reckon. It'll probably cover half of Vitas Noct for a day, maybe two."
"A sandstorm," Jolly said again. He emptied his glass, and grimaced as its contents sprinkled down his throat. "Excellent."
Viktor Enticus felt nervous.
His hands were steady, his legs were strong—no part of him trembled, or felt weak. Yet, despite it all, he was nervous. The contract was clear, and the plan had already been set in motion. No stopping it now.
He'd been warned. About the Dux, his Gallfont Knights, the sand, the city, its people.
Everything that they predicted would come to pass, they assured him. So they asked him. And he accepted. No stopping it now.
On the other side of the curtains were hundreds of people: cheering people, happy people. Some were husbands, like him. And they were all doomed to die in the most gruesome of ways. He had accepted this reality before Enticus Company had even accepted the contract. Nothing he could do to stop it, warning them would just make it worse, even if they believed.
It was time for the show.
The curtains parted, and Viktor stepped forward. Symon stood to the side and called out, "Oh tell us, Enticus, the story of Lady Dawn!"
As Viktor recited the first lines of the play, he could not help but stare into the sky. The moon seemed so bright, but he knew it would be any moment now.
He finished the recitation.
"Now begins Act II of the Love and Lies of Lady—"
The moon vanished. Viktor closed his eyes, though he knew it would not make a difference.
No stopping it now.
Quinn brushed absentmindedly at Aveena's hair while the princess rambled on and on about the remarkable traits of her father, the Dux, Devereux Lee.
"Did you know that he's been elected more times than any Dux in Vitas Noct history?" Aveena asked Quinn, but did not wait for a reply.
"He is an exceptional man, my father. Positively proficient, I'd say." Aveena turned to look at Quinn. "Don't you think so?"
"Oh, I do," Quinn assured her. "Why, Your Majesty, I think we're all finished."
"Truly?" Aveena shrieked, gazing into the mirror. "Tell me honestly, Miss Quinzelle, how do I look?"
"Resplendent," Quinn answered happily. "The vision of a true princess."
"Oh, thank you, Miss Quinzelle!" and the princess embraced Quinn gleefully.
"Come now, Enticus will want you over at the Sphere, to make your debut."
Quinn did not think Aveena could smile any wider. She sprang to her feet and nearly sprinted out her door. Quinn followed, trying to keep up with the child's energy.
Halfway down the corridor, Maester Wise appeared, accompanied by six Gallfont Knights.
"Greetings, Maester," Quinn said, "The princess and I were just making our way to the Sphere. Is this our escort?" Quinn gestured at the Gallfont Knights, who stood erect by the Maester's side, armored in red mail with gold trim. Their horned helmets were intimidating indeed.
"Escort, yes," the Maester said through his white-toothed smile, "but not to the Sphere."
Quinn shifted her stance on instinct. "No? To where, may I ask?"
Maester Wise sneered. "I know what you are, Quinzelle Enticus. I know why you've come here. Do not think the Dux a fool. You will die for your treachery."
"Treachery?" Quinn assumed a veneer of innocence. "I am certain I know not of any treachery."
"Save it for the Ace of Night, Quinzelle," Maester Wise spat, and took a step forward. "You've chosen the wrong night to try something so foolhardy. Gallfont Knights, take her."
Quinzelle had barely drawn her dagger when all the light in the world perished. She had never been so blind in her life.
She had never felt so cold.
There was a ripple in the air—she could feel it—and with practiced technique, she sidestepped, flattening herself against the wall, dodging what would have been a fatal blow, she was sure. Time to run.
Quinn turned on her heels and rushed down the hallway, in what she hoped was the other direction. Behind her, there were clanking sounds of armor clashing into armor, shouts of confusion, and above all, frantic cries of a certain princess.
Quinn heard Maester Wise's voice, "Do you have the princess?" Someone answered him. "Two of you take Her Majesty to her chambers. The rest of you, bring me the woman!"
In the pitch dark of the manor Quinn could do little but fumble along, trying to remember her way. She rounded a corner, once, twice—according to the map in her head, she had supposedly arrived at the balcony overlooking the room with the grand staircase. Quinn reached out into the darkness, felt nothing. She lowered her arms…
Quinn climbed onto the balustrade, and then sat with her feet dangling into what seemed like extensive nothingness. I'm prepared for this.
Her landing was by no means comfortable, but Quinn did not feel any pain she had not felt before and her body did not feel severely damaged. A bruise or two, I can live with that.
Quinn scrambled to her feet and found the nearest wall. Above her she heard the shouts of her Gallfont pursuers; they were equally disoriented as her, if not more so.
Soon Quinn's hands felt the wall fall away—a corner maybe, or an open door? She followed the lining of the wall, faster now; she could hear the Knights getting closer. Suddenly, Quinn collided into something hard and soft at the same time, and would have fallen to the floor if not for the strong arms that caught her mid-plummet. Quinn realized she had smashed into a person, a rather fat person. The chef.
"Quinzelle Enticus, is that you?" came the familiar voice.
"Yes, yes, it's me!" Quinn gasped, relieved to hear the songstress's voice. "Are we in the kitchen?"
"Should be," Cordelia answered. "Come this way."
Cordelia guided Quinn along the wall, making more noise than Quinn was comfortable with. The jangling noise of buckets and boilers and saucepans caused a jarring cacophony that was sure to attract the Gallfont Knights.
"Here it is."
As a metallic grating reached her ears, Quinn imagined the plump Cordelia pushing a large leaden slab aside.
"The cistern," Cordelia announced, "leads to the sewers."
"Thank you, Cordelia," Quinn said as she lowered herself into the circular opening. "You are going to stay?"
"Of course I am," the songstress declared, sounding offended. "This is no duo act. Besides, it is less suspicious for me not to disappear. I can make my way back to camp once the moon returns. The Gallfont will be busy and they'll need help with…"
Quinn nodded, and then realized Cordelia could not possibly see it. "You don't have to say it."
"Speaking of the Gallfont…" Cordelia began.
"Yes," Quinn interrupted, descending the cramped cistern. "They have her."
"Two of you take Her Majesty to her chambers. The rest of you, bring me the woman!"
Ripper and Edge both took an arm of the Princess Aveena and carried her off. They entered the nearest room, unsure of whether or not it was the princess's actual chambers. It didn't really matter, Ripper figured. No one could see anything. And they won't be able to see this, either.
"Let go of me, you barbarians!" the princess screamed. "What is happening? Someone light a torch!"
"Knock her out," Ripper ordered his brother.
Edge gave Ripper a flat look, which his twin did not see, but knew was there. "You do it."
"I don't hit girls."
"Neither do I."
"Well then," Ripper sighed, "it looks like it will come down to who is more annoyed by screaming little girls, doesn't it?"
The twins locked eyes in the darkness. Without another word, Ripper and Edge reached down, and together, clobbered the princess over the head.
Aveena fell silent.
"Was that too much?" Edge said, clearly uncomfortable.
"Nonsense," Ripper answered. "You know, she was quite irritating."
"I feel something wet," Edge said.
"I know what you're thinking," Ripper countered immediately. "It's not blood. It's that slime Quinn put on her face. You know, to make her face smooth, and all that."
"Feels sticky," Edge said lamely.
"Gods damn it, Edge. Ignore it. Help me stuff her in this sack."
Edge complied, and together, the twins shoved the princess into a large, leathery sack.
"What now?" Edge asked his twin.
"We wait until day," Ripper answered, "and walk out of here. Princess is missing, and we're a couple of Gallfont Knights desperately searching for her."
"Only instead, we take her to Viktor?"
"Right," Ripper said. "Simple."
Edge fidgeted in his painted Gallfont armor; he felt sweat accumulating under his helmet. "My costume feels small. I think Anjee got our sizes mixed up, Ripper."
"That's real funny, Edge. Real funny."
Viktor, Jewel, and Symon waited in the Enticus tent that they had erected to cover the sewer entrance next to the Sphere. As soon as the moon had vanished, the three of them had made their way to the tent as quickly as possible.
Outside, the sound of distant screams and desperate cries pierced the thick drapes of the tent.
"Aw, Boss," Symon whispered, "I'm gettin' the chills."
"All those people…" Jewel murmured softly.
"Ignore it," Viktor said. His voice was steel. He had to be dauntless now, unwavering. The people outside, the dying people outside. They were not his people. The company was his family. His only concern was for them.
And for Quinn.
"She's late," Viktor stated.
"Is she?" Jewel wondered.
"It's quite the long trek, Boss," Symon reasoned. "No doubt she's got all that sewage to trudge through, as well."
"Want me to go down there, Boss?" Symon offered.
Jewel shouted a whisper, "You're crazy. What about the Lumeer?"
"Don't be stupid," Symon admonished. "The Lumeer aren't down there, they're up here. Out there. Or aren't you listening?"
"Doesn't matter," Viktor stated, intending his word as law. "No one is going down there, not unless it is absolutely necessary."
That curbed all argument.
The trio waited for what seemed like hours. No sound was heard except the distant carnage that was no doubt taking place. Viktor hated himself for standing in the little tent. Doing nothing.
He had known it was coming—all of it—but nothing he did could have stopped the events from passing. It was a disgusting feeling.
"You hear that, Boss?" Symon whispered.
Viktor had begun pushing the crate that sat over the sewer entrance aside before Symon had said a word. Jewel assisted her director and Symon pulled the sewer lid open as soon as the crate was clear. The acrid smell of waste instantly filled the tent.
Viktor felt movement. His throat felt choked; his chest, heavy.
In the darkness, husband and wife embraced each other. Quinn smelled of all kinds of waste but Viktor hugged her anyway, kissed her anyway.
"How did it go?" Symon asked.
Quinn dislodged herself from Viktor to answer. "Well, I surmise. Ripper and Edge have Aveena, and Cordelia will be on her way come the morning."
Viktor heard Jewel clap excitedly in the darkness.
"Looks like Enticus Company has done it again!" Symon cheered as loud as he dared.
"Not yet," Viktor reminded them. "We still need a way out."
"Jolly will deliver," Jewel said. "He always does."
"In the event that he doesn't," Viktor cautioned, "we might find ourselves hacking our way out of Vitas Noct. I'd feel safer with my sword in hand."
"That's just as well," Quinn added. "Maester Wise knew our agenda. He knew we came to steal Aveena. However, I'm certain he doesn't know how. He thought I was the one to take the princess here, but with me gone, he has nothing. Still, when it's all over out there . . . he'll come searching."
"He knew, huh?" Symon muttered. "What's that mean, Boss?"
"Not much,” Viktor said. “I knew they knew.”
“Eh, how’s that, Boss?”
“Another time,” Viktor aef. He held Quinn tignswered. “As soon as it is safe, Quinn will go meet up with Ripper and Edge, I'll go find Jolly and you two check on the company—found out if anyone is hurt."
"Aye, aye, Boss."Viktor allowed himself a sigh of relief. He held Quinn tight in his arms. "Feels strange, this night."
"It does," Quinn agreed. "Like end times."
Did you enjoy my ongoing story so far? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Philip PhamWrite a Review