Prologue: “A way out is the most important thing. Every other detail falls into place afterwards.”
A young girl shifted uncomfortably in her dress as she strained to get a look at the murmuring crowd beneath her. Bouncing curls of hazel fell to the side of her face, which was still round with youth, had she hastily smoothed them back behind her ear. She had never been fond of the theatre or its dress code- or perhaps, it was the standard that her parents had expected her to dress for such an occasion. She was forced to forgo her normal attire for an entirely unbecoming white frilled dress, complete with long, lacy gloves and shining leather patent shoes. The outfit was certainly ‘adorable’- as many of her parents’ friends and accomplices put it- but it was nowhere near comfortable- even less than her restrictive school uniform. However, it was only in this clothing that she was able to accompany her parents to the performance tonight, and that was a sacrifice worth making.
“Rachel, darling, you have to sit in your seat. The show will start soon.” Her mother said with a warm voice. Her father was too busy discussing some matter under hushed tones with his colleagues further back in their booth.
The girl tossed her mother an exasperated look. “I’m not going to fall over or anything! I want to see if they’re setting up any devices.”
“Devices? Darling, what ever could you mean by that?” Her mother’s laugh bubbled off into the theatre, its trill so delightful that her father even paused momentarily to soak it in before returning to his business. He was not the only one, either- her voice turned several other heads as well.
The girl strained her eyes as she gripped the cool metal bar at the edge of the booth. “You know! Special mechanics, like the ones the Tesch use. Maybe that’s how he makes his grand Escape!”
She felt a light hand tug on her shoulder slightly, causing her to sit back in her chair. Her mother gave her a warm smile as the lights began to dim. “Well, keep those eyes open, dear. You’re bound to find something…”
The crowd hushed and a spotlight hit the curtain. The girl had never been more excited- she had heard her mother discuss the ‘intoxicating allure’ of the Escapist’s performances- his daring stunts and flawless saves. It was her time to finally experience his magic for herself.
The stage was empty for only a moment before he emerged from the curtains, taking center stage with his hands spread wide. The Escapist. The applause is thunderous, almost as if appearing alone was magic in itself. Perhaps it was, the girl thought to herself, as she squinted down at the figure below. If he had done anything special, she certainly had not caught sight of it.
The Escapist was a tall, thin young man- the sort of build that implied a light diet more than physical fitness. Even so, his milky purple outfit seemed to fit like a glove, with only few ruffles at the knees, elbows, and in a few areas on the torso. The girl felt less ridiculous when she saw that he wore white gloves as well, though his were more flamboyant, fanning out past his wrists into bell-like cuffs. His red hair still stood out in front of the curtain, and added an element of unexpected daring to his ensemble. He grinned widely out into the audience, addressing them as a collective.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I offer you an escape. Escape the dreary ho-hum of everyday life and come with me to a world beyond imagination. Escape with me!” His hands raised slightly. “Will anyone join me?”
There were a few cheers, and the girl could not help but lean forward and wave her hand in excitement, at which point she felt the gentle tug of her mother’s hand once more. She felt a rush of joy as she saw the Escapist’s eyes flick in her direction and a smile flash across his face. The girl heard her Father mutter something about “thespian tripe,” but she paid no mind to him- she was fully enraptured.
The Escapist lowered his hands and looked to the ceiling. “I ask the same thing every performance, but no one ever seems to want to take up the offer.” He shrugged- a dismissive, almost boyish shrug, as if forgiving some small fault. “It’s almost like you fear what lies on the other side.”
There is a smattering of laughter from the audience, and he continued on. “Of course, why wouldn’t you be…? None know the secrets of my escapes, though many have been brought up to the stage to examine the remnants of my tricks. The truth is… I simply vanish- I escape from harm completely. How?”
The Escapist scanned the audience with a sly grin. “Well, if I told you that, you wouldn’t return to see my show, would you?”
There was another round of laughs from those assembled, but they died down almost instantly as the Escapist raised his hand. “Tonight, I have arranged a special treat for you. You have seen me drop into tanks of water, gagged and bound, yet appear before you unharmed, if not a little soggy. You have seen me step into walls of flame and emerge from the doors behind you. You have seen swords run through closets I have been placed within, and seen me return unscathed. But tonight, I offer you the greatest trick of them all. One so simple, you’d have to be foolish not to believe in magic once I carry it out.”
He stopped, and the girl noticed that he was smiling down at the audience, who waited on his next word with breathless anticipation. She noted that she was on the edge of her seat, which could have also been because of her small size, but a quick glance over at her mother proved that she was guilty of the same behavior.
“Tonight-“ He gestured to the curtain, which rose slowly to reveal a mostly bare stage, “-I will escape from this theater through this doorway.”
At the center of the stage stood a scaffolding unit, a flight of stairs that led up to a single doorframe atop a small platform. The unit was turned profile so that the audience could only see the thin frame of the door, and was quite simplistic in its entirety- no flashy decorations or deceiving elements, the structuring composed of metal and wood, skeletal in design.
“Now, I know what you’re all thinking,” The Escapist remarked as he lowered his hand and strode towards the construct, “’This is an awfully simple contraption,’ Go on, say it. I agree. But rather than try to dazzle you with the illusion, I’ve decided to give the trick to you straight- no flashy lights, no gaudy colors, just a pure and complete escape. How does that sound?”
The audience did not cheer this time. Some fidgeted with discomfort, unsure of what the Escapist was hoping to accomplish. It was clear that he noticed this, and he gave a reassuring smile as he began to climb the stairs, slowly ascending towards the door frame.
“Now, now! Don’t be alarmed. This isn’t some sort of macabre exposition- the stress of being an Escapist has not overwhelmed me, and I don’t intend to take my angst out on you all. I’m just going to show you what real magic is, and I hope that you take this memory with you for the rest of your life.”
The girl was not entirely sure of what he was speaking about, but she cared less about the details of the performance and more about the trick itself. She bounced slightly in her seat, trembling with excitement, and her mother laid a hand on her thigh as if to quell her emotions. The Escapist paused at the height of the stairs, standing before the doorway. He looked towards the slab of wood with a fiery anticipation, as if hungering to begin his performance.
“Ladies and gentlemen, there is nothing underneath me- no trapdoors, escape chutes, or the like. I have designed this structure to make certain you know this.” With a snap of his fingers, two of the stagehands shuffled awkwardly onstage. The audience gave them modest applause- it was the nature of the Escapist to bring out the mundane rather than the buxom ladies that plagued most other shows- he would even pick audience members to witness his tricks from a closer vantage, so that they could attest to their authenticity. These stagehands took their place below the platform the Escapist shared with the doorframe.
“Tell me, boys, do you see anything fishy down there?” The Escapist called down to them.
They looked towards the ceiling. “Definitely not, sir. You don’t pay us well enough to lie for you.” One called.
The audience laughed on cue. The Escapist shrugged his usual, boyish shrug. “You heard it from them, folks. But something I hope you’ll notice is that they won’t believe their eyes just as much as you won’t. Are you ready to see some magic?”
The cheers were enough of an answer for him, and he smiled one last time. “Then, let us plan our escape.”
The girl held her breath as the Escapist faced the door and furrowed his brow. He extended a hand and stroked the wood gently. He finally opened his eyes and, with a small smile, grasped the handle. In a single motion, he flung the door open, which obscured him completely from the audience. There was a moment of silence before he poked his head out from behind the door and waved to the crowd.
“This is the last time you’ll ever see me.”
And with that, he disappeared one last behind the door, which swung shut quickly. The most curious part of it all was that there was no Escapist that stepped through the door frame and to the other side. The impossibly thin space seemed to have swallowed him up completely. The stagehands seemed just shocked, and the one that had made the remark stepped out from underneath to survey the door from a different angle.
The crowd was quiet. It was as if they expected him to appear from a balcony or another stage door. Even the girl looked around the theater for the Escapist’s distinct outfit, but he was nowhere to be found. This short while of anticipation became five minutes, and after five minutes, ten. The stagehands climbed the stairs themselves and replicated the trick, but when they stepped through the door frame, they appeared on the other side just as anyone would expect them to do. Audience members began to boo the performance, and a few brave and curious members took to the stage to check the device themselves. Within thirty short minutes of the Escapist’s display, the audience and stagehands alike had taken to dismantling the structure themselves. It was a comical scene in itself- hard-working crew members hauling pieces of metal and stairs alongside a group dressed for a night at the theater. Yet all their work seemed to prove was that the set piece had been nothing other than what they had been presented with- a bare-bones structure that had allowed him to reach an unremarkable door.
Many left the theater that evening puzzled by what they had seen, some angry, and others buzzing with the talk of what would surely be plastered all over the papers the next morning. The young girl, however, took one last look at the building before she left, with no doubt in her mind that the evening’s performance had been her first encounter with magic.
A quiet wind carried a few gleaming grains of cobalt sand across the silent Prixbi Desert. The Escapist mused over their fate from his chamber window. Though they were small, their journey would change the landscape over time, and in doing so, alter the course of Prixbi’s history. That is, unless they drifted into the crimson sphere that lay far below him- in that case, they would be among the first that changed to glass, frozen forever at the base of an undying testament to his kingdom.
The words stung like the bitter evenings the Desert had plagued him with since his arrival in Pirxbi. The Escapist was what he was. He would have rather slipped away silently from the countless ceremonies, coronations, and duties of royalty, but he had made his choice. He had decided his fate the moment he had offered his hand in marriage to his wife- or perhaps before then, when he had Escaped to Prixbi. From the highest point of his great palace, situated on a plateau above the brilliant, fiery orb, the Escapist looked upon his kingdom with eyes no longer sparkling. He was now trapped, the claws of some far-off fate clenching him tightly and reigning him away from the life he had once loved- the warmth and glow of freedom seemed as far beneath him as the radiant crimson pearl, glowing softly hundreds of feet below.
“She will stand guard there forever, my Lord. There is no use in lamenting her choice, not when there are more pressing matters at hand.” The quiet bleat of an old friend drew his gaze from the Desert and into the palace interior. A figure that bore the appearance of a young boy, clad entirely in black, approached him swiftly, at almost an unnatural pace. A long, white scarf billowed behind him, and his pointed ears twitched with anticipation. His most striking feature was the pair of bizarre floating horns that bobbed gently as he advanced. Most all of the spirits of this world moved in an alien fashion that seemed unnatural to a human like the Escapist, and it was one thing he felt he would never grow accustomed to.
The Escapist gave the boy a sad smile. “What matters more than her? Peace finally comes to Prixbi, Reliachsis, but the price I paid was too great.”
The boy stared at him with wide, gleaming eyes- never tiring; their large pupils seemed to amplify the Escapist’s loneliness. “Do not lose hope, my Lord. Her gift can only be squandered if we do not defend her legacy- and fortunately, that legacy is shared between both her and you.”
“You mean Bridget.” The Escapist’s gaze returned to the sphere of flames, “Is she fine?”
“As well as can be expected. She longs to see her father.” Reliachsis sounded hopeful.
The Escapist averted his gaze from the flames and looked into the streets below his palace, where the war had left its final scars- toppled buildings, punctured walls and ravaged streets. Still, even with their city in ruins, the spirits of Prixbi had joined together in celebration of their victory over their enemy- they who would have threatened the world with their blackness of heart. They celebrated the newly-ignited red flames as a beacon of hope, not of despair, or loss. The Escapist longed to mingle with them, to revel in their triumph, but he knew he had a responsibility.
“I’ll go. Just give me a minute.” He said quietly.
Reliachsis’ gaze lingered on his king for a long moment before he delivered his final words. “If that is what you wish, my Lord.” He could not comprehend the conflict within his friend, but gave him his own blessing. “She will be happy to see you.”
And with that, Reliachsis silently departed. He did not make a sound as his small feet carried him higher than the Escapist’s chamber, into that of his late queen’s nursery. There, surrounded by the close confidants of the Escapist, lay an unusual child in her crib, her eyes peacefully closed after a long and tumultuous evening. Armies had clashed in the Prixbi Desert, spirits of white and black facing each other with their mightiest at the front lines. The forces of fear and darkness had been held at bay, and a mighty dome of fire had surrounded their leader and imprisoned it, never to escape.
Or at least, that had been the plan.
An impish fairy with muted green skin fluttered towards Reliachsis. “Has Lord Quincy resolved to see his daughter?”
Reliachsis’ eyes were fixed on the ground, lost in thought. He knew his master the best, having been the first to greet him when he Escaped to Prixbi not very long ago. Yet he, like all the other spirits of Prixbi and beyond save for a few, could never understand the thoughts and actions of his master. The time he had spent with him, however, had changed his disposition from friendly and optimistic to a more introspective and quiet one. Though he could predict what his master would do next, he could never understand why. That was what separated his kind from his Masters’- complex emotion.
“Reliachsis? Will Lord Quincy see his daughter?” The fairy asked with a sweet smile.
This caused Reliachsis to break from his trance, at which point he scanned the assembled spirits before his eyes rested once more on the small sleeping child. “Lord Quincy has decided to Escape for the moment. He will surely see his daughter when he feels the time is right.”
The gathered spirits looked to one another, nodding confidently. Surely, he would see his daughter when the time was right. When that would be was not a concern, there were more pressing matters at hand. Reliachsis joined them as they looked towards the little girl, lost in dreams of brilliant fire.
The Escapist’s Daughter slept, her hands clasped snugly around a white, skull-like face that, try at is might, could not free itself from her grip. The spirits gathered wore their smiles with a sense of unease, though they did not know what exactly to call that emotion. There was only one thing certain- the horrors they had faced in the months prior, the black spirits they had discovered and, as of that night, defeated, would return. They had prolonged a nightmare.
The Escapist would not see his daughter that evening. He was off in a faraway land.