Valgwyn gestured with his bow at the new arrivals on the stage: Delilah and her Felines, Alice and Rabanastre, Maribelle, Isabelle, and Marcus. “The show cannot begin if we do not know our cast,” he said, his lackadaisical voice gaining the slightest bit of pep. “We must introduce our heroes and villains, the two forces who will be pitted against each other in this revue.”
“Well, we’ll be the villains,” Alice said, rolling her eyes. “Everyone’s the hero of their own story.”
“The heroes,” Valgwyn said, bowing low, gesturing with both hands towards…
“Wait, seriously?” Alice asked. “This isn’t a joke?”
“And the villains,” Valgwyn said, gesturing widely outwards, indicating himself and the companions behind him: Dullan, Jormungand, and the imposing Sen. “Our story starts long before it starts, as so many stories do.” The longer he narrated, the more energy he seemed to gain, and his smooth, silky voice was a perfect fit for setting the stage. On top of that, music was beginning to rise up to accompany his words, coming from some unseen orchestra. The strings played long, low, droning notes, alone save for the faintest sound of rolling percussion. “For generations, heroes have clashed against the forces of Night, calling themselves the Daybreak Brigade. These Daybreak soldiers have seen many victories. But the tide has turned recently. For the day before our story begins, a great host of the Daybreak Brigade’s greatest warriors find themselves ambushed!”
Cymbals crashed, and lights shone down on the stage, flooding three separate sections with a blood red hue. In front of Sen and below his heightened pedestal, three large trapdoors opened, one beneath each red spotlight, allowing elevators to slowly bring up props and set decoration.
There were wooden standees, silhouettes of great warriors brandishing swords and spears, lifting bows with arrows to the string. The set of silhouettes directly before Sen was accentuated with a taller, more determined silhouette, raising his sword in a clear, direct challenge to Sen himself.
Sen stared down, unblinking.
A sudden barrage of lighter cymbal crashes were accompanied by higher, dramatic strings and horns, sweeping melodies of desperation, turning steadily to heartbreak and anguish. Dark lights flashed, and silhouetted standees dropped, one after another.
Finally, the music came to a hush, only the lowest, softest droning notes remaining.
The only silhouetted standee left was the tall warrior who challenged Sen directly.
“All around him,” Valgwyn said, “Daybreak’s general watched helplessly as his comrades fell to tatters at the hands of the Night’s forces, led by Sen, Marshall of Shadow. Before he knew it, Daybreak’s general was all alone.”
Sen lifted his sword, lightly balancing it in one hand despite its great size. He took one step, then another, down the steps from his pedestal. A mid-range string section started a slow, foreboding melody, and the deep strings and horns beneath them accentuated the dire straits the heroic general was in.
“Sen would not leave this brave warrior to his underlings,” Valgwyn said. “He recognized his foe’s courage and strength, and would fight Daybreak’s general himself. A duel… to the death.”
Drums rolled, building in volume and speed as Sen came closer and closer to the tall standee. Reaching the apex of their swell, the climax of power and might, Sen suddenly dashed forward.
Lights flashed like lightning. Drums roared like thunder, and then were still.
The Daybreak general fell left.
“It was over in an instant. The Marshall of Darkness was untouchable, and the Daybreak Brigade’s many victories had, it seemed, come largely because they had never had to contend with Sen himself. Their general was dead. Their forces lay in ruins. Only a small, ragtag squad remained. It is here, on this night of grieving, that we find our heroes, and the story properly begins.”
A spotlight shone on Delilah, bright and clean, and Delilah squinted against the sudden glare. “The leader of this intrepid band,” Valgwyn narrated over a heroic fanfare led by trumpets, “Delilah, daughter of the fallen general, heir to the command of the nearly extinguished Daybreak Brigade.”
So I’m playing a girl whose father just died in battle, now forced to lead what’s left of her father’s army after sudden tragedy. Barely any time to grieve. Barely any time to mourn.
Delilah had been waiting for introductions, waiting for story setup, waiting for an indication of who she was playing so that she could know how to act and how to be in character.
The fanfare dwindled, and the bright spotlight left Delilah, now shining down on Alice. The music that accompanied her introduction was more dramatic, generating a sense of adventure and determination. “Her sister, Alice, a girl who clashed with her parents and always wished to be the fighter, the leader, the general. Her unresolved conflicts with her now deceased father leaves her adrift, bitter, and temperamental.”
“Great, make me a basket-case,” Alice said, rolling her eyes.
The music shifted to a spritely, pleasant flute melody with cheerful woodwind harmonies underneath as the spotlight went to Isabelle. “The lovely Isabelle, sorely out of her depth in a world for adults and warriors. She longs for peace, her heart desperate for the daybreak that seems farther away than ever.”
Delilah was surprised to see Isabelle’s entire demeanor change. She adopted an expression and posture of one longing for better days, while in her heart bearing no real hope that those days can come. She immediately slipped into character.
Maribelle was much the same. The music for her came next, a sweeping, almost romantic string melody with depth afforded by long, beautiful notes from horns and woodwinds. “The advisor to the fallen general, Maribelle. She must now advise his daughter, doing her best with what little remains to battle the Night. She carries in her heart dreams of a life that will never be, a painful loss long ago that set her on the path of a warrior.” Maribelle’s eyes glinted with steely determination, her bearing strong and noble, and yet there was a sense of brokenness, of loss.
Finally, Marcus, accompanied by slight syncopation, what sounded to Delilah almost like a folksy tune out of the country towns beyond Grimoire. It had a homey, cozy sort of feel, while also feeling mysterious in a quirky way, crafting a character with music that felt wise but humorous, reliable but mysterious, determined yet eccentric. “The faithful veteran, Marcus. A wise elder who has seen the many phases of the great war against the Night, and carries on despite all those who have fallen beside him. He seems to possess a hidden knowledge. Could he be the key to the Daybreak Brigade’s seemingly impossible victory?”
Marcus leaned on his staff, a twinkle in his eyes, a mysterious smile playing on his lips. Though he looked perfectly in character, that only made Delilah realize more than ever that Marcus was very much like that already. He didn’t have to change much to adopt the character assigned to him.
“And as for their foes,” Valgwyn said, gesturing towards his group. The spotlight that shone down on Jormungand was dark, a deep purple that accentuated the shadows coiling at his feet. “First their great benefactor, the mysterious advisor and puppeteer from the shadows, Jormungand! His machinations may yet be the great secret behind the Night’s sudden, insurmountable upper-hand.”
Jormungand, who always looked so impassive, so unreadable, suddenly looked conniving, the part of the wicked advisor. His eyebrows arched imperiously, his eyes were smiling more than his lips, and his fingers were constantly in motion, as if he couldn’t wait to unleash his next wicked scheme. He was accompanied by high strings, a staccato melody punctuated with deep, rumbling bass harmonies.
The spotlight shifted to Valgwyn, who dropped the narrator façade entirely. His shoulders slumped, his arms drooped at his sides, and his eyes tracked the floor. His voice came, narrating his introduction, but it was disembodied, coming from some far-off place, while the bodily Valgwyn didn’t move his lips in the slightest.
“Once an advisor to Daybreak’s general. Once a dear friend, a sort of uncle, to Delilah, Alice, and Isabelle. Valgwyn’s betrayal stung his allies deeply, and though he fights with seeming complete loyalty to the cause of Night, he seems despondent, broken somehow. What secrets lie behind his sad, hollow gaze?” The music that accompanied the introduction was soft, sad, buoyed by a faint, solemn hope played by a lone harp.
When the spotlight shifted over to Dullan, Valgwyn dropped character entirely and returned to his narrator persona. Dullan in particular was made more menacing by the deep purple spotlight, his entire body, clothed as it was in roiling shadow, seeming larger, more imposing, more menacing. The shadows were deeper, the darkness fuller. His music was almost nonexistent, save for deep, rumbling bass notes that droned on, soft but unmistakable. “The menacing, powerful, and fiercely loyal brother to the Marshall of Shadow, front line commander of the forces of Night, Dullan! His voice awakes fear in the hearts of all, his scythe carries death itself. The number of those fallen to his weapon is uncountable, and the mere thought of him sets to quaking the hearts of even the bravest warriors.”
A sudden swell, a fanfare more heroic, more triumphant than that given Delilah, more dramatic than that given Alice, more romantic than that given Maribelle, suddenly blasted into being, beautiful and inspiring, and yet…
The spotlight shone on Sen, high atop his lofty pedestal, sword planted point-down in the stage before him, both hands resting on its great hilt. He was truly tall, broad-shouldered, marvelously imposing. He didn’t have the vicious, menacing aura of Dullan, he didn’t have the complexities of his brother’s costumes or even of Jormungand’s appearance and attire.
He didn’t need any of that. His eyes, his face, his entire bearing radiated confidence, the kind of confidence born from experience, born from the tested knowledge that he was surely unbeatable. A warrior above all warriors, a leader above all leaders. One look, and Delilah felt torn between dropping to her knees and begging for her life, and bursting out into wild, rampant applause. She was terrified, yet inspired. Crushed with despair, yet magnetically drawn to her foe’s awesome might.
It seemed even the narrator felt the same, for Valgwyn gave him no introduction. The music filled the air, Sen stood under the spotlight, and a ghostly crowd filled the seats all around the circular stage. A standing ovation, thunderous applause, raucous cheers that went on for minutes.
And these were just the introductions. Sen had yet to say a single word. The revue had yet to properly begin.
“Give it a rest, you guys,” Alice muttered, just barely able to be heard above the din. Delilah looked at her, surprised to find the girl didn’t look the least bit frightened. Her white eyes glared up at the leader of the villains, undaunted by his awesome presence.
The applause steadily dwindled, and the ghostly audience, faceless phantoms that filled the theater, took their seats. The music faded, and all was, for the moment, silent.
Then the music returned, plucking of high strings accompanied by a rolling melody of staccato notes on the woodwinds, and deep bass harmonies beneath them. Valgwyn, narrating, began to speak. “The night of grieving cannot last long,” he said. “Like any villain after an overwhelming victory, Sen looks to press his advantage. The darkness is his ally, and that of his army. Pain, grief, sorrow… these things must wait. For Sen marches his forces to the last bastion of the Daybreak Brigade. Hope hangs by a frayed thread, and looks to snap at a moment’s notice. What can Delilah and her meager remaining forces possibly do to prevail? We turn the page, and begin… the Night’s Revue!”
Darkness flooded the stage as all lights went out, and the music suddenly went still. Slowly, faint light spread from all directions, like the pale gleam of stars, the meager light of candles in homes holding vigil for the many departed.
A spotlight suddenly shone down on Delilah, briefly blinding her. As her eyes adjusted, she heard the sound of rolling stage sets, trapdoor mechanisms, and Valgwyn’s continued narration.
“The night after her father’s death,” Valgwyn said in a soft, almost sympathetic tone. Somewhere in the distance, a bell started chiming. “The clock turns midnight. An hour fraught with danger and darkness.” After twelve chimes, the bell’s sound faded away. Delilah’s eyes adjusted, and she saw a chair and a desk, along with several other furniture props around her. A partial wall with a window set in it completed the set, making it clear she was in some sort of bedroom, probably that of her character. She took a seat at the desk. “Young Delilah is overwhelmed. With grief, and with the sudden, crushing burden placed upon her. And yet there is little time to grieve, little time to find her bearings. Night approaches, a deadly army racing to her door. The warning comes as soon as possible, but how much time can they really have? And will any amount of time be enough for them to stand a chance against the horde of villainy that bears down on them?”
There was a pause, and then another spotlight shone down. It tracked Maribelle as she walked across the stage, hurriedly, her bare feet making little noise. She paused at a prop door, knocked twice, and flung it open. Delilah turned in her chair at the sudden intrusion.
“My Lady, I’m sorry,” Maribelle said, bowing her head. Her voice was clear and carried well, her enunciation crisp and confident. “I wish this could wait. I wish you could have more time for…” Her voice trembled, and she paused a moment. Shaking her head, she gathered herself. “The forces of Night are nearly upon our doorstep. We need an all-hands meeting, as soon as possible.”
Delilah stood, taking a deep breath. She slipped into character, doing her best to affect a mixture of grief and grim determination.
She opened her mouth to speak.
But no words came out.
I don’t have a script. I’ve never rehearsed any of this. I don’t know my lines.
I just make them up? But I…
The lights are so bright. Why is everything else so dark? It’s hot under this light — why am I already sweating? And there’s that crowd, that ghostly crowd out there. They gave Sen a standing ovation. Everything was so loud and overwhelming just a little bit ago, and now it’s so quiet.
Everyone’s waiting… for me…?
Delilah stood frozen, stunned still by the old, inexplicable magic of the stage. Gripped by stage fright, nerves stretched taut, mind completely blank, Delilah fought for words, fought for something to keep herself from failing this revue when it had only just begun.