Delilah stood rooted, spotlight shining down on her, expectation filling the air.
She couldn’t speak.
It’s my line. My turn. But I don’t have a script! And… it’s all so…
She couldn’t find a word. Her heart thudded in her chest. Her mouth was so dry.
“Delilah,” Maribelle said, taking a step forward, placing a hand against her chest. She gazed at Delilah with eyes full of sympathy. “I can’t even imagine how hard tonight must be for you. To lose your father… I am truly sorry for what has befallen you. But you are the general now. And Sen is bearing down on us with the full might of his forces. A time will come for grieving, but it is not now. We can stay and fight, but that means we need leadership, we need to prepare. Or we can escape, evacuate and find shelter elsewhere, but that also needs leadership. Your leadership.”
…really, really good at this.
But that emphatic speech pulled Delilah out of her stage fright, at least for the moment.
“If we were to evacuate, where can we go?” she asked. “If we’re to defend, do we truly have time to prepare?” She tried not to cringe at how awkward her improvised lines sounded to her.
I’ve barely had a chance to think about my character. How does she talk? What’s going through her head, her heart?
I really just have to figure it out as I go along, don’t I?
“We have time to evacuate,” Maribelle said, “though it’s true that our choices of where to go comprise a very short list. And we have time to prepare our defenses, if we act now.”
“Where are the others?” Delilah asked, looking around. “We should all be together, especially at a time like this.” As she spoke, the wheels in her mind were spinning furiously. She looked around all over the set, the set that comprised her character’s bedroom. Who was this character, this Delilah? What would she want, what would she do, in a crisis like this, at a time of grief and anguish like this?
“Marcus is just downstairs, ready and waiting,” Maribelle said. “Alice and Isabelle are in the next room. They’re quite anxious to know what comes next, but have faith in you as their leader.”
“They trust me…” Delilah said softly, bowing her head.
“Louder,” came the soft whisper of Isabelle, who was technically “off-stage” at the moment. Delilah looked up, but Isabelle gestured to not look at her. “The crowd can’t hear if you’re too quiet.”
Delilah’s eyes widened, and she looked out at the crowd surrounding the stage. Though it was hard to see them through the glare of the spotlight, she could feel the confusion, the disappointment at a line they couldn’t hear.
What did she and Maribelle say before we came here?
We have to enunciate, we have to have presence. Subtlety has no place on the stage unless you’re a master.
“They trust me…” Delilah tried again, going for the same emotions while increasing her volume by more than double. It sounded harsh and uncomfortable to her ears, but she had to move right past that. “We’re not leaving,” she continued, placing a hand on her desk. She ran her hand along its smooth surface, staring into the mirror. “Sen took my father from me. He will not take my home.” She took a deep breath, then looked at Maribelle, trying to appear as determined as possible. “Gather the others.”
“At once,” Maribelle said, turning and striding from the room. The spotlight remained on Delilah even as she waited, which was a very uncomfortable experience.
I don’t have any lines, I don’t have any — oh, I guess I could do some kind of monologue. What if they’re waiting for something like that?
Nope. Not doing it. The others will be back soon. We’ll figure it out.
Sure enough, Maribelle came in with Isabelle, Alice, and Marcus just a few moments later, sparing Delilah from having to perform a soliloquy.
“What’s the matter, sis?” Alice asked, striding right over to Delilah and standing beside her.
“Everyone,” Delilah said, trying to stifle a laugh at Alice’s casual tone and barely succeeding. “Sen and his forces are on the march. The time for grieving… will come. But right now, we need to defend our home. So —”
“Sen’s on his way, huh?” Alice asked, interrupting Delilah. She flicked her wrist, her pair of scissors twirling in her hand. Her eyes slightly narrowed, shifting from white to black. “Say no more.”
Before anyone could say another word, Alice had Summoned Rabanastre and left the room.
“Where’s she going?” Isabelle asked. “We have so much to plan, defenses to prepare, for the fight that’s —” She stopped suddenly, eyes widening. She grasped the hem of Maribelle’s dress, looking up at her in dismay. “She can’t mean to fight Sen alone, can she?”
“I certainly wouldn’t put it past her,” Maribelle said. She started towards the door, but Marcus held up a hand.
“I’ll go after her,” he said with a smile and twinkle in his eye. “Stay with our young general, no matter what. I’ll make sure no evil befalls Alice.”
With that, he was gone, leaving just Delilah, Maribelle, and Isabelle.
“I…” Delilah started, feeling lost at the way things had progressed. “What do we… do now?”
“We continue as planned,” Maribelle said. “With Marcus watching over her, those two might be able to do some real good. At the least, they’ll buy us some more time, and Marcus will make sure that both he and Alice return safely. We should focus on preparing defenses here.” She gave Delilah a meaningful look. “Stay here for the moment, my lady. I will see to the defenses. Isabelle, stay with her. If any danger arises, if a foe has slipped ahead of the rest, run. Find me.” She turned, striding from the room, closing the door behind her.
Delilah stared, feeling swept up in a whirlwind. What was she supposed to do now?
The spotlight shut off. Spots in her eyes, it took Delilah a moment to adjust, but Isabelle pulled her slightly this way, then that way, as the rumbling and scraping of sets moving around sounded in Delilah’s ears. All was dark on the vast stage, yet as her eyes adjusted she saw shadows moving here and there, just in time for a new spotlight to shine — on Maribelle.
She stood in a hallway, the manor’s corridor. She was striding confidently, but then she paused, looked back, and then let out a sigh as she stood against the wall, tilting her head back against the stone. All went silent with a stunning hush.
And then, Maribelle began to sing. There were no instruments to accompany her, which only emphasized the melancholy melody she chose, the questions and fear evident in her voice.
“When the whole world crumbles underneath
And the last hope hangs by the scantest string
I catch myself, wondering
Can I fight, can I stay, can I — ?”
She cut off suddenly, her voice breaking, and she bowed her head. That last note, begging to be resolved, hung in the air. With a sad sigh, Maribelle turned, striding farther down the hall.
The spotlight turned off. All, again, was dark.
Valgwyn, in his narrator voice, spoke. “As questions stir and worries rise, an angry, broken girl races towards her sworn foe.”
There were no sounds of movement by props or sets, and when a series of lights shone, bathing the center of the stage in a bluish glow that felt like the middle of the night, Delilah saw that the earlier movements weren’t just for setting up Maribelle’s corridor, but also this other, central set.
It was designed like several rooftops, tiered in such a way that the central platform of the stage, raised above all else, was still the highest point, rising even higher as the steeple of a church. Alice stood on that central, highest roof, one hand holding the steeple for balance as she gazed out into the night. Rabanastre stood beside her, muscular arms folded across his chest.
“I don’t see a sign of the Darkness at all,” Alice said, glaring into the distance. “Is there really an attack coming? Were they just messing with me?” She sighed, shaking her head. “Delilah wouldn’t do that. Maribelle wouldn’t do that.” She looked at Rabanastre. “See anything?”
Rabanastre shook his head.
“Great,” Alice said. “Maybe we should —”
She gasped suddenly, leaping from the high roof to a lower one, turning in midair so when she landed in a crouch, she was looking up at the steeple.
Standing right behind where she’d just been, tall and imposing, was Sen.
“Maybe you should what?” Sen asked, his commanding baritone perfect for the stage.
“Maybe I should kill you,” Alice said, twirling her scissors. “End this whole war right here.”
“And how do you intend to succeed where hundreds have failed?” Sen asked. “Foolish child. Go home. You need not throw your life away — death will come for you.”
Alice snarled wordlessly, leaping up towards Sen, Rabanastre following her.
And the music roared to life. Cymbals crashed once to herald the beginning of a boisterous, sweeping array of strings and woodwinds and horns, drums rolling frantically.
Sen casually sidestepped Alice’s initial attack, stepped around Rabanastre, and shoved with the flat of his sword’s blade. Alice and her Summon both went flying, crashing onto the lowest rooftop.
A switch flipped somewhere with a click that Delilah just barely heard.
Water, like rain, began sprinkling down upon the central set. Upon Sen, and Alice, and Rabanastre.
“Try shoving us again, punk!” Alice shouted, leaping high, Rabanastre right beside her. They landed on opposite sides of Sen. Alice lashed out with her scissors, Rabanastre with his fists.
Sen slipped away from their attacks. He didn’t raise his sword.
With a snarl, Alice charged Sen. Her scissors flashed in a gleam of light, and Sen raised his sword, blocking the tiny blade with his massive blade of shadow. Sparks flew, three times, as Alice thrust and slashed, and then Sen shoved with the flat of his blade, knocking Rabanastre into Alice. Both went sprawling.
The music continued to play, catching the highs and lows of the fight, enhancing them.
Sen began to sing. His commanding presence was only enhanced by the power of his voice, the confidence that overflowed in every word, the smoothness with which each note came forth. It was a strong melody with a driving, punchy rhythm that lent force and weight to every word.
“Child, stop fighting, your time has not come
These rooftops are not where you last see the sun
The darkness will claim you, but not ‘til it’s done
So put down your weapons, turn tail now and run.”
Alice glared viciously as Sen held the last note longer, almost triumphantly. “You think I’m done?” she asked, raising her voice over the din of music. “I’ve barely started!”
She jumped, and Rabanastre held out his hand, palm upward. Alice landed lightly on his palm, flexed her knee, and jumped in time with Rabanastre throwing her. There were a few gasps from scattered pockets in the crowd as she flew high in the air, nearly touching the lights so very high above the stage. Her scissors caught the gleam of the blue lights, glimmering like a silver star.
Then down she came, spinning as she neared the highest rooftop in a vicious slash.
Sen blocked it on his sword. Sparks flew, and the song of metal on metal resonated in the air, as the music from the orchestra suddenly vanished, only emphasizing the natural note the two blades made at their meeting.
Alice leapt back, and orchestra took up the battle song again. For the first time, Sen attacked, stepping forward in a smooth, effortless motion that belied the power in his thrust. Alice ducked, her hair fluttering in the air, a few strands coming loose as they strayed too close to Sen’s blade. Alice leapt back, and Rabanastre dashed in, launching a series of punches and kicks. Sen blocked, dodged, then shoved, and the burly rabbit Summon tumbled backward, dropping over the edge and down to a lower roof. Alice still stood on the church roof, and she danced around the steeple, scissors flashing as they contacted Sen’s sword two, three, four times. She was fast, faster than Delilah had ever expected.
She wasn’t joking when she said she could fight. That wasn’t an empty boast. She has Rabanastre, and he’s so powerful…
But she isn’t helpless without him.
Alice didn’t have the strength of her Summon, so she certainly didn’t have the strength to contend with Sen, but she had speed, agility, and lightness in her step, an ability to change direction at a moment’s notice, no matter how much she’d committed to a previous movement. And she was small, and had the flexibility and acrobatic skill to make herself an even smaller target. Four, five, six times she deftly evaded Sen’s sword at the last second, and Delilah’s heart skipped more than a few beats. She was racked with fear for Alice’s sake, yet all she could do was watch.
As they fought, and Rabanastre rejoined the battle to give Sen more to worry about, more to fight against, a more active role to take in the fight…
Sen sang another verse. Despite all the swift steps, the powerful slashes and thrusts, he sang with that same commanding air, as if he wasn’t remotely close to being out of breath.
“Child, give up, see it’s time now to yield
Your strength quickly wanes with your friends far afield
There’s no strength can save you, this fight’s far more real
Than all you’ve imagined, so flee now or kneel.”
Alice barely blocked a thrust, deflecting it even as she threw herself out of its path. She couldn’t meet Sen’s strikes head-on, not by a long-shot, but she had the skill to dodge, deflect, and otherwise evade death. She stepped back, and so did Sen, and there was a pause in the fight. Alice panted, shoulders heaving with heavy breaths. Sen stood, as he always did, tall, imposing, confident.
The rain fell, constant, unyielding.
The music softened, matching the lull in the action, filling the empty space with tension and dread.
“You killed my father,” Alice said, glaring up at Sen. “You won’t kill my sister. You won’t kill anyone else dear to me. Never again!”
“Passion can only carry you so far, child,” Sen said. “You know you are no match for me. Leave. Your time has not come.”
“Oh…” Alice started, face twisting in frustration, before spitting out, “screw you!” She dashed up the slick roof tiles, Rabanastre at her side. Her scissors flashed as she slashed. Rabanastre’s fists flew.
Sen’s sword came up.
Delilah opened her mouth to scream in warning, but her voice caught in her throat.
Suddenly, just before blade met flesh, a flash of light filled the stage. Delilah was momentarily blinded, shielding her eyes.
In that flash of light, seven bells rang, their tones chiming with a beauty and a defiance, resonating in the air.
The light faded, and Delilah looked up to see Marcus standing between Sen and Alice. Sen’s strike had been deflected, and he stood back, cocking his head to the side like a curious animal.
“Your power is unpredictable, old Paladin,” Sen said.
Marcus smirked. He held out his hand behind him. “Alice, shall we go?” he asked. “This foe calls for a more united approach, I think.”
“I have him!” Alice insisted, breathing heavily. “You can’t take this from me!”
Marcus sighed, shaking his head. “There will be more chances, dear one,” he said, somehow softly and yet carrying for all to hear.
I need to learn how to do that with my voice.
Marcus sang, then, his voice gentle and soothing, morphing the intense music of battle to a beseeching, encouraging melody of hope and relief.
“Hope will arise, don’t let your pain
Steal all your hope on this, darkest of days
Take my hand, take this hope, we must not stay
We must fight for what remains.”
Alice grasped Marcus’ outstretched hand, and he tapped the roof with his staff once. Three bells chimed.
Marcus, Alice, and Rabanastre vanished.
The rain continued to fall.
Slowly, the lights dimmed, and then went dark entirely. The sound of wheels and hurried feet filled the air, as shadows rolled and bobbed and shifted. Delilah looked around frantically, and started as a hand rested on her shoulder.
“Miss me?” Alice asked softly, and Delilah turned to see her grinning in the dark, her white eyes catching the slight bit of light that remained.
“That was so reckless!” Delilah said, wrapping her arms around Alice in a hug.
“Hey, save the heartfelt reunion for when the lights are on,” Alice said, hugging Delilah back. “We’ve gotta win over the crowd.”
“Win over the crowd?” Delilah asked.
Alice nodded. “I felt it when fighting him,” she said. “We need —” But she cut off suddenly as several lights shone down, illuminating the pair of them. Around them was a set that looked like the entry hall of the manor, with sweeping staircases up to the second floor, and great big doors blocking passage to the outside.
“They’re coming,” Maribelle said, striding in from a side corridor, Isabelle right behind her. A sudden boom shook the great doors, causing Delilah to jump.
“All together, now,” Marcus said, standing in front of the group, first in line before the doors. “Protect Delilah at all costs.”
“What makes me so important?” Delilah asked.
“You’re our general, my dear,” Marcus said, looking back and winking at her. “You’re the key to everything.”
Another boom, and the doors cracked and splintered, leaning inwards, ready to cave in.
“I’m ready,” Alice said, twirling her scissors. Beside her, Rabanastre nodded, taking up a fighting stance.
“So are we,” Delilah said, looking at her Felines. Nekoma stood in front with Marcus, while Felix, Redmond, and Reginald stayed close to Delilah. She rose up on a floating Mobility disc, hovering ten feet in the air.
A third boom brought the doors down, and horrific monsters swarmed in, the music suddenly exploding into a fever pitch of vicious, cacophonous chaos. Marcus’ staff whirled and bells chimed. Alice slashed and thrusted, Rabanastre punched and kicked. Nekoma’s chain and sword swung, Redmond’s arrows flew, Felix’s twin swords flashed, and Reginald’s cane whip flicked here and there. Maribelle’s hands shone with white light.
Monsters dissolved and crumbled, were dismembered, decapitated, crushed, disintegrated, flung away, impaled, or shot through with arrows.
Still they came, the frightening Shadow-Hollows that Delilah knew all too well from the Library of Solitude, from that horrifying battle, the battle where she’d given up hope just before Shana saved the day.
I won’t give up this time. I won’t falter, no matter how terrifying it is.
And in a way, this is far better. Fighting Shadow-Hollows… I can handle that now, after all I’ve faced.
It’s being under the spotlights, having to improvise lines, that’s far more terrifying.
Rabanastre and Felix frequently teamed up, similar to the battle on Lunos against Sen’s shade, a combination of cooperation and competition as they fought alongside each other. Alice didn’t fight as constantly or ferociously as she had against Sen, and often sat atop her Summon’s shoulders while he pummeled Hollows. Maribelle didn’t wield Takina, her marvelous golden sword, but every break there was in the fighting around her she was casting about, her eyes searching, and Delilah had a feeling she knew who for.
Because that was the strangest part of this loud, chaotic conflict.
It’s just the Hollows. No Jormungand, or Valgwyn, or Dullan, or Sen.
Where are their leaders? Where are the villains?
Felix took a nasty cut along his side, and Delilah held up her keychain Talisman, sending forth Healing Magic to close the wound and keep Felix fighting fit. Nekoma’s sword sliced a Hollow in half in mid-pounce, saving Reginald from being devoured.
The fight went well. Too well, Delilah thought. The music was wild and frantic, casting an aura of tense disarray, but Delilah and her team held together just fine. The Hollows were many, but they dropped quickly. There was nothing to —
“Oops!” came a cry from Isabelle. Delilah turned on her floating platform, looking down to see little Isabelle…
Isolated from the others.
She’d been staying close to Maribelle, but in such a chaotic melee, one wrong step could create a great separation. Maribelle — everyone, really — was still on the ground floor. But Isabelle had somehow climbed the stairs, standing up on the second floor, with Hollows rushing up the stairs towards her.
“Belle-Belle!” Maribelle cried out, racing for the stairs.
“No, wait, sorry!” Isabelle said, waving her hands. “I’m fine!” She reached back to her backpack, grabbing her teddy bear by the ear. “Teddy, go get ‘em!” Somehow she made that cry sound valiant as she hurled her teddy from her backpack and towards the charging Hollows.
“That’s what you brought a teddy bear for?” Alice asked. “Just let us help —”
But Alice quickly shut up as she saw the teddy bear…
The little tan teddy bear suddenly grew to ten times his original size, standing nearly as tall as Rabanastre, and indeed — standing under his own power. Teddy was alive now, and he stepped forward, winding up for a punch.
A devastating punch. His cute fuzzy paw came crashing into the snout of an oncoming Shadow-Howler, and the wolf-like monster went flying backwards, crashing through the far wall and out of the set entirely.
“Oh snap,” Alice said softly, staring in shock.
“And that’s why I bring Teddy on serious adventures,” Isabelle said, grinning. She held out her arms, and Teddy scooped her up, depositing the little girl on his shoulder. “I was hoping to save him for a more climactic reveal, but oh well. Teddy — charge!” She pointed dramatically, and Teddy did indeed charge, racing down the steps and joining the fight, his fuzzy paw punches dishing out the hurt to unsuspecting Hollows.
She has a giant teddy bear bodyguard.
Delilah had to fight the urge to pull out her phone and take a picture of the sight — Isabelle riding on Teddy’s shoulder while her punched out Hollows left and right.
I’ll get them to pose later, when it’s safe.
But Shana has to see this.
That simple reveal, a giant Teddy joining the fight, rallied the entire team. For a few moments, all were happy and cheerful, bantering with each other lightly as they destroyed every Hollow that came through the doors.
But it didn’t take long for the old dread to seep back in.
Valgwyn. Jormungand. Dullan. Sen.
None of them had made an appearance.
What was going on? What was this all about? Why was a climactic sort of battle happening in the first Act of the revue, and why was it so easy?
“Beware!” Marcus suddenly cried out, stepping back and tapping his staff on the ground, two bells chiming. “The true foe approaches.”
“Good,” Alice said, twirling her scissors.
“Not good,” Maribelle said.
“We don’t have them on our side,” Isabelle said.
“Have who on our side?” Delilah asked.
Whatever answer she was given was drowned out by a sudden explosion. She was flung from her Mobility disc by the shockwave, caught by Rabanastre and carried safely to the ground.
The far wall was destroyed. In its ruin were Valgwyn, Jormungand, and Dullan.
Sen stood behind them, hands on the hilt of his sword, tip planted in the floor.
“Dullan!” Maribelle shouted, holding her hand out at her side as if to summon Takina.
“Mari, don’t!” Isabelle cried, leaping down from Teddy’s shoulder and grabbing her sister’s arm. “We can’t win right now!”
“Why not?” Alice asked, though in a resigned tone, as if she already knew the answer.
“General,” Marcus said, looking to Delilah. Delilah took several moments to realize what was happening. The fight had been real, and their conversation real, too, so she’d forgotten, for the moment, she was playing a role in a performance.
He looks to me for a decision.
Does it have to be…?
But Delilah knew. There really was, at this moment, only one choice.
“Evacuate everyone!” she shouted. “We’re running for now. Maribelle! Don’t give into your rage! The time will come to fight Dullan, but it’s not now.”
“Let’s go!” Isabelle said, tugging on Maribelle’s arm.
And then they were all running, fleeing the scene, the battle, the danger.
Fleeing out of the lights and into the darkness of the stage beyond. Valgwyn’s narrator voice spoke, as a dim spotlight shone on Delilah and her team.
“Out they ran, abandoning their base, Delilah and Alice’s home, the home of their father. As they escaped into the outside world, dawn began to break. But it was a dawn unlike any other. For it was an ashen star that rose in the sky, not the majestic sun.
“The first sign of the Night Without End had come. Darkness would soon descend, devouring all.”
The curtain fell, all around the vast, circular stage.
And all the lights went out.
The Night’s Revue Act One: An Ashen Star Rises
~ Fin ~