Arc IV Chapter 71: Why Not Us?

Delilah stepped aboard a gleaming Mobility disc, floating upward until she hovered over the battlefield of the stage. Alice and Rabanastre leapt high atop rooftops below, followed closely by Felix and Redmond. Nekoma and Reginald raced to the left along Isabelle who rode atop Teddy’s shoulder, and Marcus and Maribelle raced right.

Three groups, swiftly moving to meet their three foes.

But as Marcus and Maribelle raced towards Sen’s lofty perch, Jormungand leapt in their path. Darkness swirled around him like a cloud, misty tendrils grasping like ghostly hands. Maribelle jumped back, hand outstretched, blazing with white light that dispelled the darkness nearest her. Marcus tapped his staff on the stage, two bells ringing out, their resonance creating a tiny oasis in the bombastic swell of battle music.

Nekoma, Reginald, Isabelle, and Teddy… also came up against Jormungand. There was Jormungand to the right, battling against Maribelle and Marcus, and there was Jormungand to the left, a shield of darkness deflecting Nekoma’s massive purple sword, tendrils of shadow grasping for the nimble Reginald.

“Wait, how is he in two places at once?” Isabelle cried out as Teddy pummeled away shadowy hands, his paws gleaming with white light.

“Make that three!” Alice said with a grunt of exertion as she leapt into a high, acrobatic flip over a thrusting lance of darkness that a third Jormungand wielded.

There was Jormungand, in three places at once, fighting all of the heroes at once, while Sen and Dullan stood back, watching in silence.

A show of force? Some kind of intimidation tactic to try and show us how outmatched we are?

But he can’t be that powerful. There’s some trick to it, some magic to it. He’s dividing his power, or there are two copies that aren’t as substantial and powerful as the real one, or something else entirely, but he isn’t existing in three places at once.

So what is it?

Felix and Rabanastre dueled the spear-wielding Jormungand, their teamwork so natural. Redmond stayed back, firing arrows more around Jormungand than directly at him, planting traps and snares that Felix and Rabanastre tried to lure their foe into. To the right, Marcus stepped towards that Jormungand calmly.

“You know you’ll need all your power just to face me, old foe,” he said, tapping his staff against the floor again, two bells ringing out pristine and beautiful against the raging din of battle. As Jormungand reached for Maribelle, his tendrils of darkness recoiled from a blazing wall of light. Maribelle raced past him, while Marcus took another step forward.

“Dullan!” Maribelle screamed with rage, charging along rooftops towards the shadow-cloaked Son of Night. He turned to face her, wicked scythe crackling with black lightning.

“Mari!” Isabelle cried out, standing on Teddy’s shoulder to get a look at her sister. “Don’t fight him alone!”

“As if she has a choice,” Jormungand said, his wicked voice both cruel and gleeful, adopting his stage persona of the mad scientist, the scheming advisor, the puppeteer behind the scenes now come out to fight. He fought Isabelle and Teddy back, maneuvering himself and his dark shroud to keep them from escaping to go aid Maribelle.

“Everyone, come together!” Delilah called out. “Don’t spread out so much!”

“Yeah!” Isabelle said. “We can take them together!”

The Jormungand in the center, fighting Alice’s group, smiled. The music morphed from bombastic battle tunes to something more quietly sinister, with a strange sort of bounce to it. Jormungand began to sing as he fought back against the heroes:

“Hope is wasted, keeps you blinded

From the truth that now surrounds you

Light gives in as dark devours

Fear takes hold and despair claims you.”

He spun, lashing out with his pitch-black spear, and Alice, Rabanastre, and Felix leapt back in the nick of time. Alice charged back in first, slashing with her scissors, but was forced back, ducking and parrying Jormungand’s offense. Rabanastre and Felix attacked together at Jormungand’s back, but he was too quick, too ready for them.

Or so it seemed. But as he moved to block and counter, he also stepped further back from them.

Right into one of Redmond’s snares.

Green light flared into being as the hidden snare was triggered, and thorny green vines, glowing the same color as Redmond himself, shot out of the tiled roof. They lashed Jormungand’s legs, coiling around his waist, anchoring him in place.

“There we go!” Alice said with a grin, charging in with Felix and Rabanastre.

A blast of sudden darkness tore the vines apart and sent Felix, Rabanastre, Redmond, and Alice all flying, sprawling across the roof. Felix fell right off, hurtling towards the floor, but he pivoted in time to land on his feet, staying crouched for a moment, recovering from the force of the blast. Alice, small and lithe, easily bounced up from her sprawling roll, landing in a crouch, glaring daggers at Jormungand as she twirled her scissors. Rabanastre was strong enough to shrug off a portion of the blast’s power, rising easily after skidding a ways along the roof.

Redmond wasn’t so lucky, sprawling right into a chimney and crashing straight through it, lying motionless in its rubble.

He’s okay. Just dazed. As long as he’s left alone, given a chance for a bit, he’ll recover.

Hang in there, Redmond!

Felix leapt atop the roof, brandishing his swords.

The music that had shifted for Jormungand’s song gained some volume, adding in significantly more low brass and bass strings. A sense of foreboding mingled with the more gleefully wicked tone of the song, a depth of malice and dark power underneath the proud cruelty on display. Jormungand sang as he fought, a new stanza to accompany his battles against Alice’s group, Isabelle’s group, and Marcus:

“Struggle, struggle, yearn for triumph

Watch your will and courage waver

Claw and scrape until your last breath

Make your last breath one I’ll savor.”

Isabelle and Teddy failed to break through, despite their desperate attempts to rush to the aid of Maribelle, fighting so valiantly alone against Dullan. Even with Nekoma and Reginald aiding her, they could neither overpower nor outmaneuver their vicious foe. He had the form of a man, his white hair and the long scar across his face pronounced, his stature tall but not otherwise too imposing, and yet he had incredible power over the darkness, darkness that swirled and roiled like a living shroud. The great shadow he controlled expanded, contracted, transformed, all to suit his needs, all to suit his purpose of keeping each group isolated from the other.

On the rooftops, Alice, Felix, and Rabanastre battled the spear-wielding Jormungand with little gain. With Redmond stunned and recovering, the other snares and traps he’d planted had vanished, requiring his attention to maintain. Though it was three against one, Jormungand’s long reach and the aid of his shadowy shroud made getting near enough to even attempt to harm him a mighty struggle.

To the right was Marcus, though he was impossible to see. He was enveloped in a sphere of darkness along with Jormungand, but flashes of white light bursting out from within made it clear he was still alive and fighting.

Suddenly, Delilah felt a jolt of awareness. Redmond was ready to return to the fight! The Captain of the Catwood Company sprang nimbly to his feet, setting a pair of arrows to the string of his emerald bow. The arrows sang as he loosed them. One struck near Jormungand’s feet, flashing once in the tiles as a new snare was laid, while the second flew straight for Jormungand’s face. The villain knocked it aside with a contemptuous swing of his spear, taking several steps back to gain distance from the new snare as he battled Alice, Felix, and Rabanastre.

“Don’t drop your guard,” he said, slashing his spear across the tiles in front of him. Darkness then burst up behind Redmond, blasting the rubble of the chimney through the air and…

Directly into Redmond’s back.

“Watch out!” Delilah cried desperately, but she was too slow. Razor-sharp shrapnel sliced into Redmond, and he crumpled to the roof, doubling over in pain. Delilah felt it, a twinge in her heart, a tightening in her chest at her Summon’s great pain. Immediately she held aloft her keychain Talisman, sending forth Healing Magic to her downed Summon.

You’re going to be all right. Just hang in there!

A whistling sounded in the air, awfully similar to the sound of Redmond’s arrows, but not as light, not as musical.

Just hang in there, Redmond. You’re going to be…

Oh.

The flow of Delilah’s Healing Magic suddenly cut off. She felt suddenly light-headed, unsteady on her feet, like the blood was drained from her in one sudden pull. There was a pinching in her stomach, a tight spot of numbness and pain intertwined. There it was in her lower back, too.

She looked down.

A black arrow, writhing and twisting like a living thing, had pierced through her stomach and out through her back. The end of its crackling shaft was visible to Delilah’s eyes, even as her vision swiftly began to blur.

What…

She swayed, and her Mobility disc flickered and then vanished. She was falling, dropping with startling speed towards the stage below.

“Rabanastre!” Alice’s voice was shouting, but to Delilah it seemed so distant, so muddled. There was an impact, but it was soft — fluffy, even. And then a second impact, softer still. She’d stopped falling, and it took her several moments to realize Rabanastre had caught her. The muscular white rabbit held her gingerly, and then a face appeared in her vision.

“Oh, no you freaking don’t,” Alice said, staring at Delilah with wide white eyes. She grabbed the arrow in Delilah’s body, and it thrashed in her grip. The numbness, for the first time, shifted so that pain took over, and Delilah screamed at the sudden burning lance of fire that coursed through her.

“Just hang on a sec,” Alice said, her voice strained. Her eyes morphed to black. “I know it hurts. But I won’t let it kill you.”

The blazing fire in Delilah’s stomach suddenly, rapidly cooled. Delilah gasped for air, struggling to move her head to look and see what was happening.

The arrow had ceased its thrashing, and now was slowly shrinking, being drawing into Alice’s hand. As it fully left Delilah’s stomach, she let out a whimper of pain, but nothing more. Slowly her breathing stilled, the pain turning into only a memory. The arrow vanished, and Alice held her hand palm up. Four tiny motes of darkness rose from her palm, bobbed in the air, and then dissolved into nothing.

Alice cocked her head to the side, wincing as she swished something in her mouth. Then she looked away, spitting onto the stage floor, groaning slightly as she stuck out her tongue.

“Ugh, just as weird as the last time,” she said, wiping her mouth. She gazed at Delilah intently, black eyes slowly fading to white. “Hey. You’re good now, right?”

Delilah stared up at Alice, then placed a hand against her stomach. There was a hole in her shirt, but through it she felt only smooth, unmarred skin. Her wound had completely closed, without even a scar.

“Yeah…” Delilah said shakily. Her body was regaining its strength, her dizziness and nausea vanishing. “But I don’t… I don’t understand.”

“Yeah, me neither,” Alice said, grabbing Delilah’s hand and pulling. “Come on, get up.” With Rabanastre and Alice’s help, Delilah was able to stand, and she and Alice looked towards the very edge of the light that shone on the stage’s battleground, where stood a dark figure holding a tall black bow.

“I’m sorry,” Valgwyn said, his voice shaking, desperate. “But I… I can’t bear to betray my brothers.”

Alice scoffed. “More like you can’t bear to stay in-character,” she said. “It’s a play, you know?” She glared daggers at the archer, her eyes flicking to black. “You fire another arrow anywhere near my sister and I swear I’ll kill you first.”

Valgwyn shrank back, his free hand staying far away from the quiver of arrows on his back.

“Fascinating,” Jormungand said, staring with a perverse amazement at Alice. “So it’s true. You really are… yes. Oh, you marvelous, precious success.”

“Don’t call me precious, freak!” Alice shouted, turning her furious glare on Jormungand. “What the heck are you talking about, anyway? What do you know about me?”

In response, the music of Jormungand’s song became more powerful, more fervent, drums beating out swift pulses in time with the words of the next stanza as Jormungand sang:

“Oh child, you would not remember

What was done before your birth

But I’m sure now, yes, you’re the one

Finally you reveal your worth.”

“Done before my…” Alice started, eyes narrowing. “Reveal my worth, huh?” She looked aside at Rabanastre. “I was saving this for the big boss, but… yeah, we’ll reveal our worth, all right.” She raised her hand, pressing middle finger against thumb. “Rabanastre… kill this guy.”

She snapped her fingers.

Rabanastre’s snowy white fur bristled, rippling all over as it morphed from white to black, transforming in a wave. His black eyes burned with white fire, and he stood taller, more imposing on the grand stage.

And then he lunged.

More than fifty feet separated Rabanastre on the floor and Jormungand on the roof, but the black rabbit crossed that distance in an eye blink. His fist flew, and Jormungand raised his spear to block, just barely fast enough.

Rabanastre’s punch snapped the spear.

His fist struck Jormungand’s face through the spear’s shrapnel, and one punch was enough to send the villain flying, crashing through an entire building and out the far wall, tumbling across the stage and out of the lights.

Delilah felt a warmth on her wrist, and she looked down to see her bracelet, the gift from Marcus that marked her as a Sub-Paladin, was glowing with soft, fiery white light. And next to her, Alice’s bracelet did the same. The fire of their bracelets reached out to each other, intertwined, and became one singular, larger fire.

A pillar of white light erupted to the right, and the Jormungand that had been fighting Marcus went flying into the air, landing on a high rooftop. His expression was one of fear and exhaustion, and he gasped for breath, holding a broken, bleeding arm.

Marcus stood unharmed, staring at Delilah and Alice with a proud smile on his face. “I knew you could do it,” he said.

“If only we knew what we did,” Alice said, but she was grinning. Jormungand came flying back to the stage, smashing through another building and skidding to a stop on the stage floor right next to the Jormungand that was fighting Alice’s group. Rabanastre was chasing down the wounded Jormungand, but the villain grasped the ankle of his last remaining clone, and the two fused together. His injuries were healed, but likely not for long — Rabanastre landed with fire in his eyes, spinning into a vicious back kick that Jormungand failed to dodge or block, and he was sent flying once more with Rabanastre in hot pursuit.

“Mari, I’m coming!” Isabelle called out, as Teddy carried her as fast as he could towards Maribelle, still fighting Dullan alone. Delilah found it curious that Maribelle wasn’t wielding her golden sword, Takina, but fought against Dullan’s vicious scythe with her just her hands and the white light that blazed from her palms.

“We’re all coming,” Alice said, looking at Delilah. Delilah nodded, Alice smiled, and the two raced ahead, hurrying to join their whole team together. Even though the distance between them grew as they ran, the white fire connecting Delilah and Alice’s bracelets didn’t break apart, lengthening to accommodate them.

I don’t know what it is, but… it makes me feel so light, and warm, and happy.

We’re going to win this. Nothing can stop us now.

The music transformed, leaving behind Jormungand’s wicked, bouncy tune for something heroic and grand, with soaring brass melodies and dramatic drum fills.

Maribelle leapt back from Dullan’s scything slash, landing in a crouch, her expression one of rage that Delilah would never have expected to see on her usual serene face.

“Tell me the truth, Dullan!” Maribelle said, not backing down though Dullan towered over her, though he had such a massive weapon while she used just her hands. “Sarabelle, Annabelle, Isabelle… you said they were lost to me, that they were all dead. You were wrong. So what of my other sisters? What do you know?”

“You wouldn’t trust anything I said,” Dullan replied in his silky soft voice, like a whisper on the midnight air. “And in this story, your only sister is Isabelle.”

“You…!” Maribelle started, desperation flickering in her eyes.

“Mari!” Isabelle cried out. The dramatic, sweeping heroic music opened wide up, the orchestra stepping back to make space for a piano, its solo coming through with bright, hopeful clarity. Isabelle took a deep breath and sang:

“You don’t have to fear

Though the shadow rises and blocks out the stars

The dark is but a cloud

And the light soon will rise

Rend the veil, clear your eyes, take you home.”

Isabelle hopped off of Teddy’s shoulder, and the cuddly powerhouse formed a wall to protect Maribelle along with Felix, Nekoma, Redmond, and Reginald. Rabanastre was still busy pounding away on Jormungand.

Isabelle raced to Maribelle’s side and took one of her hands in both of hers. “Don’t lose yourself,” she said, gazing up at her older sister with those big, earnest eyes.

“This might be… my only chance,” Maribelle said, looking away from Isabelle and to Dullan, who dueled the Felines and Teddy, fending all five of them off with ease. “Belle-Belle… our other sisters… I have to know, and our only chance is —”

“It’ll never be our only chance,” Isabelle said. “And it’s like he said — you wouldn’t trust him, and you shouldn’t. Don’t look to him for answers. Just work together with me, and we’ll find all of our sisters, just like we’re going to find and save Mommy.”

“Belle-Belle…” Maribelle said softly, squeezing her sister’s hands.

Isabelle smiled. “Don’t trust the bad guys. That’s one of the most obvious rules, right? Trust your family and friends. Trust the Light. We can find the truth together.”

Maribelle nodded, her expression softening. “You’re right.” She laughed, shaking her head. “I was wrong to despair. Thank you, Belle-Belle.”

“I’ll always help you find some hope when you need it,” Isabelle said, smiling brightly.

“Touching,” Dullan said, parrying Felix’s dual swords with such force that the Swordmeowster was sent sprawling. Nekoma leapt in to defend him as he recovered. “But hope is not your salvation. Sen?”

Towering above them all on his lofty perch, Sen nodded once. His dark gaze was fixated on Delilah and Alice. “An unexpected development,” he said. “Jormungand. Show your worth.”

Jormungand replied with a gargled cry of pain. He still managed to stand, despite the beating he’d taken so far, but he wasn’t getting anywhere against Rabanastre, and the black rabbit showed no signs of tiring. Alice’s Summon leapt forward, punching with vicious force…

But his punch was stopped by the flat of Sen’s sword.

So fast…! Just like at the Abyssal Sanctuary!

Sen had crossed dozens of yards so quickly Delilah hadn’t even perceived a hint of his motion. One moment he was standing above everyone else, and the next he was between Rabanastre and Jormungand, blocking the black rabbit’s punch with only one hand on his sword.

“Go, Jormungand,” Sen said, his voice as calm as ever.

Jormungand stumbled away, blood dripping from so many wounds. But as he walked, his strides became more confident, and blood was caught, collected, and seemingly replaced by shadow tendrils that rose up from the grounds, sliding smoothly into cuts, scrapes, and gashes. With each step Jormungand stood taller, bled less, and healed.

“Give him the smallest chance and he’ll shake it all off, huh?” Alice asked. “Rabanastre!” She looked at Delilah, then nodded. “Nobody’s fighting alone, here.”

Rabanastre broke off from Sen’s block, leaping back and landing in a ready stance. His fur rippled, transforming from black to white, and the fire in his eyes was replaced by the smooth black eyes of a Summon. A white portal opened behind him, and he stepped into it, coming out of a similar portal at Alice’s side.

“It will do you no good,” Jormungand said, stopping a good distance from the heroes. He smiled, his scar twisting wickedly. “Alice… so that’s what they named you. And here you are, playing the part of a hero. After all you’ve done…”

“What the heck do you know about me, freak?” Alice asked, glaring daggers at Jormungand. “Why do you keep talking like that, huh?”

“I’ll be glad to show you the whole truth,” Jormungand said. He raised his hand, pressing middle finger against thumb.

“No!” Maribelle and Marcus cried out in unison. Both of them dashed for Delilah and Alice.

Jormungand snapped his fingers. At the same time, in a dark voice, he said, “See the truth… in Shadowland.”

All went suddenly dark. Not as if the lights had clicked off, no, this was too deep, too complete, for that.

“Sis?” Alice asked. Her voice sounded muffled, but after a moment, Delilah felt her fingers touch hers. “That you?”

“Yeah,” Delilah said. Her own voice sounded dulled. “But I…” Her heart skipped a beat.

No. No, no, you can’t, there’s no way.

“What?” Alice asked.

Delilah fumbled in her pocket for her keychain Talisman, found it, raised it aloft. She called upon her magic, willed her Felines to be Summoned into existence.

But nothing happened.

“No, no, no,” she said softly, gripping her Talisman so tightly that it bit into her palm.

“What is it?” Alice asked.

“I can’t…” Delilah said, shaking her head. “I can’t… feel my Felines. They’re gone.”

“Gone?” Alice asked. After a few silent moments, she let out a shaky breath. “Rabanastre… I can’t feel him. At all. He’s… just… gone. But… what the heck is this?”

“Shadowland,” came a voice that Delilah recognized — and one she hadn’t expected to hear in a place like this. It was slightly muffled, yet musical, with a dramatic edge to it.

“Etude?” Delilah asked.

A spotlight clicked on, beaming down onto a small stage… and the strange bent form of Etude. Her masklike face was drawn in that same visage of beautiful sorrow, milky white tears tracking down her cheeks, scarlet hair tumbling down her shoulders to meld seamlessly with her gorgeous, flowing dress.

Next to her was Nocturne, just the same as Delilah remembered, her masklike face warped into a wide, grotesque grin, her hair black as night blending into a feathery, elegant dress.

“As you see,” Etude said, bowing.

“What’s Shadowland?” Alice asked. She didn’t seem the slightest bit perturbed by the strange pair.

Now she speaks,” Nocturne said, her head cocking so hard to the side she would have broken her neck if she was human, her mask now completely horizontal.

“Now?” Delilah asked.

“Yeah, I saw them when you did,” Alice said. There was no residual light from the spotlight by which to see Alice, but Delilah could feel her shrug. “I was curious, so I followed you during the Intermission. But you were already talking when I got there, so I didn’t want to interrupt.”

“She thinks she’s polite does she?” Nocturne asked, cackling with glee as she righted her face.

“Nah, I’m so not polite,” Alice said, chuckling. “So? What’s Shadowland? Where are our Summons?”

“No magic in Shadowland,” Etude said, sobbing. “No Summons. Only for the very special… but definitely not here. This is the heart of Shadowland, the worst of it all. We can only keep you safe for a short while.”

“So let’s not waste time,” Nocturne said, shuddering as she laughed.

“You’re protecting us?” Delilah asked.

“That’s right, love,” Nocturne said. “You should be grateful.”

“Thank you,” Delilah said.

Nocturne cackled. “Now there’s a polite one!”

“Yeah, she’s like that,” Alice said.

“Shadowland is a world of darkness,” Etude said. “It draws on your own darkness, makes you face the shadows within. And this place… drawn here by Jormungand’s power… you’re in the heart of Shadowland, or as close as anyone can get. The hardest, most impossible trial of all. You will not survive.” She sobbed dramatically, burying her face in her hands.

“Cease your blubbering!” Nocturne said, laughing all the same. “They may yet survive. Survival… might be…” She shuddered, her head cocking this way and that with such suddenness that it made Delilah’s neck hurt. “No… it might be… Etude, tell them!”

“She cannot,” Etude said, sobbing.

“What’s the matter with her?” Alice asked.

“Delilah knows,” Etude said. “I see it. You figured it all out, didn’t you, girl?”

“We cannot say,” Nocturne said, speaking as if she was in pain, barely able to get the words out. “You must. If you know… then say!”

“Have a little light,” Etude said, waving a hand. A spotlight clicked on, illuminating Delilah and Alice. Delilah immediately looked down at her and Alice’s wrists, at their bracelets. No white fire linked them. More than that, they’d gone completely dark. Their gems didn’t gleam in the light, and Delilah felt no warmth, no support, from the bracelet.

“Yes, I know,” Delilah said, nodding. “Or… I think I do. I…”

“Don’t be modest,” Alice said with a sigh.

“R-right,” Delilah said. “So… the two of you aren’t supposed to be two. Etude, Nocturne… you’re two halves of a whole. You’re Revue.”

“She is poison!” Etude cried, holding up a hand as a shield between her and Nocturne, who cackled gleefully.

“Like the Library of Solitude,” Delilah said, “your Bastion was infected with darkness. But you had nowhere to go, or couldn’t escape. Either way, the darkness took hold of you. But instead of being taken over by it, you split in two. You preserved your mind, your personality, your memories, all of it. And now… you need to be made whole. You need a ‘Daybreaker,’ a Paladin, right?” At Etude’s mournful nod, she continued. “The Revue Palace thrived on music, on shows, on attention and audiences. Somehow that all faded, and you can’t revive it alone. You need a Paladin, just like every other Bastion does. That’s the ‘promise’ you meant. ‘Light must be promised, and it must not break its promise, not again.’ Your Paladin left you all alone. When you needed them most, you were all alone, and the darkness took you. So in order to be whole again, in order for the Revue Palace to be restored, to banish the darkness, you need a Paladin. One who will make a promise and mean it, and not break it.”

“She’s brilliant,” Nocturne said, giggling. “So very impressive. The nail has been hit, right on the head.”

“But that’s the problem,” Delilah said, bowing her head. “We need to find someone to make the proper promise…”

“Why shouldn’t it be us?” Alice asked.

Delilah stared at her. “What?”

“Why not us?” Alice asked.

“Well I… I mean…” Delilah started, gathering her thoughts, “Marcus was training us for the Moon. And we’re the least experienced here, we only just became Sub-Paladins, they need a Paladin, so…”

“Hey, mask ladies,” Alice said, nodding to Etude and Nocturne. “Does ‘Daybreaker’ mean Paladin, or do Sub-Paladins count?”

“No Sub-Paladins back then,” Etude said, sobbing. “If you carry light to rend the darkness, you are a Daybreaker.”

Alice nodded, looking at Delilah. “So?” she asked.

“But we’re…” Delilah started, shaking her head. “We just became Sub-Paladins, and we still don’t know what it all means or how to do it right, and Marcus was training us for the Moon, not a different Bastion —”

“And you’re gonna just walk away from things because you don’t think you’re qualified, or because you think someone else’s feelings might be hurt?” Alice asked. “Marcus isn’t gonna get mad at us, even if we actually did something bad, and saving the Revue Palace wouldn’t be bad at all. Plus, he can’t make the promise, he’s in charge of the Moon, he’s already got a Bastion to worry about. Mari and Belle-Belle can’t do it either, they’re Princesses of Solitude. Big, lofty title, they can’t exactly leave behind their Bastion, you know?”

Delilah raised an eyebrow. “Belle-Belle?”

Alice shrugged. “She’s growing on me. But look. You’d already figured out what needed to be done. If it was just you, right now, you’d make the promise. All by yourself, carry the weight all alone, wouldn’t you? And you’d act like it’s okay, you wouldn’t complain, but you’d inside be all torn up and conflicted and uncertain and having all these doubts, and you wouldn’t like doing it alone. But I’m here, aren’t I?” Alice sighed. “Do I have to spell it out for you? Let’s do it together. You and me, save the Revue Palace, promise to revive its audiences and its shows and all that, make sure it never gets forgotten again. That’s a lot better than going it alone, isn’t it?”

Delilah stared at Alice, at a loss for words.

She really believes we can do this. But more than that…

She’s putting her trust in me. She thinks that I…

Delilah gave Alice’s hand a squeeze, then nodded, looking back at Etude and Nocturne. “We’re here for you,” she said. “Revue, we’ll be your Daybreakers, Alice and I. We won’t leave the Revue Palace once it’s restored, either. We’ll spread the word, make it the greatest it’s ever been, and make sure it’s never forgotten.”

“We promise,” Alice said. “And you can count on us.”

“They…” Etude started, turning to look at Nocturne.

“They truly…” Nocturne said, staring back at Etude.

“Then there is but one more step,” Etude said, bowing her head. “But are they —”

“Hush now, no doubts!” Nocturne said. “Girls, dear girls. You must prove your promise, prove your worth to this marvelous Palace.”

“Yeah, okay,” Alice said. “So what’s the test?”

“Put on a show, love,” Nocturne said, her smile widening. “The best show we’ve ever seen. You’re in Shadowland, so we’re you’re only audience, but that’s enough. Prove to us how much you can shine. Drama! Surprises! Action! Struggling against all odds! Show your stuff, give us a show, make us feel again. Make us whole again.”

“Time fails us,” Etude said, bowing her head. “The rest… is up to you.”

The spotlight over Etude and Nocturne clicked off, and all sound or hint of their presence vanished.

“Time to brave the darkness, huh?” Alice asked. “And to put on a show at the same time.” She looked over at Delilah and grinned. “You ready for this?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Delilah said with a smile. “As long as I have you.”

“As long as I have you,” Alice repeated.

The spotlight illuminating the pair suddenly clicked off, plunging them into the impenetrable darkness of Shadowland.

 

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