The Play's the Thing: Part Four
In which the situation becomes apparent, guilt manifests, and a change to the billed cast is made.
“Dead,” Archie confirmed, leaning back from the deceased Scorchio.
They had moved the body from the stage back into one of the dressing rooms. Felicity Wave had been taken back to her own room, after having what could only be described as a dramatic episode.
“He can’t be dead!” Heston protested. “The bandits only had wooden swords!”
“Well, he’s dead,” Archie repeated. “If you’ve got a problem with it, you should take it up with him.”
Heston turned to the Witches and made a particularly exasperated face.
“It’s like whatever magic this is... is somehow making it all real,” Sophie thought aloud.
“But... that’s Derrick Fell!” Heston shrieked. “He’s one of the most famous actors in the business! He can’t be dead!”
“And the bandits, and the Fire Faerie,” Archie added.
“Your bandits and your Faerie are gone,” Morguss said flatly. “Nothing we can do about that... but Mr. Fell here can still be saved.”
“How?” Heston begged, the Tonu’s eyes lighting up.
“Things happening in the play are becoming real, and he plays the part of the Baron,” Morguss explained.
Archie gasped, “In the next act, he rises from the dead!”
Morguss nodded. “If the Baron becomes a Zombie, Mr. Fell will become a Zombie.”
“So... we’re not trying to stop this curse now?” Heston asked.
“Not if you want him alive again,” Morguss answered.
“In any case, we can’t stop it,” Edna said quietly.
Morguss and Sophie turned to her.
“You know what it is?” Sophie questioned.
“I think so,” Edna replied. “It’s not a common type of magic, that’s why it took me so long to recognise it. I’ve never seen it happen with my own eyes.”
“What is it then?” Archie asked, glancing down at the Scorchio on the table.
“It’s a Shade,” Edna said, as if the name would be enough explanation.
It certainly seemed to be for the other Witches. Sophie and Morguss gasped with realisation before nodding in agreement.
“Shades are sort of like ghosts,” Edna continued. “But there’s an important difference. They happen when an incredibly powerful magical creature dies. The soul disappears, the part that normally makes a ghost, but all that magical energy stays behind. It forms an imprint of the person, like a magical echo. Because there’s no soul, exorcisms don’t work.”
“And that’s what’s happening here?” Archie asked.
“Esmeralda and the Baron were incredibly powerful creatures, the magic they’ve left behind must have been drawn here by the play and this house,” Edna explained. “Now it’s replaying their lives, and making them real again.”
“But you can’t stop it?” Heston questioned. “You’re beings of magic as well, aren’t you? Can’t you just absorb it or something?”
Edna shook her head. “We don’t even have nearly enough magical power. And if we absorb so much magic, it would probably kill us.”
“Shades don’t last long,” Morguss added. “Just like echoes, really. Once they say what they came here to say, they dissipate by themselves.”
“Too late for half of the cast, though,” Archie observed. “And we all know the end of the play.”
He glanced down at the body before them.
“He’ll be a Zombie, but still alive, surely?” Heston enquired.
Archie cleared his throat loudly. “You’re forgetting the end of the play. In the final act, the Baron is destroyed... and in the act before, three witches take care of Esmeralda.”
Heston turned quite pale almost immediately. He stumbled backwards onto a chair.
“This is... akin to murder,” he muttered.
“It’s better than the alternative,” Edna said sharply. “If this play is stopped, then the Shade will remain, and it will find some other situation where it can take possession of people to replay these events. Do you want the deaths of even more people on your hands?”
“I...” Heston hesitated. “I can’t be part of this!”
He stormed out of the room, leaving silence in his wake. Archie was the one to break it.
“There’s really nothing else you can do?” he asked.
“Not without somehow increasing our own magical abilities,” Morguss answered. “Shades are so rare that no one’s really ever developed countermeasures.”
“So... what do we do about him?” Archie asked. “Move him back on stage? Or will he get up and go of his own accord.”
Edna brightened slightly. “I thought you’d never ask. Seeing as you’re volunteering, you can carry him to the stage.”
Heston leaned against a wall in the corridor. He too was feeling quite faint.
It had all been his idea, using the old mansion. And that made this all his fault.
Six actors were now dead, and another would soon follow. All his years as a successful director and writer hadn’t prepared him for this.
He lashed out, kicking the wall, and stubbing his toe as a result.
His mind turned to Felicity Wave, the young Kyrii playing the part of Esmeralda. She still had her entire career ahead of her, and the Witches were planning on striking her down.
The others were one thing, they were already dead, but Felicity wasn’t. She didn’t even understand what was going to happen.
Heston stood up straight suddenly.
It wasn’t too late. Felicity wasn’t dead yet.
He marched off down the corridor, his course of action clear.
He would have no more blood on his hands.
Archie deposited the Scorchio’s body rather heavily back to the position he had originally fallen on the stage. He stood back up and wiped his brow.
“Thanks for the help,” he muttered under his breath.
Sophie peeked through the curtains, “Looks like the audience is getting restless.”
“It’s almost time to start the next act,” Archie nodded.
Behind them, Heston returned to the stage.
“Ah, back again, are you?” Edna asked him. “We’re ready to start again. We need all the actors that are appearing in the next act, and get that Kyrii girl back here.”
“She’s not coming,” Heston said firmly.
“What?” Edna demanded sharply.
“I won’t send a young girl to her death,” Heston maintained. “I told her to head home. This play is over.”
Edna’s nostrils flared. “You have no idea what you’ve done!”
She barged past the Tonu, closely followed by equally livid looking Sophie and Morguss. Archie and Heston followed haplessly in their wake.
Edna burst into Felicity’s dressing room with rather more force than she intended to, and ended up stumbling forwards slightly. Thankfully, she soon discovered that empty and managed to straighten herself out before Sophie, Morguss, Archie and Heston arrived behind her.
Edna wheeled round to face Heston.
“Where is she?” she demanded.
“I told you, I sent her home,” Heston replied. “She didn’t need telling twice either. She’s probably halfway back to Neopia Central by now, and I don’t blame her. Once this is all over, I intend to be hot on her heels; I’ve had more than enough of the Haunted Woods.”
Edna’s finger was already pointing in Heston’s face before he finished speaking.
“You’ll be lucky to make it out of the woods alive after this!” she told him menacingly.
“Are you threatening me?” Heston asked, backing away slightly.
“I don’t need to,” Edna replied with acid. “You’ve probably doomed us all by sending that girl home.”
“So this Shade doesn’t tell its story tonight,” Heston laughed unconvincingly. “What does it matter? It’ll try again, somewhere else. I’ve bought you time to come up with a plan, so no one else need die. If anything, I’ve done you a favour!”
“A favour!?” Edna shouted. “Suddenly you’re an expert on magic now? You have no idea what you’ve done!”
“Magic like that running about unchecked is dangerous for everyone,” Morguss added. “Whenever concentrated magic gathers, there’s always problems. Holes can open in the fabric of reality, and things poke their claws through the darkness.”
“The longer this Shade exists, the more creatures start appearing, and the more people die,” Sophie pointed out. “You haven’t saved anyone, Mr. Berkley, you’ve only made sure that all of this will happen again.”
“Well...” Heston faltered. “It’s too late now in any case. Felicity is gone, and this play is over. I’m sorry, but you’ll just have to find another way.”
“What are we going to do about the audience?” Archie asked.
“I’ll... I’ll make an announcement,” Heston replied. “Can you take care of the crew, Archie?”
The Quiggle nodded as Heston made his way back down the corridor.
“I really can’t apologise enough for this,” Archie told the Witches. “All this never would have happened if we hadn’t chosen this building.”
A Techo stagehand came down the corridor from the opposite end, “Have you seen Mr. Berkley? The third act’s overdue, and half of the actors seem to be missing.”
Morguss twitched slightly as she felt a familiar magical ting in the air. She turned to see Edna, swaying slightly in the same dazed manner that the actors had earlier. Almost immediately, the Zafara straightened up and marched out of the room, barely acknowledging any of them.
“Where’s she going?” Archie asked.
“The stage,” Morguss stated with knowing dread. “The part of Esmeralda just got recast.”
Sophie pushed past the Techo, following Edna towards the stage.
“This play isn’t over yet, Mr. Twaddle,” she called back over her shoulder.
Morguss stood there, slightly stunned.
“You have to stop her!” Archie gasped.
“We can’t,” Morguss muttered.
“But... if she’s Esmeralda, she’ll be the one to die!” Archie shouted.
“Yes, she will,” Morguss agreed.
“But she’s your friend!” Archie pressed.
“She’d do exactly the same if it was me,” Morguss told him. “We’re Witches. The duty comes before anything else.”
“Well, if you’re not going to stop it, I am!” Archie shouted, turning to go.
Morguss very forcefully grabbed hold of his arm. She shook her head, “No, didn’t you listen to anything we said? If this doesn’t end here, then it keeps going, again and again, until Neopia tears itself apart. Edna wouldn’t want that; she’d want it over quickly and cleanly.”
Morguss made her way calmly to the door.
“But...” Archie attempted to argue.
“No, Mr. Twaddle,” Morguss responded. “What is it you theatre types say? Ah yes, ‘The Show Must Go On’.”
To be continued...