The first thing I did when I got out of the shower was check my phone, only to confirm I had no callers. Then I picked up my ‘work’ phone, Anima’s phone, which had half a dozen new messages since last night.
Three were job offers, including top billing and a million dollar signing bonus for what someone believed was going to be the biggest hit of the year. They didn’t provide much information, but it looked to be based off the story of Jason and Medea.
I texted a simple ‘I don’t do tragedies’ back. I had enough of those in real life, I’d prefer to keep my fiction light hearted and hopeful where possible. To say nothing of how the director seemed to envision the performance involved sword fights against fictional monsters of my creation, which would have ended in real tragedy.
I tossed my work phone on my bed and left it there without even checking the other messages. None of the messages were from anyone I gave a damn about, and none of them gave a damn about me. Anima, yes, seemed like everyone cared about her, but not me.
“Gargouille, stalwart guardian,” I didn’t have to follow the script of my power, but it was uncomfortable when I broke from it. “You may rest knowing you have served well through the night.”
A snort was all the acknowledgement I received. Light poured into the room from windows no longer shielded by one of my most powerful beasts which wasn’t a murder machine. The Gargouille was a stony dragon that could withstand incredible punishment, but it was also slow to act and lacking in autonomy, a perfect choice as my nightly guardian. I kept it running at night so I didn’t call any true horrors in my sleep.
I took a slow breath while extending my arms. “Gold Regalia, Eufron.” Light poured in from the Everywhere, the space beyond space where my power resided when not in use. It started around my core, bands of white wrapping and hugging tight to my body. It wrapped itself around me, pulling tight around my stomach to hide my flaws while exaggerating what passed for my feminine figure; a corset of scarves.
The armor itself manifested over the bindings, starting at the hands, feet and head, then moving inward until I wore a set of plate armor much thicker than any historical sample of armor that wasn’t meant for Imbued. I brought my arms back to my sides, while a maze of impossibly complex interlocking joints granted me full mobility despite armor that should have forced me to lumber around like the Tin Man before he was oiled up.
A quick glance in the mirror confirmed what I knew; I now looked like the ultimate warrior-goddess, clad in ivory and gold, ethereal and beautiful beyond compare. I loathed it.
A sword of perfect white manifested into my hand. Loose bits of paper blew off my computer desk, a secondary effect of the weapon that seemed to believe I wanted to murder my reflection. If the mirror wasn’t bolted to the wall, glass shards would have joined the papers on my floor.
Dammit. “Fragarach, dismissed!” The white mist that was a sword vanished into the Everywhere. Stay there this time. “Tuatha, faithful maidens, I call upon you.” It was all I could do not to cringe at the flowery flair I put into my own voice.
The flitting of dragonfly-like creatures danced into my vision. For whatever reason, the faeries never manifested or vanished where I could see them, preferring to come out of hiding from the cracks and crevices within my range.
The lead pixie curtsied in front of me. “You have need of us, My Queen?” Despite having segmented mandibles rather than a mouth, she had no difficulty speaking as a human. They were more insectoid than humanoid, looking like gigantic bipedal grasshoppers with hourglass figures rather than children’s cartoon characters.
“I bid you to organize my demesne while I am on business.”
“As you wish, My Queen.” The swarm flitted off to the task of picking up the papers and organizing them. Afterward, they’d go through and clean everything else, including every insect and spider unfortunate enough to be in my apartment. The fae carried needle-sized greatswords which they would not hesitate to use to scour my home of all intruders.
Much as I bemoaned my power, I still abused it for even the most mundane of chores. Perhaps that made me a hypocrite on top of everything else. However, the more effects I had running at once, the less possibility that I would lose control and release one of the atrocities from the deepest pits of my mind.
I made my way down the narrow, steep stairwell that would bring me to the main prop room. I heard voices coming from the room below. A couple of the actors seemed to be having a good talk about something.
As odd as it was to live in a theater, at least it meant I’d be around people. When I was being honest with myself, I knew it was the only reason I interacted with anyone on a daily basis. I feared that some day, I’d join Muwth in self-imposed exile from the world. A crazy cat lady, with creepy-bug-fairies that stabbed people in the eyes.
“Telaria. Walk unheard.” Under the effect of the sandals, I now weighed about half of what I would have weighed on the moon and could have snuck over a foot of dried leaves, so I wouldn’t disturb whatever conversation I was sneaking up on.
“Nah, I’ll stick to propwork,” a man said. The voice seemed familiar, but I didn’t recognize it right away. “I ain’t much of an actor. I don’t know how to talk in ye olde English. Plus Shakespeare bores me to tears, and Romeo and Juliet makes me want to kill myself.”
“Oh, Shakespeare’s one of the ones you have to learn to appreciate the genius of.” I recognized April’s voice; she was the leading lady for most of the plays done at our theater, so it was hard not to. “First of all, it helps to remember that Romeo and Juliet is a mean spirited parody. Shakespeare spent the whole play insulting the characters.”
“Oh, totally,” April said. She would now be settling down into her familiar hobby of teaching others to love Shakespeare whether they wanted to or not. “Think about it. An eighteen year old boy forgets his girlfriend in order to obsess over a thirteen year old girl he sees at a party. They make out for a bit while talking about the bible, then the next day they get married. Oh, and before you ask, that is not how they did things back then. The whole romance takes three days, gets six people killed, and even has two suicide scenes. He was making fun of all the tired cliché romance plays that were around during his time by making something so ridiculously over the top that nobody could take it seriously.”
I tuned out April’s rant; I’d heard it enough times that there was nothing left for me to learn, and instead made my way into the room. The sandy brown hair of the boy in question was the last detail I needed to place a name and face to the voice: Zach. I tensed, wondering what brought him here, what he wanted from me.
“And now, everyone thinks it’s some masterpiece.” Zach’s attention, however, seemed locked on April. Of course he’d be focused on her; the girl was a walking advertisement for the stereotype of Latina beauty, and even had intelligence, talent, and confidence to go with her lucky genetics. In short, she was everything I would never be.
“I know!” April leaned her head back and brought her hands up in a dramatic show of frustration. “It’s like, ugh! Don’t get me wrong, I still love it, but I keep watching people think it’s some grand romance when it’s making fun of that very type of person!”
Zach started to chuckle. “Okay, well if he’s as clever as you think he is, I bet he’s laughing from beyond the grave right now.”
April’s exasperation was replaced with surprise, and a smile. “Oh, I gotta hear this.” Even I had to admit I was interested; as many times as this conversation had been had in this room, nobody ever took this approach.
“Okay, gimme a sec.” Zach took a step back, and I could picture his face scrunched up in thought. “Well, if he was making fun of these kinds of plays, that means there had to be a lot of them at the time, right? So, nobody even hears about any of them today, it’s always Romeo and Juliet, the classic love story. It’d be like if in three hundred years Spaceballs was called the classic science fiction epic and nobody alive ever heard of Star Wars. And Mel Brooks hated George Lucas. Can you think of a better revenge?”
“O-ooh, that is wicked,” the gleam in April’s eye spoke for itself. She brought her hand up to her mouth and started to giggle. “Oh god! I’m never gonna be able to play Juliet with a straight face. It’s the best private joke ever, and I get to share it with The Bard, himself!”
To the uninitiated, one would think April was flirting with Zach, but I knew her better. April flirted by suggesting that her partner would make a great actor for a prestigious, if not always main, character.
April stopped laughing, but the glint never left her eye. “Well, I still think Shakespeare has a lot of better works that hold up the way they were meant to. The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, for example, I bet you could make a great Brutus if you tried.”
Case in point. I picked now to step out of my hiding place near the stairwell. If only to head off the awkwardness when Zach figured out he’d been told he could play the role of one of the most famous traitors in history. Given his recent experiences, I couldn’t see that going over well.
“Shouldn’t you be in school?” Zach spun to face me, some complex mix of troubles worn on his face. I felt terrible for how blunt I sounded, so I softened my voice, tried to come across as friendly, despite my utter lack of experience as such. “Did something else happen?”
Zach shrank down away from me. “I’m not going back.” The kid looked like he relived the worst moment of his life. “Nobody’s on my side there, not after… everything.”
Meanwhile, April’s face showed her dawning realization that Zach was years younger than she’d first realized. From the safety behind my helmet, I smiled at her discomfort, and then felt like a terrible person. I made the same mistake when I first met the boy, but height and strong voices ran in his family, as I’d discovered after meeting Laura. Plus, Zach had put on a respectable amount of muscle since he started his career.
Zach gathered himself and stood taller, a semblance of pride. “I don’t want to go back, either. I’ve talked to Mom and Dad, and we’re thinking it’ll be easier on everyone with home schooling, instead. Turns out, they make it crazy convenient for Imbued, Outreach even offers free tutors.”
Of course they do; it’s a means of control. This way, they can separate the freaks from the normal children and ply them without outside interference. But considering his circumstances. “That might be a good idea. Did you mention it to Laura?”
There was that fidget, shying away again. “Well, it’s just an idea at this point. I kinda wanted to talk to you, first.” He glanced over at April for the first time since I made my presence known. “Uh, alone.”
“No, that’s fine, I should go back to rehearsing, anyway.” She took a couple steps toward the side door that would put her back stage. “I’ll be busy for the rest of the day, but maybe I’ll see you around?”
Whatever disappointment she may have felt seemed secondary to now having a chance to duck out of the awkwardness and perhaps hope Zach didn’t realize what I realized.
“Yeah, we’ll see,” he gave her enough eye contact to be polite, before turning his attention back to me. “W-well, this is weird, but I was wondering if you’d.” In the moments he spent fumbling over his words, I went through a dozen awkward questions he could ask ranging from a date to weird stuff involving my power. He wouldn’t be the first by a wide margin. “That is, I mean, do you think I can get a job here?”
What. He wasn’t wrong about it being a weird question. “I… don’t know why you’re asking me?”
He smiled a little. “Well, last time I was here, Mrs. Battle asked me if I wanted a job. I played it off at the time, but that’s sounding kinda nice right now. It’s just, well, this is kinda your turf, and I wouldn’t want to step on your toes or anything.”
Oh. I could imagine the logic in Mrs. Battle’s mind, and now that Zach mentioned it, things could get a little difficult with him around. Amongst other things, it put my flimsy moonknighting as White Lady at risk. I almost told him I’d rather he didn’t, but I saw the hurt in his eyes, and the tears that were forming.
Laura’s right, he’s not half as good at playing the tough guy as he thinks he is. “Make me one promise.”
“Anything you want.”
“We don’t talk business at work, ever.” As far as rules went, it seemed straightforward, but I needed to make sure it was hammered home. “Not even the slightest detail. That includes talking to anyone else. What happens in costume does not come here. If there’s something critical enough, then text me and we’ll figure it out.”
The smile on his face was heartening and heartbreaking all at once. “Thank you!” For a moment, I thought he was going to hug me, despite the fact that last time he tried something like that, he was eviscerated by my power. “I, uh, well I should go ask Mrs. Battle if she needs some part time help. Then I guess I need to tell Laura. Uh, or does she fall into ‘business’?”
“No, that’s fine.” And when you’re done talking to Laura, I’m going to have to do the same thing.