After a few hours of travel the brambles begin to lessen and finally open up into another clearing with a structure in the distance. As we get closer it has the look of an old wooden theatre.
“A theatre? Here? There’s just something odd about that,” I mutter.
“Like anything is normal around here,” Melchior replies as he walks past.
“I’m just saying,” I continue as I follow the others. “You’ve got all of these characters created by this bard to act out her story, and what does she make them do? Act out another story within the story. It just seems kind of cruel to me, is all… like making a cow eat a steak or something.”
Ef Utan snorts and shakes his head. "Lets stay focused, people… there’s not telling what’s going on in there after the last house we checked out. "
We eventually stop outside the front of the theatre and scope out the three main doors, but can’t find any back doors to speak of. There are some windows up above, however. I gesture towards one with a thumb over my shoulder. “Shall I?”
“By all means, let us know what you see!”
I grin and strap on my gauntlets for a little extra help as I use the eaves and some of the old boards sticking out as footholds. Once I’ve got myself proped on the ledge above I take one of the few clean sections left of my sash and wipe away the dust and dirt to see what I can see. My eyes widen and my ears twitch in surprise before I jump down to the ground to inform the others.
“Well, other than the typical rundown theatre with a stage and dusty seats, there’s a whole pile of Storykin bodies on one corner of the stage while this dark haired guy in a red jacket and a puppet on strings talk to each other.”
“He’s a ventriloquist?” Ef Utan asks in curiousity. I look at him blankly as he sighs. “Is he using his hands to make the puppet talk?”
“No, that’s the freaky thing, " I continue. “The he’s holding the strings of the puppet, but it is definitely talking back to him in a different voice.” I shudder and rub my arms. Demon dolls… what a nasty thought!
“The cook mentioned a Sanguine Playhouse run by a Ballomar,” Ef Utan remembers. “I’m guessing the guy in the red jacket is probably him, so let’s go have a talk!”
I sheath my gauntlets and brush the dust off my hands. Ef suddenly stops as if he remembered something and turns to me with a scroll in his hand. “Before I forget… I figure this might come in handy for you if you ever need a magical enhancement for your weapons.”
“Much appreciated! I’m sure I will put it to good use,” I chuckle as I roll it up and put it in one of the side pockets of my pack.
Once we’re ready to go it only takes a quick check of the doors to discover that they not only aren’t trapped… but they aren’t locked, either. “He must be expecting an audience,” I joke.
“Theatre people never could take a critic,” Vedis replies with a smirk. “I can only imagine how he’ll react to us.”
Ef Utan opens the main doors and strides into the lobby with the rest of us following behind. The faded remnants of what must have used to have been beautiful murals decorate the ceilings. Upon closer look and the size of that satyr’s…. well… this must have been a bawdy playhouse once, that’s all I’m saying. I’m trying my best not to look at what’s left of a rather questionable well-endowed centaur when a movement catches my eye upon one of the cornices. Eeew… is that a bug? Did they really bother to make bugs of this story?
Suddenly the bug leaps down from the cornice onto an old wooden table and speaks. “My name is Grig! Nice to meet you! Pardon me… but have you seen my fiddle?”
“No, can’t say that we have, little one,” Lenata answers with a smile.
Wait a minute… do I hear music? What’s that tapping noise? I quickly turn around to look for the offending sounds and discover that Melchiors foot is tapping. Strangely enough, it looks like he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it.
The sound of music grows stronger when suddenly a very small violin appears bobbing to and fro in the air from the next room. There’s that tapping again… but it’s getting louder! I look back at Melchior and see that he’s not just tapping his feet… he’s starting to dance an awkward jig. In fact… it looks like the others are starting to do it too.
“What in the 9 Hells are you doing to my friends?” I snarl at Grig as my head begins to pound.
“Not an appreciator of fine music, I see,” the cricket frowns as it backs away.
With a hiss I make a grab for the blasted thing and just manage to snag it with a claw under one of the strings. Quickly I turn to the cricket in order to get him to make it stop… only to find that it has made its way to the swaying Lenata and is working on loosening the clasp of the Heart token around her neck.
Thinking fast, I grasp the struggling violin tightly in my hand and swing my pack onto the ground so that I can stuff it inside one of the inter-dimensional pockets. Play all you like in there… no one can hear you anymore. Crud… I just hope I didn’t put anything important in that pocket.
With the fiddle out of hearing, the dancing curse soon fades and Lenata grasps at her neck. “We’ve got to get that back! Come on, Vedis!” The cleric and the Maenad then take off up the stairs to the balcony after the offending cricket.
I’m about to take off after them when a voice stops me in my tracks.
“Ah… our lead actors have finally arrived!”
A shiver of dread rolls down my spine at the words, and I quickly pull three cards from my sash: The Theatre, The Cricket, and The Twins. Swirls of energy fall over me, Ef Utan and the puppet on the stage. I can only hope a similar effect is helping Vedis and Lenata with getting their token back from Grig.
Ef Utan’s response to the puppeteer’s declaration is much less subtle in its reply as we struts purposely down the isles and promptly conjurs a TK fist that slams the puppeteer into the pile of storykin corpses. I shake off my dread and quickly follow suit with a well-aimed explosive round into the side of the puppet. Ef Utan can handle the other guy… I hate magical dolls! Seriously… they’re too dang creepy! Chunks of wood splinter off of it as its small wooden arms start waving about in what I swear is something I’ve seen Ef Utan do before.
Waitaminute… is it trying to cast a spell?
Before I can try and stop it, however, a squeal comes from above us as that flying monkey of Vedis’ glides down and grabs the offending cricket out of the air between its teeth. Apparently Vedis had the same plan (or I’m finally rubbing off on her) as she takes a running leap off the balcony and slams into the puppet master, the stage and whatever might have been underneath it as arms, legs and wood planks go flying. Arms and legs flail about as she tries to extricate her leg from the new hole in the stage she made without letting the puppet or its master loose.
No sense in wasting a good opportunity… “CAT PILE!” I yell as I thrust my hands into my gauntlets and bound down the isles in a leap that lands me directly on top of Vedis.
“Pardon me, just passing through,” I chuckle as I reach over her right shoulder and cut off the puppet’s arm. “Let’s see you cast now, you little bastard!”
I feel the thump of a small body as it lands on my back and squeals in delight at its masters playtime. “Let me go you storykin reject!” wails an angry little voice. Good lizard monkey thing… extra Tanglefoot bags for you if we ever get back to the ship!
“Quick, Balomar… take the token!” Grig yells just before Ef Utan’s boot crunches down on the puppets head and he grabs the token out of the air.
“I don’t think so.”
“Okay, that’s it… time to end this!” Vedis exclaims in frustration before a pulse of energy radiates out from her and everyone but us falls asleep.
Suddenly there is a blast of thunder and everything goes dark in the theatre. Little pinpricks of light like stars shine down from above as it begins to rain upon the stones that we’re now standing on.
“Vedis…” I whisper nervously as I look around at our new surroundings. “What did you do ?”