It was a special night.
The rubies were polished to perfection and nobly resting inside their cages of woven gold. The biggest stone rested just below where his collarbones connected, the golden chain cold against his neck. They sparkled in the light from the chandelier above the stage, glittering like blood against his dark blue jacket. It contrasted against his outfit, set everything off, and his sister Lucia had grimaced when she saw him wearing it. But it was a gift from the crown prince, with the request that he wore it during tonight's show.
"I want everyone to see it, and know that you're mine", Rayne had said as he closed the clasp around Caspian's neck, and even if there had been no venom in his voice Caspian knew this wasn't a request he could turn down. Rayne had been a generous suitor, and had filled Caspian's jewelry box with the most expensive things he could find. He spent much time at the theatre, more than Caspian had though a crown prince could be away from the castle. Not even Lucia's many competitive suitors spent as much time chasing her as Rayne spent at Caspian's table in the loge. Lawrence had complained at first, but had accepted Rayne's arm around Caspian's waist when he learned that Rayne's patronage wasn't limited to Caspian but incuded the whole theatre. Rayne's patronage was preferable to the duke who had put in an offer of buying the theatre so he could be closer to Lucia. The duke could certainly also fill a jewelry box, but it hadn't escaped neither Lawrence nor Caspian that he also had a tendency to fill Lucia's arms with bruises. Rayne had also managed the masterpiece of convincing his father, the king of Ashnium, to attend a show.
The king had never had much interest in theatre, much less so in an acting troupe from the neighbouring country Braeye, but he had agreed to attend tonight's show. His patronage would mean a great deal for the company. So for that they had prepared a masterpiece. It was a special occasion, after all. Not only was the king scheduled to attend, it was also the celebration of Ashnium's defeat of Braeye three years ago in the great war. The extravagant play depicted the famous battle of Cyrkia, which would have its grand finale with Ashnian victory and the Braeyean queen's execution. Madame Guillotine Acting Troupe had been preparing for a year with the play, and Caspian and his siblings had prepared for even longer. Not even the king could help but be interested in what the acting troupe had in store for the evening, especially since Madame Guillotine had made themselves a name through their extravagant plays and stunning special effects.
This night would be the grandest of them all. The crowning achievement of Madame Guillotine's career and long, hard work. After this Lucia would no longer have to entertain entitled lords, and Lawrence wouldn't have to bend to the whims of their snobbish guests in hopes of continued patronage. After this Caspian's jewelry wouldn't glitter in the light of a stage, but in the light of castle chandeliers. After this night the name of Madame Guillotine Acting Troupe would be on the lips of every citizen i Ashnium.
Caspian had never been so at home on the stage, letting the lights wash over him, as his voice carried out over the mesmerized audience. His blue clothes shimmered in the lights from the chandeliers, his golden locks a halo around his face, the rubies blood red around his neck. The words felt like second nature to him now, after so many months of rehearsal. They had his soul woven into them as they filled the air. All the pain of the years of harassment, all the anger at the injustice, all the grief of the tragedy. All of it was found in his speech as he took the stage, not as Caspian The Actor, but as Dominic, Crown Prince of Braeye. And it hypnotized his noble audience, to see the pain of their fallen foes as they relived the glory a war they all had been above fighting in. They ate up his every word, like pigs caked in makeup and pearls as they feasted on the pain and grief of their enemies. Vampires, addicted to the rush of killing, all the gorey details of the slaughter. When Dominic collapsed to his knees, the prince's laments of his defeated mother and fallen country resulting in a last, final wail, the applause was louder than thunder. It filled the theatre to the brim, so loud that they drowned every thought that might have surfaced in Dominic's brain.
Dominic climbed to his feet and bowed deeply to the audience, gracefully accepting their love and endorsement. As he raised his head his eyes caught Rayne, sitting in the private, gorgeously decorated box reserved for the royals. Rayne was standing, applauding fiercely, his eyes shining with pride as he shouted "Bravo!" The chair beside him, the seat promised to the king, was empty. Rayne's enthusiasm was tenfold, struggling to make up for his father's absence with loud applause. The rest of the audience scrambled to follow suit, flying up from their seats and throwing cheers to the stage. Dominic's speech had worked perfectly. The audience had had their fill of pain and grief. It was now time for the grand finale. It was time for blood.
As the music swelled, a heavy, militant melody full of the intoxication of victory, Dominic retreated to the back of the stage. The finale was the company's most ambitious one to date. Months of hard work had gone down to this final scene, as everyone worked tirelessly to perfect it. It had taken weeks just to plan it, and Dominic still had callouses in his hands from the hours he had spent helping to build everything that was needed. No expense had been spared, and Lucia had picked up another suitor while Dominic had begged Rayne for another bracelet to pay the bills. Lawrence had bowed and scraped to their most favourable patrons, all but pleading with them to give away a small amount of their wealth. Much pain and blood stained the finale. But now... Now it was finally time.
Lucia and Lawrence were swirling around on the front of the stage, dancing in a frenzy, their hands clinging to each other to keep balance. Lucia's skirts billowed around her, her black hair a trace behind her as she was thrown from place to place, pulled by Lawrence. They both sang their hearts out, just as much emotion in their voices as there had been in Dominic's speech. This performance carried the soul of everyone in the company. While Lucia and Lawrence danced, the rest of their company pushed the two heavy guillotines out on each side of the stage, leaving the middle free for the two dancers. Prisoners were lined up, their hands tied behind their backs with thick rope, three for each guillotine. None of them struggled, not even as Lilia and Gustave, the executioners for the evening, secured the first two prisoners in the lunars. Dominic lingered, stayed a moment longer than he should. Just so he could hear the first screams.
"Zing! Swing! Savour the sting!
As she severs you!"
Lilia released the blade.
The crowd screamed. A wet slashing sound was heard, and the head of the first prisoner dropped down on the floor. Blood splashed the wood of the guillotine and the floor, dark red and glittering much like the rubies around Dominic's neck. Gasps were heard, and some scattered applause already rang through the hall. But they were hardly done yet, and they had much more blood to offer.
"Slice! Come paradise!
You'll be smitten with"
Gustave released the blade.
More screams, but now outweighed with applause. Dominic could almost hear the compliments they would be told later, could see the wonder on Rayne's face as clearly as if Rayne had been standing there. The audience loved blood, and the more realistic, the better. So the company would give them blood. They would get so much blood that they drowned in it.
Dominic listened with one ear to the song as he went behind the red curtains. His fingers fumbled with unbuttoning his jacket as his eyes struggled to adjust from the blinding stage to the darkness behind. Fast, now, must be fast. He needed time to change for his last appearance, and he wanted to see as much as possible from behind the stage. He nearly stumbled into the final guillotine, waiting behind the curtains for it's cue, but a hand caught him.
"Careful", a voice said. Dominic's eyes finally adjusted, and as he glanced up he could make out Ethan's face in the darkness. "Wouldn't want you to cut yourself."
"Hah, now wouldn't that be splendid irony?" Dominic grinned, glancing up at the guillotine blade. It shimmered, darkness caught in it's terrifying blade of justice. This finale was planned to perfection, and it would without a doubt make a lasting impression on Ashnium.
"Have we heard anything from Leslie?" Dominic asked as he shrugged off his blue jacket
"They have just returned. Everything went according to plan. They'll be where they need to be", Ethan reported, handing Dominic the new clothes. White, with beautiful embroidery along the sleeves and buttons, showing the image of a crown prince. Leonard had worked for months on the stage clothes, and his hard work had certainly paid off. Dominic had never looked so good as he did in his final stage clothes. Right now he didn't even mind the rubies around his neck. They completed his look, another nod from irony. A shadow of what was to come.
On the guillotine's bench, ready for the final judgement, was the star of the show. It had been incredibly difficult to get him to participate, and it had taken a lot of planning and quite a bit of humiliation. Not even Rayne's support had been enough, but it had given them a way. But it was all worth it, all for this final moment. The fruits of their hard labor, all their struggles, was within reach. The taste of victory sweeter than wine on his tongue. A grin stretched against Dominic's face as he saw the man on the bench struggle.
"Good evening", Dominic said as he bent down until he was face to face with the captured king. The sedative Lawrence had prepared was starting to wear off, the haze leaving his eyes and replaced with terror and confusion. But when he caught Dominic's eyes, they went wide with recognition. He tried to say something, but the gag held tight, and Dominic's smile grew wider.
"It's truly a honor to have you grace our humble theatre, Your Majesty", Dominic mused. "Your son has told me so much about you. I have been very keen on meeting you for the last three years, but I wanted everything to be... perfect. Ah, it's almost our time to grace the stage. Farewell, Your Majesty. Sleep well."
When Dominic stood up, the king struggled harder, but the chains held tight. The wooden lunar was stiff and secure, no matter the rumoured strength of the king. Dominic almost laughed at the pathetic escape attempts. As if he'd ever let his mother's killer slip through his fingers. No, he had planned everything down to every last detail. He would have his revenge, and he would have it tonight, on the anniversary of his mother's death.
"Zing! Swing! Savour the sting!
As she severs you! Madame Guillotine!"
Dominic turned his head to the stage when he heard the lines, and peeked through the curtains. This was another death he didn't want to miss. The lights from the candles blinded him for a split second, and when his eyes adjusted again the first thing he saw was red. The red over the stage, covering the wood of the guillotines, and the clothes of his siblings. The red splatter was smeared over Lawrence's and Lucia's heels. As they spun in it the dark liquid splattered around them, and the hem of Lucia's skirts dragged in the blood. Lawrence dipped Lucia down so deeply that her hair was caught by the blood on the ground, and she was face to face with the man secured in the lunar, the next man to die. The haze had worn off his eyes, and were now full of fear. Lucia smiled at the duke, the earrings he had given her sparkling against her black hair and dress.
"Slice! Come paradise!"
Gustave released the blade.
"Our Delilah will, shave you razor clean!"
Dominic let the curtains fall. It was nearly his own time, and he needed to get ready. Together with Ethan he returned to the guillotine, where Leonard, Elijah and Artie were waiting for them. The king was still struggling, both to release his bonds and to scream, but achieved neither. Death loomed over the king, and there was nothing he could do to escape the dark scythe that pressed closer to his throat. Dominic smiled to the people in front of him. His retainer, his mother's guards. Loyal guardians who would do anything to bring justice to their fallen queen, and free Braeye from Ashnian control.
"Friends, I'm pleased to say that now, after three years", Dominic said. "it's time."
All four of them nodded, saving their cheering for when it was all finished. The ways of the theatre, to be quiet behind the stage during a performance, were ingrained in them all now. Together they all took a steady grip of the guillotine, and pushed it onto the stage. With rails and Leonard's innoventive skills it went smooth and easy to move, but the guillotine still made an impressive image as it entered the stage. The lights fell on Dominic and his goddess of justice, and the crowd gasped and murmured, on the edge of their seats for this new surprise. The last victims were falling to the blades of the guillotines, their now clear screams drowned out by the company's singing and the crowd's intoxication, drunk on the smell of blood. Lawrence and Lucia let go off each other, falling down to stand on each side of the guillotine. Lucia's face was covered in the blood of her suitor, a smile gracing her face. The wood groaned when the guillotine slid into place, and a rush of adrenaline drowned out everything for a split second. It was time.
With used movements Dominic climbed up on on the side of the guillotine, putting one foot on the bench and the other up by the lunar, on a platform specifically built for this. The music was deafening, the crescendo growing, the audience whipped up into a frenzy of bloodthirst. People never had enough of blood, and now they would be given blue blood. Dominic took hold of the rope holding up the blade.
"HAIL HER MAJESTY!"
Death's scythe descended with a woosh. Blood splattered over the bloodfilled stage, the finale of the executions. The audience held its breath as the music echoed out, and then erupted into applause. Cheers rained down over the actors, vibrating through the theatre. Rayne's voice cut through the rest as he cheered loudly, pride visible on his face as he watched his love, covered in blood, stand on the guillotine. The blood glittered like the rubies around Dominic's neck, and all Dominic could do as he looked out over the audience that cheered so loudly, was smile. Together with his siblings, their trusted retainers, guards and servants, they walked up to the edge of the stage, and bowed deeply to their ecstatic audience.
As the company left the stage, leaving the bloodstained guillotines and their decapitated victims, the crowd was still cheering. The applause continued, and could be heard all the way down to the back alley, where Leslie was struggling to put the final bags in the cart. The wind was cold and clear, sharp as a knife in Dominic's throat as it washed against his face. Elijah was first up to the cart, and grabbed the other end of the bag Leslie was struggling with. Together they managed to push the bags in, as Lilia hoisted herself up in the cart and extended her arm to Lucia.
"Quickly, quickly now!" Lawrence gasped between breaths. "Leslie, how did it go for you?"
"Not as grand as your success on stage, I've heard", Leslie replied with a smirk as they helped the rest up in the cart. "But a success nonetheless! All the crown jewels, and a few other shiny trinkets I could get my hands on. They'll help plenty with the crown's finances."
"Excellent", Lawrence said with a relieved smile as he sank down in the cart. Gustave climbed onto the driver's seat, and whipped the horses up into fast pace. The cart rolled down the alleyway, and out on the main street, the dark facades of the houses whipping past them, the lights blending together into trails of light.
"Three years", Lucia said as she glanced on the houses that they passed, the houses that had become familiar to her as they left the theatre further and further behind them. No guards were after them just yet, but it was only a question of time. "Now... we can finally return home."
Dominic stared out in the darkness that rushed past, his blonde hair whipping around his face. He couldn't see the theatre anymore. There was nothing left of that life, the life of Caspian the Actor. All of it had been shrugged off with his stage clothes, had been thrown away as the blood splattered the stage, had been sold together with every jewel Rayne had given him. That, the money they would get from the jewels of Lucia's suitors, and the crown jewels... It would be a fortune. It would be enough to start restoring Braeye. It had been three long years of humiliation and struggles, but now it was over. Now it all swirled and blended together as the cart carried them away. The only thing he had left of that life was the rubies around his neck, Rayne's final gift to him. A collar, a marking, a brand that showed the world that he belonged to Rayne. Dominic wrapped his fingers around the main stone, and pulled until the clasp succumbed and finally snapped. He held it out from the side of the cart, and eased his grip until the wind caught it and carried it off into the darkness. It would be found in the morning, and Rayne would know what it meant. In the morning the name of Madame Guillotine Acting Troupe would be on the lips of every citizen in Ashnium.
It was indeed a special night.