“My cousin’s a Briar and I think she’s really beautiful, any of you weirdo Unveiled fuckwits got a problem with that?”

A play is never the same twice.

One of the earliest lessons Vitória received from visiting the playhouse was that you can perform the same play day in and day out, and they will always be unique. The moods of the troupe playing the roles, the mood of the audience, would always interact uniquely, play out slightly differently, with each performance.

Stagehand. Supporting Character. Audience. Each night came and went, and she had a different role to play each time. Except for one: the role of the leading lady, taking centre stage in the drama to follow, continued to elude her. She knew she was not required to play it. She knew it would not ever be thrust upon her unless she accepted it. But there was the expectation, the deep-seated desire within Vitória, that wanted to ONE DAY be able to play that role in the drama.

The first night, opening night. The first night had caught her by surprise, unaware. She could only sit, part stunned, part in awe, as Civetta took the lead role with a challenge to the few Unveiled and Highborn in the wayhouse’s common room. She wasn’t familiar with this play, so what else could she do but sit back as the protagonist laid down the challenge with well-honed wit and words. Tonight, she was audience.

The third night. A new Inn, with a new audience. They had barely arrived, just past dusk, when the play began, and she was cast in the role of supporting member of the dramatis personae. This fight scene had one star character, and it was Vitória’s job to distract when needed, watch her cousin’s back, add to the flurry of the action on stage before the hero proclaimed victory and the rest crawled or hobbled off to lick their wounds.

The fourth night. This was a bad audience, a large crowd, an armed playhouse. It had taken all her skill, what wit she had and what charisma she could summon, to steer the conversation away from any topic that would start the play anew. Civetta’s anger was quick to rise, and more than once did Vitória have to grab her hands, nearly sit on her, to keep her in her seat. ‘Not here.’ ‘Not now.’ ‘We can’t take on this many.’ And the worst line of all, ‘What if I was to get hurt? They’ve got knives,’ which left her feeling guilty for saying it, but it worked.

The fifth night. The lack of performance the previous night meant that the show would be bigger and bolder tonight. Tonight, it was in Cive’s eyes, in her stance, in the slight edge that her voice took, when her mask went on and the sun disappeared down the western sky. This was the performance that Vitória would HAVE to take a more central role. This one involved action, much more than before, and while she was competent in a fight, she was not her brother. This performance HURT. She had to check herself very carefully afterwards, that each wound was just a bruise, just swollen, and not a cut. She got lucky.

The seventh night. She was still aching from the last performance, but that was fine. An Actor draws on life experiences, good and bad. Tonight’s role was a speaking one, a third act challenge laid down by a Bishop, a challenge against the antagonist’s lack of Virtue, lack of Loyalty and Pride. Turning the pain of aching muscles and bruises into righteous indignation was easier than she thought. How dare they interrupt, threaten, a Pilgrim’s right to visit the Necropolis? To pay homage to family members interred there, to gaze upon the works of Virtue inspired by the Heroes of the Empire, and all for the sake of lineage? ‘Instead of challenging my inherent Virtue you should be looking at your own, at the Virtue of your brothers and sisters who keep waylaying these Pilgrims, attacking them, encouraging Hatred and Fear instead of the Way and of Virtues!’

She hadn’t expected that to actually work. And as she recovered afterwards, it dawned on her that perhaps this wasn’t the play at all. Perhaps this was only the rehearsal.

Tenth night. Another dramatic performance, another bar fight. But she was familiar with the plot now, and how they wanted the story to end.

“This is my beautiful Briar cousin, hands up who thinks she’s ugly.”

This night, it was the Understudy who threw the first punch.

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