Oct 24, 2021 8:56 PM
esther and ivy meet the Stage
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There is a great crash and the whirring of machinery, and then the floor drops out from under them.

They fall for a long time.

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Oh.

He screams.

The ground is not very kind to him when he lands.

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She's on her knees in a darkness pierced by beams of blinding brilliance, though they don't highlight as much as they blind. Surrounded by the smell of burning dust on halogen lights somewhere in the distance, she coughs once and attempts to stand, only succeeding in clocking her head on some unseen piece of equipment.

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He sits up from where he was lying flat on the floor, squinting into the beams. 

“S?” he calls.

The space they’ve fallen into is vast, and his voice echoes off the walls. His hands feel familiar marley under them. He tries to stand up and succeeds, testing his limbs for injuries. He seems to be injury-free.

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The lances of light shift suddenly and the enormous stagepiece begins to move. A voice squawks in her earpiece, telling her to stabilize the enormous masonry that is trundling across the stage towards a set of chalk marks and she startles, her body moving without her brain's intervention at the Stage Manager's command.

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He snaps to attention at the crackle in his own earpiece (he doesn’t remember putting that on, how bizarre...) but then he’s moving without thinking about it to the other side of the stagepiece, lining it up with its corresponding strike marks. The Stage Manager’s voice croons in his ear, accent unplaceable, and this is the strangest thing that’s ever happened to him but he’s also a stagehand at heart- there is a job to be done here, and one doesn’t disobey the Stage Manager.

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What... is happening here. She finds herself climbing up into the lights, clipping a safety line to her belt and crouching among the wavering heat, desperately swiveling cans to follow some kind of battle below in accordance with orders over the ClearCom system. One actor appears to fall into the scene unexpectedly, a gaggle of costumers and makeup artists frantically remaking her image as she bounds towards the center position.

On a stage overflowing with stardust, I am reborn...

She clenches her teeth, envy overwhelming her momentarily before regaining control to rush down and quickly clip a lav to her fanciful outfit.

That could have been me, if I had just tried harder. Or had the guts to take what's mine.

Amazing how noone notices you when you're wearing stagehand black.

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He's now perched on the catwalk, looking down onto the stage - he wants to take a moment to admire the lights they have up here but then he's climbing down again, listening to the cues come through his headset one after the other. He moves a giant staircase across the expanse of the stage, watching the battle move smoothly around him. He can't catch what show it is they're performing. Whatever it is, there's a lot of fighting.

He melts into the shadows backstage to find his next set piece waiting for him, though he hasn't seen any other stagehands around. It's a broken column, solid, wheels almost invisible and locking when turned. The props department must get a lot of money around here.

He takes a breath. His next cue is 2 minutes away, he doesn't know how he knows but he knows, so he can think for a moment. He's breathing hard, the adrenaline of a show coursing through him, but he's enjoying himself. He wonders if he can talk to S through the headset but he doesn't want to upset the Stage Manager. Wherever S is, she's doing a good job. This show is running like a well-oiled machine. He peeks back around the curtain for just a second, to see who's in the audience. All he sees are rows and rows of empty seats.

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She breathes a sigh of relief as Karen prances onto the stage, swinging a sword that looks altogether too real. At least the acting's not her problem, she's just a tech. She leans on a column, feeling the pulse of some kind of reaction wheel inside it responding to her touch.

There's a hiss, and she glances over to see a cloud of glycerin faux-smoke rolling out onto the stage. Probably some more gaudy light effects that needed just a bit more emphasis. Now that her eyes have adjusted to the backstage's peculiar blend of light and shade, she can see other machines too - ones that churn and wheeze and drop golden buttons stamped with stars into crates, ones that stitch with golden thread that seems to shimmer with some internal light - and she wonders if she should be tending them.

Immediately, her comms squawks an order, and she bolts upright and dashes over to a hopper to begin shoveling coal into the furnace that seems to be running one of these behemoths. An odd thing to have backstage, but not the oddest thing tonight. She better concentrate on her tasks, though she wonders where Zero got off to. She feels very alone back here.

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Zero is farther down the line, refilling the spools of golden thread. Collected like that, it does seem to emit a strange glow. 

He looks up, and his eyes meet S's. He presses the button on the comms pack strapped around his waist, tilting his head to be heard over the whirring of the machines and the never-ending clink of buttons falling. 

"Hi there S! I was starting to worry I'd lost you."

He seems almost transformed by being here. More himself. He melts in and out of shadows with unsettling ease. As soon as he's done respooling the thread he climbs a ladder- that didn't seem to be there a moment ago- and grabs the curtain rope, gears of some far-up machinery creaking above him. Down on the stage, some sort of quick-change seems to be taking place. 

"You have any idea what's going on here?"

 

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Why is she doing this. What is going on.

She hears a muffled voice as from far away, at the edge of hearing and quite beyond recognition. Don't the other stagehands know better than to talk backstage? The audience might hear them.

She takes a moment's rest now that the blazing hearth is stoked and looks out at the audience only to find that there's not a soul out there. To the side on the stage she notices that the show is coming to some kind of climax, the girls clashing with sounds that are more like foley than the slap of blade on arrow.

Then she makes eye contact with a tall, yellow, spotted, did she mention tall? figure in the crowd. A giraffe? In Japan? In a secret underground theatre? She doesn't think she's on any drugs but she does a double take nonetheless. It seems like it's looking right at her.

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"I understand." Its voice can be heard by everyone.

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A jolt goes down his spine at the words. The voice sounded- strange, not like anything a human could make.

And it looks like it wasn’t a human that made it. He looks at the giraffe in the audience, struck again with the eerie sense that it is looking directly at him.

It understands- what? What is this place?

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"Day one of the auditions, the Revue of Passion. This is the stage of Starlight. For those upon it, an opportunity to claim their destiny. For those around it, an opportunity to clad themselves in reflected glory."

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This is the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to him, but something about the giraffe and its words makes it impossible to spare much thought for that.

to claim their destiny...

Auditions. That’s what this is. Auditions for what? The show isn’t supposed to happen for months now.

to clad themselves in reflected glory...

The words feel the right amount of important, but “reflected” stings. The glory is his own. The glory of the Stage is reflected off of him, not the other way around. The Stage is his, and the actors upon it will never know it like he does. 

The giraffe still seems to be looking directly at him. He glares back.

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How is this happening, how does it know, what does it all mean.

to claim their destiny...

Oh. A chance. She can feel hope rising up despite her better knowledge of what happened, her failure, the unlikeliness of success. But she has a chance! She could be reborn as a stage girl once again, not merely a stagehand.

to clad themselves in reflected glory...

No. It may have started redirected, but she will take it to her breast and push it against her skin until it infuses into the core of her, radiating out with her pulse and racing through her. She will make it hers, and noone, even a concerning insightful giraffe, is going to stop her. She will pluck the Starlight and claim her Stage.

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A girl steps to the center stage and a spot op - wait, there are other people back here? - drops a light on her. Esther scrambles to cut the rest except for twinkle on the enormous tower draped in red fabric, less illumination than an ominous glow.

"Position Zero! I am Aijou Karen, of the 99th class! I will make us ALL Starlight!"

Yeah right. Esther snarls to herself as she drops the curtain to no applause from the creepy empty theatre, merely an "I understand." From that giraffe. How dare she? How could she possibly share the light? It's not hers to share, merely loaned to her by the Stage, and even if she wanted to she couldn't make there be more of it, enough for the hungry eyes of A class, let alone B class's dull hopeless ones. She's just performing empathy, that sociopath.

As Karen leaves the Stage, and vanishes into one of the dressing rooms, S finally recognizes the figure standing at the follow spot: it's Zero, from before. How did she not recognize her earlier? She's got that same shine of excitement in her eyes as before, like she wants to fill the world with light and sound.

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He jumps down from his position by the spotlight, walking over to her. He’s almost glowing, hands jittering by his sides in excitement.

”S! What. was. THAT? I mean, oh my gosh that show, but also, what? There was a giraffe in the audience and I didn’t see the Stage Manager anywhere even though I heard cues, and I’ve never seen set pieces anything like those, something bizarre is going on- do you know anything about all of this?”

He’s gesturing wildly as he speaks, and smiling somewhat reflexively, but he slows down when he actually looks at her face.

“Are you okay? You don’t look too happy.”

 

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"It's fine. Let's get this all taken down and get back to the dorms before lights out, we don't want to get in trouble with the RA."

She starts removing drapes from the tower set piece and stacking and folding them in their crates.

"This isn't the stage that I thought we were going to, though."

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Now that the show is over, the theater seems... less. He helps move the set pieces back to their respective places, and places the crates S is packing into a neat stack.

A ghost light now sits in the center of the stage. The giraffe is no longer anywhere to be seen. He turns the ghost light on, incandescent bulb flickering and illuminating the dust specks wafting around the room.

“What stage did you think we were going to? The normal one without a giraffe?”

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"Well, yes. I didn't know there was a secret underground theatre at this school, did you?"

The drapes are neatly stacked and all that's left is sweeping and whatever needs to happen to shut down those self-remake machines. She grabs a push broom and starts cleaning up the frankly absurd amount of glitter left on the stage by the performers, and two battered gold buttons.

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He looks at the machines. They’re- complicated looking, not like any machinery he’s seen backstage anywhere. They’re also humming with energy and warm to the touch if he puts a hand on them. He must be imagining it, but he feels a little electric shock go through him.

”Weird machines,” he says, and his hands find a button that seems to bring the machine slowly to a halt. He glances over at where S is sweeping the floor.

”Glitter is terrible in theaters.”

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"This glitter is important. You heard the giraffe, stage girls have Starlight."

She slips the buttons and the glitter into a ziploc bag (you never know when you might need a ziploc) and surreptitiously drops it in her messenger bag.

"Come on, we have to be back in the dorm by RA rounds at 6." She turns and begins walking towards the stage exit, absently twirling a sharpie. "Try to keep up."

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He looks around at the stage one last time before following. He's somewhat upset by the amount of following he's been doing recently, but being behind someone means they're not constantly looking at you, which is nice. He doesn't quite know how to confront S about the subtle... insulting? she's been doing. She's good at what she does though- she proved that on the Stage. It'll be useful to team up with her if he can find a way to get her to be more tolerable. He also has the whole coming out thing to get around to if they're going to stick together, but she seems like she'll take that okay despite her demeanor. He's seen mean girls like her before. They almost always just need an actual friend.

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It's a kind of awkward walk back to the dorms. Zero doesn't seem as chatty as before, and the slight clinking of the golden buttons in her bag sends her mind back to that Stage below. As they round the corner towards B class's side of the floor, the atmosphere becomes lIvely around them with students chatting in the halls, working on props, lights and sound. The lounge is full of bits and pieces of past shows - mementos from B classes since graduated.

"Zero, what room are you headed for? I'm in six."

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