Chapter 1a

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"All the world's a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts..."

~As You Like It 

If all the world's a stage, then I am utterly screwn. Give me vampires, zombies, kraken any day—even wereducks. The worst monster in any novel is less scary than standing in the limelight under the invasive gaze of an audience. I'm not talking about stage fright. That's just the snakes-in-your-stomach jitters that some actors get. I only wish my problem were as small as that. 

No...when I look at the stage, all I remember is a prison. All I feel is the hunger and pain. All I know is the terror of a child treated like a beast. All I hear is the voice of the monster that invaded my mind, controlled my body, used my magic, and destroyed my innocence.

All I see is him.

"They say you are a melancholy fellow." Delphine Birdwell's piercing voice filled the theater, reciting Rosalind's line from As You Like It. 

The words pulled me from my own melancholy thoughts and brought my attention back to the rehearsal I was watching. Our apprentice company's fall production was As You Like It, and the way things were going at this point, I was just hoping the audience wouldn't respond with "No, we hate it." 

The first few rows of the small rehearsal studio at the Alchemy Empire Theater looked like we were having an exam-cram session. Textbooks, notebooks, and sketch pads slid out of threadbare canvas bags and lay scattered on the sloping marble floor between the oak theater seats. Tech and costume apprentices sat in little groups throughout the theater, whispering and giggling, even though we were supposed to be taking notes on the rehearsal. 

Boring. I was hoping everything would go well and we could be done early. I was a final-year theater tech apprentice with a load of projects. I had a lot more important things to do than sit through a blocking rehearsal, even if I was the apprentice tech director. 

My best friends, Thea and Raymond, weren't here to entertain me either. Thea, who was training to be a stage manager, was in a meeting with the chief lighting technician. Raymond was a playwright apprentice, so he didn't really need to go to rehearsals. 

Delphine waited impatiently on stage for Walter Edison, who played the sulky Jaques, to deliver his next line. She must have been staying up late a lot—her face looked more pinched than usual, and she had bluish shadows under her eyes.

Walter blinked, his chubby cheeks sagging as his mouth dropped open then closed again, like a large fish. "I am so; I...I—Line, please?" 

"For the love of the Empress," Delphine snapped, "use your script already. It's only a blocking rehearsal."

She definitely wasn't getting enough sleep—cranky as a rusted gear shaft. I felt a little sorry for Walter. He wasn't bad at acting; he just didn't have a very good memory. But Delphine and her crowd were always so rough on him.

Walter pinched the bridge of his nose, squinting his eyes. "No—no, I can do this. Let's see...I am so; I...ugh, why can't I remember?"

"I am so; I do love it better than laughing." Delphine snarled the line at him and shoved her script into his hands. "If you'd use the script, you might actually learn your lines."

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