Chapter 7a

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Surprise! Happy Valentine's Day! (This was originally posted as my Valentine to all of you. Check out the YouTube link in the right sidebar for a cool steampunk mechanical valentine demo I found to go with it!) Enjoy!

Also, I want to wish BeyondInfinity a happy birthday! 

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When we reached the main stage, I helped Dietrich flip the huge levers that turned on the electric lights on stage and in the wings. The Alchemy had been one of the first theaters to install electric stage lights. Some other theaters, such as the Coggled Noggin, still used gas lights which were a terrible fire hazard should any of the actors or a curtain brush too close. 

The main stage was set with the ship’s deck scenery for A Captain’s Courage. I made a mental note to diagram the set in my sketchbook later. Toward the back, in the wings, were the giant robotic kraken arms for the attack scene. I sighed longingly at them—it would have been so amazing to be part of designing and making them. But soon. In a few more months, I would finish my apprenticeship, and then I would do anything I had to in order to be hired on and stay at the Alchemy Empire Theater. I never wanted to live or work anywhere else. 

I stood in the wings, peeking out at the darkened house through the heavy scarlet curtains that formed the grand drape. Silent rows of red velvet seats greeted me, flanked by aisles wearing carpet patterned with red and gold vines. I always thought that heaven must look like this theater—soaring ceilings painted with angels, private boxes lining the perimeter, their railings carved and gilded, hung with red curtains trimmed in gold fringe. Three balconies stair-stepped higher and higher, to the far back edge of the house, and above it all soared an enormous crystal and gold chandelier. 

Once a year, the chandelier was lowered on its immense system of ropes and pulleys so it could be cleaned—by the first-year apprentices. I remembered polishing the crystals—some so big my small hands could barely hold them. A news reporter once asked Master Fenrey why theater apprentices were forced to do menial labor like this their first few years. Master Fenrey told the reporter that there was no better way to create a love for a theater like the intimate tasks required to care for it. I think he was right—in a way, that chandelier belonged to me now. To all of us. 

I gave the chandelier an affectionate smile, then eased back into the wings. 

“How are we going to do this?” I asked Dietrich after all the lights were on.

He surveyed the crowded wings and peered up at the catwalk suspended amid the grid of ropes and battens high over the stage in the fly loft—the space above the stage where the lights and scene drops were hung. He closed his eyes, a look of dread washing over his features. I wondered if he had pictured, as I had, Delphine’s dead body dropping from those heights. 

I hated her, but certainly not that much. 

I glanced at her. She, too, was staring at the catwalk with morbid fascination. I almost pitied her.

This wouldn’t do. I clapped my hands together. “All right. How about this, Dietrich,”—his name rolled easily off my tongue—“let’s see if we can at least figure out when the Peacock actually kills his victims. Is he dragging the, um…body up to the catwalk or is he dragging a live person?”

He snapped his attention to me. “Right. Excellent question.” He pulled out the investigative report again, and motioned to Delphine to look at it with him. “I’m not sure he could have carried Sir Alexander’s body easily. He was not a petite man.”

“I don’t think he could have carried Dame Bosworth either,” Delphine said, pointing at the actress’s name in the report. 

“Could he have an accomplice?” I asked.  

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