Not one of them would go over to touch him, for his was filled with ire, a sort of moping sadness. And they, too, were disappointed in their own rights, but dared not to bring upon themselves his wrath. So they sang and complained in private, most trying their hardest to keep the emotional toll of the letdown inward.

He wouldn't leave his room for days, hardly even to eat, but then, he was the Leading Player, and did not very much require food or drink. He was more depressed and disappointed than overly angry, which was relieving to everyone in the small kingdom. He had been angry times before when they had failed, almost to the point of destroying more than half of them and torturing them in all sorts of ways imaginable. But now, after a few redundant years of failure, he didn't know what to do.

"Catherine's not coming back. Neither is Theo." He heard them talking outside his room, his servants, his players, and he wished that they wouldn't feel the need to inadvertently remind him. She had been his favorite daughter, and had always played her part mindlessly perfect. It wasn't her fault she was so simple and average, it was what the part called for, and she had never disappointed (even if she did have a few late entries and misspoken lines).

He wasn't sure what to do about her, after all, she was one of his Players, one of his actresses and children. He had never expected her to fall in love with Pippin and to defy him. It just didn't seem right. He felt betrayed.

Naturally he tried to place the blame on someone other than himself, it was all he could do to comfort himself. "Charlemagne, Lewis, and Fastrada played their parts perfectly," he mused to himself as he sat by the window of his bedroom, "Catherine was all too perfect, as usual. She actually fell in love with him. I can't believe it."

The window was placed high enough to where he could see out at all of the Players below him, bustling about in their little imaginary kingdom, however they couldn't hope to ever see in. Oh, how the Leading Player loved his own magic.

Pippin was merely supposed to be his plaything, nothing more, but he felt that he had treated him well. He gave Pippin everything he wanted, even! Sex, power, glory, love, countless second chances… the least Pippin could have done was to participate in the Grand Finale. His resistance was simply an embarrassment.

He watched the peasants, the Players, carefully, full of boredom.

They were losing their faith in him, he could tell, and he felt he could bet anything that they were secretly plotting mutinies among themselves; plans that never really would be brought to fruition. The thought scared him and worried him. Never before had he felt so alone.

They were surprised at the lack of disappearances and casualties, and wondered among themselves noisily how long it'd be before the Leading Player would get the heart to give them another job, another chance.

They also questioned his leadership, as they did many times as of recent. It scared them that Catherine was gone; they were very afraid for her and what might become of Theo. What would happen to them, too? Would they eventually be blamed? Was the Leading Player plotting a mass homicide?

-~-

"Pippin was determined from the start not to become a failure, milord," Fastrada whispered softly to him as they lay intertwined nights later. His mood was not making for particularly enjoyable sex. "You couldn't have possibly known that he would have been able to resist you like that. After all, the boy seemed pretty witless when you first came across him."

"That doesn't make any difference to them," he said, thinking of the other Players who hadn't been as involved in the whole affair as Fastrada, "Regardless of Pippin's unpredictability, this seemingly endless reputation of failed finales has not been good for morale."

He inched away from her feeling sickened at heart, but she pulled herself closer, grabbing his arm.

"Leave me be for tonight, Fastrada," he commanded firmly, his voice sad as he turned to look away from her. She was immediately banished and disappeared in the form of smoke from the room. It wasn't worth it tonight. It just wasn't.

-~-

One of the Dancer women approached him timidly, love in her eyes. He recognized her, Kienna.

"Pippin and Catherine request your blessing, my kind, gracious father."

He cleared his throat and continued to stare coldly out of the window at his children below. His fist clenched at his side.

"Tell them that they can kiss my ass. If they truly wanted my blessing, then they should have never betrayed me. A good daughter does not go against the wishes of her father."

She left.

The next day, Kienna returned.

"My father, it is my current duty to inform you that Prince Pippin and his wife-to-be Catherine are waiting at the main gate." The tone of her voice was neutral, but he could feel the excited trepidation in her soul. "They wish to see you, sir. They wish to work something out with you, at once."

The Leading Player flung himself madly at her, sending the young Dancer into a frightful panic. He tightly grasped her by the arms and barely supported her from falling backwards onto the ground.

"They are not welcome here!"

Kienna cried as she slid to the ground at her father's feet. "They have already been allowed in through the main gate! There was nothing we could do without your own orders!"

He slapped her and she moaned as his foot landed furiously in her side. He pinned her down.

"My orders," he replied vehemently, his cold, apathetic stare resting on her for a moment, "were to keep out any and all intruders. Catherine is not one of us anymore. She is not welcome if she arrives with Pippin and speaks well of him."

There was silence in the room as Kienna cried fearfully under her father's foot and stern gaze.

"What do you want me to do?!" She whimpered, curling up in defense, preparing for another punishing blow. But it never came, and the godlike Leading Player did not immediately answer her. He acted as though he hadn't heard her and moved over to the side of his bed where he forlornly looked out the window. Then, he told her of his plan.