For long moments after the thunk of the blade cut Helene's scream short – and a few of her fingers, which had a longer way to fall than her head - the room remained silent. The head rattled into the wooden receptacle, and the three digits severed by the guillotine as Helene tried to pry her head out made three tiny plopping sounds in quick succession, horrifyingly loud in the stunned silence of the room.
"Helene!" Justine screamed.
Her scream unfroze everyone, and somehow, in the ensuing chaos, the Reaper vanished.
Lucie did her best to keep the Reaper in her sights, but she was jostled as she tried to unsheathe her dagger, and once the crowd began to move and scream, she lost track of him.
Some, like Justine, rushed toward the guillotine and Helene's lifeless, headless body. Many screamed and shouted but did not move. Most, however, stampeded from the room.
Olivier kept a firm hold of Lucie's arm as they were swept away. "We must find him," Lucie shouted to Olivier. "Now is our chance!" Then a sharp-heeled shoe sank into the top of Lucie's bare foot and she shrieked in pain, though she could not even hear her own voice over the melee.
Someone knocked into Lucie from behind, and then shoved the girl in front of her to the floor. Lucie caught a glimpse of his brightly rouged cheek - was that Jeanne-Baptiste's escort, Francois? – as he kicked the fallen girl in the face in his mad rush to exit.
Lucie, however, did not want to exit. She twisted and turned in Olivier's grip, trying to get a look at the Reaper. Henri was shouting at someone. If he'd had a sword, Lucie was certain Henri would have challenged the Reaper to a duel.
"Unmask yourself, villain!" Henri was shouting, but to whom, Lucie could not see. She did not think that Henri had eyes on the Reaper.
Fresh screams overrode the general melee as guests escaped to the salon and the dining room and discovered the other bodies there. Shouts of "He is a madman!" and "The door is locked from without! We are trapped!" began to rise up. Guests streamed down the hallways, all to find themselves trapped.
At this new development, and the pounding at the front doors which had been sealed shut, Olivier drew to a halt and looked at Lucie. His hair had fallen into his face, and he was still covered in blood.
"Where is he?" Lucie asked. "Can you see over the crowd?"
Olivier was much taller than she, and he wore heeled shoes, but it was difficult to have a proper look with people slamming into them. "I don't see him. He cannot have disappeared."
"All he would have to do is remove his mask and cloak, and he might look like any other guest," Lucie said, suddenly aware of just how many people surrounded her. Any one of them could be the Reaper. "Or he might be a servant."
The pounding at the door had grown thunderous. Lucie caught sight of bloodied fists slamming against the wood, over and over again.
"Helene, oh no," Justine had collapsed by the guillotine, one hand on the wooden receptacle.
One of her friends attempted to both comfort her and drag her away. "There's nothing that can be done for her now. We must get out while we still can!"
"Get us out of here!" came a scream from the hallway.
Slowly, limping, Lucie backed away from the door. She wasn't sure how it was possible, but she felt safer here, in the ballroom, than amongst the frightened crowd. After all, once they discovered the other bodies, their panic would only increase. They would soon realize that the death of Jeanne-Baptiste had not been an accident.
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The Victim's BallHistorical Fiction
HER REIGN OF TERROR HAS JUST BEGUN... When Lucienne Reneault receives an invitation to a Victim's Ball in honor of those aristocrats who have been guillotined, she believes it must have been a mistake. Of two things she is certain, however: she wil...