"We are truly trapped," Lucie said.
They stood, hand in hand, before the doors to the garden. A metal grate had been lowered over the glass-paned entrance. Beyond, they could see the torch-lit paths, tantalizing. "They must have installed this during the riots," Olivier said. "Though I cannot imagine that this would be a target of the revolutionaries, unless someone of importance stayed here."
"If we are trapped, then so is Justine." Lucie turned to survey the area. She had been certain Justine would try to escape this way, since she had been out here earlier. The front entrance, in addition to being locked, was blocked by a pile of no fewer than six bodies, some unmoving, others twitching or moaning so weakly that they, too, would soon lapse into unconsciousness.
"There are so many exits," Olivier said. "They cannot possibly all be blocked. What of the servants' quarters?"
"They are hidden within the walls." Lucie pointed at a panel. "There should be a simple button that releases the latch, somewhere in the moulding." Olivier knocked on the panel to ensure that it was indeed hollow beyond, and they commenced looking for the button. Even though Lucie found what she believed was the catch, nothing happened. She slapped her hand on the panel in frustration.
"Justine would not have gone this way, then." Olivier placed a comforting hand on her back. "What of this door?"
Another dead end.
"There is only the way through the salon, then." Lucie hesitated at the threshold of the salon, wherein sat its silent inhabitants before the cold hearth. Olivier paused behind her. "At least this room is quiet." She took a deep breath and entered.
Somehow, the stillness unnerved her more this time through. She was not as struck by the horror of what had happened or the fear of who had done it; rather, she felt as if these four had been killed and posed here to watch her progress. She found herself looking at each open throat as she passed, certain that one of them was still alive, the cut in their throat some magic of cosmetics and costume, a trick to fool her until she passed by, when they would slowly rise and follow her.
When she felt a tug at her gown, she shrieked and jumped away, landing on her bad foot and crashing into the fireplace. Olivier's hands gripped her under her armpits before she could fully fall to the ground. His hands lingered, moving to her waist.
"Thank you," she breathed.
"The fire is out," Olivier said. "Someone must have put it out."
"The servants must be a part of this. I cannot help but think this party was a trick on all of us for attending."
"Of course it was."
"But would the Reaper, if he is indeed our host, have been the one to kill Chretienne, Jeanne-Baptiste, and Bastien? It does not seem possible."
"Why not?" They edged past the final body. "You were not there to see it happen."
"If the Reaper was part of the Danse Macabre, then he could have killed Bastien. I recall seeing a second robed figure. But this Reaper, who would so boldly guillotine one of his guests, does not seem the type to use poison. And why would he poison only Jeanne-Baptiste, and not add the poison to all the champagne and cake?"
"I think he may have poisoned the cake, given the dead who lie in the dining room," Olivier said.
"Those people did not look like they had been poisoned," Lucie disagreed. "They looked as though they had been choked with cake."
By now they had reached the door opening into the foyer, where the pile of bodies at the front entrance stagnated. No one moved now but the one girl on top of the pile, who was trying to climb down.
Most of the other guests had returned to the ballroom or milled in the hallways. The grand staircase to the second floor appeared dark and deserted.
"Justine may have found her other friends and decided to seek safety in numbers," Lucie mused, looking in the direction of the ballroom.
"Or she may have chosen to hide upstairs, since she could not escape."
Lucie looked up the staircase. "We will need a lamp."
"That coward Reaper is likely hiding down stairs, with the servants," Olivier muttered as they peered into the first room.
Lucie saw only a couple making the most of their time alone in the corner. "I only wonder how he chose his victims. Why were you and I invited, but not my sister?"
"Or my mother," Olivier added.
"Did each of us commit some offense toward our mysterious host? I have not been amid society in years, not since my father's imprisonment. What could I have done?"
Olivier shrugged, and they moved onto the next room. "Perhaps it is not something you did. Perhaps our host condemns us for the sins of our parents and relatives. He may have chosen us according to our names alone."
"That is the problem," Lucie said. She did not wish to go into the next room. Knowing that Chretienne had been murdered here had left it forever tainted. It disturbed her greatly that Chretienne's body had disappeared. "My father was convicted on lies and hearsay. He had no part in an assassination plot. And my mother was only guilty of conspiring with him."
"Not everyone knows the truth," Olivier reminded her. "My uncle was reported by some loyal citoyen who wished to remain anonymous."
"I can only think that our host must despise all aristocrats."
"This may be so. Until Robespierre's execution, it was hardly safe to be an aristocrat in Paris. Perhaps our host wishes to continue carrying out Robespierre's work in defiance of popular opinion."
"And yet..." Lucie shook her head at the empty room. "Why should he kill Chretienne first? Jeanne-Baptiste, and Bastien, it is so random. I cannot piece it together."
They moved out into the hallway. In the hallway, the moonlight through the large window at the end, overlooking the gardens illuminated more than their lamplight. The silence unnerved her.
There was only the study left, and that strange room which Lucie had barely glimpsed. She saw that the door was open a crack, and red light emanated.
"She must be in there," Olivier said of the lit room.
"Let us first check the study." Lucie pulled him across the hallway. "I want to see if Bastien's body remains."
"But..." Olivier followed her, looking at that strange doorway. "Lucie, I cannot help but think you are putting off the inevitable."
Lucie was already inside the study, glad to have the sight of that strange room from her view. "Look, his body is gone! Just like the others!"
There was a trail of blood, however. A large puddle where Bastien's body had been, then streaked trails heading through the doorway which connected this room to another beyond.
"Lucie," Olivier said again, more insistently.
A sudden slam had both of them looking into the hallway.
Justine was there, having clearly just emerged from the red room. She looked about her in wild disarray, her hair streaked with blood, her clothing torn. Her nose was bleeding down onto her upper lip. She made as if to run straight down the hall and downstairs, but then she caught a glimpse of the lamp light.
Panting, Justine looked past Olivier to where Lucie stood. Her eyes went wide. "Lucienne?" she said, recoiling. She seemed to not believe her eyes.
Lucie opened her mouth, but did not have a chance to say anything before Justine screamed and ran.
She did not run toward the stairs.
As Olivier and Lucie hurried into the hallway to watch, Justine ran straight toward the window overlooking the gardens and hurled herself through it.
YOU ARE READING
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...