Chapter 36: La Danse Macabre Redux

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She had neither cloak nor scythe, but Death did not need these things to harvest souls. Olivier pressed her dagger into her hand. "I found this upstairs," he murmured through the side of the mask. "I thought you might have need of it still." The little stiletto was her scythe, though it had yet to take a life. She held it aloft, and stepped out solemnly to lead the Danse Macabre.

As a child she had taken ballet lessons along with her other lessons, for the king of France had loved ballet, and her mother had been an accomplished ballerina. It had been Annette who had excelled at dancing in this style. Lucienne had not been terrible, yet Annette's grace set her apart from Lucie.

She pointed her toes now as she walked, mourning the fact that Annette would never dance ballet before an audience again.

Olivier watched her go proudly. She wished she felt worthy of his pride. Instead, she felt that emptiness yawning inside of her.

She led the crowd through the back hallway, where the metal grate cast shadows like prison bars across the space. She led them around to the dining room, so they could fully witness the atrocities here. The smell had begun to fill the air, that sour stench of death and of excrement. This was what happened in death: the bowels voided, leaving an additional odor to mingle with that other smell.

The procession behind her was quiet. They had all learned ballet, all of the aristocrats, and they all moved on near-silent feet. There was no drumming as there had been earlier.

Lucienne looked into the faces of each cake-stuffed mouth in the dining room. She led the procession through the salon, weaving around the chairs and sofas and ottomans and tables to look at each slit throat. She reached the foyer and the pile of bodies at the door. That was when she stopped and turned and thrust her dagger into the abdomen of the girl who had given her the mask.

The girl's face went slack in surprise, and she looked down and touched the sides of her belly where a large red spot had already begun to form. Then she looked up at Lucie. Lucie held her gaze, though she doubted the girl could see her eyes deep in the hollows of the mask, as she pulled the dagger out. The girl fell without a sound. The couple behind her looked on with dull expressions.

Far back in the procession, back at the doorway to the dining room, Lucie heard a surprised, "Gah!"

Olivier smiled at her. He had a large knife in hand, and it was dark with blood.

With a nod, Lucie turned to the couple, stepped over the girl's body, and jammed the stiletto into the man's eye. Drawing it out quickly, she caught the hair of the woman at his side. "Please, no," the woman said, even as Lucie was stabbing her in the neck. A hot jet of blood hit Lucie's shoulder.

She released the woman's hair, and the woman crumpled, while her escort staggered sideways and landed in the lap of one of the other corpses. A girl screamed. Another tried to run past Lucie to the door, but Lucie slashed at her face. Her victim put her hands up and screamed, and Lucie put the dagger into her gut and ripped through layers of fabric and boning, until her innards spilled out.

Lucie stood in the doorway, painted in blood, daring anyone to try to escape. Olivier had four bodies piled up at the dining room exit. Some pressed themselves against the walls and bleated for help. Their cries were weak, and those who tried to run tripped over the bodies that had fallen before them. They cast about drunkenly. The sounds and pungent aroma of vomiting splashed the floors and furniture.

Behind the mask, Lucie watched the procession collapse on itself. A snippet of the Danse Macabre came to her and she spoke it aloud:

"Who was the fool, who the wise,

who the beggar or the Emperor?

Whether rich or poor, all are equal in death."

"Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité," Olivier added.

Whoever their mysterious host had been had indeed poisoned the champagne. The gagging coughs came louder.

Some tried to escape, but Lucie and Olivier cut them down. Once those who were left had become too incapacitated to move, Lucie said, "We are all free in death."

Then she raised her bloody dagger to her own neck.

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