Castle de la Phantom: Part 4

4

Lili stumbled along the castle halls, breathing heavily and trying to find her way through the dim light. The walls all around her were cold and unfriendly, as she tried her best to find a place to hide. That strange man, standing at the back of the crowd, had told her to run, and given her a key to a room. Now it was her job to find the keyhole.

She tried every door she passed, twisting the knobs to see if they were locked. Some of them were not, and so she peered inside. The ones that were locked, she tried to fit the key into, but with no avail. It had been nearly an hour, and still there was no sign of hope.

Inside the countless rooms were all sorts of terrible things. In some of them, she found bodies, alive and dead. They were writhing on the floor, covered in darkness and ashes. Some rooms held chambers full of torture devices, unspeakable acts still echoing like ghosts around the room. But nobody screamed, not a single person that was alive. They had been taught to fear the open door.

At long last, Lili managed to turn the key. She opened the doorway to find a cramped and dusty study. There was a desk set up, along with a small case of books. On the desk were papers. Darting inside, she shut the door behind her.

She picked up one book from the shelf and glanced at the others. There were titles such as The Right Rituals and What Powers Are Beneath and Of Many Tortures.

On the papers were random symbols, drawn in all sorts of disfigured ways. Some of them looked like bodies, turned in impossible formations, while others seemed to be gibberish. On another sheet were names of people, over fifty on the first page. There were dozens of pages under that, and all of them had X’s over the words. At the top of every page was written: Slaves- Who Still Lives.

The door opened behind her, and she whipped around to see the man from the crowd. He strode in, wearing his mask and long cape, circling her like a lion about to kill its prey.

“Have you come to kill me yourself?” she asked defiantly. “I’ve had enough of people like you for one day.”

“Hold your tongue,” he snapped. “I saved your life, and I’m about to do it again. There are a thousand angry men coming towards us as we speak, their mouths dripping with blood and skin under their nails. They will kill you, and they will kill me.”

She crossed her arms. “Then let them. It’s better to die than to be with that horrid man who owns this fortress.”

“I own this fortress,” the Phantom said, stepping towards her. “You all are my servants, but you’ve forgotten how afraid you should be.” He raised a hand, and she took a step backwards, fear flashing for an instant.

“I have obeyed you,” she said.

There was silence, as his head cocked to the side. His hand slowly lowered. “Yes, you have. For that, you will be rewarded.”

Stepping around her, the Phantom used his elbow, breaking through the wooden wall. He ripped away pieces of it, until they could see clearly outside, where the snow was falling swiftly and now piled up on the ground.

“If you go out, you will find there are two stories below us. Hop down onto those roofs, and then to the ground. You may break your leg, but you’ll manage. The snow will soften the blow if you fall right.”

He stepped out of the way and motioned towards the exit. Lili took a step, but then turned to face him.

“I don’t want to leave you,” she said. “You saved me.”

“I have lived in these castle walls for years on end,” the Phantom growled. “Terrible things I have heard, and worse things have I seen. There is a darkness here that cannot continue. Take yourself out of this place, and you will be pure. You will be saved. Stay here, and you will burn with the rich.”

Fire peeked its head through the wooden door and started spreading quickly. Outside, they heard the chanting of a crowd, and the stomping on their boots on the ground. It shook the entire castle, the thousand-strong march to defeat the Phantom at last.

“Leave,” he commanded Lili. “Leave me now.”

She stood in front of him, rooted to the spot, staring into his eyes. “Take off your mask.”

He bowed his head and held her hand gently, raising it to his face. “Take it off yourself. You already know what is beneath.”

She peeled away the fabric, exposing a face that was burnt and deformed, with cruel lines etched across it. There were scars and skin stained from blood, ever running and ever flowing.

“My skin was made a parchment for the Count’s pleasures. I was the one who dared to defy him. The others slaves would not. It was so many years ago, when his father was still alive, that the Count took up the cruelest of hobbies. We suffered greatly, but you suffered even more because of it.”

“I thought they’d killed you,” she said, hugging his neck. “I thought you were dead.”

“Lili.” He raised her head and stared into her eyes. “Go quickly before they find you here.”

She backed away from him, holding the mask in her hands. The Phantom unsheathed his sword and handed it to her. With one last, filling glance, she turned away and exited the window.

“Put the mask on, Lili,” he said as her feet left the room. “It will help you.”

She turned around, wearing the Phantom’s mask. “Yes, father.”

The marching grew closer, as the Phantom turned back to face the flames. There was a fire engulfing the room, drawing near to his body as the papers and the books went up in smoke. A brief light, as it consumed the room, and his entire world was a shining ball of light.

The crowds continued marching, continued chanting, as they burned alive. The Count was leading the way, his limbs enveloped by flames as he marched until the skin was detached from his bones, thrown down as ashes on the ground. The rest of the men and women fell to their knees before the almighty flame, as their gold and their silver and their jewels and their beautiful decorations melted in front of them. The end had come for the rich and their riches.

With one last scream, the Phantom threw up his arms and embraced the old friend of fury. A heat so overwhelming took him to his knees. The fire would rage until every sliver of wood had perished.

The Phantom crashed, burned, and died with his castle.