“What a splendid party,” the Mayor remarked, as he stepped into the massive castle. There were crowds all around him, heading in the same direction, but nobody answered. It was not a time to talk, but a time to be amazed.
The night was darker than most, as the sun set behind the towers of the castle. There were hundreds of people inside the gigantic, wooden fortress, which belonged to the Count, a well-to-do but snobbish young man who inherited the setting from his father. It was a family heirloom, but a somber one.
When the sun was sunken low, the heavy wooden doors were closed. There was a great thud, but nobody inside realized or cared. The party was in its throes of wonder, with bright chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and warm lamps along all of the wooden walls.
Each guest wore a mask over his or her face, splendidly decorated and full of vibrant colors. The richer folks had come in their nicest and most eye-catching clothes, but none of their outfits were quite as elaborate as the Count himself, robed in varying shades of red and a long, dramatic cape.
His brother, the Deformed, wore a dark blue color, nearly black. The mask on his face covered every inch except for his hair, so that nobody in the masquerade could tell just how ugly his features were.
Awkwardly, he followed the Count, speaking in a quiet voice and trying not to make a scene. On his single foray to the dance floor, he found that his feet kept tangling up. After falling once, he slunked to the corner and sat there, with the middle-class men smoking their pipes.
“This is quite a spectacle.” The Mayor stepped up and shook hands firmly with the Count. “How on earth did you get the funds for all of this? The lights, the music… It’s quite overwhelming.”
The Count smiled in a secretive manner. “There are some things you should not know, dear friend. Remember your place in the village below, and let me remain in my high castle.”
The Mayor bowed and stepped away, going towards the center of the room where everybody was gathered on the dance floor. The Count watched him go, letting his eyes trail across the room and all of his guests.
He growled, noticing one face in particular had not yet arrived. Regardless, it was time to start the festivities. If ever she showed up, then his attention would shift, but for now it was the guests who demanded entertainment.
Walking up a long, spiraling staircase, the Count reached the balcony which overlooked the main hall. There were two doors on either side below him, which led into the rest of the castle. Up until that point, everybody had been crammed into the large room, with closed doors on every side.
“My good friends!” he bellowed, the deep voice echoing about the room.
Everybody turned to face him, high up above them. The Count grinned, holding out his arms in dramatic fashion.
“My good friends! It seems all of you have made it to my party tonight, and in very good fashion I might add. We have the entirety of the village here, except for those poor peasants who only can dream at the wonders in this castle.”
There was laughter from below, and he went on. “Well, maybe that’s not so true. There are a handful of those poor people who have made their way up to my castle, and tried to sneak in. What are they, really, but our slaves? And so, as our slaves, they will give us the entertainment for our night. Please step aside from the center of the room, and let my guards bring in something for your pleasure.”
He clapped his hands twice, and the throngs of people crowded themselves against the wall, itching with anticipation. Some of them were shaking, but not with fear. They were excited for the pleasure.
Three guards walked in from the two doors below, carrying a man. He was covered in dirt and in sores, wincing as they took each step. Taking him to the center of the floor, they dropped him down and put chains around his neck, wrists, and ankles. With long spikes, they hammered these chains into the floor, until he was stuck in the center of the room.
Everybody held their breaths. The Count watched their reactions, humming to himself.
A fourth guard carried out two large clubs. A fifth one -who was a boy barely of age for manhood- came after him with another club, only this one had sharp, 2-inch-long spikes all around the head of it.
“I certainly hope you brought your money,” the Count roared with laughter. “Pay 10 coins, and you get 3 swings with the brute clubs. Pay 30 coins, and you get 5 swings with the spike club.”
“But what if we kill him?” one man yelled from the silent, anxious crowd.
“Don’t worry, good friend.” The Count drummed his fingers on the balcony railing. “We have quite a few more of them in the pantry.”
The guards exited the room, lumbering through the same doors which they had come. Only now, the large wooden barriers did not shut after them.
“You will have noticed, surely, that the two hallways below me are now open,” the Count exclaimed, jabbering with excitement. “Feel free to explore my castle all you want. But beware. There are some things you might not want to find! And now, my friends, be off with you. Either to the Slave or to the castle. You have all night!”
They all sprung away from the wall, half of them heading farther into the castle and half towards the Slave. Soon enough, the air was full with his cries of pain, barely audible over the live music from the main stage. Even the band members would take turns going down and spending some money on the clubs.
For the next twenty minutes, the Count strolled around the main hall, inspecting all of the happenings. There were people crowded around the Slave, as a few of them took turns beating. The spike club lay against the wall, unused for now.
There was a grating noise as the large, wooden doors slowly opened inwards. The Count immediately turned, his interest peaked. A figure stepped inside, cautiously, wearing a tattered, black coat and a plain, brown mask.