“Get out of my way,” the Count growled as he entered the main room. People didn’t take notice of him at first, but then he shouted and they quickly moved aside.
“What is it, sir?” the Mayor asked nervously. “Has something happened?”
“Where is the spiked club?” the Count demanded. “I need it.”
One of the guests brought it over, handing it gently to the Count and trying to smile. He stuttered out some word, and then backed away as fast as his legs could manage.
The Count held the club in his two hands and slowly approached the Slave, who was on the ground whimpering. What used to be a body was now a tangled, mangled, mutilated pile of flesh. It was black and blue all over, his eyes streaming tears and his throat red and swollen from screaming.
“You’re going to wish you’d never come to my party.” Holding the club, the Count grinned wickedly, feeling his heart like ice. With every beat, his hatred of Lili grew, his hatred of everybody.
“I have a family!” the man begged. “My… my wife will be wondering where I am. I was just coming to see… if I could get in. I just want food! I’m starving!”
“You won’t have to worry about that much longer. Soon, you won’t feel anything at all.” The Count raised up the spikes and swung them down, digging into the man’s back.
“Sir!” one of the guests raced up. “You have to pay for your swings!”
The Count spun around and pushed the club up to the man’s throat. “I don’t know how many it’ll take. I’ll pay when I’m done.”
The Slave whimpered on the ground. “Please, limit yourself to 10 swings. I can’t stand any more than that.”
Whipping around to face him, the Count thought for a second. “Yes, I think 10 will do. I think in 10 swings you’ll be dead at my feet.”
He brought the club up above his head and smashed it down onto the man’s shoulder. It crushed, and he was flattened on the ground. With the third and fourth strike, he flattened the man’s knees. Once, twice more and he was laying on the ground, begging for mercy, his head still attached to a thrashing body.
“You’re going to feel every single spike, and then it’ll be over.”
Another swing, and another flattening blow. The Count put a foot down and kicked the figure over, so that his ripped back was pressed against the floor and his torso was exposed.
The eighth swing ripped across his chest. The ninth cut into his abdomen. With one last heave, he planted the club in the man’s face, where he lay writhing until the rest of the blood seeped out.
All around, the guests were staring in awe. There was blood sprayed across everyone near the center of the room, and the floor was slick with it. There was a sense of terrible depravity, such darkness resonating from the Count. Everybody knew what they just witnessed was wrong, was a terrible act.
Laughter broke out in one person, and then two. One minute later, a thousand men and women were heartily laughing, clapping the Count on the shoulders. “Bring out more slaves!” they cried. “Let us kill the rest of them!”
Silence, followed by the booming voice of the Count.
“Take up your clubs, take up your swords, take up any weapons you can find. We no longer need to kill the slaves. We no longer want the weak ones. We want the strong ones. We want Lili.”
“Who is Lili?” the Mayor asked, standing a few feet away.
“She is a villager who has snuck into our midst and stolen our food. She is worse than these slaves, because she is a woman, and she had the audacity to come here and take what belongs to us. She had made fools of us, and for this she will die!”
“Wait!” There was a familiar voice yelling from the door to the right side hallway.
“Who is that?” the Count yelled.
A guest peered down the empty corridor. “It’s your brother, the ugly pig!”
There was laughter, and the Deformed entered the room, pushing his way through the crowd. A knife stuck from his chest, and blood coated his whole appearance. He desperately lunged from the Count, trying to stand upright but falling to the ground on his knees.
“What do you want?” spat the Count.
“He lies!” the Deformed called. “Lili is not thief and she is not making fools. He is thief, he is the bad one!”
The Count stared down at his brother, grinning. “The poor man’s lost his mind,” he announced to those around him. “This can be your practice for Lili the thief. This man is a monster, and demons live inside his face. Cast them out!” He handed the spiked club to the Mayor and called to everybody, “Kill him!”
The rabble of men jumped onto the Deformed and starting tearing away at his body. They used the clubs, as well as their teeth and fingernails to rip him apart piece by piece. Before five minutes were up, the man lay as if parchment sliced by a knife.
“What is the meaning of this?” an even louder voice echoed from the ceiling. It traveled around the whole room, reaching every man’s ears and stabbing every man’s heart. “Why has there been blood shed in my castle?”
They all turned with a gasp to face the balcony, overlooking them all. The women, who were affected just as deeply by the voice, stood in awe, covering their mouths. Stories were told about the man, stories that nobody had ever thought to be true. There were tapestries falling from the balcony, and the Phantom looked down on them and spat.
“Who are you?” the Count mocked. “You’re an old man who lives in the attic! You’re a phantom with no form! As if you could stop a group of a thousand, armed with clubs and with hate.”
The Phantom began to walk down the long, spiraling stairs, making his way towards the crowd. He wore a mask of deep black, covering half of his face, with a long cape flowing out behind. His sword was on his hip, and his clothes rustled as he descended.
“You do not respect me as you should,” he said deeply. “There was once a time when people understood. The ladies should have eyes for only me. The men should cower in fear of only me. The children should run to only me. But you have turned my town and my castle into a place of disgusting deeds and of terrible evils.” His face surveyed the expanse of the room. “You have lost track of what was right. And now you will all pay for it.”
“When we find the girl, Lili, you will both die,” the Count said, forcing his way through the crowd. He and the Phantom were standing only inches apart, at the bottom of the staircase.
“The girl ran out of this room half an hour ago, when I told her to. She has listened to me, and so she will live.” The Phantom turned his back on the Count and began up the steps again. “You have not, and so you will not.”
With a growl, the Count unsheathed his sword and brought it around, aiming for the neck. The Phantom twirled about, blocking the metal. He kicked the swordsman out of his way, leapt up in the air from the steps, and grabbed hold of the tapestries billowing from the balcony. He swung across, over top of the crowd, and landed at the entrance to the hallway, which he sprinted down.
“You will regret the day you did what was wrong in my eyes!” he shouted.
Fire flared up around him, where it had been building in the hallways, unseen to the eyes of everybody in the main hall. Now it spread quickly over the castle, devouring floorboards and walls until it felt like an oven all around them.
“Follow him!” shouted the Count, leading a mad charge towards the interior of the castle.