If you’re just now tuning in, you’ve got a little catching up to do! For a proper introduction to EclecticMasque, check out Alli’s home post. For the first entry in my adventures with the Masquerade, start here, then follow Caitlin and me through the house until you’ve caught up with me here…
For a moment, I wonder if I didn’t somehow bring the Underground with me and am back in the hallway I started in downstairs. The same sconces line the left wall that had lit the underground lake, though up here, it’s not as damp. But down there, the torches weren’t as few and far between. I hug the left wall, moving from one pool of light to the next, trying to convince myself the movement I’m seeing in the shadows is just a trick of the flickering light. I keep my gaze fixed on the next torch ahead of me, hoping for another flash of red cape.
As I move further down the hall, I come to an end of the sconces. Three more, two more… I step beyond the final torch, straining to see into the darkness beyond. I think there’s another glow ahead… but there’s no way to be sure. The torch behind me burns too brightly to tell. With a deep breath, I close my eyes. They’re not doing me any good anyways, and maybe when I’m brave enough to open them again, they’ll be better adjusted to the dim light. I press on, left hand against the wall for guidance, right hand at the level of my eye. Just in case.
After what feels like an eternity, my left hand encounters…another wall? I reach out with my right, and yes, there’s a wall ahead of me. I reach all around me, but there’s nothing else in reach. A turn, or a dead end? Only one way to actually be sure…
I open my eyes, and yes! Another torch ahead! I hurry towards it, eyes drinking in the light greedily. I’ve kept the childish fear of the dark I had as a little girl– adulthood has only matured the monsters I imagine in it. I wish Zig were here with me, or anyone really. Maybe… maybe I should turn back… But the thought of passing through that blind corner again isn’t one I relish, and I’m almost to the first torch in this hallway anyways.
As I near the light, I realize it’s different than the hall before. These flames are… blue? No, it’s a… reflection? The right-hand wall is now broken up by elegant panels of stained glass across from every wall sconce. Wall to floor, blue glass figures dance in the fire light- no, that’s not quite right. Though the light bounces off the glass to trick my eyes, I step closer and see that there are actual dancers in a room parallel to this hall- and so is my red cloaked figure! Unmistakable, even through the blue tints his costume. He grins at me from beneath his feathered cap before dashing through a doorway to another room.
I race down the hallway that runs alongside the rooms, hardly slowing as I come up on another dead end to the right. This corner is dimmer than the hallway, but not as dark as the first turn I passed through. The torches in the next hall are closer together, nearly twice as many as the in the two halls before. When I come to the first window, the red figure is right there, dead center, and I feel as if I could reach right through the purple glass and touch that perfect, skeletal mask. Slowly, I raise my hand to the glass…
And then he is off again, and I follow, racing towards yet another right turn. A spiral…?
As I turn the corner, I’m hit by an icy blast of wind. The torch beside me sputters, making me yelp as I whip my head around in surprise. It blows out completely, but only for an instant, and then it is somehow aflame again. I back away, not daring to take my eyes from it, but wanting something solid at my back–
Another gust and the hall is plunged into darkness. I stumble backward, crashing into the window. Green glass shatters around me as I fall, glittering as the torches flare back to life. Strong hands catch me, and in the ghastly green glow through the remaining windows, his red garb seems sickly black. The green light pools in the grooves of his skeletal mask, and washes his eyes with an eerie shade that seems to glow from within. My breath catches as a part of my brain reels with recognition, but he is gone again before I can make sense of it all.
The crowd presses around me, pouring out through the window I fell through. I push against them, forcing my way towards the next room. I almost had him! I can’t let him get away now.
The next room is like a fire. The urgency of the crowd blends with the harsh orange light from the colored windows, building into a frenzy that pushes against me like a real heat. The walls seem to push in- no, this room really is smaller than the others. The dancers swarm around the door, desperate to be through and one step closer to freedom. I realize now that I’ve only seen doorways from one room to the next, none connecting to the hallways outside. Is the window I’ve broken the only way out? But, why not smash a window themselves, if they’re so desperate to leave?
Here, the red of my phantom is brought into sharp focus, popping up now and again as the crowd parts around him, as if avoiding his touch. But as soon as he is past, they close again in their rush to get to the green room. Is it him that they so desperate to escape? Again, recognition pulls at my brain, but my focus is all on the red hat as he ducks through the doorway. I can’t lose him! I push and shove against the crowd, finally making it to the door as the crowd starts to thin.
The next room is completely empty, and the stark white light of it brings me up short. The red of my dress is harsh and too bright in this empty space. Despite this room being small enough to merit only one window, it is brilliantly lit. The light from the hall sconce is crystalline clear through the colorless glass. And a fire is blazing on the hearth—unlike the others, this room is lit from within and without. But what should be a cheery warmth only hurts my eyes, and leaves me sweltering in my velvet cloak. Double mirrors hang across from each other, above the fireplace and on the opposite wall. They echo my reflection infinitely, my crimson dress a harsh stain in this pristine room, almost an accusation. I turn away from the violence of the red against all the white, but red still fills my vision- the red cloak! I rush towards him, but grab empty air. The cloak has been tossed carelessly over a high-backed chair, nothing more. I stagger, confused and still a little disoriented from the sudden lack of this empty space and the mirrors. Feeling light-headed, I take off my own cloak and drape it beside his. The black mingles with red, but does nothing to relieve the painful emptiness of the room, so I move quickly on to the next.
Purple again? No, not quite, this room is darker somehow. I welcome it, however, after the sharp brightness of the last room. I pause as my eyes relax again into the dimmer light, and once they adjust, I see that my phantom is leaning against the next doorway, waiting for me. I freeze. Now that I have him, my mind is blank. We are mere feet apart, this room even smaller than the last. My eyes trace the lines of his mask, the only bright thing in this dimly lit space. The mask, and his eyes. They shine through the darkness, glinting with cold promise.
He holds a hand out to me, bridging the scant space between us. As I reach out to place my hand in his, the clock sounds behind him.
With that sound, I suddenly understand, but it’s too late. He’s already caught my hand and is drawing me into the final room of black velvet, wicked red light shining through the crimson glass from the hallway beyond. No Phantom- I should have known! I have chased the Red Death through these six colored rooms, into the final room that waits for us all.
I scream, but the chiming of the clock overpowers all other sound. Each chime echoes into the other, blending into one long sound as the clock sounds out three measures, four…
Death catches me about the waist, drawing me into a waltz to the chiming of that dreaded clock. Five, six… I know that even down below, the music has stopped, and all dancing and revelry has ceased as the eerie sound of that dreaded clock filters down, reminding us all that we are mortal, and destined to dance the same steps as I do now.
Seven, eight… Chilled hands pull me closer, cold even through all the layers of my gown, but again, it is his eyes that captivate me… Icy pale and haunting, those eyes seem to stare straight through my mortal flesh and into the soul beyond. Into Eternity. Nine, ten… He whirls me around, dipping me low as we waltz past the window. I see our reflections caught in the red glass, and …a figure beyond? Eleven, and he swirls me away, dancing me across the room to the far wall. My back slams up against it as he pushes in close… Twelve, and the glass behind us shatters, and over Death’s shoulder I see a hand, reaching out, but the clock has already struck its final chime, it’s too late. I brace for the pain of my impending demise as my phantom lowers his face toward mine and blue eyes fill my vision…
Everything stops as the clock chimes its final, impossible chime. I feel as if the world should be crumbling beneath me, but the walls stay firmly in place. My rescuer’s hand closes around my phantom’s shoulder, spinning him away from me, and– they’re both laughing? As I slide down the wall, knees giving way, they both reach for me, matching blue eyes flashing from mirth to concern–
“Zig? Tripp?! DAMN YOU BOTH TO HELL!!!”
The brothers dissolve back into a fit of laughter as I continue to swear at them from the floor, mostly mad at myself for not putting the pieces together sooner. Of course they would try to prank me tonight- how could they resist? It wasn’t often I was at their mercy, instead of the other way around. And with Zig reusing his Jareth costume, I really should have seen this Roommates revisit coming, even if this was a different phantom costume for Tripp. But I had completely fallen for it, chasing Tripp all the way through this house that seemed to hold every and any story ever written on the silly hope that it might actually be The Phantom himself…
“So who’s idea was it to do Red Death?” I ask, after pushing myself back to my feet. I glare down at the pair of them, wishing Tripp would take off that stupid mask, but unwilling to admit to how badly they’d scared me.
Tripp leans back on his elbows, content to lounge about on the floor. “That was yours, actually. As far as I can tell,” and here he tapped the corner of his eye in a most Zig-like fashion, “the authors have most of the control in this house. Not all that surprising, really, given the normal status quo.”
I purse my lips at that, not liking what he was implying. We’d had the fate vs. free will argument before, and I was never satisfied with Tripp’s answers, and he knew it. Talking to the Fate Seer brothers was always a headache at best. Speaking of…
I whirl on Zig, who was laughing so hard his impeccable makeup was starting to smear with tears.
“And you! I know you’re not that good of an actor! How long did you know?”
“Who me?” he asks, eyes going wide. “I had no idea- I lost our phantom as soon as we hit the ballroom. When I got upstairs, I thought for sure you’d go for the Laby room, and I was waiting for you there.”
“Bullshit– you ditched me, ‘cause you knew you’d give it away.” He was lying, I knew he was. His grin was too smooth, not pulled to the side in his usual smile, and there was something around the eyes…
Tripp rises to his feet, drawing my attention away from his brother. He is stunning in this costume, now that he’d stopping running long enough for me to get a good look at him. Liza had done expertly as always – this costume is exactly as I’d always pictured The Phantom in my mind. I stop when I realize I’ve been reaching out to him, hand moving of its own. I am drawn to the costume, nothing more. Liza’s costumes always had spellwork added, to entice the mind and ensnare the senses– kinda made me wanna pet Zig’s pants, to see if they were really as magical as he always made them out to be.
A low growl from Tripp brings me back to myself – I had been actually reaching for Zig this time. Damn, Liza’s work was good. Zig smirks at me, and I stick my tongue out and roll my eyes in answer.
“Dream on, Dreamboat.”
Zig’s eyes bug, and he falls to a fit of laughter so strong, he doubles over. Tripp scoffs as he moves past the pair of us to the broken window.
“C’mon, Dreamboat. Let’s get you back to your precious party.”
I frown at Tripp’s tone—it’s too harsh, too agitated. It’s not like my mellow, absentminded tattoo artist at all. And his eyes… There’s a flintiness too them that’s just all wrong. It’s not like Tripp to be this emotional—maybe he disagreed with Zig’s prank? But, Tripp would never go along with it if he didn’t want to…
But Zig has straightened and is holding his arm out to me, clearly ready to escort me back downstairs.
“Hold on a sec, we left our cloaks a few rooms back.”
I move toward the door to the violet room, but Tripp is suddenly there, blocking me. I jump back, thoroughly spooked. Tripp never did anything in a hurry, unless there was danger…
I swear he is growling. Barely loud enough to hear, but it raises the hair on my arms. This is a sound to back away slowly from– never run. This is not Tripp.
I fall into a ready stance, feet wide and knees bent. Zig is suddenly between us, to break up the fight, but that only sends my suspicions into overdrive.
“Who are you?”
“That is damned fine question—and even better, who the hell is this other me?”
My head whips back and forth between the Zig holding me back, and the Zig that’s standing in the doorway behind Tripp-not-Tripp.
Some yummy links in this post. Roommates, by AsheRyder, is a must read for any Laby or Phantom fans. The Red Death links to the original short by Poe, and here’s a pintrest board for some visual reference for the rooms and costumes of the masque.