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The Night of the Red Masque [Closed]


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A horror tale for the Halloween season, involving Sin Darius and Inspector Charleston Gusteau, as members of Monster Hunters Incorporated. Original tale can be found here: http://themoghouse.enjin.com/sindarius . Adapted from the Edgar Allen Poe story "The Masque of the Red Death". Comments, if any, can be made after the post.






The streets of Ul'dah rang with the sounds of laughter, as was prone to happen on the indulgent evening known as the Midnight Mascarade. A gathering of socialites, merchants, well-to-dos and all other members of the wealthy, the Midnight Mascarade was the height of indulgence for socialites of the Ul'dah rich. With much gaiety they talked amongst each other, their masks held to their faces, their luxurious gowns and well tailored suits displaying all the opulence of those to whom money has been given.


And, prince of them all, Soro Serezus, who donned in his purple clothing marched through the seven rooms of the palace that he called his own, high above the streets of Ul'dah, separated from the suffering and pain which those lesser mortals incurred below. Careless to their needs he celebrated the Mascararade, day after day, he and his assemblage taking refuge in his home and distancing themselves from all that was beneath. Poverty, sickness and decay were not issues of their concern, relegated as these things were to those who could not afford to escape them.


King of the lord ladies, merchant of merchants, sitting atop the empire of wealth he'd made through the coercion of others, the bullying of lesser businesses and the ruthlessness of his trade, Soro Serezus walked with all the pomp and circumstance of a rooster in the hen house, his head flittering back and forth among the guests. His ear shot here, to the sound of a lady; there, to talk of wealth; again elsewhere, to the conversations of the powerful. And all who took their place in the Midnight Masquerade acknowledged him as he walked among them, their gowns swaying as they twirled to the sounds of the orchestra, their musicians playing into the night. The men of the Masquerade took the hands of their ladies, dipping them and drawing them up, in a dance repeated night after night. Against the walls of each of the seven rooms of this grandest of guest houses, tables of food sat on display and, when rotted by morning, were dumped into the streets of the Dunes, amongst the poor and the dispossessed.


Each room dressed as they were in a coat of fine color, each more vibrant than the next. One was white, the next blue, then green, yellow, another orange and then one red. To each of these the guests did move, twirling about and dancing, eating of the tables, their hollow laughter an attempt at filling emptiness. Food clung to their teeth and their lips, crumbs fell upon their outfits, and each was dressed in the decay they sought to escape. Yet not noticed, no stain was so great it could not be wiped away, and each danced and danced and danced the night away.


But every night the clock rung, from the room to which none would go. It sat at the end of the hall, far from the room of white, whose grand doors gave exit to the streets of Ul'dah far beneath. In this room was the faintest of glows, the red light that marked the grand clock of the room, signaling the hours as they passed, marking the time until each guest would leave. Then, at three in the morning, they would pass on, none having danced or eaten within the black room. Each day the music fell faintest there, and each day the food was tossed out. Not even their laughter filled it, and only Soro Serezus, prince of these princes, ever set foot inside to reset the clock.




Grandest of all the weeks throughout all the years was the month of the harvest, coming each fall and ushering in the yellowing of leaves and browning of the grass. Each year, as the hunger grew greatest among the citizenry of Ul'dah, the wealthy would gather as they always did, hoarding even more food to the many colored rooms. As the desperation of those beyond the secure walls of their palace grew, so did their paranoia and fear, and so they clung ever more tightly to each other and the wealth at their fingertips. To put in place a barrier between themselves and the wretched poor, they hired men of size and strength, guarding their halls with muscle and weapons, brawn and steel.


Yet the pinnacle of all their celebrations was coming, and two were hired to guard these halls. The first a inspector, the second an enforcer, both detectives and now thralls in the game of Soro Serezus on the Night of the Red Mask.






Far above the streets of Ul'dah, the royal spire of Soro Serezus erupted with the music of the orchestra, its band members playing along on their strings, the sound of violins filling the air and intertwining with the peals of laughter that seeped from the lips of white faced guests. Their features were blanched by paint and makeup, their cheeks highlighted by garish rouge, and their heads topped by foppish wigs. The ladies paraded by in their gowns, the men in their tuxedoes, dipping and twirling as the music passed on.


Sin Darius watched all this from the White Room, watching as the guests moved about one another, stopping to chatter or lounge in chairs or couches spread all along the wall, or partaking of the dinner table set elegantly with the finest platters and silverware, bounties of meats and pastries inviting consumption. Sin frowned at it all. He was garbed in the traditional wear he had used since he had first become conscious in the plains of Ul'dah. In those long ago days he'd found himself alone in the sweltering heat, without a memory of his past. Those memories had begun to roll in with the years, coming in bits and pieces that made it impossible for him to remember exactly where he was from.


His uniform had been a part of him since his earliest days, a black tiara mask that covered his face and his all his features, a white robe and hood that masked his body, and the brown robes beneath that formed a second layer, his hands and feet covered in cloth gloves. A mammoth axe was strapped to his back. For his intimidating features and years of service in various military units, he'd earned himself a place in the company known as Monster Hunters Incorporated. This was not a part of his life most of his friends knew of him. They knew him as the friendly fisherman who prowled the piers of Limsa Lominsa, a straw hat casually seated upon the crown of his head. His life as a mercenary, and the years he'd spent fighting in Limsa Lominsa and Ala Mhigo, were well hidden.


Hidden to everyone but the company, really, and that was why he was here. Contracted by the Prince of Ball, Soro Serezus, Sin Darius stood guard at the doors, the muscle and protection of the party. Another had preceded him, one who had resigned the job, and Sin had been appointed to it. It was his first night here, then, watching the extravagant display of wealth and frivolity that sauntered before him. He did not entirely know why the party needed security. The tower was located in the richest heights of Ul'dah, and the doors themselves were well secured. Indeed, Sin took a moment away from the rest of the festivities to examine the doors, finding them triple barred against the outside world. To unlatch every lock and removed all the heavy steel bars that sealed the tower away could take more than a few minutes, but he supposed the paranoia of the prince was at fault.


The stretch of the seven grand rooms ran eastward, the southern walls of some of the rooms dotted with windows that looked out upon Ul'dah and the wastelands of Thanalan beyond. The tower was so high that the nearest spire seemed like a dot far beneath, and Sin had felt somewhat uncomfortable thinking of the sheer length of the drop to the nearest surface. He hoped that none of the guests became terribly drunk and did anything reckless. The responsibilities of the task weren't entirely his, though. Another, here at the request and grandest of payments, had come to the festivities. It was the renowned Inspector Charleston Gusteau, a man whose reputation as a detective and law enforcement officer was known throughout Eorzea. Compared to such a man, Sin was simply hired muscle.


Charleston was from an upbringing much closer to the wealth of the ball than Sin was. The inspector came from a rich family from Limsa Lominsa and had known people such as the prince his entire life. He had arrived, dressed all in black, a bowtie at his neck. His bald head, normally hidden by an inspector's hat, shone in the light from above, a thick mustache that was his calling card framing his upper lip and twirling just slightly upward at the corners. Though he mixed easily among the guests and chatted with the wealthy and well-to-do, Sin caught the slight sign of a scowl on the man's face as he walked away, noting that the inspector didn't seem all too pleased with the sheer indulgence of the event.


The rooms were not simply rooms, either, but were the size of grand halls, arches buttressing the corners, the columns made of fine marble carved in the highest styles. Great chandeliers lighted the rooms, while music floated outwards from the center of the great chain of halls. They were ordered the White, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, Red and Black Rooms. The prince himself was seated at the center of the festivities, in the Yellow Room, the orchestra playing loudly from the stage opposite of the fashionable chair upon which he sat. His wig came down to his shoulders, his light body framed in a royal jacket, rich blues trimmed with gold, a wealth of rings upon his fingers and his feet covered in the finest of shoes. Beneath his jacket and covering his legs were a richer, deeper blue shade of materials, and over all the proceedings he watched. His chair towered over the event, small steps leading upwards to the grand seat, its back carved ornately and the seat itself cushioned with red pillows. Here Serezus reclined, drinking from a gold chalice, its surface encrusted with gems of all sorts. He was a god of gods in this place.


Sin paid it little attention, as he attempted to take his duty seriously. He checked the doors a final time, a heavy sound of locked gears erupting throughout the White Room as he did. His hand withdrew quickly, face turning to watch the crowd only to find they were so absorbed in their revelry that they had not noticed the disruption. He sighed, walking along the back of the room and moving between the halls. Each was a mirror of the last, colored differently but equally grand. Only in the Yellow Room, where the prince himself held court, was there any sign of a grander decor. The chair upon which he sat was the first sign of this, the stage upon which played the orchestra marking the other. Sin passed towards the back of the room once more, avoiding the twirling, dancing couples that streaked back and forth through the hall. As he did, he caught, only quickly, the glance of the prince. Serezus' eye fell upon him for the briefest of moments, from the corner, watching as he passed behind the throne and towards the dining table, moving past. The cold, cruel eye of the prince locked upon him for a moment, before his twisting lips wrapped upon the rim of his chalice, purple liquid spilling forth into the maw of his throat.


It was discomforting . Sin continued along, moving to one room, then the next. The sixth room, the Red Room, was perhaps the most debaucherous of all. The couples who had come to attend the ball had fallen upon one another in their various states of passions, pressing upon one another as they lay upon the couches and pushed against the walls, fingers intertwined, the beast with two backs sprawled upon the floors in the corner. In the center of the room dance had given way to drunken revelry, unrestricted laughter and loud shouting filling the still dressed couples who leaned upon one another, nearly falling to the ground in their drunkenness. He cringed as he slid by, taking ginger steps, avoiding the strewn out arm of one attendant there, passing over the legs of another couple here. The food that had been laid out had been devoured, the bare bones of a chicken roast sitting upon its white decorated top. The dead flesh of it fell from the bone, the scent of wine was nearly overwhelming, and the sharp hint of sweat from mingling bodies was detectable. He hurried then, into the last of all the halls.


As he did, he came to a stop, his blood slowing. The light of the Red Room seeped into that of the seventh, and final, room: The Black Room. The light cast an arch upon the barren chamber, passing onto a single ebony longcase clock that rose ominously upwards, its face lit by a candle, the arms of the clock face ticking by. Nearly midnight, now, the seconds drove on as he stood there: tick.... tick.... tick... tick... tick....


There was little here, nothing like that of the rooms before. A bed sat flush against the wall, towards the corner at his right a single chair that looked upon the room. At the left was a table, and beside the bell a small dresser. The room, in all, was much smaller than all the others, much more a room. It may have even been the bedroom of the prince.








Yet the longer one stood at the doors, the longer one sat in the red light that poured in from the room before, the larger the room began to appear. The bed seemed to stretch further and further away, the blackness of the room growing darker, one's body feeling dragged into the gaping emptiness that crept from the walls. Then, as one waited, every second grew louder.. and louder..








"It's a thing of evil to be sure," came the sudden voice, Sin's face twisting to the left in a moment of fear. He startled, taking a step back as he saw the stock form of Inspector Gusteau standing beside him, body soaked in the red light. "I have provided security now for the prince the better part of a year. I am not always present, of course. I establish the security protocols, I approve of the hired arms..." He took a moment to look over Sin Darius. "...Such as yourself. Yet the prince's madness knows no ends. The doors that he has sealed were once simply latched, and the armed guard stationed outside. Now that is at an end. The guard wanders the halls, and the doors are five times secured, ensuring it takes dozens of minutes to open. There are no easy ways into the halls of Soro Serezus."


Sin nodded, eyes fixed upon the inspector, avoiding the gaze of the ebony clock. "What does the prince fear so much?"


"What do all men want, and all men fear?" The inspector asked blankly, eyes turning upwards to Sin. "All mankind desires fidelity of the flesh, and therefore the prince, like all men, fears death. But death is an unavoidable affliction of mankind. One can secure against it with all their might, but none in the end can determine when it comes."


Sin pondered this a moment, eyes fearfully turning back into the maw of the room. "This is why he celebrates night after night, then?"


"Perhaps. Celebration and laughter masks your decay. Yet every night, the prince returns to this." He gestured into the center of the room. "All men retire alone, even if they keep company in their bed. When the music dies, and the guests retire, it all comes back to this."


He nodded at the inspectors words. "There was a time, I remember, when death was the focus of my eyes. It was all I could see."


"For some warriors, there is no other way."


"Even so, it was not so bleak. I never saw my end in such... empty terms. Such a terrible finality, such an awful end. The prince does not think of death as I did."


"Serezus is a man of vanities. His death is as empty as his life, and that is why he retires to emptiness. He knows no other way. Death is a growling, angry beast ready to devour him, but it is not so for all men." His body turned slightly aside, eyes passing through the previous rooms. "The sum of his life's meaning is in these halls. Music, drink, sex. None of these themselves a crime, Serezus sins against himself by holding them above all other things, robbing them of the meaning men were meant to give them."


Sin turned to look back along with the inspector, turning from the horrible emptiness of the Black Room, only to find emptiness of another sort in the palace hall. "It is a bleak thing to find no meaning in life."


"It is a bleak thing to find being alone so terrifying that one must fill their every waking hour and shut out their soul."


The black masked guard nodded, eyes pressing through the crowd. "Perhaps it is time we returned to the festivities."


"It is our job, is it not?" The inspector provided a wry grin, but it was stolen of joy.






The pair of them passed again through the stretch of halls, maneuvering among the masked attendees, whose faces were covered in mock images of the human condition. Some masks bore grotesquely upturned lips, forming hideous smiles, with others downturned into the greatest caricature of a frown. Some wore half masks, their eyes hidden to the world, and a few bore their own visages, faces distorted by alcohol and indulgence. Sin followed the inspector as they moved into the crowds of people who filled each room, the orchestra moving to a feverish pitch, the midnight hour drawing near. All things about them seemed to accelerate, pushing onwards faster and faster, the talking louder, the dancing swifter, the laughter ever more boisterous and overwhelming. All things swirled about in a haze of oversaturated color and experience.


Then from the corner of his eye, Sin caught sight of a costume quite distinct, marking the man from all others. Among the twisting and turning of color sprang the brightest of reds, a red that filled only the periphery of his sight. He turned to catch it and it was not there, but he had not been alone in his vision. The inspector, too, had taken a turn, eyes fetching at the corner, then passing to the crowd. They exchanged glances, the inspector puzzled. Sin Darius raised a hand to his face and removed the black tiara that hid his features, the black cloth pulled down beneath his jaw, dark features exposed to the light.


"I feel as if a mask does me injustice at the moment."


"Even men without masks hear do not show who they are. Better to be your own self than to hide behind disguises."


Sin nodded to this, walking about the perimeter of the White Room, the detective beside him. They passed once more into the Blue Room, watching the crowd. The inspector's face turned suddenly, and then so did Sin's, their eyes finding once more the momentary glimpse of a red figure, this time the sight of him lingering longer. What once had been a blur of color was now a momentary sight of a red cloaked figure, face hidden in a shroud. What manner of mask this was, what sort of costume, neither were sure of. What was sure was that none of the crowd had seen or was aware of the figure, none had made notice of him. Sin's fists clenched at his side.




They passed into the Green Room and now, something, a disturbance. Now a whisper, now a mention: Red robes... did you see? Yet all was forgotten as the music began to pitch upwards to its zenith, the violins screeching with their power, the laughter swallowing the curiosity. And ever more did the pair of men catch greater and greater sight of the red robes that danced among the dancers, present and never joining.



It was now, then, the moment before midnight, and all the halls began to sound with the chaos of the revelers as the orchestra reached its final moment. Perched above all this, legs crossed, body tilted slightly to his right and chalice in hand, the prince of the ball, Soro Serezus, awaited the grand moment as all the frivolity reached its high point. Wine spilled to the floor from hands too drunk to hold their goblets, and cries of passion reached out from the far end of the halls. Laughter reached its peak as all at once everything came to a silence with the ringing of the clock.


Twelve gongs thus rung: Gong. Gong. Gong.

Twelve tones as the audience held still: Gong. Gong. Gong.


Silence thus filled all the air, save for the ringing of the clock: Gong. Gong. Gong.


And then it began to come to its conclusion: Gong. Gong. Gong.


All breath held still for a moment as the clock reached its conclusion, all time at a standstill, when the murmurs began to pass from lips to ears, hushed at first and then ever rising. For the crowds had finally become aware of the figure, dressed all in red, standing amidst their former revelry. The shroud beneath his cloak was that of the grave, face and body swallowed in red, his crimson form parting the crowd as he moved towards the throne of the prince Soro Serezus.


Sin Darius, aware now of the growing threat, sprang forward, the inspector running alongside as they passed towards the deathly figure. Yet the crowds gathered and pushed, pressed and pulled, forming a curtain between themselves and the throne. Sin Darius pressed forward with all his might, Guseau just behind, as they tried to move towards the figure that had now taken a position before the throne. Serezus had now risen, gaunt features falling upon the unknown guest, his hand moving towards the blade at his side. He pulled forward its great length, the saber's tip glimmering beneath the graying light of the chandelier above.


"Who approaches the throne of Soro Serezus?" the prince demanded, eyes transfixed upon the intruder.


The sounds that ushered from the red garbed man echoed like the tomb: âI am but a guest, arrived on this fateful harvest day. I have not but a request, and then I am away."


Serezus considered the man, eyes passing from the figure to the crowd. All had stopped, indeed all noise was silenced, not a single room touched by sound. Amidst the people, Sin Darius and the inspector had come to a frustrated halt, now watching the prince, waiting upon his lingering words.


"Fine then, intruder. What is your request."


A long moment the figure lingered, arms folded over one another, before his words slithered forth into the air. "Tell me what I have been summoned for. For I approach at request. Rare is the day I am sought, but today I come by behest."


A long moment Serezus pondered the man before him before, with a sudden excitement, the prince's eyes lit up. "The ambassador! You are he?" He took sudden steps down from his throne, moving halfway to the figure before halting. "Indeed I have made the deal and created the pact. Today is the day, on this harvest day in which all men note the passing of life to the grave. I have made a bargain to never see that day, bartered with gods and devils. Are you here then to claim the price and give me what I have purchased?"


"Serezus." The figure's head lowered. "No time then for puzzles or riddles, no time for games. You call me a servant of gods and devils, but this you call me in vain. For gods and devils do not rule on thrones they rule alone. They share mastery of their provinces, and of death, there is none."


The prince's face contorted in fury. "What is this you are telling me then? I have invoked the greatest of powers in order to summon you here!" He took a sudden step forward, raising the blade so that its tip threatened the stranger. "What is the purpose of appearing then? Why have I summoned all these guests?"


The figure's hood turned about, passing along the crowd, then returned to the prince."Surely I have come to claim the host you have now here, but I do so of my own accord, not in subservience or fear." The figures eyes moved to the blade. "You thought that in exchange for lives, you would immortalize your own. But death respects no master, and strays from no one's home. Today you have tried to summon death to sacrifice your friends. But lord and master, prince and pauper, all meet the same end."


The red figure now took a step forward, cloaked arm rising to his face, pulling down the shroud that hid its features. And the prince, aghast and in horror, was marked by the seal of death, as crimson blood dripped from his nose and poured from his ears. Marked by the Red Masque he fell in his despairing posture, crumpling to the ground, and screams erupted as seas of people rushed away from the red pool of blood that began to seep outwards from the body of prince Serezus.


Now a tidal wave of human forms crushed Sin Darius and carried the inspector away, but Sin pushed through, leaping forward to the looming figure of the Red Masque. Axe drawn he thrust himself forward, but the figure simply turned, thrusting an arm outwards at the attacker. The vision of a bloodied knife could be see protruding from the edges of the cloak, but it did not come near to Sin, who was cast away, his body tossed against the opposite wall with bruising force. He collapsed onto the orchestral stage, instruments tossed aside as the performers rushed towards the doors that sealed the White Room.


The Red Masque seemed uninterested in keeping up the assault, creeping towards the Blue Room, entering inwards even as the masses pushed against one another. Several of the men and women, unable to escape through the doors, turned, gazing upon the blank visage of the Masque. Their faces twisted in despair as they fell to the ground, blood pouring from their corpses. As the hysteria grew, several guests ran to the windows, gazing down on the incredible distance separating the tower from the spires beneath, from anything resembling ground. The gaze of the Red Masque fell upon them, his figure lurching towards where they stood, and in despair they tossed themselves from the windows of the tower. Their figures fell from the princely halls in acts of final horror, bodies dashed upon the spires and ground below, twisted and broken, left like rag dolls to the grasp of the earth.


And still the horror did not cease, as one after another a new guest fell, the ground around them seeped in blood. The inspector and Sin Darius burst into the Blue Room, Gusteau bringing his hands together and conjuring flames that he tossed at the figure of the Masque. The great being turned, facing the onslaught, scorched and yet not burned. Sin rushed forward and cleved the man with the head of his great axe and yet, this time, the Masque did not respond. The axe passed through its body, tearing apart the robes, which immediately resealed after. Again he thrust his arm out, Sin Darius and the inspector crashing against the walls, before the being turned to face the greater host of the guests.


At the end of the halls, bodies crushed against the doors as people desperately screamed for escape. They tried in vain to unseal the many locks, bolts and reinforcements that held the great doors shut, but all that came was the echoing sound of the doors as hands pounded upon their frame. Several were pushed so tightly against it that they were crushed by the pressure of the masses, falling to the ground as the air left their lungs, chests crushed by the immense pressure. Others clawed and tore at one another, thrusting each other aside as they fought for their escape.


The Red Masque turned his empty visage, looking sidelong at the masses. "This then is whom you'd fight to save? What more than animal is man. Is it for money that you fight? For your own life? Tell me, if you can."


Sin, still sprawled upon the floor, pushed himself upwards. "Life is precious. It's worth protecting. I can't know what these people may do with their lives yet!"


"How is something precious that is so cheap. All life ends, and what is sown is never reaped. Precious means a value, something that is of worth. Life has no inherent meaning before it returns to earth."


The warrior clambered now onto his feet, heaving his axe upwards. "If life has no inherent meaning... if it's something we have to make... then mine is in protecting others. I cannot judge the worth of anyone's life."


"I do not decree. I simply come. Thus equally are all men judged. The time is not appointed though, and thus..." The being now raised its hands, its figure fading into a red mist that began to seep away. "For tonight, this is enough."




Sin Darius startled, face turning, staring down the stretch of halls to the Black Room. The hour had passed, and it was now one. As many had been taken as had been spared, and there was no reason to the culling. Still as the frenzy began to die, and as crying and wailing began to echo out from where there had once been laughter, the signs of death and decay began to stir his being. His heart beat heavily now in the passing of the Red Masque, as the dominion of death over all things was reminded to him that night.

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