One Last Waltz
Outside, beyond the cloistered and cleansed walls, the filth and foulness of the city laps against the canals. One two, one two, a brutish boisterous guardsman steps towards a woman clasping her precious vial of stolen elixir. His partner steps back, in a dance which has existed since the very first days man has taken from man. Forwards, retreat, forwards, retreat, and ah! The woman falls into the arms of a waiting wall and can retreat no more. He raises his hand, clasping his baton, and brings it down, once, twice, thrice, until she swoons from the passions of the prance and collapses, spilling red upon the stinking streets of the city.
Kneeling before her, he rifles through her pockets, retrieves the brew he believes will keep him safe, and rises. Off he walks, leaving her a pile in the corner. Unmoving, she sings a sweet symphony of scent, serenading the squeakers who scuttle through the streets. By morning, she will be but gnawed bones and rent remains.
Lightning hums to itself and mechanisms twirl and twist as someone strides through the canals upon stainless steel stilts. His treasured trove of trans gives motive to his movements, each clownish clatter enough to wow and amaze the masses. And indeed this circus freak, pumped full of drugs which drown his desire and numb his nuances seeks to entertain those who cannot gain massage to the higher-class balls of the city. From behind his blackened mask, he chooses the next entertainment.
Watch as he selects an arrow from the quiver on his back. Oh what japes, oh what fun! Watch the crowd below scream and wave their hands, in aware anticipation of what comes next! As one they run, a fluid flow of the folk of Dunwall. But the clown on the stilts releases their arrow, and look! His audience are dancing too! Their flesh blackens and chars and melts in the lambent laughter of dead whales, but still they leap and scream out their songs. Eventually, all a-weary, they collapse, having danced the last dance of men.
And in the barricaded and blockaded buildings off the plaza, a sad, slow shuffling saunter is held in broken ballrooms. The maudlin make-up of these dancers is crimson and brown from the eyes, and blinded by the beauty around them they prance the fling of fools and the dance of the doomed, damned and dying. In rot and ruin they reel, the rhythms of their wrecked reality leading them to their own requiems. The rats root around them, but the rodents leave them be for they rot already.
Ring a ring of roses, how they do all fall down.
But back in the beautiful ballrooms, such death and destruction is far from the thoughts of the fine. The music takes on a minor chord, and partners part, bowing and moving on. In this place, red, white and black drift through the crowd, the corrupt and cruel queens of a city without an empress. Around each other they drift, in their own pavane of plots against each other and against the world. Pleasure they seek, pleasure and power and profit, and in this sickened city some say such are synonyms, for wellness and wealth are twins when money can buy protection from plague.
Someone has been watching black and red and white. An outsider at the party, who was not invited to this iniquity but appeared without acknowledgement. He wears a mask and moves from dancer to dancer unnoticed, for in this place all men wear masks and dress strangely. Some suspect some subtle suspiciousness of thought and deed of him, but this means he is one of an alikeness with the aristocracy. Around and around he goes, unnoticed and all-noticing, listening, watching white and red and black.
And then he requests the next dance from one of the sisters.
I have come to take you away from this place, he says as they saunter, his voice cool and cultured. Surely you tire of the babble and the balderdash of the chattering crowds who flock to feed and feast at your expense.
Oh my, she says, casting an admiring eye over his form. A steel skull stares at her from under a cowl and cloak. Quite unlike the other men at the ball, he neither bulges with blubber nor is but bones and bile. He is built like a military man, yes, but he lacks the stoutness and the stiffness that those sorts usually have gained by the time they are invited to her parties. And he sounds young; not at all like the dried-up dragon she is so intimately familiar with. They get to talking, and he is witty, winsome, and… well, she has drunk no small amount of wine.
By his hand she leads him upstairs, past the guards and all the way up to her personal quarters. In luscious luxury she lies herself down upon her bed, pouting from her – if she says so herself – perfect lips, and waiting for him to make the first move.
And that he does. He is upon him, taking her by the hand. Through the dance of men and women he leads her, fingers upon her fastened fripperies. Legs entwine, one two, one two, and masks clash, scraping and scratching. They separate for a moment, her curtailed corsetry constraining their courante.
Like that, he slides the knife into her heart.
And her dance stops.
Whistling softly to himself, the steel-faced suitor steps smartly away from soaked sheets, sheathing his stiletto. Not one drop of blood has spilt on his clothes, and so he will return to the halls below, to feast and flirt in faked finery, before he departs. They will find her in the morning, and there will be such a to-do!
But not before the stranger, the outsider calls upon the conductor of this callous cavort, and rats swarm out from hidden places to prance and play within the broken ballroom of Lady Boyle.