This time the door opened onto an almost vertical staircase. Two of the cats led the way, with Annis next, then Jess, then the rest of the cats. There was no need for Annis to signal for quiet. The need for stealth seemed to have burned itself into Jessica’s brain and she wasn’t sure she was even able to speak.
The staircase seemed to go on for a very long time and Jess was glad of Annis in front of her setting a slow and careful pace, as otherwise she didn’t think she would have been able to make the harsh descent. Eventually they came out onto some sort of a balcony overlooking the huge vaulted chamber she knew from Annis’ drawing.
Annis made a low sound of disgust in the back of her throat as she looked down on a scene of terrifying bloodlust. The vampire was there, naked now, and looking plump and young again, and as white as the carved pillars. He was spreadeagled and tied to a table in the exact centre of the chamber, surrounded by blank-faced women who were taking it in turns to bite him. As each one sank her teeth in his flesh he screamed, and with each scream the females crowded a little closer. Annis felt sick and turned a worried face to Jess. She was surprised to see her friend regarding the scene serenely.
“What are they doing?”
“Blood rite. I think. Women are Blood Eaters and Fear Eaters. Beware, as they can change to their other forms in the blink of an eye.”
“Can he really not escape?”
“Now not. But should they lose interest in him, perhaps. What they do can not destroy him, just torture.”
Annis hissed to the cats who froze, then indicated for Jess to follow her. It was a low-roofed passage necessitating a crawl in hands and knees, and she sincerely hoped Jessica wasn’t claustrophobic. It seemed not, as she could hear steady, even breathing in her wake. Carefully counting openings, Annis took the thirteenth branch of the tunnel, which dropped swiftly to the ground behind the basalt throne. Jessica stood up and patted her on the shoulder.
“You go back to the cats. I will count to one hundred before climbing onto the throne. Give me a kiss for luck.”
Annis pressed her lips to Jessica’s cheek then turned and scrambled back up the tunnel like a little mongoose. She reached her cats before anything happened and they all stood watching the throne, waiting for Jessica to move. It seemed to take so long that Annis was beginning to think Jess’ courage had deserted her. But it hadn’t. There came a sound like a cracked bell being tolled and a dark-clad figure took its place on the basalt throne. Annis stared, thinking she would not have recognised Jess had she not known who was occupying the huge black seat. The dark queen sat seemingly at her ease, with her golden hair spreading around her like a veil, and a hand on each of the serpent heads that formed the arms of the throne. Her face was as still and smooth as a statue, and her remote beauty seemed to be demanding both respect and fear.
The vampire screamed his terror and frustration.
“Nooo. She is mine…”
His torment sounded greater at the thought he might lose his prey than that he might be left suffering for eternity beneath the power of the abyssmal beings who had captured him.
The cold, queenly creature on the throne didn’t even flinch.
Part 14 of Maybe will be here next week…