She lay upon the outer rim of the burial shelves, next to the old knight. Corpses lay above her and below her. Coffins were also laid about the tomb. Sophia’s coffin was as it had been before. It was open.
Sophia was there, sleeping, resting, drawing strength.
And Darian was now leading a crew of Halloween partiers down. Down, indeed, to the bowels of the earth.
Jade inhaled, and spiderwebs teased her mouth. She breathed the scent of death. She hadn’t been slain as yet, she knew, because tonight she was meant to be even more of the show than she had been before.
Her heart was thundering wickedly. Surely Darian could hear the beat. Even in her coffin, Sophia must hear the frantic pulse.
It was dark in the tomb, but not dark enough. The ghostly torches cast their bloodred sheen over everything in the chamber of the dead.
“Come, come, my pretty!”
Jade slitted her eyes open, twisting toward the coming group. Darian was leading a girl dressed in a harem outfit. The girl giggled. Her escort was wearing a Freddy Kreuger costume, looking fierce.
“Yes, scare us, Scotty, old boy. Go on. We’re waiting.”
“You fools!” Jade shrieked suddenly, no longer trying to keep silent. She couldn’t bear to think of anodier slaughter; they had to be warned. She worked her wrists furiously, trying to swing out from the burial shelf. “Get out of here. Go on, tough guy, Jesus! Didn’t you idiots read about what happened here before—”
“Ah, the undead! There she rises. Igrainia, they called her. Wife of the ancient chieftain, Lucian. She was not of this world herself. Mermaid, some men called her. Fish, others said. Alas, the beauty departed this world, and whatever she might have been, she became—dead!”
The kids started laughing. There were more of them behind the harem girl and the Freddy. “Get back, Igrainia! Get back for now! We’re waiting for your lover, the mighty chieftain. Alas, he hasn’t come. So
... you’ll watch Sophia at work one more time—and then it is your turn. Fear not, my pretty Igrainia. You are always most coveted.”
Darian’s hands were on her as he forced her back next to the dead knight. He smiled, meeting her panicked eyes. His grip was as powerful as pure steel. He touched her, and she could do nothing.
He slowly licked the length of her face. “Delicious!” he said softly. “Absolutely delicious.”
“Lucian will destroy you,” she promised, furious, desperate—and totally impotent against him.
“He’d best hurry. I’m quite disappointed. I thought he’d be here by now.” Darian licked his lips, then ran his tongue along her flesh again. ...
“There is the question, my beauty. My friends! Will her avenging angel come quickly enough? Only time will tell!”
Jack walked determinedly in the lead. The girls followed on either side.
They carried their stakes at the ready. They all had vials of holy water tied at belts they had fashioned for the occasion.
“Cool! It’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and friends!” someone shouted in a thick low-country accent.
“Why, ‘Arry, look at those bloody blokes! You are Buffy and crew, right on? Americans, at that! That’s what you are, right?”
They were traveling the streets, walking by a pub. These particular happy Halloweeners were well into their beers. One witch wore a hat askew. A fake vampire had spinach between his fangs. An angel wore a halo that was far more than bent.
“Something like that!” Shanna called, and they hurried on. Jack was walking fast. Shanna had to run to keep up with him. They turned a corner around a shop into an alley.
“Jack!” she called out. “Are you sure you know where ... we’re going?” she finished lamely.
Yes, he had known where they were going. They were there.
An old church rose before her, cast in the moonlight, Gothic, spooky. There had been kids running around the cemetery. Some were just disappearing around the church, into the trees. A police car was just driving away. Had the cops come to make sure that no merrymakers met the same fate as before?
Wild kids, intent on daring play, were escaping before the police could call their parents.
They arrived just as the car was disappearing.
And just as the other creatures among the living slipped away.
And there, in the silence, stillness, and darkness of the night, was the graveyard. Tombs and stones rising here, there, and everywhere. The moon shining down. Angels seeming to move, to pray with greater desperation. The wind rose, whispered, seemed to howl a low, banshee note.
“We’re here,” Jack whispered.
“Why hasn’t Lucian shown up?” Shanna asked, very afraid.
“God knows what they’ve done to him. Or your sister. It’s up to us to find them. To get them back.
Somehow. If we can.”
“Lord, Jack, what do you think he’s done? Has he simply ripped out her throat to anger Lucian? Will I find her ... decapitated?”
Jack stopped to reassure her. “Look, if Lucian hasn’t appeared anywhere, it’s because he knows that if he just gives himself over to them, they’ll kill him and then Jade as well.”
“But I thought they couldn’t just kill him?”
“Sophia doesn’t feel she has to follow rules. She has the talisman.”
“Where’s the tomb?” Shanna asked.
Renate suddenly pointed. “It’s that one straight ahead. De Brus.” Renate started forward. Jack looked at Shanna worriedly. “Maybe we’re . . . doing just what they want us to do. Coming here. Maybe Darian has more power than we ever suspected.”
“We have to find your sister. Keep your stake ready to strike. You can’t falter. Use that holy water.”
“Maybe we should get help, call the police.”
They both gave her a stare. “Shanna,” Jack said gently, “the police would just lock us up for being crackpots, and you know it.”
Shanna tripped over a tree root. She steadied herself on the stone of a tomb. A night owl shrieked.
Clouds drifted over the moon. The cemetery was darker than ever. Renate had run ahead of them. They followed.
They reached the de Bras tomb.
A mist seemed to emanate from it.
A red mist. Illuminated by a strange glow of crimson light deep from the bowels of the earth.
Or the bowels of hell.
The iron gate gaped open.
In the strange, shadowed moonlight, it seemed to beckon.
Jade winced with pain. She was cramped, cold, her bones aching. Her tongue felt like sandpaper. She felt...
A sharpness .. .
Darian kept smiling at Jade. “I’ve enjoyed every slightest touch. So tempting. But tonight Sophia awakes, and we seize the moment together.
“Hey, me beauty!” he called to the harem girl. “Come over here. I’ll scare you. I promise—I’ll scare you.”
The girl was coming closer and closer. Jade wrenched very hard on her wrist To her amazement, the ancient shackle cracked open. She reached for the old knight’s sword.
“No, no, no, my lady!” Darian cried. He slipped his arm around her, pulling her out with such force that she wondered which would snap first—her other wrist, or the shackle.
The shackle broke. She was thrown down. She landed hard against a coffin.
The kids were laughing and shrieking. Darian was stroking the harem girl. Jade was dazed, and still aching from what they had done to her. “Don’t you understand!” she cried desperately, trying to rise.
“This is real. They’re real....”
“She’s good; she’s really good!” the boy in the Freddy Krueger costume said. “Better than you, buddy.” Behind the Freddy were a candy striper, a guy dressed up as a nurse with big boobs and very red lips, and two monks. There was also a Grim Reaper.
“Go, get out of here!” she cried.
“They’ll never leave here alive. Not unless Lucian wants to show himself,” Darian said. He came at her, catching a handful of her hair before she could begin to move away. “Call him. Call to him now. Tell him you’re about to die. I will not taste and sample and savor your blood—I’ll savage your veins until every last drop of your blood is gone— and your head is severed from your shoulders. Do it! Call him. Tell him you’re dying now.”
He practically had her hair ripped from her scalp. She gritted her teeth against the pain, but stared up at Darian. “Call him—so that you can destroy him and then us?” He tightened his grip on her hair. “Do it! You can die slowly as well.”
She was amazed to hear her name called. One of the monks threw back his cowl. To her absolute astonishment, she saw that it was Matt Durante. From beneath his brown wool garment, he pulled out a long stake.
“Matt, no, what are you doing here?”
“She’s behind you! Sophia is behind you,” Matt called. “Get up. You’ve got to get away from Darian, and come to us. Quickly!”
Get away from Darian? They couldn’t begin to imagine the power of his hands.
Jade twisted beneath Darian’s merciless hold.
Matt was right: Sophia had opened her eyes, and now sat up.
Dark, exotic, as astonishingly beautiful as ever, she rose, smiling at Jade. “This time you’re mine!” she said softly. She looked with amusement at the others in the tomb. “Darian, how droll. The silly fellow thinks she can just get away from you. I think I’ll just kill her. Now.”
“No!” Matt made a flying leap across the room with his stake.
He didn’t make it.
Darian caught him with one hand, plucked the stake from him, and snapped it between his fingers.
The second monk let out a cry, racing forward. It was Danny, Jade realized with sinking horror. Of course. Danny would have never let Matt come alone on such a mission.
But Danny fared no better than Matt. Darian simply lifted his hand, striking Danny with such force that he screamed with pain and was slammed back against the dank stone walls. Sophia stepped gracefully out of her coffin and walked toward Jade.