Prologue

 

Darkness pushes in from every side. The long, never-ending corridor stretches off before her. Countless doors line each side, vaguely seen in the dim light. Cassandra pads down the hall. Her bare feet make slapping sounds on the wooden floor. The woman come to a cross corridor, and stops at the intersection. She stands uncertain wondering which way to go. Dust drifts upward, disturbed by her movements, and swirls around her. Cassandra hugs herself, as the cold breeze makes her nightgown shift and twist with a life of its own. She shivers, and looks down at her arms, she can see goose bumps rising along her skin. She briskly rubs them with her hands to try and rid herself of the offending prickles. Where is Bolinor? Cassandra opens her mouth, calling for him. But in the strange halls, his name echoes back eerily, taunting her. She hears a rustle of fabric brushing against the wall, drifting toward her from out of the darkness. Cassandra whirls to see who is coming, but her movements are agonizingly slow as if she is in a mire of uncertainty. The whispers come closer, seemingly all around her; the ever-present light from the pendent hanging from the chain around her neck fades, almost going out. Cassandra picks up the pendant, and briskly shakes it, as if that will make it bright again.

Suddenly, the hairs on the back of her neck prickle, her heart skips a beat, and her body forgets to breathe. It is as if death caresses her body in a lover’s embrace. She turns again to see who touches her. The darkness mocks her. Scrape. She sobs and spins again. Her body seems to move normally once more, but her long hair hangs, suspended in time, slowly moving to wrap, clingingly about her face like a spider’s web; the flowing nightgown also follows in slow motion, the clinging fabric trying to catch her, and entangle her long shapely legs. Now in the dark hall, she can see the vague outline of a figure. Soundlessly she screams Bolinor’s name again. Her lips form his name, but the words echo back, harshly. The figure stops at the edge of her light. The dim outline of a person reaches out an arm. It is pale, unblemished – the slight arm of a woman. Cassandra breathes easier, and starts moving towards the figure, which is still cloaked in darkness. A tall woman filters wraith-like into the light. Justine waits, floating ghoulishly before Cassandra; her features illuminated in the faint illumination, highlighting the bones and sharp planes of her face and body, making her appears skeletal, terrifying. She is suspended, frozen in place for a moment in time, her feet mere inches off the musty and dirty floor. Cassandra can see the only footprints in the disturbed surface are her own.  Justine beckons for Cassandra to come closer. The woman is dressed as Cassandra, in a voluminous white gown that falls about her legs, leaving her bare feet appearing to be a separate entity. Cassandra can see small stains of red on the décolletage of the woman’s gown. Justine smiles and Cassandra can see a pair of sharp pointed teeth. A drop splashes from one fang onto bare skin, and trickles down her breast, pooling in the diaphanous material, spreading the red stain a little wider. Justine flings her head back, mouth wide, looking as if she is ready to feed, and laughs, a low throaty laugh, one of pure ecstatic pleasure.

Cassandra’s body won’t respond to her shocked, tormented mind.  Again, Justine beckons her. Cassandra screams hysterically, over and over. Finally, the shrill scream pierces the terror that freezes her, and she leaps like one scalded, running down the opposite hall, her gown flowing behind her. Cassandra runs, head down, arms pumping at her sides; heedless of her dignity, her gown riding high on her thighs. She pounds down the darkened corridor, in mindless, panic-imbued flight – the small sphere of light following protectively. As she runs, her panic swiftly changes to spine-chilling terror. Cassandra turns to look for Justine. Justine can be seen drifting slowly in the air; her head back dreamily, eyes closed, her billowing nightdress clinging seductively with her every movement as she follows in Cassandra’s wake. The fleeing woman, slipping on the wooden floor stops, and looks around wildly. The cold wind starts again, and Cassandra’s skin crawls with the icy clammy touch of fear. She can hear the voice of Justine on the wind hauntingly calling her name, “Ca…ssan…dra, Ca…ssan…dra.” Justine’s musical voice is in its sweet and hypnotic. Cassandra’s heartbeat is loud in her ears; she is surprised she can’t see the frantic beating of her heart through her chest. She is suffocating. Where is Bolinor? Why has he abandoned her when she needs him the most?

Justine drifts closer, and Cassandra, petrified, sprints off again, hysterically screaming for Bolinor. She runs head long into a large, broad-shouldered man who instinctively catches her.

 For a split second she rests her head against Bolinor’s chest, “Thank God, I found you,” she sobs, her voice quaking. Something is wrong.

Bolinor smells funny, musty. She looks up to tell him about Justine, and stares at nothingness. The elven shaped figure has no face, just red glowing eyes. Cassandra’s starts shaking. For a split second clarity returns, and she turns to flee, when two bony hands grasp her upper arms hard enough to make her knees sag, making her cry out in pain. She desperately pulls away, leaning her shoulders, and head as far back as she can, then the screaming starts; she can no longer recognize her own voice. She begins thrashing to get away. The harder she fights, the tighter the hands close. Panic takes over, her body is shaking uncontrollably. Her eyes glaze over in unspeakable terror. Frantic to get away, her terrified screams echo off the walls, and the hall is plunged into total hellish darkness as her pendent flares, and goes out. The only lights she can see are the red eyes of the undead Lich as they burn into her.

 

*  *  *  *

 

Cassandra wakes, jerking bolt upright, her breasts heaving, trying to get breath for another cry. Her hands are twisted in the sheets, the tendons standing starkly outlined on her tightly flexed arms, and she looks wildly around. Bolinor startled, quickly sits up, and reaches for his wife. Cassandra lashes out violently. But unlike last night, Bolinor is ready. He catches her arm, and pulls Cassandra to him. She struggles frantically, still caught up in the terror of her nightmare, trying to escape his grasp.

Grasp her firmly, and commands, “Cassie, wake up!”

The woman still thrashes, as Bolinor sooths her. She stops screaming, and looks unseeingly at him. Bolinor pushes her wildly strewn hair back, combing it with his fingers. The familiar contact breaks through. With a sob, Cassandra buries her face in Bolinor’s bare shoulder. He holds her close as she cries deep, heart-wrenching sobs. He runs his hand up and down her back gently, soothing her, holding her tightly. Gradually she stops crying.

“Cassie, Cassie, are you okay?”  Her deep shuddering breathes are Bolinor’s only answer.

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