Tears finally broke free and slipped down Caitlyn’s cheeks.
She was being taken to the home of the vampires.
Memories flooded her, nearly crippling her with their sudden strength. They were things she blocked out of her childhood—memories of a time not long after her mother’s death, when she had lived in a haze. She had visited the museum with her father’s old housekeeper and sometime-babysitter; being the precocious brat she was, she broke free and was quickly lost in the crowd. Taken by an old man related to her mother, who she trusted. Put in a car she didn’t know, and taken away.
Her father’s business rival had kept her under lock and key, deranged by his desire to learn the secrets of her father’s success. She was eleven; she knew nothing. To convince her, he had her locked away with a monster with blood red eyes and a name from hell.
It took far too long, but light eventually pricked the distance. It wasn’t harsh electric light, but rather dim and flickering, and warm orange. An old wrought-iron sconce was jammed into the earth wall, and in it danced a small fire, just enough to lit up the door before them. It was plain and black, but there was something about it that was decidedly menacing.
Caitlyn was handed back to Coulter, and his great paws rested on her shoulders, keeping her still.
“Ready, boys?” Makarov grabbed the handles of the door. “Welcome to Castle Dracula.”
There had been hushed babbling before their entrance. At the moment the door opened, it immediately silenced and Caitlyn could feel hundreds of cold, hard eyes locked on her. The room they entered was large and vaguely circular, with walls covered by black drapes and a floor of exquisite marble. Ancient furniture lined the walls, and across from the door were two curved marble staircases that joined a balcony with five hallways. On the floor between the staircases was an old piano with a man at the bench, but no one played. The room was dim, lit only by torches in the same sconces as the one in the tunnel.
Men and women of all races and states of disrepair filled the room. Some were ghastly and pale and looked starved, so their musty clothes hung off them like rags. Others were rosy-cheeked and contented. But all of them had the same bold, brazen eyes; the colours that would be muted and plain in the faces of humans were brilliant and sparkling, full of life and completely animated. Everything, even the people, was immaculately structured, yet it seemed as though all was covered in a fine film of dust.
The silence was palpable. Caitlyn remained stiff, terrified even to breathe in case these predators decided to pounce. Her brain had shut off, and her body tensed, waiting for something to happen so it could decide whether to fight or flee.
Those eyes. Those hard, bright eyes were locked on her. Unmoving. Unblinking.
Caitlyn dropped her gaze and her breath suddenly returned with a painful wheeze. She had accidentally looked into the dark brown eyes of a scowling woman near the front, and her reptilian brain knew that this woman would kill her without a second thought. And she would enjoy it.
Her entourage nudged her forward, and she returned to full consciousness when a dry sort of cackle exploded from above them.
Every hair stood on end, and she glanced back. The sound seemed to come from two grotesque chimera-style gargoyles that flanked the door, but that was impossible.
There seemed to be no hurry, and her captors gave her a moment to stare. As she did, a gravelly voice asked in an unnatural accent, “What are you staring at, human?”
A deeper, slower voice just as rocky as the first drawled, “Why is a living human still in these hallowed halls? Vanessa, you have proven yourself to be intelligent in the past. Why is this girl in the halls of our lord?”
“I don’t know, Abaddon.” The voice was haughty and English, and when Caitlyn looked back around, she saw it came from the woman she had locked eyes with. She was staring now, her eyes narrowed beneath a dark frown. “Why don’t you ask the human’s escorts?”
“Bethany,” the first voice said, singsong. “What are you doing with a human? A living human?”
“Just ignore them,” Makarov muttered, and pushed Caitlyn forward. The crowd parted in silence, cutting a clean path to the staircases.
Forgetting her fear for the moment, Caitlyn asked, breathless, “What was that?”
“Two of the castle’s resident gargoyles,” Jacques-Marie Blanchard replied from behind her left shoulder. “They guard the door.”
“Abaddon does,” Makarov corrected, stealing one more glance behind them. “Asmodeus needs to be removed.”
Caitlyn swallowed a dry lump in her throat. Two of the castle’s gargoyles. That meant there were more of those things.
The crowd in the circular room remained silent as the grave as Caitlyn was escorted up the stairs and onto the balcony. They lingered there in the quiet, waiting.