Diana tried to speak, but her throat was still terribly dry and sore from thirst. The croak that came out was barely audible, especially over the powerful chanting. The bikini-clad woman---her top was no more modest a covering than her bottom---smiled a little more widely. Oh, my god, Moira!
Diana laughed and then sobbed in relief, her vision becoming blurry with unfallen tears. Moira gestured to the one holding Diana's ankles, and she was again standing. Diana had known when she started dating Moira that Moira was the most repressed woman she'd ever met. Moira didn't even realize she was a lesbian until Diana kissed her, releasing in a moment feelings Moira had spent her whole life uselessly trying to kindle with man after man.
Diana was saved! She tried to go to Moira, but her arms were still clamped by the inhumanly strong men on either side of her. The dam holding Di's tears broke, and she looked hopefully, thankfully into the eyes of her lover. Diana didn't know what was happening, but in Moira's familiar presence, she knew that things were going to be OK.
Moira stepped closer and used Diana's makeshift dress to wipe the tears and snot from Diana's face. Then Moira grasped Diana's chin in leather-gloved fingers and very lightly touched her lips to Diana's...before moving aside and keeping Diana's chin steady, holding her gaze at what had lay behind Moira.
Diana's brow furrowed, as the sight before her did not at first make sense. A few yards further on, the passageway opened out into a large cavern. Diana craned her head up, but the roof of the cavern was lost in darkness. The far side looked at least fifty yards away, with torches burning in sconces set in the cavern wall every couple of yards. The floor of the cavern was filled with figures dressed the same as the four who'd washed and dressed her (though the other ones appeared to be normal-sized). They swayed in an eerie unison, the chanting filling the room with low, odd voices. They were moving toward a very tall, thin black-robed figure standing beside some kind of table.
Diana's eyes grew wide, and her breath caught. That was no table. If she'd had more than a sip of water in the last twenty-four hours, she would have wet herself. That was a stone altar. Moira's lips tickled Diana earlobe, her soft voice audible over the din. "You really messed with my mind, Di. Don't know how you did it, but you're damn sure not going to do it again."
Diana turned to plead with Moira, but Moira stepped back, and the two large men dragged her up onto the altar. Diana was weeping openly, now. The four men who had brought Diana here cut free her arms, and then each of them held one of Diana's limbs, her body positioning her on the cold, stone slab. The tall, thin one who had been standing by the altar when they entered was now standing at Diana's head. He held a book in one hand---his hands were bare, unlike the others. Dark skin, like an African. His right hand was drawing strange figures in the air, and it sounded like he might be speaking in the same language as chanting, though he was not repeating the same words like they were. His cadence was more like a priest speaking a benediction.
Moira climbed up onto the altar and knelt between Diana's splayed legs. She slipped the long, curved dagger that Diana had noticed earlier from its ornate leather and silver sheath strapped to one hip. She used the dagger to cut away the rough, makeshift dress that Diana had been wearing, and tossed the scraps aside, leaving Diana completely naked and spread-eagled on a raised dais in front of a cavern filled with dozens or hundreds of people. Moira placed a hand beside Diana's rib cage and leaned down close, her forearm resting lightly against Diana's breast. Diana felt vulnerable, embarrassed, and terrified. And damn me, thought Diana, but I am completely turned on! What the hell is wrong with me?
Moira brushed her cheek against Diana's. "If Master Art's right," said Moira directly into Diana's ear, again, "you're going to be spending eternity as some sadistic demon's plaything. And if he's wrong, well you'll just be plain old dead." Diana stiffened, unbelieving---trying to will it away. She felt Moira smile next to her cheek. "You should start screaming, sweety."
"And this is my sister," sounded Ran's voice from behind Reese. Reese turned to find Ran and a man each holding a drink in both hands. He was indeed very handsome, in a dangerous, bad boy kind of way. His skin ran a dark Mediterranean olive, definitely darker than Ran's flawless chocolate cream. He had crew cut black hair, leaving a few scars visible on his scalp. Pale gray eyes contrasted attractively against his skin, and his designer jeans and form-fitting T-shirt emphasized an athlete's physique.
Ran could pick 'em.
Reese stood to meet him, and his look of mild amusement turned to open surprise as he had to look almost half a foot up to meet Reese's eyes.
"Your sister?" he laughed. Though his facial expression said he was at ease and speaking to Ran, his weight shifted to put his body subtly at the ready, and Reese felt as though she was getting assessed---as a potential threat, not as a bedmate. Reese was north of six feet tall put together with straight lines and hard edges. Natural platinum blond hair was pulled back into a loose pony tail from Reese's high, sharp cheekbones and well defined jawline. She met the newcomer's gray eyes with her own crystal blue.
He had pretty eyes, yes, but they were hard. His hands wore scars, as did his arms, which had moved slightly away from his body. Reese sensed that he was ready ...and dangerous. Not just "bad boy" dangerous.
Ran was looking at the empty seats across from Reese, oblivious to the sizing up happening right beside her. "Yeah, half-sister," she said. "Her mom's a Viking, mine was a pygmy. I see the Bickersons hoofed it. That your doing?" Ran turned back toward Reese and the newcomer. "Wow." She looked at each of them in turn. "You two look like tigers about to strike. I think that if I concentrate, I might just be able to hear the tension thrumming in the air between you two."
Ran set the drinks she'd been holding on the table, leaned one shoulder against her sister, and casually put the her hand on the other "tiger's" chest. "How 'bout we dial back the badassery vibe and have some drinks, huh?" She circled around the table, dragging her hand over gray eyes's shoulder as she went, managing to steal his eyes away from Reese over the brief trip to Roland's now-vacant chair. "Oo, we have these two extras drinks to get through, now. Yay us!"
Ran's new friend chuckled and plopped down in Emily's old seat, diagonal from Reese. The tension had relaxed from his body, but he didn't let Reese leave his field of vision. "'Yay' is right." He set the drinks from his own hands in the middle of the table. "I'm Jordan." He extended a hand. "Broomhilde, I presume?"
"Good lord," said Reese, "You joke like Ran---" As Reese was sitting back down, the whole room dimmed, and she dropped the rest of the way into her chair, almost falling out of it. Reese grabbed the edge of the table to stay upright and squeezed her eyes shut. She felt like ocean waves were passing over her, tipping her perception of the room off-center. Something like whalesong filled her ears; Reese guessed it may have been the voices in the room, but they sounded like Reese was just underwater and they were coming to her from above the surface.
Diana paused a beat, and tried to scream. All that came out at first were raspy threads of ragged breath. Then she did indeed start screaming and struggling with everything in her. Reason, logic, intellect, directed passion---the qualities she prided in herself---were completely replaced by terror. She screamed as Moira raised back up onto her knees and began chanting along with the man at Diana's head---Master Art? This could not possibly be real! Diana screamed long and loudly, in spite of dryness in her throat, as Moira touched the tip of her dagger to the crown of Diana's head. Diana's breath caught in her throat for a moment as Moira moved the dagger blade down from her head, and Diana she felt the cold metal against her labia, and she dared not move.
But the dagger was there no longer than it had been against the crown of her head. Diana resumed screaming as the point of the blade touched---poked!---her forehead. Moira raised up the knife again, then touched---Ow, ow, ow! That went in a little!---Diana's naval. Still chanting with Master Art, Moira pressed the point of the dagger into Diana's throat. There was blood---her blood!---dripping from the point of the dagger, now, when Moira raised it up then rested---no, pushed---it against the base of Diana's solar plexus.
Moira raised it up again, but did not immediately poke Diana anywhere with it again, yet. Moira instead raised the dagger over her own head, holding it with both hands, and undulated side to side as she and the tall African half-sung, half-chanted their own counterpoint to the words of the crowd below.
Slowly, Diana realized that the strange words spoken by Moira and "Master Art" had shifted and were no longer different from what the crown was chanting. They were all saying the same words, at exactly the same time. A hundred throats, a hundred tongues, in unison.
Diana watched Moira move---all sense of lust completely evacuated after the touch of that ugly, wicked knife---and a flexing of Moira's abdominal muscles was her only warning. Diana desperately flung herself to one side as Moira stabbed down, the knife plunging up to the hilt into Diana's chest. With an odd detachment, Diana noted that she could feel a jolt through her neck and shoulders as the tip of the blade bit into the stone beneath her back. The chanting had stopped at the exact instant that Moira had stabbed down.
Diana could feel blood welling up from her chest and draining out her back, but she couldn't scream any more. She doubted she had more than a few seconds---a couple minutes at most---but at least she'd managed to move enough, just enough, so that the dagger had missed her heart. Something big had been sliced open, though. She couldn't draw a breath---did that mean it was a lung? Shouldn't it hurt more? Moira pulled the dagger from Diana's chest, and instead of pain, she just felt cold, like all the warmth in her was quickly draining through the hole in her back and falling away into the cold stone beneath her.
Diana looked up at Moira, who was looking overhead, pointing the blood-soaked dagger straight up. Moira did not seem to take any notice of the drops of Diana's blood that fell to her face. The expression on Moira's face was...ecstasy. Diana had seen her make that face, had been the cause of it.
Everything within Diana's field of vision started glowing. This must be what dying is like. She'd been expecting the light to narrow down to a tunnel and for there to be a light at the end that would draw her forward. That was what was in the near-death accounts: a light at the end of a tunnel of darkness. This warm glow all around her was not what she'd expected, but in her fading thoughts, she considered it much more pleasant. A weak smile touched Diana's lips, as she took comfort in the fact that her death was unique---at least so far as Diana knew. An all-over glow, like basking in the afterglow of a fantastic orgasm. An odd thought to have at the moment of her death? Maybe. But Diana held onto it, embraced the wonder, wanting her last moments to be joy, instead of the terror of moments ago.
Moira looked down, and Diana met her eyes. Diana couldn't help but appreciate the aching beauty of Moira's piercing ice-blue eyes, straight, perfect nose, eminently kissable lips, and narrow chin, all framed with naturally jet-black hair. "I forgive you," whispered Diana, strangely clear in her ears in spite of the parched throat and the screaming. Now was not the time to hate. Hate was for the living, and Diana run to her end of that. "I think I loved you, Mo." Diana's eyelids had gotten too heavy to hold open. She wanted to see Moira at her end. "Either way, though: I forgive you. Go in peace." Strange how natural those words fell from Diana's lips. She hadn't said those words since she was a little girl. It felt good. Then, the light grew outward from every crevice and pore and became everything.
Extremely dizzy and just a little nauseated, Reese slowly opened her eyes. Directly in front of her was her sister, completely naked but for slowly billowing waves of jet black hair that draped over her from her head to what would have been her ankles, were she standing. Brilliant white wings---angel wings---were at her back, and as Reese watched, Ran's wings arched over Reese protectively. Emanating from every part of her, even her black hair and large, dark eyes, was a bright, warm golden glow that illuminated and highlighted every part of their surroundings.
Beside Ran, Jordan was a man superimposed with a tiger, a demon, a gorilla---they kept shifting, and every one of them looked dangerous and hungry---except where Ran's light shined on him. Jordan's right arm and the right side of his face were clad in shining knight's armor, and instead of hunger, his right eye shone with strength and resolve. He, too, had colors emanating from his body, but they were dimmer than Ran's and kept shifting. Red, black, sickly green---and cool, steel blue on the side adjacent to Ran.
There were other images, other colors and shapes around the room, but all of this Reese took in in between two heartbeats, and only the two across from her were clear. Then the room went completely black.
Time felt strange. It neither moved forward nor stood still, but seemed to hover just out of Reese's view, like a detached observer. Reese drifted through darkness, and scenes would materialize and quickly fade. Ran clad in armor, like Joan of Arc, and wielding a great two-handed sword, those beautiful wings outstretched behind her. Hordes of small, dark rat-men running through a crumbling, burning city. An empty suit of armor on the back of an enormous wolf. A beautiful woman clad in green and brown and burnt orange kissed Reese on the mouth and said something Reese couldn't hear. The woman in green looked serene, yet sad and lost. When she reached her hands out to Reese and her serenity turned to terror.
Reese took the woman's hands. The rest of the imagery around her was so dreamlike that she didn't didn't expect to find real and warm, trembling fingers clasped in her hands. The woman's strangely familiar eyes flickered back to Reese, and the terror turned to fearful hope. Reese pulled the woman to her and wrapped her arms around her, whispered that whatever it was that frightened her, that it would be all right.
Reese broke away, and realized that her arms were empty. Everywhere around her were twisting and shifting chaotic forms and scenes.
More and more images flew faster and became less distinct. Taking form from the chaos was the lady she had embraced, now dressed in green form-fitting armor, astride the huge wolf that had passed before. Her cheeks were awash with tears, and she saluted Reese formally just before Reese sank again into dark unconsciousness.
Moira's ears hummed, Diana's last words still echoing in her mind. Motes of light were swirling all over her and Art's bodies, and there was so much of what Art had called the "Power" flowing through her that she was still struggling to maintain her composure through what Moira could only think of as a continuous full-body orgasm.
Composure was very, very necessary. In spite of the Power, in spite of the intense pleasure rocketing back and forth from her loins to the tips of her fingers and toes and back again. Moira was looking down. Down at a bare, bloody slab of stone. They had completed the ritual, they had called forth the Other, and it had opened a long-closed door on another world, flooding them all with Power, unimaginable, impossible, mythical Power.
But their sacrifice was gone. Caught in the revelation of Power, Moira could barely hear the screaming that erupted all around her, let alone contemplate the implications of her former lover’s missing corpse.