Torture scenes are based off of Dante’s Nine Cirlcles of Hell
I pulled up to Freyda’s mansion early in the afternoon. The building itself sprawled across a huge swath of land and the antique white of the walls and three story tall columns against acres of verdant green woods was a shock to the senses after hundreds of miles of highway. I parked my car down the street in the area reserved for employees. Disguised as a tall freckled brunette with a plain and forgettable face, I checked in with Quinn under the assumed name we had agreed on, Barbara Whittles. He immediately put me to work setting up the bar, which I was used to doing, and thankful for. I didn’t need time to freak out about the plan and keeping my hands busy was the best way to accomplish that. There was blood and liquor to stock, glasses to arrange, and a fountain to be filled with Red Stuff. Most of the vampires wouldn’t drink from the fountain itself, but use the bar or the cocktail servers for their refreshments.
The staff for the evening was not allowed costumes of their own choosing. I wore a white off the shoulder peasant’s blouse and corset, thank god not a real one or I’d never have been able to breathe let alone fight, muddy brown breeches, and knee high leather lace-up soft-soled boots. I had a silver locket around my neck that had been a gift from Pam the night we had gone shopping that complemented the costume nicely. All in all, I felt like I belonged on the cover of a Harlequin romance novel about the feisty daughter of a Scottish Laird who refuses to wear skirts, fights with a sword, and is simply waiting to be ravished by the first Highland rogue who passed her way. The rest of the staff was dressed in some variation of the same outfit I wore.
As coordinator for Extreme(ly Elegant) Events, Quinn had his hands full, but he still managed to hide the weapons for everyone where they’d be easily retrieved. Some were hidden under the draping of the fabric that clung to the walls, some under the front of the stage, and he had even been able to leash a few under the tables scattered around the outskirts of the room, though that had been harder. My katana was strapped underneath the bar I would be tending. It would be hard not to reach underneath and touch it in reassurance, but I had to keep my hands where they would be seen unless I needed to grab another bottle of blood for what would be a steady stream of bloodthirsty vampires. There would need to be an ample amount of blood and donors to offset the bloodlust that the vampires would be pushed to by the time they reached their final destination.
When the vampires rose for the evening the room was ready and we simply awaited their arrival. It was the only room that hadn’t been decorated in some kind of a torture chamber and was instead decked out as if it were a medieval castle, one that had no need of accoutrements to make it creepier. The ceiling was made of glass and a sky full of stars provided a canopy of night that thankfully alleviated the sense of claustrophobic doom the guests had just witnessed. There was no electric lighting and the room was instead lit by thousands of white and blood red candles stuck into skulls. In between the floor to ceiling windows, black velvet had been draped over the walls, held in place by silver chains and manacles, and it rippled down over hidden pillars. Wax from the candles had started to drizzle over the velvet and the room was thick with a sinister vibe. Involuntary chills ran up and down my spine and my anxiety had almost reached a fever pitch by the time the first of the guests started arriving.
Freyda’s theme was morbidly disturbed and very obviously a warning to those who might think to overthrow her. The guests began in the foyer where they wound their way up the marble staircase lit only by torches and draped by red, orange, and gold fabric that gave the appearance of falling flames. They then passed through one of the mouths of a three headed beast with sharpened teeth five feet long and dripping a viscous fluid. One of the staff dressed as The Ferryman led them down the River Styx where they then passed through a series of rooms. I’d had to walk through at one point when I needed more supplies for the bar and was thankful that I hadn’t been required to help arrange any of them. I’d give it to Quinn, his staff did a great, if very disconcerting, job creating the Queen’s vision. Honestly I had no idea how Quinn could stomach the theme, but I imagined that one did not say no to a vampire queen no matter how demented she was. Every one of the vampires in each of the rooms was one who had crossed Freyda and earned her wrath. What I saw made me even more anxious to end her in a very painful way.
In the first room was a huge grey worm with a bloated body that watched over three vampires who were chained to the wall at the base. The chains were of a length that when stretched to their tightest would not reach to the waterfall of blood that would slake their thirst. They were emaciated and had obviously been starved. Tears of dried blood crusted across their faces and their tortured screams were silent from overuse. The guests would then walk down a staircase passed by naked vampires pushing netted mounds of silver up the stairs. The smell of searing flesh accompanied the sound of skin being ripped off where it came in contact with the silver. By the time they reached the top, their hands, arms, and torsos were nothing but raw exposed muscle.
The next room they passed through was made to look like a series of ancient caves. Bars trapped the vampires inside where they were doused by flames just to the point of death. They were then allowed to heal until the process began again. The Ferryman then led the guests outside where five hot tubs had been filled with blood and heated to the boiling point. More vampires were chained above them and routinely lowered up to their shoulders in the liquid. When they were removed their bodies were a mass of blistered skin that slipped in gloppy chunks from their bodies. They were then released from their bondage and chased by ferocious slathering dogs, but because of the extent of their injuries they didn’t stand a chance. Once caught by canine jaws, the vampires were once again chained in place to start the progression over.
The path then lead back into the mansion once again and into the last room where a fire breathing dragon had been created and hovered over the entire room. In each of its claws dangled vampires whose bodies were broken, distorted, and held suspended above a pool of boiling pitch. They were whipped and carved by silver swords to within an inch of their undead lives and then rapidly and repeatedly dipped into the boiling mass. I’d nearly run through the entire thing to get to the main room and was utterly sick to my stomach by the time I made it back to the place where I would bartend. I held it together, just barely, and made sure I didn’t have to walk through again since I wasn’t certain I’d be able to go through with the plan. I didn’t want to run screaming because what I’d seen reaffirmed my belief that what we were doing was right.
Once the party was underway, I tried to relax and simply throw myself into the job I had been given. I was thankful for the distraction. When the band started I stared as Bubba strode onto stage, complete in a white rhinestone studded jumpsuit, looking as if he had never died and risen as a mentally-challenged vampire. I had worried that the amount of people would unnerve him and that we might run into some trouble with him, but instead he looked to be enjoying himself. He must not have had to walk through Freyda’s circles of hell, I thought, and then reminded myself to focus, which I did on the music that enveloped the room. I knew the majority of Bubba’s bigger hits, but it was a real treat to hear some of his lesser known songs. I forced a smile thinking that he looked happier than I had ever seen him, as if being back on stage unlocked the human he used to be.
I hadn’t seen any of my vampires, as I thought of them now, since two nights previous and I hoped that everything had gone according to plan on their end. The room continued to fill up and I was three deep at the bar with the initial crush of attendees. It was so busy that the servers poured their own glasses of blood to pass around though later in the night I would do it for them. The effects of the tour the guests took to the main party were evident in the blackened eyes and elongated fangs of the vampires who rushed the bar, but slowly the feeling of bloodlust abated.
I didn’t notice that Pam, Karin, and Bill had arrived until they were directly in front of me. I was glad to see that they looked to be in control of themselves, though I imagined it was simply because they were already thrumming with the need for battle and they knew that shortly their bloodlust would be released. Though disguised they all knew it was me, but I think it still startled them a bit to see how entirely different I looked. It was the only newly acquired skill of mine that Bill knew about and we had let him in on it only because there was no way around it. We decided to keep everything else from him because he simply couldn’t be trusted. I had argued with them at first, but then had to agree that they were much better judges of character than me. It had been close a few times, and there was a chance that he had seen me practicing with my fireballs at some point, but we had done our best to keep the information from him. After his behavior the night of Eric’s unexpected visit, I had realized just how right they were.
Karin was in the Roman clothing of Boadicea and Bill had come as a civil war soldier, not very imaginative if you ask me, but I thought Pam’s costume was the best. After all of our debate the night of our shopping excursion, she had decided to go in the guise of my very first impression of her: Alice in Wonderland. The blue satin dress with white apron and black headband suited her pale features and long blonde hair, giving her an even younger appearance than normal. She’d even donned white tights and black Mary-Janes to complete the look. It was perfect. We didn’t speak during their time at the bar, obviously, as I would have loved one of Pam’s pep talks right about now, but I didn’t have time to think as there were other vampires waiting to be served.
Mr. Cataliades wandered up eventually, ordering a simple glass of wine, dressed as Abraham Lincoln, and I stifled a chuckle when I realized the irony of his costume, seeing as he’d be helping us to free a slave before the end of the evening. He shook his head only slightly letting me know that our last ditch judicial effort had failed. Mr. C. had found a little known Norse law that stated a spouse could seek a divorce if they were taken out of their country against their will. Unfortunately the laws only pertained to women and technically Eric had not been taken out of the country, only his state and away from his home. Evidently, it wasn’t enough.
Once the initial press was over, and I had finally really regained my composure, I had a chance to really check out the guests. Some had come in traditional masquerade wear, elaborate ball gowns and masks, but some had opted for more modern costumes. Barry stopped by to mentally point out those in attendance who were on Team Eric. Win, who I already knew, and Ritchie came as Bonnie and Clyde, Genevieve and Jean-Pierre had come as Christine and Eric from Phantom of the Opera, while Mac, the grizzled old man had come as John Wayne. I was thankful at many points for Barry’s presence simply because it gave me someone to speak to, even if it was about trivial things like the stupidity of Bill’s costume.
The room was almost filled. I still hadn’t seen Eric and was getting a bit nervous about that. A hundred thoughts ran through my head about what might have gone wrong, which included him being dipped into a boiling hot tub of blood, but Barry assured me that Freyda simply liked to make an entrance. And that she did. The room fell silent as she and Eric entered. She had come as a Goddess. Freyja, Norse Goddess of Beauty, I overheard from the conversations of the guests, but it was Eric who really stole the show. He had come as Thor and was in full on Viking gear. My heart stopped for a moment as I saw him as he might have been a thousand years ago. He was spectacularly striking and I was in awe of the masculinity that rolled off him. It occurred to me that if I had met him back then I would never have been able to resist him. He wore his blonde hair tied back in his usual leather thong, but for the first time I realized it must be a holdover from his original era. He looked around the room and it seemed almost as if he was looking for me, but he only knew that I was playing bartender tonight and there were a few bars set up around the room. I remembered quickly that I shouldn’t be staring and regained my breath.
I kept busy by studying the room and the guests in attendance. I finally saw Felipe and shoved down a snort when I saw that he had come dressed as Dracula. Eric must be stewing about what he would construe as disrespect, but I figured anything that allowed Felipe to wear a cape would be a good enough reason for him. He approached a donor and whisked into his arms and his fangs. The party was in full swing now and the time for our plan to go into action rapidly approaching. I knelt down under the bar to ensure that I had the bottle of colloidal silver that would be used to spike the champagne glasses filled with blood which the guests would toast with at midnight. I spiked a few bottles of blood while I was below the bar and set them to the left so I wouldn’t grab them by accident. Barry was in charge of making sure that the unspiked drinks made it to our allies while the rest of the servers would pass out the rest. It wouldn’t do too much except buy us some time to get to the weapons and take Freyda by surprise.
We had all agreed that Freyda was Eric’s and none of us were to touch her. It was our job to take out the rest of the enemy. We would have no way to discern who was innocent in the throng, but I had to accept that there would be casualties. There was simply no way to kill only those who were on Freyda’s side. I just hoped that Barry would be able to get the staff out of the room before the worst of it began. I shoved those thoughts away and focused on the battle. I needed to stay focused and so I watched as the Queen made Eric follow her around. It didn’t appear that he spoke much and although outwardly he seemed calm, I knew he must be seething. How could she do that? Why in the world did she think that wouldn’t come back to bite her? He was a proud Viking warrior, my proud Viking warrior I amended silently, and he was not meant for servitude. Anyone who knew him would know that. When watching him paraded around almost pushed me over the edge I changed my attention to the rest of our allies.
If I hadn’t known what was coming I wouldn’t have suspected anything, but those on our side were all alert and ready. They held the tension in their shoulders and quick movements that simply looked like they were scanning the crowd. I watched as Karin kept a close watch on Bill, occasionally joining his conversations if he appeared the least bit twitchy. Which, it was Bill so that was often enough. She played the part of the dutiful arm candy so as not to attract attention, but knowing how she loathed him I knew it was all a ruse. We had made it part of the plan so that it would appear to Freyda and Felipe that all was well on the Louisiana front. None of them would approach Eric and draw attention to any unrest, though it must have been even harder for them since they had the run of the entire party. At least I was stuck behind the bar and wouldn’t have been able to go to him even if I had been tempted, which of course I was. I had to remind myself several times to be patient.
By the time the Queen decided we would make our entrance I was ready to strangle her, but it would not do. We needed to take out as many as we could to show our strength to ensure that no one would try to retaliate against us. The room was filled when we arrived and my eyes searched for Sookie’s even knowing that she would be disguised. I would know her no matter what. As I scanned the bartenders I passed over the small blonde female and the sandy brown hair of a man of average height off to my right. In the back was a tall lean woman with ebony skin, her hair cropped short, next to a short man whose skin was the color of cappuccino. It was neither of them. Quinn would have ensured that she was the only one at her bar. I passed over two other bar stations manned by people who were easily forgotten. My gaze slid over the crowd and I saw Pam, Karin, and Bill as well as Ritchie and Win and the rest of my allies. Where was she?
There she was. To the left of the stage stood a lean woman of medium height, brunette hair, and freckles. She would have been plain to anyone else, but her stance and the way her eyes widened slightly as I stood in the front of the guests, revealed her to me. I could tell she didn’t think I recognized her, but it was her none the less. I smiled inwardly when I realized she must have enjoyed my costume and I turned slightly to give her a better view. I almost laughed when her glance skittered back to the bar. It was unnoticed by anyone else, but I had been looking for it. I kept my joy on the inside and it tangled with my fear for her in the upcoming battle. I reminded myself that she was no longer at a disadvantage. Pam and Karin had been training her and, though she may not be as good as she would eventually be, she would be able to hold her own. Pam would never have allowed her to come otherwise.
I calmed myself and followed Freyda like a good consort. I had learned over the previous months what she expected and I would do nothing to draw her attention this evening. As the time passed I ran through the myriad of ways I had considered killing her. It would be drawn out if I could arrange it, but as long as her blood ran through my fingers this evening, I would be happy. Quinn had informed me earlier that I had a broadsword hidden beneath the stage for my use. He had made it look like he was simply apprising me of the status of the event, but he had slipped me a piece of paper that revealed my weapon’s location, which I promptly burned in the fireplace in my quarters. My blood shot electric through my veins as I watched my allies moving like chess pieces. Karin kept a close eye on Bill, which I approved of, but I hoped that our fears would be unfounded. I would still kill him for trying to turn Sookie against me, but I had no doubt of her loyalty, only his.
Quinn stopped at each of my allies, appearing only to make small talk, but I knew better. He was revealing to each of them the knowledge of the hidden weapons. The moments ticked by and though time usually passed quickly for vampires I understood Sookie’s human impatience. I wanted to start killing things. Instead I watched as the guests mingled, danced, flirted, and chatted, seemingly oblivious to the coming bloodshed. I had worried initially when Freyda had finally revealed her theme for the evening that we might have problems with early bloodlust, but the tension dissipated as the guests took their fill of blood, whether bottled or from a donor. I stole glances at Sookie and had to stifle my jealousy since, despite her plain appearance, there were several vampires in attendance who looked like that wanted to sample her. She was mine I wanted to roar in anger and pride. Soon enough, I thought to myself, soon enough. At one point I saw Harrison slip out of the ballroom and I knew that the time was almost upon us.