Temple of the Bat-GodbySabledrake©
And then ... nothing.
The stern voice spoke again. Men took Faith by the arms, this time careful to avoid touching her anyplace else, and guided her down a steep muddy slope.
The river. Were they going to drown her?
She was lifted, another man or two bending to take her ankles. Despite her kicks and struggles, they carried her onto something that dipped and rocked. A raft, or a boat. Water splashed against wood with a hollow sound.
The men crowded in around her. Under the concealment of close quarters, one of them reached under her and groped her bottom. Faith writhed and squealed. Someone pressed a hand on her chest, pressing hard on her sternum, holding her down.
It was too much. Darkness crashed over her again, and she fainted.
Warmth and light awakened her, and Faith's first muddled thought was one of an almost inexpressible relief.
A dream. The bloodshed, the death ... it had all been just a dream. She was safe in her own tent, safe at the camp. Soon Camila would come in, bringing coffee, to help her wash and dress.
A trickle of hot water, coursing down her chest, brought her all the way awake.
And she saw that she was not in her tent at all.
She was bound nude to a slanting slab of rock, tilting back at a forty-five degree angle. Her wrists were above her head, her ankles tied immodestly apart.
A pair of young women stood on either side of her, one holding a large gold bowl while the other dunked a rag, then wrung it out over Faith's body. The steaming water was scented with strange oils.
The women wore dark-yellow sleeveless tunics, the cloth so thin and sheer that they might as well have been bare-breasted. Their inky-black hair was swept up and pinned with ornaments of gold, and gold torcs graced their supple brown throats.
"Help me," Faith whispered.
One of them smiled at her. She spoke in an unfamiliar language, words perhaps meant to be reassuring, and patted Faith on the cheek.
The slab to which she was bound stood at the center of a large chamber. The walls rose in a series of inward-decreasing squares, like the hollow interior of a stepped pyramid – which, Faith surmised, it was.
This had to be Tzikatal, the lost city her father had sought. Tzikatal, and the temple. The temple of the bat-god, known to many Central American tribes as Zotz.
And there, looming high on one of the walls, was an image of Zotz himself. The sculpture depicted a bat with a wingspan twenty feet or more across, and a body twice the size of a man. The head was that of a leaf-nosed bat, with sparkling yellow gems for eyes and a larger gem, a blood-red ruby, set into the base of Zotz's throat.
The statue's only human traits were its curled-fingered hands at the top of the wide wings, and its enormous stone genitalia. The erect phallus jutted up and out from the body, and while the rest of the carving was rough, this part had been polished to a satiny sheen.
The light and warmth in the chamber came from several large braziers, which leaped and crackled with flames. Craning her neck, Faith saw murals, pictographs, plinths and columns. She saw the glint of gold everywhere, shining in the firelight. She saw more maidens in yellow tunics approaching, carrying golden platters heaped with fruit and flowers.
"Please," she whispered to the one who had smiled. "Please, you must help me. Let me go."
Again, the young woman patted her on the cheek. Then she coiled a lock of Faith's hair around her finger and admired the cinnamon-nutmeg hue. The other one pointed to Faith's eyes – the sea-green color had to be unusual to them – and said something perhaps meant to be a compliment. The first one nodded, and reverently touched Faith's creamy-white skin.
"Don't do this, please don't," Faith said, though she was losing hopes she hadn't even known she harbored.
She had listened to her father talk of native tribes and primitive ways long enough to know a sacrifice when she was one. They had undressed and bathed her while she was unconscious, and tied her to this slab in the temple. Next, she would be adorned with flowers, as befit a proper offering to the god.
True enough, the other maidens sprinkled her with fragrant petals, looped garlands around her neck and waist, tucked blooms into her hair.
The smiling one chose a piece of fruit and held it up, cocking her head inquisitively.
At the sight of it, so firm and ripe and juicy, and the succulent smell of it, Faith's stomach growled. Her already dry mouth felt parched. She wanted to resist, wanted to deny them, but the lure of the fruit was too much. She stretched toward it imploringly.
Part of her mind was expecting it to be snatched away, as the women erupted in scornful laughter. But the smiling one held it to her lips. Faith bit deep, and the gush of sweet juice was the most delicious thing she had ever tasted.
"Zivia," the young woman said.
Faith repeated it as a query, not sure if it was her name or the name of the fruit.
"Zivia," the young woman said again, and this time tapped herself to indicate that it was her own name. She gestured inquiringly at Faith.
"Fay-eeth." Again, she smiled, as if proud of herself for managing the difficult foreign word.
"Where is my father? Where is Nick? What have you done with them?" Faith pulled at the bonds, disarranging some of the flowers and earning scolding looks from the other women.
"Fay-eeth," Zivia said, chiding. She lifted a wide-mouthed clay vessel, painted yellow with symbols in red. Something sloshed inside.
The fruit had only roused her appetite, and Faith was overwhelmingly thirsty. She licked her lips. "Please."
Zivia held it so that she could drink. It was chocolate, unsweetened the way the Mayans drank it. Faith drained the vessel despite the bitter taste. She tried not to feel renewed hope – if they meant to kill her, why would they waste precious food and drink on her? – and told herself that fed or not, she was still bound to this slab so like an altar, beneath the glaring yellow eyes of Zotz. At any moment, a priest could come in with a sacred obsidian knife and slit her throat, or cut the still-beating heart from her breast.
A commotion at the side of the chamber made her turn her head. The women fell back and she saw men, men in yellow robes, carrying two large wooden frames. Tied spread-eagle in the center of the frames, naked and battered, were the limp and motionless forms of two white-skinned men.
Her father and Nick.
Faith screamed, yanking on her bonds more fiercely than before. They remained unyielding. Neither man responded to her cry. Blood seeped sluggishly through the professor's cap of thinning, greying hair. Nick's face was puffed and purple from a vicious beating.
"Nick! Nick, can you hear me? Father!"
The yellow-clad men braced the frames upright, seating the long poles in holes in the temple's stone floor. Then, silently, they filed off to the side and formed a line. The women, having finished fussing with the garlands of flowers, joined them. Only Zivia remained, holding a platter of fruit.
She should have been mortally embarrassed to be exposed like this in front of the men, and to be seeing what she was seeing. Yet decency was the least of her concerns. Even her very real fear for her life was fading as a strange lassitude slipped over her.
Drugged? Had the chocolate been drugged?
A low, slow chanting rose from the assembled natives in their yellow robes and tunics. It throbbed in Faith's mind, driving away other thoughts. She felt it in her pulse, which had been racing but now slowed to that steady, rhythmic pace.
Her arms relaxed, going slack against the bonds. A mellow, languid warmth filled her body. At the same time, her senses became heightened. She could smell every different variety of the flowers that adorned her, the fruit, the smoke.
The melody of the chant was a symphony in her ears, underlain by the crackle of the flames. Her vision sharpened until she could make out every minute detail around her, from the smallest pictograph to the individual strands of Zivia's shining black hair. The aftertastes of the fruit and the chocolate mingled into bittersweet. The stone slab was both silky and coarse against her skin. The chamber seemed to be swaying, spinning, subtly expanding and contracting around her.
Drugged, yes ... no question of it.
Zivia took another fruit from the platter. Faith's mouth watered, but the woman did not offer it to her. Instead, Zivia held it over her and squeezed. Clear juice ran from the crushed fruit, spattering Faith's breasts and belly. Beaded droplets of juice sparkled like diamonds on the taut peaks of her nipples. Rivulets of it ran, tickling, down her sides.
"What ... what are you ...?" Formulating words was too great a challenge, speaking an effort for which she hadn't the strength.
Still with that reassuring smile, Zivia crushed a second fruit, the juice dribbling over Faith's legs and the nest of russet curls between them. With her preternatural senses, Faith felt the juice trickle over the sensitive skin of her inner thighs.
A groan from her left made her turn her head, to see that Professor Calloway was stirring. Her father raised his head, blinking blearily at the surroundings. He looked dazed, and whether it was from the head blow he must have sustained, or whether he, too, had been drugged, Faith couldn't be sure.
More figures came into the room, a procession of them, all walking tall and proud. Faith recognized the man in the lead, the one in the gold bat-winged headdress who had tied her hands. He was flanked and followed on both sides by tall, dark shapes wrapped in cloaks ...
No. Not wrapped in cloaks.
Tall, dark shapes with their leathery wings folded about their furry bodies.
The bat-things, the creatures, the monsters. Their talons clicked and scraped on the stone floor as they moved.
The man in the headdress stopped in front of the tilted slab. The bat-things surrounded Faith, their wrinkled black noses twitching and sniffing eagerly.
"Get away from her, you devils!" Nick shouted.
Faith could barely see him past the bat-things, but she could hear him thrashing in a sudden fury, the wooden framework to which he was lashed creaking with the force of his struggles.
"Faith?" her father called querulously.
"Fay-eeth," Zivia said, stroking her cheek.
Feeling dreamy and distant, Faith rolled her head back to its original position.
Zivia's pretty features were blurred. At first Faith thought that this was through some fault of her eyesight, but her vision was still uncannily keen. Then she saw what it truly was ... the short dark fur sprouting from Zivia's skin ... the melt and flow of bone as Zivia's face altered.
Her body was undergoing a similar transformation. She shed her tunic as her shape changed. Upraised arms shortened, contorted. Her pinkie fingers stretched to impossible lengths, curving, extending.
Bat-thing ... bat-woman ... her torso still with something of a feminine shape, though covered with downy black fuzz ... bat-woman with long and lovely legs ending in dainty claws ...
Far down in some portion of her mind, Faith voiced a silent inner shriek. On the outside, she could only stare as Zivia completed her transformation. The bat-woman still wore a gold torc, and golden ornaments in her hair.
"Faith!" Nick threw himself side to side. A piece of wood made a loud splintering crack. "Faith!"
The man in the headdress – the high priest – gave an order and gestured. Four men hurried toward the captives.
Even in her floating, drifting, serene state, Faith caught her breath, expecting to see the flash of knives, the spurt of blood.
Instead, she heard a quick series of thuds and grunts, and when the men stepped back, Nick slumped with his head down and his chest heaving as he sucked in gasps of air.
Zivia brought the cluster of fingers atop one of her wings to stroke Faith's cheek again. Shuddering, she tried to twist away from that abominable caress. The bat-woman's black lips curled in a smile. Her teeth were sharp, almost fangs.
"No!" Faith meant it to be an outraged scream, but the best she could do was a soft moan.
Bending, Zivia lapped sticky-sweet fruit juice from the sideswell of Faith's breast. Her tongue was rose-pink, warm and slippery. Her breath was cool. She licked again, a slow and teasing lick that spiraled around and around the hardened nipple.
"Oh, God, no!" whimpered Faith. As horrified as she was, her body with its inflamed senses was responding to the illicit contact.
Zivia licked up another runnel of juice, taking her time. Faith clenched her fists, trying to will away the tingle that coursed through her, that pulsed strongly between her legs.
This could not be happening! With the silent men and bat-things looking on, with her helpless father and Nick right there ... hearing her mewl and sigh as Zivia's tongue teased her nipples and ran in lingering wet swipes along the valley of her cleavage.
The black, misshapen lips pressed a trail of kisses from her breasts to her belly. Soft kisses with the pinprick threat of sharp fangs only adding to the intensity of the sensation.
Faith tossed her head from side to side, her fingernails digging into her palms, her words begging Zivia to stop while her treacherous body quivered with anticipation and wanted the bat-woman's delicious, tormenting tongue to move lower and lower.
Leathery wings, not rough but smooth as suede, draped over Faith's legs as Zivia crouched, grasped her knees in those clustered fingers, and urged them open as far as the bonds on Faith's ankles would permit. The bat-woman licked away the dribbles of juice that covered Faith's thighs. Her cool breath was an icy susurration against the molten core of Faith's being, and with no more thought for her father, for Nick, for modesty or decency or the onlooking natives and bat-things, Faith tilted her pelvis to present herself to Zivia's mouth.
"Ah! Oh, oh, yes!" was the cry torn from her throat as Zivia's tongue slid wetly along her folds.
She tried once more to free her hands, not so she could push Zivia away but so that she could pull her closer. She had never experienced anything like this, never, not even in her most torrid daydreams. The arousal she'd felt when kissing Nick was nothing compared to this. She wanted more, ached for something she couldn't name, needed and craved it with such a maddening fire that she could barely think.
"More, yes ... oh, a little more ... oh, yes, yes, like that ... more ..." she panted, rocking her hips against Zivia's face, feeling that tongue probe her depths and dart with coaxing urgency against a spot that made her reel from ecstasy. "Just ... just a little ... no!"
This last, bursting from her in a cheated cry as Zivia abruptly drew back, leaving her poised on the brink of some unimaginable precipice. Faith wailed in frustration, bucking her body, opening herself, offering herself.
But the bat-woman rose, sloe-dark eyes fixing hungrily on Faith's, showing those sharp teeth again in a smile. Zivia stepped to the side. She folded her wings around herself.
She became aware that during the entire sordid scene, her father and Nick had been yelling her name, and spewing curses and threats at their captors.
The high priest ignored Nick and the professor. He surveyed Faith, his gaze sweeping her body with possessive insolence. He snapped his fingers, and two of the flower-bearing maidens rushed to remove his yellow robe.
He was naked beneath, his brown-skinned body almost totally hairless, broad shoulders tapering to a narrow waist. Above and behind him, the stone image of Zotz boasted its enormous erection; the priest boasted a less impressive but substantial one of his own.
Faith's head had been somewhat cleared of the drug by the combination of Zivia's depraved attentions and the burning realization that Nick and her Father had witnessed the entire thing, seen her writhing and begging.
Now she looked at the priest with dread, understanding that he meant not to kill her, but take her. Deflower her, the virgin on the altar. Perhaps then, after, would be the obsidian knife.
The male bat-things keened their high, excited cries, and she saw that they, too, were stiff with need. Some had already seized the young women, rudely tearing open their yellow tunics and pushing them to their hands and knees to penetrate them from behind, as Faith had seen done to Inez.
But rather than scream in agony, as the women of the camp had done, these ones welcomed their inhuman ravishers with rapturous moans.
Others of the bat-things only waited, looking at Faith with a raw desire that further blew the fog from her mind and replaced it with cold terror. She turned to the priest with a plea in her eyes – a plea that, even if he had to do this, he would be kind enough to kill her before the bat-things had their turns.
The priest gave no sign that he understood her silent plea. Nor did he immediately settle himself between her legs and plunge into her. He shouted more orders to the yellow-clad men, most of whose robes showed proof of their arousal.
The men dragged the wooden frameworks closer to the stone slab. Faith saw her father's outrage, fear and confusion ... saw something else in Nick. Although he struggled against it, he couldn't control that part of him that twitched and swelled and rose from its bed of thick blond hair.
He met her gaze and immediately looked away, shamefaced ... only to steal another glance at her breasts, her loins.
"Nick," she pleaded.
"Fight them, Faith," he said hoarsely. "Resist them. Don't let them do this to you."
"I ... I can't stop them."
"Then don't like it!" he cried. "Don't – ah!"
Whatever else he had been going to say was lost as Zivia dropped to her knees in front of him and took the whole hard length of him deep in her mouth. Nick's head flew back, cords standing out in his neck. His entire body went rigid, trembling.
"Nick!" Faith shouted. "Nick, no!"
Zivia's head bobbed. She made slurping, sucking noises. Faith could see Nick's erection sliding in and out of her mouth, spit-shiny and huge. Nick groaned each time Zivia swallowed him down again. Sweat stood out in beads on his face.
Another order from the priest made Faith wrench her attention away from Nick. Horribly, shamefully, seeing what Zivia was doing to him only made her want to try it herself, want to feel a man filling her mouth, taste him, see if she could make him groan like that.
The pulsing fire in her loins was stronger than ever, and she was now almost eager for the priest to take her. Just to have an end to it, just to be released from this purgatory of suspense!
But instead, the priest gave an order, and gestured to Professor Calloway. Two of the yellow-clad men cut the ropes that held him, and dragged his stumbling, protesting form toward the altar.
Faith paled at the hideous idea that they might force her father to take part in this unholy ritual, that they might position him between her legs.
"Anything but that!" she screamed. "Please, anything but that!"
The young woman who had helped Zivia bathe Faith knelt at the priest's side, holding the same now-empty golden bowl. The priest raised an obsidian knife that could have been born straight from her worst imaginings. Its black blade gleamed in the firelight.
In a single swift movement, the razor-sharp edge slashed Professor Calloway's throat.
The professor made a surprised, glottal sound that became a gurgle as a red-purple torrent poured from the wound. The young woman caught most of it in the bowl, though she, and the priest, were doused from the pumping arterial spray.