Chapter I

The tallest spires of the castle seemed to pierce the sanguine moon, which was huge, blood-red, and hovering in the skies above. The castle seemed to be tens of hundreds of years old, but it seemed much older in its design and outer condition. Spires of towers pierced the sky, and gargoyles fiercely guarded the towers and balconies. A few windows were dimly lit, seemingly by candlelight, while most were pitch-black. Two huge wooden doors provided entrance to the fortress; a huge, stained-glass window was situated above the door. Huge, gnarled trees surrounded the castle, and a light mist covered the earth. It was a truly magnificent yet spine-tingling sight

The horse tossed its mane and pawed the ground in anticipation. Wolves howled in the distance, and a flock of ravens flew over head. Then all was silent. The girl stared grimly at the castle ahead. She'd been sent here to retrieve an ancient amulet that was stolen from a family in the town she'd come from. At first, the girl had refused the quest, but after reconsideration, she took it. Partly for the family's sake, and partly a feeling of revenge and retribution drove her to take the case, and she was, standing in front of the castle. A castle that, in her mind, imprisoned her race's spirits and held nothing but evil and hatred. The horse tossed its mane imaptiently and the girl patted its neck while gathering the reins in her hand. She put her left fist to her right shoulder and bowed her head in a silent vigil, vowing revenge. Then she gathered the reins in both hands and spurred her horse into a gallop for the castle ahead.

Canine paws hit the ground alongside her. She could hear the wolves following her horse, could almost hear their teeth clicking together, but she urged her horse on. They were nearly upon the castle when a huge silver and black wolf jumped in front of the horse. The horse reared and began walking backwards as the rest of the pack appeared alongside the horse and rider. The alpha wolf growled, baring sharp, ivory-colored teeth. The girl watched the wolf waringly, halting her horse. Slowly, she dropped the reins and reached behind herself. Then the wolf attacked.

The wolf jumped into the horse's face and it reared, its hooves knocking the wolf to the ground. The wolf let out a snarl, then howled, signaling the pack to attack. The pack moved forward, snarling with every step. Two wolves, one on either side of the girl, reared up and tried grabbing her legs in their jaws. She kicked each dog fiercely in the jaw and they fell back, regaining their stance and snapping at her feet. She retrieved one of her weapons-an ivory boomerang, sharpened at each end and fatally accurate. She flung it at the wolf to her right and it let out a high-pitched yip as its throat was slashed by the 'rang. She then turned to the dog on her left and treated it to the same fate. A loud howl came from behind, and the girl turned to see another wolf jump onto her horse's rump. Its claws dug into the horse's flesh and the horse screamed in pain. The canine began snapping at the horse, and the girl whipped around with her arm extended, the 'rang in hand. The dog was decapitated cleanly at the throat, and she shoved the corpse off the horse. The horse's wounds weren't too serious, but it was bleeding badly. The girl covered the horse's rump with part of her cape, then faced forward, where the rest of the wolves had congregated around their leader. The alpha wolf growled deep in its throat, and the girl glared deep into its garnet eyes and growled also. The wolves stood their ground, not moving an inch, growling deeply, loudly. Unfazed, the girl let out a war scream and spurred her injured horse onward, through the pack. Some of the wolves were fast enough to dodge the horse's hooves, but the girl could hear the yowls, yips, and screams of the dogs caught under the flurry of hooves, heard the snaps and squelches of their broken bodies. The horse ran on as the wolves leapt away, leaving their dead and dying comrades behind. The girl kept her stony gaze on the fortress ahead, and minutes later, pulled her horse's reins up, halting it, and stared up at the immense wooden doors that kept her out of Chateau d'Enfer-Hell's Castle.

The girl raised her head to take in the castle's entirety, her eyes quickly scanning the immense house of horrors. She let out a small, low laugh and leapt off her horse's back. She walked to the rear of the horse, patting its side, then inspected the wound on its rump. Not too serious, but the flesh was torn and still bleeding. Soothing the horse, the girl laid her hand on the bloody wound. Her hand seemed to glow with an unearthly light, and within seconds, the horse was healed, the blood gone. The girl took her hand back, patted the horse's rump again, then tied its reins to a nearby tree branch. The horse's eyes widened in fright, but the girl raised a single finger to her lips and the horse obeyed, standing still, occasionally tossing its mane, switching its tail, or pawing the ground. Assured that her mount would keep quiet, the girl quickly dashed to the castle doors and gently pushed. She jumped back as the door creaked open, then warily stepped in, looking back one last time to make sure her horse was where she'd tied it. It was, and the girl entered the castle.

The front room was immense. It was barely lit, and ancient paintings and tapestries hung on the stone walls. The paintings were covered by a thick layer of dust; the girl drew a single finger across one, and brought her finger back to her face, inspecting the thick dust that had accumulated on her finger. Ancient, bare, wooden furniture adorned the floors. Bronze and gold candelabras stood on tabletops, candles lightly flickering. She looked up, and saw an old chandelier hanging from the ceiling, unlit. The floor was covered by a thick midnight-blue carpet, and led to an open doorway. The girl calmly walked down the hall and into a room full of statues. She glanced at the statues cautiously, but didn't notice the panther statue's eyes behind her gleam with a supernatural orange glow. It let out a low growl. The girl gasped and spun to see the huge panther slinking toward her. She saw its orange eyes and frowned, reaching behind herself for her main weapon-a long, thin sword, passed down in her family for centuries. The cat pounced, but the girl's reflexes were too quick. The demon-cat screeched as the sword tore a long gash in its belly, and the thing collapsed, dead. The girl stoically resheathed her sword and walked quickly through the room, lest she be ambushed by any more haunted statues or demons.

She had almost made it through the room when she heard a strange noise. She stopped and listened as hard as she could, ears pricked. It sounded somewhat human, and it was laughing! Angered, she rushed through the room and came to a sudden stop. She was now outside, in a gargantuan courtyard. A maze of hedges blocked her way. Sighing in anger and exasperation, the girl dashed through the labyrinth, stopping every so often when it sounded like the voice was close to her. Her eyes shone fiercely. The voice was aggravating her and whoever it belonged to knew it. It seemed to be mocking her, sounding close, but leaping away when it seemed she was right on top of it. In seconds, the girl left the maze and stalked to another door to re-enter the castle. This room was substantially smaller than the ones she'd dealt with before, and as she walked forward, she noticed that she was not alone. Two people stood in the room also, on the other side, with a torch between them and on either side of them. The girl gazed at them and stood calmly, trying not to let her frustration show, as she knew that one of these people must have been the one taunting her in the labyrinth. Sure enough, one of the people, a young, silver-haired man, chuckled the familiar, mocking laugh, and the girl frowned, keeping her temper in check for the moment.

"It took you long enough to get here," the young man said in a surprisingly deep voice. Although he seemed no older than twenty-one, the girl knew better-this man was almost three hundred and seventy-six years old. The man suddenly smiled and the girl looked up at him with a cocked eyebrow. "Ah, so you know who I am," he said. "You have been taught well, young one." The girl sneered.

"I may know you, but only by one name-murderer," she snarled. The man chuckled again, then walked toward her, his cape flowing behind him as he strode across the smooth marble floor. He stopped three feet in front of her and bowed deeply.

"Oh, but that isn't my given name, young one. You were taught well, but not that well, I see," he said calmly, cockily. He tried to take her hand in his, but she jerked it away. He smiled. "Allow me to introduce myself," he said. "My name is Feuer." His eyes gleamed garnet as he smoothly walked to his original position, not looking behind him as he strode backward. The girl glared at him angrily, and he continued smiling in his self-confident manner. The other person strode into the light, not daring to go near the girl, but preferring to stay beside Feuer and speak.

"Commoner," she spat, "what right have you to stride into Chateau d'Enfer? What business have you here?" Her voice seemed to scrape across the floor, mildly screechy but with a soft Italian-ish accent. This girl had raging cerulean hair, burning violet eyes, and stood in a threatening stance. She seemed to project an air of aristocracy, and glared at the girl across from her, waiting for her response.

"I don't think I was ever told about you," the girl calmly replied. Angered, the cerulean-haired girl stalked across the floor, stopping mere inches from the girl and pointed her finger directly in the girl's face.

"How dare you question me in such a manner! Stupid commoner!" she spat furiously. "I am Maree, countess of this castle! Now, answer me now! What business have you in this fortress? Speak now, or I shall tear your throat out and feed you to the demons!" She was infuriated, and her hands had curved into claws.

Smirking, the girl stared into Countess Maree's violet eyes. Maree was frustrated by the girl's silence and screamed as she raised her hands to the girl's throat. In an unseen motion, the girl snatched Maree's wrists and held them in one of her hands, lifting the countess off the gound and holding her almost above her head. Maree struggled uselessly, snarling in the girl's face, then her eyes widened and she nearly screamed. The girl stared at Maree angrily, her eyes glowing an eerie emerald color. Her skin began to take on a silver glow, and Maree could sense that this girl was not human. Maree gasped, but before she could scream, the girl dropped her. Maree hit the floor with a hard thump, and she glared up at the girl, who now seemed normal, showing no signs of the transformation Maree had just seen. Maree picked herself up off the ground and dusted off her clothing, then stalked back to Feuer, who glanced at her before returning his gaze to the girl. The girl stared at Feuer and Maree stonily.

"You know why I'm here," she said. Maree sneered and Feuer shrugged unconcernedly.

"Maybe we do, and maybe we don't. How would you know?" he asked confidently. The girl stared at him angrily, then glared at the pair before speaking again.

"I am here to retrieve an amulet stolen from a family in Englehaft. They have reason to believe that you possess it."

"Ah, but that is not the only reason you come here," Feuer said, smiling evilly. The girl glared at him.

"What reason have you to believe that?" she asked stonily, trying to hide her flaring temper. Feuer merely grinned.

"Ah, ah, ah," he said, wagging a finger in the air. "I'm not going to answer you that easily. Tell me who you are first." The girl shook her head, and Feuer's face dropped. "What a shame," he said. "And I was enjoying our time together so much." Before the girl could react, Feuer and Maree disappeared, and the ground began to crumble. The girl whipped out a rope and grappling hook. As the floor beneath her disentigrated, she threw the rope upwards, catching a beam in the ceiling. She pulled herself up and climbed onto the beam, perching on it, watching the floor crumble into a pit below. Splashes echoed upward, and the girl silently measured her chances of survival, dare she decide to leap down. She nodded, and taking a deep breath, leapt off the beam, toward the pool below. She landed in a shallow part of the pool, on her feet, grimacing as her legs took most of the impact of the sixty-foot jump. She regained her stance and began walking calmly through the pool, headed for a light glow on the other side of the room.

As she strode quietly and calmly through the pool, she couldn't help but notice the skeletons floating in the water and sitting on the shores of the pool. She shuddered when one floated close enough to graze her leg with its bony fingers, but walked on. She couldn't help but think of all the pain, horror, and suffering these poor people must have gone through to end up like this; thrown into a pool sixty feet underneath the castle like dirt. Nevertheless, she tried keeping her emotions inside as she walked through the pool, keeping her stoic gaze on the light shimmering ever so far away. It seemed to grow smaller and dimmer the closer she got to it, but she pressed on, and soon stepped onto dry land. She shook her boots dry, then turned and glanced back at the pool of death she had just walked through. She shivered again, involuntarily, then proceeded on.

The girl nearly jumped as she entered the next room, for the only sound in the room was her breathing and the click of her boot heels on the stone floor. The new room was very dimly lit; six torches were barely ablaze, and the only other lights to guide her way were the light from the pool room, and the glowing light she was following, which seemed to be further and further away with each step she took. Also like the previous room, this new domain carried the scent of doom within it. As the girl glanced around, she saw why the room was so dark; corpses of past victims of the castle's dwellers rested along the wall in various stages of decay and posture.

Her eyes raced over the dead, and she felt a slight twinge of guilt for every body she saw. One particular body caught her eye, though; a young, dark-haired boy stood up against the wall, a lance run through his chest. Upon closer inspection, the girl gasped, and felt hot, stinging tears well up in her eyes. She quickly strode over to the body and stared at it harder, feeling the tears running down her cheeks and ignoring them. Gently, she reached out and touched the boy's cheek, even though she knew he was dead. She looked down at the lance in him, and was relieved for one thing; due to the extremity of his injury, death had come instantly for him, and he had not suffered.

Letting the tears flow down her cheek, the girl reached down and gripped the lance. She pulled on the weapon, yanking it out of the boy's body, and caught the body as it fell. She looked down at the boy's face one last time as she laid him down on the ground and closed his eyes, and let her tears flow for a few seconds more. After a moment had passed, she stood again and wiped the tears from her face, then turned and walked on toward the light, renewed fury running through her veins.

Halfway across the room, the girl stopped and turned quietly around. She heard a fluttering sound, and immediately looked upward. A flock of bats hung upside-down, watching her with beady violet eyes. She took one step toward the flock, and the lead bat spread its wings and let out a small warning shriek. The girl stepped backward, and the bat closed its wings, but continued watching her. Shrugging, the girl continued forward, occasionally looking behind her at the bat flock, trying not to look at the bodies slumped against the walls. As her eyes quickly glanced over the states the bodies were in, she decided that there must have been a recent battle here, and quite a fierce one, too; almost every single person had injuries from some sort of weapon, and none were unscathed. Shaking her head in disgust and remorse, she trudged on, keeping her eyes on the ever-dimming light ahead.

As she entered the next room, the girl was startled by the obvious lack of lighting. This new corridor was pitch-black, with absolutely no light, save for the one she was following. She held her forehead as she glanced around quickly, looking for any kind of lighting to guide her way, and seeing none. Sighing in exasperation, she stalked toward the light, and was stunned by a slight yet strong rumbling in the ground.

She stood still for a moment. The rumble came again, but this time it sounded louder, closer. She swallowed silently and reached for her boomerang. In a quick decision, she flung the 'rang out in front of her. She saw the ivory zip through the air, heard the weapon clang against the wall, and caught it as it flew back to her. She repocketed the weapon and strode forth again, when the rumbling returned.

This time, the girl flattened herself against a wall and waited. A moment passed, then two. Just as she was about to step away from the wall, the rumbling came again, much closer than before. She swallowed a gasp as she realized that it wasn't a rumbling she was was breathing. The breathing of some immense creature, and it was in this room, hiding in the shadows. She heard the creature sniff the air, and she drew her cape around her to try and stifle her scent. Too late, though, she remembered the sword strapped to her back. The scabbard tinkled on the stone wall as the cape was drawn, and the sniffing turned into a low growl. Then the creature came from behind its corner, and the girl could see the outline of the beast.

It appeared to have the build of an immense bull, but its horns were curved around like a ram's, with razor-sharp points. Instead of hooves, the bull-like creature had claws, which were so immense, they could strike fear into a dragon's heart. A wolverine's head was in place of a bull's, but the creepiest aspect of the creature's face was that it had no lips; its razor sharp fangs protruded downward, and a mouthful of sharklike teeth lined its exposed jaws. The creature sniffed the air again, then growled low in its throat. The girl stood as still as she possible could, slowed her breathing as much as possible, and tried not to alert the beast to her presence. The creature padded slowly by her, sniffing the air, then stopped right in front of her and eyed her with fierce ice-blue eyes. She gazed at the beast, then slowly drew her sword. The beast took a few steps back from her, then bent down low toward the ground as it opened its jaws and screamed. The scream sent chills down the girl's spine, but she swallowed her fear and brandished her sword readily. The creature suddenly pounced, landing right in front of the girl, then swiped out with its claws. She quickly rolled away, then regained her footing and swung her blade. The beast screamed again, this time in pain, and glanced down at its right foreleg; a gash trailed down the animal's leg, and blood streamed from the wound. Angered, the creature leapt for the girl again, and opened its jaws. She tried to leap away, but the beast's claws caught her arm. She clenched her teeth in pain, then spun to face the creature. It eyed her hungrily, then dashed for her once more. Too late, the creature noticed the blade the girl bore, and it let out one final scream of agony as the blade pierced the demon's skull, then it collapsed, its body causing the floor to shake.

The girl stood in place, breathing raggedly, sweat dripping down her brow, her pulse racing. When the creature's paws had released its final tattoo of life on the floor, only then did the girl pull her sword away. She resheathed her weapon, then looked down at her wound, which was already healing. While she watched, the blood clotted, a large scab appeared, then new skin covered the gash. Within seconds, the wound had disappeared, leaving no trace of its existence. The girl let out a relieved sigh, then looked up. The darkness of the room was letting up, as if someone had lit a torch nearby. She peered harder down the alley and her breath caught in her throat. Someone had lit a torch! She gazed down, and saw a figure standing in the shadows of a brazier, its face masked in shadow. The figure beckoned the girl forth, and she followed, wondering if she could trust this person...if she could trust any person in this castle of horrors.