Satan's wind screams through the battlements of Csiethe Castle. It echoes through the dank corridors, causing the heavy tapestries to beat against the walls. A bolt of jagged lightning crashes through a paneless window. A heavy cloud of snow follows it into the rotting structure.
This is the sign of the Devil. When the summer lightning touches the winter snow, the Satanic presence walks the forests of Hungary. (Or at least so goes the legend among the superstitious peasants. They have no knowledge of meteorology and therefore attribute a diabolical portent to the not unusual phenomenon).
Deep in the bowels of the accursed structure, Maria Enescue hears none of the sounds of the wild night. No draft of air comes to cool her sweat drenched body. Heat swirls around her, making her giddy. She opens her mouth to scream. Her throat is raw and rasping. She hurls herself against the chains which hold her. The jagged stone wall cuts into the tender flesh of her back.
Why has she been brought here? What evil purpose does this infernal castle serve? Who are her captors? She closes her eyes willing herself to think. She might as well save herself the trouble. No normal mind could conjure up such a bizarre and improbable tableau. No normal mind could comprehend the agony and degradation to come.
The place is Japlonica high in the White Carpathians.
Histories of grore have been written in the forbidding mountain villages. Here the beauteous Countess Bathory gathered the blood of young virgins. Here, she and her fearful confidant, Iloona Joo tortured the helpless maidens of the household staff, reveling in the sights and sounds of unmentionable torment.
And on the night of February 17, 1923, the winds scream an unheard answer to Maria Enescue.
Maria Enescue has been carefully selected for this moment. She fills the requirements for her role in the mad drama which is unfolding. She is young and lovely. She has joined a gypsy caravan as have so many other young and unattached women following the disillusion of World War I. Thus with all of her feminine loveliness, she is not likely to be of interest to the authorities who will not bother to protect the tribes which live off the land. Her disappearance will go unmourned and uninvestigated.
She is little different from the maidens who were swallowed up by the night and bled to death in the dungeons of the mad countess.
Maria Enescue strains her ears. She hears the shuffling of heavily shod feet closing in on her. She tries to fall to her knees in supplication. The clanking chains hold her upright. She peers into the darkness of her tomb-like cell, trying to recognize the hulking forms which waddle out of the gloom. She listens to their heavy voices and knows that they are strangers.
Her mind turns back to the swirling snow outside and the fact that the blizzard had caused her to lose her way back to the tribe's campfire. She recalls the two riders hurtling through the gloom and the suffocating folds of the blanket being dropped over her head. Maria can still feel the coils of rope tightening around the blanket. Once again she senses herself being jackknifed over the saddle horn.
A flashlight plays on her. Its beam is almost blinding in the stygian darkness of the dungeon. She looks down the length of her body. Her feet are bare. Her gypsy blouse and skirt have already been removed. Only little wisps of under-clothing hide the soft whiteness of her nudity.
The figures move closer. A hand reaches out. Its palm is wet. Her flesh crawls with revulsion at the lizard like quality of the skin. The hand strokes her. The fingers hook into clawing talons. She screams, gasps and grows faint. Once again she hurls herself against the cruelly binding chains. The rusty links rattle in the wall. A gargoyle-like face brushes against hers. She has the sensation of being smothered by hairy spiders. She screams. Bulbous lips cover the soft warm mouth of Maria Enescue. The light flickers out. She is aware of rough hands working at the manacles which encase her wrists. Before she faints, she feels one overpowering tremor of agony. Maria Enescue has begun her initiation in hell. She is about to begin the ritual of damnation as prescribed by the Coven of Nebiros.
She has no way of knowing that the two figures who are at this moment carrying her from her dungeon are in reality the jaded Count Jasladany and the slightly deformed Budapest character Anastas Zahony.
Jasladany is a person of silence. Little is known about him. He is reputed to have had vast sums of money at his disposal. Zahony is of a different pattern. He is well known throughout Hungary as a drunkard, card sharp and lecher. He makes much of his Russian background, telling fanciful tales of how he fled before the Revolution.
If there is a Hell, the covenant signed between Jasladany and Zahony was drawn there. They have bought this castle and have recruited many other depraved men and women to join them.
Those who are already gathering in the torture chamber, represent a cross section of European decadence of the time. Title ladies and international prostitutes rub robe-covered shoulders as they shuffle chanting into the great vaulted roof stoned chamber. Playboys, munitions manufacturers and the flotsam of the Riviera gambling tables simper in evil anticipation of the rites of the coven.
These are the witches and warlocks of Japlonica. They have banded themselves into an organization which considers itself above any law. They live only for the sensual, for the bizarre experience, for the moods of the flesh.
And now it delights them to torture a young girl who has done them no harm. It thrills them to see her quiver like a trapped animal before them. They anticipate her cries for mercy with a malignant relish.
As they wait for the victim to make her appearance on the raised platform which commands the center of the room, they mouth their evil incantations. "Ashtoreth, Asmodeus, principle of friendship and love, we invoke you to accept as sacrifice the virgin we offer to you. In her agony you may find comfort. In her blood may you find strength. In her death may you find life everlasting."
From far off the mournful tolling of a gong. Maria Enescue hears it as Count Jasladany and Anastas Zahany unchain her and force her forward through the fetid, evil smelling stone corridor. She beats at them with her little fists. Jasladany's strong arms encircle her waist. He feels her soft, pliable flesh against his body. A merciless sneer creases his pleasure scarred face.
The Count and his henchmen have dressed themselves in bizarre costumes of a former era. They wear heavy gold earrings and unkempt wigs which make them appear like ancient torture masters. Maria realizes that some horrible depraved purpose is being served by her kidnapping. She tries to dig her small feet into the unyielding stone floor. Despite her efforts, she is dragged inexorably along.
A door creaks open. The foul words of the incantation wash over the sweating, straining girl. She cries out in a paroxysm of terror. Desperately she attempts to rake her tormentors with her fingernails. The degenerate crowd strains forward, seeking a better view of the proceedings.
A woman gasps. A man snickers. There is a slow undulating movement among the watchers. The tolling bell reaches a crescendo of funeral discord. Jasladany and Zahony force Maria to mount the thirteen steps to the raised platform which commands the room. Wildly the stricken girl's eyes bulge as her head turns from side to side, taking in the view of the engines of agony and destruction which surround her.
"In the name of Heaven!" she screams.
"In the name of Hell!" Zahany mocks. His porcine hands rove over Maria's body at will. Terror has almost hypnotized the girl. She no longer has the strength to defend herself against the outrages which are being perpetrated against her. Her eyes fasten on the bleached white skull which rests midst a pile of rusting shackles on a nearby table.
"Help me!" she cries. "Somebody help me!"
"There is no help!" Jasladany sneers. "There is only eternal damnation." He seizes Maria's arms and pins them behind her. Slowly he spins her around so that his audience may savor the youthful beauty she represents.
Maria Enescue is an uncommonly lovely young woman. Her proud breasts heave mightily against the inadequate covering of her silken bra. Furiously she flexes her leg muscles. Her writhing hips are outlined by the gossamer white silk of her brief panties. Her stomach sucks in against the touch of Jasladany’s evil fingers.
The undulating mass of pleasure seekers watches every motion. Its own evil desires are increased by this graphic buildup for the outrage to come. The Devil’s thrill seekers are getting their money’s worth.
And money is the real reason for the martyrdom of the gypsy girl. Zahany and Jasladany have learned that the idle rich of the continent will pay any amount for “new experiences.” The abandon which has been swept in in the wake of the war has turned back the clock a thousand years.
Being something of a dabbler in abnormal psychology, Jasladany has grasped the great attraction of morbidity which lies so close to the surface in the human personality. He has studied everything he can get his hands on concerning witchcraft and persecutions. Torture has become an art form to him.
In enlisting the aide of the renegade, he has said, “Anastas, brutality is part of all people. Go back to the beginnings of time and you will find it. Project to the end of time and you will find it. Just as the Babylonians whipped their slaves for their own pleasure, future generations will find ways to inflict pain and bloodshed to feed an urge which will never die. We will make a business of pandering to that urge.”
Their altar is a flat table with a marble slab to which they now carry Maria Enescue. The girl feels the coldness of the stone against her back. She shrieks in unendurable fear and tries to rise. Jasladany presses his weight down on her shoulders. Quickly Zahany buckles the heavy leather collar around her throat, drawing it so tight that Maria can hardly breathe.
Still she squirms and struggles. Cruel hands grip her wrists, forcing them to her sides and strapping them in place. She writhes on her sacrificial altar, numb with the knowledge of the things which are to come.
The crowd begins its incantation once more. “Ashtoreth, Asmodeus, principle of friendship and love. We invoke you to accept the sacrifice of the virgin we offer you....”
Zahany raises his hands over hid head in a gesture for silence and attention. His lips move. No words come out. The crowd senses that the moment is upon them. By now Jasladany has completed his grisly task of spreadeagling Maria to the table. He strips the last of her clothing from her.
The hoarse shouts of the coven members drown out her screams and pleas. Zahany shuffles to a glowing brazier from which he selects an iron which glows cherry red.
“This is thy altar, oh accursed prince!” he intones. He bends down so that his face is scant inches away from his victim’s. Maria stares up at him, mute with fear. Her small white teeth chew at her lip, drawing a small rivulet of blood which runs down the corner of her mouth.
Drawing out the agony of anticipation to the nth degree, he gradually lowers the iron. There is the hiss of burning flesh. A little tendril of smoke rises towards the vaulted ceiling. Maria’s fists clench. She tugs at the confining straps in a mindless, disjointed dance of damnation. Zahany has drawn the sign of the inverted cross in fire across her naked flesh.
The crowd goes wild. Men and women moan and shriek. They giggle and sob. From lip to lip is passed the drug filled chalice of wine. Belladonna seizes the minds of the assembled guests. They leave their seats and form a circle around the altar. Like a living snake, the circle undulates into two parts — one composed of panting, sweating men, the other of bejeweled and pampered women.
The circle of men begins to revolve around that of the women. Faster and faster it twirls. Caught in the grip of the utter and complete depravity of the monstrous rite, the women tear at their clothes, shredding them from their own backs.
All the time the two torturers are doing unprintable things to their victim, tearing the rasping, choking shrieks from her distended mouth. Her cries mingle with the tolling of the bells and the sounds of unleashed passion which are emitted from the assemblage. The moment of climax is at hand.
Suddenly all motion stops. Every eye turns towards the altar. Even Maria is frozen into a statue as she stares up at the spiked press which begins its rattling descent towards her. The gleaming bits of sharpened steel resemble the giant teeth of a prehistoric reptile. Where they will travel, nothing of value will remain.
Maria Enescue arches her back. A small whimper erupts from her lips. Nobody can say whether this gesture is one of welcome for the liberating death which she feels is only an instant away.
If it is, she is to be denied even this small comfort. Once again the bestial minds of Jasladany and Zahany have conspired to exact the ultimate in horror.
The jagged spikes touch her. They rest in their path, The device has been counterweighed enough so that it will respond only slightly to the struggles of the victim it covers. It will not plunge downward in one full sweep. Death is still eons away.
When it comes at last, the degenerates who have attended the performance are in a state of drunken and drugged induced stupor. They have disported themselves of every anti-social manifestation known to the human race. They have served their master and he has in return given them their moments of bestial abandon.
Nobody can be sure how many masses of this nature were celebrated at Cseithe Castle. One can only know that Count Jasladany and Anastas Zahany were neither the first nor the last tenants of the grisly torture chamber. Nor is it likely that the Countess Bathory who kept a herd of beautiful young girls whose blood she drank was the first.
As for Jaslandany and Zahany, it is said that during World War II, they joined the infamous Kaminsky Brigade which carried out the most vicious atrocities of the eastern front. They would have been well schooled to become a part of the brigade which was made up of Russian traitors who were sworn to serve their own particular Prince of Darkness — Adolph Hitler.