Willow and Tara moved apart slowly, maintaining a comforting link through entwined fingers as they scanned the room.
"Dawn!" Oz called out, and the remaining guests held their breath in the silence that followed.
"Dawn! This isn't funny!" Riley shouted, marching over to the double doors leading out to the hall, the others close on his heels.
"Dawnie!" Tara echoed. "Please answer us!"
The rapidly dwindling group moved into the hallway, their voices bordering on panic as their repeated cries went unanswered. Not a footstep could be heard in the house. The manor's front doors were securely shut, allowing neither sound nor air to disturb the deathly stillness.
The barest movement down the hall drew five pairs of eyes, all widening in wonder and trepidation as a tapestry hung between the staircase and the library undulated slowly, the rich red cloth seemingly being sucked into the wall itself before billowing out again. Riley crept toward the panel, drawing a revolver from under his jacket and walking sideways with his back to the wall. The others followed hesitantly in an unconsciously formed cluster. Riley reached out with his free hand and grabbed hold of the swaying fabric, drawing it back slowly. Tara could not contain a startled gasp, but quickly covered her mouth to muffle the exclamation.
An entire section of the paneling had slid into the wall, revealing a darkened passage and stairs leading down.
"Shh!" Riley hissed at Anya's shout. "We don't know what's down there...or who!" he whispered.
"One way to find out," Oz commented, his discomfort at the idea plain despite his stoic demeanor.
"W-we need a flashlight," Tara muttered automatically, maintaining an air of calm despite the growing pit in her stomach.
"Oh! I think I saw one in the kitchen," Willow said, taking a step in that direction, but halted by Tara's hand on her arm.
"We all go," the blonde stated, looking to the others for confirmation. "No more splitting up."
Willow easily located the flashlight she'd spotted the day before, and a quick ransacking of drawers unearthed two more. Anya grabbed a large butcher's knife that the others eyed warily, and only after much coaxing did she relinquish it in exchange for a heavy rolling pin. The group moved back down the hall and Riley motioned for Oz to pull back the tapestry.
The passageway was narrow, slightly more than two feet wide, and the bare concrete steps led down fifteen feet to a small, enclosed landing, where a plain wooden door was slightly ajar. Riley led the way, stepping carefully down each step, his eyes, flashlight and gun trained on the door. Anya followed, clutching the rolling pin to her chest. Behind her, Willow aimed her flashlight down at the steps and descended slowly, never relinquishing her hold on Tara's hand. Tara's heart pounded in her ears as she gripped Willow's slim fingers. Oz brought up the rear, carrying the last flashlight above his shoulder, its light merging with Riley's.
The officer held up a hand when he reached the bottom and the others halted, ready to race back upstairs if necessary. Riley glanced over his shoulder and nodded quickly to them before nudging the door forward with the toe of his boot. The heavy wood groaned against the rusty hinges, which let out a prolonged screech before the door swung t a stop. A moment passed in silence as each waited for something to happen, but all was still.
A hallway lay ahead, twice the width of the stairwell, and opening on one side about twenty-five feet from where they stood. The sound of lapping water echoed down the bare stone corridor, and they hardly dared to breathe as they tiptoed toward the unknown source. With every step the air turned colder and damper, though a fine bead of perspiration was visible on more than one worried brow.
They drew together in a bunch at the edge of the gap, and Riley raised three fingers. Willow and Oz flanked the officer while Tara and Anya lingered a half step behind. As he dropped the last finger, Riley pivoted into the empty space, the beam from his flashlight dancing wildly around the room, joined a split second later by Willow's and Oz's.
They faced a room thirty feet wide and fifty feet long, lined entirely with smooth white bricks, save for a black lacquered steel door in the wall across from them. The gently curved ceiling arched down from a height of twelve feet at the apex to a claustrophobia-inducing six feet on either side. At first glance the room appeared to be empty, until all three flashlight beams fell to what should have been the floor.
Under different circumstances, they might have marveled at the sight of the sunken swimming pool. As it was, none gave much thought to the pool itself. All were too focused on the body floating face down in the middle of the clear water.
They'd found Cordelia.