By Blood We Live Page 62

Nothing works in your favour like the element of surprise. Half of them were only carrying side arms—though the shock of discharged silver was heavy in the air, a sickening combination with the nose-paste and the reek and vibe of the vampires alongside us. I’d underestimated the silver, the effect, the buzz in your bones and the fight it took not to run and hide. I’d got complacent. We all had. So used to victims. So used to people not being able to kill us.

I don’t know how many we took out. Thirty, maybe forty. The vampires were fast. They made the humans—and us, in human form—look like we were on Valium. Alyssia wasn’t confined to the ground. The first time I saw her leap and take twenty strides along the corridor wall stopped me in my tracks like a moron. The boochies were controlled and focused. They could afford to be: there was no ammunition in the place that would do them any harm. It was impossible to imagine any of the humans getting close enough with a stake.

One of the humans got close enough to me, however.

A doorway into a room we thought we’d cleared. One minute I was changing clips, the next his arm was around my throat and a knife—in the stretched moment I had all the time in the world to recognise the model, Sniper Double Edged Combat Blade by Mercworx, we used them back in the WOCOP days—was heading for my throat. I was thinking (there’s all this endless time for thinking in these moments) that it wouldn’t kill me but it wouldn’t be any kind of fun, either—and it would slow my breathing down for crucial minutes.

Which was when I felt it.

Customised steel.

Silver-edged.

When combat brings death close you realise you never thought you’d die. Not this time, you tell yourself, before you go in. This time is always not the time. Has to be, otherwise you’d never go in.

I couldn’t see him, but the arm around my neck and the hand holding the knife said a big, powerful guy. Dark skin. Soft-haired hands. His body pounded heat into mine. It made me feel like throwing up. It took me to the moment—there always is one—where you ask yourself whether the thing to do isn’t just let them kill you, whoever they are. Death does this, asks you if you’re sure—you’re really sure—you don’t want it?

My limbs were dreaming. Full of warmth and laziness. With what felt like fucking laughable slowness I got my hands up to his wrist when the knife was three or four inches from my throat. I could feel his big rib cage pressed into my back. It reminded me of. It reminded me.

You sure you don’t want me? Death said, again. It’s probably why she left you. Not man enough.

Suddenly the weight around my neck and shoulders increased. Couldn’t stand it. Literally. Dropped to my knees, and the guy holding me went down with me. I heard him make a weird noise. For a second the weight alone felt like it was going to kill me—then the stink of Nils shot through—and the arm around my throat went dead.

I opened my eyes. I didn’t know I’d closed them.

The weight was gone. My face was wet. Blood. Lots of it. Wulf—of course—leaped up with a deafening reminder that last night I hadn’t fed. A useless bulletin—but the Curse can’t help it.

Twenty feet away Nils stood looking over his shoulder at me. He had my attacker’s severed head in his hands. He smiled and made a little gesture, as in: Jesus, you once-a-monthers. Then he tossed the head towards me, turned and loped off down the corridor.

57

OUTSIDE ZOË’S CELL Miro was feeding on one of the nuns. She lay on her back with her skirt up to her hips and her left leg bent and shivering. The bare flesh made it look like pornography. Like someone dressed as a nun. Miro looked up at me and grinned. His chops were covered in blood.

“Guard,” he said, swallowing. “There, that one. He’s got the keys.”

One of the guards was dead, throat ripped out. The other was sitting propped against the wall opposite the cell door, holding his abdomen. He was shivering, too. It was a weird little disturbance in the atmosphere, his and the nun’s shivering like that. He had the keys—a bizarrely old-fashioned bunch—on his crotch. When I bent to grab them I saw he was holding his intestines in. He looked at me, baffled and pleading.

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I took the keys and unlocked the door.

Zoë was standing by her bunk, hands and legs cuffed, on a chain bolted to the floor. She’d heard the commotion. Her face was full of uncertainty—but the relief when she saw me was like stepping from cold into warmth.

“Hold on, honey,” I said, when I bent and she flung her arms around me. “Let’s get this crap off you.”

There were twenty keys at least on the bunch, so we had the horror movie moments of trying a dozen different wrong ones, time simmering, her little body on trembling pause. You tell yourself: Easy. Do it logically. More haste less speed. But my hands were like two birds tethered to the ends of my wrists.

“Where’s Mommy?”

“She’s here, babe. Hold still. We’re going to get her—there. Jackpot.”

The chain dropped with a soft growl. Two more wrong keys, then I had her free.

“Come on, jump up. Piggy-back. Hold tight and don’t let go, okay?”

“Okay.”

Her face was small and warm against my neck.

“What’s that smell?” she said.

“New friends,” I said. “They stink, but they’re on our side.”

“Like Uncle Mike?”

Uncle Mike was Konstantinov. He and Natasha were the only vampires the kid had known.

Unlike her mother.

“Yeah, like Uncle Mike. You ready?”

“Yes.”

“Keep your head down, sweetpea.”

The gashed-open guard was dead. His arms had dropped to his sides and his guts lolled in his lap. Miro was still drinking, though he’d switched his bite to the nun’s still-quivering thigh. I stepped over him.

“No rush,” he said, barely raising his head. “They’re all dead.”

He couldn’t know that, but there was no sound of gunfire up ahead. Somewhere much deeper in the building a grenade detonated. The explosion came up through the floor like a loud cough. I checked the clip on the automatic, pulled Zoë’s legs tighter around me, and set off.

Outside Talulla’s cell I found Alyssia and Eleanor with two men. One, a Militi Christi guard, was face-down on the floor in an expanding puddle of blood. The other, who looked ridiculous in the combat fatigues, was being pinned against the wall by Eleanor, who had, with one hand wrapped around his throat, lifted him several inches off the ground. At his feet were a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles. And a young man’s severed head. There was no visible body it belonged to.

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