By Blood We Live Page 81

“What?”

“Don’t. Please. Please leave it.”

Caleb looked at Mia.

“Please,” Justine repeated.

Caleb put the laptop back on the floor.

“Are you ready?” I said to Justine. Schrutt was still flailing in her. I could feel him. She hadn’t needed to drink. She’d drunk without the thirst. The blood, therefore, was fighting her. Sitting still was the worst thing she could do. You have to move. Expend energy to encourage the conversion, to force it through.

“My legs feel weak,” Justine said. “I’m sorry, Fluff. All this trouble for you.”

I kissed her forehead and put my arm around her waist to help her get to her feet.

Which was when I realised I couldn’t get to mine.

73

Talulla

MOONRISE WAS CLOSE. I sat on my bed in the paradisal bathrobe, and even its soft fibres were a torturous abrasion. I thought of poor Lorcan and the trouble his body (not to mention whatever was going on in his head) gave him in the lead-up to Transformation. Zoë was, for now, without discernible side-effects or symptoms, but what if that didn’t last? As far as I understood it they were the first natural born werewolves in history. What if puberty inaugurated a whole new phase? What if adolescence had a bag of hormonal tricks ready for them that would make my monthly tribulations look like afternoon tea?

You might not want it for yourself, but you’ll want it for your children.

When I’d asked to speak to Devaz, earlier, Olek had shaken his head. “I’m sorry, but I’ve given Christopher a sedative,” he said. “He’s getting cabin fever, poor chap. He’ll be awake soon enough.”

My strategist was still bullshit-testing his every utterance, but it wasn’t any use. Aside from Olek’s unreadability, I was finding it impossible to stay sharp. From the moment I’d arrived and sat down in the library it was as if I’d been breathing a tranquilizer that added a layer of numbness with every inhalation. There was a peculiar inevitability to everything I did, as if the air around me was gently coercing my movements, from raising the Macallan to climbing the stairs to labouring through “Childe Roland” last night. I couldn’t shake the poem. It was like a maddening soft mental loop: The Dark Tower is the end … The point of getting to the end is to realise you’ve got to the end … The quest has no purpose … The Dark Tower is the end … The end is the fulfilment … My first thought was, he lied in every word …

There was a knock at the door.

“Are you ready?” Olek asked, when I opened it. He’d changed out of the casuals into a dusk blue linen suit and pale green cheesecloth shirt. Excitement was pushing his odour out again. Less than comfortably bearable, with my girl so close to the surface. He saw me draw back in spite of myself.

“Yes,” he said. “I’m sorry about that. I’ll meet you in the garden, shall I?”

The door to the library was open. Konstantinov and Natasha were on the couch, listening to Bach’s cello suites. She was lying with her bare feet in his lap, his hands caressing her, idly. They had between them that vague, delighted pity for the rest of the world, for not having this love. They both turned and looked at me, Natasha with silent enquiry: You okay?

I nodded. You forget what you’re nodding in affirmation of. Yes, I’m fine. Just the usual pre-murder nonsense. I was more than usually divided. The hunger was there, of course, tympanic in the blood, severity doubled by last month’s half-feed, and wulf’s anticipation was a bump-and-grind go-go dancer under my skin. But my human self was still there, heavy, static, uncharacteristically sick of itself. Conscience was there, too, withered, leprous, dragging itself along in my wake, unable to do anything but repeat that this was disgusting and I should be ashamed—but it wasn’t conscience troubling me. It was tiredness. The human tiredness of knowing your life was only going to get harder. Your life and the lives of your children.

In the garden, Olek stood leaning against the big blue sculpture, smoking. He straightened, smiling, when he saw me. The moon was two minutes below the horizon. The bathrobe might as well have been crawling with lice or lined with barbed wire. One of my vertebrae bulged and subsided. The nerves in my fingers and toes coiled and jerked. I staggered two paces—thought I was going to fall—then righted myself.

“You’ll find what you need just beyond the banyans there,” Olek said. “But there’s no hurry. Please take your time.” He was full of excitement that manifested itself as rich physical calm. He couldn’t keep the smile from his face. He had a terrible seductive self-delighted energy. “When you’re ready,” he continued, “come back to the house and make your way down through the lab to the lowest level, as per yesterday, and along to Christopher’s cell. There you will find me as good as my word. He will be human. All too human, as the phrase is.” He dropped the cigarette and stubbed it out with the toe of his shoe. “I’ll leave you now,” he said.

None too soon.

Ten paces from the banyan trees he’d indicated I tore off the bathrobe and dropped to all-fours. Big red-petalled flowers brushed my shoulders and breasts. The earth was warm and ringing under me. Wulf stopped its epileptic burlesque and turned to fluid forces that yanked my bones and rent my tissues. Ran its hand down my spine as with a showy pianist’s frill. What felt like two huge bubble-wrap bubbles popped in my knees. The monster’s head fought its way jerkily into mine—that moment when you think your skin will tear, has to tear—and I felt the skull’s blunt compression and leap as the canines burst the gums and my hot tongue swelled. A brief, shocking pain in my left wrist as ulna and radius got out of sync. Then the claws all at once, a collective shout for joy at the ends of fingers and toes. Five seconds for the last expansions, consciousness forced through a dark, tight funnel into shocking rebirth.

You’ll find what you need.

And so I did.

He was perhaps nineteen or twenty, naked, slumped semi-conscious at the base of a young tree, around which his hands had been tied. I took him quickly. The drug—and the hunger’s urgency—spared him a deal of suffering. It was a wretched feed. Last month’s aborted kill had left wulf desperate, and the desperation made me rush. Past dalliance, past play, past the all but unbearable delight of making it last, of seeing him seeing it, what was about to happen, what was happening. Instead I slit his throat and dropped like a stalled jet straight down into the blood and meat dark, ate greedily, barely felt the fragments of his life—a fishing boat, his mother’s small face and missing front tooth, the warm air flowing over him, coasting down a sun-blasted street on a bike, his hand on a market girl’s bare breast, the days and days of sunlight on the water and the slap against the hull and the good feel of the warm wooden gunwale and the wind grabbing the smoke from his cigarette and the thrum of exhaustion in his calves and shoulders and wrists—before the hunger was an aching satiation and I had to stop, stop because soon it would become sickness and part of me wanted it, to push through into disgust, because everything had gone wrong and I was lost and the world was onto us and what do I do except break good men’s hearts and fail my children and what am I other than a dirty, filthy little girl who no matter what she gets is never satisfied?

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