By Blood We Live Page 83

“Get in,” Mia told him. Then turned to me. “I know someone who might be able to help,” she said.

75

Talulla

I SLEPT THROUGH most of the next day, but since there were still three hours of daylight when I woke I went downstairs with the hope of grilling Devaz. Whatever it was that had “cured” him had come at a cost. I needed to know.

No luck. The doors at the bottom of the first flight down were locked. So much for mi casa, su casa. The house was quiet. There were no signs of the gore I’d traipsed in yesterday, nor, when I went back out beyond the banyans, was there any trace of the kill. Grishma, presumably, whose absence from the house my nose had noted, despatched to do the unsavoury necessaries. There was nothing to do but wait. I poured myself a Macallan and ran myself a bath. “Childe Roland” hummed a little, from the bedside table, but I felt sick at the thought of going back to it. Even when you knew the ending every reading would be the same hopeless circular triumph of loss. It was in keeping with the place, somehow, no matter how superficially different its landscape. It was in keeping with the sluggish, surreal quality of everything I’d seen and done since leaving the Last Resort. It was in keeping with the dream of the vampire. It was in keeping with me.

Bath and single malt didn’t take much of the edge off. Wulf was still wide awake, fighting the lunar law, teeth and claws dug into every grudged second, minute, hour. There was a huge, sudden temptation to phone Walker, to speak to the kids. But by the time I left the bath and dressed (jeans, a black cotton t-shirt, a pair of red DMs—impractical footwear in the heat, but the brand-new flip-flops Grishma had left by my bed would be worse than useless if trouble came my way) I felt as if I’d lost the right. Every moment I spent here—this slow-motion vertigo—dragged me closer to inertia—yet there was nothing I could do to pull myself out. By sundown, all I’d done was sit on the edge of my bed and stare at the floor.

When someone knocked at my door, I assumed it would be Olek—or Grishma to take me to him.

It was Konstantinov.

“Put it on,” he said. “I want to talk to you.”

The damn nose-paste.

“What’s the matter?” I said, when we’d applied it. Confronted by him, I was relieved and sad. Because there was no lying to him. He never lied himself. And always knew when you were. He looked at you and your energy for lying just burned away.

“Listen,” he said. “I know things aren’t good between you and Walker. I’m not asking. It’s for the two of you. You go your separate ways, my friendship remains. You’ll both have it, always. Understood?”

It was a terrible refreshment, his plain way, the simple words, the absence of strategy. It made you realise how much of your life you spent not being like that. It made you realise what a waste not being like that was. My body, which I hadn’t known had been tense, sitting on the bed, relaxed into a kind of pleasant defeat.

“Understood,” I said.

“There’s a little disgust in you, right now,” he said. “It’s not for me to tell you not to be disgusted with yourself. That’s your business. But don’t let it make your decision for you here.”

“You think I’ll regret it? If I take the cure? If I give it to my children?”

“I think you’ll regret it if you make a decision out of disgust. That’s all.”

And that was all. Conversations that would last dreary, punishing hours with other people were over with him in a half-dozen exchanges. Truth forged economy.

For a few strange, purged moments we remained in silence, me sitting on the bed, him standing, dark and still and tall in front of me. He was a blessing in my life. My life was full of blessings. And one curse: That no amount of blessings was ever enough.

He went to the door, opened it.

“He’s waiting for you downstairs,” he said. “Whenever you’re ready. If you need us …”

“I know. Mikhail?”

He turned.

“Yes?”

“Do you trust him?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“I can’t read him. At all. I’m sorry. All I can tell you is that so far everything’s been as he said it would be. But that doesn’t mean much, since we don’t know what he hasn’t said.”

Again we paused in silence, as if there were crucial information the room’s ether might choose to share with us.

It didn’t.

“Okay,” I said, getting to my feet, as a knot of wulf came undone in my shoulders. “Let’s go and see what he has to say.”

76

OLEK, BACK IN Levi’s and a new crisp white kurta with a Nehru collar, was waiting for me in the vault. On the steel table, the case containing the stone tablet was open. He was holding a sealed envelope in his left hand.

“In here,” he said, “are the remaining pages—bar one, which I shall retain until you fulfil your part of the agreement—from the journal of Alexander Quinn.” He dropped the envelope in front of me on the table. “They’re yours to read at your leisure, but I can summarise in the meantime. They tell the story, long after Liku and Lehek-shi had gone wherever the dead go, but still a thousand years before the First Egyptian Dynasty, of a gammou-jhi by the name of Ghena-Anule, a magician-priest who, for all his magical priestliness, got bitten by one of your ancestors when he was in his early sixties and thereafter devoted his energies to finding a cure for the Curse. He was one of the last of the Maru, and, as far as this record knows, the very last of the Anum, those members of the tribe who possessed the ability to travel—transcendentally, one must assume—between the Upper, Middle and Lower Realms. One of the last to be able to hold—as Quinn’s translation has it—‘converse with the gods.’ Feel free, by the way, to roll your eyes at any time. I can assure you that was my reaction. I must repeat: I’m a scientist. I’m not, to put it mildly, in favour of mystical claptrap. You look tired, incidentally. Are you all right? Are you rested?”

I wasn’t tired. Or rather, I was, but a sort of dead, claustrophobic energy was forcing its way through the tiredness. The vault was full of it, like a subsonic noise you knew would, eventually, split your head. I was trying to picture Jake and my mother watching all this from their afterlife casino. I was trying to picture them smiling and shaking their heads in loving but pitiful incredulity. But I couldn’t. This was a show broadcast on a channel they didn’t get. This was their reception turned to pixel-snow and static hiss. This was Jake putting his drink down on the baize and whacking the set with his fist and saying, What the fuck?

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