Talulla Rising Page 83

Walker nodded. Smiled, though human eyes wouldn’t have seen it.

Then he tore off Murdoch’s cock and balls. Threw back his head. Howled.


It took us ten minutes, going flat-out, to reach the monastery. It stood in a valley that was approximately the shape of a ladle, halfway up the bowl end on a broad natural shelf, bounded by white stone wall. The front looked down the long narrow end of the valley; the back was built into the hillside’s curve.

The moon was as yet uncomplicatedly full. The eclipse wouldn’t begin until 23.04 and would be maximal at 00.42 – according to Mia the sacrificial hour. We had time. For all the good it would do us. The plan, before everything had gone wrong, had been simple. Not simple in that it was likely to succeed, but simple in that it had only three components. The first was us taking out the six perimeter guards, two at each of the three gates in the wall. The second was Konstantinov, Lucy, Fergus and three of the mercenaries getting into the east wing (three guards) and freeing Natasha. The third was me, Cloquet, Walker, Trish and the other mercenaries getting into the west wing where Lorcan was housed (four more guards) and snatching him. All of which was supposed to happen in broad daylight, with zero vampires and liberty to make as much noise as we liked. Mia’s news, that a dozen or more vampires could be up and taking the noon air, hadn’t changed that, though it had reduced what was already risible optimism to plain suicide. Bullets wouldn’t kill boochies, obviously, though enough bullets would slow them down a little. The weapons choice had been based on combat with human familiars. Konstantinov had ordered a couple of crossbows just in case, and there were three machetes, but it was nowhere near enough.

Yet even those odds had been better than the ones we faced now. As far as Walker and I knew we were a force of two against twenty humans and seventy-nine wide-awake vampires.

A pale dirt track descended the western hillside in a series of switchbacks. We ignored it, cutting instead through the trees’ cover. Plane, cypress, oak, and enough evergreen pine to keep the darkness collusively deep. There air was cool and still, the grass surprisingly lush underfoot. Neither of us had fed. Deliberately. Satiation would have slowed us. We were in and out of mutual intuition that bordered telepathy. I could feel his shock at how ravenously, now, he wanted life. In the end lycanthropy hadn’t erased what had happened to him but it had forced him to outgrow it. The Curse’s brutal gift was that whatever your human horror stories it dwarfed them with the new headline: YOU CHANGE INTO A MONSTER EVERY FULL MOON! He was dizzy from the new perspective, aerial, that showed him the map of himself he’d thought exhaustive was now only a small part of a vast and unknown continent. The bare physical facts were still a tingling sacrilege, in the palms of his hands, the soles of his feet. His body still blared astonishment at its new cellular trick. Wulf stretched and snapped in him, lashed out in joyous ownership, sent dark bulletins of the scope of its strength through the mutant nerves. The human self had run and hidden like a cat, now peered out in awe of the new no-nonsense housemate, who would – it was obvious – be satisfied by nothing less than complete fusion. It only had twelve nights a year. For those twelve nights it would demand everything and deny itself nothing.

My heart was thudding from the run. The air was cool enough for visible breath, the cartoon plumes to denote an angry bull. Some tiny pale winter blossoms watched us like fairies in the lower gloom. Hunger flared and writhed in my blood. Another hour and it would be making us reckless. The core of wulf was an idiot with a one-word vocabulary: feed... feed... feed – until you do feed, then the idiot is beatified and gives you in return deep animal peace.

Fifty metres. Forty. Thirty.

According to Mia’s smartphoned sketches the monastery was built in the shape of a broad-armed cross. Beyond the wall was a semi-circular courtyard with steps at one end leading up to the main entrance. Through the main doors a hallway offered five choices, two corridors on the left, two on the right and one straight ahead. Straight ahead through a set of double doors was the main chamber, the square at the centre of the cross, a big windowless room with an altar on a dais at the far end. We had detailed directions from there to where Lorcan and Natasha were being held below ground, in Lorcan’s case most likely useless now. I’d wondered about Natasha. Specifically, whether she was still alive. Konstantinov had asked Mia for a physical description of his wife. Mia had done better. She’d sent a photograph. It was hard to make out the background, but there was no doubt it was Natasha. Taken with a flash that bleached her, squinting slightly, one hand raised as if to ward the photographer off.

I stopped at the edge of the solid cover. There were only a dozen or so trees between here and the slope leading up to the wall and the gate. Walker stood behind me, put his arms around me. His hands covered my breasts, muzzle nudged. Yes. That was available, in spite of everything. Of course it was. There was urgency in his touch, but sadness too. All the time we’d lost. And now, soon, we’d be dead. I leaned back, pressed myself against him, felt the giant undertow. It would be so sweet to go into it. For a little while there’d be nothing else. The moon wouldn’t object. The moon was ready with its blessing. I was about to turn to him – I know, but I can’t, even though nothing matters, even though God hardened Pharaoh’s heart—

We froze. The air had stirred, barely enough to move the fairy petals. He’d smelled it too.

A dead branch snapped and something scurried through the undergrowth.

Then three figures came towards us out of the darkness.


Lucy, Fergus, Trish.

With a bag of hastily-fashioned stakes. I recognised chair- and table-legs from the villa, rudely sharpened. Plus the machetes.

Their story flashed and tumbled, three versions like three sacks of miscellaneous objects emptied down a hill, random distinct details, overall confusion, no time to stop and make order.

Not order, maybe, but sense: Konstantinov and Cloquet had taken the mercenaries and gone in as planned in daylight. They hadn’t been seen since. A combination of pragmatism (Fergus), fear (Lucy) and instinct (Trish) had made the werewolves wait.

So the odds had got better and worse. Better because now there were five of us. Worse because the vampires almost certainly knew we were coming.

There were only two options. The first was to barrel-in en masse and hope they didn’t know we were coming. The second was to assume they didn’t know how many were coming, and try to make that work for us.

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