Talulla Rising Page 87

‘Kill him,’ Jacqueline said. ‘Kill him now.’

At least ten boochies from the congregation leaped forward – then stopped, as in profound confusion. Their mouths opened and closed. Their eyelids fluttered.

‘And the guns,’ Marco said. The armed vampires all did exactly the same thing: they looked at their weapons, frowned, developed a brief, intense palsy in the hands holding them, made a noise of surprise, then dropped them. One of the pistols went off, and hit a Disciple in the shin. The vampires holding Dimitri barely stirred when he shrugged them off and went to his sister.

‘Who are you?’ Jacqueline repeated.

‘And another thing,’ Marco said, lowering the book and addressing the faithful. ‘This daylight nonsense. Where are they, these credulous cretins who’ve strolled around in the sunshine?’

‘Remshi has given them the gift,’ Jacqueline said. ‘You’ve seen it with your own eyes. You’ve all seen it.’ A definite note of defence, now. ‘Olivia. Olivia? Olivia and Federico, where are you? Step forward. Step forward. There. They walked in sunlight this morning.’

Two vampires, a thin, freckled woman in her mid-forties and a young olive-skinned male with all his features a little too close together in the middle of his face, came to the front of the crowd.

‘There,’ Jacqueline said. ‘You saw the film yourself.’

‘I certainly did,’ Marco said. ‘I’ve seen all the films. They walk, they talk, they smile for the camera, they watch CNN, they stick around for a day or two, then they slip away. Any headaches, Olivia? And Federico, how’s that rash on your heel?’

The formula’s flawed. Lethally. They die sooner or later depending on how many doses.

Federico and Olivia looked at each other. Then at Jacqueline.

‘Headache, rash, fever, coma, death. Anything from forty-eight hours to a week. An improvement on Helios. Their guinea pigs skipped the minor preliminaries and just went straight to death. Usually within twelve hours.’ Then to Federico and Olivia: ‘Sorry, kids.’

The question was: could I rip Lorcan’s restraints from the altar? Once I made my move I’d have maybe two seconds. I couldn’t see the fastenings clearly from where I was standing. If I’d had one of the machetes I could have cut off his hands and feet. I could have done that. He’d hate me all over again. But they’d grow back, and I’d make it up to him...

Marco had followed Jacqueline up the steps. Now he stood face to face with Remshi. Visually a ludicrous opposition. Remshi was tall, beautiful, elegantly dressed, had the transcendent eyes and unblemished ivory skin. Marco looked like a road-weary bum.

‘The author of The Book of Remshi,’ Marco said, loudly enough for the whole audience, ‘was an erratic and impulsive individual. He disowned his book, which in any case he claimed he’d concocted as a joke at his own expense. Of the two people who knew the original verb, one didn’t care about that sort of thing, but the other made his own copy with the correct verb re-inserted. Further copies followed, but none survived – or so it was thought. But Vincent... ’ He paused... ‘Merryn – ’ On the word ‘Merryn’ he slapped Remshi’s head so hard that the vampire rocked, spent a comical moment on one leg, almost went over, before Jacqueline grabbed his arm to steady him – ‘Vincent Merryn, God bless his Fabergé egg-head, found one. Imagine that! A word-for-word-correct version of the holy book! The living word!’

‘Oh my God,’ Jacqueline said, quietly, in what sounded like a man’s voice. ‘Oh my God.’

‘Vincent Merryn told Raphael Cavalcanti, and Raphael Cavalcanti, dear spectacular moron that he was, told Her would-be Royal Highness, Madame Jacqueline Delon.’

With her brother’s help Mia Tourisheva had got to her feet, but with a look of negotiating significant invisible obstruction. A crescent of the pink sweat I’d seen on Caleb showed above her top lip.

‘And do you know, my little starvelings,’ Marco continued, ‘do you know what the missing verb was? Can you imagine why it didn’t fit in with Madame’s little scheme? You’ll be amazed when I tell you, you really will.’

Palpable Disciple suspense. It wouldn’t have surprised me to see walls and ceiling had developed a visible pulse. Jacqueline backed away from Remshi. There was a moist sheen to her mean, pretty face.

‘Madame?’ Olivia asked, in a tiny voice. ‘Is it true? Are we going to die?’

I doubt Jacqueline was going to answer her, but we never got to find out, because at that moment the doors burst open and four blood-covered werewolves crashed into the chamber.



For a moment no one moved. It was as if the universe demanded everyone involved take a couple of seconds to absorb the incendiary reality of the situation: confined space; seventy-plus vampires in a state of collective shock; five starving werewolves.

Then Trish flung the Meg Ryanish vamp’s severed head at the altar steps, where it struck with an innocently resonant crack – and the collective paralysis exploded.

I leaped for my son.

The altar was white granite, refreshingly cool to my palms and soles. Lorcan’s restraints were bracelets attached by short cables to panels bolted into the stone: all steel. More than enough to hold a werewolf infant. Not enough to stop an adult. Two, three, four seconds of resistance – then the ring holding the left-hand cable snapped. Instant logical joy: if I could break one I could break four. I had a terrible dizzying vision of myself with my son and daughter in human form (Lorcan’s face the human face wulf could see even if the rest of me couldn’t) snuggled together on a couch in a house by the ocean with a fire going and the TV on, Cloquet making dinner in the background. I had to shut it out. Shut everything out except breaking the cables. Everything but that.

The second cable snapped. I reached for the third. Details from the ambient blur registered whether I wanted them or not. Most of the vampires, rudderless, traumatised by the failed Mass and slapped messiah, were just trying to get out of the chamber, and the few who weren’t were feeling the full force of hunger-furious werewolves. But the hunger worked two ways: thwarted it was fuel for rage; confronted with live prey it forgot everything else. Boochies weren’t food (blared poison, in fact) but the handful of scurrying human familiars were. For now my will and Lorcan’s reek of fear was a frail leash, holding the pack, but there was no guarantee it would last. The air was an orgy of odours, vampire blood and human flesh and our own frank canine stinks. I saw Walker take the head off a Disciple with a single clawed swipe. Fergus jumped to intercept the white-haired priest in mid-flight (a basketball clash), staked him, got his wrist stuck in the ribs, plummeted back to the floor, pulled his arm out gashed by the broken bones.

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