Blood beast, p.10
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       Blood Beast, p.10

         Part #5 of The Demonata series by Darren Shan
 
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  cast, and we’ll try to find out why those in place before didn’t work. But that’s a job for a magician. I’ll put out the call and we’ll wait.”

  “I thought there weren’t magicians anymore, only mages.”

  Dervish shakes his head. “There’s one. He’s the head of the Disciples, though we don’t have much to do with him personally — he fights most of his battles in the Demonata’s universe. I fought alongside him once, a long time ago. He gave me the task of guarding this area a few years later. I don’t know how long it will take him to come, but hopefully it won’t be more than a month or two.”

  “Are we safe while we wait?” I ask nervously. “What if an evil mage finds the cave and makes a sacrifice?”

  “It’s not that simple,” Dervish says. “The tunnel can’t be opened instantly. A sacrifice would have to be made to start the process, then over the next few weeks the entrances would fuse with the core. At that point someone would need to conduct a lengthy, complicated ritual in the cave. I’d feel that magic at work — it would be impossible to hide — and I’d move heaven and hell to stop it. But I don’t think we have anything to fear. Since I wasn’t warned by the spells when you broke through to the cave, nobody else would have been. The Demonata don’t know the entrance to the cave has been cleared, so they have no reason to move on it.”

  “Then we’re safe?” I watch his face closely in case he tries to lie.

  “As safe as we’ve ever been,” Dervish says calmly, and there’s no hint of deception in his features. I start to relax slightly. He raises a finger. “But regardless of how safe it is, I don’t want you going back to the cave.”

  “As if!” I lick my lips. “What happens when you block it off again?”

  Dervish shrugs. “Life will go on as normal. I’ll stay here, keeping watch, and another Disciple will replace me when I’m old and grey and of no use anymore.”

  “What about Bill-E? Are you going to tell him what you told me?”

  “Yes. As soon as Ma and Pa Spleen let him out of the house — which might not be anytime soon.” Dervish stands and stretches. “What a night. I’ll be glad to see dawn.”

  “Loch won’t ever see dawn again,” I mumble. It’s not fair that I’m having to think about the cave, demons, and magic when I should be thinking only about my poor dead friend.

  Dervish smiles helplessly and comes around the desk. Lays a comforting hand on my shoulder. “You can talk with me about him if you want. I know what it’s like to lose a friend. I can help.”

  “Yeah. Maybe. Thanks.” I take a deep breath and look up. The fear grows in my chest. It tries to grab my tongue and hold it still. It whispers caution. Screams for silence. But I have to tell him. I can’t keep it secret any longer.

  “There’s more than Loch and the cave that we need to discuss.”

  “Oh?” A puzzled little smile, not expecting anything major.

  “I think I have the family curse.” His smile freezes. I push the fear down deep and spit out the words I never wanted to say. “I think I’m turning into a werewolf.”

  I tell Dervish everything — the sickness, the party, the bottle, the magic that’s been growing within me since Slawter. Waking to find myself at the entrance of the cave, digging as if my life depended on it. The whispers, the face in the rock, splitting the wall with my scream.

  Dervish listens silently for the most part, eyes dark, chewing his nails or stroking his beard. Occasionally he’ll ask me to elaborate, to describe the sickness and whispers in more detail. But most of the time he just watches me, his expression impossible to read, head cocked slightly, like a priest hearing confession.

  A long pause when I finish. Then Dervish tuts like a teacher. “You should have called me back on Saturday or told me as soon as I got home.”

  “I know what I should have done,” I snap. “But I didn’t. I was afraid you’d make me become a Disciple if you knew about the magic. And I hoped I was wrong about turning into a werewolf. Keeping quiet was dumb, but I never claimed to be an Einstein. So cut me some slack.” I glare at him but he only stares back calmly. “Well?” I grunt when he doesn’t say anything. “Am I turning or not?”

  “I don’t know. The signs you describe suggest it, but. . . ”

  “What?” I hiss.

  “Victims don’t realize,” he says quietly. “Nobody turns into a werewolf overnight. It’s a gradual process, spread out over three or four months. The kids often know things aren’t right — if they wake covered in blood, or lying naked outdoors — but I’ve never heard of anyone being conscious of the change or actively fighting it. When they start to turn, their minds blank out. They can’t remember changing or do anything to stop it. What you describe is unlike anything any other member of the family has ever reported. And we’ve been dealing with this for a long time.”

  “You’re saying maybe it isn’t . . . ?” I feel hope blossom in my chest.

  “I don’t know,” Dervish says again. “The signs all point to lycanthropy — the distorted face, the hands clenching, the howling. If somebody else had seen it happening to you, I’d say you were definitely damned. But you shouldn’t be able to note these things yourself. It. . . ”

  He gets quiet again. His forehead’s a landscape of worry lines. I’ve thrown him big-time. He looks even more perturbed than he did in the cave. At least he knew where he stood with that, and what he had to deal with.

  “Tell me about the magic again,” Dervish says. “Everything you can recall.”

  I go through the weirdness one chunk at a time. Waking to find myself levitating above the bed. Reversing the flow of water down the sink. Moving things with my mind. Making the bottle rise, explode, and transform into flowers and butterflies.

  “Everybody saw that?” Dervish asks. “Billy will confirm it?”

  “Of course.” I frown. “Why?”

  Dervish grunts. “If we’re lucky, you’re losing your mind, imagining the magic and the change. You’ve had a hard few years, been through a lot — more than just about any kid in the world. Maybe it’s caught up with you. Maybe you’re going . . .” He twirls a finger around in the air at the side of his head.

  “Know what I like most about you, Uncle?” I ask waspishly. “Your subtle tact.”

  “Stuff that! This is no time to be soft. If you’re going crazy, I’d be delighted, because we could deal with it, get help, fix what’s wrong. Nobody’s seen most of this magic you say you’ve been working. It could all be in your head. But if you really did those tricks with the bottle and there are witnesses. . . ”

  “There are,” I say stiffly. “And there’s the cave. We found it on Sunday. We only dug down a little bit, but when we returned yesterday it had been excavated. Rocks and dirt everywhere. Bill-E will confirm that too. I did it, Dervish. I went there, not entirely human, and burrowed down.”

  “Any idea why?” Dervish asks.

  “No. Unless it was the whispers. . . the face. . . ”

  Dervish makes a long humming sound. “If you’re not crazy — and much as I hate to admit it, I don’t think you are — I’ve no idea what the face means. Unless some spell was cast upon the cave long ago, one I don’t know about.” He scratches his left ear, then the right. “You couldn’t recognize anything the girl was saying?”

  “No.”

  “Did the whispers seem to be drawing you to the cave or warning you off?”

  I think about it. “Warning me off. But if that was the case, why was I there? What made me go back and dig? Could it have been the Demonata? Calling to the beast I’m becoming? Using me to open a tunnel between universes, so they could cross?”

  “Possibly,” Dervish says. “I wouldn’t have thought they had that kind of power, but if it’s true that you’re turning, and if there’s magic involved . . .” He frowns and trails off into a very troubled silence. I let him brood for five minutes. . . ten. . . twelve. Then I can’t stand it any longer.

  “What are we going to do?” I cry
. “I don’t want to turn into a werewolf. I don’t want to hurt anyone. But —”

  “Quiet,” he shushes me. “Let’s not jump to conclusions. There’s a lot going on that’s strange to us. But I can ask around, get advice, search for answers. You haven’t turned and you haven’t hurt anybody, so don’t work yourself up. That won’t help.”

  He takes a sheet of paper off a pile on the desk, balls it up, and tosses it from one hand to the other, thinking. “First, I mount a watch over you every night. If you feel the sickness returning — or anything that doesn’t feel right — you tell me instantly. If you feel magic forming, tell me that too.” He hesitates. “Can you do anything now? A small spell?”

  I shake my head, scared of even trying.

  “If I could see you in action. . . pinpoint the source you tap into. . . it might help establish what we’re dealing with.”

  I shudder, then nod and focus. I stare at the ball of paper that Dervish is still throwing from hand to hand. I try using magic to knock it off course, so it falls to the floor. But nothing happens.

  “I can’t do it,” I say after a minute. “It isn’t there now. It comes and goes.”

  “OK,” Dervish smiles. “Don’t knock yourself out. Now, it’s been a long, tiring night. Let’s get you to bed and I’ll keep an eye on you.”

  “But the change. . . the magic. . . that’s it? We’re just going to leave it?”

  “Sure,” Dervish says, then smiles reassuringly. “We’re not going to figure this out tonight. There’s not much I can do until I see evidence of your transformation or magical prowess. When that happens, I should have a clearer idea of what you’re going through, and we can take it from there. Right now the best thing you can do is hit the sack and get some sleep. The problems will still be there tomorrow, but we’ll be in a better state of mind to deal with them.”

  Since that’s all there really is to do, I take Dervish’s advice, get ready for bed, then slip beneath the covers. Dervish sits in a chair by the circular window, keeping watch, protecting me, just as he did when I first moved into this house. Maybe it’s his calming presence, or maybe it’s simple exhaustion, but within minutes, despite everything, my eyes droop and I slip into unconsciousness.

  Just before I go under completely, I remember the one thing I didn’t tell Dervish about — the blood disappearing from beneath Loch’s head. I don’t think it’s important but he should be told, just in case I’m wrong. I try to rise but it’s too late, I’m too far gone.

  Dreams.

  I jolt awake. My eyes snap open and I lurch upright in bed. But it’s not like waking from a nightmare. No racing heart or afterimages of a bad dream. It’s more like somebody jabbed me with a blunt knife and stung me out of sleep.

  I stare around, confused, not sure why I woke so quickly. Then I see that Dervish is gone. That’s probably what disturbed me — he slipped out for a few minutes to get something, go to the bathroom, change clothes, or whatever, and I sensed him leave. It alarmed me and I jerked awake. Simple.

  I start to lean back, half smiling, then stop. There’s more to it than that. Something’s wrong. I have the feeling of being in danger.

  I get out of bed warily and pad to the doorway. There’s a light in the corridor at the top of the staircase. I slip out of my room and head for the light. The house is warm — Dervish hasn’t turned the heat off.

  I think of calling Dervish’s name but don’t. If we’re not alone, if we’re under attack, I don’t want to tip off our enemies. I don’t think the situation is that grave — the feeling of danger isn’t overwhelming — but it pays to be cautious.

  I reach the wide, ornate staircase that links the three floors of the mansion. Darkness below. A dim light above, coming from the direction of Dervish’s study. I home in on it.

  Moments later I’m standing outside the study door, which is ajar. Dervish normally shuts the door, but tonight he left it open, probably because of the heat. He’s talking on the phone. If the door had been shut, I couldn’t have heard what he was saying. Open like this, I can hear him perfectly.

  “Yeah,” he grunts softly, “I know.” A pause. “I don’t think so. I didn’t explore it fully, but . . .” Another pause. “That’s why I said I don’t think so. I’ll go back tomorrow, check it thoroughly, and. . . Yes. No. No. They said there was definitely no one else there.” A pause. “Of course I can’t be certain. I wasn’t there. But I trust them. We’re safe. I’m as sure as I can be, without being one hundred percent.”

  Dervish fidgets on his chair. I think he’s maybe heard a sound and is coming to check. I start to back away but then he speaks again.

  “Just let him know what happened.” A pause. “Yes, I know the consequences if. . . Yes!” Snappish now. “I’m not a fool and I’m not new to this. In my opinion we’re safe. But only one person can confirm that. And he will, when he comes. But he can only do that once you get off the phone with me and pass on the message.” A pause. “I know he’s not easy to get in touch with. I know I’ll have to wait. But the sooner you start, the. . . ”

  Silence. A long pause this time. I hear Dervish tapping the desk with his fingers. Finally, softly, he says, “He’s like my son.” I stiffen and move forward a few inches. “Of course, if the worst comes to. . . Yes, I know. I know. But I’m hoping . . .” Dervish sighs. Another long silence.

  If I lean forward I can see him. There’s a black folder on the desk close to his hand.

  “I have the numbers,” he says quietly. He stops tapping and draws the black folder closer to him. Doesn’t open it. “Yes, I can do it. I have the strength. If there’s no other. . . if it comes to it.”

  Another silence, which Dervish breaks curtly with, “Just tell him. You do your job, let me worry about mine.”

  He slams the phone down and gets up.

  I race back to my room. Dive under the covers. Pull them up over my chest. Try to look like I’m sleeping.

  Dervish returns. Checks that I’m OK. Sits in the chair again. I lie very still, eyes closed, listening intently. Finally, after several long minutes, there’s the sound of light snoring.

  I sneak out of bed. Tiptoe past the dozing Dervish. Head back upstairs in the dark, not turning any lights on. I think I know what is in that black folder and why I woke with the sense of danger. But I want to make sure. I couldn’t see clearly. There’s a slim chance it’s something else.

  The study. The door’s still open. I slip inside, gently shut the door, find the desk in the dark, and turn on one of the smaller lamps. The desktop lights up. The folder’s still there, close to the phone, black as the cave was.

  I pick it up and cradle it in my hands, staring at the blank cover, knowing what I’ll find when I open it, praying to whatever gods there are that I’m wrong.

  Then, with a snap, I flick the cover back. I find several pages, a handful of names, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses on each. And at the top of the first page, not in large letters, bold print, or underlined, but standing out anyway, as if they’d been burned into the paper and were still aflame, the two words that confirm all that I feared.

  The Lambs.

  Misery Mark II

  I spend the rest of the week off from school. Strangely enough, I’d rather go. It’s boring as hell hanging out at the house all the time, brooding, only Dervish for company. I want something to take my mind off Loch’s death and all the other stuff. I want to be with my friends, talk about the tragedy, put it behind me, get on with life. But it’s expected that I take the week off to recover, so I do.

  I try hard not to think about the folder or the Lambs. Like Dervish said, the curse has been in our family a long time. Some parents kill their own children if they turn, but many can’t bring themselves to be executioners. Generations ago, the Lambs were formed to deal with that problem. The wealthier members of our clan founded and continue to fund them. It’s their job to kill teenagers who’ve turned into werewolves. They also experiment on some of the beasts, i
n the hope of unlocking the genetic secrets of the family curse and curing it.

  Dervish doesn’t have much to do with the Lambs. He doesn’t trust them. He always planned to kill Bill-E or me himself if the worst came to pass — there’s nothing like the personal touch. But my uncle’s been through a lot these past few years. He looks as strong as ever, but looks can be deceiving. Maybe he doesn’t feel he has the strength to deal with me if I turn.

  I don’t like the Lambs either. I’ve only met one of them, but she was a cold, creepy woman, and the whole idea of letting strangers put me down like a wild dog fills me with distaste. Dervish has made it clear in the past that he would put me out of my misery if such a drastic step was ever called for. I can understand why he might want to retract that promise now, but understanding doesn’t make it any easier to accept. As childish as it might seem, I feel like he’s betrayed me.

  Bill-E manages to come over on Thursday, after Dervish argued hard on the phone for a couple of days to persuade Ma and Pa Spleen to let him out of the house. He looks shell-shocked. Pale and sickly. His lazy left eyelid flutters so much, it looks like worms are wriggling beneath the flesh. He doesn’t say much, which is unusual for Bill-E. Listens numbly while Dervish explains about the cave and why we had to move the body. Doesn’t seem too bothered by the threat of a demon invasion.

  “I called Loch’s house,” Bill-E says when we’re alone in the TV room. I stare at him, not sure how to respond. I wanted to phone Reni all week but didn’t dare. “His father answered,” Bill-E continues. “I could tell he’d been crying. I wanted to say sorry, ask how they were, if there was anything I could do. But I couldn’t speak. My mouth dried up. In the end he put the phone down. He didn’t get angry. He just sounded sad.”

  Bill-E’s staring off into space. The way this has hit him, you’d think it was his best friend who’d died, not a bully he didn’t like. But maybe that’s why it’s harder for him than me. Guilt’s mixed up with grief. I think he’s sorry for all the bad thoughts he had about Loch, the foul names he no doubt called him behind his back, the times he probably wished his tormentor was dead.

  “I’m going back to school on Monday,” I tell Bill-E. “What about you?”

  He shakes his head. “I don’t know.”

  “You should. It might help.”

  “Gran and Grandad don’t want me to. They said I can stay at home as long as I want. Said they’d hire a private tutor.”

  The meddlesome, selfish old buzzards! I probably shouldn’t be too hard on them. They’re old and lonely. Bill-E’s all they have. I can understand why they want him to themselves, locked up safe where they can fuss over him twenty-four/seven. But they should know better. He needs to be out in the real world, getting back to normal as soon as possible.

  “I remember you telling me about when your mom died,” I say softly. Bill-E looks at me, eyes coming into focus. “Your gran and grandad kept you indoors for a year. You didn’t speak to anybody else. You fought with other kids who tried to talk to you.”

  “Then I got whacked in the jaw by a boy in a store,” Bill-E laughs jerkily.

 
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