Blood beast, p.15
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       Blood Beast, p.15

         Part #5 of The Demonata series by Darren Shan
 
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  “Get stuffed!” is my eloquent response.

  The internal battle rages on but I have the sense that I’m winning. The pull of the moon is fading. The creature has lost the fight. But there’s another night to come and it will be stronger then. Maybe too strong.

  You can’t deny me, the beast hisses again from somewhere deep inside me, deeper than it should be. This is what we are. It’s our fate.

  “I’ll choose my own fate,” I mutter, staying on guard, ready to fight again if it launches a last-minute attack. But it doesn’t. The sun is rising. The moon’s losing its luster. I’ve won — for now.

  Wearily sitting up. Dervish and Juni regard me suspiciously. Both exhausted. Cut, bruised, and scratched in many places.

  “What happened to you two?” I quip.

  “Now he gets cocky,” Dervish growls. “For the past eight or nine hours it’s been screams and agony, hell on Earth. But now, with the sun rising, you feel like you can joke, regardless of the agony you’ve put us through.”

  We regard each other coolly — then laugh.

  “We survived!” I shout.

  “You beat it!” Dervish chortles, hugging me tight.

  Juni just smiles tiredly, watching us.

  When Dervish releases me, I collapse backward and stare at the ceiling.

  “How do you feel?” Dervish asks. “Or is that a stupid question?”

  “No,” I sigh. “I don’t feel so bad. Tired, but not as beat as you or Juni look. To tell the truth, I’m hungry.”

  “If you’re expecting breakfast in bed, you’re in for a nasty surprise,” Juni snaps. Dervish and I giggle.

  “It was strange,” I mumble, recalling my battle, especially the end when I imagined the beast speaking to me. “Like I was wrestling with another person — a thing — inside myself. But really wrestling. Like it was there physically. My body was a ring and there were two of us inside the ropes. It was the hardest fight of my life.”

  “No piece of cake for us on the outside either,” Dervish says, touching his bruised cheeks. “You put us through the wringer. I know you’re a colossus in the making, but I wouldn’t have credited you with that much strength.”

  “It would have been worse if the beast had won,” I tell him quietly. “I could feel it. So strong. Without the magic, it would have walked all over me, burst loose, torn into you. Tonight. . . when the moon’s full. . . ”

  “Don’t think about that. We’ll take this one fight at a time. Focus on the victory now. Deal with the next bout when we’re faced with it.” He stands, stretches, and groans.

  “Go to bed,” Juni smiles. “You worked hard and took most of the blows. We both need to get a lot of sleep today, but you more than me.”

  “I’ll be fine,” Dervish says, then wobbles on his feet and almost falls. Juni steadies him, then says firmly, “Bed!”

  “Yes, miss,” Dervish sighs. “You coming?”

  “Soon. I want to sit with Grubbs a little bit longer.”

  Dervish leaves, rubbing the small of his back and groaning. Juni watches him go, then examines her wounds. Murmuring spells, she brushes her fingers over the light cuts on her arms. They heal swiftly, the flesh closing neatly, only the slightest lines of red giving away the fact that she’d been scratched at all.

  “Neat trick.”

  “A useful spell.” She works on her neck and face. “It’s no good on deep gashes but it’s perfect for little rips like these. Better than Band-Aids. I’ll fix Dervish up later.”

  Finishing, she turns her attention to me. Wipes my hair back from my eyes. Heals the scratch on my forehead. Rubs the flesh to make sure it’s OK, then says softly, “He was terrified. I was too, but not as much as Dervish. He really loves you.”

  “I know.”

  “He’d give his life for you if it would change anything.”

  I stare at her silently. There are tears in her eyes. I instinctively know why she’s saying this, defending him when there’s no apparent need. “He called the Lambs,” I whisper.

  She nods miserably. “I got him to admit it. He didn’t want to involve them. But if you turn, you have to be killed. He can’t do that, not kill his own nephew. So, as much as he hates them. . . ”

  “It’s OK,” I tell her, forcing a weak smile. “He didn’t have a choice.”

  “I suppose.” She sighs, lowering her gaze. “I had a son once.” I blink, not sure how to respond to this startling, un-expected confession. “A darling boy. He was my world. Died in his sleep a few months before his second birthday. A brain defect. There were no warning signs. Nothing anybody could have done about it.”

  She breaks down in tears. I pat her back clumsily, wishing I could wash her hurt away with words, feeling as useless as I’ve ever felt. Finally she regains control and wipes her cheeks dry.

  “It almost destroyed me,” she croaks. “I survived, but just barely. Became a child psychologist so I could be close to other children, ease my pain by helping them with theirs.” She laughs hoarsely. “I once said you were psychologically plain. Well, I’m an open book too. Whenever anything goes wrong in my life, I hide behind my work, use it to haul myself out of whatever dark hole I’ve fallen into.”

  She takes hold of both my hands and squeezes, stronger than I imagined. “When Dervish asked me to move in, I was delighted, not just because I love him, but because it meant I could become a mother to you.” She lets go of my left hand and strokes my cheeks, smiling warmly. “I’ve always wanted another son to mother but it never quite worked out until now.”

  The smile fades. She lets go of my other hand and stands. “I won’t abandon you,” she says, her voice throbbing with surprising menace. “I won’t give you over to the Lambs, not unless there’s no hope at all. I’ll stand by you until the very, very end. Even if Dervish doesn’t.”

  Then she’s gone, leaving me to stare after her, jaw slack, senses whirring, not quite sure what to make of her fiercely supportive vow.

  A day of rest. We all sleep until early afternoon and lounge around after that. Juni’s oddly distant, withdrawn and quiet. Doesn’t look at me straight. Or Dervish. Almost as if she’s ashamed of what she said. Or is planning something and doesn’t want us to know.

  Evening. The shakes again. Throwing up everything I’ve eaten. I fight my vomitous body, sitting on the grass out back, taking the warm evening sun, determined to enjoy what might be my final sunset. Dervish and Juni are nearby. Dervish asks if I want to go in. I shake my head. Don’t want to abandon the outside world. Afraid that once I do, that’s it — game on. . . game over. . . doomed.

  Bill-E called earlier. Wanted to come over and hang out.

  Dervish made my excuses. Said I’d caught something nasty. Told Bill-E to stay away in case it was contagious. Bill-E wasn’t suspicious. Why should he be?

  Thinking about my brother. Wishing I’d told him about us. Dervish was right — I waited too long. I wanted to spare him the emotional roller-coaster ride of the truth but I was wrong to stall. If I change tonight and the Lambs exterminate me, he’ll only think he lost a friend. He’ll never know how close we really were.

  I consider calling him, telling him the truth while I’m still capable of speech. But that would be lunacy. If I survive, beat this thing, or at least delay my transformation for a month, I can tell him then. Calling now would be pointless. Worse — dangerous. He might come over. Get in the way. Fall victim to the blood-crazed beast I might by that stage have become.

  “Do you still have the cage?” I ask suddenly. Dervish stops talking to Juni and stares at me. “The cage in the secret cellar. Is it still there?”

  He nods slowly.

  “Put me in it.” I thought my voice might quaver but it holds firm. I stare at him unflinchingly.

  “If you start to change, we can —” he begins.

  “No,” I interrupt. “Do it now. Before I turn. I made a mess of you last night. I hurt Juni too. She was able to fix us up but I’ll be stronger tonight. Wilder
. Maybe I’ll inflict damage she can’t cure.”

  Dervish is silent. He exchanges a look with Juni.

  “That could be detrimental,” Juni says softly. “You believed in yourself last night. That belief gave you the strength to fight. If you allow yourself to be caged up like an animal, perhaps you’ll start thinking of yourself as one. You might stop believing. . . stop fighting.”

  “I won’t.”

  “It might be for the best,” Dervish mutters. “If he does turn, I’m not sure we can control him.”

  “You have drugs,” Juni says. “You can subdue him if you have to.”

  “Remember Meera?” I say before Dervish can answer. “When Bill-E changed, he got to her. Knocked her out before you could inject him. Almost killed her. If that happens to Juni. . . ”

  Dervish’s jaw stiffens. “You’re right. It has to be the cage.” He takes Juni’s hand. “It doesn’t mean we’re giving up. We’re just being safe.”

  She nods reluctantly and looks at me. Her expression communicates the same thing that she promised earlier — “Trust me. I’ll stand by you. Even if Dervish doesn’t.”

  I rise quickly. “Best do it now.” I take one last look at the sun. “The moon will be up soon.” I put my hands on my growling stomach. “I can feel it.”

  The cage. Howling. Screaming. Battering the bars. Dervish and Juni on the other side, roaring encouragement, telling me I’m winning, calling to the human within, the one who’s rapidly disappearing, giving way to something new, deadly, beastly.

  I fight but it’s much harder than last night. The beast is stronger. It assaults me without pause, snapping and growling, hurling itself against the ball of magic that is my only protection, ripping into it, howling bloody murder, hell-bent on breaking free to run wild and kill.

  I grip my head between my hands and scream, veins in my neck stretched, fingers curling inward into claws. I keep shouting my name, trying to hold on to my voice, but all that comes out is a jumbled snarl. And the light around me is changing, becoming darker, the shades more limited, colors fading to grey.

  “Not. . . going. . . to. . . turn!” I bellow, having to fight for each word. I let go of my head. Clutch the bars of the cage. Lock gazes with Dervish, then Juni. “Not. . . going. . . to . . .” The last word becomes an inhuman shriek.

  “That’s right,” Dervish shouts desperately. “You won’t turn. You’re Grubbs Grady. You’ll win this fight. Gradys never lose.”

  “Keep fighting,” Juni pleads. She puts her hands over mine. “You can do it. I know you can.”

  I fall away from the bars, shaking my head, roaring with pain. The beast cackles. The battle continues. Torment claims me whole.

  I’ve been fighting for hours. At least I think it’s hours. Maybe it’s just been minutes. Maybe I’m so far gone that I’ve lost track of time. Perhaps, for me, this night will last an age, never ending, an eternal fight between humanity and a force of wolfen evil.

  I slump on the floor, leaning against the bars of the cage, staring around with wide, wild eyes, seeing the main desk, the key to this cage, candles, books, a chess piece in one corner, left over from my last fight here. My skin feels like it’s rippling. I want to let it. I’m tired. I can’t go on.

  You must.

  A new voice. Not my own and not the imagined voice of the beast. The voice of magic. It speaks quickly, softly, telling me we can beat this thing if we work together. It starts to explain how I can use it, the spells I need to cast, the words I must chant — but the beast picks that moment to yowl violently, filling my head with white noise, causing me to jam my hands over my ears and scream.

  When the noise passes and I lower my hands, the voice of the magic is gone, or is so quiet I can’t hear it. I’m not alone. I still sense it there. But I no longer feel like it can help me. I’m losing this battle. Maybe I’ve already lost and just don’t know it yet.

  More fighting. Pain. Terror.

  Another rare moment of rest and understanding. On the opposite side of the cage this time but in the same slumped position as before. Dervish and Juni are crouched nearby, telling me how well I’m doing, how proud they are, I’m going to win, I just have to ride it out.

  I turn my head a fraction and smile sadly at Dervish. “Sorry,” I croak.

  “No,” he snaps. “You can’t give up. You have to beat this thing.”

  “Sorry,” I mutter again, head dropping, panting hard, crying, tears hot on my cheeks, not feeling like they’re mine.

  “He’s slipping from us,” Juni says. She sounds much calmer than my uncle.

  “No!” Dervish barks. “I won’t let him. We have to —”

  “Quiet,” Juni commands.

  “But we can’t —”

  “We won’t.” She reaches in and tilts my head back. It takes a few seconds but my eyes finally focus. She’s studying me coolly. “He’s losing concentration. We have to help him regain it. Force him back into action and spur him on to fight.”

  “How?” Dervish asks tightly.

  “A spell. One to act on the magic within him. It will be like injecting him with adrenaline — only it’s magic we’ll inject into, not flesh.”

  “What spell?” Dervish growls. “I don’t know any —”

  “I’ve been preparing one,” Juni cuts in. “Just in case.” She looks away from me and trades gazes with Dervish. “It’s dangerous. If it doesn’t cure him, it will kill him. I didn’t want to use it unless it became absolutely necessary. I still won’t, not unless he slips further and concedes more ground to the. . . werewolf.” She smiles fleetingly as she says it. Then her expression firms again. “I won’t do it if you object, but I want you to know it’s there if we need it. And I have to know if you’ll consider letting me use it, so I can finish preparing.”

  Dervish looks lost, like he wants to cry. For a moment I don’t think he’s going to respond. But then, with a wrenching effort, he nods stiffly. “But only if there’s no other choice,” he wheezes.

  “Of course.” Juni touches his cheek lovingly. “You’ll need to go to the house. If I go ahead with the spell, there are things I’ll need.”

  “What?”

  Juni closes her eyes. A couple of seconds pass. She opens them again. “Got it?”

  “Yes.” Dervish laughs crazily. “You’ll have to teach me how to do that.” Then he stumbles for the door leading to the wine cellar.

  Juni waits till he’s gone, then hurries to the desk, grabs the key to the cage, and inserts it in the lock.

  “What are you doing?” I mumble, backing away from her as she opens the door and enters my lair. “Get out. It’s not safe. I could —”

  “The Lambs are outside,” Juni says, stooping beside me, taking my hands, helping me to my feet. “Dervish was in contact with them earlier. They have the house surrounded. Ready to finish you off when Dervish gives the word.”

  I shrug wearily. “Maybe it’s for the best. I can’t be helped. They —”

  “No!” Juni hisses, and slaps my face. “I won’t let you sacrifice yourself. I don’t believe you’re lost. We can get through this but only by thinking positively, only if you fight. Dervish doesn’t understand. He called this wrong. He loves you but he underestimates you. He doesn’t know how strong you are.”

  “No. I’m weak. I can’t fight anymore. I just want to let it happen. Simpler that way. I’m sick of all the pain.”

  “I don’t care how sick you are!” Juni snaps. Then her voice changes. “I’m not doing this just for you. I want you to live for me too.”

  She grabs me by the front of my sweatshirt, pulls me in close, and kisses me. It starts innocently, the way my mom used to kiss me when I was little and woke up scared in the middle of the night. But then it changes into something deeper and I kiss her back, the way I kissed Reni when we played spin the bottle.

  The beast within me howls as we kiss. The magic surges and seethes. Around us the bars of the cage turn red, then crack and melt, tumbling away.
The roof of the cage falls upon us. I swat it aside with a single powerful hand.

  Juni releases me. She’s breathing hard. “Run, Grubbs,” she says, eyes bright, cheeks flushed. “Get away from the Lambs. Go the cave. Wait for me there.”

  “The cave? But. . . if I turn. . . ”

  “You won’t,” she vows, and kisses me again, quickly this time. “Go!”

  Without thinking, I bolt. Leaping over the bubbling bars of the cage, I race to the other exit, the one that leads away from the house. I tear the door open and flee up the stairs. Juni cheers encouragingly behind me, then laughs, her laughter trailing me, staying with me, comforting me, urging me on.

  The top of the stairs. The way ahead blocked by a pair of doors, locked from the other side by chains, covered by a sheet of corrugated iron. I pause for the briefest of seconds, then set my right shoulder to the doors and thrust sharply. The chains snap. The doors explode open. The sheet of iron flies clear.

  I emerge into moonlight.

  Standing in the open, chest rising and falling rapidly, staring around, seeing the world with eyes one-third human, one-third animal, one-third magic. Picking out shapes, even if they’re hidden from direct sight by trees or the house. Nine. . . ten. . . eleven. . . twelve. The dirty dozen. But not dirty enough to hold Grubbs Grady — überescapee!

  The beast in me wants to attack, rip them open, teach them not to mess with the Grubbster. But tempting as that thought is, I push it away and break for the forest instead.

  There are three members of the Lambs back here. The unexpected shattering of the doors stunned them. But they recover quickly. Their training kicks in and they move to intercept me. Large men with clubs, stun guns, nets, rifles.

  “Halt!” one of them shouts, aiming a rifle. I snarl at his gun and it turns bright red. He screams and tries to throw it away. Fails, because it’s burned into his flesh and welded itself to the bones in his hand.

  The second Lamb rushes me, tries to bring me down with a football tackle. I grab him as he leaps, spin him around in the air, then slam him down hard, knocking him out — a perfect wrestling move. Loch would be proud. If I had time, I’d pin him for a three count. But as powerful and
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