TUESDAY / NOVEMBER 28
Mid-air, the vampire’s fist rammed against Johnny’s wolf-form breastbone, knocking him back enough that his jaws closed on empty air.
The vampire followed through with a round-house kick that caught Johnny on the nose before his paws had touched down.
His nails scraped the floor, gouging the wooden planks not only to stop his rearward slide, but to give him a grip to rocket forward. He lunged again, and again the vampire eluded his teeth.
When he’d fought Mero, he was half-man, half-wolf. He’d stood on two legs, taller than his enemy. He’d had long arms and clawed hands. He’d had many ways to hurt his opponent and he knew how to fight…as a man.
Now, the full moon ruled his form and he had only his mouth.
A scream erupted nearby. Beau. He twisted his neck to see. Beau lay on the floor. A vamp was bloodying Beau’s face with his fist.
The old man could not take such violence. Looking to the white wolf, he saw William was engaging another vamp, with even less success than himself.
He started forward, wanting to help Beau—a vamp landed on Johnny’s back. Nails burrowed under fur and pierced skin. Bending leftward to face this foe, he snapped at the vamp’s left arm just as it was yanked away while the nails on the right side tore into him deeper. He bent to the right to snap at that arm, and the vamp released him and sank its nails on his left again.
Directly ahead, Beau tried to defend himself. The vampire snapped the old man’s arm. Beau screamed again, voice hoarse and weaker.
Putting aside the pain, he moved toward Beau, dragging the vamp with him. But the vamp entwined his legs with Johnny’s rear legs, forcing them backward until his entire rear half was lying on the floor. His spine could not take the angle. He flopped down. Still, Johnny’s front paws strained for purchase trying to worm his way to help Beau.
But he couldn’t even help himself.
The words came, but they were not voiced. They weren’t even words, not inasmuch as language is words. It was more primal. It was his beast, begging.
The beast coveted this moment. There was desperation in the beast’s need to sate its ravenous hunger in this moment. And, with a surge of aggression that matched the hostility of these invaders, the beast demanded ownership of this moment.
Johnny let the wolf ascend.
It was like dark syrup closed over his head. His lungs did not want for air, but his man-mind sank, down and down and down.
He’d asked others what they sensed while changed; they claimed to be unaware, sleeping dreamlessly.
This is the darkness where the mind waits while the beast is in charge. But I am conscious of it.
It was quiet. It was a sanctuary. It was peaceful.
This was the dark corner of his soul.
And it was sore.
Like phantom pains from a missing limb, he felt two aches like thorns lodged in an already open wound—but this wound was metaphysical. Here, somewhere, was that place where two chunks of his soul had been ripped away and replaced with pieces of Menessos and Persephone.
The first piece had the texture of chainmail and sunlight, but gave way to leather and lace.
He jerked away from it.
She shouldn’t come here. It was too dangerous.
He plunged onward, to the next.
It had the roughness of uneven pages, like an old, old book, but he couldn’t open the pages.
He didn’t exactly know how to access these soul pieces—We never discussed that. Why didn’t we discuss that?
Shoving his hand into it, carelessly shredding pages, viscous cords slid around his hand and between his fingers, like veins with briars. Closing his hand into a fist, he squeezed and projected the word: Help!
It occurred to him that he was asking a vampire for aid…against vampires. For an instant, he wondered if Menessos knew, if he’d been a part of it.
Then he squeezed his fist tighter and projected: My den is being attacked…by vampires! With that, he extracted his hand and his gaze lifted. The darkness went on and on. It reminded him of lyrics to a song he wrote:
How deep my soul…to ache like this?How wide this ocean, my abyss?How far to travel with such a load?How high the climb, on forsaken roads?
There was nothing to cling to, nothing to climb. He had to rise. He could not wait for the dawn to realign him.
Clawing at the obscurity, struggling to climb, he knew he wasn’t ascending at all. Anxiety taunted him. His strength availed nothing. His muscles—
I am not physical in this place.
Consciousness only, the body he perceived himself to have was only that: a perception. That representation of the man-form attached to this mind had gravitated inward, here, to his soul.
Willing this body to shift and become wolf brought all the ache of a true change of form. He closed his eyes to this murkiness and stretched and pulled this form through all the process of a transformation—to be half-man, half-wolf.
When his eyes opened, gravity pulled him in the other direction.
Consciousness came in bits. One sense at a time. Sightless, in darkness still, he felt his paws standing squarely on the cold bare floor, felt the change in leverage as he pulled on something. His ears vibrated, surrounded by the cacophony created by hundreds of growling, snarling wolves and the sodden rending of flesh. His whole muzzle was slick; he could smell fur and death and blood. Hot fluid dripped from his mouth, his tongue knew only the taste of blood and raw meat.
Whatever he was pulling on came free. He backpedaled to maintain balance. Overwhelming satisfaction swelled within him and he relished the complete joy—until his vision focused from darkness to dark blurs and into sharp images. Wolves swarmed ahead of him—dozens of them. Their bodies blocked him for a moment, but they each took tooth-holds and yanked.
The wolves before him were feasting on a body…and it was the head of a vampire that dangled from his jaws.
Elation ebbed as he stared at the carnage around him. The white wolf was luminous red, bathed in blood. Everywhere, he saw teeth. His pack was savagery incarnate.
This was why they kenneled. This was the terrible truth that haunted their cursed existence. This was what wærewolves did: they slaughtered.