BLOOD RULES- August 2011
Even though the moon hadn’t been full for a few nights now, I was seething, my bones shifting in what felt like a brutal melt, my skin hot as it stretched during the fever of were-change.
The murky midnight sky flashed by, blue swishes in my emerging monster sight, while I sprinted over the New Badlands, trying to get away—
But he was right behind me.
“Mariah!” he yelled, his vampire voice gnarled.
A fractured second later, Gabriel crashed into me, driving me to the dirt near a cave in a hill, my chin and palms skidding on the ground and abrading my skin to rawness.
Backhanded, I swiped at him, but he caught my half-human hand, which was more like a claw. Everything was starting to happen as if I were watching from a near-distance, remote.
I panted like the animal I was becoming as we struggled, him flipping me to my back as I arched, growled, snapped at him. His eyes blazed against his pale skin, his fangs sprung.
“Stop it, Mariah!” he said.
My voice was just as warped as his own. Hollow beast voices.
Before I could bite at him again, he grasped my head, looking into my eyes, slipping into my mind. My thoughts went watery, as if I were suddenly a pool and he’d dipped into it.
Peace. He was trying to give me the peace, and I opened myself fully, still panting. My temperature was already cooling in the hope of receiving his calm.
As he infiltrated me, my vision wavered; he was on the top of water and I was under it. I felt the flow of his sway over my skin, smooth and numbing.
Thank-all, I thought as my bones started flexing back to their human shape.
I floated in sensation for a few more moments, almost afraid of it ending. I sucked in the dragon’s breath air, which was still hot during late spring here in the nowheres.
Gabriel kept looking deep into me, and I breathed some more, letting him take the place of my turmoil. Then…
Then I saw it in his eyes--the resentment. The stifled hatred for what I’d done to the woman he’d come out here to find nearly two months ago.
As soon as her name entered my head, it seemed as if the water that’d been calming me boiled. And I could feel it in him, too—he was thinking about how I’d killed her.
The boiling intensified, the water parting, splashing out in a roar that I felt in my own lungs—
Our peaceful connection shattered, my body straining against itself again with the start of another change, my breath rasping. I could also feel the scrapes on my chin and palms healing with preter speed.
“Get…off…” I growled.
But Gabriel kept pinning me, putting more effort into giving me the peace. With his stronger sway, my body whipped back toward humanity—the watery hush of it, bones and muscle slipping and sliding. For a second…then two…then more, I stayed in my good, human shape, whimpering because I ached. Ached so bad.
As he pushed me toward that better place, I hurt some more. Were-change had been natural when me and the rest of my community had been taken by the full moon. My neighbors had chained me up in our new homestead, and, afterward, I’d thanked them for keeping me restrained. They hadn’t dared let me run free after what’d happened with Abby and the rest.
Natural moon change was so much better than the turning that consumed a were-creature because of emotional upheaval. Anger, passion…it all hurt a lot less during those three or so nights a month when the darkness combined with the moon’s peak to compel a were-creature to madness and terrible hunger.
Gabriel whispered, “There you go, Mariah…”
I grunted. A tiny fever still had hold of me.
“Just a little more,” he said. “Come on.”
My teeth were still long, and I bared them at the vampire, not because of any innate hatred or a need to war against a different breed of preter, but because my wildness just couldn’t stop itself.
Yells and barking arose in the background. More than one person was running, no doubt also keeping to the shadowy, hiding cover of the Joshua trees and standing rocks. I didn’t want them to see me like this.
My dog came to a dirt-spraying halt next to me in the sheltering cove.
Mariah?he asked. Running over open ground…why…?
Even in the hazy near-completion of my change cycle, I thought that Chaplin sounded inarticulate for an Intel Dog. I growled, flashed my teeth at him, too.
Chaplin barked at Gabriel.
What set her off this time?
Gabriel could translate Chaplin’s sounds because they were communicating mind-to-mind, vampire to familiar.
Although Gabriel was still pinning me, he wasn’t breathing heavily, like a human, because vampires didn’t breathe. “I don’t know what it was, but the peace isn’t working so well anymore. I can’t soothe her like I used to.”
At the mention of something so personal, I turned my face away. It helped not to look at Gabriel, even though my breaths still came hollow and deep, my sight still a little blue-tinged. I just wished he’d get off me, because it reminded me of the first time he’d given me the peace, with his body flush against mine. We’d done sex, and with him being a vampire and me being a were-creature, something strange had happened.
We’d imprinted on each other in some way. I could calm him and he could calm me. It seemed we weren’t so much monsters anymore when we were intimate.
But that had been before I told him the truth about the woman he’d loved—how Abby had been a fellow werewolf who’d attacked me, challenging my place in our secretive were-community. Now Gabriel’s hatred of me polluted the peace, and I was flailing without it.
Then again, I’d never been the most stable of werewolves. I’d been bitten, not true-born, and my violent initiation had screwed me up but good. I hadn’t had much control over my changes—not until Gabriel’s peace.
And without it, now? I was back to being a disaster.
By this time, more of the community had arrived. I closed my eyes and willed myself to go all the way human. My bones and muscles obeyed grudgingly, making me buck beneath Gabriel and moan while my skin undulated with the chaos beneath it.
God-all, Chaplin had been right about my running over open ground nowadays. The group was usually so much more careful while in were-form, but I’d taken off, so upset, that I’d just run as fast as I could without thinking about keeping to cover….
When I opened my eyes, breathing shaky, my sight had adjusted to filter in the regular ominous gray cast of a New Badlands night. I saw Pucci first, his bulky chest and grinding teeth belying his true-born were-elk form.
“What the tar is it now?” he asked.
The only reason I never attacked his ass was that, in human-form, he could easily take me. But in monster-form, another were-creature’s blood was like poison, so I had an aversion to his blood—I sought out much more appealing prey instead of turning on the weaker were-creatures. So we were all one big, happy family, except without the happy part.
Another true-born, Hana, had the decency to pretend I was lucid enough to answer. “Mariah, what upset you?”
I couldn’t find my voice as I glanced up at her and her mule deer brown eyes and skin, the African-inspired robes and scarf she wore over her head. Hana and Pucci’s animals used to be herbivores in the years before the world had changed, but with the lack of plant life, regular elk and deer had died off, and only the were-creature versions had lived on because their digestive systems had long ago adapted. Same with every other were-form I knew of—like me, they craved blood, which also gave water out here in the nowheres. When we were in regular form, we didn’t have were-powers, so we didn’t go after blood then.
Gabriel saved me from everyone’s interrogation. “I’m not sure chatting about this is going to improve the situation.”
But now that I could think more clearly, I wanted to talk. I’d spent so much time keeping my rage bottled in that airing it out seemed safer than exploding. My neighbors deserved at least that much from me. They’d let me stick round. Actually, no one had the power to kick me out, except maybe Gabriel, and he was giving me the chance to redeem myself.
I finally found my voice, tangled as it was. “I was unpacking, and I found my dad’s journal. I couldn’t help it—everything came rushing back…”
My dad’s grief after the attack in Dallas, the death of my mom and brother, the fallout from what those bad guys had sicced on me. They’d used a werewolf, and that was when I’d been bitten. Because of that, my dad had smuggled me to our first home in the New Badlands—the one we’d had to leave a little over two months ago. When he’d been alive, he’d taken care of me as well as he could until Abby had come along and we’d had our showdown. After that, Dad had given up on trying to cure me, taking his life and leaving me alone to deal with it.
Oh, Mariah, Chaplin said, as if he were exhausted because of me, too. Then he turned to Gabriel. I thought we buried sensitive items for the time being.
“Did you think I wouldn’t stumble on them?” I asked. “I spent a lot of time camouflaging the entrance to the cavern, so I’m familiar with every speck of dirt and sand near it.” I held my tongue as my last bone locked in place. Then I breathed a bit easier. “I found those journals, Dad’s old pipe, his collectible geek dolls without hardly even trying.”
Hana had bent to me, running a hand over my forehead, murmuring a foreign chant that she’d learned as a new-age science nurse before having to go underground. Her voice helped me as I tried to stay in control.
Gabriel still held me down while Chaplin and Pucci hovered, ready to take me on. Smart, because I didn’t trust myself, either.
“I shouldn’t have come with you all here,” I said as Hana pushed back my hair. “After I found this new homestead, I should’ve kept to my original plan and struck out on my own--”
“Do not say such things,” Hana said. “If we do not help each other, what is left of the world will surely fall apart.”
Chaplin put a comforting paw on my shoulder. And God-all knows the world’s crumbled enough. I wasn’t about to leave you behind.
It was true that he’d eventually persuaded me to come with the community when we’d moved, but that was back when Gabriel’s peace had been working. Before his resentment had grown and trashed our connection.
Although Hana couldn’t translate what Chaplin had uttered, she must’ve sensed that he was consoling me. She added, “Johnson Stamp is still out there, and we need to see that he never catches up to any of us.”
“Yeah,” Pucci said. “If Mariah had broken off with us and Stamp caught up to her, he’d probably have tortured our new location right out of our pet psycho. Might as well have her here where we can keep an eye on what she says and does. Unless, of course, she turns into a werewolf and runs all over the place like she’s inviting someone to catch her.”
His concern would’ve been heartwarming if I knew Pucci had any love for me.
Chaplin barked, then muttered and whined. Let’s get inside. We can’t afford to get caught by anyone, especially if Stamp made it back to the hubs to announce we’re out here.
He didn’t have to add that you never knew when Stamp might be round, either, if he’d survived his confrontation with us.
Stamp, who’d been a Shredder, or government-sanctioned hunter, before the powers that be had deemed preternaturals under control years ago, had almost died while accosting our community. Out of defense, we’d killed all his employees except for him and his female lieutenant, but he’d been so torn up that his wounds might’ve proven fatal.
As I said, you just never knew with Shredders.
Gabriel translated Chaplin’s words. Then Pucci turned to me.
“How many times is it going to take until you really do us in, Mariah?”
Gabriel shoved him away, warily backed off from me, then retreated, keeping to those shadows.
I watched him go, my throat tight.
Hana helped me to a sit, and I made a low sound of unease because of the tweak of my bones and joints. She checked me over, seeming to ignore the rips in my clothing, then peered into my eyes. But since they weren’t glowing with the fever, I passed her inspection.
Pucci yanked on her robes, almost dragging her up so that she followed him as he walked away, both of them taking care to seek cover, too.
I watched Pucci’s treatment of Hana, who never fought back. I could never figure out how such a strong-minded woman loved such a jerk. She always seemed to hold her own against him but she never left when he seemed to give her good reason to.
As I stood, my legs wobbled, and I sucked in a breath at the piercing reminders of the shift. Chaplin nudged me into a shaky walk, keeping up with my unsteady pace as we sought the boulders, then other camouflage.
Chaplin, my remaining friend. I knew that he also resented me sometimes, but we’d been through a lot together, including the Dallas attack and my dad’s death. Hell, my father had trained Chaplin as an Intel Dog in the lab, way back when Dad had still been a scientist, so we’d both lost a father.
“Then there it is,” I said quietly so the rest wouldn’t hear, although maybe Gabriel would pick up my words because of his heightened vampire hearing. “I didn’t mean to put us in danger.”
You had a moment, and it’s over, Chaplin said. We’ll need to watch those visz screens to see if anyone comes round, but we’re very well hidden, Mariah. You’ve just got to be more careful.
“Right. I just had a moment.” But there’d be more and more moments as the years wore on, and we both knew it.
The metal-gray of the sky made Chaplin’s brown coat look drab as we darted out of the shadows and into the safe cover behind rocks or more Joshua trees.
It’ll be a long time before everyone forgets what happened back at the first homestead, Chaplin said, chewing on his words.
“My lack of control made us vulnerable to Stamp, so I earned the wariness.”
Before the big showdown, I’d killed a few of Stamp’s men when they’d encroached upon our territory, threatening us. We’d suspected they wanted our aquifer-enhanced dwellings and, in my anonymous were-form, I’d made sure they didn’t get them. Then Gabriel had appeared one night, wounded, and Chaplin had invited him into our home. My dog had been under his sway, but Chaplin had overcome it, manipulating Gabriel into confronting Stamp for our sakes. But I, and the rest of the community, hadn’t been able to stomach his sacrifice, and we’d gone to the showdown to defend him.
So if you went right back to the beginning, the death and destruction had all been because of me.
Mariah, there’s always… Chaplin began, then cut himself off.
I wasn’t dumb enough to believe that my dog had an unfinished thought. He was luring me into something. Intel Dogs had been genetically bred and trained to be practical and lethal when the time called for it. He was my best weapon and, sometimes, my worst.
“Spit it out,” I said. A sand-rabbit leaped out of some brush in front of us, causing a rustle.
Everyone ahead of us startled toward the sound, even if they were under the cover of the shadows, but when they saw it was only a little flit of an animal, they moved at a faster clip. Anything could be a Shredder or even another preter who’d deserted the hubs. We didn’t need to be discovered by either one.
My heart was blipping in my veins because of the interruption. “You gonna say it, Chaplin?”
I could’ve sworn my dog smiled at my vinegar. It meant that I was fully back to being human. For now, anyway.
There’s always hope for a cure, he said.
And that was all, but that final word had the power to give me pause.
A were-cure—that was what he meant, and he’d been mentioning it in private ever since we’d moved into our new digs. He hadn’t ever expanded on his thoughts, but it was as if he’d been watering a seed every time he muttered it. Although it was a ridiculous idea, his comments had made me think. They also made me ache that much more, and not in my joints and muscles, either.
“There’s no cure for monsters.” I’d discussed this with Gabriel before he even knew what I was, and Chaplin had been in the same damned room. Obviously, this rebuttal bore repeating. “Stories about cures are just legends, and every bad guy who doesn’t believe that monsters were eradicated probably uses the rumors to lure what’s left of our kind into the open. That way, they can beat the location of any hidden preter communities out of the idiots who take the bait.”
What if you’re wrong about there being a real cure? Chaplin asked.
And there it was—he was about to grow that seed into something I’d have to confront right here and now, fresh after losing control to the point where I hadn’t even thought to hide while I was running outside.
“Dad tried every panacea he could think of on me,” I said, “and nothing worked. And if he couldn’t figure it out, who could?”
He wasn’t the only scientist round, Mariah. Maybe Gabriel was right when he said that there was such a sharp drop in preters in the hubs because a cure was found.
Up ahead, hills rose out of the ground like the curves of a serpent’s spine. Pucci and Hana had already run ahead to access a trapdoor to a tunnel that led to our homes, but it looked to me as if Gabriel had slowed down before going inside. The moonlight skimmed over his beaten white shirt and pants. His close-cropped hair looked darker than I knew it actually was, and his face, with that slightly crooked nose, had gone back to its normal stillness--like the façade of an abandoned house, the windows gray and cloudy.
His head was cocked. Was he listening?
His possible interest lit something in me. Hope.
If I improved my disposition, would that make him look at me differently? Would he feel whatever he’d started to feel for me back before the truth about Abby had come out?
Sorrow and anger began to simmer deep in my belly, but I tamped it down before it resulted in another change…and in more trouble.
More than anyone, I needed some kind of cure, and the only one I could think of right now was for me to end my life. I’d already tried that after Gabriel had found out the truth about me, but he’d stopped me for some reason. Now, I still figured he would’ve been better off.
I realized that, maybe, Chaplin was really going at this subject right now because Gabriel was near, and my response might be affected by that. It was also becoming more obvious that my dog might’ve asked me to come to this new homestead not only because he loved me, but because he’d wanted to lead me to accept the idea of a cure, all while making it seem as if I’d agreeably arrived there with minimal assistance.
Too smart for his own good, this dog.
If there is a cure, Chaplin said, what would you do to find it?
“If it were true, I’d do anything.” The comment was out before I could even think, but I knew with all my heart that it was what I’d been feeling for a long time now.
And if the cure required more than just swallowing the contents of some vial?
“What do you mean?”
I mean, what if it involved conditioning, Mariah? Ultra shock therapy. Mental tooling—
I recalled how Gabriel had tried to slay me after hearing about Abby’s death. How, beneath his words and actions, he hated me even now because I was a killer who couldn’t help herself.
I suppose, in life, there’s always a moment where you run into the wall of yourself. That was what I was feeling now, the crash of knowing there’s nowhere else you can go because you can’t turn back.
“As I mentioned,” I said, “I’d do whatever it takes.”
Up ahead, Gabriel glanced partway over his shoulder until he met my gaze.
His eyes…red glows in the night.
I held my breath then used my energies to think to him, willing his vampire mind to pick up my inner voice.
Believe me, Gabriel. I want to be better.
His only answer was to turn round and slip into the cavern entrance, leaving me behind with an Intel Dog who gave me a sympathetic look, then stranded me, too.
From the book: Blood Rules, A Book of the Bloodlands (Book 2)
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