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Authors: Scott G. Mariani

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BOOK: Uprising
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I’ll turn.
His grandfather’s voice still rang inside his head.

He’d never wanted to relive those memories again. Since the age of fifteen, after three years of counselling, psychotherapy, hypnosis, he’d thought he was free of them for good. Suddenly, the nightmare was back. Twice now, within the space of just a few days.

His fingers clenched into fists under the bedcovers as the images returned once again. The years hadn’t dulled their awful vividness. Seeing the sabre blade come whooshing down and sideways. Feeling that awful crunch as the sharpened steel went slicing through cartilage and bone.

He took a deep breath. It didn’t happen, he willed himself to believe. You imagined it. You were in shock. The brain plays strange tricks. Imagining all kinds of things that aren’t real.

That was what the doctors had persuaded him to believe – that there weren’t monsters out there, lurking and watching in the dark. That the only evil in this world was human. Like the psychopathic murderer who’d broken into the remote cottage that night and done those terrible things. That the only time Joel had ever touched the sabre was when the old man had let him play with it.

And that the rest was just the figment of a deeply traumatised child’s imagination.

It had taken a long time, but he’d eventually learned to trust the words of logic and reason repeatedly drummed into his head like a mantra by the men and women in the white coats.

At this moment, though, he wasn’t so sure. He swung his legs out of bed and looked out of the window at the mist in the streetlights outside. So much for grabbing a decent night’s sleep before his early morning start. He knew what he had to do to clear his mind.

He walked to the bathroom, took a quick shower, and then pulled on his motorcycle leathers and left the flat. Out in the misty street, he swung his leg astride the Suzuki Hayabusa sportsbike, thumbed the starter and rode off.

Chapter Five

What a place, Dec thought as he crept through the manor house grounds and the turrets and towers loomed up through the mist. The cars outside were all Aston Martins and Bentleys and Rollers. He made his way to the brightly lit windows where the music was coming from, and peered through.

What he saw inside was a huge, glittering ballroom. There had to be a couple of hundred people in there, dancing, drinking, partying. The women were all in long dresses, and the men wore tuxedos and strange black cloaks. Every face in the room was hidden by a mask.

He skirted the outside wall and peeped around the corner. The front entrance was at the top of a flight of steps and the door stood open. He trotted inside, just in time to avoid being spotted by an old guy in a butler’s uniform. Finding himself in a huge hallway, he ducked down a corridor. A door was ajar, and through it was the biggest washroom he’d ever seen. On a chair by the door was someone’s discarded cloak and a black mask; Dec grabbed them and darted away.

With the cloak over his shoulders and the mask over his face, he wandered through the ballroom and scanned the crowd for Kate. He felt desperately out of place and hoped he didn’t too obviously look it. A string quartet were playing, and dancing couples spun across the polished floor. Waiters sifted through the crowd with champagne glasses on silver trays.

Then, through a gap between the dancers at the far end of the ballroom, he caught a glimpse of Kate’s unmistakable red hair. She had her back to him, but it was definitely her. She was walking with a man towards a curtained exit. His hand was pressed to the small of her back, as though guiding her gently but firmly. Was he the guy in the Rolls, Dec wondered. He looked like the moneyed type. Expensive suit, fancy haircut. Dec couldn’t see his face, but there was something vaguely familiar about the guy. Nothing especially distinctive – he wasn’t fat, wasn’t thin, not short, not tall. But Dec was sure he knew him from somewhere. He thought he could see a certain nervousness in the man’s step as he escorted Kate through the room.

Dec suddenly realised that Kate and Rolls-Royce man were part of a larger group all heading in the same direction. Six of them in all, three men and three women, including Kate. He couldn’t help but notice how hot the other two women looked, both dressed in revealing outfits and high heels. The blonde was like something out of a magazine and the other one with wild, tousled raven hair, was just stunning even with her mask on. Her slinky crimson dress showed off the toned muscles of her shoulders and arms. Gold bracelets on honey skin. She and Rolls-Royce man seemed to know each other. When she turned to smile at him he seemed to shrink away a little from her, as though wary of her, and she gave a seductive giggle.

The two other guys in the group were eye-catching for different reasons. One looked like a tree. He was black and massive, six foot six of solid muscle under a tuxedo that looked ready to split if he moved too brusquely. The other guy’s head barely came up to his chest. Wiry, stoat-like, with eyes that darted behind his black mask.

Dec watched as they all filed through the curtained doorway. None of the other partygoers seemed to pay them any attention as they left the ballroom.

Dec pushed his way through the crowd to the doorway. He discreetly pulled the curtain aside and followed. Keeping well back, he followed the strange group through corridors and hallways. Every so often he could see Kate, still being ushered along by Rolls-Royce man. What was wrong with her? She seemed to be walking strangely, as if dazed, or in a trance of some kind.

The group of six passed through another doorway. Dec waited a moment, then crept to the door and inched it open to see a flight of stone steps spiralling downwards into shadow. He swallowed hard, and followed, hanging back to stay out of sight.

He could hear the people’s steps echoing up towards him.

Then nothing. He trotted faster down the steps and found himself on a landing that branched out in several directions, leading to more stairs. Which way had they gone?

He kept going, wandering through the maze. It was dark down here, and he was beginning to get disorientated. He bumped up against a rough wooden door and his fingers felt the cold iron ring handle. He turned it and the door creaked open.

He was in what looked like a vault or crypt beneath the manor house. It seemed to run the whole length of the building, stretching far ahead into darkness, lit only by flaming torches that cast flickering shadows across the stone floor and the forest of pillars that held up the ceiling.

Dec felt suddenly chilled.

He heard the sound of voices, and turned to see the group he’d been following. They were assembled in a circle about forty yards away, surrounded by lit candlesticks. Kate was no longer with them. Instead they’d been joined by another man, dark, elegant and stately in his tuxedo. He wore no mask and Dec could make out his slender, chiselled features in the candlelight. He exuded an air of quiet authority and even from a distance it was clear that everyone deferred to him. Almost as though they were afraid of him; especially Rolls-Royce man, who now looked even more nervous than before, a sheen of sweat on his brow. He appeared on the edge of panic, but then the man who seemed to be the leader put a hand on his shoulder and said something to him in a low, mellifluous voice. Dec didn’t catch the words.

With a noise that echoed through the vault, a trapdoor in the ceiling fell open above the group’s heads and something emerged from it. Dec strained to see, then nearly bit his tongue off when he saw that the strange object being lowered from the trapdoor was a girl. Naked. Hanging upside down from a chain, steel manacles around her ankles. She was struggling in terror, her screams muffled by a gag.

Dec crept closer. Pressed himself against a pillar, hardly daring to look. His mouth was dry, his heart hammering. Now he could see the girl more clearly. She had short brown hair and marks on her neck that looked like a spider on a web.

Dec could sense the group’s excitement as she swung overhead, sobbing, too weak to struggle. Only Rolls-Royce man looked agitated. He began trying to back away, but the two women took his arms and gently restrained him, smiling and kissing him.

The black-haired beauty had something attached to her belt, slung low at her left hip. It was a sword in a scabbard. She drew it out with a slithering whisper of metal on metal and a clinking of gold bracelets. The long, curved blade glinted in the torchlight.

The leader nodded to her.

As Dec watched in horror, the woman lashed out with the sword and cut the throat of the hanging girl. A torrent of blood splashed down over the group. They stood with upturned faces, in a frenzy of pleasure as the blood spattered down over them and trickled over their lips. The women moaned and smeared it over their faces, their bare shoulders, their breasts. The leader stood back and watched with apparent indifference as the giant black guy and the little weaselly one began greedily licking and slurping the blood from their flesh.

Rolls-Royce man was quivering – Dec couldn’t tell if it was with wild excitement or with terror. The black-haired woman sheathed her sabre and beamed at the man through the blood on her mouth. She reached out and laced her bloody fingers behind his head, drew his face towards her. Buried it in her cleavage like a mother offering milk to a baby, and threw back her head with pleasure. Rolls-Royce man’s face came away sticky with blood as she released him and he staggered back a step. He looked ready to collapse with fear and excitement.

Only the leader stood aloof, quietly licking his lips as the last squirts of blood rained down from the dying girl. She let out a gurgle, then hung limp.

Dec was barely able to focus his thoughts. Then it hit him.

Where’s Kate?

A second trapdoor fell open and then he saw her. Naked and chained, just like the other girl. Her pale body gleamed in the firelight, her hair hanging down in a mass of curls.

The black-haired woman wiped the blood from her mouth, leaving a glistening red streak of it across her face. Cruelty flashed in her eyes as she drew the sword a second time and poised herself for the strike, like a beautiful, lethal cobra. The blonde was watching in anticipation, open-mouthed.

Dec wanted to scream out but his throat was paralysed with terror. Just as the blade was about to slash Kate’s neck wide open, the leader raised his hand.

‘Stop, Lillith. Anastasia, back away. I want this one for myself.’ His voice echoed in the crypt. The woman called Lillith lowered the weapon and stared at him. The blonde froze, like a dog being given a command.

‘That’s not playing fair, brother,’ Lillith said archly.

‘Release her.’

Lillith snarled.

And Dec almost collapsed.

Not because he’d never seen a human snarl before.

But because of the teeth. They hadn’t been there before – he was certain of that. But now, suddenly, horrifically, her canine teeth looked like an animal’s. They were long and curved and sharp, protruding whitely from her bloody lips.

The leader took a brisk step towards Lillith and slapped her hard across the face. She was hurled off her feet with a scream of pain and rage. He pointed a warning finger at her. Then turned to Kate and reached out to stroke her skin.

‘She’s mine,’ he said.

Dec had seen enough. He had to get out of this place. Call the police, somebody, anybody. Get help. He turned away, barely breathing, desperately trying to control his racing pulse as he tiptoed back through the crypt as fast as he could.

Making it to the stairs, he began to run like a maniac, swallowing back the bile that kept rising up in his throat.

For a few terrible minutes he was lost inside the enormous house, stumbling through the plush corridors. Ripping open a door, he found himself inside an old-fashioned library. French windows looked out across the dark grounds. He ran over to them. They were locked. He had to get out. Looking around him in panic, he spotted a large quartz paperweight on a desk. Grabbed it and lobbed it against one of the windows, which shattered with a tinkling of breaking glass. He clambered out of the jagged hole and staggered out into the night.

He never looked back at the house. He sprinted to the wall, scrambled over it and dashed to his car. His hands were shaking so badly that he could hardly get the key into the ignition, but then the engine fired up and he took off down the country lane.

As he drove wildly away, he tore his phone out of his pocket and went to dial 999.

The battery was dead. He tossed down the phone and drove faster through the misty night. There had to be somewhere he could stop and make a call, but all he saw around him was countryside. He pressed his foot down harder on the accelerator and kept it there for five straight minutes. Was there nothing here? Where was he?

Miles passed, and then he noticed a light through the trees. A house, maybe a country pub.

Dec stared at the light for half a second too long. By the time he looked back at the road, it was already too late. The tight bend rushed up faster than he could react. The Golf ploughed into the verge, left the road and smacked straight into a tree, and the expanding airbag punched him in the face as he went flying into the wheel.

He had no idea how much time went by before he woke up in the wrecked car. He tried to move, and cried out at the excruciating pain in his left wrist. His head whirled with nausea. He felt the blackness rising.

No. No. Got to get help. Got to help Kate. Got to get

That was his last thought before he woke up again to the glare of flashing blue lights and there were two police officers looking down at him.

Chapter Six

VIA Headquarters, central London

Next morning, 6.28 a.m.

Alex pushed through the steel and glass doors of Schuessler & Schuessler Ltd and crossed the broad foyer to the reception desk. Fresh off the plane from Bucharest, she was wearing a long dark grey Ralph Lauren cashmere coat over a merino wool polo-neck and jeans. The heels of her Giuseppe Zanotti knee-high studded boots clicked on the shiny tiles.

BOOK: Uprising
2.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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