There was smoke,
everywhere. It seared her lungs, burned her eyes, eddied and swirled
in her vision until she couldn't see.
For a second, she thought she was back at the trailer, back home in Montana. She could hear the choppers getting closer.
"Run!" she tried to yell to her boys, get them out safely, and then she realized....
holy shit i'm breathing.......
Real air was rushing into lungs
whose lungs my lungs whattafuck.....
choking her with the smoke it carried.
Am I .... alive?! she thought in shocked disbelief.
The last few minutes whirled in her mind, the horrible Giovanni questioners, the imprisonment within some sort of glass sphere...
She shook her head, bringing incredible pain into focus.
She was hurt, hurt bad, and she realized this life might very well be short if she couldn't get a grip on what was happening. A cold hand rested on her shoulder as she lay on the floor. Turning, she saw Tommy's wedding band on it. The arm disappeared underneath a pile of debris several tons in weight.
No time no time no time .... whispered the voice in her head.
She looked down at herself, afraid of what she might see.
The body was small, smaller than the one she had lived - and died - in for thirty-seven years. But it seemed to be relatively whole, except for the angle of it's -my, she thought - left leg and foot. They were twisted in a way humans don't bend, obviously broken in a few places. But that was not what was giving her such pain.
She raised her hands. Only one - the left - responded, coming clumsily up across her eyes and into the thick mane of hair this body had.
I'm skinwalking .... I think ....
There was a hole in the back of the skull, bone fragments poking her fingers and staining her nails with blackish blood.
oh shit oh damn oh shit i am so fucked .......
But even if the occupant of this body had died, Boudiccea's spirit was alive, and for the moment in control of the flesh. And she was not about to let it go without a fight. She dragged herself to a sitting position, trying to ignore the shooting pains that made her feel as if the top of her head was coming off, and rolled over to her stomach.
"Tommie," she called into the pile of debris, and her voice was an anguished gurgle instead of the shout she had meant it to be, "Tommie, for the love of Gaia can you hear me?"
No response except the shifting of wood and concrete over her head.
Mother...told me....the spirit of the wolf........
And she went inside her head, into the memories of so long ago, when Boudiccea was whitestreak, and her life was fresh ahead of her....
Great Gaia stood
before whitestreak, then she blinked and Gaia became the old woman, the
one who'd found her for her first change. Walks-with-the-horses had
been gone to Gaia for years, but she appeared before whitestreak now as
she had in life, strong and serene.
"You are confused, little cub, as well you should be," said Walks-with-the-horses, and Boudiccea couldn't remember if this was a memory or a dream. The indian woman reached out and touched her face, and she smiled.
"Just remember, this," and here the old woman pounded her fist on her withered chest, sounding like a war drum," this is nothing - it is a water skin. It holds the water, but it is not the water itself. And you, and I, and perhaps even Gaia herself, we are all the water skin and the water. The water is still the water whether it is in the water skin or on the ground or in the air. And you are still the wolf, whether you are in the skin or in the ground or in the air. It is all the same."
YES, Boudiccea nodded violently, and the old woman smiled.
"And now you must go, dear cub. You have many miles to run before you sleep."
Miles to go before I sleep...yes...miles to go indeed....
awoke to find herself covered in debris. She wiped concrete dust
from her mouth and nose, pausing only long enough to see that most of it
came from the ornate ceiling that had hung thirty feet above her head in
the penthouse suite only moments before. She rose slowly to her feet,
feeling pain from several wounds coursing through her body.
Dammit, she thought in Italian, what the hell happened?
A quick look over the room revealed the evidence of some sort of explosion, a huge one by the look of things. Several of the walls had collapsed inward, the thick ceiling had crashed down, and her dear nephew's pool table had come through the floor above to land a yard to her right. She supposed Guiseppe was dead, but she had no time to concern herself with that.
Her only thought was the Cappadocian, and her death.
She began healing the injuries with blood, pausing when she started to fell light-headed and drained.
Need to find...more blood... she thought, and then she heard a sound in the rubble. She quietly picked her way over the heaps of wallboard and ceiling tile to find a young girl rolling about on what was left of the carpet.
She vaguely recognized the girl, one of the casino employees, maybe a baccarat dealer, perhaps, but she did not care. All she saw was the opportunity to drain what was left of the girl's lifeblood, which was now pooling around her head.
"Pah! She's spilled half her blood already!" She cursed in Sicilian, and leaped over the shattered remains of a piano to the girl.
And suddenly the girl stood.
Isabella had seen many things in her time, seven hundred years of it, had seen other kindred, wraiths, even a few of those damned kai-jinn.
But she had never seen this.
She had never seen a mortal with death wounds stand and begin to heal those wounds as quickly as any kindred could do it.
She had never seen a mortal's eyes blaze with such fearsome light.
She had never seen a garou's first change.
And even that was not what she was seeing now, for now she saw the first change of the body, but not of the soul.
She froze and looked into the eyes of the wolf, and she knew what it was, and she knew who she was, and she knew it was...
"Impossible..." she said, no louder than a whisper.
She brought her hand up, in a age-old protective gesture, and then her hand and arm were flying across the room, hitting the debris and slumping down to rest on the tatters of Guiseppe's pool table.
She looked up into the wide maw of the werewolf, dripping with saliva and pouring hot breath on her face, and she did something she had not done in close to seven hundred years.
Isabella Giovanni made the sign of the cross.
Her lips moved, briefly, to the words of the benediction.
"In nomie patre...." was all she said.
And then Boudiccea was upon her.
In the end, her life was not as strong as the spirit of death, and when Isabella's head rolled across the rubble strewn flood, the last thing she saw with her physical eyes was the garou throwing back her head and howling in triumph.
And then she saw the ferrymen come for her, those she had bound and tormented all those years behind them, a silent army reaching, creeping, grasping, dragging her down and enfolding her within the sickly murky depths that were oblivion.
She had no breath to scream.
Not that they would have allowed her the pleasure anyway.
And so Isabella Giovanni, scion of clan Giovanni, sire of a dozen or more twisted kindred, shuffled off the immortal coil of her existence, and the hunter became the hunted.
And the wheel spun on...
Boudiccea howled in victory over the headless corpse of the wyrm-creature. She stomped at it as it turned to dry bones and dust. A few seconds, and it was gone.
Then her sharpened hearing picked up something moving behind her. She whirled to face a woman
wyrm-thing not a woman
standing behind her. The thing was grotesque: the explosion had torn off most of it's face, leaving a blood smear where it's eyes and nose had been. Even with the gnosis coursing through her, Boudiccea had trouble reigning in her beast.
"You...gotta...be...kidding..." the thing whispered, and then she recognized the voice. This one was the ward of the shade called Connear. Boudiccea lowered her ears in a gesture of truce, but the thing couldn't see that. One eye was left, hanging from it's socket.
Then Connear appeared next to her, reaching out impotently for the woman.
He talked about her ... what was the name ... Gwen .... Gwenhyfar....yes, that's her ...
"Help me," she spread her hands out before her, and Boudiccea went to her then, and guided her over the piano to a clear patch of floor.
Then she turned and tore the debris from over Tommie.
He was in bad shape, no doubting it. Maybe he would survive his injuries, with enough blood and time to heal. But she knew he had neither.
Boudiccea willed herself back, down to the weaker shape she had woken in. She strode back to the other Kindred, looked at her watch.
Just as she had thought: it was only moments before dawn.
And, as if in response, she noticed dim light through the cracks in the walls, light that filtered in and cut the darkness like knives.
It was about to get really bad for the kindred.
And now there were sirens as well, in the distance and moving quickly towards them. Even if she could figure out a way to block the sunlight, there would be rescuers dragging 'bodies' from the rubble - into the hot light of day.
Tears welled in Boudiccea's eyes. He'd saved her, all right, but had sacrificed himself in the process. She ran to where he lay, still and cold with one arm flung out, and knelt beside him.
She grabbed his hand, held it tightly.
Then she felt his grip shift ever so slightly in hers.
"Oh, Tommie," she dissolved into tears then, burying her head in his thick hair. "Tommie, I love you."
His lips moved with the words, but he had no strength to say them back. She nodded, staring into his handsome face.
Then the other kindred's hand was on her shoulder.
"I think I can do something..." she croaked slowly. "I think I can get him out of this. And me too, but you'll have to help. Please."
Boudiccea weighed the thought. The dawn was coming fast now, and there was all to gain and nothing more to lose in this deal with the devil. She nodded. The woman smiled crookedly.
"It's called mortis..." she began to explain, "and it's gonna look like we're just a couple more dead bodies...."
Boudiccea nodded and listened carefully.
Maybe, just maybe, this could work after all.
It was late in the
day when the rescue personnel made it as high as the tenth floor, or actually
what was left of it, scattered on the eight and ninth floors. In
two hours it would be sunset, but that would not have helped the kindred
lying in torpor. When they broke through the concrete separating
the room from the hallway, the golden rays of the sun came streaming in,
falling directly on Tommy's corpse.
Boudiccea held her breath, afraid of hearing a sizzling, but afraid not to listen as well.
Tommie didn't sizzle. He just lay there, dead. Neither did Gwen.
A man wearing a fireman's helmet poked his head into the hole in the rubble.
"Holy shit, we've found one! She's alive! Get the stretcher!"
Boudiccea allowed herself to be put on a stretcher, let them carry her down the twisted metal remains of the grand staircase and out into the parking lot. She had already identified the other two 'bodies' as her husband and sister-in-law. She learned where they would be carried off to, and she had in her pocket the two red stones that Gwen had given her, to put in their mouths as soon as the sun had set.
She was in the ambulance when she saw Bruce walk past the open door.
Her heart leapt into her throat, but she beat back the feeling. Now was not the time for tearful reunions, nor could she explain all that had happened in the space of an hour at best.
So she just watched after him as he walked onward, looking lost and alone, through the crowd.
It was far past
darkness when she finally made her way into the temporary morgue that had
been set up in the cold confines of an ice skating rink. Somber technicians
made their rounds, examining parts of bodies and trying to piece together
the human jigsaw pieces. In the "borrowed" white lab coat, no one
paid her any attention as she stopped and knelt silently next to two dark
green body bags. Calmly unzipping one, she saw that the woman had
already awoken from the sleep, had healed the worst of the injuries.
Gwen looked up at Boudiccea, noticing the changes beginning already in the appearance of the woman she now inhabited. Within a few months, the change would be complete, and the body would look much as Boudiccea had in life. Maybe a little shorter, maybe thinner, but with none of the old injuries to slow her down. Gwen breathed a tiny sigh of relief that this one would not be her enemy just now.
"Are you ready?" she asked the Garou sotto voce.
Boudiccea nodded almost imperceptibly. Gwen rolled to her side and began to cough.
The effect on the technicians was as if a live wire had fallen from the ceiling and across them. They quickly dropped all they were holding and ran toward the two.
"Holy christ, this one's alive! " Boudiccea shouted above the din.
The look on the face of the forensic examiner was sheer terror. He was probably thinking about his job, seeing it sweep away from him, as he bent low to take a pulse from Gwen's neck.
Boudiccea zipped open the other bag, exposing Tommy's tousled white hair and strong face. She deftly parted his lips and crushed the blood bead against his front teeth, then quickly rolled out of the way. She'd never seen frenzy before, nor did she want to see it now, but she knew beyond doubt she definitely did not want to be in the middle of it.
Gwen reached up, snaring the medical examiner in the crook of her elbow, and dragged the struggling man down to her.
In seconds, his life was flowing into her veins, and he lay on the floor, just another victim of today's' massacre.
The assistants never had a chance to run, as Tommie ripped out of the body bag and leapt into the center of then, clawing, slashing, biting. Gouts of blood spurted ten yards away, and Boudiccea was splashed across the eyes with hot stinging blood. She turned her head away. This was more than she wanted to see, more than she could accept, and she retreated into her mind.
Then it was over, after an eternity that lasted only ten seconds at most, and silence returned to the cavernous room.
Gwen looked up from sucking the last of the blood from one of the technicians, a young man in his early twenties, and saw Tommie standing, staring at Boudiccea.
"Tearful reunions later," she said curtly, "I suggest we get out of here now."
Boudiccea nodded, and standing, took Tommy's hand.
"I have a car out back. It's not much, it was the only one in the lot I could hot-wire, but it runs," she said. Tommie ran his fingers through her hair.
"It'll be fine. Let's go," he said softly.
"What about all this...." she spread her hands out over the corpses.
"It's a Sabbat city," Gwen said harshly. "Let the Sabbat worry about it, they don't hide their feeding anyway."
And with that remark, the three turned and ran for the fire exit, plunging out into the warm night and leaving the dead behind.