Wolf Island / Chapter 16 THE TURNED WORM

Chapter 16 THE TURNED WORM


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"Grubbs?" one of the women gasps, eyes filled with horror. "Is that you?"

I crook my neck and stare at her. There's no Grubbs here. Werewolves don't need names. Tags like that are a human weakness. I think about killing her for daring to address me that way.

"Grubbs?" she says again, taking a hesitant step towards me.

A werewolf howls, warning her off. I roar at it angrily-I can protect myself. It lowers its head and whines. I fix my eyes on the woman. My stomach rumbles. The blood of the previous leader is like honey on my lips. But how much sweeter would the blood of a soft human be?

"Meera!" the other woman snaps. "Don't get too close. He might-"

"Grubbs won't hurt me," the one called Meera says confidently.

I snarl at her arrogance and raise a claw to rip off her face. No one has the right to make decisions for me. This woman's made her last mistake. If I let her get away with it, the others will think they have leeway too. I have to kill her, for the good of the pack, to maintain order.

"Don't be silly," Meera says, smiling weakly at my upraised hand. "You won't hurt me. What would Dervish say if you did? You remember Dervish, don't you?"

I growl uncertainly, hand held above me like a hammer. Dervish. The one who guarded me when I needed guarding. Even the wildest beasts have respect for those who rear them. But Dervish isn't here. He's in trouble. He needs help. He's...

"Put down your guns," Meera says, dropping hers and crossing her arms.

"Are you sure about this?" the tall man asks.

"What have we got to lose?"

He shrugs and carefully lays down his weapon. The other woman gulps, but follows suit. All three stand shivering, unarmed, at my mercy. I feel the eyes of the pack on me. They have the scent of humans in their nostrils. Their mouths are wet with lust, as is mine. If I deny them their feed, my hold over them will crumble. A leader must do what's right. Part of me wants to spare this trio, but mercy is a luxury I can't afford. It's time to block out the memories of my human past and...

Don't be an idiot, a voice says. My eyes flick around with fury, looking for the one who dares speak to me in such a manner. But then I realise the voice is coming from within. You're a mix of human and werewolf, cemented by magic. You can make new rules.

"But they're hungry," I reply silently. "I am too. We have to eat."

There's plenty of food elsewhere, the voice says slyly and sends an image of the compound flashing through my brain.

I grin wolfishly, then howl at the pack. They look dubious, so I howl again, fiercer than before, promising them the world, knowing they'll turn on me if I fail to deliver. This time they roar excitedly in response. Those at the rear set off for the compound. Seconds later almost every werewolf on the cliff is streaking inland, eager to be among the first to the feast. Only several of the more advanced beasts hold their place at a commanding cry from me. These, the largest and smartest, will be my personal retinue. They'll travel with me, to dispense my orders. In return, I'll see that they enjoy the lion's share of the spoils.

I face the confused humans and growl softly, trying to communicate. Their expressions are blank-they can't understand. Frowning, I remould the cords of my throat, allowing my face to melt back to something more like its original shape. My teeth retract and my lips soften. I have total control over this body. I realise now that I always did. I could have manipulated myself this way since birth if I hadn't been so afraid of what I might turn into. I'm more than flesh and bone. I'm a spirit, a force, a power. I'm not shackled to any single form.

"Grubbs?" Meera says, searching my eyes for traces of humanity.

"You came this close to being eaten," I mumble, eyeing her darkly.

Meera's face fills with relief. "You're you!" she cries, throwing her arms around my broader, taller, twisted, hairier body.

"What happened?" Prae asks, studying me with a mix of fascination and horror. "Did the werewolf explode within you?"

"I unleashed it," I explain shortly.

"Are you human or werewolf?" Timas enquires politely.

"Both." I take a step back from Meera. Her eyes flicker down to my lower body and she raises an eyebrow. I don't blush-werewolves know no shame-but I pick up my discarded trousers and tie them around my waist. "We don't have much time," I mutter. "We have to move fast."

"I take it we're not jumping off the cliff now," Meera comments wryly.

"No." I focus on Timas. "Can you get us back into the compound?"

"Yes," he says. "It will take a while, but-"

"Work quickly," I snap. "We're hungry." As the others stare at me, I turn from the sea and break into a trot, eager to feed.

I feel more alive than ever. I'm sure I look awful, no better than any of the mutated werewolves I now command. But I don't care. Looks have never mattered to me less. After all the stress of recent years, the struggle between human, wolf and Kah-Gash, I've finally found a happy balance. This is who I'm meant to be, not man, werewolf or magician-but this. A mix of all three, uniquely disfigured and warped. For the first time in my life I feel complete.

Meera, Timas and Prae are nervous of me, and rightly so. If I turned on them, as I'm tempted to, they wouldn't stand a chance. But I choose not to attack. These are my allies, and while I don't feel like I need them anymore-except Timas, to get into the compound I honour our friendship. Besides, as the Kah-Gash pointed out, there are lots of others I can kill.

The humans struggle to keep up, but I don't make allowances. If they fall behind, they'll have to fend for themselves. I control the werewolves, but I know instinctively that my hold over them is fragile. If I don't maintain complete dominance, I'll lose them.

I can't wait to get my teeth on Juni Swan's throat.

Revenge is what I'm focused on. I barely spare a thought for Dervish and the danger he might be in. All I care about is killing the she-fiend who betrayed us. When I've ripped her flesh from her bones and wallowed in her blood... then I can turn to other matters. Maybe. Unless I decide to stay here and become ruler of Wolf Island.

The compound. Timas is hard at work on a security access screen. I smell the fear of the soldiers inside. They know we're out here. Several of their finest technicians are united against Timas, playing cat and mouse games with him as if locking horns over a chess board. But he's stripping away their defences, one by one. He's better than they are. It's just a matter of time before he outfoxes them.

By concentrating on my senses of smell and hearing, I follow the movements of those nearest us. They're lining the tight corridors, checking weapons, preparing to blast wildly at anything that comes through. They're frustrated. If the designers had built slots into these walls, as they did in those at the sides, they could have mown us down. But an assault like this was never taken into account. The outer wall was meant to hold. The plan, if it fell, was to block off all other entrances to the compound, then escape by boats stored at the rear of the complex. After all, there was no way brainless werewolves could short-circuit the security systems.

The soldiers could flee before we invade, and make a break for freedom. But they've been ordered to stand and fight. Juni doesn't care about losses. It will probably amuse her to watch them die.

She's still there. She has a distinctive, rotting stench. She's waiting for us deep within the compound. I don't know why. Perhaps she thinks she can get the better of me. More fool her if she does.

A couple of werewolves howl and others take up the cry. They're growing impatient. They aren't ready to mutiny yet, but they're not far from it. Bending close to Timas, I growl, "A few more minutes. Then things get nasty."

"You can't rush a job like this," Timas replies calmly. "I'm going as fast as I can."

"Go faster," I snarl. "When they turn, I won't be able to hold them. I'll be the first they attack, but you won't be far behind."

"Then we'd better hope time is on our side," Timas chuckles, never looking up.

"Leave him alone," Meera snaps. "You're distracting him."

"No he isn't," Timas says. "I can multitask."

"Do you think they know we're here?" Prae asks, pressing an ear to the wall.

I frown at such a ludicrous question, then remember that she doesn't have the same sharp senses I do. "They know," I tell her. "They're waiting for us."

"Our forces will be cut down," she says quietly, studying the werewolves. "It will be a massacre."

"Many will die," I agree, "but not all. We'll overwhelm them."

"But at such a cost..." Prae sighs. "Is it worth it? Maybe we should just take the boats and get out of here."

"They'd call in fresh troops," Meera says. "They'd fire on the werewolves from the air and wipe them out-they couldn't afford to leave them alive now that we know about Wolf Island. At least this way the beasts have a fair chance."

"I hate this," Prae mutters. "It was never meant to end in a bloodbath. I wanted to save lives, not be responsible for wholesale slaughter."

"Then you shouldn't have become a Lamb," Meera says.

Before Prae can respond, Timas whistles softly. "No more time for bickering. The gates of hell are about to open for business."

He presses a button. Panels slide apart. Werewolves howl and surge forward. A mass of guns discharge at the same time and the air turns red with blood.

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