Madhouse, p.27

Madhouse, page 27

 

Madhouse
 


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  He was cut in half and left on the floor long past where the body parts finally ended. A chain was wrapped around him several times over and trailed off into the darkness. Sawney had taken away the bottom portion of the revenant with him and left a torso with a head, arms, and hands. The same hands that were feverishly shoving dirt into the gaping mouth. Red mud was oozing from the corners and I realized he was trying to suck the blood, nourishment, from the dirt. White eyes fixed on us hungrily and the hands sprang to a new task—dragging the revenant toward us with a greedy scrabbling of fingers. But the chain sprang taut and he moaned in despair.

  “I believe we have another campus poacher,” Niko said as he watched the form writhe. Like I’d thought earlier: Any good predator like Sawney knew you didn’t kill in your own backyard. You didn’t leave a neon-bright trail of bodies to your lair. Apparently the revenants just didn’t grasp the concept.

  “I guess Sawney did find out about their extracurricular activities.” And from the looks of it, you didn’t want to piss off Sawney because punishment was as inventive and harsh as what we’d done in the sewers. “Want me to…” I tapped the barrel of the gun against my leg. Put him out of his misery wasn’t quite right. I didn’t give a shit how miserable he was. He deserved to be. Put him out of my misery would be more accurate. This was every gory horror movie come to life and I could pretty much do without it.

  “No need.” Niko’s sword swung and a head rolled. The teeth snapped and would for a while, but the light would fade from behind clouded-glass eyes and all would still. Eventually. If he’d been whole and fed, we could’ve questioned him. I doubted he would’ve talked, but we could’ve tried. But half of a starved revenant is in feed mode and nothing else. They need the nourishment to regrow the missing parts; thinking shuts down and instinct takes over. Unfortunately instinct didn’t know that even a revenant couldn’t regrow half of a body. He could’ve gone on existing that way for months and months, though, and I was sure Sawney would’ve given him every moment of that time to suffer.

  “Not one wolf would come, eh? Hmm, I wonder why,” Robin said, skirting the body and kicking the head out of the way while deftly avoiding the teeth.

  “The leg humpers have become more intelligent than I; if that’s not a bad sign, I don’t know what is.”

  “I’m beginning to wonder how even an army was able to take him.” Promise had long put away her dagger and now had her own sword out. She tended to be fonder of crossbows, but this situation called for more sheer destructive power. Better to slash at a revenant than worry about aiming for an eye socket.

  “Not a good thought.” Valid, but not good. I stepped over the body and followed the chain into the blackness. Alice down the rabbit hole. She found madness; so did we. But we found the bodies first.

  They hung from the ceiling, a forest of them. In reality, it wasn’t more than twenty, but it seemed like a hundred when I caught the first glimpse of them. They hung from hooks fixed in wooden beams that must’ve supported the floor of the tunnels above us. Like the carcasses of cattle they hung. There was so much dried blood that the dirt floor had coagulated to a hard surface beneath my feet. The hall had ended in a cavern dug by revenant hands. It wasn’t the same as a rock cave, but it was as close as you could get. Sawney had come home.

  I looked up at all the naked limbs, slack faces, empty eyes and muttered, “Holy shit.” Some were decomposing, some were stiff in rigor mortis, and some looked as if they’d been plucked off the street only hours ago. The smell of rot was so thick that it seemed you could’ve scooped a handful out of the air if you tried. I didn’t put it to the test.

  “Are you ready?”

  I turned my head toward Nik and answered darkly, “More than.”

  “Be careful,” he ordered in a barely audible voice—no giving Sawney any hints of what was going to happen. “Being a distraction doesn’t mean being a dead one. Watch yourself. If he gets too close, move back and we’ll try something else.”

  “Don’t get killed. Got it.” I gave him a grin, because what else could you do in the face of all this death? Grin defiantly or lose it altogether.

  “Good. Now don’t forget it.” With that he moved off toward the left-hand wall. Robin headed for the right, Promise stayed at the entrance, and I went right down the middle.

  I wove between the bodies, doing my best to not touch a single one. They didn’t move; I know they didn’t, but from the corner of my eye it looked like they did. “Sawney,” I called. “You worthless child-killing scum, where are you?” The light of my flashlight bounced from dull eyes to white feet to shiny steel hooks. “You’re not hiding, are you? Not from the likes of me, full of crazy.”

  “Sawney!” This time I shouted it. In this place where the silence was as thick as the smell, I dared to raise my voice to a shout and the body hanging beside me shuddered to hear it. It was a nightmarish thing, but it didn’t shock me. Terrible or not, it seemed a reaction that belonged here, along with the death and despair. And because of that, it slowed me—only for a fraction of a second, but that was more than enough.

  Sawney climbed over the top of the body with the smooth scuttle of a scorpion to grin at me with blazing cheer. “A traveler come to visit.” A hand flashed so quickly that I barely saw it move. I jerked back in reaction, but it was too late. I felt the score of a claw along my cheek. The ebon hand was raised for a taste. The red eyes brightened through the white and brown ropes of hair that swung over the black absence of a face. “I remember you, traveler. I remember your taste. Ah, so good. We could be brothers, you and I.”

  Of course he remembered me. The son of a bitch had been waiting, and he damned sure was no brother of mine. “Then you remember this,” I snarled and fired the Eagle.

  I missed.

  Like I’d said, the bastard was quick. Quicker than me…maybe even quicker than Niko. As quick even as the Auphe, which was as quick as I’d ever seen. I hit the dead body, though, and blew it in half. I sincerely hoped the others were sticking to ground level as instructed and fired again as Sawney jumped to the next body. This time I hit him in the chest. In the double-fist-sized pit I’d created I saw a glitter as bright as glass. The hole I’d created in his side in the tunnel at the SAS was gone, as if it had never been. I fired again, but once again he was gone. But he wasn’t getting away, not this time. One way or another this was the last time we took on this homicidal piece of shit. The absolute last goddamn time.

  I went after him, pushing bodies aside with my arm, trying to hold the flashlight on his fleeing form. I fired again, hitting him in the back, and that’s when he leaped from a body to the dirt and wood ceiling, flipped backward over my head, and cut me from behind. From the fiery pain, I could tell it wasn’t a scratch, but neither was it meant to kill me. No, that’d be too easy. Sawney wanted to play. I’d figured on that. He was a playful kind of monster. He was already closer than Nik had wanted, but I wasn’t ready to back off. This was it. This had to be it. No more dead little girls, no more dead women in love. No more.

  Whirling, I fired, separating his leg at where I guessed the knee would be under the flowing imitation of coat. His enormous grin never faded. He snatched up the leg and disappeared. At least it seemed that way. I barely got an impression of the direction he’d gone—back the way I’d come.

  “Promise,” I warned as I ran.

  She was ready for him, blocking the entrance with her sword. He gave an annoyed hiss, the first non-gleeful sound I’d heard from him, and sprang back to the ceiling and raced along it out of sight of my flashlight. I swore, spun on my heel, and headed after him. That’s when I discovered it wasn’t only human bodies hanging from the hooks. Leprous hands snatched at me as I ran. More rule-breaking revenants hung twisting on the metal. They clawed and snapped, maddened by their imprisonment…tortured by pain. Yeah, too damn bad for them. I didn’t have any more pity than I had had for the one chained in the tunnel.

  I pushed through them, ignoring the bl
oody stripes left across my face and neck. Sawney was the only thing on my mind now. “You’re running, Sawney? You afraid your meal’s going to kick your ass?”

  I couldn’t see Niko or Robin, but I knew they were hidden in the darkness waiting to make their move. Robin’s job was the same as Promise’s—keep Sawney in the cavern. Niko’s was to take advantage the minute I got Sawney sufficiently distracted to hold still for a few seconds. All I had to do was make that happen. A couple of seconds…it had seemed a lot more doable when we were discussing it aboveground.

  “Sawney,” I started to yell again just as he came out of the darkness beside me and took me down. I twisted under him and fired again in his chest. There was a cracking, the sound of rotten pond ice splitting under a spring sun. Clear, cold glass peppered my shirt, fragments of whatever made up the core of the inner Sawney. They burned even through the cloth, like dry ice. I fired again, shoved him hard, and rolled beneath the swipe of the scythe. Not fast enough to save me a slice along my stomach, but quick enough to keep my guts inside where they belonged. I had to get distance between us or Nik would scrap the plan and move in, intent on saving my ass. I rolled again and pulled the trigger two more times, nailing him in the throat. Blood, with the clear purity of rain and the chemical bite of antifreeze, poured out like a wide-open faucet. I skittered backward from beneath it and moved up to a crouch. As for Sawney, chest and throat in ruins—Sawney seemed to be having the time of his life. I noticed his leg was back in place, which seemed to add to his good cheer.

  “Traveler.”

  He was drifting closer, his feet not touching the ground. I’d seen it before with him, but I’d already had my view of the monster world soundly shaken with this bastard—and this would’ve been nice to do without. I raised my eyes in the joy of denial and tried for that head shot Niko had asked me for earlier.

  Too late. Sawney was gone. Not so fast this time, but I wasn’t sure if his wounds were slowing him down or he wanted me to keep up to play a little longer. If I had to pick, I’d pick the one that screwed me but good. I followed anyway as this cavern passed into another. The entrance was hidden by a curtain of hooks and corpses. I pushed through them with distaste to find an identical space. More blood, more bodies, and more Sawney. And this time he kicked up the play to high gear. He slashed the moment I passed through the cold flesh. My blood was on the scythe along with the blood of tonight’s victim or victims. Not exactly sanitary and the very least of my concerns.

  I threw myself to one side and emptied the clip in his direction. It was a lot of bullets and I wasn’t sure a single one hit him. His scythe hit me, though, carving a thin slice in my shoulder. Flitting away, he disappeared, reappeared, and sliced the outside of my thigh. I backed away, ejecting the clip and sliding a new one home. The slashes were painful and bloody, but superficial…just for fun. So far. But they would get deeper. Nik wouldn’t hold back any longer. As a distraction, I was great. As for getting Sawney to hold still, I might not survive that long. He was too goddamn fast.

  But then…I could be fast too.

  Time to see if practice made perfect.

  Breaking promises. I’d done it a few times now. But sometimes you break them little, and sometimes you break them big. This was going to be fucking huge.

  “Traveler.”

  There. Slash. Gone again, but I heard the faintest rustle of bodies behind. Niko was coming, and I hadn’t done my job. Not yet. But I would. I said I would, and I was keeping my word there even if I was breaking it somewhere else.

  “Yeah, I’m a traveler.” I could feel the sweat soaking my shirt and jeans. “One like you haven’t seen before, asshole.”

  I saw him through the hanging bodies, the scythe duplicating his grin. “Travelers, they are all the same to Sawney Beane. Go here, go there. Horse, no horse.” The smile, always with the damn crazed smile. “All the same.”

  “Not me.” I gave a grin of my own—wild and savage. “Not this traveler.”

  So I traveled.

  As before, I didn’t build the gate before me; I built it around me, and I was gone. I reappeared behind him and nailed him in the back. Then he vanished and I vanished with him. I fired, missed, traveled, fired again. Sometimes I hit him, sometimes I didn’t. But he couldn’t shake me, no matter how he tried, because I was a nightmare. I was this monster’s nightmare just as he’d been one to so many others.

  I saw Nik from the corner of my eye now and again, and also occasionally saw Promise and Robin fighting off revenants. I wondered what I looked like to them, as I glowed with a sickly gray light and disappeared, reappeared, disappeared, reappeared…Maybe like a rapidly sped-up movie—a fast-forward of blood and metal.

  I was bleeding again from the nose; I tasted the salt. The ears too, like in the museum, but I was also bleeding from my mouth. I swallowed the copper of it and went on, because that was fine; better than fine. It was just goddamn great. And I was laughing—because once I pushed through the pain, once I embraced the head-crushing agony—traveling was fun as hell. And I liked it far more than was good for me, because it tasted just like Sawney said I did.

  The next time I faced Sawney I put one in his forehead and when I flashed behind him I emptied the clip in the back of his head. While grinning through blood-coated teeth, I fired bullet after bullet, blowing away the curve of skull to show the glassy mass within, taking that head shot Niko had once asked of me in the subway.

  That’s when Sawney turned his head completely backward to grin at me. In his mind, it was all fun and games, even if we both died. With the sound of bones cracking, his body turned at a slower pace to keep up with his head. The scythe rose high.

  And this time I didn’t flash out. This time my brain tied itself in an exhausted knot and the traveling flowed out of me, riding on the blood. But that was all right, because, for once, Sawney was standing still.

  Which was when Niko set him on fire.

  The flamethrower had been concealed in the oversized backpack Nik had been hauling. Although whether Sawney would’ve known what it was was debatable. Although Sawney knew a lot of things he shouldn’t, thanks to Wahanket probably. Even without that help, he would’ve learned fast in this time and place. Yeah, one smart son of a bitch. Too bad for him that wasn’t going to help him now. Too damn bad.

  As I staggered back from him, the stream of flame enveloped him and he went up like a bonfire. Covering him from head to toe, Niko manipulated the fiery stream like a fire hose, and from the look on his face, he was enjoying it as much as he said he would. Sawney, however, was not. The insane laughter had turned to insane screams. The hooked revenants and the ones on the ground screamed with him. Sawney whirled in the air, bright as the sun, singeing and burning the bodies around him. The screams…they didn’t stop. They went on and on as Sawney spun faster and faster. Niko kept the flame on him.

  “Now, you bastard,” he said quietly, “now comes your justice.”

  And while Justice was blind, she could give you one helluva sunburn. He burned for what seemed like forever. I watched silently as I used my hand and then my sleeve to mop the blood from my face and spat out the red stuff as well. The headache was fierce, but not as agonizing as it had been. I’d either broken through the wall or just flat-out broken period. Either way, I couldn’t have cared less as I watched that monster begin to fall in on himself. The hair was gone, burned away. The crystalline spine and skull were naked to the eye and melting like glass in a furnace. In other places, the flesh, already black, was hardening, then crumbling to ash beneath him. And still the screaming went on. I was glad my ears were already bleeding. It saved some time.

  “Prometheus, look what you have wrought,” Robin marveled at my elbow.

  The revenants that remained had turned to run, and I didn’t have the energy to lift my gun to stop them. Without Sawney, they were little threat. Promise took the head of one in passing, but as for the rest…screw it. We let them go. They wouldn’t be hanging around Columbia anym
ore, and like cockroaches there would always be more in the city. No matter how many you stepped on, they would always be there.

  Sawney burned on. He clawed the air as his insides turned into a river of melting ice or evaporated with an ugly, chemical-tainted hiss. We didn’t have a stake to roast him on as they had had in the fifteenth century, but twenty-first-century technology made up the difference.

  “No, travelers. No.”

  There was only a black, twisted thing left now…small as a child and shot through with a glitter of smoked diamonds. When the plea didn’t work, the laughter came back, a harsh caw through disintegrating vocal cords, but crazy as ever. “I will be back. From ashes and bone to flesh and murder. You cannot stop me. None can.”

  “Promise?”

  She moved at Niko’s rapping of her name and lifted a bottle from her bag. Smaller than Nik’s backpack, it held one thing only…a glass bottle of sulfuric acid. “If you can come back from a few scattered molecules”—Niko’s smile was cold and sure—“we’ll certainly be ready and waiting to see it.”

  Either he smelled it or somehow sensed what it was, and for the first time the laughter and screaming combined into one sickening whole. Insanity wasn’t so fun for Sawney anymore; true insanity was being pulled from the shores of mortality by a riptide of acid and flame. I hoped it hurt. God, I hoped it hurt, and I hoped he was as terrified as every one of his victims had been.

  Especially one tomboy little girl who’d lost her sunshine barrette.

  Then it was over. The small dark form fell in on itself and the flames burned wildly on the ground. Niko kept the flamethrower going for another five minutes before finally switching it off. The embers flared, then dulled, leaving only ashes and blackened bone. It had taken him over five hundred years last time to come back from that.

  It wasn’t long enough.

 
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