Drakul V Arisen

Summary

Far in the future, a salvage operation is underway to dismantle a buried pyramidal star ship (Yar) of the ancient vampyra.  In addition to containing an ocean of precious vampire blood, a decapitated body is discovered and the remains are High Caste. On the journey to London, Tepesch Drakul comes to life but finds himself in a changed world where Drakul and his family are revered but also dead. He believes he is the last free vampire on Earth.

Drakul’s ancient adversaries are gone and his bank accounts frozen. His castle has become a tourist attraction and a Premier League footballer occupies the penthouse.  Vampire blood has been analysed and the secrets of vampire blood and its dark energy have been stolen and commercialised, used to bio-engineer ‘the Gifted’ by the fully privatised Carbon Institute.  England has become oligarchic, run by the members of the Flood family who also control the Institute.

Isambard Flood and his daughter Marie head up the dynasty, modelling themselves on the Drakuls and espousing their aims, whilst enjoying the power bought through their control of the blood markets. Brother David is a sadistic killer but sister Hayley was murdered by the power-hungry Marie. Society has become two-tier, divided between Ungifted and Gifted whilst an underground movement known as the Edenists are trying to bring down the government and destroy the Institute, as they pursue their belief that a giant silver disk will take them to the promised land.

Tepesch Drakul has to build a new life and come to terms with his new status.  Living in an infested London ghetto with a stolen identity, he finds work as a private detective and other than the occasional seduction and murder, manages to control himself.  Drakul’s partner John Carling is human and a cynical maverick, ex-military and wheelchair-bound following his last encounter with Tepesch Drakul in the first book of the series. He has a gift for saying the wrong thing and Drakul still holds him responsible for the capture and death of his daughter, Rowena. The chair has its own personality, built by Carling using Gift technology. Carling earns the begrudging respect of Drakul but resisting his natural urges proves an endless challenge.  Bounty hunters searching for ‘truebloods’ are also on Drakul’s trail. They are led by Bolt, one-time vampire and victim of demon slayer Finn Angmon, restored to life by Isambard Flood.

The power of vampire blood has been underestimated. The Gifts have learned how to communicate with each other and the collective mind is not happy.  It makes contact with an Elemental known as Ajarah, imprisoned deep below the ice in the frozen planet of Jivaloka.  The inhabitants of Jivaloka are mystical and close to Nature, divided into two societies by the ice.  The only land is formed by the peaks of three giant pyramids that reach from the ocean floor into the sky, and unknown to the inhabitants of ice and water, Ajarah is imprisoned deep below the ocean floor between them, where a vast silver disk lies embedded in a drowned city.  Ajarah is the greatest enemy of the vampyra and their goddess and creator Jalina. Able to create illusionary worlds, he learns about Earth and plans his escape, but things do not go according to plan.

Drakul has a difficult time persuading Carling to help and life is already complicated enough working on divorce cases and avoiding bounty hunters, but he has no other option.  In the interests of self-preservation, Drakul needs to dig up some other old friends but Finn is now entrapped in Vorkha form (werewolf) and unable to return to his human state whilst living with the human Fei Chok, and the remains of Tepesch’s homicidal daughter Angelica are in cold storage in the heart of the Carbon Institute.  Vampire priest Rul, ex-servant and teacher of Drakul is still alive and masquerading as Caval, leader of the Edenists whilst pursuing his own agenda. Carling and Tepesch devise tortuous schemes to bring the team together, whilst struggling to get along.  Eventually the task is accomplished and the strange crew set off for Vasudha for reinforcements, including the elemental Jalina who must take human form.

Ajarah is slowly dying and as his power over Jivaloka weakens, the ice begins to melt.  Ancient prophesies come true as a drowned city emerges from the ocean. However, instead of arriving in Jivaloka, Finn and his followers find themselves trapped in the final dream of Ajarah. The place is Los Angeles, the year is 1953 and the city has been split in half by a giant silver disk. Edenists, vampire and slayer must play by Ajarah’s rules in a world gone insane whilst Jivaloka is being torn apart.

Chapter 1

Marie Flood was certain of two things. She knew who built the Yar starship and because it had crashed, she also knew that even they were fallible and the thought was almost reassuring. The crystal floor that stretched out into the haze had been cracked from side to side, a distance of several miles. At the exact centre, the glittering throne where the pilot had once sat had been canted high in the air above the deep rift. The four triangular walls soared upwards to a distant point, so far above her that faint clouds hung motionless as if waiting for something to happen. Thick drifts of dust now hid the mirror-smooth surfaces of the pyramid, hissing through the damaged hull in fine veils.  The monstrous machine had been buried within a mountain for sixty-five million years, but how much longer did it take its makers to evolve and to have discovered such knowledge? What impossible art could have created a craft of such immense size, capable of flying across the universe millennia before humans existed? It was inconceivable and yet it was fact. It should have made Marie feel small and insignificant, but she was a Flood and it was her crew who were about to break the ship apart and steal its secrets, her dynasty that would rule the world.

Marie stood as near the edge of the rift as she dared and peered over. The chasm plunged past countless floors and half a mile down an inky blackness glittered. Wind whistled through the chill void and the intoxicating smell of cinnamon from the black lake was almost overpowering. Marie breathed it in with a half-smile, able to resist its call but she knew that many less Gifted would throw themselves in without hesitation. The magical essence was what she’d come for and there had to be enough precious jiivaa down there to buy a small European country – not that anyone would want one anymore.

This was Marie’s second salvage operation and could more than double the immense wealth that had allowed her family to establish a new oligarchy. With this latest find, England could be returned to its former glory and Marie would be rewarded with whatever Gifts she chose. She might even buy Scotland as a gift for her father – that would amuse him.  She looked down at her perfectly manufactured body, enhanced by the liquid gleam of black lycra. Almost perfect, she corrected herself. It was never enough. Her father might have been right about her latest Gift, the scaly tail was a tad too far and challenged his traditions of vampirism but it had its uses.  The tip of the tail lashed from side to side as it betrayed her thoughts.

Two members of her team were crouched beside the outsized and elaborate throne, engrossed in trying to dismantle it.  She strode across to them and her mood switched. “What the hell’s keeping you?”  She made a mental note not to employ the Ungifted, so unattractive and unmanly. There was a time when Marie valued friendship and fairness, and loved an ordinary man very like Brent, but that was before the coming of the Gifts. Now she was arrogant, and proud of it.

Brent looked up, and she detected fear and hatred in the biologist’s eyes swiftly concealed but the unmistakable tells of low caste.  “There’s still life in it.  The bloody thing’s resisting us – mistress.” He wiped his sweaty hands on his overalls, head bowed submissively.

“That’s impossible.” She tapped her foot. “It’s a fossil. Has to be.”

Sanjit Rupa pointed. “If mistress looks, this throne is seeded.” His voice shook with excitement.

Marie looked into the translucent depths, wondering what he meant.  It was hard to see at first, but eventually she found it. Deep inside lay a dark object, like a giant walnut.  It was twisted and ugly, with the faintest suggestion of a red glow deep within the fissures. “What is it?”

Sanjit lowered his voice as if it might hear. “I think it is a Yar Hazu, mistress.” He stroked the words lovingly.

“Meaning what?”  Her reply sounded like a snarl to her.

“It is a seed,” he said patiently in the same reverent tones. “Hazu are described in the scrolls of Nagarah, which also describe how these Yar were grown, but I always believed the seeds were an analogy and not real. I never expected to see such a thing in this world, but now we know for sure that Yar are alive. It is truly astounding, mistress.”

She looked at him, trying to take in what he was saying and failing.  She gazed up at the vastness of the Yar. “What, you’re saying this thing was grown? That’s bloody impossible.”

How long would it take to grow something the size of a mountain?

He grinned at her and she thought how disarming he could be. “That’s what I thought when I read it, mistress. But the structure does seem to be organic and there’s no sign of anything that’s been made – no seams, no bolts or screws, and even this throne has veins running through it, so I think it must have been grown.” He nodded sagely as he spoke. “It would not seem long for eternals, only for us.”

She hardly heard him. The seed was no longer ugly to her and had become the most desirable, wonderful thing Marie had ever seen. “I must have it and I want this throne, Sanjit, but it must be our secret. Do you both understand me? Brent?”

Brent nodded dutifully but Sanjit looked shocked. For a moment, Marie thought he would dare deny her but she knew him to be a sycophant at heart, hooked on the tox that enhanced his psyche. She tapped her foot. “Sanjit?”

Sanjit bowed his head, as she knew he would. “Yes, mistress.” He dutifully recited the ancient words written by the priests of Vasudha, whilst his dark skin beaded with sweat. The anthropologist spoke in a sighing, drawn out way that might have been sensual coming from a different person until they took effect. “Balaah an analaah, maayah si balaah …”

Brent put his fingers in his ears as the colour drained from his face, and Marie’s head swam, bile rushing up her throat.  She clenched her teeth until her jaw ached as the words stabbed into her head.  At the same moment that she reached screaming point, Sanjit stopped. Her skull throbbed but she managed to retain her dignity. Brent turned away and spat, heaved and spat some more before wiping his mouth. Marie could smell the sourness of vomit and felt the first stirrings of a rage attack.

“It’s done,” Sanjit said and sounded almost sorry.

“Thank god for that.” Brent held the container open with gloved hands that shook whilst the magical Analah poured in, draining the throne of its will.

Marie caught a glimpse of an ocean of black mist in the bottom of the container before the lid slammed down, sealing the poison inside. She saw her face reflected in the polished canister and the wide-set, hungry eyes belonged to a stranger. “What keeps it in there?” she asked, more to herself.

Sanjit Rupa grinned again, a flash of white. “The words do, mistress. Saying the words creates dark energy, and the energy binds together to perform a function. That is how they created the Yar, words that can change matter.”

She nodded her approval of his Caste recognition whilst not really following the reply. It was still too great a quantum leap for her to understand how a sound could call forth dark energy from the outer darkness, wherever that was. It was impossible to understand how a structure so vast could travel space-time when the only power was the dark energy of living jiivaa, even harder to understand how it could think or act as if it were alive. She would leave such matters to the Carbon Institute to unravel, because the Yar was a museum piece and all that mattered to Marie was the black ocean that drove it.  Jiivaa was bottled dark energy and it was changing the world, creating new hierarchies of power and new life forms.  Now she had the Yar seed, her sister Hayley would never match her and not even her father Isambard would possess such wealth and power.  The thought was intoxicating.

Hayley was working in one of the distant corners of the Yar. It was a fifteen minute walk across to the geologist, and Marie enjoyed the surge of excitement as she leapt the rift with ease. This was how it had been for the truebloods that built the Yar. she realised as she landed gracefully. It was said that high caste truebloods could even change form and fly as obyri, winged reptilian creatures with magical powers.  She had read some of the Institute’s accounts of the Drakuls and although it was her inspiration to mimic them with her Gifts, no human could become eternal or change form, or control the elements. Modified and tamed jiivaa could only be used for Gifts and even the most extreme of the Gifted didn’t want to surrender their free will and their humanity.  The penalty for misuse was a cruel death at the hands of brother David Flood. As Marie strode towards her sister she watched the other teams at work, tiny figures in yellow suits preparing to undo history. Hayley was working near an area of roof collapse and debris was piled high around her.  Broken stalactites lay about like the spars of a ruined ship. A forest of stalagmites had arisen from the glossy floor and a silver rain of droplets poured down from the low cloud to meet them.  Hayley’s most recent Gifts were a source of annoyance to Marie. The geologist was now taller than she was, her waist was becoming freakishly narrow and she had become authentically blonde. Facially, she was getting more like Angelica Drakul each time they met but at least Hayley’s inferior Caste denied her Psyche-gifts.  She looked up as Marie approached and smiled without much enthusiasm.  The eyes were darker, almost black but the resentment in them had not changed. “Hi, sis.”

“You look nice,” Marie replied, inspecting her closely. “Boobs bigger, you’re taller too. Your face is different – are those talon implants? And you reek of tox, dear but your mind is just the same.”  Hayley was wearing the same outfit, she noticed without pleasure.

Hayley flushed. “I always do my best. You know my caste can’t have psyche. That’s why we get hooked on tox, and all the money goes to our dear brother.”

Marie dismissed her sister’s resentment with a wave of her hand. All tox addicts were fundamentally weak be definition, even Hayley. “David isn’t to blame, no one forces you to take it, do they?”

Hayley stood up and pushed back her hair, her black eyes unforgiving. “Before all this, when you were unchanged, you were a kind person. What happened to you? Was it worth it, to look like this, to have a tail, for fuck’s sake?”

Despite the difference in status and the resentment, Marie still valued Hayley’s friendship and the words hurt. “I didn’t mean what I said. I’m sorry.”

Hayley took off her hardhat and wiped her brow, pushing her hair back. She half-smiled at it transformed her. “Do you remember when we were little?  The stories you used to tell me about the first encounter?”

Marie remembered all too well. She had been standing in Trafalgar Square, holding her father’s hand when the world changed and she watched as the mighty Yar Zaraagh sank through the clouds, growing ever larger until it seemed to be the width of the city, and yet it moved so slowly. The giant blue Yar hovered above London, beautiful and terrible and the glassy sides reflected the storm clouds and lightning as the light failed. The street lights came on, reflected in the mirror smoothness of the vast base. She remembered the way the ground had vibrated with a humming noise that made her teeth hurt.  She remembered the infinitely slow rotation, like the hands of a clock whilst the sharp edges of the Yar scythed away the towers of Canary Wharf and the Shard, crumpling the London Eye as if it had been made of paper and decapitating Big Ben. The rain of people from the windows of the buildings seemed like insects in comparison.  The wind, when it came was like a hurricane and Isambard had to hold on to his daughter, but she remembered his expression and it was a mixture of excitement and greed. The Yar was calling to him, and from that moment on all their lives had changed.  Marie forced the memories out of her mind and laughed.

“Do you remember your first Gift?  It took me a long time to get over that.  You looked so different.”  Strange that their father Isambard had reacted with so much anger, the veins standing out on his forehead like knotted cords. “You never told me how you started on tox.”

“David gave me it when I was thirteen.”  Hayley’s voice was flat and emotionless. “He gave me tox and then he had sex with me. That’s what we’ve become. That’s what jiivaa’s done for us.” She folded her arms and pouted. “You don’t believe me, do you? But it’s true.”

Hayley stood before her, tall and impossibly perfect, a living mannequin. Quite suddenly, Marie felt intensely irritated by her sister. More than irritated – she wanted to hurt her, to see her crawl and bleed.

Hayley put her hands on her too-perfect hips. “Father punched me. I never told you that. He hit me on my birthday and then David gave me tox.”

That she could not believe. “You must be wrong, father would never hurt us. He loves us.”

Hayley was almost crying. “He waited until you’d gone and then he made a fist and he punched me in the stomach. It made me puke and he left me with David. He was becoming a monster, even then.”

So it was true. She searched for justification and found it. Hayley was low caste, there to serve. She nodded to herself, reassured. “He was frightened of what was happening, to all of us.”

Hayley tossed back her hair. “He killed our mother. Isabella would still be alive, but for him.  He was experimenting on her, I saw her at the end and the psyche was driving her insane.  She was being eaten alive by the jiivaa. It was – it was sick. He wouldn’t let us see the body.”

“They were both scientists at Carbon, you know that. They encouraged each other.” He would never let them see him doing it, but Marie used to listen at the door of the lab when she was small and when she was tall enough to see through the keyhole, she watched. Isabella must have done great wrong to deserve such punishment. Now here they both were, Gift addicts in search of a fix and the unreasoning anger boiled inside. “We can’t turn things back.  They did this to us, when they came to our world, don’t you realise that?  The jiivaa are too strong, Hayley. I think they made father do those things. I think they were experimenting on us, and now they are part of us. We can’t go back.”

Hayley blinked as if awakening and looked down at herself. She ran her hands down her body, stroking her thighs with outstretched fingers, a half-smile on her lips.  “I can sense the Gifts, sometimes. I can feel them talking, but I don’t understand what they say.”

Marie took a deep breath and let it out. “You think about it too much, that’s all. We’ve got a job to do.  Now, is it safe to start the salvage? That’s why I came over.”

The geologist squatted down beside the machine, a black box perched on a small tripod.  The many sensors were bright green dots and hair-thin beams of violet light radiated outwards in all directions to measure the dimensions of the Yar. “Safe as it’ll ever be. You can tell them to remove the overburden and start the salvage.  The rock above’s strong enough, but the hull’s damaged on one side. That made the calculations difficult.”

Marie reached out and squeezed her sister’s shoulder, the rage passed. She breathed out and relaxed. “Good work. Show me the damage, Hayley.”

She kneeled down beside her sister’s pad. The screen displayed a model of the Yar and when Hayley touched it, the miniature ship was projected in the air and slowly rotated in front of them. One of the sides had been shunted inwards and cracks radiated away from the injury, filled with some kind of scar tissue. The hologram looked so lifelike.

“What do you think? Was it in some kind of battle?”

Hayley shook her head. “I’ve run calculations based on the trajectory of the Yar and the force needed – Sanjit obtained the coordinates from the throne. This is the most likely scenario.”  An asteroid appeared. A third the size of the ship, the jagged mass cannoned into the side and sent the Yar tumbling towards Earth.  The asteroid crashed into the sea, sending up a vast incandescent plume of sand and mud. The Yar landed seconds later, in the centre of the supercontinent.

Hayley’s eyes gleamed with excitement. “It’s unbelievable that it could survive an impact of that scale.”

Marie stood. If the theory was right, the asteroid impact condemned the planet to frozen darkness whilst the Yar settled down for a long wait and nursed its wounds and all that time, it managed to remain in the same spot. The Earth’s crust had literally folded around the star ship and molten rock enveloped it, but the dark magic had been stronger.  The magical power of dark energy could move mountains and it must have known that one day, countless millions of years later someone special would come for the precious seed – and here she was. “Why did they let it happen?  With all their magic and technology. They must have seen it coming.”

Hayley replayed the sim, her expression thoughtful. “Maybe they wanted it to happen. Maybe they came here for that purpose. The asteroid was going to miss the planet so they made sure it didn’t.”

“Why?”

Hayley stood, and looked into her eyes. “To make us.”

Marie watched the continuous replay whilst she absorbed the startling information. “They were manipulating our history.  They wanted to create us and control us. That’s why they found us the first time, and why they came back.”  Only then did the terrible thought escape, that the jiivaa were the ones in charge, not the truebloods. She sensed triumph in Hayley’s look, and was immediately suspicious. She used her psyche and detected a secret. “What else did you find?  Show me.”

Hayley walked a short distance into the stalagmite forest, and Marie saw her shoulders were stiff with tension. The pointed columns of rock rose up around them like giant teeth and the endless rain from the leaking roof fell in silver streams, making the floor slippery. The temperature was falling, and she saw her breath cloud in the air.

Hayley pointed at something. “I found it, Marie. Remember that, I know you’re going to steal the throne. Well, this is mine, I claim it.” The head was impaled on a spine of rock some four feet tall and wore a small pointed crown of limestone as the water continued its endless work.  Marie strode over to it, and stood amazed, her mind devoid of thought. Deep within the stalagmite on which the head rested was a ghostly face twisted into a snarl of rage and a clawed hand stuck out of the side, giving her two fingers.  The head was clearly a more recent addition.  It could have belonged to a man but the blackened lips had shrunk back to reveal pointed teeth and the yellowed canines were long and thin.

Trueblood.

Marie felt her heart race with excitement. The dusty hair below the limestone was still black and sleek, pulled back into a ponytail and secured with a silver band. The eyes were open and curiously lustrous. The expression was of sadness and disbelief. She pulled the head off the rock with an effort and inspected the underside as Hayley stood and fretted.

Marie tried to reassure her with a smile. “Who’s your new friend?”

“Some guy I picked up, you know?” Hayley played along dutifully, but Marie wasn’t really listening. She was already wondering how her inferior sister had managed to find such a wonderful thing, and how to take it from her.

“This was done by something incredibly sharp and with great strength,” she said thoughtfully, showing the stump of the neck to Hayley.

Hayley fetched something from behind the stalagmite and it glinted in the light. “Like this?  It’s a khuda.”

Marie had to have it and feel the cold touch. She held out her hand as she clutched the head to her chest. “Give it to me, Hayley. You can have it back, I promise.”

Hayley hesitated and Marie sensed an internal battle going on. Finally, she handed it over with a frown. “You can’t have both of them.”

Marie hefted the sword and tested the edge with her thumb. The metal looked like bronze, but it was razor-sharp. The sides of the khuda had been engraved with Vasudhan writings, Vampire-speak. She tried to trace them with her fingers but the metal repelled her touch. “Did you find the rest of the trueblood?”

Hayley shone her pad. Through the haze of dust, Marie made out a well-proportioned male curled on its side.  She handed the sword and the head back reluctantly and walked over to it. The shrivelled body was naked and coated with dirt but it was easy to see the black, curved nails and the power of the thing remained tangible.  “What Caste is it?” Her voice shook.

Hayley looked Marie in the eye. “I’ve already run the tests.” She hesitated. “It’s high caste. We’ve got a complete high caste trueblood.”

High Caste. Marie went to the body and kneeled. “I have never seen one as complete as this,” she replied quietly. “Only the remains of Angelica Drakul, before she was dismembered.”

Hayley nodded. “I’ve seen vid of when she was alive. She looked amazing, before they cut her up.”

“I know you’ve seen it. You look too much like her, Hayley. Be careful what you wish for.” The recently discovered videos had been hard to forget. Angelica undergoing vivisection at the Carbon Institute, the unborn son clear to see. Another video showed her exiting the building, tearing guards apart as if they were made from tissue paper instead of flesh. Marie had never seen such a perfect creation as Angelica Drakul. So tall and lithe. So strong, yet overwhelmingly sexual. Angelica had been angry that day, but she was always angry. Even when her head existed in cold storage and her perfect torso and limbs were kept securely on different floors, she remained a danger and the head still communicated with the rest of her in a silent discussion even Sanjit could not fathom out. Nothing could stop truebloods, neither space or time.  Marie made her decision. “I will take the trueblood, Hayley. You may have the khuda.”

“But I found the trueblood.” Hayley stood with legs apart, her perfect lips pouting. The fake talons flexed, betraying her human thoughts. “Under salvage rules, the trueblood belongs to the finder. It’s mine.”

Immediately, brutal images flooded through Marie that frightened her. A female voice was whispering, telling her exactly what to do. It was persuading and promising, filling her with the deepest and most primitive urges. Blood, sex, pain, kill.  The voice rose to an insistent shriek and Marie looked round, scared. Arthur and Sanjit were still crouched over the throne, Hayley looked like she was about to flip, clutching the head to her breasts with one hand, as if it were her baby. The other hand held the sword and she looked prepared to use it.  Her enhanced lip quivered.

Pick up the rock.

Marie felt a strange sense of detachment as she picked up the end of a stalactite and felt the pointed tip with a finger, watching her sister. Hayley knew what was going to happen, and Marie’s psyche Gift warned her just in time. The sword flashed as it hissed through the air and Marie acted instinctively, lifting the rock spear despite its weight. The khuda glanced off with a shower of sparks and Hayley lunged again, her face bestial with rage, but this time Marie was ready. She stepped inside, taking the sword arm by the wrist and twisting the weapon away. She threw her weight forward and landed on top of Hayley and the head rolled away as they fell, with Marie on top. Hayley unleashed an inhuman howl as she reached for it. The pointed rock was between them and Marie was filled with an alien hunger. She slowly forced the spike downwards as her sister writhed underneath, trying to turn her over. Marie watched the expression on Hayley’s face as she felt the first prick. Rage gave way to fear, the eyes growing big and round but it was too late and Marie could not stop. It felt like someone else was pushing the spike downwards and she wanted it to happen.

“Please,” Hayley gasped. “Please don’t.” Her eyes widened. “Please.” The last word was a pain-filled gasp and her expression had changed to disbelief.

Inch by inch the rock descended and Hayley fought for her life in terrified silence. Marie watched herself as she drove the rock spear into her sister’s body and she felt a scream of triumph from the Yar.  There was a lot more blood than she’d expected. A gout exploded from Hayley’s wide-open mouth and splattered across the remains of the trueblood’s head, dashing across Marie’s face. It was surprisingly hot.  Marie rolled away and Hayley curled onto her side as her trembling hands scrabbled against the spike. Marie backed off, staring down at the dying body as she panted with shock. She could remember nothing of the last few moments. She screamed her sister’s name, falling to her knees beside her.  “Oh God, oh God.  What should I do? Hayley, tell me what to do.”

Hayley tried to speak but more blood streamed out, choking her.  Her eyes were filled with accusation and hurt and there was nothing that could be done to save her. Marie looked round in a daze. How could it have happened? Rockfall, of course. Instinctively, she glanced upwards but nothing else was on its way down, not even a grain of sand.  She held Hayley’s hands until they stopped shaking and her eyes lost focus. Her tongue lolled like a dead animal as she sighed once, deeply and did not breathe again. Marie experienced a wave of loneliness and guilt and didn’t understand why. She shouted for help and Sanjit eventually arrived, Brent panting behind him.

Sanjit kneeled by the body, feeling for a pulse. He looked up and shook his head. “What happened, mistress?”

“It – it fell without warning,” she replied unsteady. She visualised the spike of rock plunging down from the ceiling and punching through Hayley’s body. There was nothing she could have done, it was a dangerous place to work. Hayley should have known better, organised something to make the site safer.  Her voice shook. “She was kneeling down and it just landed on her. It happened so quickly.”

Neither of the men seemed to care. “It must have been travelling like a missile, falling all that distance,” Sanjit replied thoughtfully. “I’d have thought it would do more damage. Looks like it went in the front,” he added.

It was true. The sharp end of the spike was jutting out of the geologist’s back, below her left shoulder blade and for a moment, Marie was puzzled. “She was kneeling down, then it fell. She heard it and twisted, looking up and that’s when it hit her. That’s what must have happened.” She wiped the blood from her face. “She was unlucky, Sanjit.”

He stared back and she realised with shock that he suspected her of killing her own sister. “If you say so,” he replied. “She twisted and it hit her in the abdomen. Maybe she turned over, tried to move out of its path.”

Brent stood watching them both before his gaze was dragged back to the grotesque body curled around its stone spike, the shiny black bodysuit and spill of blonde hair strangely out of place. A crimson stream was wending its way outwards across the perfectly smooth floor, outlining the head of the trueblood. The limestone cap had fallen off. “I don’t see how she could do that, he said. “Mistress.”

She felt unreasonably angry. “Look, there was nothing I could do. I don’t need your approval, either of you. Remember who I am.”  She pushed the trueblood remains with her foot. “Get all of this bagged up and put it in the back of my transporter, and tell the salvage unit to get started. The throne is mine so it doesn’t go to the Institute. Send it to my father’s house.”

Brent was still staring at Hayley. “What about your sister?”

The reproach needled her. “Leave the body here, she’d want it that way.  When they’ve finished salvage, collapse the entrance.”

Sanjit looked like he was going to argue with her, but another glance at the spreading pool of blood, and he changed his mind.

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