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Written in the Blood
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See the man, having come of age in extraordinary suffering and tragedy in nineteenth-century Budapest: a witness to horror, to love, to death, and the wrath of a true monster. Izsv°k still lives in the present day, impossibly middle-aged. He’s driven not only to hunt this immortal evil but to find his daughter, stolen from an Arctic cabin and grown into the thing Izsv°k has sworn to kill.
See the monster, a beautiful, seemingly young woman who stalks the American West, seeking the young and the strong to feed upon, desperate to return to Europe where her coven calls.
Written in the Blood is the epic thriller of the year, a blazing and dexterous saga spanning generations, and threading the lives of five individuals driven by love, by sacrifice, by hunger and by fear. They seek to save a race — or to extinguish it forever.
Table of Contents
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The face contemplating Leah Wilde from the petrol station's restroom mirror was her own, but it wouldn't be for long. With the door locked, and the scent of disinfectant sharp on the air, she pulled a passport from her bag and studied the image of the woman it contained.
Pouched skin hanging beneath tired eyes. Cheekbones robed in fat, framing a fleshy nose. A filigree of lines branching from the lips, like the contours of a landscape glimpsed from space. A mole to the left of the chin. Earlobes like pale tears of candlewax.
Leah closed her eyes, took a breath, and heard Gabriel's words inside her head.
Create a mould, and pour yourself in. See what you want to be, and be. Don't fear the pain. Pain is good. Pain is the price.
But pain wasn't good. And now here it came: an unwelcome prickling at first, like the rash caused by a nettle's sting. Quickly it intensified, needles sinking deep into her face. She gritted her teeth, felt the skin around her mouth loosen and pucker, felt her heart thump in her chest as the blood surged into her head, her flesh swelling, stretching, slackening.
Reaching out, Leah gripped the washbasin. She held on tight, stomach slopping around inside her, waiting until the pain, finally, began to recede.
When she opened her eyes she saw beads of sweat shining on a forehead mapped with age lines and blemishes. An older face. A stranger's.
At some point she must have dropped the passport into the sink. She fished it out, shaking off droplets of water, and opened it back to the photograph.
Again she studied the woman's image. Compared it to the face watching her from the mirror.
She was ravenous now, stomach cramping with urgency, but her hunger would have to wait. She'd pulled into the petrol station near the town of Jestetten, a few miles from the Swiss–German border; she needed to get out of here, and fast. Removing a baseball cap from her bag, Leah screwed it down onto her head, keeping her eyes on the ground as she returned to her car.
At the crossing she showed the passport to a border guard, submitting herself to a cursory inspection before being waved through. In Zurich, she abandoned the car in a side street and checked into an anonymous chain hotel.
The next morning, under a different passport and with a different face, Leah rented a motorbike from a garage in the city. After following the kinks of Lake Lucerne's shore to Altdorf, she turned west and rode through the Susten Pass, a route that wound among mountain peaks so extraordinary they drew the breath from her throat.
Perhaps it was the drama and raw beauty of the Bernese Oberland's landscape, but as Leah guided the bike along she felt the weight of her indecision begin to lift. No one knew she was here; they had forbidden her outright from coming, had forbidden her even from investigating this. But she knew it was the right thing to do, the only thing left she could do, however dangerous it might be.
She reached Interlaken a few hours after midday. The town perched between Lake Brienz in the east and Lake Thun in the west, twin cobalt bowls that reflected the blade-like sharpness of the Alpine sky. Looming above the town to the south, the fortress peaks of the Jungfrau, the Mönch and the Eiger, jagged brushstrokes of rock and snow.
Leah found a small hotel along the Aar, the river that connected the two great lakes and formed the town's northern border. Her first-floor room was basic but clean: table and chairs in one corner, cupboard in another. Opposite the bed, a cabinet on which sat a TV, coffee-maker and kettle. Shuttered French windows opened onto a narrow balcony. Below slid the Aar's turquoise waters.
Throwing her rucksack down on the bed, Leah returned to the door to check that it was locked. A spyhole gave her a distorted view of the deserted corridor outside.
She filled the coffee-maker with water and set it to brew. Pulling off her boots, she lay back on the mattress and waited for the room's heat to thaw her limbs. During the four-hour ride through the mountains, the chill October air had stolen through her leathers and frozen her skin.
For the first time in her life, she was truly alone. No one within shouting distance should this plan of hers lead to disaster. Few among the remaining hosszú életek–that hidden evolutionary branch of humanity to which she found herself bound by blood–even knew what secret the town clasped in its bosom.
She wondered how long it would take before her mother and Gabriel discovered her disappearance. She wished she could reassure them of her safety. But it was too early for that. Too early to tell whether she was safe.
In the corner of the room the coffee-machine began to hiss. Rising from the bed, Leah reached through the net curtains and checked that the French windows, too, were locked. She unzipped her rucksack, rifling through her gear until she found the pistol she had hidden there.
Leah turned it over in her hands. The Ruger was small enough to conceal on her person, but–loaded with hollow-point rounds–lethal enough to stop most threats with a single shot. She took out two spare magazines and stacked them on the bedside table.
Stripping off her motorcycle leathers, she carried the gun into the suite's tiny bathroom and left it on the basin while she steamed herself in the shower until her skin flushed red with heat.
Afterwards, wrapped in a bath sheet and with the pistol within easy reach, Leah poured herself a mug of coffee. Pulling a hardback book from the rucksack, she found a pen and sat at the table.
The volume, bound in black leather, was her current diary. She had lost count of how many she had filled over the years, but she had written an entry every day since that afternoon, fifteen years earlier, when her mother and Jakab had burned together at Le Moulin Bellerose.
Opening it, she reread her words from the previous day, a simple list of activities: slipping out, unnoticed, from the forest retreat in Calw; driving across the border into Switzerland; signing for the package that waited for her at the hotel reception in Zurich; unpacking the Ruger and its ammunition in her suite before folding herself between the bed sheets and finding sleep.
Leah tapped her pen against an empty page. She wondered how tonight's entry would read. Wondered whether there would be one.
After writing a summary of her trip through the mountains, she used the phone beside the bed to call down for room service. But when the food arrived twenty minutes later she couldn't eat it. Trepidation had shrunk her stomach, and the smells wafting from the tray threaded her with a nausea too acute to overcome. Moving to the French windows, she unlocked the shutters and pushed them open.
Frigid air feathered into the room, contracting her bare skin into goosebumps. Across the Aar, the mountain peaks south of the town rose like claws from a bear's upturned paw. They really were castles of stone; monuments of colossal proportions, as if a race of giants had raised them there in supplication to an angry god. She'd read about the Alps–her backpack was stuffed with guides and maps–but little of her time spent researching this place had focused on its topography. She had not expected the mountains to affect her as deeply as they did.
On her return to the table she noticed something on the room service tray she hadn't seen before, poking out from beneath the leatherette wallet containing her bill. Frowning, she nudged the wallet aside, revealing a square envelope. Her name was intricately calligraphed across the front.
Heart knocking against her ribs, Leah snatched up the Ruger from the bed. Seven rounds in the magazine. Nine-millimetre hollow-point. They would open like a flower on impact, punching fist-sized holes into whatever stood in her way.
Head cocked, ears straining, fingers greasy where they curled around the gun, Leah forced herself to be still. She knew that her hearing was sharp, knew that if anyone lurked in the corridor outside she would sense them–unless they, like her, were hosszú élet.
After two minutes had passed and she had heard nothing but the muttering of water in the hotel's pipes, she removed one hand from the gun and reached behind her. Locking the French windows, she pulled the net curtains back into place.
Barefoot, Leah padded across the room to the door. She paused again, listening. When only silence greeted her, she pressed her eye to the tiny spyhole. The lens warped her view, but she could see that the corridor remained deserted.
She returned to the tray and picked up the envelope. The paper was thick, luxurious. Breaking it open, she withdrew a square of cream card. At the top it bore an embossed logo in gold and black: a series of interlinking chains, like a Celtic knot.
I warned you not to come. I am delighted you chose to ignore that advice. Let's dine together, tonight. A car will collect you from outside your hotel at eight o'clock and bring you here, should you wish. Rather more convenient than a motorcycle—it grows cold in these mountains on autumn evenings.
I cannot guarantee your safety from here on in, but of course you know that.
'A Kutya Herceg'
A shiver took hold of Leah as she read the last line, born as much from fear as from the frisson of anticipation the words produced. She dropped the card onto the table beside her, spine tingling from a cold lick of distaste.
A Kutya Herceg. The Dog Prince. A theatrical affectation, but from what she had heard of the man, he enjoyed how his reputation had developed until it had gained an almost mythic status. A Kutya Herceg was, she knew, one of the more forgiving of his titles. It did not allude to his ruthlessness, his monstrousness when provoked.
How could he have learned of her arrival so quickly? She'd entered Switzerland using one fake passport, had rented the motorbike using another. From the Susten Pass she'd ridden directly to the hotel, memorising the route and the names of Interlaken's streets in advance. Since discarding the disguises she'd adopted for her journey, the only people to have seen her face were the middle-aged woman at reception who handed her the room key, and the youth who brought in her lunch.
Outside, the snow on the mountain peaks had blushed to pink as the sun dipped towards the waters of Lake Brienz. The Alps looked like they were bleeding.
At a quarter to eight, fifteen minutes before the car was due, Leah opened her rucksack and pulled out a tissue-paper parcel. From it she unwrapped a long-sleeved embroidered lace dress in midnight blue. She changed quickly, slipping her feet into nude patent shoes with a heel far higher than she usually wore. Twisting up her hair into a pile on top of her head, she secured it with two steel chopsticks; their points had been filed to a needle sharpness.
She stared at herself in the mirror and turned her head from left to right, wondering what he expected to see. From a travel bag she removed lipstick and eyeliner and quickly applied make-up to her face. She examined herself again.
Pulling out a glass bottle of perfume, Leah considered it for a moment before replacing it, unused. She picked up the Ruger, checked that the safety was engaged and slid it into a sequinned clutch purse. Tucking her diary back into her rucksack, she packed up the rest of her belongings. If she needed to leave here quickly, she wanted everything to be ready.
Beyond the window, except where the mountain peaks blocked their light, a sprinkling of stars pricked silver holes in the sky. Shrugging on her biker leather over the dress, she left her room and walked down the stairs to the foyer. The hotel's glass doors slid apart and Leah, holding the clutch purse as nonchalantly as she could, stepped outside.
Now that the sun had set the Alpine air was brittle, teasing a mist from her breath. She tasted something on her tongue, a subtle sourness, and thought she sensed an imminent change in the weather: a premonition, perhaps, of snow. She shook her head at the thought.
Across the street a graphite Rolls-Royce Phantom, like an armoured rhinoceros, idled against the kerb.
Leah stared at the vehicle: at the enormous flat-fronted grille; the headlights like narrowed eyes; the winged Spirit of Ecstasy, poised for flight, perched on the bonnet.
Its windows were black, reflecting the night.
Don't let them see your fear.
Blowing air from her cheeks, Leah crossed the street, threw open the Phantom's rear door and slid into a world of mahogany and cream leather. She pulled the door shut behind her, a heavy-sounding clunk. Immediately, as if a switch had been flicked, the noise of the street traffic ceased.
No one occupied the seat beside her. In front, a man sat behind the steering wheel. She could see curls of black hair, a strong and tanned neck.
He turned in his seat, and when he saw her sitting there he flashed white teeth. His irises were feathered with violet, a shade she had never before seen in the eyes of a hosszú élet. Leah thought she caught something else lurking in that expression too: something that froze her blood a little. She recalled the line from the note:
I cannot guarantee your safety from here on in
Again, that frisson of expectation, stirring the hairs on the nape of her neck.
'Leah Wilde,' the man said.
She nodded. 'Who are you?'
He ignored her question. 'Lean forward for me. Before we go any further, I need to take a look at those pretty eyes.'
She slid to the edge of her seat, bringing her face to within a foot of his own. His eyes really were extraordinary: striations of passion fruit and lavender; unworldly, cold and, this close, unsettlingly intense. She watched as the streaks of violet intensified and began to bleed towards the edges of his irises, like dye leaching into a vat of ink. Leah gripped the leather seat with her fingertips, feeling her own eyes respond in kind. There followed a curious unspooling of fear and longing.
Her mother's rules, voiced so often in times past, echoed in her head: Trust no one. Verify everyone. If in doubt, run.
The seraphic beauty she saw dancing in this stranger's eyes verified that he was, at least, hosszú élet. Yet whether he wore his own face tonight or that of another's, she could not say. Leah knew that her inability to discern the difference placed her at a disadvantage.
Those eyes, though. She could not remember how long it had been since she had met another of her kind for the first time. Her heart quickened in her chest; she felt its pulse in her ears. The scent of his cologne washed over her.
Flinching away, the man stared through the windscreen at the cars passing on the street. Then he twisted back around. 'How old are you, Leah?'
She held his gaze. 'Twenty-four.'
The moment seemed to lengthen, stretch out between them. His nostrils flared.
'So it's true,' he said.
'And we're to believe that you came here, all on your own: a single girl, into the lion's den, without any protection whatsoever.'
'You can believe anything you want,' she replied. 'But I'm here alone. Just as I promised.'
He stared at her, his expression hardening. Abruptly he turned away. Putting the Phantom into gear, he flicked on an indicator and pulled into traffic.
They drove south out of Interlaken, following a twisting road that threaded its way through dark pine forest as it rose towards the peaks. Theirs were the only lights on the road. 'We're leaving town?'
He found her eyes in the rear-view mirror. 'You wanted to meet A Kutya Herceg.'
'I thought he lived nearby.'
Leah clutched the purse on her lap, feeling the hard angles of the Ruger through its sequinned fabric. 'Is it far?'
'A while yet.'
The Rolls-Royce accelerated, powering them up the road's gradient and around its curves towards the starlit peaks above them. As Leah settled into the seat's leather embrace, she tried to avoid glancing too frequently at her driver. Every so often she sensed him lifting his eyes from the road to study her.
Are you sure about this? Are you absolutely sure?
Yes. It was the right thing to do: the only thing. She knew she wouldn't be thanked, knew that her actions tonight would sow even more division among the few hosszú életek that remained. But if someone didn't do something soon–something radical–then all that her mother and Gabriel had worked for in the years since her father's death would be undone.
Even so, by coming here alone, with no one aware of her destination, she placed herself in extraordinary danger. Her driver had taunted her about walking into the lion's den, but Leah knew that was exactly what this involved. She had heard the stories. Some of them sickened her.
They wound up through black ranks of fir and pine, moonlight glimmering on frost-rimed needles. The air at this altitude looked sharp enough to cut her skin. All around them, the Bernese Alps presented dizzying faces.
Finally the Phantom slowed, turning onto a private single-lane road that took a sharp ascent through the trees. A minute later they left the forest behind and emerged onto a rising strip of tarmac. When it swept around to the right, Leah gasped.
An enormous chalet complex rose up ahead: four curving levels of wood and glass, topped with multiple gabled roofs. The building glowed with a golden light, an architectural bauble clinging to the face of the mountain. The windows of its middle floors reached from floor to ceiling, at least four metres in height, served by crescent-shaped balconies that curved their entire width. Somewhere inside she could see the flickering reflections cast from a swimming pool.
To the left of the building a five-car garage had been chiselled directly out of the rock. Strip lights blazed inside. Below the house, a wide lawn receded into darkness. Across the valley, in full view of the huge viewing windows, rose the rocky monolith of the Jungfrau. Snow sparkled on its summit. On its north-eastern shoulder loomed the Mönch and the Eiger.
Her driver brought the Phantom to a halt on the tarmac. He glanced at her embroidered lace dress, then up at her scuffed motorcycle jacket. 'It's minus ten outside. You're not exactly dressed for mountain weather.'
'Wait here.' He climbed out and went to the boot. Moments later he appeared at her window, holding a calf-length fur; it shimmered silver in the moonlight. He opened her door and held out the coat to her. The air that raced inside the car made her eyes sting at its bite. 'Put this on.'
Leah swivelled her legs and stood, feeling her skin burn with cold. Slipping her arms into the fur, she wrapped it around her body and followed him across the tarmac to the ground-floor entrance. The front door was a rounded slab of oak hung within a curving transom decorated with stained-glass panels. Its fittings were brass, polished to a liquid shine. Scorched into the centre of the wood she saw the same woven motif from her dinner invite.
Her driver stepped into the entrance hall and beckoned her to follow. Feeling a flutter of nerves in her belly, knowing that whatever reservations she'd entertained about tonight's encounter it was now too late to change her mind, Leah crossed the threshold.
When the door closed behind her, she heard the clunk of several mortices engaging simultaneously, sealing her inside.
Hannah Wilde listened to the scream echo through the building and clenched her teeth at the sound. The agony in that cry dragged claws down her spine and sank teeth into her belly. Wincing, she flicked open the hinged lid of her wristwatch and felt for the position of its hands: twenty past three in the afternoon.
It had started around six o'clock the night before. Twenty-one hours now: a long labour by anyone's standards.
Rising from her stool at the makeshift kitchen's breakfast counter, Hannah placed her coffee mug on the drainer and walked across the tiled floor of the room. When her bare feet touched carpet, she turned right and moved into the hall.
She smelled Gabriel before she heard his breathing–that familiar combination of maltiness and astringency, which, for some strange reason, always reminded her of cider. A draught touched her skin. She sensed him turn to face her. 'How's Flóra?' she asked. How's she doing?'
'I don't know how the poor mite can have any strength left.'
'Is she bleeding still?'
'They think they've stemmed it. But if this baby doesn't come soon…'
Hannah nodded, curling her hand around Gabriel's arm as another scream rattled along the corridor. He didn't need to finish his sentence; the consequence of sacrificing yet another life to this project of theirs was too wretched to consider. 'We can't lose her to this. We just can't.'
'They're doing everything they can.'
'It's not enough.'
'Oh, I don't mean them,' she replied. 'I mean all of this. We've been bashing our heads against a wall for fifteen years, Gabe.'
'I know. But what else would you have us do?'
'You know what else,' she said. And knew that he did. Since discovering her true ancestry years earlier, Hannah had committed herself to restoring the hosszú életek's dwindling numbers; but she'd never expected her greatest obstacles to come from within the very society she sought to preserve. A miracle to some, an abomination to others, her mixed blood had provided an opportunity, however controversial, to reverse what the genocide centuries earlier had begun and nature had perpetuated since.
Through the closed door of the delivery suite she heard a moan of pain followed by a shriek. A crash as something turned over.
Someone shouted. Tanja Komáromy's voice, their senior midwife. Gabriel moved to the door, threw it open. 'What's happening? What can I do?'
Tanya's voice was elevated but controlled. 'She's having a baby, that's what. Flóra, kedves, you're doing great. Just great. Gabe, help me and move that trolley out of the way.'
Another scream, piercing and drawn out, as if winched from the woman's lungs by hook and line.
'Shall I give her more pethidine?' Rose Doyle, now. Their usually calm Irish nurse sounded exhausted.
'No time. This baby wants to say hello. That's it, Flóra, fantastic. Short breaths. And when the next contraction hits, I need you to push.'
Sobbing, from the bed. 'I can't.'
'Yes. Yes, you can. You're doing brilliantly. This baby's coming and you're going to fall in love the moment you see it, so I need you to gather your thoughts together and push.'
Intuiting the position of the room's occupants from the sound of their voices, Hannah navigated through darkness towards the bed. 'Flóra, take my hand.' Sweat-soaked fingers found hers.
Lowering her face to the pregnant woman's, Hannah spoke softly. 'This is it, Flóra. How amazing, eh? What you dreamed about for so long. One last push and that's it: a baby. All yours. A new life in your arms.'
'It hurts so much.'
'I know. It's not easy, this. It never has been.'
'I'm scared. It shouldn't be this bad, should it? Oh God, I can feel it coming…'
'Don't be scared, don't be. Your baby's almost here.'
'No, I can't, please. I can't.'
'Yes, you can. You're strong. So strong, and—'
'Oh, don't, Han. Help me, please. I want it to stop, it's… it's—'
The woman's words flowed into another scream, ripping loose from somewhere deep.
'That's it! I can see the head!' Tanja Komáromy again, shouting now. 'One more push. One more!'
Body arching upwards, Flóra bellowed. Hannah heard a slippery sucking sound and smelled the sweet, biscuity scent of birth fluids.
'You did it!' Rose shouted, jubilant.
Hannah listened for the first sounds of a baby's cries, telling herself not to tense when she heard nothing in the first few seconds. She didn't want Flóra to sense her concern.
'You have a son,' Tanya said. 'A beautiful boy.' Then: 'Rose, turn him over. Quickly.'
She could hear the two women working urgently at the foot of the bed.
'What's wrong?' Flóra whispered. 'Is he breathing?'
'We need to clear his airways,' Tanya said. 'The ventilation mask, please.'
Flóra squeezed Hannah's fingers. 'Tell me. Tell me he's going to be all right.'
'Of course. Of course he is.'
Why on earth did you just promise her that?
She heard the shlep-shlep-shlep of a hand pump. Counted sixty compressions. A minute's worth.
'Rose, watch for any bleeding.'
The pump stopped.
She was about to answer when she heard it: a tiny mewling cry, as delicate as a dewdrop. Her heart swelled. She sensed a presence by her side, and knew that Tanja was lowering the newborn onto Flóra's chest.
'Oh,' Flóra whispered. 'Oh, oh. He's perfect. Just a perfect little man.'
When Hannah felt the woman's fingers slip from her own, she moved backwards, wanting to grant Flóra the space to welcome her baby into the world.
But it was not just that. Sometimes she found this part difficult. Knowing that the newborn was part of her–had been created from one of her own eggs–made these births a curiously bitter-sweet experience.
'Tanja,' Rose murmured. Far from sounding relaxed now that the baby had started to breathe, the nurse's voice radiated alarm. 'Look.'
The senior midwife hissed, and for a moment the silence held. Then: 'OK, Flóra, you're bleeding, quite a lot, and we're going to have to stop it. I want to put an oxygen mask on you, OK? Just breathe, nice and slow, that's it. Rose, what can you see?'
'I can't tell. I'm sorry, I need you to take over.'
'That's fine. Set up an IV. And get the mask on her.'
Hannah heard Tanja curse, suddenly knew it was bad. This had happened before: two months earlier, to Annaliese Mayr, and four times before that. On all five occasions the women had died, bleeding to death in the delivery suite with their newborn crying in a cot beside the bed. Even hosszú élet
- On Sale
- May 26, 2015
- Page Count
- 496 pages
- Mulholland Books