Several endless minutes passed before Wendell removed his hand and leaned over to whisper gently in Patrice’s ear. “He is done cutting, but you may wish to keep your eyes hidden until we dispose of the body.”
Patrice took a long, slow breath and shook her head, “Non, I must see this, no matter how unbearable the sight.” She opened her eyes and beheld Mr. Baine standing at the foot of her bed where the creature fell, holding its severed head by the hair. Its face retained the same blank eyes, the same incoherent mask of rage, as the moment that the stake had punctured its heart. Wendell watched the young woman, who, in turn, was studying the contorted face of what was once her cousin. She seemed to nod, just the slightest bit.
“You were right to drive the stake.” she lowered her eyes, “That was not my cousin.”
“I have heard it said that these creatures can enthrall loved ones and family members,” Wendell offered, “Perhaps you were under a similar spell,” Mr. Baine snorted derisively, though not as pointedly as he might have earlier, and turned to the fireplace. With an almost casual flick of the wrist, he tossed the head among the crackling, dancing flames. As it performed a lazy turn through the air, a horrified shriek caused all three individuals in the room to jump and turn, as one, to face the doorway. There, eyes bulging and trembling hands framing a mouth that quivered with the effort of trying to adequately display the depth of the shock, fear, and anger that churned within her at the sight of her daughter’s head being thrown on the fire, stood Marie Benoite.
“Madam, let me explain …” Mr. Baine held his hands up in what he hoped was a placating gesture. Her eyes locked on the bonesaw he still held, slick with gore and glistening in the firelight. A jerky shaking of the head and the hiss of breath inhaled through gritted teeth was her reply. She opened her mouth and Wendell suddenly felt a sinking sensation within.
“HENRI!” The yell rolled through the room and out into the hallway. “Henri! Ils l'ont tuée! Ils ont tué Camille!” Marie turned and fled down the hall.
“Marie, non!” Patrice leapt to her feet, and moved to follow her, “Messieurs, you must flee! They do not understand.”
A banging of doors echoed down the hallway.
“You must tell them the truth.” Mr. Baine had already packed his bag and was making for the door, Wendell close behind, “Before your lies get us all killed!”
He pushed past her, stepping into the hallway. A shot rang out and a cloud of splinters exploded just above his head. Mr. Baine fell back into the room and would have lost his feet, had Wendell not been there to catch him. There was a faint clicking noise in the darkness of the hallway; the sound of a breach being loaded and a bolt sliding home. Wendell and Mr. Baine looked up to see the long, slender barrel of a chassepot extend into the room, followed by a panic-stricken Henri Benoite. Behind him, Marie was sobbing incoherently. Her trembling outstretched hand, pointing at the headless, bloody corpse on the floor, made it very clear what she was trying to say. Henri’s eyes locked on the vandalized remains of his only daughter, his face flushed a deep red and his jowls began to quake. Wendell would not have thought it possible, but the sinking feeling in his gut extended even further.
"Lui! Lui!" Marie was pointing now at Mr. Baine; Henri adjusted his aim accordingly. Patrice rushed over to her uncle and tried to wrest the gun away from him. Henri resisted easily and knocked her to the floor with his elbow. He raised the weapon in time to see an orange blur descending upon him and fired.
The thunderous report of the discharging rifle filled the room, nearly deafening them all. Wendell landed, half shoving, half striking Henri in the chest with both hands. The man suddenly flew back out of the room and down the hallway a good distance, where he landed in a heap. Wendell suddenly became aware of a hot red sensation in his left shoulder, gradually spreading across his chest and down his left arm. He was dimly aware of a bestial roar mingled with the ringing in his ears. It took him a moment to realize that the noise was spilling fourth from his own throat. He closed his mouth abruptly and looked down at his shaking hands. His fingernails had become unnaturally long and thick. Fine grey hair sprouted from the backs of his hands and his palms had taken on a dark tinge and leathery texture. Despite the heat of the fire, the burning sensation in his shoulder, and the adrenaline coursing through his veins, a powerful shiver ran the length of the tall man’s frame. He drew a deep breath in through his nostrils, relishing the spectrum of odor that had been invisible to him moments before. He felt powerful and alive. And angry.
Down the hall, Henri raised himself up on his elbows and stared at the man incredulously. There were tears in the robe he wore where he had been struck. Despite the darkness of the hallway, Wendell could see everything in sharp contrast - as if he were standing right next to the man on a sunny day. Wendell looked up to see both Patrice and Marie staring at him in shock and, in the latter instance, sheer horror, and he knew that the eyes through which he looked were no longer his own. He wanted to say something, offer some reassurance, but a quick pass of his tongue over a set of elongated canines brought the realization that he should probably keep his mouth shut. Still, perhaps a little scare would do them all some good. Or maybe he should just gut these selfish, cowardly weaklings right now ...
“Wendell! The balcony!” Mr. Baine’s sharp tone snapped his mind back into focus. Instead of lunging at his attacker - at anyone, really - as he felt a powerful inclination to do, Wendell attempted to regulate his breathing and calm the urge burning within him to retaliate, to establish dominance over these powerless creatures who looked at him with fear and hate. It was only natural ...
“Wendell, come on!” Mr. Baine was already outside. Wendell shook his head, trying to clear it of the stubborn, growling thoughts that persisted within and headed out the door through which Camille had entered only a short while before. Mr. Baine swung a leg over the marble balustrade and leaned over to see if he could safely make the climb down. He was relieved to find a trellis decorating the side of the house. Mr. Baine began to climb down one-handed, carefully holding his leather bag in his free hand.
“Throw me the bag!” Mr. Baine was startled to hear Wendell’s voice from below. He looked down to the see the man standing on the ground, clawed hands outstretched. He shook his head.
“You'll rip it to shreds with those paws of yours,” he grunted, “Run ahead to Mr. Gaspard, help get the coach ready.” Wendell nodded and ran around the side of the house. He noticed lights in the windows of several nearby homes. Apparently the gunfire had woken some of the neighbors. Soon the constables would arrive; the prospect of getting away unhindered and - more importantly - unharmed were rapidly deminishing. The carriage was easily visible to him in the deep shadows behind the house. Mr. Gaspard, still asleep inside, had apparently not been undisturbed by all the commotion.
Wendell ran to the door and, careful not to apply too much force, opened it. From the darkness within, a large form dropped onto him. Without thinking, Wendell quickly spun out of the way and assumed a fighting stance, claws at the ready. The still form of Mr. Gaspard crumpled to the ground. The coachman’s sightless, glazed eyes stared unseeing into the night; his neck a bloody mess. The smell of leaves, wet dirt, and blood mingled with a hint of perfume - easily recognizable in Wendell’s present state - still wreathed the lifeless body.
Mr. Baine rounded the corner and hurried over to where Wendell stood staring down at Mr. Gaspard’s corpse. It did not take him long to assess the situation. “Camille,” it was less a question than a statement. Wendell nodded.
“You have to rip his head off.”
Mr. Baine expelled a frustrated sigh, “The saw takes too long. Henri will be out here shooting at us any minute - not to mention the Parisian authorities who are no doubt already on their way. He's obviously been bitten and we can't let him turn. I would do it myself but I'm not the one with the supernatural strength here.” Wendell thought he heard a slight tinge of jealousy.
Cursing silently then offering up a small prayer of forgiveness, Wendell bent down to take the head of the former Mr. Gaspard in his hands. With a twist, a grunt, and a sickening pop, it came free. Though it only took a moment, the act felt to Wendell like it had taken an eternity. Nauseous, he dropped the man’s head to the ground where it landed on its ragged neck with a wet splat.
“Here,” Mr. Baine stepped forward, syringe in hand, “Take another half-dose, just to be safe. I'll treat that wound - thank you, by the way - when we are safe.”
"Is it safe ... to have this much?" Wendell asked.
"Safer than you running amok in Paris, I'd imagine."
Wendell nodded dumbly and Mr. Baine proceeded. Amid the pain of the gunshot wound and the numbness at what he had just done, the pricking of the needle barely registered. He did notice, however, that the urge to disembowl the man standing before him - to show him what those 'paws of his' could really do - was fading. What had been a thundering rumble churning within in his gut, was now the hollow wail of a dying breeze over a rocky outcrop.