On Monday night, she and James turned up at Rodomon Street at nine. The road was lined with parked earthmoving equipment. A handful of protesters slouched by a banner.
“How did it go, Mick?” asked James.
“Ace, mate, absolutely ace. We sat in front of the machines, preventing them coming on site, waved placards and generally made a complete nuisance of ourselves. The local press turned out and even the Standard. Someone had tipped them off.” Mick blew on his fingers with mock modesty. “Rayman himself turned up in the end to shake his fist at us. It was glorious. All you two have to do is watch the place until morning. We’ll be back then.”
“Sure,” said James. “They seem to have given up and gone home for the night.”
“You two love birds have a quiet night,” said Mick, with a stage leer.
Rhian found it impossible not to laugh. She and James waved them off and then they were alone. They wandered around the wasteland for a while. The moon came up, casting strange shadows across the site, its reflection rippling in the water. Rhian shivered, the air was cold, this close to the canal, despite the season. James noticed and took her back to the hut. James hauled an airbed from his rucksack and Rhian pulled a sleeping bag out of hers.
“I hate blowing these things up,” said James. “I always get light-headed. Fortunately, I have a cure for that.”
He produced a bottle and two plastic cups.
“I think you will find it a cheeky little wine, with the merest hint of cinnamon, apple and old ash tray. This was the finest beverage that the supermarket boasted, for less than three-pound fifty.”
I’m sure it’ll be lovely,” said Rhian.
They shared it watching the city through the open door, enjoying the wine and each other. Rhian was quite drowsy when they went to bed but sleep eluded her. James dropped off immediately. The city seemed so close; sound carrying easily through the flimsy wood of the hut. She catnapped until something woke her up. She lay listening, wondering if she had dreamt the sound but it came again, the chink of a bottle kicked along the ground. There were also voices.
She shook James.
“What is it?” he asked, sleepily
“There’s someone out there,” she said.
“Stay here while I go and look,” he said.
She followed him, of course.
Five boys stood outside. One of them had a can in his hand and she smelt petrol.
“So a couple of snotty students are still here. Rayman will be pleased. He fancied making an example of someone,” said the lout at the front. “We will have some fun after all.”
“A few more minutes and they would have been fricasseed student,” said the one with the can. The others laughed.
Rhian moved, changing her silhouette against the moonlight, attracting attention.
“One of them’s a girl,” a voice said.
“So she is. We will definitely have fun then,” the lout said.
“Run, Rhian,” said James, giving her a shove. He charged straight at the gang. James hit the lout in the face. James was a big man and the lout went down with a thud.
Rhian couldn’t move. She couldn’t think. She was so scared for James.
James was trading blows with three of them now. Two of the gang grabbed him. The gang leader was back on his feet. He had an iron bar in his hand. Rhian watched it in slow motion. The bar swung high before slicing into James’ skull. There was a crunch like a plastic toy crushed by a hammer and James fell, blood spraying from his head.
Rhian threw herself at the lout, screaming. Her nails raked his face.
“Bloody bitch,” he said and hit her in the mouth with his fist, knocking her to the ground.
“He’s dead,” said a ganger, examining James’s body. “His skull’s all squishy.”
“Then she has to go as well,” said the leader. “We don’t want no witnesses.”
Rhian’s blouse was torn. Blood from her cut lip dripped down her front onto the Celtic brooch. It gleamed in the moonlight and soaked up the blood, like sponge. The silver brooch pulsed red light. It burnt against her skin.
Cramp seized her muscles, the pain making her gasp. She couldn’t scream, couldn’t even breathe and her very bones ached. Her teeth and mouth were pulled outwards. The moonlight shuddered and, what little colour that was left in it, bleached away. The world was monochrome but the world smelt; it was alive with thousands of shades of scent. She heard everything, from the breathing of the gang members to the cars on the distant M4. She howled with pleasure at the beauty of the city.
She rolled over onto her feet and stood up. She smelt fear; the gang reeked of terror. She chuckled deep in her throat but it came out as a growl. Her mate lay still. She loped over to him and she licked his face. James’s head lolled and blood oozed out of his broken skull. The gang backed away from her. One of them held metal in his hand and she could smell her mate’s blood on it.
The wolf did not intellectualise; the wolf acted. She gathered her legs under her and leapt. The prey backed away but her front paws struck his shoulders. He prodded ineffectually at her but the iron bar bounced unnoticed off the packed muscle in her shoulders. She smashed him to the ground with her body weight. Her jaws descended on his face and she bit hard, tasting the rich flavour of hot blood. The lout screamed, the sound fading into a gurgle.
A ganger sobbed and ran but the wolf chased running prey. She brought him down in three bounds and her jaws snapped his neck like it was made from balsa wood. The last three stayed together for protection. Prey often chose the illusory safety of numbers. She prowled around them, forcing them into a closer and closer huddle. She howled and leapt in amongst them, jaws tearing flesh and crunching bone. She tasted blood, so much blood.