As the snarl faded into echoes, Jeremy Wayne's horrific laugh rose in its place. The sound made my stomach coil in on itself - not in the least because Wayne's mirthfully trembling hand was bringing the blade of the half-exposed laser worryingly close to Lucatz's jugular.
"Welcome back, Gavin," said Wayne at last, his smirk splitting his pasty face like a fat wet wound, "First of all, let me congratulate you on your marvellous entry technique. If you'd been any louder you might have woken our dozy friend here."
I felt Vengeance tense over my shoulder, and almost went to lay a hand on his arm as I felt his collosal shape shifting its weight. I didn't dare take my gaze from Wayne, but the malicious glint in his eyes told me all I needed to know about the expression on Vengeance's face.
"I suppose I ought to congratulate you, too," Wayne said, almost wistfully, "I'd never have credited you with enough sense to get involved in something quite as elaborate as Mr Ryder's scheme. The planning, the staging, the sulfide . . . I'm almost impressed. But how did he convince you, I wonder? Did he say he'd let you have me if you aided him? You'd love that, wouldn't you - you tried often enough. Or was it something a little more personal. Your freedom? Power?" The horrible smile cracked a little wider. "Vengeance?"
Vengeance jolted as if he had been stung, and I barely managed a wordless cry as he lurched forward, teeth bared and seething with froth and rage. Wayne's eyes flashed, Lucatz loosed a strangled cry, Vengeance raised his taloned fist . . . and suddenly dropped to one knee with a raspy screech of pain.
And then, for the first time, I saw him - really saw him, and realised how long, indeed, it had been since I last saw him, and realised what that delay had cost. The overhead strobe lights cast dagger-like shadows down the skeletal precipice of his once solid ribcage, and turned the mottled needle bruises on his arms to horrific shifting tattoos of pain. As the monstrous head rose above his jutting shoulderblades, I could only stare at the contrast between the black bruising of his sunken eyes and the feverish flush and frenzy of his frantic breathing and tense, trembling muscles. Watching him struggle to his feet was like watching a fire suffocate itself inside a bell jar.
Wayne smirked, and though he addressed his words to Vengeance, he looked straight at me. "Watch yourself, monster. You're not as strong as you think you are."
Sensing his distraction, Lucatz tried to manouvre his bound hands from Wayne's grip. Wayne hissed, seized him by the hair and wrenched his head back so that his throat was fully exposed. The faint hum of the laser filled the silence that followed.
"Wayne," I began, "I have what you want, I . . ." And I stopped dead in my tracks. I didn't have what he wanted. The one thing Jeremy Wayne had wanted, had been willing to hunt and enslave and kill and break a thousand laws for, was the Kamarov File. But he did not want it any longer. I saw it in his eyes - and in the hiss and shift and snarl of the nightmare at his shoulder.
I have created a true monster this time.
And the monster, with a last, terrible smile, drove the laser hilt-deep into my brother's throat.