I arched up, screaming. My sword fell from my hand, clattering to the f loor. The pain was unlike anything I had felt before; waves of fire shooting through my body, centered on that point where the wood entered my f lesh. I could feel the stake inside me, like a fist clenching my intestines, twisting and squeezing. I went to yank it out, but Jackal grabbed my wrist, slamming it back onto the counter, pinning me down.
"Hurts, doesn't it?" he whispered, bending over me, yellow eyes gleaming. "Incredible that a piece of wood shoved through your gut could hurt so bad. I'd rather have a hot poker jammed through my eye into my brain." My body con-vulsed, and I clenched my jaw to keep back another scream.
Jackal continued to hold me down, smiling. "Oh, and if you're wondering why it's getting hard to move, let me enlighten you. Your body is going into shock-it's shutting down, trying to repair itself. A few minutes of this, and you'll be begging me to cut off your head and end it." I struggled, but my limbs felt sluggish. Jackal had one arm pinned, and though the other was free, the blinding agony in my middle made it impossible to shove him off. I was literally staked to the counter, speared like an animal. Jackal grinned down at me and sadistically twisted the wooden spike in deeper, and this time I couldn't hold back a shriek.
"Bet you wish you'd taken my offer now, huh, sister?" I could barely focus on what he was saying. "Such a pity. I was imagining all the things we could've done, together. But you had to side with the bloodbags, didn't you? Just like Kanin.
And now look where he is-captured and tortured by that psychotic freak, Sarren. You must be so proud to have followed the same road as our sire."
I reached back with my free hand, desperately searching for something, anything, to free myself. I forced myself to talk, to keep him distracted. "H-how...did you..."
"Know about Kanin?" Jackal twisted the stake again, and I arched in helpless agony. "You've been having the same dreams, right? Intense emotion can sometimes be carried to those who share our blood. So Kanin might even be experiencing your pain right now. Isn't that an interesting thought?" He leaned in, smiling. "Hey, Kanin, can you hear me? Do you see what I'm doing to your newest little spawn? What's that?" He tilted his head to one side. "Give her another chance, you say? Don't kill her, like you did your brothers? What an interesting thought. Do you think if I offered again, she would agree?"
My groping fingers found the edge of a beaker, miraculously unbroken, and curled around the neck. With Jackal still leaning in, I brought it forward with all my strength, smashing it against the side of his face. The glass shattered, knocking his head to the side, and Jackal roared.
Spinning back, he yanked me off the counter and swung me over his head. The next thing I knew, I was hurling through the air, and had a split-second glance of the windows, rushing at me, before I struck the glass with a splintering cacophony.
Cold Chicago wind hit my face as I hovered in empty air for a moment, then started to plummet.
I twisted desperately, lashing out with both hands, seeking anything solid. My fingers scraped against the wall, and I hit the side of the building, one hand clinging to the ledge below the windows.
I looked up. Jackal loomed above me, the side of his face webbed in crimson, yellow eyes blazing as he glared down.
But he was still grinning, his own blood trickling into his mouth, turning his fangs red.
"That," he said in a conversational tone completely differ-ent from his expression, "wasn't very smart. Ballsy, but not smart. And after I just offered you a way out, too. Any real vampire would have jumped at the chance. But not you. No, you're still hung up on the humans."
It was difficult to listen to him. The stake was still lodged in my stomach, a constant, throbbing agony, making my limbs weak and unresponsive. My fingers slipped, and I clawed frantically at the ledge.
Jackal reached down and grabbed a large chunk of broken concrete, nearly the size of a human skull, and tossed it easily in one hand. "If you're so fond of these walking bloodbags," he smiled, raising the stone over his head, "then you can join them in hell."
I braced myself, knowing I was about to die. But then, I heard footsteps behind Jackal an instant before Jebbadiah Crosse slammed into the raider king from behind. Howling, Jackal toppled over my head, thrashing and f lailing, with the old human clinging doggedly to his back. They both sailed into open air, one screaming and one grimly silent, and dropped away into the darkness.
Stunned, I dangled on the ledge, barely coherent, my mind reeling. In a daze, I reached down and grabbed the stake, yanking it free with a scream. It tumbled from my limp fingers and spun end over end, clinking off the building, until it was lost to the dark waters far below.
Trembling, I was able to pull myself into the building again before my limbs gave out, and I sprawled on the tile in front of the smashed window, staring at the ceiling.
I couldn't move. Pain and Hunger raged within, but I felt hollow, completely drained of life. I was tapped out, done.
There was nothing left to repair the damage done to my body, and I could feel myself fading, wanting to slip into the blackness of hibernation, away from the pain.
I wasn't sure how long I lay there. Somewhere deep within, my body knew it had to move, find shelter. Dawn was coming, and it wouldn't be long before the first rays of the sun peeled the skin from my bones and turned me into a bonfire. I tried to crawl away, to make my limbs respond, but they were so heavy, and I was so tired. Angry now, I struggled to stay awake, raging against the darkness pulling me under, fighting to move. But as the sun crept closer, it seemed inevitable that my time was finally up.
I slumped, exhausted. This was it. I had nothing left. Dawn was less than an hour away, and it would find me here in the open, helpless to resist. Fitting that I should burn as I left this world for good.
The voice came out of nowhere, cutting through the layers of darkness. I stirred weakly, not quite believing. Maybe I was dreaming. Maybe I was already dead. Then someone knelt beside me and pulled me into their lap, cradling me gently. I wanted to pull away, to struggle, but my body simply wasn't listening anymore, and I gave up trying to fight it.
"Oh, God," whispered the voice, familiar and tormented, and I felt something brush the gaping hole in my middle.
"Allison, can you hear me? Wake up. Come on, we have to get out of here."
Zeke? I thought, dazed. No, that couldn't be right. Zeke was gone; I'd told him to get out of the city with the others.
He should be far away by now. But it was his voice, urging me to get up, to open my eyes. I wanted to, but hibernation was pulling at me, drawing me under, and his voice was growing faint. I couldn't answer him. He shifted me in his arms, and I heard a hiss of pain, as the hot scent of blood suddenly filled the air.
"Please let this work," he whispered and pressed something to my mouth.
Warm liquid trickled past my lips. Instinctively, I bit down hard and heard a gasp somewhere above me. I barely noticed it, nor did I care. This was life, and I snatched at it greedily, feeling strength returning to my body, shaking off the sluggishness. The Hunger surged up with a roar, as if realizing how close to death we had come, and I bit down savagely, driving my fangs in deep. There was a stif led cry, and the f lesh and muscles against my mouth tightened. It drove me crazy with desire. The blood wasn't f lowing fast enough; I wanted to rip and tear the veins open, releasing it in a hot f lood. I could feel the pulse at the wrist, throbbing in time with a heartbeat, and wanted to drink and drink until they both faltered and finally stopped.
With a roar, I released the arm and lunged up to the prey's throat, where the blood pumped the hardest and life f lowed just below the surface. Baring my fangs, I was about to sink them into his neck, to release that glorious surge of heat and power, when the body went rigid against mine. I heard a heartbeat quicken, thudding loudly in his chest, and I realized.
Zeke! No, I can't do this. Trembling with need and Hunger, I paused, a breath away from his throat, so close I could feel the heat radiating from his skin. Zeke was frozen, his breath coming in gasps, his whole body tense with anticipation and fear. A tiny part of me wanted to draw back, but I couldn't make myself move. Not with his pulse f luttering an inch from my lips, and the sweet, heady scent of blood filling every part of my senses. I leaned closer, and my lips brushed his skin, a soft, featherlight touch, and Zeke gasped.
And then, as I knelt there shaking, trying to find the willpower to pull away, Zeke moved. Just a fraction, a tiny shift that might've gone unnoticed. Except he shivered, took a deep breath and tilted his head back, exposing his throat. Offering it to me. And I couldn't stop myself.
I lunged, sinking my fangs into his neck, driving them deep. Stif ling a cry, Zeke stiffened and gripped my arms, arching his back. His blood coursed hot and sweet into my mouth, spreading through me, a slow-moving fire. It tasted of earth and smoke, of heat and passion and strength, of all things Zeke. He breathed my name, a sigh of benediction and longing, and I couldn't get close enough, never close enough. His heartbeat roared in my ears, pounding out a savage rhythm, and I lost myself in the moment, cocooned in ecstasy, feeling the essence of this remarkable human swirl through me.
No! Through the Hunger and bloodlust, a tiny, sane part of me emerged, gasping in horror. This is Zeke! it cried out.
This is Zeke you're feeding from, Zeke's heartbeat you're listening to. His blood is saving your life, and you're going to kill him if you don't stop now!
The Hunger roared; it wasn't satisfied, not nearly sated enough. I had nearly been killed and needed more blood to heal completely. But I could not take any more without risking Zeke's life. Zeke was in no position to push me off; I had to control myself. Stop, I told myself firmly, clamping down on my Hunger once more. No more. That is enough!
With a monumental effort, I pulled away, forcing my fangs to retract. I felt Zeke shudder as my fangs slid from his throat, felt his whole body slump against mine.
For a moment, neither of us moved, and I looked down in horror. Under my assault, Zeke had fallen back and was now resting on his elbows, breathing hard, with me straddling his waist. Blood still oozed from two tiny holes in his neck. He still wore a dazed expression, but when he finally raised his head and looked at me, his eyes were clear.
I froze. He had seen. He had seen me at my worst, a vampire in a snarling, foaming blood frenzy. A monster who had almost killed him on instinct. Until now, even though he'd known what I was, I had at least appeared more or less human.
I could only imagine what he thought of me now.
Zeke stared at me, and under his intense gaze I wanted to crawl into a deep hole, but also to pounce on him again, to drive him back to the f loor and finish what I'd started. I could feel him shaking underneath me, his heart thudding against my palms.
"Zeke...I..." I didn't know what to say. What could I say? Sorry I almost killed you? That I couldn't control the demon? That I wanted to keep drinking until you were an empty, lifeless husk? I didn't want you to see me like this, I thought de-spairingly, closing my eyes. Out of everyone, I didn't want you to see the monster.
"Just..." Zeke paused, letting out a breath, as if his body had seized up, and he could just now breathe again. "Just answer me this one question," he said in a shaky voice. "Does this mean...will I...this doesn't mean I'm going to Turn, does it?" I immediately shook my head. "No," I whispered, glad for something to say. "The process is different. You would have to take some of my blood to become a vampire." I would also have to nearly kill you.