The cells lining the walls were empty, which was a relief. I'd been half expecting them to be full of bleeders that would burst out and attack us. But everything about the room was silent and still. Sarren, unless he was hiding in one of the cages, wasn't in the room.
"Not here," Kanin said in a low, barely audible voice. "We have to go through the last door at the end."
I'd never been through the last door. The farthest I'd gotten was this room, where Sarren had found me after he'd tracked Kanin to the city, and I'd jammed a pocketknife into his eye. I doubted he'd forgotten that.
Kanin's blade was suddenly in his hand. No turning back now. For Kanin, for Zeke, for all of New Covington, we had to face the madman. We moved steadily toward the last door, finding it unlocked, of course, and pushed it open.
For a moment, Kanin didn't move, and neither did I, staring into the darkness beyond the frame. From where I stood, I could make out a few old cots, covered in mold and dust, scattered around the room. Thick leather straps and cuffs dangled from the edges, just like the ones in Old D.C., making my skin crawl. Against the wall, an ancient computer, its screen cracked and distorted, sat beside an odd device with a long tube poking into the air. More cells lined the other wall, with thick steel bars running vertically across the windows and metal doors barred from the outside. Cold, stale air wafted through the door fame, laced with the faintest hint of blood.
A hissing chuckle slithered out of the dark. "Ah, there you are," purred a soft, sibilant voice, somewhere in the shadows of the room. "Step into my parlor, said the spider to the fly. We have a lot to talk about."
A chill crept up my spine. Gripping my sword, I started forward, but Kanin put a hand out, holding me back. "After me," he muttered, in a voice only I could hear. "If this is a trap, at least you'll be in the clear."
I swallowed. "Be careful, Kanin."
He lowered his arm and stepped through the frame into the room. Nothing happened immediately: no explosion, no sudden projectiles, and the door didn't slam shut behind him. Kanin gazed around calmly and raised his voice. "Sarren. You've obviously been waiting for me. Here I am."
Another evil chuckle. "Oh, Kanin," the voice purred, and he appeared, melting out of the dark to stand before us in the center of the room. My skin crawled as his hideous, scarred face lifted to meet ours. "I have enjoyed our games, old friend," he said, folding his hands before him. "You were a most compelling quarry, and I shall miss our time together. But you have already played your part in this symphony. Your voice, your music, is dying and will soon fade to nothing." His hollow, mad eyes flickered to me, and a smile stretched his face. "I am more interested in the songs the little bird can sing."
I wanted to recoil. Instead, I stepped through the door to stand beside Kanin, giving Psycho Vamp my best challenging glare. "You want me? Here I am."
"Yes," Sarren agreed, clasping his bony hands. "Here you are, little bird. Here you are, and here we are, and the world spins and dies around us." He cocked his head at me, appraising. "But where is your prince? I would think he'd want to be here, to see the end of this symphony."
"He's gone," I snapped, baring my fangs. I was suddenly glad Zeke wasn't here, standing in this creepy room with this insane vampire who would use every weakness to his advantage. "Your virus took him," I went on, not needing to fake the fury and hatred in my voice as I faced Sarren, who raised his eyebrows. "And you are going to give us a cure, right now, or we're going to beat it out of you."
"A cure?" Sarren feigned surprise. "What makes you think I have a cure, little bird?"
I growled, bringing up my sword even as I felt Kanin's warning hand on my arm. I was tired of talking to crazy Psycho Vamp, and I was not in the mood for his sick games. "Do you have one, or not?"
"Oh, let me think. A cure, a cure..." Holding up his empty hands, Sarren took two steps to the edge of the counter. "Do you mean...this cure?"
I should've known not to trust him. I should've been more wary, more on guard, but in the split second I realized he was up to something, his hand flipped a switch over the counter and a brilliant light erupted right in front of us, pinning us in the glare. Blinded, I hissed and turned away, shielding my eyes, hearing Kanin do the same. And in that moment, something grabbed me from behind, clamping my sword arm beneath it, and a sharp wooden point was shoved under my breastbone, angled up toward my heart.
"Hello, sister," a familiar voice whispered in my ear. "Bet you didn't expect to see me again."
I went rigid. As the light faded, I became aware of my surroundings all at once. My attacker stood behind me, pinning my arm, a wooden point shoved into my chest. It dug painfully into my skin, making me stiffen and arch to get away from it, but I couldn't escape.
"I'd drop the sword, if I were you," the cool, smug voice said into my ear, punctuated with a sudden jab of the stake, making me wince. "Don't make me use this, sister. Drop it. Now."
I cursed, and my katana hit the ground with a clang. "Dammit, Jackal," I muttered, craning my head back to look at him, smirking at me. "You two-timing bastard!"
"Oh, come on," Jackal said mildly, pulling me a few steps away from Kanin, who stared at him with eyes that had gone cold and terrifying. "You act like this is such a stretch. Don't move, old man," he warned Kanin, maneuvering me into a corner. "One little slip, and I might just impale your favorite little spawn here. Wouldn't want that."
Sarren suddenly moved across my vision in a blur, striking Kanin with a vicious snarl, sending him reeling back. Kanin recovered and lashed out with a kick as Sarren came at him again, flinging him back several yards to crash into one of the cots. I tensed, but Jackal growled and twisted the stake into my flesh, making me gasp. Kanin froze.
A chilling laugh made my stomach curl, and Sarren staggered to his feet, eyes blazing. His tongue licked out, dabbing a corner of his cut lip, and he smiled. "For every drop of blood I lose," he promised, stalking forward again, "I will make your little bird scream for an hour. Her song will seep into the very walls and will remain here forever, and everyone who hears it will know how much she wanted to die. The longer this goes on, the longer her music will last, until she is begging for it to end. But it will not end, as long as you are still alive."
"Then let me take her place." Kanin lowered his blade, facing Sarren across the room, his voice resigned. "I'm the one who did this to you. I'm the one you want to hurt. You spent your days in this hellhole because of me. I deceived you, promised a better life. I betrayed you, Sarren, and I'm still here. The pain you want to inflict belongs to me alone."
"Kanin, no," I whispered, but it was too late.
Sarren came at Kanin again, striking savagely with a metal pipe he'd snatched off the floor, and this time, Kanin didn't move. The weapon hit his collarbone with a sickening crack, dropping him to his knees, and Sarren instantly smashed the pipe against the side of his head. I cried out as Kanin sprawled to the floor, only to have his enemy ruthlessly kick him in the ribs, sending him crashing into the wall.
"Ouch." I felt Jackal wince behind me, though his grip never loosened. "You know, this is when you wish you had a working camera, just to remember these moments always." I tensed, and he immediately tightened his grip on my arm, digging in the stake so that I felt blood well up from the tip. "Don't even think about it, sister. I have no problem shoving this thing right into your heart if you get too rowdy, and it won't be pleasant, trust me."
"How could you do this to him?" I whispered through clenched teeth. The stake in my flesh throbbed, making me desperate to get away from it. I kept trying to arch back, but only succeeded in pushing myself harder against Jackal, who never relented in his grip on me or the stake. "He saved you. You would've died if he wasn't there."
Jackal chuckled. "Look at you, actually trying to tweak my conscience. Isn't that cute." He eased up the tiniest bit, though not enough for me to relax. Sickened, I watched Sarren stalk back to Kanin, haul him upright and backhand him with the pipe. And still, Kanin barely defended himself, raising an arm to shield the side of his head, and the blow knocked him off his feet.
"You made this pretty easy, did you know that, sister?" Jackal remarked, watching the hopeless, one-sided fight with casual disinterest. "Didn't even think to use our blood tie to check up on me. I knew exactly where you were, and Kanin was in too much pain to do much of anything, but I'm rather disappointed in you. I keep telling you, you're just too trusting."
"Jackal," I pleaded, "don't do this. Kanin is-"
"What? Family?" Jackal snorted. "We're all demons, my dear little sister. And in our world, only the strong and the smart, survive. You and Kanin were on the losing team, and I'm a sore loser. Don't take it personally-it's what any true vampire would do."
Sarren yanked Kanin to his feet again and slammed him into the wall, pressing a forearm to his neck. His face was viciously inhuman. Kanin stared back, unwavering, the open wounds on his face glimmering black against his pale skin. I cried out, bracing myself, certain that I was going to watch my sire be killed right in front of me.
But then, Sarren smiled his blank, terrible smile, dragged Kanin off the wall and hurled him through one of the open cell doors. Kanin hit the ground, rolling against the wall, and Sarren shut the metal door with a ringing clang that echoed through the room.
"No, old friend," he mused, throwing down the heavy bar as Kanin staggered to his feet. "Your pain is still coming. I want you to see this. I want you to see what they did to us, every night, in these rooms. And your little bird will be the perfect demonstration."
"No." Kanin's voice was a rasp. He limped to the bars and grasped them tightly as I stiffened against Jackal. "This is our war. You have the opportunity to end it, right now. She has nothing to do with it. Sarren!"
Sarren turned and walked to the center of the room, picking up the cot he'd overturned. His face was calm as he spoke, not looking back. "Our war is over, old friend. You are but a rotted soul trapped in a decaying body. There is nothing I can do to your flesh that will surpass the coming agony. You will simply rot away in that cell, and my only regret is that I will not be here to see it. By the time you succumb to your decaying prison and depart this world for hell, I will be long gone." He turned, beckoning to Jackal with a pale, bony hand.
I snarled and tried to fight him, but he jammed the stake farther into my body so that I arched in pain, and he started dragging me to where Sarren waited beside the cot.
"Never...took you for a mindless crony," I gritted out, trying desperately to stop this procession while fighting the pain stabbing through me. "When did you become...Sarren's lapdog?"
"Hey, I'm a team player," Jackal replied as Sarren loomed terrifyingly near. "Provided I'm on the winning team. Just give it up, sister. You lose. Try to have some dignity when he's peeling your skin off."