I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, disturbed to think of Kanin that way, even though I already knew about it. Or had thought I did, anyway.
"Thing was," Jackal continued, putting his boots up on the low, polished table, ignoring the glare from Azura, "New Covington wasn't the only lab searching for a cure. True, they were the one with the vampire patients, but they also shared their research with the other labs. And something happened here in D.C. to cause a massive rabid outbreak. Hundreds of people Turned within a matter of hours. We know the New Covington lab burned down and all the research was either taken or destroyed, but we don't know anything about the lab below this city. Is it still standing? Does it have the research from decades ago? What's been left behind, I wonder? The cure? Hopefully. But, what about the other things, the research on the plague and the virus and how Rabidism came to be?" Jackal's gold gaze narrowed, and something in that intense look made my skin crawl. "If any of that research is left behind, who is the very last person we'd want to stumble upon it? Sarren is brilliant and crazy and more than a little unstable. Think of all the nasty things he could do if he got his hands on that kind of information."
I shivered and felt the last of my protests dissolve. If Sarren was planning something, he had to be stopped. And if there was a cure to Rabidism, we had to find it. For better or worse, it appeared I would be working with my blood brother. For now, at least. I desperately hoped I was making the right choice and that Kanin would be able to hang on until we could get to him.
"I thought you would see it that way." Jackal smiled and rose, his duster falling behind him. "So, now that we're all finally on the same page, shall we get this party started?"
The rabids were back, milling around the perimeter, but Azura showed us a tunnel that led from the house to an empty building beyond the fence. She wasn't sad to see us go, but provided us with maps, thermoses of blood and the reluctant offer that we could return if we absolutely had to.
"The subway is several blocks in that direction," Azura told Jackal, pointing to a spot on the half-open map. "It's the quickest way to get to the nest, but remember, once the sun rises, the tunnels will be crawling with rabids when they return underground to sleep. I suggest that you hurry. And try to stay off the streets. Use the rooftop-the rabids rarely think to venture off the ground."
"Thanks, darlin'," Jackal said, giving her a suggestive smile. "Maybe I'll drop by again someday, and we can 'reacquaint' ourselves when we have a little more time, eh?"
"Yes, just let me know when you're coming." Azura gave a tight smile. "I'll try to remember to turn the fence off for you."
"Minx." Jackal grinned, and Azura closed the door, shutting us out.
The city that lay beyond the fence was dark and eerie, overgrown with trees and bramble, as if a forest had grown up and smothered everything beneath. It was easy enough for two vampires to climb to the top of the nearest building and pick our way over loose shingles and gaping holes. Sometimes, where the space between buildings was too far to jump, we had to drop to ground level, but only until we could get to the next building and scale the walls. On the rooftops, the path was fairly clear, the moon lighting our way as we traveled above the streets, following Azura's map.
Below us was a different story.
Rabids roamed the tangled streets, skulking between cars, climbing out of windows, loping along crumbling sidewalks. They snarled and hissed at each other, blind in their rage and driven mad by the Hunger. There didn't seem to be any humans beyond the fence; I wondered if the ones in Azura's fortified house were the only humans left. An unfortunate cat tried scurrying across the road and was instantly pounced on by a rabid, who shoved the feline's head between his jaws and ripped it in two. The smell of blood drew several more rabids to the area, and a vicious fight erupted, with the rabids screaming and tearing at each other for the remains of the animal.
"You're not very talkative."
I ignored him, keeping my gaze straight ahead. Jackal strode easily next to me, sometimes glancing at the map as we traversed the rooftops.
"Nothing to say?" Jackal went on. "That's a surprise. You were so verbose the first time we met. I must admit, I've killed a few siblings, but you're the first one I actually thought I could get along with." He sighed. "But then, of course, you killed my men and ran off with those humans I worked so hard to acquire. You and that boy." His voice took on a slight edge. "What was that kid's name again? The old preacher's son, the one the humans kept crying over, thinking he was dead? Something biblical, wasn't it? Jeremiah? Zachariah?"
Ezekiel, I thought, as my stomach went cold. And there's no way I'm ever telling you about Zeke. I shouldn't be here, helping you. I should take my sword and shove it through your sneering face.
"So, whatever happened to your humans?" Jackal inquired after several more minutes of tense silence. "Did they leave? Run away? After you went through so much trouble to get them out of my city?" He grinned. "Or did you wind up eating them all?"
"Shut up," I finally snapped, not looking at him. "They're safe. That's all you need to know."
"Oh?" I could feel his sneer, sense the gleeful smugness as we continued over the broken rooftops. "Got them to Eden, then? How very charitable of you." He grinned at my sharp glance. "What? Shocked that I know about Eden? Don't be. I always knew it was out there-a city with no vampires, just a bunch of fat little humans scurrying around, pretending to be in charge. I knew that old man was looking for it, too, and that, eventually, he would slip up and land right in my lap. He and his little band couldn't run from me forever, I just had to be patient. And it paid off-we finally got them. Everything was going to plan." His eyes narrowed. "Or, it was, until you showed up."
"Yeah, sorry to ruin your plans to take over the world."
"That is not true," Jackal said, sounding affronted. "I was trying to find a cure for Rabidism."
I snorted. Any living thing bitten by a rabid would Turn rabid itself, but that wasn't the only way to create one. Vampires, through the result of the mutated Red Lung virus, were all carriers of Rabidism, as well. Just biting or feeding from a human wouldn't Turn them, but for most of our kind, attempting to create a new vampire through the exchange of blood would birth not a vampire, but a rabid. Only the few Masters, the Princes of the cities, could spawn new offspring anymore, and even then, they were just as likely to spawn a rabid. Kanin, our sire, was a Master himself, but I was still very lucky to have made the transition to vampire instead of rising again as a monstrous, mindless horror.
"That old human was the key," Jackal went on, glaring at me now. "He had all the information we needed. The results the scientists had on the plague, the tests they ran, how the rabids were created, everything. I was trying to save our race, sister. I came so close, and you ruined it all."
"You were trying to cure Rabidism so you could turn your raider pets into a vampire army and take over everything," I shot back. "Don't even try to sell me the saint act. You're nothing but a scheming, bloodthirsty killer who's out for power. And by the way, where is that raider army of yours? Did they finally turn on you once you couldn't promise them immortality anymore?"
"Oh, don't worry, they're still there." Jackal's smile was not friendly. "It's fairly easy to govern a city that has no rules- the minions do what they please, and I don't stop them. But, with that old human dead, I had to come up with a new plan. That's when I thought you and I needed to have a little talk, and I certainly couldn't do that with a raider gang following me about the country." He shrugged. "They'll be there when I get back, with the cure. You haven't stopped anything, sister. You've just delayed things a bit."
"If there is a cure. We don't know if this lab created one or not, even a partial one."
"I would have shared it with you," Jackal said, sounding angry and hurt at the same time. "You and me, sister, we could've had it all. We could've had everything."
"I didn't want everything." I glared at him. "I didn't want your city, your minions, your schemes for power, any of it. I just wanted to get my friends to safety."
"Uh-huh." Jackal raised an eyebrow. "And how did that turn out? I don't see any of your 'friends' here now. Where are they? Back in their Eden, I suppose? Why didn't you hang around, if you're such great pals?" He snickered and went on before I could answer. "Here's what I think happened. You got the little bloodbags to Eden, like you said you would, but oh, they couldn't let a vampire into the city, now could they? That would just cause a panic, having a wolf walking among the sheep. So they either turned you away or drove you off. And your little friends, the humans that you rescued from the big bad raider king, the people you stuck your neck out for, they didn't do anything. Because they knew the others were right. Because you're a monster who kills humans to live, and no matter how much you tell yourself otherwise, that's all you'll ever be."
"Tell me again why I'm helping you?"
Jackal laughed. "You know I'm right, sister. You can deny it until the sky falls down, but you're only fooling yourself."
"You don't know me." He snickered again, and I whirled on him. "And another thing. Stop calling me 'sister.' We're not related just because Kanin sired us both. I have a name- Allison. Start using it."
"Sure thing, Allison." Jackal bared his fangs in a sneer. "But we both know the truth. Vampire blood is stronger than human ties-our blood links us together in a way they can't even imagine. Why do you think you could sense where I was, where Kanin is? Because you're getting stronger, and the stronger the vamp, the easier it becomes to know where the members of your particular family are at any time. That's why most covens are all members of the Prince's family, the ones he sired himself. He can sense where they are, and sometimes even what they're thinking. Makes it hard for them to turn on him. But the tie goes both ways."
"That's why we've been able to sense Kanin."
"Yep." Jackal looked off to the west as we started walking again. "And each other, to a lesser extent. But the strongest pull is toward our sire, or at least, it was until he went into hibernation. It doesn't work as well if the vampire is close to death, but it's still there."
"Because, in some small, subconscious way, Kanin is calling for us."
A couple hours later, we were no closer to finding the subway entrance than when we first started.
"Hmm." Jackal stopped at the edge of a roof, the open map in both hands, turning it this way and that. "Well, damn. There's supposed to be an entrance to the subway somewhere on this street, but how the hell are you supposed to read a map if there are no damn signs?"
I let him fiddle with the map in silence and watched the pale forms of the rabids slipping through the shadows below. "Why would Sarren be looking for this laboratory?" I mused, softly so my voice didn't alert the monsters under our feet. "What do you think he wants?" Jackal gave a distracted grunt.