When I found the owner of that scream, I was not going to pounce and ravage them like a wild animal.

Though it wouldn’t have mattered, anyway.

As I reached the spot where the blood scent was strongest, the maze of cars suddenly thinned. I stood in a small open space, several cars forming a circle around me, as if they had been deliberately moved or pushed aside. It was definitely the source of the smell. Fresh pools of blood stained the pavement, still wet and glimmering, in the middle of the circle.

But there was no one here, no bodies or other signs of a scuffle, though I was sure this was the place I’d heard the scream.

That’s weird, I thought, walking up to observe the pools of blood, keeping my Hunger firmly in check. I would not, I told it, lap up the puddles from the ground like some damn stray dog. Fresh blood with no bodies. Where…

Something warm dripped onto my face from above. Briefly, I closed my eyes, bracing myself, then looked up.

There were three of them. Two men and a woman, hanging from the ceiling of the tunnel with their hands tied behind them, the ropes around their necks creaking as they dangled in lazy circles. They had been split open, gutted from chin to groin, intestines spilling from their stomachs like pink snakes.

Blood soaked the entire front of their bodies, wet and black, filling the air with the smell of death.

I backed away, nearly running into Jackal as he and Kanin emerged from the maze of cars, both gazing up at the bodies.

“Oh, for f**k’s sake,” Jackal remarked, shaking his head at the corpses. “You’d think stringing bodies up would get old after a while. I think the old nutbag is losing his creative touch.”

“This wasn’t Sarren,” Kanin muttered, as I looked to him for answers. “This was done recently. Tonight. Someone wanted us to see this—they knew we would be here… .”

He cast a grim look around the enclosed space. “We have to leave now.”

A clang, hollow and metallic, echoed through the tunnel ahead. What immediately followed raised the hair on my neck. Shrieks and wails rose into the air, the sound of claws scraping over metal and pavement, and the stench of carrion, death and wrongness filtered through the overpowering smell of blood.

“Rabids!” I snarled, surging back toward Kanin and Jackal.

A lot of them. I could see their pale, skeletal forms leaping over cars, skittering over roofs or under tires, hissing and screaming. They were frenzied, crazy from the scent of blood, and coming right at us.

“Fall back!” Kanin ordered, drawing away from the open circle. “They’ll stop when they reach the bodies, and we can find a way around.”

But a sudden screeching and wailing from the other direction made us freeze. More rabids, foaming and wild-eyed, rushed toward us over the maze of cars. We were trapped in the middle.

With a snarl, Jackal brandished his fire ax, and I swung my katana as the horde came on, their screams reverberating through the tunnel in a deafening cacophony. No going off on my own this time; I stood back-to-back with Kanin and Jackal, facing the monsters as they clambered over cars and swarmed toward us. I lashed out at the first rabid, cutting clean through its body, splitting it in two, then whipped my sword down to behead the next that sprang forward. Then it was just chaos: shrieking rabids, slashing claws and fangs, an endless wave of pale bodies flinging themselves at me. I moved on instinct, spinning from one attack to the next, the blade dancing in my hands.

A roar behind me made me turn. Jackal stood in the center of a writhing heap of rabids, several spindly monsters clinging to his back, biting and clawing. He bashed the head of his ax into the ones leaping at him, knocking them away, but more piled on him, and sheer numbers were beginning to drag him down. His face was streaked with blood, and dark crimson stained his collar and the back of his neck.

Snarling, I rushed in from the side, plunged my blade into one of the rabids clawing at his shoulders, and ripped it away.

While Jackal continued to fend off the rabids springing at him, I began cutting away the monsters that clung to his back, freeing him from the pile. I couldn’t see Kanin, didn’t know where he was, but the Master vampire was the strongest and most lethal fighter of us all. He could take care of himself.

As I cut down the last of the rabids clawing at Jackal, something hit me from behind, shrieking in my ear, sinking curved talons into my chest and shoulder. I yelled as the blow drove me to my knees, but a moment later the weight was gone, as Jackal grabbed the rabid by the back of the neck, spun, and smashed its head through a car window. Knocking aside another body that lunged at me, he glanced down with a savage grin and held out a hand.

“Come on, sister. On your feet. We’re not done with these bastards yet.”

I grabbed his wrist, and he yanked me upright. The rabids were still coming at us, insane with bloodlust, but the swarm was smaller now. From the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of Kanin, surrounded by pale bodies, smoothly decapitating a rabid that lunged at him, and the monster’s body collapsed like its strings had been cut while the head bounced once and rolled under a tire.

Side by side, Jackal and I cut our way through the last of the horde, crushing skulls and slicing necks until the final monster leaped at us and was struck down, meeting Jackal’s ax across its face and my sword through its middle. As it dropped, twitching, to the pavement, the echo of its dying shriek faded away, and the tunnel fell silent once more.

“Well. That was entertaining.” Jackal lowered his ax with a grimace, hunching his shoulders. The back of his duster was shredded, long gashes left by curved talons, though the scratches across his face were already healing. His eyes gleamed dangerously as he stared around at the carnage. “Anyone else get the feeling we’ve been set up?”

Kanin strode back to us, his bright, thin blade already vanished from his hand. “Let’s keep moving,” he ordered, his tone brisk. “We don’t want to stay here. Hurry.”

We rushed through the maze of cars until we came to the edge of the tunnel, back into the open. Another semi truck blocked most of the entrance, its doors flung back, showing an empty interior. The unmistakable stench of rabids wafted from the opening, and a pair of motorcycle tracks sped away down the road and vanished into the night.

“Well, well,” Jackal mused, glancing from the truck to the empty road before us. “Isn’t that amusing? Looks like we were set up, after all. Oh, someone is going to die. Very painfully, I think.” He met Kanin’s dark stare and narrowed his eyes. “Old man, if you say anything along the lines of ‘I told you so,’ you both can figure out how to get into Chicago without me.”


Tags: Julie Kagawa Blood of Eden Book Series
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