Sarren, I thought, the cold, familiar hate spreading through my insides. You sick bastard. This won’t stop me, and it won’t save you. When I find you, you’ll regret ever hearing my name.
Painted across the side of the barn, written in bloody letters about ten feet tall, was a question. One that proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Sarren knew we were coming. And that we were probably walking right into a trap.
It had been two weeks since we’d left New Covington.
Two weeks travel, of walking down endless, snow-covered roads. Two weeks of cold and wilderness and dead, silent towns. Of empty houses wrapped in vines, deserted streets, ancient hulks of cars rusting in the gutters. No movement, except for the skitter of wildlife, both large and small, overtaking the streets humans had once ruled. The Jeep, as Jackal had so eloquently pointed out, was dead, leaving the three of us to wander the empty roads on foot, following a madman who knew we were coming. Who was always one step ahead of us.
Time was running out, Kanin had said. In a way, I supposed that was true. What Sarren had, what he carried, could spell the end for a lot of people. Maybe the whole world. Sarren possessed a mutated version of the Red Lung virus that had destroyed the world six decades ago, only this one came with a nasty little side effect: it killed vampires, too. The three of us—me, Jackal, and Kanin—had been exposed to Sarren’s virus when we were in New Covington and had seen the true horror of the plague. Humans had turned into insane wretches who screamed and laughed and clawed at their faces until their skin was all but gone, and attacked anything they came across. For vampires, the effects were even more horrific; the virus ate their dead flesh, and they rotted away from the inside. In the final confrontation with Sarren, we’d learned that the insane vampire was using New Covington only as a test site, that his real intentions were far more sinister.
He planned to kill everything. All humans, and all vampires. Wipe the slate clean, he’d told me, and let the world finally heal itself. His virus, when he released it again, would be unstoppable.
There was just one small kink in his plans.
We had a cure. Or at least, we’d had one. It was in Eden now, that small bit of hope for the rest of the world. That was what Sarren wanted; the cure, either to destroy or to turn against us. He thought we were tracking him to Eden to stop him, to prevent him from destroying the cure or releasing his virus. He thought we were trying to save the world.
He didn’t know. I didn’t care about Eden. I didn’t care about his virus, or the cure, or the rest of the world. It made no difference to me if the humans found a cure for Rabidism, or if they could stop Sarren’s new plague. Humans meant nothing to me, not anymore. They were food, and I was a vampire. I was done pretending that I was anything less than a monster.
But I would kill Sarren.
He would die for what he’d done, what he’d destroyed. I would tear him apart, and I would make him suffer. There had been four of us that night in New Covington, when we had faced the mad vampire for the last time. When I had cut the arm from his body and he’d fled into the dark, only to return later for his most horrible deed yet. Four of us: me, Jackal, Kanin…and one other. But I couldn’t think of him now. He was gone. And I was still a monster.
Abruptly, Jackal slowed and dropped back to where I trailed several paces behind Kanin’s dark, steady figure, following the road that stretched on through the frozen plains. We’d left the outpost and its slaughtered residents a few miles back, and the scent of blood had finally faded into the wind. That didn’t stop the Hunger, though; I could feel it even now, a constant throbbing ache, poised to flare into an inferno of raw, vicious need at the slightest provocation. It even raged at Jackal, annoyed that he wasn’t human, that I couldn’t spin around and sink my fangs into his throat. Jackal seemed happily oblivious.
I ignored him and kept my gaze straight ahead, not really in the mood for a fight or listening to his barbed, obnoxious comments. That, of course, never stopped my blood brother.
“So, sister,” Jackal went on, “I’ve been wondering. When we finally do catch up to Sarren, how do you think we should kill the old bastard? I’m thinking maiming and torture for as long as we can stand it.” He snapped his fingers. “Hey, maybe we can tie him half in and half out of the sun, that’s always interesting. Did that to some undead bastard who pissed me off several years back. The light began at his feet and crawled up toward his face, and it took a very long time for him to finally kick it. By the end, he was screaming at me to cut off his head.” He snickered. “I’d love to watch Sarren die like that. If that doesn’t offend your delicate sensibilities, that is.”
He smirked then, his gold eyes burning the side of my head.
“Just wanted to give you a heads-up, little sister, in case you decide to go bleeding heart on me. Of course, if you have a suggestion for how we should do the old psycho in, I’d love to hear it.”
“I don’t care,” I said flatly. “Do whatever you want. As long as I get to land the final blow, I couldn’t care less.”
Jackal huffed. “Well, that’s not very fun.”
I didn’t answer, walking faster to get away from him, and he quickened his pace to keep up.
“Come on, sister, where’s that obnoxious morality you kept throwing in my face every two seconds? You’re making it very difficult to take any sort of pleasure in mocking it relentlessly.”
“Why are you talking to me?” I asked, still not looking at him. Jackal let out an exasperated sigh.
“Because I’m bored. And the old man doesn’t give me the time of day.” He jerked his head at Kanin, still several yards ahead. I suspected Kanin could hear us, but he didn’t turn around or give any indication that he was listening. And Jackal probably didn’t care if he was. “And because I want to know your thoughts on our brilliantly disturbed serial killer.” Jackal waved an impatient hand at the plains surrounding us. “It’s still a long way to Eden, and I get the feeling we’re not going to find any bloodbags—living ones anyway—from here to Meatsack Island. I don’t particularly like the idea of facing the nut job with you and Kanin on the edge of losing it.”
I flicked a glance at him and frowned. “What about you?”
“Oh, don’t worry about me, sister.” Jackal grinned. “I always come out on top, no matter what. I just want to point out that this annoying ‘Scorched Earth’ policy Sarren has picked up is going to make it very difficult for you. A couple more days of this, and the next human we see is going to be ripped to shreds—and you’ll be the one doing it.”