“Are you injured?” he asked, joining me on the sidewalk. I shook my head, still trying to calm down. My face and hands stung, and I caught a faint scent of burned hair that I tried to ignore, but I didn’t seem to be badly hurt. Another few seconds, and it might’ve been a different story.
“Where’s Jackal?” I asked, looking around. I vaguely remembered Kanin telling me that Jackal had gotten out, but everything from the past few minutes was sort of a blur.
“He leaped out the window the second he realized what was happening,” Kanin replied, his voice taking on a slight edge. “I expect he’s around here somewhere.”
I shook myself. The fire had apparently made my brain stop working; the only thought on my mind had been to get away, but it was slowly starting to focus again. “I don’t understand,” I said. “What do you mean, when he realized what was happening?”
“This was a trap, Allison.” Kanin looked back at the inferno. “Nothing catches fire that quickly unless it has been doused in something. Gasoline, or alcohol. I didn’t notice when I first came in, and I expect you and Jackal didn’t, either, but the walls and floor had been soaked in something flam-mable. Sometimes, not having to breathe is a blessing, but not this time.” He shook his head, looking annoyed, with himself or with us, I couldn’t tell. “I’m certain our raider friend did not intend to set the house on fire with himself still inside,”
Kanin continued grimly, “but when we surprised him, he figured he was already dead.”
“Which is a shame, if you ask me,” said a familiar voice, and Jackal sauntered out of the darkness. Ignoring me and Kanin, he shot an annoyed glare at the burning house. “I didn’t even get to rip his heart out before he went up in smoke. Inconsiderate bastard.”
I scowled at him. “You’re one to talk. You left us in there! No warning, no hesitation, nothing. I bet you didn’t even look back when you hit the ground.”
“And what would you have had me do, exactly?” Jackal questioned, baring his fangs. I smelled the blood on him, soaking his shirt and duster, and realized he was probably starving after taking that shot to the chest. “Hold your hand while you jumped out the window? Go back inside with the whole house about to collapse on top of me?” He sneered.
“We’re still vampires, sister. We still look out for number one.
If I’d been trapped up there, I wouldn’t have expected you or the old man to come back.”
“Guess you don’t know me as well as you think,” I said in a cold voice. “Because I would.”
“Really?” Jackal mocked, crossing his arms. “I find that a little hard to believe. I bet you can’t even look at the house now without wanting to figuratively piss yourself.”
“I believe,” Kanin said, sounding exasperated, “that you both are forgetting the more pressing bit of information we’ve learned tonight.” He looked past the burning building, the firelight dancing in his dark eyes. “Namely, who has turned the raiders against us, and who is still waiting in Old Chicago.”
Sarren. The thought made me tense, and hatred flared up again, searing and deadly, pushing back everything else. I hadn’t forgotten. Sarren would still pay for what he’d done.
Just because I refused to become a demon didn’t mean I wouldn’t kill him. When I found him, I’d stop at nothing until his head was impaled on my sword, and his body was a pile of smoldering ash.
“Sarren,” Jackal agreed, and there was something new in his voice, too. A dangerous edge that hadn’t been there before, speaking of violence and retribution. “Okay, you psychopath. You want to play games? I’ll play games.” His eyes gleamed, and he looked back at the burning house, a completely humorless smile crossing his face. “Screw around with my city and my minions, will you? Think you’re going to be the new king?” He chuckled, and the sound made me shiver with anticipation. “I’ll slaughter every human and burn the entire city to the ground before I give it up to you.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Kanin warned. “Vengeance can easily cloud the mind, and Sarren is hoping for that. We cannot become so caught up in revenge that we rush straight into a death trap, like we did tonight.” His gaze flickered to the inferno, just as there was a roar from within and the roof collapsed in a burst of embers and sparks. I flinched, and Kanin’s voice turned grave. “Sarren has us at a disadvantage,” he murmured. “There is an entire army between us, and he knows we’re coming for him. From here on, if we are to even reach him alive, we must be very careful. And ready for anything.”
I met Jackal’s eyes, and he gave a small smirk. For once, both of us were thinking the same thing. It didn’t matter how many thugs Sarren had between us and him, it didn’t matter what kind of nasty surprises he had waiting. We would fight our way through an army if we had to, carve them down one by one, until we found Sarren.
And destroyed him utterly for what he’d taken from us.
We took a winding, indirect route into the city that night.
True, we had every intention of finding Sarren, even if we had to slice our way through the entire raider army to do it.
But, as Jackal pointed out, there was more than one way to skin a vampire. The raiders were likely watching all the main roads into Old Chicago; there was no reason we shouldn’t try to sneak up on Sarren and avoid having to fight the whole city. Instead, Jackal took us through a series of rubble-strewn alleys and old buildings, claiming that the raiders never used them because they couldn’t get their bikes through.
Also, rabids still lurked in the empty corners of Old Chicago, a fact I discovered when we followed Jackal through an underground mall and several pale monsters leaped at us through the broken windows. After cutting our way through the mob, we continued to slip through narrow, deserted streets, always alert for guards and sentries, though the city remained eerily still. At one point, Kanin put out an arm and pointed silently to where a pair of raiders leaned against the railing over a levee, their backs to us. Jackal grinned, motioned us to stay put, and slipped into the shadows. A few minutes later, both men were yanked into the darkness with separate yelps, and Jackal returned reeking of blood, a satisfied grin on his face.
A few hours later, we stood on the banks of a sullen black lake so vast you couldn’t see the other side. According to Kanin, in the time before, it was called Lake Michigan, and Chicago had stood proudly along its edge. Now, the lake and the rivers that cut through the downtown area had crept over their banks and merged together, flooding part of the city but also creating a natural barrier against rabids.