I shrugged. Jackal’s revelation wasn’t surprising, and I found that I really didn’t care. Wherever Sarren went, whatever forgotten corner of the country he fled to, I wouldn’t be far behind. No matter what he did, no matter how far or fast he ran, I would catch up to him, and then he would pay for what he had done. “So what?” I asked, returning my gaze to the road. “I’m a vampire. What does it matter?”
“Oh, please.” I could hear the pity in his voice, and the disgust. “Enough with this ‘I don’t care anymore’ shit. You know you’re going to have to deal with it sometime.”
A cold fist grabbed my insides. Jackal wasn’t talking about feeding, and we both knew it. Memories rose up—memories of him—but then the monster emerged, swallowing them before I could feel anything. “I have dealt with it,” I said calmly.
“No, you haven’t.” My brother’s voice was suddenly hard.
“You’ve just buried it. And if you don’t get a handle on it soon, it’s going to come out at the worst possible time. Probably when we’re facing Sarren. Because that’s how the psychopath’s mind works—he knows just what to say, and when, to throw us off and give him the full advantage. And then he’s either going to kill you while you’re down and I’ll be annoyed, or I’m going to have to do it myself.”
“Better be careful, Jackal.” My voice came out cold. Empty, because I couldn’t feel anything, even now. “It almost sounds like you care.”
“Oh, well, perish the thought, sister.” Jackal gave me a sneer and moved away. “I’ll stop talking, then. But if we reach Sarren, and he says something to make you fall apart, don’t expect me to pick up the pieces.”
You won’t have to worry about that, I thought as Jackal walked on, shaking his head. A memory flickered, jagged and indistinct, and my inner demon pushed it back. There’s nothing left to break. Nothing Sarren says can touch me now.
We walked a few more miles, through empty f latlands frozen under a layer of snow and ice, until the stars faded and a pink hue threatened the eastern sky. I was just starting to get uncomfortable when Kanin turned off the road and headed toward a gray, dilapidated barn sagging at the end of an overgrown field, a rusting silo beside it. The inside of the ancient building was musty and filled with broken beams and stacks of moldy straw. But it was also dark, secluded, and didn’t have many holes in the roof where the sun could creep through. Ignoring Jackal’s complaints about sleeping in a filthy, rat-infested barn, I pushed open a rotting stall door, found a shadowy corner behind a stack of rancid hay, and sank against the wall to sleep.
For just a moment, memory stirred again, like fragments of someone else’s life, rising up from the dark. I remembered another barn like this one, warm and musty, filled with the soft bleats of livestock and the murmur of the humans around me. Hay and lanterns and contentment. A spotted baby goat, sitting in my lap, two human kids pressed close on either side, watching me feed it.
The monster roused. I’d been Hungry then, too, and had watched as the two humans fell asleep, baring their unsuspecting little necks to the vampire they’d unwittingly curled up against. I remembered bending forward, toward the throat of the child on my lap, as my fangs lengthened and slid out of my gums…before I’d caught myself in horror. I’d fled the barn before I could lose control and slaughter two innocent kids in their sleep.
The monster sneered at the memory. That seemed like a long, long time ago. A lifetime ago. Now, with the Hunger clawing at my gut and burning the edges of my mind, I thought longingly of the sleeping humans, so vulnerable beside me, imagined myself leaning down the rest of the way and finishing what I’d started.
The next night was more of the same. More empty plains and wilderness. More trackless snow, crunching beneath our boots, and an endless road snaking its way northeast. More of the Hunger gnawing my insides, making me irritable and savage. I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, trying to ignore the ache that refused to go away. I could feel the monster within, perilously close to the surface, a cold, dark thing that growled and stirred restlessly, always searching. It could hear the shuffle of tiny feet in the darkness, raccoons or possums or other nocturnal creatures, moving through the brush. It could sense the swoop of bats overhead and smell the deep, slow breaths of deer, huddled together in the undergrowth. It wanted to attack, to pounce on some living creature and rip it open, spilling hot blood into the snow and down our throats. But it knew, as I did, that wasting energy slaughtering animals was useless. That would not satisfy the Hunger. Only one type of prey would ease the hollow emptiness inside, and that prey was nowhere to be found.
So, we walked, Kanin leading, Jackal and I trailing behind.
Three vampires who didn’t need to rest, who never got cold or tired or winded, traveling through a wasted world that would kill most humans. That, in all honesty, already had.
And Sarren was well on his way to finishing the job.
Kanin turned suddenly in the middle of the road, his expression alert as he gazed back at us. I paused, too, surprised and a little wary. We hadn’t spoken much after leaving New Covington. The Master vampire had walked steadily onward, silent and cold, without looking back at his two offspring.
That was fine with me. I didn’t have much to say to him, either. There was a wall between us now. I could sense his disappointment, the look in his eyes whenever Jackal made some snide, evil comment about humans and bloodbags…and I said nothing. Not even Kanin’s silent disapproval would change the fact that I was a monster.
“Someone is coming,” Kanin said, looking at the road behind us. I turned as well, straining my senses, but there was no need. The growl of an engine cut through the darkness, getting steadily closer.
The Hunger surged to life, and, close to the surface, the monster shifted eagerly. Vehicles meant humans, which meant food. I imagined sinking my teeth into their necks, imagined the hot blood rushing into my mouth, and felt my fangs lengthen, an eager growl escaping my throat.
“Get back,” Kanin said, walking past me. I curled my lips at him, defiant, but his back was to me now, and he didn’t notice. “Get off the road, both of you,” he went on, as the engine noise grew louder and headlights glimmered through the trees. “Stopping for three strangers on a lonely road at night is a risk many would avoid. Better that they see a lone, unarmed traveler than a group.” His voice grew harder. “Get off the road, Allison.”