Jackal had already moved back, melting into the darkness.
Kanin wasn’t even looking at me, his gaze on the approaching headlights. With a growl, I stepped off the pavement and slipped behind a large twisted tree at the side of the road. And I waited, the Hunger clawing at my insides and the demon watching with barely restrained violence.
The lights grew brighter, and around a bend came a oncewhite van, now more rust than metal. Kanin stepped forward, raising his arms in a flagging motion as the vehicle sped forward, bathing him in the headlights.
It didn’t slow. It angled toward Kanin, sped up, and a rough-looking human poked his head out the passenger window. He grinned and raised a dull black pistol, aiming it at the stranger in the road.
Kanin jumped back as several shots rang out, flaring white in the darkness. The van squealed past with hoots and harsh laughter, and the monster surged up with a roar.
I leaped out as the van came toward me, drawing my katana as I did. As it careened by, I lashed out with a snarl, aiming for the front tire, cutting through rubber and metal with a metallic scream and a flare of sparks. The van swerved wildly, screeched over the pavement, and crashed headlong into a tree.
I leaped after it, bright Hunger burning through my veins, the monster shrieking viciously in my mind. The driver and passenger lay against the shattered windshield, bloody and still, but the side door rasped open, and two men emerged, both clutching guns, and large ones at that. The first raised his weapon drunkenly as I raced up. My sword flashed, and he screamed as the gun hit the pavement along with both his arms. The second barked a terrified curse and tried to run.
He got as far as the edge of the trees before I pounced on him from behind and drove my fangs into his neck.
Blood filled my mouth, hot and addictive. I growled in pleasure and sank into the feeling, the human going lax in my grip. Why had I ever shied away from this? I couldn’t remember now.
“Well, that’s just fabulous. Four humans to start with. Now two are dead and one’s bleeding out like a ruptured fuel hose.”
The cold, exasperated voice cut through the ecstasy. I raised my head, warm blood running down my chin, to see Kanin and Jackal standing at the mangled remains of the van. Kanin was observing the armless, nearly delirious human writhe over the ground, moaning and sobbing, but Jackal was staring at me, a half amused, half disgusted look on his face.
“Oh, don’t worry about me,” he remarked. “You go ahead and enjoy that bloodbag. I’m not that Hungry anyway.”
I swallowed, retracting my fangs, feeling faintly guilty.
Kanin and Jackal were Hungry, too, and I was hoarding the only healthy source of food. Vampires didn’t feed from the dead, even the newly dead. Drinking from a corpse had the same result as drinking from an animal; it did nothing for the Hunger. Not to mention, most vampires found it repulsive.
Our prey had to be human, and it had to be alive; that was one of the ancient, unfathomable rules we lived by. One of the rules you just didn’t question.
Turning, I dragged my prey a few steps into the road, back to where Jackal watched with amused exasperation. “Here,”
I said, and shoved the human at him. It collapsed bonelessly to the pavement. “That one is still breathing, mostly. I’m done with it.”
Jackal curled a lip. “I don’t want your leftovers, sister,” he said contemptuously. I smiled back at him.
“Good. I can finish it, then?”
He gave me a murderous look, stalked across the pavement, and hauled the human upright. The man’s head fell back limply, his neck a mess of blood, and Jackal plunged his fangs into the other side of his throat.
I glanced toward the van to see Kanin gently lower the armless human to the ground, where he slumped, lifeless, to the pavement. The stumps of his forearms no longer oozed, and his skin was white. I wondered how much blood Kanin had been able to get out of him before he died. Not much, I guessed, but even a little was better than nothing. I should have just cut off the one arm. Or a foot, perhaps. Then he wouldn’t have been able to run.
Somewhere deep inside, a part of me recoiled, horrified with myself and my current thoughts. The old part, the Allison that was still a little human, screamed that this was wrong, that I didn’t have to be like this. But her voice was tiny, indistinct. I shivered, and the monster buried the voice under cold indifference. It was too late, I thought, feeling blessed numbness spread through my core again. I knew what I was.
Sympathy, mercy, regret—those had no place in the life of a vampire. The old Allison was stubborn; it would take a while for her to die for good, but I heard her voice less and less now.
Eventually, it would disappear altogether.
Vampire indifference firmly in place, I glanced at my sire.
Kanin had stepped away from the dead human and was now peering into the darkened interior of the van. A brief, pained look crossed his face before it smoothed out again. Curious, I walked up beside him and gazed into the vehicle.
There was another body in the van. A young woman, only a year or two older than me, dressed in a filthy white shift.
Her hands were tied in front of her, and she lay crumpled against the wall of the van, her neck at an unnatural angle.
Curly yellow hair spread over her face, and glassy blue eyes stared at nothing out the open door.
Oh, no. She was a captive, an innocent. I caused this. For a moment, I felt sick. The dead girl’s eyes seemed to bore into me, accusing. I’d killed her. Maybe I hadn’t torn out her throat or cut off her head, but she was dead all the same, because of me.
I could feel Kanin’s dark gaze on my back, and I heard Jackal’s footsteps crunch over the thin layer of snow behind us as he came to peer over my shoulder. “Huh,” he remarked, as if he was staring at a dead bird on the sidewalk. “Well, now we know why the bastards were in such a hurry. Shame she didn’t make it—I’m still a bit peckish.” He sniffed, and I felt his gaze shift to me, hard and reproachful. “That human you so generously left me barely took the edge off.”
“I didn’t know she was there,” I muttered, not turning around. Not knowing if I’d said it to Kanin, Jackal, or myself. “I didn’t know… .”
But that wasn’t much of an excuse. I knew it, and Kanin knew it. He said nothing, just turned and walked away, but as always, his silence spoke volumes.
“Oh, well,” Jackal shrugged. “Nothing for it now. It just reminds you how very fragile these meatsacks are. Can’t even look at them funny without breaking their bloody necks.” He glanced down at me. “Aw, don’t beat yourself up too hard, sister,” he said, grinning. “It’s not like the human had much to live for, not where she was headed. You did the bloodbag a favor, trust me.”