I stared at the girl again and felt the monster creep forward, cold and practical, burying the guilt. What does it matter? it whispered. So, you kil ed another human. It wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last. They’re prey, and you are a vampire. Kil ing is what we do.
“Yeah.” I sighed and turned away from the van, away from the human and her flat, accusing eyes. Jackal was right; there was nothing I could do now. The girl meant nothing, one more death to be added to the endless, eternal list. Kanin was already walking down the road again, and we hurried to catch up. Leaving the vehicle, its slaughtered passengers, and another small piece of my humanity behind.
Three nights later, there was a body in the road.
Or, rather, scattered all over the road. Not much was left except the stripped, broken bones of some unfortunate creature, lying in a dark smear in the snow. From the looks of it, the body had literally been torn to pieces and left to rot in the center of the pavement. We had stumbled upon yet another dead town, the road cutting through rows of rotting buildings, overgrown and falling apart, roofs caved in and windows smashed. An ancient playground stood on the corner, swings piled high with snow, a rusty slide lying twisted and bent on the ground. Empty, like everything else around us.
“Sarren?” I asked, regarding the broken skeleton with a mix of annoyance and apathy. It wasn’t human, so there was nothing wasted, nothing to regret. But the Hunger within still raged at the amount of blood spilled, demanding to be fed. Even the aftereffects of violence sent it into a frenzy now.
I wished it would shut up.
Kanin shook his head.
“No,” he murmured. “Sarren wouldn’t bother with an animal. Not if he wanted to send a message. Besides, it’s too fresh. This was done tonight.”
“Rabids,” I guessed instead, and he nodded grimly. “Can we avoid them?”
“We can try,” he said, earning a snort from Jackal. “But we cannot deviate from this path. We must reach Eden soon, if not to beat Sarren there, then to stop him from using that virus.” His gaze lifted to the horizon. “I fear we may already be too late.”
I felt a tiny prick of worry. I knew people in Eden. People I’d risked everything for, just to see them to their vampire-free sanctuary. Caleb, Bethany, Silas and Theresa. What if Sarren got there before me and unleashed his terrible virus? What if, when I finally got to Eden, everyone I’d known was dead?
Or worse, infected, bleeding, and tearing themselves apart? I thought of cheerful Caleb, shy little Bethany, and kind, patient Theresa. They didn’t suspect anything. They thought they were safe in Eden, and now, a madman and a horrifying virus were heading right for them.
I shivered, and the darkness within rose up to shield me. If Sarren reached Eden before us, then those humans were dead.
I couldn’t do anything for them, and it wasn’t my concern to protect them anymore. They didn’t matter. I just wanted to find my enemy and bury him in pieces.
I felt the weight of Kanin’s gaze on me, grim and searching. As if he knew what I was thinking, because he always knew. I met that stare, unflinching, the monster staring back without remorse. Not long ago, that look would’ve made me cringe, bristle, try harder. Now, I didn’t have the will to care what even Kanin thought of me.
He didn’t say anything, however. Just turned away, his step heavy, toward the northeast. And we continued on.
It began snowing again, large flakes drifting from a black sky, settling on my head and shoulders. The road continued past crumbling buildings, gutted-out stores and gas stations, and rusty hulks of old cars. Skeletal trees pushed their way through pavement and rooftops, their limbs frozen and bare, their roots splitting stone, wood and concrete as nature slowly engulfed the town. Maybe in another sixty years, it would vanish entirely. Maybe in another sixty years, no trace of mankind would be left anywhere.
We wove through a maze of ancient, snow-covered vehicles, several of them smashed against each other in the intersection, and came to a crossroads.
Kanin stopped in the middle of the road and abruptly drew his dagger. The thin, deadly blade flashed in the darkness as it appeared in his hand, and the vampire went perfectly still.
Jackal and I froze as our sire stood there, unmoving.
“They’re coming,” he said softly.
We didn’t hesitate, pulling our weapons and moving up beside him. The former raider king reached into his duster and withdrew a steel fire ax, the head stained dark with old blood, and gave it an easy twirl. Unsheathing my katana, I raised the curved, razor-sharp blade in front of me and listened.
Feet. Feet shuffling through the snow, and lots of them.
From all sides of the intersection. I caught flashes of movement through the sea of cars, glimpses of pale, emaciated forms darting between vehicles. Wails and raspy hisses rose into the air, the screech of claws on metal echoed through the night, and the dead, awful scent came to me over the breeze.
“About time,” Jackal growled as he swung his ax up, fangs flashing in a defiant grin. His voice echoed weirdly in the night, and the wailing around us grew louder. “Come on, you little bastards. I’m so ready to tear something’s head off.”
As if in answer, a creature leaped to the roof of the car beside him. It was vaguely human-shaped, with matted hair and white skin stretched over an emaciated body, and it reeked of death. Mad white eyes, with no irises or pupils, blazed down at us as the rabid bared jagged fangs and flung itself at us with a howl.
It met the edge of Jackal’s ax as the vampire whirled and smashed the rabid headfirst into a car door, shattering glass and making a hollow boom against the metal. Dark blood spattered across the side of the vehicle, and the rabid dropped to the snow with its skull caved in. Jackal raised his head and roared, vicious and defiant, as a swarm of the pale, shrieking things scrambled over car roofs and hoods and descended on us. My own monster within howled an eager challenge in return, and I let it go.
A rabid leaped at me, claws slashing. As it fell, I whipped up my katana and sliced clean through the spindly middle, cutting it in two with a spray of black blood. Another lunged over the hood of a van, and I whirled toward it, bringing my sword down to cut the head from its body. A savage glee filled me as the skull bounced and rolled at my feet, and I leaped onto the roof of the van with a snarl, welcoming the swarm as they wailed and sprang at me. Rabids lunged over cars and clawed at my feet, trying to scramble up the vehicle or pull me into the mob. I spun and danced over the metal, leaping from roof to roof and slicing the monsters that followed, cutting off limbs that reached for me.