I frowned, glancing from my sire to the mayor, feeling confused and left out. “What’s going on?” I asked.
“Ah, of course.” Mayor Hendricks sighed and sat up straighter in the bed. “My apologies. Let me explain.” He winced, shifting his large bulk under the covers, trying to get comfortable. “As you’ve probably guessed by now…I’m sorry, what was your name again, vampire?”
“Allison,” I supplied.
“Allison. That seems so normal.” The mayor shook himself. “Well, as you’ve probably guessed, Allison, Eden is experiencing a bit of a…situation. With everyone driven from their homes, trapped between the lake and the rabids, tension is running a bit high. We didn’t mean to be rude, but I’m sure you understand we had to protect ourselves. Especially now.”
“I got that,” I said cautiously, and he grimaced, more in pain then from anything else. “What exactly is going on?”
This was crazy. How had Sarren managed to drive everyone out of Eden? Even if he was insane, unhinged and unpredictable, he was still just one vampire. He couldn’t drive off an entire city by himself. “What happened on the island?”
“Well.” Mayor Hendricks, pressed his lips together. “Turns out, that person you’ve been chasing is a sick, sick bastard.
Early one evening…”
He grunted, clenching his jaw in pain, and the doctor stepped forward anxiously. Hendricks waved him off. “Doctor, please. I’m fine. I need to talk to the vampire before you knock me out again. Give me two minutes, and then you can stick me with whatever you want.”
The doctor backed off, his face pinched with worry. Hendricks sighed and turned to me. “One evening,” he continued, “a barge floated up to the island. On the western side, near the town square. People thought it was abandoned. There was no one aboard that we could see, nor did it answer any of our communications. A crowd of people watched it crash into the docks, and gathered on the shore to see if they could help.”
Hendricks shook his head. “Poor bastards,” he murmured, running a chubby hand down his face, before looking up at me. “Take a wild guess as to what was on that barge, Allison.”
My insides felt cold, and I briefly closed my eyes. I didn’t have to guess. “Rabids,” I whispered.
“Hundreds of them,” the mayor confirmed. “They came pouring out like ants, screaming and killing, attacking everything they saw. Instant pandemonium.” He snapped his fingers. “Eden was lost in minutes. Hundreds of people died fleeing the rabids or trying to get off the island. The military units were overwhelmed—there were just too many, and they caught everyone by surprise. Most of the army died that night, trying to protect the civilians and get them to safety. There just weren’t enough boats for everyone to leave at once.” Hendricks’s mouth thinned. “My own guards sacrificed themselves so that I could get out of there, and even then, I almost didn’t make it. But I know I’m luckier than a lot of people.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, because there was nothing else to say.
Only Sarren would think of something that horrible. What had it been like, I wondered, being trapped on an island with a huge army of rabids? The one place that was supposed to be safe for humans, suddenly turning into a nightmare. I couldn’t imagine it.
“Everyone out there has lost something,” Hendricks continued, gesturing vaguely at the door. “A child, a parent, a friend and, at the very least, their home. We are stuck here.
Every day, the soldiers go back to the island to look for those still stranded. Every day, they dig up and kill as many rabids as they can before the sun goes down again. But it’s not enough, and we’re running out of time. Supplies are almost gone, and the doctors can’t keep up with the sick and injured.
Something drastic has to be done, or Eden will be lost forever.
“And then,” Hendricks went on, eyeing me again, “I get word that four strangers fought their way through the horde outside the gate to get here, and that one of them was Zeke Crosse. The same kid who left Eden to bring back a vampire for the scientists, because apparently they need vampire blood to finish their research.” The mayor glanced at Zeke. “We all thought he was dead, or at the very least, crazy. But here he is. With a vampire, no less.”
I caught Jackal’s knowing smirk from the corner of my eye and deliberately did not look directly at him or Kanin. “So, what do you want me to do?” I asked, feeling Zeke tense beside me. “Clear out your island? Even I can’t take on hundreds of rabids by myself.”
“From what I understand,” the mayor continued, glancing at Kanin, “we have a far bigger problem to worry about.”
I glanced at my sire as well, and Kanin slid out of the corner to stand before us.
“Yes,” he said, mostly to Mayor Hendricks. “The rabids, as I explained before, are only a distraction. A very clever, dangerous distraction, but they are not the source of your problems. You have a vampire on that island. It was he that set the rabids on you, and it is he that is using Eden for his personal testing grounds.”
The mayor’s gaze grew dark. For the first time, he looked dangerous, like he wasn’t someone you really wanted to cross.
I suddenly understood how he was in charge. “Why?” he asked softly. “What does he want?”
“He’s after the cure,” Zeke said. “He wants the Rabidism cure, either to destroy it or to turn it into something horrible. He already destroyed New Covington with that virus— think of what he’ll do to Eden if we don’t stop him. Allie is the only one who stands a chance”
“So, we’ll send a vampire to fight a vampire,” the mayor mused quietly, and gave a grim smile. “What a strange way to answer our prayers, but I’ll take what I can get.”
Glancing up at Kanin, his tone became businesslike. “What do you need?” he asked briskly. “Weapons? Ammo? I would send some of my men with you, but I honestly don’t have many to spare. Or supplies, for that matter. But we’ll give you what we can.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Kanin said. “Transport to the island is all that we require.”
“I can get you a boat,” Hendricks said immediately. “And a pilot, if you need one. The ice hasn’t completely frozen the lake yet. It’ll be a bumpy trip, but you should be able to get there. When are you planning to leave?”