And still, it continued to fight, long arms dragging itself across the bloody floor, heedless that it was missing its lower half. Reaching for me, it gave one last, chilling scream, right before Jackal’s fire ax hammered into its skull, crushing it like a melon, and it finally stopped moving.
I shuddered and staggered away from the body, resisting the urge to bare my fangs and kick it away as hard as I could.
Was this what Sarren was doing? Turning rabids into…whatever that was? But why? For what purpose, other than completely freaking me out?
“Well, that was…interesting.” Jackal’s tone didn’t quite match the look on his face, angry and terrifying. His fangs were bared, lips curled back in a silent snarl. Shouldering the fire ax, he composed himself and turned to glare at Kanin, who stood a few feet away. The Master vampire had probably come as soon as the rabid hit, but everything had happened so fast, the rabid was dead before he could join us. “Thanks for the help, old man,” he sneered. “Next time, I think I’ll be the one to investigate strange doorways while you stay back here with the runts.” He rubbed at his neck, wincing, and I saw a smear of blood on his fingers as he lowered them.
“You’re bleeding,” I said, suddenly alarmed, though I didn’t know why. “Did that thing bite you?”
“Aw, sister, are you worried about me?” Jackal wiped the blood on his duster. “Your concern is touching, but this isn’t my first rabid bite. I’ll be fine, trust me.”
“But…something was wrong with it!” I remembered the bleeders of New Covington, ripping out their eyes as they attacked. I remembered the vampires infected with their blood, rotting away from the inside. If it was the same with the rabids… “What if it was sick?” I told Jackal. “What if you’re—”
“What would you do, anyway?” Jackal challenged, sounding impatient. “Got a cure up your sleeve? Or are we wasting time talking about this?” I blinked at him, and he waved his hand. “It’s done, sister. You wanna help me? Find Sarren and hold him down so I can rip his heart out through his teeth.
Let’s keep moving.”
I looked at Zeke, wondering if he had any ideas, but shrieks rang out behind us, and two more rabids skittered past the end of the hall, vanishing around a corner. My stomach churned.
There were more of them out there, in the hallways with us.
And, vampire or no, I did not want to face those things again.
Fighting rabids was one thing; fighting rabids that clawed themselves to bloody strips, moved insanely fast, and didn’t die unless you literally hacked them to pieces was something else altogether.
“Zeke,” I hissed. “Get us out of here now.”
He nodded, and we slipped quietly into another hallway, moving fast, as the shrieks and hisses of Sarren’s rabids began to echo all around us.
We managed to avoid running into any of the monsters as Zeke led us to a pair of doors at the end of the hall. Moving swiftly to the frame, he tried pushing back the doors, but they didn’t budge. Zeke frowned.
“Locked,” he muttered, and narrowed his eyes. “This is it.
There’s no other exit from this room.” His face grew dark, and he stepped back. “Sarren is here. He has to be.”
Moving him aside, Kanin put his shoulder to the wood, slammed into it a couple times, and the doors flew open. We started forward, but Zeke suddenly grabbed my hand, making me look back. His expression was hard, intense, as his gaze met mine.
“Remember, Allie,” he whispered, squeezing my fingers.
“Whatever it takes, you have to stop him. Even if that means going through me.”
Apprehension flared, and defiance, but Zeke let me go and turned away before I could answer, following Kanin and Jackal through the doors. Raising my weapon, vowing it would not come to that, I stepped into the darkness.
Cautiously, we eased into the shadowy room, weapons out. The room beyond was similar to the ones we’d seen: tile floors, long counters, strange instruments. Everything looked as coldly pristine as before.
But Sarren had definitely been here. The place reeked of blood, though there were no traces of it or the insane vampire anywhere in the room. The Hunger stirred, and I shoved it back impatiently. I had to stay focused. If Sarren was close, I had to be ready for whatever he had planned.
Kanin looked to Jackal and waved at him to follow. He went deeper into the room, heading to the left. Zeke nodded to me, then tilted his head to the right side of the door.
We stalked along the walls, scanning the darkness, looking for any signs of Sarren or whatever horrors he might have left in his wake.
A stainless-steel door, polished until it gave a warped reflection of reality in the dim light, dominated the end of the room. It had a simple pull-lever latch, like a meat locker or one of the vampire Princes’ blood storage facilities. There was a place for a padlock on the latch, but instead of a lock, a screwdriver had been shoved into the openings and bent into a crude C shape.
I looked at Zeke, and he looked back. We didn’t need to speak. Someone had wanted this door to stay closed. That someone could only have been Sarren. He slipped his pistol from its holster and raised it, taking a bead on the door.
I hefted my katana in my right hand, and reached out with my left. With a silent snarl, I wrapped my fingers around the handle of the screwdriver and pulled. With a tortured squeal of metal, the shaft straightened, tearing free from the locking mechanism. My fingers closed around the latch.
I opened the door, and a body tumbled out of the refrigerator, landing at my feet with a gasp of pain.
“Dr. Richardson!” Zeke exclaimed, hurrying forward. I backed up as Zeke pulled the human away from the fridge, sitting him against the counter. He was an older human, with hair as white as his lab coat and sharp black eyes. His skin was pale, his lips blue as he gasped and coughed, sucking in deep, shuddering breaths. Zeke knelt beside him, waiting patiently until the fit had passed, and the human looked up at him in surprise.
“Mr… .Crosse?” the man wheezed, staring at Zeke as if he couldn’t quite believe it. Zeke gave a faint smile, and the human shook his head. “You’re back. When…did you get here?”
“A couple days ago,” Zeke answered and leaned forward.
“I came as soon as I could. Dr. Richardson, what happened here? Where is Sarren?”
“The vampire,” I supplied. “Tall, bald, scarred-up face?”