I looked up at Jackal and winced. This close, I could see the black circles under his eyes, the skin that was paler than normal. The ominous black veins had spread, crawling over his throat, and his golden eyes were bright with pain even through the ever-present smirk. My stomach twisted. The infection was spreading fast. At this rate, Jackal might not last the night.
“Don’t look at me like that, sister.” Jackal gave me a sneer and stepped back. “You forget—I always come out on top, no matter the circumstances. So, don’t worry your pretty little head. I’ll survive. I always find a way.” His eyes narrowed, flicking to the blood staining my neck. “You, however, might need to get to Sarren quickly. Mocking the puppy just won’t be the same without you around.”
A rabid exploded from the water before I could answer, latching on to the rails and baring its fangs in a scream. “Oh, for the love of f**k!” Jackal snarled, whirling and smashing a coil of rope across its face, sending it crashing back. “The bastards don’t give up, do they?”
More rabids clawed themselves onto the deck, dripping wet and snarling. It seemed their fear of deep water had vanished along with their aversion to fire. “Get us out of here!”
I snapped, and leaped to help Zeke and Kanin kick rabids off the boat. A pale face heaved itself over the railing, hissing at me, and I split it in two before moving on.
As Kanin, Zeke and I darted from one side to the other, repelling our inhuman boarders, the boat jerked forward, picking up speed. As the docks receded, the rabids fell away, and I watched Eden grow smaller and smaller until it was swallowed by the darkness. Jackal turned the boat toward the southwest, and we sped off through the waves, the wind and spray whipping at our faces, praying we’d catch our target in time.
The race to stop the End of the World had begun.
“There’s the barge!” Zeke called, peering over the front of the boat. I joined him at the railing, watching the massive rectangular ship get closer and closer, looming to an impossible height against the sky.
“It’s huge,” I whispered as Kanin stepped up beside me, silently assessing the enormous task before us. “How are we going to stop it?”
“We can’t stop it,” Kanin said, his eyes narrowing as he surveyed the vessel and its inexorable push toward the land.
My stomach lurched. Were we too late, then? Had we come this far, fought all this way, only to lose?
“We don’t have to stop it,” Kanin said. There was a flatness in his voice, a finality. “We need to turn it around. If we can get to the helm, we should have enough room left to bring the barge around and head it back to Eden. If we can ground it on the island, we should be able to contain things.”
He paused, and I saw something in his eyes that I couldn’t quite define. Sadness? Resolve? “We can deal with the rabids then, but the most important thing is not to let them escape to the mainland.”
I nodded, and Zeke glanced at the raider king, standing at the helm. “Get us close,” he called, and the boat surged forward, bouncing through the waves left in the barge’s wake.
As we closed the distance, the shadow of the huge barge looming over us, a tall, pale figure suddenly appeared, leaning over the railings. My lips curled back from my fangs, and I felt Zeke stiffen beside me.
Sarren, the scarred, brilliant, crazy psychopath himself, walked calmly along the top deck, smiled and waved to us.
I snarled, hatred, fury and determination flaring up at the sight of the deranged vampire. There’d be no easy way around. Sarren was waiting for us, and we’d have to deal with him before trying to stop the ship from plowing its way into the checkpoint.
Then Sarren raised his hand and pointed a long, bony finger into the air, at something along the side of the ship. I flicked a glance at where he was pointing, and gripped the railing hard enough to feel it bend beneath my fingers.
A metal pole hung over the edge of the barge, away from the side of the ship. A net swung from that pole, dangling over the foaming water. Inside, two small, terrified faces peered out at me, and my stomach dropped.
“Caleb!” Zeke surged forward, looking like he might jump the railing, his horrified gaze on the net swinging precariously over open water. “Bethany! Hang on! I’ll be right there!”
A faint scream came from the kid’s direction, Caleb’s highpitched voice crying out for Zeke. I could see both children now, tied back-to-back with heavy chain, their faces streaked with tears. Eight-year-old Bethany, golden-haired, fragile and shy, but who had still survived the entire nightmare-filled journey to Eden. And Caleb, six years old, resilient beyond his age, and the only person in the entire group who had never been afraid of me because I was a vampire.
Horrified, I looked back at Sarren, and he gave me a wide, evil smile, fingering a rope that had been tied to the railing.
The rope stretched back toward the barge, pulled taut up the side of the ship and toward the metal pole. Everything inside me went cold.
Don’t, I thought desperately. For Zeke, for Caleb and Bethany, and everyone else caught in Sarren’s ruthless sights. For the love of God, if you have some sliver of humanity left in you, any at al , don’t do it.
Sarren raised his left arm—the arm I’d sliced off with my katana the last time we met, severing it just above the elbow.
A viciously curved blade had replaced the forearm, attached to his elbow with metal clamps and straps. Sarren smiled at me over the edge of the weapon, holding my gaze, then brought it slashing down toward the railing. The rope snapped, and the kids screamed as the net plummeted into the foaming water like a stone and sank from view.
“No!” Zeke gave a strangled, desperate cry and glanced back at me. His face was tortured, eyes bright with anguish.
He knew we had to stop Sarren. He knew that if Requiem hit land, everything would be over. But he was still Zeke.
The Zeke who protected his own, who refused to leave anyone behind, who loved his people fiercely and would give his life to keep them safe. If Caleb and Bethany died, even if we saved the world, Zeke would never forgive himself.
“Go,” I told him, and he spun, leaped the rails, and dove into the frigid water without hesitation. Surfacing, he struck out for the place where the net had sunk below the surface, fighting waves and current and the foaming wake of the barge.
I watched him, the boat carrying us swiftly away, until a wave broke over the lean, bright form cutting through the water, and Zeke was lost from sight.