I swallowed the sudden terror that I’d never see him again and turned back to the barge. Jackal pushed the boat faster, and we closed the distance, the waves bouncing us so hard I felt the deck rattle when we came down.
“Get around it,” Kanin told Jackal, who nodded grimly and spun the wheel. The boat angled off and began following the sides of the great ship. “The pilothouse is at the front.
We need to steer this thing away from land.”
A scream interrupted him. I looked up just in time to see a rabid fling itself from the top of the barge and land on deck.
It gave a shriek and lunged toward Jackal, but Kanin intercepted it, driving his blade deep into the side of its neck and ripping it out the front. The rabid’s head toppled backward, and Kanin kicked the monster over the railings, into the lake.
“Shit!” Jackal yanked the wheel, and the boat veered away from the side. Chilled, I looked up the barge to see a huge horde of rabids swarming the platform, shrieking and hissing and tearing at themselves. They weren’t locked away in a hold or in cages; they were loose on the deck. And already infected.
We passed the open platform, the rabids screaming and hissing at us from the edge, and drew alongside the front of the barge. Waves tossed the boat, the foaming wake of the huge ship plowing through the water, but Jackal maneuvered us until we were just a few feet from the wall. A set of rusty metal rungs were welded to the side, leading to the top of the deck Kanin turned to me.
He leaped from the edge onto the ladder, shimmied up the side, and vanished over the rails. I followed, flinging myself over the water, grabbing the rungs as I came down.
Turning, I searched for Jackal, expecting to see him right behind me. He still stood at the helm, his lean body hunched over the wheel, almost leaning against it. I swallowed hard.
In all the time I’d known him, he had never shown signs of pain or weakness, until now.
“Jackal!” My voice carried weakly over the waves. My brother didn’t move, and my fear increased. Sarren was on the other side of the barge, and there was a horde of screaming, infected rabids between us, but I knew he’d show up soon enough. “Come on! Jump! Before Sarren gets here.”
Jackal raised his head, eyes gleaming, gave me a strained smile. Black veins crawled up his throat and jaw, and the skin on one cheek was beginning to darken.
“Yeah, about that.” His voice made my stomach sink. It was tense, tight with agony, but resolved. Like he had just come to a conclusion, and knew we weren’t going to like what came next. “Sorry, sister. But you’re going to have to fight this one without me.”
“You can’t be serious! You’re going to leave now? ” I gaped at him, not knowing whether to be stunned, furious or terrified I would never see him again, because he’d be dead soon.
“After everything we did to get here? When you know what Requiem will do once it hits land? You’re still going to bail?”
He smirked, and the boat veered away. “It’s what I’m best at,” he called without an inkling of remorse. I stared after him, disbelieving, and he grinned. “Don’t worry, sister, I’m sure you and the old man will be able to beat Sarren on your own. But I can’t fight Sarren like this, and I’ve survived this long by knowing when the odds aren’t in my favor. So I’m afraid I’m going to have to fold.”
“You can’t run from this, you idiot! You’re infected with Requiem! Where are you going to go?”
“Don’t worry, sister.” Jackal’s smirk was more of a grimace.
“What do I keep telling you? I always come out on top. You just worry about beating Sarren. Kick him in the teeth a few times for me, would you? I’d appreciate it.”
“Jackal…” Desperate, I stared at him, wishing I knew what to say to stop this. “You won’t survive. If we lose, if Sarren wins, everyone will die.”
Jackal gave me a wry, humorless smile. “Then I’ll see you both in hell,” he called, and sped off, pulling ahead of the barge and vanishing into the black. Numb, I stared after the boat until it was lost to the waves, as Jackal disappeared into the unknown once more, then I scurried up the ladder.
Kanin waited for me on top, saying nothing as I climbed over the railing to join him at the edge of the barge. We stood on the front deck, the wind whipping at our clothes as the huge vessel sliced unerringly through the water. Several yards away, the pilothouse rose into the air, and beyond that, the deck dropped away to the huge floating platform that made up the rest of the barge. Long metal containers were scattered across the platform, creating a labyrinth of aisles and corridors, and also a walkway the rabids couldn’t reach from below. Of course, one wrong move or slip meant you would fall to a grisly death. A pair of containers had been stacked together and shoved against the wall closest to the pilothouse, preventing the monsters from climbing onto the front deck.
Sarren was nowhere in sight.
“Jackal…” I began, not knowing what to say.
“It doesn’t matter,” Kanin said, moving swiftly toward the pilothouse. “He made his choice, and it is up to us now. If we can reach the controls and turn this ship around, there will be time to deal with the rabids and Sarren. But we must stop Requiem from making landfall. If the rabids escape to the mainland, it will be over.”
“Oh, Kanin,” purred a familiar, instantly terrifying voice, from somewhere overhead. I looked up, and there was Sarren, standing atop the pilothouse, his bladed arm glinting in the moonlight, a steel ice ax in his remaining hand. His smile was viciously inhuman. “Did you really think it would be that easy?”
Leaping down, the tall, bony vampire swung at me with savage force, and I barely brought my katana up in time to block. The curved, pointed head of the ax struck the blade and sent me reeling back a few steps, and Sarren instantly whirled to deflect Kanin’s blow with his other arm. The weapons met with a raspy screech, and I leaped back into the fray, snarling my hate for the insane vampire. As his blade sliced at me, I ducked and slashed up with my katana, aiming for his throat. He smoothly moved his head back just enough to avoid it, blocked Kanin’s stab with his arm, and hammered me in the gut with the blunt end of the ax. Something inside me snapped, and pain exploded through my middle, nearly dropping me to my knees. As I staggered, Sarren swung his blade arm at my head, aiming for my neck, and for a split second, I thought I had lost. That he’d behead me and I would die the final death.