Then Kanin ducked beneath Sarren’s ax, lunged and slammed into him, knocking him back. The very point of the blade slashed my throat, drawing blood, but leaving my head firmly on my neck. Sarren gave an annoyed hiss and dropped a bony elbow into Kanin’s spine, then swung the ax up into his jaw as he staggered. Kanin reeled away, blood pouring from his mouth and chin, and I caught him before he could fall.
“I’m fine.” The vampire spat blood, then glanced at Sarren, who waited for us calmly, a pleased smile on his scarred face. He didn’t seem to be in any hurry to engage us. “That was very close, Allison,” Kanin murmured, giving me a look that was both anxious and stern. “I taught you better than that. Calm your rage—don’t let Sarren bait you into attacking blindly. Remember how important this is.”
I nodded. I had been careless and was certainly paying for it now. My ribs throbbed, and every movement sent a jagged shard of pain through my middle, making me grit my teeth. Something was definitely broken inside, maybe multiple somethings. I was healing, albeit slowly, but we had a long fight ahead of us. And not much time to finish it.
Unlike Sarren, who had all the time in the world.
“Can you hear it?” Sarren whispered, his eyes shining with glee and madness as we approached again, cautiously this time.
He raised his bladed arm to the front of the boat, a look of ecstasy crossing his face. “The song, the requiem—it calls to us all. The end draws ever closer, one final note, to sing this world to sleep.” His gaze shifted to me, and he smiled.
“You cannot stop it, little bird. You can only beat your wings against the bars of your cage, and you don’t even realize you are trapped. You do not see the sickness, the corruption, all around you, twisting everything it touches. Requiem will set you free. It will set us all free.”
“Death isn’t the answer,” I growled, gritting my teeth through the pain in my ribs. “Destroying everything, letting the world start over, isn’t the answer. You’re just giving up. But there are still things worth fighting for, things worth living for.”
Sarren gave me a look of genuine pity. “No, little bird,”
he said, shaking his head. “You are still an infant demon, far too young to know the truth. Eternity is not a gift. It is a curse. The longer you live, the bleaker and darker the world becomes, until you are stumbling around, blind, in the shadows. Kanin knows, don’t you, old friend?” He looked at my sire, smiling faintly. “You long for oblivion, for an end to your eternal wandering. But you’re afraid of what comes after, that the evil staining your soul will send it to damnation. And so, you continue to live, to exist, in the hell you created, hoping to atone for what you have done.” Sarren chuckled, and it sent a chill up my spine. “But there is no redemption for us, old friend,” he whispered. “Nothing can wipe away what we have caused, the centuries of blood and death. How can we cleanse our souls, when the very world around us pulses with rot and filth and decay?” Sarren’s lip curled in a snarl of disgust. “No, it is time to end it. It is time to wipe the sickness clean, once and for all. And you, little bird, will not stop it!”
He lunged, coming in fast, swinging his blade at my face.
I hadn’t forgotten how quick the insane vampire really was, but knowing how fast Sarren could move did me no good here. Even though I was expecting it, I barely managed to leap back, desperately swinging my katana to keep him at bay.
At the same instant, Kanin stepped in with his knife, cutting at his throat. But Sarren blocked my swing, dodged Kanin’s weapon, and lashed out with a kick, striking me in the chest.
As I was hurled away, I saw Sarren spin toward the other vampire, whirling his ax in a vicious arc toward his neck. This time, Kanin ducked beneath his arm, stepped in, and plunged his blade into Sarren’s stomach, ripping it out the other side.
Sarren roared. As I staggered to my feet, feeling the sharp throb of my ribs explode with pain, the vampire lunged at Kanin, striking him a glancing blow across the temple even as Kanin responded with a stab to his chest. I started forward, intending to jump back into the fray, but Kanin spared me a split-second glance as Sarren reeled back. “Get to the wheelhouse!” he ordered as Sarren hissed like a furious snake and came at him again. “Don’t worry about me—turn the barge, Allison!”
Sarren roared again, his mad eyes snapping to me, and I took off, running full tilt for the pilothouse. I saw the crazy vamp start toward me, but Kanin lunged at him with a terrifying snarl of his own, forcing him to turn. Hitting the stairs, I leaped up to the third floor, ignoring the rabids, who screamed and hissed at me from below, trying to scramble up the metal barrier. I reached the last deck, where a line of dark windows surrounded a tiny room with a metal door, grabbed the handle, and wrenched it down.
It didn’t budge. I twisted it again, putting all my vampire strength into turning it, but the door didn’t move. I looked closer and saw the metal along the edge of the door had been fused together, welded shut, and the windows had thick iron beams running across them from inside.
“No, no, little bird,” hissed Sarren’s terrifying voice, and the vampire heaved himself onto the deck one-handed. Blood covered his face, running down his white skin, seeping into the web of scars. “That is not for you.”
I snarled my fear and swung at him wildly; his free hand shot out, grabbed my wrist, and wrenched me off the deck, hurling me into space. I felt a stab of instant terror as the swarm of screaming, infected rabids rushed toward me as I plummeted, before I struck the edge of the metal container with a jolt and a fresh blaze of agony.
Wincing, I looked up to see Sarren descending toward me, his blade scything down at my head, and threw myself aside. The vampire hit the container with a thud and a ringing screech, sending sparks flying off the metal.
My katana lay a few feet from my arm. I reached for it, but Sarren stepped up and brought his foot smashing down on my elbow. Bones snapped, but my scream was cut off as the vampire kicked me in the ribs, driving me into the railings and shattering my world into shards of agony.
A roar echoed across the deck. I looked back to see Kanin, his face and arm streaked with blood, descend on Sarren like an avenging angel, driving him back. For a few brief, frantic moments, the two vampires snarled and fought each other at the very edge of the container, one step away from plummeting into the swarm below. I tried to get up, to help Kanin, but though my wounds were healing, the bones slowly knitting back together, I could barely move more than a few inches without gasping in pain.