It had not gone well for them, but we did end up with that nice jeep. And with our Hunger temporarily sated, the tension between Jackal and me had been defused a bit. Of course, I still wanted to kick him in his smart mouth sometimes.
But he'd never brought up New Covington or my years as a human until now.
"So very fragile, these bloodbags," he continued, shaking his head. "You blink and another one has up and died. Probably better in the long run, anyway. I'm sure you got the whole you must leave your past behind lecture from Kanin."
"Jackal, just..." I sighed. "Just drop it."
To my surprise, he did, not saying another word until we reached the drainage pipe that led into the sewers. It was an odd feeling, sliding through the pipe, emerging into the familiar darkness of the tunnels. The last time I'd done this, I'd been human.
"Ugh." Jackal grunted, straightening behind me, wringing dirty water from his sleeves. "Well, it's not the nastiest place I've ever crawled through, but it's definitely up there. At least they're not in use anymore. From what Kanin told me, all the human crap in the city used to flow through these kinds of tunnels." He grinned as I gave him a sideways look. "Disgusting thought, ain't it? Kind of makes you glad you're not human anymore."
Without replying, I started down the tunnels, tracing invisible steps back toward the city.
We walked in silence for a while, the only sounds our soft footsteps and the trickle of water flowing sluggishly by our feet. For once, I was glad that I was a vampire and didn't have to breathe.
"So." Jackal's low, quiet voice broke the stillness. "How did you meet Kanin? It was here, right? You never told me much about you and him. Why'd he do it?"
"Turn you." Jackal's eyes glowed yellow in the darkness of the tunnel, practically burning the side of my face. "He swore that he would never create another spawn after me. You must've done something to catch his attention, to make him break his promise." Jackal smiled, showing the very tips of his fangs. "What made you so special, I wonder?"
"I was dying." My voice came out flat, echoing down the tunnel. "I got caught outside the Wall one night and was attacked by rabids. Kanin killed them all, but it was too late to save me." I shrugged, remembering the terror, the phantom pain of claws in my skin, ripping my body apart. "I guess he felt sorry for me."
"No." Jackal shook his head. "Kanin never Turned humans just because he pitied them. How many humans do you think we've watched die in horrible and painful ways? If he offered to make you immortal, he must have seen something in you that he liked, made him think you could make it as a vampire. He doesn't bestow his 'curse' on just anyone."
"I don't know, then," I snapped, because I didn't want to talk about it anymore. "What does it matter? I'm a vampire now. I can't go back and change his mind."
Jackal raised an eyebrow. "Would you want to?"
His question caught me off guard. I thought of my life as a vampire, an immortal. How long had it been since I'd seen the sun, let it warm my face? How long since I had done anything truly human? I realized I didn't remember what real food tasted like anymore. The Hunger had completely infused my memories so the only thing I ever craved was blood.
And the most ironic thing? If Kanin hadn't Turned me, I would never have met Zeke. But being a vampire meant I could never be with him, either.
"I don't know," I said evasively, and heard Jackal's disbelieving snort. Of course, it was easy for him-he reveled in his strength and immortality, caring nothing for those he slaughtered along the way. A few months ago, I'd been so certain, but now...if it came back to that night, lying in the rain as my life slowly drained away, and a vampire asked me, once more, what I wanted...would my choice be the same?
"What about you?" I challenged, to get him off the subject. "Why did Kanin Turn you? Certainly not for your charming personality." He snorted a laugh. "So how did you meet Kanin? You two don't seem like you'd get along very well."
"We didn't," Jackal said easily. "Especially at the end, right before we parted ways. I guess you can say I was his biggest disappointment as a vampire."
He smiled evilly. "Oh, no. You're not getting my story that easily, sister. You want me to open up?" He grinned wider and pressed close, making me uncomfortable. His voice dropped to a low murmur. "You're going to have to prove that I can trust you."
"You can trust me?" I pulled back to glare at him, feeling my fangs press against my gums. "You're joking, right? I'm not the egotistical murdering bastard. I don't toss unarmed humans into cages with rabids and let them rip them apart for sport! I'm not the one who put a stake in my gut and threw me out a window."
"You keep harping on that," Jackal said with exaggerated patience. "And yet, you are a vicious, murdering vampire, sister. It's in your blood. When are you going to realize that you and I are exactly the same?"
We're not, I wanted to snarl at him, but a noise in the tunnels ahead made me pause. Halting, I put up a hand and looked at Jackal, who had stopped, as well. He'd heard it, too.
We eased forward, quietly but not too concerned with what we might find. Rabids rarely came down here; the Prince had sealed off all entrances into the sewers except a few, for the sole purpose of keeping them out of the city. Occasionally, a rabid would wander down here, but never for long, and never in the huge swarms we'd seen in Old D.C.
As we rounded a corner, there was a shout, and a flashlight beam shone painfully into my eyes, making me hiss and look away. Raising my arm, I peered back to see three pale, skinny figures standing at the mouth of the tunnel, gaping at us.
I relaxed. Mole men, as they were called, had been nothing but urban legends to me when I was a Fringer, just creepy stories we told each other about the cannibals living under the streets, until I'd run into a group of them one night in the tunnels. They were not, as some stories claimed, giant hairless rat-people. They were just emaciated, but otherwise normal, humans whose skin had turned pale and diseased from a lifetime of living in dark sewers. However, the stories about mole men preying on and eating fellow humans weren't entirely false, either.
That seemed a lifetime ago. This time, I was the thing they feared, the monster.
"Who are you?" one of them, a skinny human with scabs crusting his arms and face, demanded. "More topsiders, coming down to crowd our turf?" He stepped forward and waved his flashlight menacingly. "Get out! Go back to your precious streets and stop trying to invade our space. This is our territory."
Jackal gave him an evil, indulgent smile. "Why don't you make us, little man?" he purred.
"Knock it off." I moved forward, blocking his view of the humans before he could kill them. "What do you mean?" I demanded, as the three mole men crowded together, glaring at us. "Are people from the Fringe coming down here? Why?"
"Vampire," whispered one of them, his eyes going wild and terrified, and the others cringed. They started edging away, back into the shadows. I swallowed a growl, stepped forward, and the scabby human hurled the flashlight at my face before they all scattered in different directions.
I ducked, the flashlight striking the wall behind me, and Jackal lunged forward with a roar. By the time I'd straightened and whirled around, he had already grabbed a skinny mole man, lifted him off his feet and thrown him into the wall. The human slumped to the ground, dazed, and Jackal heaved him up by the throat, slamming him into the cement.
"That wasn't very nice of you," he said, baring his fangs as the human clawed weakly at his arm. "My sister was only asking a simple question." His grip on the human's throat tightened, and the man gagged for air. "So how about you answer her, before I have to snap your skinny neck like a twig?"
I stalked up to him. "Oh, that's a good idea, choke him into unconsciousness-we're sure to get answers that way."
He ignored me, though his fingers loosened a bit, and the human gasped painfully. "Start talking, bloodbag," the raider king said. "Why are topsiders coming down here? I'm guessing it's not because of your hospitality."
"I don't know," the mole man rasped, and Jackal shook his head in mock sorrow before tightening his grip again. The human choked, writhing limply in his grip, his face turning blue. "Wait!" it croaked, just as I was about to step in. "Last topsider we saw...he was trying to get out of the city...said the vampires had locked it down. Some kind of emergency. No one goes in or out."
"Why?" I asked, frowning. The human shook his head. "What about this topsider, then? He probably knows. Where is he now?"
The mole man gagged. "You...can't talk to him now, vampire. His bones...rotting in a sewer drain."
Horror and disgust curled my stomach. "You ate him."
"Oh, well, that's disgusting," Jackal said conversationally, and gave his hand a sharp jerk. There was a sickening crack, and the human slumped down the wall, collapsing face-first into the mud at our feet.
Horror and rage flared, and I spun on Jackal. "You killed him! Why did you do that? He wasn't even able to defend himself! There was no point in killing him!"
"He annoyed me." Jackal shoved the limp arm with a boot. "And there was no way I was going to feed on him. Why do you care, sister? He was a bloodthirsty cannibal who probably killed dozens himself. I did the city a favor by getting rid of him."
I snarled, baring my fangs. "The next human you kill in front of me, you'd better be ready for a fight, because I will come after you with everything I have."
"You're so boring." Jackal rolled his eyes, then faced me with a dangerous smile of his own. "And I'm getting a little tired of your holier-than-thou act, sister. You're not a saint. You're a demon. Own up to it."
"You want my help?" I didn't look away. "You want your head to stay on your neck the next time you turn your back on me?" His eyebrows rose, and I stepped forward, my face inches from his. "Stop killing indiscriminately. Or I swear, I will bury you in pieces."
"Yes, that worked out so well for you last time, didn't it? And it seems we keep having this conversation. Let me make something perfectly clear." Jackal, his eyes glowing a dangerous yellow, leaned closer, crowding me. I stood my ground. "If you think I'm afraid of you," he said softly, "or that I won't put another stick in your heart and cut off your head this time, you're only fooling yourself. I've been around a lot longer than you. I've seen my share of cocky vampires who think they're invincible. Until I rip their heads off."
"Anytime, Jackal." I reached back and touched the hilt of my sword. "You want that fight, just say the word."
Jackal stared at me a moment longer, then smiled. "Not today," he murmured. "Definitely soon. But not today." He stepped back, raising his hands. "Fine, sister. You win. I won't kill any more of your precious bloodbags. Unless I have cause, of course." He looked down at the dead mole man and curled a lip. "But if they come at me with knives or stakes or guns, all bets are off. Now, are we going to head into the city, or were you planning to hold hands with these cannibals and have a sing-along?"