A huge swarm of spindly, emaciated creatures crowded the fence line, hissing and snarling, baring jagged fangs. They moved with a jerky, spastic gait, sometimes on all fours, hunched over and unnatural. Their clothes-the few that had them anyway-were in tatters, their hair tangled and matted. Chalky skin was stretched tightly over bones, and the eyes in the gaunt, bony faces reflected the soullessness behind them. A blank, dead wall of white.
Rabids. I growled softly and eased back into the shadow of a tree. They hadn't seen me yet. As I huddled behind the trunk, watching the shambling horde, I noticed a weird thing. The rabids didn't rush the fence or try to scramble over it, though they could have easily clawed their way to the top if they tried. Instead, they skulked around the edge, always a few feet away, never touching the iron bars.
Even more curious now, I peered past the rabid horde through the fence and clenched my fists so hard the nails dug into my palms.
Looming above the gates, beyond the iron barrier, a squat white building crouched in the weeds. The entrance to the place was circular, lined with columns, and I could make out flickering lights through the windows.
And I knew.
He's in there. If I had a heartbeat, it would be thudding loudly now. I was so close. But who would it be? Who would I run into, once I finally caught up? Would I meet my sire, and would he be surprised to see me? Would he be angry that I'd tracked him down? Or would I run into a dangerous, terrifyingly insane vampire all too eager to torture me to death?
Guess I'll find out soon enough.
The breeze shifted, and the awful, dead stench of the rabids hit me full force, making me wrinkle my nose. They weren't going to let me saunter up and knock on what was probably the local vampire Prince's door. And I couldn't fight the whole huge swarm. A few of the savage creatures I could deal with, but taking on this many ventured very close to suicide. Once was enough, thanks. I'd dealt with a massive horde like this one outside the gates of Eden, and survived only because there had been a large lake nearby, and rabids were afraid of deep water. Vampire or not, even I could be dragged under and torn apart by sheer numbers.
Frowning, I pondered my plan of attack. I needed to get past the rabids without being seen. The fence was only twelve feet tall; maybe I could vault over it?
One of the rabids snarled and shoved another that had jostled it, sending it stumbling toward the fence. Hissing, the other rabid put out a hand to catch itself, grabbing on to the iron bars.
There was a blinding flash and an explosion of sparks, and the rabid shrieked, convulsing on the metal. Its body jerked and spasmed, sending the other rabids skittering back. Finally, the smoke pouring off its blackened skin erupted into flame and consumed the monster from the inside.
Okay, definitely not touching the fence.
I growled. Dawn wasn't far, and soon I would have to fall back to find shelter from the sun. Which meant abandoning any plans to get past the gate until tomorrow night. I was so close! It irked me that I was mere yards from my target and the only thing keeping me from my goal was a rabid horde and a length of electrified metal.
Wait. Dawn was approaching. Which meant that the rabids would have to sleep soon. They couldn't face the light any better than a vampire; they would have to burrow into the ground to escape the burning rays of the sun.
Under normal circumstances, I would, as well.
But these weren't normal circumstances. And I wasn't your average vampire. Kanin had taught me better than that.
To keep up the appearance of being human, I'd trained myself to stay awake when the sun rose. Even though it was very, very difficult and something that went against all my vampire instincts, I could remain awake and active if I had to. For a little while, at least. But the rabids were slaves to instinct and wouldn't even try to resist. They would vanish into the earth, and with the threat of rabids gone, the power that ran through the fence would probably be shut off. There'd be no need to keep it running in the daytime, especially with fuel or whatever powered the fence in short supply. If I could stay awake long enough, the rabids would disappear and the fence would be shut off. And I'd have a clear shot to the house and whoever was inside it. I just had to deal with the sun.
It might not be wise, continuing my quest in the daylight. I would be slow, my reactions muted. But if Sarren was in that house, he would be slow, too. He might even be asleep, not expecting Kanin's vengeful daughter to come looking for him here. I could get the jump on him...if I could stay awake.
I scanned the grounds, marking where the shadows were thickest, where the trees grew close together. Smartly, the area surrounding the fence was clear of brush and trees. Indirect sunlight wouldn't harm us, but it was still unpleasant, even in the shade, knowing that if the light shifted or a gust of wind tossed the branches, you'd be in a great deal of pain.
As the sky lightened and the sun grew close to breaking the horizon, the horde began to disappear. Breaking away from the fence, they skulked off to bury themselves in the soft mud, their pale bodies vanishing beneath water and earth. The grounds surrounding the fence emptied swiftly, until there wasn't a rabid to be seen.
I leaned against the trunk of a thick oak, fighting the urge to follow the vicious creatures beneath the earth. It was still madly difficult to remain conscious as the sun rose into the sky. My thoughts felt sluggish, my body heavy and tired. But my training to remain above ground, even when our greatest enemy poked its head above the trees, paid off, and I was still standing when the last stubborn rabid disappeared beneath the earth. Still I waited until the sun had nearly risen above the trees, to allow time for the fence to be shut off. It would be hilariously tragic if I avoided the rabids, avoided the sun, only to be fried to a crisp on a damn electric fence because I was too impatient. About twenty or so minutes after the horde disappeared, the faint hum coming from the metal barrier finally clicked off. The fence was down.
Now came the most dangerous part.
I pulled my coat over my head and tugged down the sleeves so they covered my hands. Direct sunlight on my skin would cause it to blacken, rupture and eventually burst into flame, but I could buy myself time if it was covered.
Still, I was not looking forward to this.
All my vampire instincts were screaming at me to stop when I stepped out from under the branches, feeling the weak rays of dawn beating down on me. Not daring to look up, I hurried across the grounds, moving from tree to tree and darting into shade whenever I could. The stretch closest to the fence was the most dangerous, with no trees, no cover, nothing but short grass and the sun heating the back of my coat. I clenched my teeth, hunched my shoulders and kept moving.
As I approached the black iron barrier, I scooped up a scrap of metal and hurled it out in front of me. It arced through the air and struck the bars with a faint clatter before dropping to the ground. No sparks, no flash of light, no smoke. I didn't know much about electric fences, but I took that as a good sign.
Let's hope that fence really is off.
I leaped toward the top, feeling a brief stab of fear as my fingers curled around the bars. Thankfully, they remained cold and dead beneath my hands, and I scrambled over the fence in half a second and landed on the other side in a crouch.
In the brief moment it took me to leap over the iron barrier, my coat slipped off my head. My relief at being inside the fence without cooking myself was short-lived as blinding pain seared my face and hands. I gasped, frantically tugging my coat back up while scrambling under the nearest tree. Crouching down, I examined my hands and winced. They were red and aching from just a few seconds in the sunlight.
I've got to get inside.
Keeping close to the ground, I hurried across the tangled, snowy lawn, feeling horribly exposed as I drew closer to the building. If someone pushed aside those heavy curtains in front of the huge windows, they would most definitely spot me. But the windows and grounds remained dark and empty as I reached the curving wall and darted beneath an archway, relieved to be out of the light.
Okay. Now what?
The faint tug, that subtle hint of knowing, was stronger than ever as I crept up the stairs and peeked through a curtained window. The strange, circular room beyond was surprisingly intact. A table stood in the center with several chairs around it, all thankfully deserted. Beyond that room was an empty hallway, and even more rooms beyond that.
I stifled a groan. Finding one comatose vampire in such a huge house was going to be a challenge. But I couldn't give up.
The glass on the windows was shockingly unbroken, and the window itself was unlocked. I slid through the frame and dropped silently onto the hardwood floor, glancing warily about. Humans lived here, I realized, a lot of them. I could smell them on the air, the lingering scent of warm bodies and blood. I wondered why the scent didn't knock me down the second I came into the room. If Sarren was here, he'd likely paint the walls in their blood.
But I didn't run into any humans, alive or dead, as I made my way through the gigantic house, and that worried me. Especially since it was obvious this place was well taken care of. Nothing appeared broken. The walls and floor were clean and uncluttered, the furniture, though old, was sturdy and carefully arranged. The Prince who lived here either had a lot of servants to keep this place up and running, or he was incredibly dedicated to cleaning.
I continued to scan the shadows and the dozens of empty rooms, wary and alert, searching for movement. But the house remained dark and lifeless as I crept up a long flight of steps, down an equally long corridor, and stopped outside the thick wooden door at the end.
This is it.
Carefully, I grasped my sword and eased it out, being sure the metal didn't scrape against the sheath. Getting here had been way too easy. Whoever was on the other side of that door knew I was coming. If Sarren was expecting me, I'd be ready, too. If Kanin was in there, I wasn't leaving until I got him out safe.
Firmly grasping the door handle, I wrenched it to the side and flung the door open.
A figure stood at the back wall, waiting, as I'd feared. He wore a black leather duster, and his arms, crossed lazily over his chest, were empty of weapons. Thick, dark hair tumbled to his shoulders, and a pale, handsome face met mine over the room, lips curled into an evil smile.
"Hello, sister," Jackal greeted, his gold eyes shining in the dim light. "It's about time you showed up."
"Jackal," I whispered, as the tall, lean vampire sauntered toward me. I remembered when I'd seen him last, the selfdeclared Prince of a flooded raider city, its residents as dangerous and ruthless as himself. He had gone through a lot of trouble to capture the humans I'd traveled with, three years of searching the roads, of having his men comb the countryside. And once Jackal had found them, he hadn't been above sacrificing them, one by one, to get what he wanted. Zeke and I had managed to rescue our group from Jackal's demented clutches, but several had died in the process, and the pain of that failure to save them still haunted me.
Why was Jackal here now? The last I'd seen of him, he had been shoved out of a thirty-story window-after, I remembered quite clearly, he'd jammed a wooden stake into my stomach. I didn't have fond memories of the raider king, and I knew Jackal wasn't terribly happy with me, either.
Then the implication hit me like a brick in the chest, and I stared at him in horror. Kanin was our sire, having Turned the both of us. The raider king was my "blood brother," and blood called to blood. No wonder there had been two pulls. If Jackal was here, then he was the presence I'd been following. Not Kanin. Not Sarren. I'd chosen to track the wrong lead.