Despair and fear threatened to drown me as Jackal dragged me over to where Sarren waited, his hollow eyes and soulless grin reminding me of a skull. I shook violently, but swallowed my terror, raised my chin and met his demonic smile head-on.

"Hello again, love." Sarren reached out to caress my face, making me cringe in revulsion. "We just keep running into each other, don't we?"

Abruptly, his hand slid to my neck, grabbed my throat and lifted me off my feet. Before I even had a chance to gasp, he turned and slammed me to the cot, pinning me down. I realized what was happening and snarled, fighting wildly to get up, to resist. But I was no match for both Sarren and Jackal; they held me down and fastened the leather cuffs around my wrists, tying me to the bed. More straps were drawn across my chest, legs and neck and buckled down, holding me immobile. I bared my fangs at them and howled, struggling with all my might, straining at the cuffs and straps, but I couldn't move.

I caught a glimpse of Kanin through the bars of the cell. His face was calm, but his eyes were anguished as they met my gaze. Then Sarren leaned over me, smiling, and I forgot everything else as his horrible, scarred face hovered inches from mine.

"Do you know how many times I woke up like this?" he whispered as my terrified reflection stared back at me from his one good eye. "How many nights I awoke, tied to this bed, starving and insensible, while the humans milled around and stuck me with their needles and their poison? Cut me and bled me, sometimes to the point where I had but a few drops of blood left in my body? I screamed at them to stop, pleaded for them to stop. But they never did. All because of your sire." He straightened, casting a glance back at Kanin. "So you can thank him for whatever I do to you, tonight."

"Sarren." I barely recognized Kanin's voice, so full of despair and desperation was the low rasp that came from the cell. "This isn't what you want. Take your vengeance on me. The girl has no part in this."

Sarren shook his head. "It is no longer about vengeance," he said, turning away. I watched as he went to a corner and returned with a metal cart. It had been draped with a towel, and several needles, scalpels and other sharp instruments glinted on top. Fear lanced through me, and I struggled hard against my restraints, to no avail. "It has become far more than that. This is about redemption. Salvation." He gave me a creepily affectionate smile as he returned, eyes gleaming hungrily. "And you, little bird, you will be the first to taste it."

I bared my fangs defiantly, though my voice trembled when I spoke. "What are you talking about, you psychopath?"

"Do you want to know a secret, little bird?" Without waiting for a reply, Sarren leaned down, his cold lips brushing my ear. "There is no cure," he whispered, making my stomach drop. "There was never a cure. The sickness has spread too far, and is too deep, to be cured now, but it is not what you or Kanin or that fool Salazar thinks. The virus is the cure, and it will heal the entire world."

I felt cold. "What...what do you mean?"

Sarren drew back, looking almost sorrowful. "You will see," he said, and took a needle from the metal cart, regarding it impassively. "New Covington was only a test, little bird. A place to work out the kinks, to perfect the virus. Now that I know what it can do, the next time I release it, it will be unstoppable."

"The next time?" I asked, appalled. "This wasn't enough for you? Killing a whole city of vampires and humans wasn't enough? If you release that virus again, you could wipe out the entire population-"

I stopped. Stared at him. Redemption. Salvation. Heal the entire world. No, he couldn't be that crazy...

Sarren peered down at me, his eyes and face completely blank, and my stomach went cold. He was.

"Oh, God," I whispered as a horror unlike anything I'd ever felt crept over me. "That's what you want. You want to kill everyone. Not just humans. Vampires, too. You want to wipe out everything."

Sarren jammed the needle into my arm, and I clenched my jaw, tensing until he pulled it out again, full of blood. "The corruption has spread too far, little bird," he said, holding the syringe up to the light. "It is time to start over. Wipe the slate clean, and let the world finally heal itself. A new beginning, with no humans, or vampires, or rabids. There was just one unknown variable to the equation, and that was you."

I couldn't answer, still staggered by his revelation. It was absurd, unthinkable. A real end of everything? There was no way he could pull it off. Or could he? I had to keep him talking, keep his attention on me, though I didn't know what I could do now. I just knew I needed answers. "Why me?" I forced out, and he looked at me in surprise.

"Because, little bird." Sarren lowered his arm and smiled down at me. "I have heard the most interesting story about you and a place called Eden. Rumors are, the scientists in Eden possess the same research that I took from the other lab. You can imagine how that would make me a bit nervous."

My insides trembled. I thought of Zeke, and deliberately did not look at Jackal, leaning casually against a wall with his arms crossed. "I don't know what you're talking about," I lied. Sarren shook his head.

"Oh, little bird. Your song is far too honest to deceive me with untruths." He reached down and stroked my cheek, his nails scraping across my skin, making my flesh crawl. "No matter. You will sing, soon enough. Oh yes, you will sing for us all."

He turned, then, holding the syringe of blood, and walked to the machines on the counter. I didn't know what he was doing, but he squeezed a drop of blood onto a tiny glass square, covered it with another and slid it beneath the strange tubelike machine next to the computer. Bending down, he peered into the top of the tube.

As soon as his back was turned, I wrenched at the cuffs one more time, knowing this would be my last chance. Before Sarren came back and... I didn't want to think about what he would do. The metal instruments on the cart glinted at me from the corner of my eye, and I yanked harder, desperate to get loose, to free myself before Sarren began carving the skin from my body, or whatever horrible thing he had in mind.

Jackal suddenly pushed himself off the wall, and I froze. He could see me struggling with the restraints, and would either make some snide comment to draw Sarren's attention, or stop me himself. I curled my lips back, hating him for his betrayal, for turning us over to this madman who literally wanted to destroy everything. I opened my mouth to tell him so, when he suddenly put a finger to his lips, silencing me.

Stepping casually to my side, he lowered his arm, and I saw the glint of a scalpel in his hand. With a quick jerk of his wrist, he sliced halfway through one of the cuffs tying my wrist to the bed. Not enough to free it completely, but making a visible tear in the leather strap. I stared at him in astonishment, and he winked.

"Well, little bird." Sarren straightened, and Jackal stepped away, the scalpel vanishing as quickly as it appeared. "I must say, I'm a tad disappointed. Your blood is not tainted or altered in any way. It appears you are quite unremarkable." He stalked back, smiling as he loomed over me, his gaze searching. I tensed as, for a split second, his eyes seemed to pause at my cuff, and the half-torn strap attaching it to the bed. But the hollow stare slid past it to rest on my face. "So, what does Kanin see in you?" he asked, more to himself than me. "What lies beneath this envelope of flesh and bone and blood, hmm? Is it something special? Perhaps, when I peel it open, I will be able to see. Perhaps your screams will tell me everything I need to know."

His face was hungry now, eager, as if the thought of inflicting pain brought him joy. I shuddered and tried to control my terror as he turned and plucked a knife from the cart beside him, letting it flash in the light. I wouldn't beg. And I would not tell him what he wanted to hear. I might scream and cry and wish I was dead before this was over, but I would not tell him about Eden, or Zeke, or anything about the cure.

"I know what you're thinking, love," Sarren whispered, before running the knife blade along his tongue, making me cringe. "You're thinking, I won't sing. I won't tell him anything. But pain has a way of loosening the strongest lips. There's only so much a body can take, with all those lovely nerve endings, millions of them, sending screaming messages of agony up to the brain. It's amazing how trivial the world becomes when you begin to long for death."

"I won't tell you anything," I choked out. "So you might as well kill me now."

"Everyone has a limit, little bird." He placed the flat of the blade against my cheek, the edges biting into my skin. I wanted to close my eyes, but I kept them open, glaring at Sarren defiantly, though my jaw hurt from clenching it so hard. "Let's see if we can find yours."

I braced myself, trying to disconnect my mind from the pain I knew was coming. And for a frozen second, it was as if I could see the whole room and everything that was happening around me. Kanin turning from the bars, hunching his shoulders as if he, too, was steeling himself. Sarren's muscles tightening as he prepared to slice the blade across my flesh. And Jackal, looming behind Sarren, his eyes hard and cold. A stake gripped in one hand, raising it over his head.

A stinging pain sliced across my cheek, making me gasp, as the world blinked into motion again. As Sarren ripped the knife from my face, spun and plunged the blade into Jackal's stomach.

Jackal gaped, baring his fangs in a snarl, though only a choked sound escaped him. The arm that held the stake was now gripped in Sarren's other hand, bony fingers locked around Jackal's wrist.

"You almost fooled me," Sarren said, smiling at Jackal's stunned expression. "I believed you would betray your companions without a second thought-that was all true. But you don't want redemption, do you? No, you are far too attached to life."

He yanked the knife up, slicing him open, and Jackal howled. Sarren thrust him away, sending him crashing into the counter, the sound of breaking glass and clattering metal nearly deafening.

Amazingly, Jackal staggered to his feet, holding his stomach with one hand, the stake still clenched in the other. "You're a f**king insane bastard, you know that?" he snarled at Sarren, who calmly picked up a pipe and advanced on him. "So the whole time you were sitting on that research, you decided, 'Hey, instead of curing Rabidism, I'm just going to make a superplague and wipe everything out! That'll show them!'" He sneered, curling his lips back in a painful grimace. "But you'll have to pardon me for not jumping on your little Destroy the World train. I happen to like this world, thanks."

Sarren lunged. Jackal dodged his first swing, lashing out with the stake, but Sarren blocked his arm, stepped in and brought the pipe smashing across his jaw. Reeling away, Jackal snarled defiantly and punched Sarren in the face as he stepped in, rocking him back a step. Dammit, don't just stare at them, Allison! Get out of there! Tearing my gaze from the fight, I yanked on the weakened leather cuff, trying to tear it away completely. It held stubbornly, and I yanked again. It took three tries, but on the third, the cuff finally snapped, ripping in two and freeing my wrist from the bed. Frantically, I clawed at the straps across my neck and chest, tearing them away, then reached over to free my other wrist.

Tags: Julie Kagawa Blood of Eden Book Series
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