Scrambling off the cot, I turned to see Sarren slam Jackal against one of the cell doors, one where the window had been smashed, a couple of the iron bars rusted and snapped in two. As I paused, torn between helping Jackal and going for my katana, Sarren yanked Jackal from the door, lifted him up and slammed him onto one of the broken iron bars. The rusty pole punched straight through his stomach, impaling him on the spike, and Jackal screamed.
Fear shot through me. Katana, it is. I bolted for my weapon, lying on the floor, but just as my hand closed on the hilt, something grabbed my hair from behind. I was swung off my feet and hurled back into the room, striking a cot on the way down. I scrambled upright, clutching my weapon with shaking fingers. Sarren prowled toward me, pipe in hand, Jackal's blood streaked over his arms and face, almost like war paint. Behind me, my brother cried out in agony, and Kanin watched from his prison, helpless. It was just me and Sarren now, and he looked like he was enjoying himself.
"Oh, don't leave now, little bird," Sarren crooned, licking blood from one long bony finger. "It was just getting interesting. You can't fly away just yet."
"I wasn't leaving," I snarled. "I'm not about to let you spread your superplague or virus or whatever you want to call it. You might have given up on this world, but I am not ready to die yet. I don't need your brand of salvation." The katana shook as I raised it in front of me, but I gripped the hilt and forced my arms to be steady. "So, come on, you psychopath. Let's do this. I'm not tied to a table anymore."
Sarren's grin widened, making him even more frightening. "I still owe you for this, love," he said, gesturing to his left eye, cloudy and blind. "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Perhaps, I will pluck out both your eyes, then remove all your teeth, and make a necklace from them. Or maybe a wind chime. I do love wind chimes, don't you, little bird?"
Before I could answer, he lunged, coming in fast. I just managed to dodge his first swing, feeling the pipe miss my head by centimeters, and slashed upward with my katana. I felt the very tip bite something, saw Sarren jerk back and stumble to a halt, one hand going to his face.
I retreated, raising my weapon, waiting for his next move. Sarren pulled his hand down, looking at the blood on his fingers in amused surprise. More blood welled from a deep gash across his cheek and ran down his chin, and I blinked in shock.
I...I hit him.
"Well done, little bird." Sarren nodded at me, almost proud. "I see you have gotten stronger since our last meeting. I think I am beginning to realize what Kanin sees in you. Very well, then." He stalked toward me again, the smile fading, the true madness rising to the surface. My gut clenched as even his voice changed, becoming low and demonic. "I shall not toy with you a moment longer."
I didn't even see it this time. I had a vague, split-second impression of him coming at me, but that was all I saw before something hit the side of my head, and it felt like my skull imploded. I found myself on the ground, dazed, my only coherent thought to keep hold of my weapon. Something struck me again, in the back this time. I felt my body leave the floor, the world spinning wildly, before striking the wall and crumpling to the ground in a heap. And still, my fingers remained clenched around my sword. I would not let it go. Though everything blazed with pain, and it was difficult to tell which way was up at the moment, I had to keep hold of it.
Footsteps, and then something grabbed the back of my neck, hauling me to my feet. Sarren's arms wrapped around me from behind, bony fingers clamped around my wrist, the one that still clutched the katana. His cold, dry lips brushed against my cheek as his other hand gripped my throat.
"Now, little bird," he whispered, scraping his fangs over my skin, "how would like to die?"
A clear, impossible voice echoed behind us. Sarren froze for just an instant before he whirled, dragging me with him, to face the door.
Zeke stood in the frame, his gun out, angled at us both. His blue eyes flashed, hard and angry.
"Not this time," he growled, and pulled the trigger.
The boom of the heavy pistol rocked the room, echoing off walls and flaring orange and white in the darkness. I felt the wind of something small whip at my hair as it passed inches from my face, and slammed into the vampire behind me. Sarren roared, reeling back, blood exploding from his shoulder and neck.
I spun, bringing up my katana, slashing with all my might. Sarren saw the deadly blade coming and threw up his hand, trying to block my swing. This time, he wasn't fast enough. The katana edge sliced into his arm, right above the elbow, cutting through flesh, tendons and bone. The pale, bony forearm flew through the air in a spray of blood, hitting the ground several yards away, and Sarren's scream shook the walls.
Cradling his arm, he fled, rushing toward the door and Zeke, who stood in front of it. I tensed, but Zeke wasn't about to take on a pain-maddened vampire and quickly jumped aside. Sarren hit the frame and paused for just a moment to stare at the human, his lips curled back in a grimace of pain and hate. A puzzled look crossed his face, and then he was gone, vanishing into the hall, leaving a blood-drenched war zone behind him.
I crossed the room in a blur, not stopping to think about anything-how Zeke was still alive, how he could be here, how I was still alive. I shoved all of that to the back of my mind, promising to deal with it later, as I hurried across the floor, dropping my weapon as I did, and lunged into Zeke's arms.
He crushed me to him, his breath warm on my skin. I felt his heart racing in his chest, felt the hard muscles shifting below his vest, and, for a moment, I let myself relax against him. He was alive. How, I didn't know, but he was alive.
"Allie." Pulling back, Zeke peered at me, blue eyes intense. "Are you all right? Where's Kanin?"
Kanin. Jackal! "In there," I said, nodding to the cell that held Kanin. I couldn't see him anymore, and hoped he was all right. "And Jackal," I added, feeling Zeke tense. "Jackal is here, too."
"It's all right. He wasn't really working with Sarren. He's... back on our side again. I think." I pulled away. So many questions, but they would have to wait. "Go check on Kanin," I told Zeke, reaching down to grab my katana. "Make sure he's okay. I'll deal with Jackal."
He nodded, though his eyes were still hard at the mention of the hated vampire. As he walked toward the cell, I turned and picked my way across the room, to where Jackal had fallen.
Even now, it was hard not to cringe when I saw him, impaled on the rusty metal spike, dangling off the edge of the sill, his face tight with agony. His hands clutched the pole in his middle, and blood bubbled up from his lips as he looked back at me.
"If you're...wondering...this is...so much more...uncomfortable than...it looks."
I shook my head. Mortally wounded, and still running his mouth. "How do you want to do this?" I asked.
Jackal grimaced. "Back...right corner," he gritted out. "Cooler. Blood bags."
I found the cooler, which was half-full of bags like Jackal said. Obviously Sarren had been stocking up for a while. Grabbing three, I returned to the impaled vampire, who was barely holding himself up by clinging to the pole through his stomach. He eyed me as I approached, his gaze falling hungrily to the plastic bags I carried.
I stopped just out of reach, still holding my katana in the other hand. "Why did you do it?" I asked, as he gave me a look of disbelief. "How much of that was a lie, or were you really planning to double-cross Sarren all along?"
"Sorry, sis. Hard to think...right now. Slight...stomachache."
"Yeah, well-" I narrowed my eyes, my voice ruthless "-you're not going anywhere without my help, so I'd say you'd better start talking."
He bared his fangs. "Fine...damn you." He panted, clenching his teeth through the pain. "I had to...make it seem... real. Sarren would've known...otherwise. Had to...make you think...I switched sides. Wouldn't have worked...without that hate."
I slumped. "So you really didn't double-cross us."
He barked a strangled laugh. "Don't...be so sure. I would've done anything...for that cure. If Sarren...really had one...you'd still be...tied to that table."
"Why should I help you?" I raised my katana, letting the edge hover very close to his bared throat. "How do I know you won't turn on us in the future?"
Jackal tried to shrug. "Guess...you'll have to...take your chances," he gasped, and squeezed his eyes shut, desperately trying to keep himself upright. "Damn you, sister! Either... help me...or kill me now! But make...some sort of decision."
I set my jaw. Pulling back my sword, I slashed it across the cage bar, my vampire strength and the impossibly keen edge of the katana slicing through the rotted iron, cutting it in half, so only a few inches poked through Jackal's stomach. I held out a hand. He grabbed it, and I pulled him from the spike. Jackal let out a howl of pain as the bar slid from his stomach, and he slumped to his hands and knees in front of the cell, shuddering, but he was free.
I dropped the bags in front of him and stepped back, knowing he had to be starving now, very close to losing control. "I have to check on Kanin," I said, not sure if he heard me or not. "Stay put. I'll be back in a few minutes."
I looked back. Jackal was still kneeling in front of the cell, one arm curled around his mangled stomach. He held one of the bags, but hadn't started in on it yet; his golden eyes were fixed on me. "I won't...forget this," he said, making me stare in astonishment, wondering if the blood loss had affected his brain. "Thanks."
I turned. Zeke stood a few paces from Kanin's now open cell, his blue eyes solemn as he beckoned me forward. "I think you need to be here, now."
Dread twisted my stomach. I hurried forward, past Zeke, and into the small room. Kanin sat in the corner beneath the window, slumped against the wall, his head bowed to his chest. The fist clutching my insides squeezed painfully, and I slipped into the cell, dropping down in front of him.
He raised his head, and it seemed like that tiny motion was excruciatingly difficult. I bit my lip. The black wounds on his face had spread; I could see new ones on his neck, creeping down his chest, and spread across his arms. His dark eyes were glazed with pain, though he still tried to speak calmly.
"Gone," I told him. "I don't think he's coming back." He nodded and closed his eyes, tilting his head back to the wall. "Kanin...?"
"I think," Kanin said very slowly, "that I am in the final stages of the sickness." His face tightened. "I have not had a migraine in centuries. I'd forgotten how unpleasant they are."
"Wait here," I continued, starting to get up. "I'll look around. Maybe Sarren left information on a cure somewhere-"
"Allison." Kanin's voice was weary as he looked back. "There is no cure," he said simply. "There never was a cure. Sarren doesn't want this to end. You heard what he said."