"Don't ask me. I'm not a psychotic maniac." He paused. "Well, not as much of a psychotic maniac. Okay, there's the Foggy Bottom metro entrance... Where the hell is the tunnel?" He glanced down at the street and sighed. "Maybe he's searching for the cure to Rabidism, too," he tossed over his shoulder. "Oh, but wait, you don't care about that, do you?"
A large group of rabids slid from between two buildings, directly below Jackal. He ignored both them and me as he studied the map. For a moment, I had the murderous thought of shoving him over the edge, letting him fall into the group of rabids, seeing if he could survive. The monster within approved of this plan, urging me to step forward, to attack when he wasn't looking. Yes, it whispered. Do it. Jackal would, and he will someday. As soon as he doesn't need you anymore, he'll hit you from behind without a second thought.
But that would make me just like him, wouldn't it?
The opportunity passed before I had a chance to decide. The rabid pack moved away, and the moment was lost. I watched them skulk across the street, hissing and snarling... and then vanish beneath a rubble pile.
I blinked. "Hey," I said, and Jackal lowered the map, watching as I walked to the edge of the roof and crouched down. "I think I found it."
We dropped carefully into the street, glancing around for rabids lurking behind cars or around buildings. Warily, we crossed the road and examined the spot where the pack had disappeared. The building next door had partially fallen, and the ground was strewn with broken glass, steel and cement. But beneath a collapsed overhang, a tiny, nearly invisible hole snaked down into the darkness.
Jackal grinned at me, hard and challenging. "Ladies first."
I bristled. The tunnel entrance sat quietly, like the open gullet of something huge and evil, waiting to swallow me whole. I crouched down and peered inside. Darkness greeted me, thick and eternal, difficult to pierce even with my vampiric night vision. Cold, dry air wafted from the crack, smelling of dust and rot and decay.
"What's the matter?" Jackal's smug voice echoed behind me. "Scared? Need your big vampire brother to go down first?"
"Shut up." Scowling, I reached back and drew my sword, sending a faint metallic rasp into the darkness. If something came leaping at me out of the black, I wanted to be prepared. Holding the hilt backward so that the flat of the blade pressed against my arm, I crouched down, rabid style, and slid into the hole.
My fingers touched rock and cold metal and, when I straightened, I found myself at the top of a long flight of stairs leading down into the unknown. The stairs, partially buried under earth and stone, were metallic, uneven and had a strange rippling effect to them, as if they hadn't been firmly grounded. If you looked at them a certain way, you could almost imagine they had once moved.
Jackal slid in behind me, feetfirst, dropping to the stairs with a grunt. "All right," he muttered as he straightened. Unlike me, he had to bend over slightly to avoid scraping his head on the ceiling. Being small did have its advantages sometimes. Shaking out the map, he squinted at it in the dark. "So, according to this, we have to take the red line North to get to the nest, which will be somewhere around this area...." He tapped the paper with a knuckle, looking thoughtful.
"So we're going in blind. Searching for a lab that may or may not be there. In the middle of a nest of rabids who will trap us underground if we can't find a way out."
"Exciting, isn't it?" Jackal grinned and folded the map again. "It's moments like this that really make you appreciate immortal life. Don't you love it, sister? Doesn't it make you feel alive?"
"I'll pass, thanks." Sheathing my sword, I started down the stairs. "Right now, I'll settle for finding the lab and getting out of here in one piece."
The staircase descended deeper underground, opening into an enormous tunnel. The familiar rails lined either side of the platform, once having shuttled metal cars back and forth between stations, now quite empty. The ceiling of the huge domed tunnel was strange-a motif of concrete squares, some fallen in large chunks to the platform, stretching all the way down the corridor.
Jackal walked to the edge of the platform and dropped to the tracks, peering down the tunnel. "No sign of rabids," he muttered. "At least not yet." He glanced at me over his shoulder. "You coming or not?"
I leaped onto the tracks behind him. "What's the matter, Jackal?" I sneered, wanting to repay him for that last quip. "Need me to hold your hand every time we go down a dark hole?"
He laughed, the sound bouncing off the domed roof of the ceiling, surprising me. "See, this is why I like you, sister. You and me, we're exactly the same."
I'm nothing like you, I thought, but his words continued to haunt me long after we entered the tunnel.
"Man, these things go on forever, don't they?"
I winced as his voice echoed loudly in the looming silence, a wave of noise traveling down the endless corridor. "Mind keeping it down?" I growled, listening for the shuffle of feet or the skitter of claws over rock, rabids alerted to our presence. We'd encountered a few of the monsters already, and I had no desire to cut my way through another wave. The dark subway tunnels reeked of them, their foul stench clinging to the walls. Nothing else moved here, not even rats. Sometimes, we encountered bodies of rabids, ravaged corpses torn apart by their own kind. Once, we came across what we thought was another dead body, only to have it leap at us with a shriek, swiping at us with its one remaining arm. Jackal seemed to enjoy these encounters, swinging the steel fire ax hidden beneath his duster with vicious force, crushing skulls and snapping bones with a savage grin on his face. I was far less enthused. I didn't want to be in this underground labyrinth of death, with this vampire I didn't like and certainly didn't trust. Because watching him fling himself at the rabids, grinning demonically as he tore them limb from limb, reminded me too much of myself. That thing that I kept locked away, the beast that goaded me into raw animal rage and bloodlust. The part that made us dangerous to every human we encountered.
The part that kept me from ever being with Zeke. My blood brother grinned at me, swinging his bloody fire ax to his shoulder. "Aw, sister. Don't tell me you're scared of a few rabids."
"A few rabids is one thing. A massive horde in a narrow tunnel is another. And dawn is just a couple hours away." I glared down the crumbling cement tube in frustration. Old D.C.'s underground was a never-ending maze of tunnels and pipes and corridors that snaked and twisted and stretched away into the darkness. The night was waning, and the tunnels just went on and on, forever it seemed. We'd even stumbled into what looked like an underground mall, with ancient stores crumbling to rubble, strange items rotting on nearempty shelves. I'd once thought the sewers beneath New Covington were confusing; they were nothing compared to this. "Where is this stupid lab?" I muttered. "It feels like we've been walking in circles all night."
Jackal started to reply but suddenly paused, a slight frown crossing his face. "Do you hear that?" he asked me.
"No. What is it?"
He motioned me to be quiet, then crept forward again. The cement tube that we were walking down narrowed, and then I did hear something-something that raised the hair on my neck. If the low growls and hisses didn't rouse my suspicions, the dead, rotting stench that slithered down the tunnel confirmed it.
Weapons out, we eased forward, silent as death. Ahead of us, the tunnel abruptly ended in open air, and a rusty, narrow catwalk stretched out over nothing. Gripping my weapon, I followed Jackal to the edge of the catwalk and peered down, into the darkness.
"Shit," Jackal murmured, sounding faintly awed.
We stood at the edge of a massive round chamber, the walls soaring up a good fifteen feet above us. The narrow metal bridge, stretching to another tunnel on the opposite side, had to be at least two hundred feet across. The railings had rusted away completely, and the mesh floor had disintegrated in spots, but that wasn't what worried me the most.
Below us, about twenty feet down, the cement floor was a shifting, roiling carpet of pale bodies and jagged fangs. Rabids filled the chamber, growling, hissing, moving about the room like a swarm of ants. There were hundreds of them, maybe thousands, coming in from various tunnels and pipes near the ground. I hissed as their scent wafted up from the pit-blood and rot and decay and wrongness-and took a step back from the edge.
"Well," Jackal mused softly, watching the rabid swarm with vague amusement. "I think it's safe to say that we found the nest." He shook the catwalk experimentally. It creaked, rust and metallic flakes drifting down to the horde below. Thankfully, they didn't notice. "Doesn't seem very sturdy, does it? This is going to be interesting."
"You can't be serious."
"Do you see any other way across?" Jackal crossed his arms, shooting me a challenging smirk. "I thought you were so anxious to find the lab."
I smirked back. "Fine. After you, then."
He shrugged. Stepping onto the narrow bridge, he carefully eased out over the sheer drop, testing for weakness. The catwalk groaned but held, and he grinned at me. "Afraid of heights, sister? Need me to carry you across?"
"Yeah, why don't you save the smart comments until you're on the other side?"
He rolled his eyes, turned, and began walking across the gap, moving with unnatural grace. Despite that, the catwalk creaked and groaned horribly under his weight. It shuddered and swayed, and I bit my lip, certain it would snap at any second and Jackal would plummet to his death.
Beneath us, the rabids had noticed the vampire trying to cross the bridge, and their shrieks and snarls rose from the pit as they surged forward, gazing up hungrily. Some of them began leaping for the catwalk, swiping at it with their claws, and though they couldn't quite make it, some of those leaps came frighteningly close.
After several long, tense moments, Jackal finally reached the other side. The hisses and screams from the rabids were deafening now, echoing through the chamber, as Jackal turned and beckoned me across with a grin.
Oh, dammit. Swallowing hard, I stepped to the edge and peered down again. The rabids saw me immediately and began flinging themselves at my end of the catwalk, slashing at the air. Trying to ignore them, I stepped onto the rickety metal walkway, feeling it shake and shudder under my feet. The end of the bridge seemed an impossible distance away.
One step at a time, Allie.
Keeping my gaze straight ahead, I started across the catwalk, putting one foot in front of the other as lightly as I could. There were no railings to grab hold of; I had to make my way across on balance alone. The bridge swayed and groaned as I neared the center, carefully stepping over the gaping holes in the mesh floor. Through the gaps, the rabids churned below me, glaring up with dead white eyes and gnashing their fangs.
As I was nearing the end, trying to move faster but still keep my steps light, a rabid leaped up from the floor, lashed out, and struck the bottom of the catwalk with a metallic screech that lanced up my spine. The walkway jerked to the side, nearly spilling me off, then let out a deafening groan as one side of the bridge shuddered and twisted like paper.