When the rage had faded somewhat, I sheathed my katana, feeling the weight of Kanin’s stare still on me. “I’m fine,” I told him, angry with myself now. “Sorry. Jackal was being a bastard, again. I shouldn’t have let him get to me.”
Kanin released my arm but didn’t move. “What did he say?” the Master vampire asked.
“That…it’s my fault we’re chasing Sarren now. If I hadn’t come after the group in Old Chicago, none of this would’ve happened. Jeb might’ve discovered a cure. Sarren wouldn’t have released the virus. And…Zeke would still be alive.”
Kanin was silent a moment. It had begun snowing again, soft flakes drifting from the sky, swirling around us. “Do you believe that?” the vampire finally asked.
“I don’t know what to believe anymore, Kanin.” I raked hair out of my face, shoving it back, and faced the road again.
“It seems like every decision, every choice I make, somehow backfires on me in the end. No matter what I do, things just get worse. Maybe…” I swallowed hard. “Maybe it is my fault…that Zeke died. Maybe the whole damn world will go extinct, because of me.”
Kanin chuckled, nearly making me fall over in shock. “You are far too young to carry that burden, Allison,” he said. “If we are going to be throwing around blame, let us go back even farther, before you were ever born. Let us go back to when the virus and the rabids were first created.”
Embarrassed, I ducked my head. “I…I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I know.” The Master vampire sighed. “But, if we are talking about choice and regret, what has happened cannot be undone. And dwelling on the past changes nothing. You will only drive yourself to insanity if you do.” He sighed again, sounding like he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. “Trust me on that.”
A shot rang out in the darkness.
I jerked, tensing as the bark of gunfire echoed over the rooftops, sounding fairly close. It faded, but was quickly followed by a roar of fury that was instantly familiar. Jackal.
Kanin and I took off running toward the sound, as the scent of blood and smoke drifted to me over the breeze. I pushed my way through a weed-choked space between two buildings and caught sight of my brother in the road ahead.
He was sitting against a dead car, his ax lying in the road beside him, one hand pressed to his chest. The pavement beneath him was spattered in red, and Jackal’s fangs were out in a grimace of agony.
I darted across the road and dropped beside him, blinking in shock. The scent of blood was everywhere, but I couldn’t see a wound until Jackal dropped his hand. A tiny hole had been torn through his duster right below the collarbone, no larger than a dime. It didn’t look big enough to account for all the blood…until Jackal slumped forward and I saw the exit wound.
I winced as Kanin joined us, his dark gaze going to the massive hole in Jackal’s back, nearly the size of my fist. It was healing, but I knew it had to hurt. Kanin’s eyes narrowed, and he peered through the broken glass, scanning the street.
“Where are they?” he muttered as I cautiously poked my head around the hood. A booming retort rang out, and something struck the car a few inches from my face, sparking off the metal. I flinched and ducked behind the barrier again, and Jackal gave a strangled laugh.
“I wouldn’t poke my head up if I were you, sister,” he said through gritted teeth. “A rifle shot to the forehead might not kill you, but it’ll give you one hell of a headache.” He grimaced, pushing himself off the car, leaving a dark smear behind him. “I think the bastard is in that house,” he told Kanin, nodding to a two-story ruin at the end of the street. “Shooting at us from the attic window.” His eyes gleamed, and he bared his fangs in an evil grin. “Cocky little shit, isn’t he?”
I risked a quick peek through the broken glass of the car window, and caught the glint of metal from the tiny darkened window at the very top of the house. “Okay,” I mused, ducking back down. “We know where he is. How do we get past without getting shot full of holes?”
“Get past him?” Jackal glanced at me and snorted. “You think we’re going to sneak around our trigger-happy friend and continue our merry way—that’s cute, sister. Me, I’m a little Hungry right now, and a lot pissed off. I’m planning to shove that rifle so far down his throat, he’ll feel it out the rectum.”
“So, we’re going to charge the crazy man’s house while he has an open street to fire on us. That sounds like a great plan.”
“And what were you planning to do? Offer cookies and ask the psycho murdering bandit to please stop shooting us?”
Kanin sighed and half rose, taking in the street, the cars and the house in one practiced glance. “I’ll draw his fire,”
the Master vampire said calmly. “You two stay low, and keep moving. I’ll meet you upstairs.”
He stepped into the street, and instantly a shot rang out, shattering the window of a truck behind us. I flinched, but Kanin kept walking, a black silhouette against the snow and cars. He moved like a shadow, fading in and out of the darkness, always visible but sometimes no more than a blur. Shots echoed in the street and sparked off metal and pavement, but nothing seemed to touch the vampire, who continued down the street as if out for a stroll.
Jackal swatted my arm. “Quit gaping,” he ordered, ignoring my glare, and jerked his head up the road. “Come on, while the old man has his attention.”
We raced up the street in a half crouch, darting behind cover when we could. The human, whoever he was, continued to fire, but not at us, though I had no idea where Kanin was after the first few minutes. Whatever he was doing, however, seemed to work. We reached the doorway of the rotted, half-crumbling building and ducked inside, the reports of the gun now echoing somewhere above us.
Jackal stalked forward with a growl, his eyes glowing a vicious yellow in the darkness, but I paused. Something about this felt wrong, though I couldn’t put my finger on what.
Cautiously, I followed Jackal through the house, tensing as we passed old rooms full of dust and rubble, overturned chairs and rotting furniture, remnants of the time before. I was wary of ambushes, but the rooms were abandoned, and Jackal moved swiftly up the floors without slowing down.
A peeling, broken staircase led the way to the third floor, and we had just started up it when a shout rang out overhead, followed by a flurry of cursing. A moment later, footsteps clattered across the floor, and a human appeared at the top of the steps, gazing down at us, wide-eyed. He was dressed in dusty leathers, and clutched the long barrel of a rifle in one hand.