At the sight of us, the man let out another curse and quickly turned to flee back up the stairs, but Jackal gave a roar and surged forward, grabbing him by the neck and lifting him off his feet.
“Ah ah ahhhh, where do you think you’re going, minion?”
Stalking into the attic, the raider king threw the human into a wall with enough force to put a hole in the plaster, and the man slumped to the floor, dazed. Jackal loomed over him, his eyes murderous. “I think you’re going to sit right there and tell me what the hell is going on, before I start ripping off important body parts. If you tell me what I want to know, right now, I might start with your head, and not your arms.”
I caught a glimpse of a dark silhouette in the corner by the window: Kanin, watching impassively from his place against the wall. Briefly, I wondered how the Master vampire had gotten in without being shot…but it was Kanin. There was a whole lot I still didn’t know about him.
The man groaned, pawing weakly for the rifle. With a growl, Jackal reached down, grabbed him by the throat, and slammed him into the wall. I forced myself not to interfere.
I knew Jackal had to be starving, on the brink of losing it, the blood from the gunshot wound still wet and glimmering against his back. But he smiled evilly at the raider, his voice ominous but under control when he spoke.
“I believe I asked you a question, minion,” the raider king said in a conversational tone, though his fangs were bared and fully extended. “And I don’t have a lot of patience to spare right now. So, if you don’t want me to rip the arms from your sockets, I’d start talking. Why are you attacking us? Who’s involved? Is this some offshoot of discontents I’m going to have to wipe out, or does the entire city have a death wish?”
The human gagged, clawing futilely at the hand around his throat. But, shockingly, he looked up at the raider king, his eyes bright with pain and fear, and gave a raspy chuckle.
“You’re…not in charge…anymore, Jackal,” he gritted out, with the defiance of someone who knew he was dead. “You promised immortality…and you never delivered. Well…we have a new king now. One who agreed to Turn…whoever got rid of you.”
My insides went cold.
“Is that so?” Jackal continued, his voice gone soft and deadly. “And does this new king have a name, or do I have to guess?”
“He said…you would know who he is,” the raider choked out. “And…to come find him…in the flooded city.” He coughed and held up his hands. One was empty, but the other held a tiny metal box, which he clicked open to reveal a small flame. Glancing at the raider king, he gave a last defiant sneer. “If you make it that far.”
Against the wall, Kanin straightened. “James—” he began, but it was too late. The raider opened his fingers, and the item, whatever it was, dropped to the floor.
A few things happened all at once.
As soon as the flame dropped from the raider’s hand, Jackal leaped back, flinging himself toward the wall. Abruptly released, the raider’s body hit the ground at about the same time as the metal box. There was a short hiss— —and a wave of fire erupted from the tiny flame, racing across the floor and up the walls, turning the room into an inferno. It engulfed the human on the floor, who screamed and thrashed, flailing about in agony as his clothes caught fire. I barely heard him. Terror rose up, blinding and allconsuming, and I looked wildly around for an escape route.
The walls were a mass of rolling orange flames, snapping and tearing at me; I could feel the awful heat against my cold skin and cringed back with a hiss. I had to get out of here, but there was nowhere to go; wherever I looked, there was fire… .
Something grabbed my arm as I stood there, on the verge of panic. “Calm yourself,” Kanin ordered, as I snarled and tried yanking back. “Listen to me. We cannot take the stairs; the lower rooms are completely engulfed, and it will take too long to reach the door. We must go through the window.”
The window? I looked to the far wall, at the opening where the human had been shooting. I could barely see the window through the snapping flames, and cringed back. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“No.” Kanin’s voice was ruthlessly calm. “It is the only way. Jackal has already gone through. We must follow him if we are to survive this.”
The flames roared at me, filling my mind, until all I could see was orange and red. I couldn’t think; I could almost feel the skin peeling from my bones, blackened and bubbling in the heat. If it wasn’t for Kanin’s grip on my arm, I would’ve fled, though I didn’t know where I would go. All I could think of was getting away from the flames. And Kanin wanted me to leap through the fire? “I can’t!” I told him, baring my fangs in fear. “I’ll never make it.”
“You must. I’ll be right behind you.”
“Allison.” Kanin grabbed my other arm, forcing me to look at him. His voice compelled. I felt it reverberate through me, a quiet, undeniable thrum. “Trust me.”
I bit my lip, and squeezed my eyes shut, blocking out the flames. “You can do this,” Kanin went on, in that same soothing tone. I focused on his voice, ignoring the roar of the flames around us, the heat burning my face. “The fire won’t touch you. It will be over in a few seconds, but you must be quick. Are you ready?”
Swallowing, I clenched my fists, pushed back my fear, and nodded.
“Then go.” Kanin released me. I turned and sprinted for the wall of flames.
They loomed before me, horrifically bright, snapping and clawing in the wind. For a second, I almost balked, my vampire instincts screaming at me to stop, to run away from our deadliest enemy besides the sun. Kanin’s voice echoed in my head, pushing me forward. I reached the roaring, living wall and dove through the flames, praying I wouldn’t catch fire.
There was a moment of blinding pain, a scalding heat ripping across my face and hands. And then cold winter air hit my skin as I tumbled through the window, hit the edge of the roof, and fell into the bushes below.
Snarling, fangs bared, I struggled to my feet and lurched away from the house. Heat clawed at my back as I ripped through vines and branches and fled into the road. Only when I was on the other side of the street did I turn and look back.
My instincts cringed, urging me to move even farther away.
The house was a raging inferno against the sky, tongues of fire snapping in every direction. I panicked for a moment, not seeing Kanin anywhere, afraid that he was still trapped upstairs. But then a shadow melted away from the house, and Kanin’s dark form glided across the street toward me, making me slump in relief.