I gazed over the rough waters, narrowing my eyes. I remembered Jackal’s city from the last time I’d come through; a tangle of narrow bridges, walkways and platforms that crisscrossed submerged buildings. From where I stood, it looked much the same. I could see the old barge that sat in the center of the river, and the ramshackle bridge that spanned the dark waters. Motorcycles and a few other vehicles were parked in haphazard rows along the surface of the barge, the final stop before you crossed into the lair of a raider king.
Or a deranged psychopathic vampire hell-bent on destroying the world.
“Home, sweet home.” Jackal sighed. “Or it will be, once I slaughter all the bastards who turned on me, stick their heads on pikes, and decorate the city with them. Maybe shove a torch through their teeth and use them to light the walkways, wha’d’ya think, sister?”
“It would definitely be you.” I gazed out over the water, seeing the distant lanterns and torchlight glimmering in the haze. Even from this distance, I could tell something was wrong. “There’s no one on the bridges,” I mused, remembering that the last time I’d come through, the walkways had been swarming with raiders. Now, the bridges and platforms stood empty, abandoned. “Everything looks deserted.”
Which meant we were walking into a trap, of course.
“Where do you think Sarren will be?” Kanin asked quietly. The Master vampire gazed over the water, observing the city with dark, impassive eyes. Jackal shrugged.
“Only one place he would be.” He pointed to where a tall, narrow skyscraper stood against the skyline. A light shone near the top, bright and familiar, making my skin prickle with recognition.
Jackal’s tower. The place I’d met my blood brother for the first time. Where we’d fought, on the top floor of the building, and he’d nearly killed me.
The place where Jebbadiah Crosse had died.
“It’s the only building in the city that still has power,” Jackal continued, staring up at the tower and the flickering light at the top. “And you can see everything that’s going on below.
If I were Sarren, that’s where I would be.”
“Then that’s where we’re going.” The light shimmered across the water, taunting me, and I felt my fangs slide out.
Sarren was close. This time, I wouldn’t just cut off his arm.
This time, I was going for his head.
“I suggest we do so quietly,” Kanin interjected, his low, calm voice breaking through my sudden hate. “Sarren knows we’re coming, and the whole city will be on high alert. If we can, we should avoid alerting them to our presence. It would be wiser to deal with Sarren first, before confronting the rest of the army. If we remove their new king, they will have lost their reason to fight us.”
Jackal snorted. “Sneak into my own city and skulk around like a sewer rat,” he muttered darkly, shaking his head. “Oh, heads are going to roll for this. I’m going to set up a special lane and use their skulls for bowling balls.”
Ignoring him, I glanced at Kanin. “How are we going to sneak in?”
My sire gave a tight smile. “I expect the roads will be well guarded, but slipping into a flooded city is not hard. As large as this army is, they cannot watch the whole river.”
Great. Looked like we were going for a swim.
We crossed the river easily, as silent as the shadows that clung to the waves. Thankfully, though there was a thin sheet of ice clinging to the edges of the bank, the rest of the river was clear. And navigating large bodies of water wasn’t difficult if you didn’t have to worry about things like breathing or hypothermia. We slipped below the hulk of the huge barge, vampire sight piercing the pitch-black waters, as we continued into the flooded streets of Jackal’s territory. Fish glided past us in large schools, flitting through an eerie underwater world of drowned buildings and submerged roads, rusty cars lining the pavement. A massive dark shape, almost as long as me, swished by my head, making me grit my teeth. Kanin had assured me that fish could not become rabid—and Jackal had laughed at the question—but I had no issues with drawing my katana underwater and slashing the next thing that came out of the depths toward me.
Above us, the city was silent. Bridges and walkways sat empty, platforms were deserted and still. Nothing moved overhead, and the ominous silence began to eat at me. This was a trap; I knew it, and the others had to know it, but there was nothing we could do except press forward. I’d face whatever Sarren could throw at me if it meant I would find him waiting at the end, with nothing between us but my katana.
“Careful.” Kanin grabbed my collar when we surfaced, drawing me back a pace. We’d come out beneath a bridge, a flimsy walkway of wood and metal that stretched from one roof to another. Puzzled, I frowned back at him, and he pointed to the underside of the planks.
A strange metal device had been taped to the bridge, wires poking out in every direction. I didn’t know what it could be, but the blinking red light on one corner looked fairly ominous.
“That’s why the city is deserted,” Kanin mused as Jackal looked up at the strange device and swore. “He likely has the whole place booby-trapped. Step on the wrong bridge, and it won’t be there anymore.”
“Huh,” Jackal remarked, gazing at the wired bridge with the hint of a smirk. “That must’ve taken him a while. Bastard sure went through a lot of trouble, just for us. I feel so special, don’t you?”
I paused. Something about Jackal’s comment didn’t feel right. “Why is he doing all this?” I asked as we began moving again, keeping well back from the mine. “Isn’t he trying to reach Eden? Why stop here?”
“I don’t know,” Kanin murmured, and he sounded troubled, too. “Perhaps he wants to stop us for good, so he can continue his plans undisturbed. But that does not seem like him.” His brow furrowed, and he shook his head. “Sarren is as unpredictable as he is brilliant and cruel. If he is in the city, he has a reason for it.”
“Does it matter?” asked Jackal behind us. “Who cares what he’s up to? He can be planning to fill the world with puppies, and I’m still going to rip the shriveled black heart from his chest and shove it down his throat until he chokes on it.”
A memory flickered to life then, making my stomach cold, and I whirled on Jackal. “Wait,” I said, as realization dawned.
“The lab! You had a lab set up at the top floor of your tower.