That’s why you kidnapped Jeb—you wanted him to develop a cure for Red Lung, and you had given him everything he needed to do it—”

“Well, shit.” Jackal raked a hand through his hair. “I forgot about that. Now I’m kinda embarrassed.”

“There’s a lab here?” Kanin echoed, his eyes grim. I nodded. “Then we must hurry. If Sarren uses that virus now, it will be New Covington all over again.”

“Great,” Jackal said as we struck out again, moving a bit faster now. “More bat-shit crazy bleeders. Hey, sister, here’s a riddle for you. What’s worse than infected killer psychos tearing their faces off?”

I frowned, confused for a moment, until it hit me. “Armed infected psychos tearing their faces off?”

“Bingo,” Jackal growled. “So if you do see any of my former minions, do me a favor and cut their heads off, hmm?

It’ll save me the trouble of burning this place to the ground after we kill Sarren.”

We encountered no resistance as we made our way toward the looming expanse of Jackal’s tower. Kanin did point out a few more mines and traps, stuck to bridges or placed innocuously along walkways. Sarren was definitely here, and had been expecting us for a while.

Put out all the traps you want, you psychopath, I thought as the shadow of the huge tower encompassed us, dark and threatening. Block the way, sic your army on us, do whatever you want. I’m still coming for you. And when I find you, one of us is going to die.

The last stretch to the tower was made completely underwater. Jackal took us down until we reached the cracked pavement of the flooded city, weaving through cars and rubble piles with the fish. The base of the tower rose from the riverbed, the front doors ajar at the top of the steps, but the raider king didn’t use the front entrance. Instead, we swam around back, slipping through a shattered window into what appeared to be an office. The remains of a desk sat disintegrating on the floor, silvery schools of fish darting through it.

We followed Jackal through the office door and into a long, pitch-black hallway. Chunks of wall filled the narrow corridor, and metal beams lay slantwise across the passage, forcing us to weave through or move them aside. I received a shock when I swam around a corner and nearly ran into a bloated, half-eaten corpse floating in the water. It was a good thing I didn’t have to breathe, because I snarled and quickly jerked back, filling my nose and mouth with river water as the corpse drifted by. Jackal turned, and I didn’t need to hear his voice to know he was laughing at me.

Finally, Jackal wrenched open a peeling metal door, the rusty screech reverberating through the water and making fish flee in terror. Through the gap, I saw a flooded stairwell ascending into darkness.

We trailed Jackal through the door and followed the stairway until it broke free of the water, continuing its spiraled path up the side of the wall. Jackal watched, grinning, as I emerged, dripping wet from the river, water streaming from my hair and coat to puddle on the landing.

“What?” I asked softly, my voice echoing weirdly in the flooded stairwell. Kanin emerged at my back, making no noise at all even in the water. Jackal’s grin widened, and he shook his head.

“Oh, nothing. You’ve never drowned a cat before, have you, sister?”

“Where are we?” asked Kanin before I could reply. His voice carried a faint undertone that warned us to stay on target. That we were in Sarren’s territory now, and he was waiting for us. The raider king raked his hair back and looked up the stairs.

“Third floor, back stairwell,” he muttered. “No one ever uses it because some of the higher floors collapsed and the stairs are blocked on this side. But there’s a second stairwell we can reach from the ninth floor, and that one goes all the way to the top.” Jackal crossed his arms, smirking. “I figure everyone will be expecting us to use the elevator, and the minions might surprise me and cut the cables when we’re near the top. And trust me when I say that falling from the top floor of this tower is not a pleasant experience.”

He looked at me when he said this, narrowing his eyes. I thought again of our fight on the top floor, him staking me through the gut, the intense pain that had followed. Dangling from a broken window high above Chicago, desperately clinging to the ledge as my strength slowly gave out.

Looking up, seeing Jackal standing above me, ready to end it—and Jebbadiah Crosse slamming into him from behind, hurling them both into open space.

“I always wondered how you survived,” I told him, and his smirk widened. “You’re like a rat that’s impossible to kill— no matter what you do, it always comes back.”

“One of my best qualities, sister.” Jackal lowered his arms.

“You’ll appreciate it one day, trust me. Now…” He gazed up the steps again, a dangerous glint coming into his eyes.

“What do you say we find Sarren and beat the ever-loving shit out of him?”

That I could get behind. My enemy was close, and I had never wanted someone’s death as badly as I wanted Sarren’s.

“Let’s go,” I told Jackal.

We started up the stairs, Jackal in front, Kanin silently bringing up the rear. Around us, the stairwell creaked and groaned, the sounds echoing through the tight corridor and making my skin crawl. I did not like small, enclosed spaces with no way out, especially when it seemed the ancient, crumbling stairs could collapse at any moment. I concentrated on taking one step at a time and focused my anger and rage into a burning determination. Because if I concentrated on my hate, I could almost forget the fact that Sarren still terrified me, he had an entire raider army under his control, and that facing him again would be the hardest fight of my life. That he was still stronger than me, and even with Kanin’s and Jackal’s help, we might not be able to beat him. Especially since he knew we were coming.

None of that mattered. I didn’t know how he planned to spread his awful virus, but I did know he was fully capable of destroying everything without a second thought. And I wouldn’t let that happen. No matter what it took, no matter what nasty surprises he had waiting, we had to kill Sarren, tonight.

The stairs wove around the walls of the building, spiraling ever higher, before they ended in a blockade of stone, metal beams and twisted pipes. Jackal stopped us on the final landing and nodded to a peeling metal door set into the concrete.

“The other stairwell is through here. We’ll have to cross the floor to get to it, but once we do, it’s a straight shot to the top floor and Sarren.”

Tags: Julie Kagawa Blood of Eden Book Series
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