“No,” I said, bringing my weapon up in a gesture of defiance. “I admit, I made some mistakes in my life, but what’s done is done, and I can’t go back and change them. And even…even if what you say is true, that it is my fault that you died…I don’t regret anything that happened between us.
This is Sarren talking, not you. Not the Zeke I remember.”
He stared at me blankly, and I straightened, wiping away the last of the tears. “I promised someone I’d keep fighting, and I intend to do that, for however long it takes. No one gets to decide what kind of monster I am but me.” I remembered my vow, made in that tiny closet when I’d nearly lost myself, and my resolve grew. “And I’m not going to kneel down and die. Not for you, not for anyone.”
Zeke smiled. Not one of his old smiles; this one was cruel and bloodthirsty, his fangs sliding out of his gums as he bared them in an evil grin. “All right, vampire girl,” he said, twirl-ing his blade in a graceful arc. “You want to do it the hard way. That’s fine. I was actually hoping you’d say that.”
And he lunged.
I dodged, bringing the katana up to meet his blow, and the two blades clashed with a metallic screech that rippled down my spine. The shock of it vibrated through my arms, even as I ducked Zeke’s second swing, a vicious cut to the neck that would’ve severed the head from my body if I hadn’t moved.
Stumbling back, I blocked yet another strike to my face, seeing Zeke’s eager, hungry gaze across the swords. His blows were savage, lethal; he wasn’t holding back, and if I didn’t get my act together, he was going to kill me.
I snarled my anger, my rage at the unfairness of it all, and lashed out, putting all my hatred and grief behind the blow.
The katana met Zeke’s sword, hammered through, and bit deep into his shoulder even as he twisted out of the way. He hissed in pain, stumbling back, and I went for him again, sweeping my blade down at his neck.
He dodged, swiping his machete at my face, leaping away to put distance between us. Retreating a few steps, he reached back and grabbed the twisted hulk of a theater chair, half buried in water and fallen rock. With a snarl, he wrenched the entire seat free, metal frame and all, and hurled it at my head.
I ducked, nearly flattening myself to the ground to do so, and the chair crashed into the rubble pile behind me with an earsplitting screech. Bits of rock and stone showered me as I scrambled upright, barely raising the katana in time to deflect Zeke’s sword as he attacked again. I caught his blade, but didn’t see the rock clutched in his fist until it hammered into the side of my head, knocking me down.
Pain erupted through my skull as I hit the water and instantly rolled to my back, hearing the hiss of the machete strike the place where I’d just been. I could feel something hot running down my face as I kicked out desperately, striking Zeke’s knee and causing him to fall, too. We both stood unsteadily, dripping with water and blood, raising our weapons to circle each other again.
Blinking blood from my eyes, I struggled to contain the Hunger and bloodlust, which had emerged with the sudden violence and was burning like fire through my veins. I couldn’t lose control now. Zeke, facing me across the water with blade in hand, had lost that eager, bloodthirsty smile.
His fangs were out, his eyes flat and cold as he circled, every inch a predator. My stomach twisted. Human Zeke, for all his determination, grit and stubborn resolve to fight, had never been a killer.
“Come on, vampire girl,” he taunted in a low, snarling voice. “Don’t tell me that’s all you’ve got.”
I hissed in return and lunged, cutting at his head, and he leaped back. As I slashed at him a second time, he darted forward, blocked with his weapon, and lashed out with his fist, striking me in the temple. I staggered, pirouetted with the motion, and brought my blade sweeping up, slicing a gash across his stomach and chest. He snarled, backing away as blood seeped through his shirt, and reached for something at the small of his back. I realized what he was going for and tried to get to him before he could pull it out, but wasn’t fast enough. Zeke yanked a pistol from beneath his shirt and fired six shots into me, point-blank. My chest exploded with blood and agony, and I screamed, knocked back with the force of the eruptions.
Slumping to one knee in the water, I pressed a hand to my chest, feeling blood seep between my fingers as the wounds slowly healed, and the Hunger surged with a roar. Gritting my teeth, I raised my sword to meet Zeke’s weapon slicing down at my neck. The katana met the knife edge and thrust it away, but the weapon was knocked from my hand. The machete instantly whipped back at my face, and I threw myself aside, feeling it miss my head by millimeters. Landing in the water, I rolled to my feet and instinctively raised my arm to block the vicious slash coming at my neck. I struck Zeke’s elbow with jarring force, felt something snap with the blow, and Zeke howled. Lashing out with a kick, he struck me in the chest and sent me flying backward.
I hit the ground again with a splash, striking my head on a fallen beam lying in the water. Dazed, I looked up to see the blade in Zeke’s other hand, slicing down at me, and jerked to the side. The machete struck the pillar behind me, sinking deep, leaving him exposed for a split second.
Lunging to my knees, I ducked beneath my enemy, grabbed Kanin’s knife from beneath my coat, and stabbed up, plunging the thin, straight blade through his chest, into his heart, and out his back.
Zeke went rigid, his mouth gaping in shock and pain, and for just a moment, I was staring right into his eyes. Zeke stared back, eyes bright with agony, but I thought I saw a flicker of recognition, a hint of the boy I’d known before.
Then his eyes glazed over, and the reality of what I’d done caught up to me. With a sob, I tore the blade free and stumbled back, and Zeke swayed a moment in place before falling to his knees in the water.
My hands shook, and I gazed down at the form kneeling in front of me, head bowed and the back of his neck exposed.
This was it. It was time. One quick slash; that’s all it would take to end this, put Zeke out of his misery for good.
My arms shook as I raised Kanin’s dagger, aiming for the back of his skull, though the tears running down my face were making it difficult to see clearly. Zeke didn’t move, kneeling motionless at my feet with wounded arm cradled to his chest, as if he knew what was coming. I took a deep breath, steeled my emotions, and brought the blade slicing down.
It never touched him. Halfway down, I jerked myself to a stop, shaking. The blade hovered in the air for a long moment, and try as I might, I couldn’t make myself complete the motion. Dammit, what was wrong with me? This wasn’t Zeke any longer. If I didn’t end this now, he would only heal and come after me again. I couldn’t let myself remember. I couldn’t allow myself to see those memories of the past, of myself and Zeke…before. Our first meeting in the abandoned town, a vampire and a human boy with wary blue eyes, aiming a gun at her head. That first, secret kiss in absolute darkness, my entire being consumed with wanting him. Lying with Zeke in my old room, my fangs inches from his throat, just listening to his heart as I fell asleep. His smile, his touch, the way he looked at me, with complete and utter faith that I wasn’t a monster.