Gunfire rang out once more. I tensed as a horde of raiders swarmed the room from above, pointing their weapons down into the pit. It seemed the rest of the army had finally caught up. Gripping my sword, I quickly gauged the distance between myself and the balcony, and winced. I was going to get pumped full of lead before this was over.
“Minions, stand the f**k down!”
I jumped as Jackal’s voice boomed throughout the chamber, bouncing off rafters and making the water vibrate. It rang through my head, compelling and powerful, and amazingly, whether it was from force of habit or the intensity in Jackal’s voice, the humans froze.
“That’s better.” The raider king gave us all a supremely exasperated look and crossed his arms. “I could hardly think anymore, with all the gunfire and screaming. Party’s over, boys,” he stated, his clear voice carrying through the stunned silence. “Your new king and I have had a little talk. We’ve decided you worthless meatsacks aren’t worth dying over, and it’s better for everyone if we come to an understanding.” He turned and gave Zeke a pointed look, raising his eyebrows.
“Fifty-fifty split sound about right to you, partner? ”
He curled a lip on the last word, as if the thought of sharing was deplorable. But Zeke gazed at him and the raiders without interest and shrugged. “I don’t care. Do what you want.
Sarren is gone, and I’m through with this place.”
I swallowed hard. The emptiness in Zeke’s voice was even worse than the sadistic taunting, and for a moment, Jackal’s warning cast a dark shadow over my thoughts.
“Which means you minions,” Jackal added, sauntering up to Zeke and draping an elbow over his shoulder, a gesture which was ignored, “are in a flying shitload of trouble. Too bad you didn’t think of that before deciding to stage this little coup. Not that it’s terribly surprising, but I’m a little pissed off at the lot of you right now.” He smiled, all fangs, as the humans shifted apprehensively. “But, hey, I’m a reasonable guy.
I’ll offer you bloodbags the same deal as before—follow me, and have a shot at becoming immortal. Refuse, and the three of us—” he gestured to me and Zeke “—will systematically rip the heads from your bodies and send you to a worse hell than this one. Your choice.” He chuckled, vicious and eager, and glanced at something over their heads. “But if you meatsacks think you have a shot at taking out three very annoyed vampires and one stuck-up Master, then by all means, let’s get this massacre started.”
The humans turned, craning their necks up and looking behind to where Kanin’s tall, imposing figure stood perfectly still on an overhead beam, gazing down at them.
“So, wha’d’ya say, minions?” It wasn’t really a question.
Jackal’s voice was hard, the edge beneath the surface hinting at barely restrained violence. He grinned at them, the smile of a killer, all fangs and glowing eyes, and several raiders shuffled uneasily. “Do we have an understanding? Grovel for my forgiveness now, and I might kill only half of you later.”
The raiders hesitated. Several of them looked to Zeke, standing motionless at the edge of the pit. “What about the other vamp’s promise?” one called. “He said he’d Turn whoever killed Jackal and brought you his head. Does that offer still stand?”
Jackal laughed, his voice booming through the chamber.
“You really think that psycho would’ve Turned any of you?”
he mocked. “Really? Because the messed-up face and obnoxious riddles would’ve tipped me off.” The raider king shook his head, his voice cutting. “He’s not coming back, minions,”
he called. “And if any of you believed for one second that Sarren would keep his promise and not rip your hearts out through your jugulars, then do me a favor and shoot yourself in the face right now, because you’re too stupid to keep living.”
“Sarren is gone,” added a deep, confident voice from overhead. Kanin, watching dispassionately from his perch. “And as Jackal said before, he is not coming back. We are the vampires you must deal with now.” The raiders stirred, muttering among themselves, as the Master vampire continued.
“You have two clear choices tonight—leave in peace, or stay and fight us all. You might win. Your numbers might overwhelm us. But we will decimate this city, and its inhabitants, before we are finished. And neither Sarren nor Ezekiel will protect you.”
I stood quietly, sword in hand, waiting to see what the humans would do. I felt like I should say something, but Zeke and Jackal seemed to be handling it well on their own; they were the vamps who had been in charge of this city, not me. And Kanin, by definition, was a Master and someone you’d best pay attention to. I just had to stand here and look dangerous—well, as dangerous as a thin, seventeen-year-old girl with a katana could look, I supposed. Hopefully the fact that I was a vampire made up for my height.
There were a few heartbeats of tense silence, before one raider snorted and stepped back from the edge.
“Fuck this,” he growled, lowering his weapon. His voice echoed through the chamber, and the room seemed to let out its breath. “I ain’t fightin’ a goddamned pack of bloodsuckers.
They want the city, they can have it. I ain’t dyin’ for this.”
That seemed to be the tipping point. As the one raider walked away into the darkness, everyone else lowered their weapons and stepped back from the ledge. Jackal waited a moment longer, until it seemed the danger was truly past, then nodded.
“There, see? I knew we could be civil.” Though his voice was amused, his eyes glittered, hinting at future retribution.
“Murder and thieving aside, we’re not barbarians. Now, get out of here, the lot of you. Your stupid faces are grating on my nerves.
“Oh, and minions?” he added as the room began to empty.
Most of the humans looked back, and Jackal gave them a very dangerous smile. “Don’t think for a second you’ve gotten off easy,” he warned in a low voice. “I won’t forget this. In fact, I think it’s high time we brought back the public dismemberments, to remind everyone why it’s a bad idea to piss off a vampire king.” He grinned up at them, fangs gleaming brightly, and cocked two fingers. “Any volunteers?”
The raiders scattered. Guns clattering, they swiftly drew back from the ledge and fled the room, vanishing through doorways and even through holes in the walls in their haste.