For a few seconds, chaos ensued as the army scrambled to get out of Jackal’s immediate sight. Then the footsteps disappeared, the voices faded away, and soon the dripping of water and the faint moans of the building around us were all that could be heard.
Jackal smiled into the silence, then turned to the rest of us, smug satisfaction breaking over his face. “And that, ” he stated, looking mostly at Zeke, “is how you rule a raider city.”
Zeke didn’t answer, but I stepped forward, placing myself between him and Jackal, keeping my sword raised. Jackal eyed me and snorted.
“Relax, sister.” The raider king waved an airy hand. “Put up the damn sword before I shove it down your throat. The minions have come to their senses, and as soon as I hang a few heads from the center of town, all will be as it should.
We won this round, so untwist your panties and calm down.”
I didn’t relax. “What about Zeke?”
“What about him?” Jackal shrugged. “You won’t let me put him out of his misery, he’s your problem now. Besides…” He glanced at Zeke, watching us a few feet away, and smirked.
“I’d never thought I’d say this, but the little meatsack has potential. If he doesn’t have a meltdown and decide he needs a tan, he might actually be a decent bloodsucker. And by decent, I mean a proper, murdering, ‘I eat babies for breakfast’ vampire. It’s always the nice ones you have to worry about.”
Jackal smiled at me, cruel and challenging. “Ironic, isn’t it, sister? Your innocent, puppy-eyed human could become a worse monster than you. Or me. Or even Sarren. Wouldn’t that be a hoot?”
I scowled, but at that moment Kanin dropped from the ledge, landing with a barely audible splash a few yards away.
I blinked as he rose and glided toward us, his face impassive.
“I thought you and Jackal were going to wait outside the city,” I said, gazing up at him. “Wasn’t that the plan? Not that I’m complaining, but why’d you come back?”
One corner of Kanin’s mouth twitched, very slightly. “It wasn’t entirely my decision to return, Allison,” he said.
For a moment, I was confused. Then my eyes widened in shock, and I turned to Jackal, who was standing in the same place with his arms crossed, looking annoyed. “Jackal?” I sputtered, and he raised an eyebrow. “You decided to come back? Why?”
“Don’t read too much into it, sister.” My blood brother sneered at me, golden eyes mocking. “I didn’t come back to save you from the big bad minion army, trust me. I just wasn’t about to let lover boy get away with stealing my city. And I figured you wouldn’t have the balls to off him yourself, once it really came down to it. Looks like I was right.” He snorted and rolled his eyes. “I came to cut off a head and take back what’s mine, nothing else. So, don’t get all mushy on me.”
“Regardless,” Kanin said, interrupting us, much to Jackal’s relief, I thought, “we are wasting time. Eden is still in danger. Ezekiel,” he said solemnly, turning to Zeke, “I will ask you this only once. You know the stakes, how important it is that we reach Eden. You know we will have to face Sarren at the end of this journey. Can you do this?”
“I don’t know,” Zeke answered simply, unapologetically.
“But I promised Allison that I would help you stop Sarren.
That finding him comes before everything else. So, at least until we get to Eden, I’m with you. I can’t promise anything beyond that.”
“And if Sarren uses you again to stop us?”
“Then kill me,” Zeke replied. Stated so bluntly, so matterof-factly, that my stomach turned. “If something happens where it’s either Sarren or me, don’t hesitate. Stop him, even if you have to kill me, too.” He avoided my gaze as he said this, his voice dropping to a whisper. “It would be a mercy.”
“Oh, don’t say that, bloodbag,” Jackal said, ever-present grin back in place. “I was just starting to like you.”
We left Old Chicago that night, heading east toward Eden once more. Only this time, things were vastly different. One, Zeke was with us. Still shaken, dispassionate, and numb with what had happened to him, but alive. I was determined to keep him that way. And two, we had a working vehicle again.
“Not the prettiest hunk of metal on the road,” Jackal remarked as we walked across the floating barge, passing rows of motorcycles to where a rusty old van was parked at the end of the line. “I would suggest bikes, but fuel’s running a bit low, and it’s a bitch to find more. Better to have to fill one tank instead of four.”
Kanin regarded the van impassively. There were slats across the windows, and metal spikes welded to the hood and bumpers, making it bristle with ill intent, but he didn’t say anything. Zeke also observed the van without emotion, which worried me. A van like this had been used to kidnap his people and take them to Old Chicago, but if he was remembering that night, it didn’t show.
Wrenching open the side door, I peered inside. The interior was empty, seats torn out, rotting plywood laid across the floor. An old, flat tire sat in the corner, and a skull-sized hole, the edges lined with rust, was punched through the opposite wall. Water and snow had obviously seeped in, for the whole thing reeked of mold.
“Really?” I looked back at my blood brother. “We’re going to Eden in this hunk of metal? It’s two steps away from falling apart.”
“Sorry, sister. I didn’t realize you were such a car expert.”
Jackal sneered at me. “Does the chariot not meet her majesty’s approval? Were you expecting white horses and gold wheels?
You could always walk to Eden, you know.”
“You’re the king of Old Chicago. Can’t you demand a better vehicle?”
“This is the better vehicle.”
The growl of the engine interrupted us. Kanin had slipped into the driver’s seat and turned the ignition, making the van cough and sputter to life. It stood there, shaking and wheezing like some ancient beast, and the Master vampire drummed his fingers on the wheel, staring out the front window. Clearly, he was done waiting for us to make a decision. Zeke stepped into the van without hesitation, sitting cross-legged against the far wall, and Jackal opened the passenger door with a smirk.
“What?” I said. But he had already slammed the door behind him, leaving me standing there by myself. Glowering, I stepped into the flimsy, rotting interior, pulled the door closed, and settled against the wall with Zeke. The van coughed once more and began to move, rolling across the barge, over a shaky, rattling bridge, and into the streets.