“Me?” I bared my fangs, and would’ve kicked him if he was closer. “You’re the one he wants to kill. Come to think of it, you’re the one everyone wants to kill.”
“Hey, old man,” Jackal called in a mocking voice, “you forgot to say ‘ if you kids don’t stop I’m going to turn this car right around and then no one will go to Eden.’”
Kanin didn’t deign to answer, and together we continued our journey, four vampires on a long, lonely highway heading east.
Hoping our time had not run out.
Two hours before dawn, we found Sarren’s last message waiting for us.
We smelled it first, of course, the familiar, unmistakable scent of blood drifting over the empty highway like invisible threads. The highway had entered civilization again, taking us through empty towns and subdivisions, crumbling houses on either side and cars scattered about the road. Wary, we continued on, each thinking the same thing—that there was some kind of trap, ambush, or atrocity waiting for us down the road. We weren’t entirely wrong.
The stench of rot, decay and wrongness soon joined the smell of blood, so it wasn’t surprising when we approached an overpass choked with weeds and vines and saw a mass of spindly pale things swarming under the bridge.
“Rabids,” Zeke muttered, as the four of us paused on a corner across the street, watching the monsters hiss and scramble over the hulk of an ancient, rusting semitruck that blocked the path we needed to take. The swarm wasn’t huge, but there were enough to be dangerous. “Should we find a way around?”
“What if someone’s in the truck?” I asked, watching him carefully. And though my voice was calm, I was almost terrified of his answer. If he shrugged or gave no indication of wanting to help survivors, then I would know my Zeke was truly gone. “Someone might be hurt,” I went on, as Zeke gazed at me blankly. “If we leave them now, they’re dead.”
“If this is Sarren’s work, they’re probably already dead,”
Zeke answered, making my heart crash in despair. “But,” he added, and pulled out his machete, his eyes going hard, “I suppose we have to make certain.”
Relief flooded me. I glanced at my sire, hoping he thought the same. “Kanin?”
The Master vampire nodded once. “I’m right behind you, Allison.”
Jackal groaned. “Oh, yeah, stroll merrily up to the van reeking of blood, placed very conveniently in our direct path.
That doesn’t sound like a trap at all.” But his dinged, bloody fire ax emerged from beneath his duster, and he gave it an easy twirl. “Rescuing bloodbags and saving puppies.” He sighed.
“That sounds about right for this group. You bleeding hearts are going to be the death of me, I just know it.” Gazing down at me, he smirked and gestured to the distant pack. “Well, this is your party, sister. Why don’t you get it started?”
Drawing my sword, I stepped off the curb into the road, bared my fangs, and roared a challenge into the night. My voice carried over the wind, echoing off the rooftops, and the rabids jerked up, pale heads snapping toward me. With piercing shrieks and wails, the mob leaped off the truck and came skittering at us, claws and talons scraping the cement, jaws gaping to reveal jagged fangs. My monster surged up with the explosion of violence, eager and bloodthirsty, and I ran forward to meet them.
Zeke was suddenly beside me, cold and silent as the horde bore down on us, his face the same killer’s mask I’d seen in Jackal’s tower. The first rabid sprang at him with a howl; Zeke’s blade flashed, and the monster’s head left its shoulders, bouncing into a car. Snarling a challenge, I slashed my katana at the next pair of spindly bodies, cutting through one and into the other. Their black, foul-smelling blood spattered the snow, and then the rest of the swarm f looded in, surrounding us, and everything dissolved into madness. I heard the savage crunch of bones as Jackal’s fire ax connected, crushing skulls and knocking rabids away, and caught glimpses of Kanin’s dark, graceful form from the corner of my eye as his knife parted heads with lethal precision. Rabids pressed forward, screaming, and I met them with my blade, feeling the shiver of metal as it passed through undead f lesh, the monster inside howling with glee.
A different roar, icy and furious, made me whirl around.
Zeke stood with his back against an overturned car, two rabids hounding him on either side. One had its fangs sunk into his sword arm, even as the blade itself stuck out of its collarbone.
The other hissed and pressed forward, jaws snapping eagerly.
I lunged forward to help, but with a rabid still gnawing on his wrist, Zeke reached back with his other hand, pulled the gun from his back holster and shoved it between the rabid’s eyes. There was a boom, blood and bits of skull exploding everywhere, and the rabid fell away with the back of its skull missing. At the same time, Zeke yanked his machete from the dead rabid’s body, turned and sliced it through the second one’s neck.
He spun on me as I came up, eyes bright and glassy, lips curled back to show fangs. Blood streaked his face and the front of his shirt as I stared at him, a cold-eyed, snarling vampire, and he raised his gun.
My instincts responded even as I was tempted to stand there gaping. Instead, I threw myself aside just as the pistol barked, and a rabid shrieked behind me and slammed into a car.
I darted to Zeke’s side, and we faced the last of the horde together, back-to-back. Rabids leaped at us, wailing, and fell before our blades as we moved around each other, guarding the other’s flank. I stuck my katana through a rabid’s chest, ripped it out and turned to slash another lunging at Zeke’s blind spot. Zeke decapitated a rabid, spun, and fired his pistol into the face of another behind my shoulder. The roar of the gun made my head ring, but the rabid was flung back, its face a bloody mess, and didn’t rise again.
And then, it was over. Zeke and I stood in the center of a gore-strewn circle, limbs and bodies scattered at our feet.
Lowering my blade, I stared at the field of carnage, looking around for Jackal and Kanin. They stood a few paces away, the Master vampire calmly wiping his blade on his sleeve while Jackal pried his ax from a rabid’s severed head and tossed away the skull in disgust.
I looked up, met Zeke’s gaze, and my insides fluttered. He was gazing at me with a faint, familiar expression, one I hadn’t seen on him since he’d Turned. The icy mask had cracked a bit, admiration, respect and a little awe filtering through the terrible blankness in his eyes. The corner of his mouth curled, very slightly, and he shook his head.