Below, Jackal and Kanin fought side by side, a deadly pairing despite their differences. Jackal’s fire ax spun through the air and connected with bone-crushing force, cracking skulls, smashing opponents into cars and pavement. Kanin’s thin, bright dagger was a blur as he moved gracefully around the flailing monsters, slitting throats and severing heads with sur-gical precision. They didn’t need my help; both were doing just fine.
In the split second that my attention strayed to Kanin and Jackal, a rabid landed on the car roof beside me and lashed out with its claws. I jerked back, sweeping my blade up to cut it open, but a stinging pain erupted over my face as its talons scored my cheek.
The world went red. Screaming, I leaped down into the middle of the swarm and began laying waste with my katana.
Limbs and heads parted for me as I carved my way through the horde. My demon reveled in the chaos and destruction, howling in delight with every body that fell, painting the snow and the cars around me with dark blood.
A shadow fell over me, and the ground shook with a roar.
I spun to see a huge rabid, well over six feet, fill my vision one second before a large, claw-tipped hand struck the side of my head with an explosion of pain. I was knocked into a car, glass shattering around me as the giant roared, towering over the others, and came at me again.
I dove aside as the rabid struck the car, talons screeching off the metal and leaving long furrows behind. Despite its monstrous size, it was more skeleton than flesh. Below the ribs jutting sharply against pale skin, its stomach was a yawning, concave valley that seemed to press into its spine. But its shoulders were massive, and heavy, deformed arms hung past its knees, the hands tipped with sicklelike claws. It screamed at me and pounced, and I rolled away, cutting at its middle as I came to my feet. The katana struck a few ribs, severing them, and the creature whirled with a howl.
Blood ran into my eyes, making it hard to see. I blinked and shook my head, trying to focus. The rabid roared and lashed out with those long arms, and I met the blow with my sword, hammering it into the thing’s forearm. The blade struck the thick limb and cut deep, but the force still knocked me aside, sending me sprawling to the snow. It was strong, and I was going to have to hit something vital if I wanted to kill it for good.
Still clutching my weapon, I pushed myself to my hands and knees. But before I could stand, something grabbed the back of my neck, lifted me up a few feet, and then slammed me to the pavement with crushing force. I felt my nose break and my jawbone snap, and pain exploded behind my eyes.
The thing bashed me to the ground three more times, bones popping and crunching with every blow, before it turned and flung me into the hood of a car. More glass shattered, biting into my flesh, and fresh stabs of pain joined the agony already pounding through my head. The rabid bellowed in triumph, lumbering forward, and my delirium shifted to a sudden, all-consuming rage.
Ignoring the pain, I snatched my katana from where it lay on the hood and roared a challenge to the giant bearing down on me. As it loomed overhead, smashing down with a huge fist, I dodged aside, and its arm crunched into metal, leaving a deep hole behind. Snarling, I leaped toward my enemy, launched myself off its elbow, and brought my sword down as hard as I could. The blade sliced through the rabid’s collarbone and carved through its pale body, splitting it open from neck to stomach.
The huge creature staggered, the two halves peeling off in different directions, before it slid slowly to the pavement, twitched once, and was still. Fangs bared, I gazed around for my next attacker, raising my sword, but nothing else moved in the night. The horde was gone, scattered in pieces behind and around me, filling the air with the foul stench of their blood. I was alone.
And I hurt. I hurt everywhere, inside and out. I needed food, blood. I needed to hunt, but there was no prey here.
The pain within was fading; I knew I was healing, but I was Hungry now. So very Hungry…
“Well, little sister, I’m not too proud to say it. That was almost impressive.”
A voice, snide and challenging, echoed behind me. The Hunger roared, and I spun, baring my fangs in a snarl. Another vampire stood several paces away, smelling of blood and power, yellow eyes widening in shock. Older than me, possibly stronger than me, but that had never given me pause before. My lips curled, and I stepped toward him, raising my sword.
“Sister.” The vampire’s voice was a warning, and he raised his hands, one of which held a bloody fire ax. “Don’t be stupid. Get a hold of yourself. Don’t make me smear your brains all over the pavement.”
His voice rang oddly in my head, almost familiar. Did I know him? I hesitated, confused, but the fiery ache inside rose up, consuming me. I faced the vampire across from me and hissed, an invitation and a challenge. To my surprise, he didn’t take it.
Another figure appeared from the maze of cars, striding to face me across the pavement. I cringed back, feeling the immense power radiating from that dark form. The first vampire was of no consequence now. This vampire was far older, and far, far stronger than us both.
“One of the bastards got her good,” I heard the other vampire say, not making any sense. “She’s close to frenzy. Doesn’t recognize either of us.”
The ancient one gazed at me, dark eyes boring into mine, and fear shot through me. I couldn’t fight him; he would tear me apart. I snarled and stepped back, tensing to flee into the shadows, away from that terrifying presence.
“Allison, stop.” The Master’s voice, soft and compelling, lanced into me, holding me still. “Look at me,” he continued, and I had no choice but to obey. “Calm your mind,” he murmured, the words soothing the swirl of chaos and darkness within. “You know me. You know who you are.” His voice flowed through me, becoming more familiar, and the rage began to subside. “Remember,” the Master vampire continued, staring me down. “Remember what we are trying to accomplish.” His voice hardened, becoming unyielding and stern. “You cannot lose yourself to frenzy. I will not allow it. Who am I?”
Memory flooded in at last. Closing my eyes, I slumped to the hood of a car, bowing my head. “Kanin,” I whispered as everything came back. I could feel my fangs pressing against my lip, the blood on my cheek left by rabid claws, the damage done to me inside. The Hunger flared, painful and demanding, but I shoved it into the darkness once more.
His footsteps crunched through the snow until he stood over me, gazing at the top of my head. Shame burned, hot and intense. I’d lost control. The very thing I had promised would never happen again, nearly had. I’d been one step away from Blood Frenzy, from losing control of the Hunger and attacking anything that moved.