Sarren’s grip tightened, bony fingers closing like a vice, crushing my windpipe and turning the world red with pain.

One knee pinned my sword arm to the deck; I couldn’t move my arm, and watched as Sarren raised his sword, angling it toward my neck.

With a defiant snarl, I clenched my free hand into a fist and punched the arm at my throat as hard as I could, striking the elbow. There was a snap and Sarren toppled forward, the pressure at my throat loosening as he was thrown off-balance.

I shoved hard with my legs, bucking him over my head, then scrambled upright with my sword.

I barely had time to turn before he was on me again, hissing and baring his fangs. I dodged the first savage blow, deflected the second, and was hurled back as Sarren lunged in and kicked me in the chest. I hit the deck, rolled to my knees, and stabbed up as quickly as I could, almost without thinking.

A jolt went up my arms as Sarren hit the point of my blade, impaling himself through the stomach. He glanced down at the weapon through his gut, bared his fangs, and stepped forward, sliding along the katana edge and slashing his sword arm at my face.

I jerked back, managing to keep ahold of my weapon, wrenching the katana free in a spray of blood. Sarren didn’t even slow down as he attacked once more, driving me back across the deck. Blood drenched his front, dripping to the metal, but his eyes were crazed and glassy, beyond any pain.

Past his head, I caught a split-second glimpse of land, of the lights of the checkpoint, nearly upon us.

Snarling, I knocked away Sarren’s blade and slashed in with my own, desperate to end this. He dodged, the edge missing his head by centimeters, and lunged forward with an inhuman shriek. I jumped back, but hit the wall of the engine room, striking my head against the metal. In that moment of shock, Sarren stabbed forward, and the tip of his blade slammed into my shoulder, sinking deep and pinning me to the wall.

Agony flared. I howled and slashed at him, but his free hand shot out, striking my wrist as the blow came down, and my sword was knocked from my grasp, skidding across the deck.

Turning back, Sarren hissed and shoved the blade in deeper, twisting it as he did, and I screamed.

Zeke suddenly rammed into Sarren, hitting him from the side as he brought his machete slashing down at his neck. The impact sent another blaze of agony up my shoulder, setting it on fire, as the blade pinning me to the wall snapped with a metallic ringing sound, and Sarren lurched away with half a sword. Roaring, the mad vampire spun on Zeke, who faced him with his machete in hand, the other pressed to his chest.

His clothes were drenched with blood, and he could barely stand, his jaw clenched with pain and determination.

Zeke bared his fangs and slashed viciously at Sarren’s face, but his swing was wild, hindered by pain and blood loss. Sarren blocked easily and grabbed Zeke by the throat, lifting him up with a snarl. I grabbed the blade in my shoulder and, ignoring the jagged edge slicing my fingers, pulled it free, lunged at Sarren, and sank it into his back.

He whirled with a roar, backhanding me in the jaw, sending me flying. I hit the deck and rolled into the railing, crying out as everything blazed with pain. I couldn’t keep this up.

I was just about done. But I had to keep fighting. For Zeke, and Kanin, and everyone in Eden, I couldn’t let Sarren win.

I raised my head and caught a glint of metal, lying an arm’s length away. My sword. I tried to move, to reach for it, but footsteps echoed over the deck, and a shadow fell over me.

I looked up. Sarren stood there, pale and terrible in the darkness. He held Zeke against him, one arm circling his throat, gazing down at me over his shoulder. Zeke’s hands were empty of weapons, and he clawed futilely at the arm around his neck, his face tight.

“Now, little bird.” Sarren’s voice was a rasp, and he wrenched Zeke’s head back, exposing his throat. I could only watch as Sarren raised his sword arm, the jagged, lethal edge glinting evilly as it prepared to strike. “Watch as I destroy everything you’ve ever loved.”

A barrage of gunfire echoed from the shore ahead, ringing through the darkness and sparking off the deck and railing. Sarren jerked in surprise, hissing as he glanced toward the checkpoint. For a split second, I met Zeke’s eyes, and he gave a tiny nod.

I lunged, snatching my weapon from the deck, and as Sarren turned back, stabbed up with all my might. Through Zeke’s stomach and into Sarren’s heart. Zeke cried out, and Sarren went rigid, his eyes bulging in shock and pain. I yanked my sword free and, as Zeke fell, crumpling at my feet, brought the blade slashing across Sarren’s neck, cutting off his head.

I collapsed to the deck beside Zeke as my strength gave out, as Sarren’s body collapsed like a jerky puppet and went still.

His bald head bounced on the deck, rolled over several times, and came to rest a few yards away, the scarred face frozen in an expression of surprise. This time, finally, he wouldn’t be getting up again.

“Zeke.” I pushed myself to an elbow and put a hand on his chest, my voice a ragged whisper. He lay on his back in a pool of blood, his eyes glazed as they stared at the sky. “Can you hear me?”

He grimaced, clenching his jaw, his fangs fully extended in pain. But his hand sought mine and gripped it tightly, his voice urgent as he turned to stare at me.

“Stop the barge, Allison.” A trickle of red streamed from his mouth, and he gritted his teeth. “Hurry. There’s…no time left. I don’t think…I can get up right now. Please.” He squeezed my hand. “It has to be you.”

I nodded wearily. I was so tired. Everything hurt, and I didn’t know if I had the strength to stand, much less turn an entire barge. But I pushed myself to my knees, and then, clenching my jaw, shoved myself upright. Hunger roared like fire through my veins, and every step was torture, but I staggered across the deck and practically fell against the open shipping container we had chained to the deck.

Putting bloody hands against the wall, I pushed. Nothing happened, except the bright jolt of agony slicing through me like a knife, and the Hunger that shrieked in my veins. Gritting my teeth, I tried again, closing my eyes against the pain, but the box stubbornly refused to budge.

I slumped against the wall, closing my eyes. I couldn’t do it. I was too weak, in too much pain, and I had no strength left. I’m sorry, Zeke, I thought, sliding down the metal, despair and grief clogging the back of my throat. I wanted to spend forever with you.

You can do this.

Blinking, I opened my eyes. The deck was empty, I was alone on the side of the ship. But I was almost certain I’d heard his voice, low and confident, like he was standing right beside me.

Tags: Julie Kagawa Blood of Eden Book Series
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