You are my last offspring, my legacy to this world. You are a Master vampire, Al ison. I hope that, whatever your choice, whatever path you choose, you will remain that same girl I met that night in the rain. The one decision for which I have no regrets.
“Kanin,” I whispered, my throat tightening once more.
Glaring at the metal wall, I bared my fangs. “I won’t let you down.”
Putting my shoulder against the steel once more, I closed my eyes and pushed, ignoring the pain, the Hunger that consumed me. For seconds, the container didn’t move. Then there was a rusty screech as the box shifted, just a few inches, but it was enough. I threw myself into the task, pushing with all my might, thinking of Kanin, Zeke, Caleb, even Jackal. All the people who had brought me this far. I would not fail them.
I would, as a now-dead psychopath had put so eloquently, beat my wings against the coming dark until it swallowed me whole, or I drove it back entirely.
The metal container screeched horribly as it slid across the deck, stopping at the very edge of the barge. I paused, gathered the last of my strength, and shoved as hard as I could.
The huge box tipped on its side, seemed to teeter at the edge of the deck, and finally went over, hitting the dark waters with a tremendous splash.
I crumpled to the deck once more, listening to the chain rattle over the side as the container sank beneath the surface, hopefully filling with water. It was done. I didn’t know if I’d gotten to it in time, if it would be enough to turn the barge, but there was nothing more I could do. As I lay there, I thought I could feel the barge turning…turning…agonizingly slow. But I couldn’t be certain.
And then there was a deafening, grinding crunch that shook the deck, as the huge ship finally ran aground. The barge shuddered violently, metal screeching, wood snapping, sounding like it was tearing itself apart, before it finally stopped moving. I thought I heard shouts and cries from the shore, gunfire booming into the night, and knew I should get up, try to help. I ached, badly, but I was healing, and in no danger of hibernation. At least not yet.
Suddenly frantic, I pushed myself upright and half crawled, half staggered over to where Zeke lay, collapsing beside him.
His face was slack, but at my touch, he stirred, and his eyes opened. Bright with Hunger, glazed over with pain, but alive.
“Allie?” His gaze sought mine, worried and anxious even through the Hunger. “Did it work?” he whispered. “Did you turn the ship in time?”
“I don’t know,” I whispered back. Raising my head, I stared past the deck, but couldn’t see anything beyond the railing but trees. “I did everything I could.”
“Well, you did cut it a bit close, there, runts,” said a clear, familiar voice, as a shadow fell over me. “Another couple hundred feet, and it would’ve been a massacre. Which, don’t get me wrong, I’m usually all for, but not when I’m on the losing side.”
I looked up. Jackal stood over us, wearing his usual smirk, an assault rifle held casually to one shoulder. Raw, open wounds glimmered on his cheeks, and the sickly black veins had spread from his jaw to the side of his face, but he stood tall and proud there on the deck, shaking his head at me. His duster billowed out behind him, and his gold eyes shone in the darkness.
“Jackal,” I whispered, as he raised a sardonic eyebrow.
“You’re…still here? I thought you took off… .”
He snorted. “With Requiem on the loose? Where would I go, exactly? We had to stop it here, but I figured if Sarren killed us all, the damn plague would begin the second the barge hit land and the rabids got loose. I knew I wouldn’t be any help in taking on the psychopath. So, I implemented a backup plan. That way, if he managed to kill you all, at least I could warn the meatsacks what was coming.”
“That was your plan?” I glared at him, remembering what he’d said on the boat, right before he pulled away and vanished over the waves. “I thought you were abandoning us! Why didn’t you just tell me that earlier?”
Jackal gave me a smug grin. “And miss out on those lovely rants you do so well? What fun would that be?”
“Wait a minute.” Zeke struggled to sit up, his expression incredulous and skeptical. “You…you’re telling me you left to warn the town. To save the humans?”
“Don’t read too much into it, puppy,” Jackal sneered. “I don’t want Requiem to spread any more than you. It would put a rather large damper on my plans if everyone up and died.
So, yes, I left to warn the bloodbags, who all agreed that we should try to stop this thing. Maybe pick off as many rabids as we could before they hit shore.” He raised his assault rifle.
“That’s when I saw you and your girlfriend on deck with Sarren, getting your asses kicked, and thought I’d intervene.
You’re welcome, by the way. I’m just a little sad I didn’t get to see Sarren’s face when it finally left his scrawny neck.” He snorted and looked at the pale, crumpled corpse lying several yards away. The head was nowhere in sight, having rolled off the deck when the ship ran aground. One corner of Jackal’s lip curled in a satisfied grin, before he sobered. “Too bad the old man never got to see it.”
A lump caught in my throat, even as I blinked at him.
“I have a blood tie, too, sister.” Jackal smirked at me, though it lacked the bite of before. “I felt when the old bastard finally kicked it. It seemed to be what he wanted, so I’m guessing Sarren wasn’t the one who did him in. How’d it happen, anyway?”
I swallowed hard. “Kanin,” I began, trying to keep my voice steady, “discovered the cure…was inside him.” Jackal’s eyebrows arched, and an incredulous look crossed his face as I continued. “That he carried the cure for Requiem in his blood. He gave his life to make sure the virus wouldn’t spread to the rest of the world, that it would end right here.” My eyes went blurry, and I blinked hard to clear them, my voice coming out a little choked. “He saved us. He saved everything.”
“Huh.” Jackal blinked at me, his expression unreadable.
Turning, he gazed back toward the platform, where the rabids had been minutes before. “Well, old man.” He sighed, and his voice wasn’t smug, or sarcastic, or mocking. “You’ve been waiting for this day since the rabids were first created.
I hope you found your peace.”