And I'd been so close, so close to changing something. To maybe making a difference in this stupid, screwed-up world.

I'd wanted to know what it was like not to live under vampire rule, not to be starving all the time, not having to shut everyone out because you were afraid they would die in front of you. Such a world had existed, once. If I could only make others realize that as well...but that choice was gone. My world would remain as it always was: dark, bloody and hopeless. The vampires would always rule, and I couldn't change anything.

But the other choice. The other choice...was to die for real.

"You are running out of time, little human."

I wished I could've said I would rather die than become a bloodsucker. I wished I had the courage, the strength, to stick with my convictions. But in reality, when faced with death and the great unknown that came after, my survival instinct snatched wildly at whatever lifeline was offered. I didn't want to die. Even if it meant becoming something I loathed, my nature was, first and always, to survive.

The stranger, the vampire, still knelt beside me, waiting for my answer. I looked up into his dark eyes and made my decision.

"I live."

The stranger nodded. He didn't ask if I was sure. He only moved closer and slid his hands under my body. "This will hurt," he warned and lifted me into his arms.

Though he was gentle, I gasped as pain shot through my broken body, biting down a scream as the vampire drew me to his chest. He lowered his head, close enough for me to see his cold pale skin, the dark circles beneath his eyes.

"Be warned," he said in a low voice, "even if I turn you now, there is still a chance for you to rise as a rabid. If that happens I will destroy you permanently. But I will not leave you," he promised in an even softer voice. "I will stay with you until the transformation, whatever it may be, is complete."

I could only nod. Then the vampire's lips parted, and I saw his fangs grow, lengthen, become long and sharp. It was nothing like the rabid's teeth, jagged and uneven, like broken glass. The vampire's fangs were surgical instruments, precise and dangerous, almost elegant. I was surprised. Even living so close to the bloodsuckers, I had not seen a vampire's killing tools until now.

My pulse throbbed, and I saw the vampire's nostrils twitch, as if smelling the blood coursing through my veins, right below my skin. His eyes changed, growing even darker, the pupils expanding so they swallowed all of the white. Before I could be terrified, before I could change my mind, he lowered his head in one smooth, quick motion, and those long, bright fangs sank into my throat.

I gasped, arching my back, my hands fisting in his shirt. I couldn't move or speak. Pain, pleasure and warmth f looded my body, coursing through my veins. Someone once told me there was some kind of narcotic in the vampire's fangs, a soothing agent; that was why having two long incisors in your neck wasn't the blinding agony one thought it should be. Of course, that was only speculation. Maybe there wasn't a scientific explanation. Maybe the bite of a vampire just felt like this: agony and pleasure, all at the same time.

I could feel him drinking, though, feel my blood leaving my veins at an alarming rate. I felt drowsy and numb, and the world started to blur at the edges. Abruptly, the vampire released me, brought a hand to his lips and sliced his wrist open on his fangs. As I watched, dazed and nearly insensible, he pressed the bleeding arm to my mouth. Thick, hot blood spread over my tongue, and I gagged, trying to pull away.

But the hand pressing against my mouth was as immovable as a wall.

"Drink," a voice commanded, low and stern, and I did, wondering if it would come right back up. It didn't. I felt the blood slide down my throat, burning a path all the way to my stomach. The arm didn't move, and hot liquid continued to f low into my mouth. Only when I had swallowed three or four times did the wrist pull away and the vampire lay me back down. The pavement was cold and hard against my back.

"I don't know if I got to you in time," he murmured almost to himself. "We shall have to wait and see what becomes of you. And what you will become."

"What...happens now?" I was barely conscious enough to force out the words. Sleepily, I gazed at him as the pain faded to a distant throbbing that belonged to someone else. Blackness crawled at the edges of my vision like a million ants.

"Now, little human," the vampire said, placing a hand on my forehead. "Now, you will die. And hopefully I will see you again on the other side."

Then, my eyes f lickered shut, darkness pulled me under and, lying in the rain, in the cold embrace of a nameless vampire, I exited the world of the living.

Part II Vampire

Chapter 5

Fragments of nightmare plagued my darkness.

Lucas and Rat, pulled under by grasping white hands.

The dead deer, rising from the grass to stare at me, her gaping ribs shining in the moonlight.

Running through aisles of rusty cars, thousands of pale things following me, shrieking and hissing at my back.

Ripping the tops off metal cans, finding them filled with dark red liquid, and drinking it furiously...

I bolted upright, shrieking, clawing at the darkness. As I opened my eyes, a searing light blinded me, and I cringed away with a hiss. All around me, strange noises assaulted my eardrums, familiar yet amplified a hundredfold. I could hear the scuttle of a cockroach as it f led up the wall. A trickle of water sounded like a waterfall. The air felt cold and damp against my skin, but in a strange way-I could feel the chill, but it wasn't cold at all.

I felt waxy and stiff, empty as a limp sack. Gingerly I turned my head and fire spread through my veins, hot and searing, nearly blinding me with pain. I arched back with a scream as the f lames spread to every part of my body, liquid agony shooting through my skin. My mouth ached, my upper jaw felt tight, as if something sharp was pressing against my gums, trying to burst out.

Flashes of emotion, like the shards of someone else's life, f lickered through my head. Pity. Empathy. Guilt. For a split second, I saw myself, my own body, writhing on the f loor, clawing at the cement and the walls. But then a bolt of pain turned my stomach inside out, doubling me over, and the strange image was lost.

The pressure against my jaw grew unbearable, and I screamed again, sounding like a snarling animal. And suddenly, something did burst through my gums, relieving the awful pain. The heat through my veins f lickered and died, and I slumped to the hard cement, shuddering with relief. But there was a new pain inside me, a hollow, throbbing ache radiating somewhere from my middle. I pushed myself to my hands and knees, shaking, growling deep in my throat. Hungry. I was hungry! I needed food!

Something pressed against my face, cold and wet. Plastic?

I recoiled with a snarl. Wait, the bag smelled of food, it was food! I lunged forward, sinking my teeth into the bag, tearing it from the air. Something f looded my mouth, cold and thick, cloying. Not warm, like it should be, but it was still food! I sucked and tore at the f limsy plastic, freeing the food within, feeling it slide down my throat into my stomach.

And then, as the awful Hunger faded and the ache inside was filled, I realized what I was doing.

"Oh, God." Dropping the mangled bag, I looked at my hands, covered in blood. The ground I lay on was splattered with it, dark stains against the cement. I could feel it around my mouth, on my lips and chin, the scent of it filling my nose. "Oh, God," I whispered again, scrambling away on my butt. I hit a wall and stared in horror at the scene before me.

"What...what am I doing?"

"You made a choice," came a deep voice to my right, and I looked up. The vampire loomed over me, tall and solemn. A f lickering candle sat behind him on an end table-the light that had blinded me earlier. It was still painfully bright, and I turned away. "You wanted to survive, to become one of us." He looked to the torn blood bag, lying a few feet away.

"You chose this."

I covered my mouth with a shaking hand, trying to remember, to recall what I'd said. All I could see was blood, and me in an animal rage, tearing at it, ripping it open. My hand dropped to my lips and jaw, probing my teeth where the ache had been. I drew in a quick breath.

There they were. Fangs. Very long and very, very sharp.

I snatched my hand back. It was true, then. I really had done the unthinkable. I'd become that which I hated most in the world. A vampire. A monster.

I slumped against the wall, trembling. Looking down at myself, I blinked in surprise. My old clothes were gone. Instead of my thin, faded patchwork shirt and pants, I wore black jeans and a dark shirt without a single hole or tear. The filthy, torn and probably bloodstained jacket had been replaced with a long black coat that looked almost new.

"What...what happened to my clothes?" I asked, touching the sleeve of the coat, blinking at how thick it was. Frowning suddenly, I looked up at the vampire. "Did you dress me?"

"Your clothes were torn to pieces when the rabids attacked you," the vampire informed me, still not moving from where he stood. "I found you some new ones. Black is the best color for us-it hides the bloodstains rather well. Do not worry." His deep, low voice held the faintest hint of amusement. "I did not see anything."

My mind spun. "I-I have to go," I said shakily, getting to my feet. "I have to...find my friends, see if they made it back to the hideout. Stick is probably-"

"Your friends are dead," the vampire said calmly. "And I would abandon all attachments to your life before. You are not part of that world any longer. It is better to simply forget about it."

Dead. Images f lashed through my mind-of rain and blood and pale, screeching things, hands pulling someone over a fence. With a hiss, I shied away from those thoughts, refusing to remember. "No," I choked out, shuddering. "You're lying."

"Let them go," the vampire insisted quietly. "They're gone."

I had the sudden, crazy urge to snarl and bare my fangs at him. I stif led it in horror, keeping a wary eye on the stranger, who watched me impassively. "You can't keep me here."

"If you want to leave, you may go." He didn't move, except to nod to a door on the other side of the small room. "I will not stop you. Though you will be dead within a day, if it takes that long. You have no idea how to survive as a vampire, how to feed, how to avoid detection, and if the vampires of this city discover you, they will most likely kill you.

Alternatively, you could remain here, with me, and have a chance of surviving this life you have chosen." I glared at him. "Stay here? With you? Why? What do you care?"

The stranger narrowed his eyes. "Bringing a new vampire into the world is something I do not take lightly," he said.

"Turning a human only to abandon it without the skills it needs to survive would be irresponsible and dangerous. If you stay here, I will teach you what you need to know to live as one of us. Or-" he turned slightly, gesturing to the door

"-you can leave and try to survive on your own, but I wash my hands of you and whatever blood comes after." I slumped back to the wall, my mind racing. Rat was dead.

Lucas was dead. I'd seen them, pulled under by rabids in the old city, torn apart before my eyes. My throat closed up. Stick, much as I hated to admit it, was most likely dead as well; he couldn't survive the trek back to the city on his own. It was just me now. Alone. A vampire.

Tags: Julie Kagawa Blood of Eden Book Series