"Ezekiel." Jebbadiah turned to frown at his pupil, impatient. "What are you looking at?"
Zeke took a step back. "Nothing, sir. I thought I heard..." He shook his head. "Never mind. It was probably a raccoon."
"Then why are we still standing here?" Zeke murmured an apology and turned away. They disappeared around the corner, back into the church, and I slumped to the ground, fury and the Hunger buzzing through my veins.
The smell of Zeke's blood still hung in the air, though not as strong as when he was present. I had to get away; the longer I stayed, the more I wanted it. And if Zeke, or worse, Jebbadiah, came through the cemetery again, I might not be able to resist attacking either of them.
The sky overhead showed a faint pink light on the belly of the clouds, and the sun wouldn't be far behind. I burrowed into the cold cemetery ground, trying not to imagine what else was buried here, beneath the grass and tombstones. The earth closed around me, dark and comforting, and I slipped into the waiting blackness of sleep.
And, for the first time since I left New Covington, I dreamed.
A DARK, EMPTY CITY.
Skyscrapers leaning against each other like fallen trees.
Memories tinted with anger. Shouldn't have let my guard down.
Should've seen that trap. I was careless.
Lightning flickered, turning the world white for a split second. And in the stillness between the flash and the next boom of thunder, I saw him.
Smiling at me.
I jerked awake in the darkness and immediately knew something was wrong. Everything was completely black, but I could hear muff led booms topside, feel vibrations through the earth, like being underwater while something raged overhead.
I clawed my way through the dirt, breaking through the cemetery grounds, and a wave of heat blasted my face, making me snarl and cringe back.
The church was on fire. Red and orange f lames leaped out of the windows and slithered up the walls. The cross on the roof burned, wreathed in fire like a man with outstretched arms, welcoming the agony as it consumed him.
The vampire in me recoiled, hissing, wanting to run, to burrow back into the earth where the f lames could not touch me. I fought the urge and scrambled upright, scanning the grounds frantically for Zeke or any sign of the others.
The roar of engines echoed over the f lames, and gunfire exploded somewhere down the street, four shots in rapid succession. I took off, leaping over tombstones, drawing my sword as I passed the doomed church and sprinted into an alley. As I followed it around a corner, something f lashed by the mouth of the corridor; something that roared and coughed smoke and glinted metallic in the dim red light. Bikes, men and guns.
Raiders. My stomach contracted into a tight knot.
Jackal's gang was here.
I shot out of the alley, sword and fangs bared, to see another raider bearing down on me, the roar of his bike pounding off the buildings. He gave a shout as I leaped aside, barely clearing the tires, and brought my sword across the handlebars as he passed. The raider swerved aside, the blade missing him by inches, and careened into a wall. I heard the crunch of metal and bones, and the raider crumpled to the pavement with the bike on top of him.
A shout rang out behind me, and I spun. Through a maze of dead cars, a trio of humans looked up from the center of the lot, eyes widening as they saw me. Two of them were struggling with a body they had slammed across the hood of a car, arms pinned behind him, binding his wrists with rough cord. His pale hair gleamed in the darkness, his face tight with pain as they pressed it to the metal.
"Zeke!" I cried, starting forward, and the two raiders scrambled into action. One grabbed the assault rif le that lay on the car roof and the other dragged the prisoner behind a van and out of sight.
I roared, baring fangs, and went for the raider with the gun. Without hesitation, he raised the long muzzle to shoot at me, though his eyes were wide with shock and fear; he knew what I was and didn't pause as he sighted down the barrel and pulled the trigger.
The gun chattered on full automatic, sending out a hail of bullets, striking the rusty cars around me and sparking off the metal. Windows shattered as I ducked and wove around cars, the roar of gunfire and breaking glass nearly deafening. But I could sense my prey, smell his fear and desperation. Crouched behind a vehicle, I waited until the stream of gunfire paused, heard a frantic curse from the raider as he fumbled to reload.
I leaped atop the car, bounding over the roofs, and the human's eyes went wide with terror. He raised his gun, fired three wild shots, and then I was on him, slamming him against a door, breaking the window. Something bright f lashed in his hand as he plunged a knife into my neck, right above the collarbone, and pain shot through me like a bullet.
I screamed, wrenched his head down to my level, and sank my fangs into his throat.
My neck burned, I could feel my own blood running down my collar into my shirt. The Hunger was a gaping hole inside, dark and ravenous. Blood filled my mouth, f looding my senses. This time, I didn't hold back.
The raider shuddered and eventually went limp in my arms. Dropping the body, letting it slump to the cement, I gazed around the lot for Zeke and the other raider. They couldn't have gone far, especially if Zeke was resisting. I caught a glimpse of two bodies vanishing between buildings, the smaller one being shoved into the alley with a gun at his back, and leaped after them.
Coming out of the alley, I spotted the raider dragging Zeke toward a gray van parked on the sidewalk, doors open and engine running. The van had been modified into a lethal weapon. Metal spikes bristled from the doors and hood, and iron slats ran across the windows. Even the hubcaps were sharp and pointed.
The raider turned and spotted me coming for him. His face went pale. Zeke was still struggling with his captor, trying to yank out of his grasp. I bared my fangs and roared, and the raider made a decision. Turning, he shoved his captive toward me, but as Zeke stumbled forward, he raised his gun and pointed it at Zeke's unprotected back.
Two gunshots rang out. Zeke fell, striking his head on the pavement. I gasped and rushed toward him as the raider leaped into the van, slammed the door and screeched off.
Flinging myself down beside him, I ripped the cord from his wrists and rolled him onto his side. His skin was pale, blood trickling from his nose and mouth, and his eyes were closed. I shook him, feeling sick as his head f lopped limply, then I forced myself to be still and listen. For a heartbeat, a pulse, anything. Relief coursed through me. It was there, loud and frantic. He was alive.
"Zeke." I touched his face, and this time he stirred, opening his eyes with a gasp. Pain-filled blue eyes f licked up to mine.
"You!" he gasped through clenched teeth and jerked away from me. "What are you doing here? How-" He gasped again, curling into himself, his expression tight with agony.
"Lie still," I told him. "You've been shot. We have to get you out of here."
"No," Zeke rasped, trying to get up. "The others. Get away from me! I have to help them." His leg buckled, and he crumpled to the pavement again.
"Lie still, idiot, or you're going to bleed to death, and then you won't be able to help anyone!" I glared fiercely, and he finally relented. "Where are you hit?" He winced. "My leg," he panted, gritting his teeth.
There was a nasty chunk taken out of Zeke's calf, which was bleeding all over the place, but thankfully, the bone seemed intact. Still, the amount of blood oozing from the gash both tempted and worried me. I bandaged him up as best I could, using strips from my coat to make a tourniquet, trying to ignore the smell and feel of the blood on my hands, on his skin.
Zeke set his jaw and didn't make a sound through the first part of the process, but a few minutes in, he reached out and stopped my hand.
"I can do the rest," he panted. "Go help the others." He hesitated a moment, then added: "Please." I met his gaze. Desperation and worry shone from his eyes, overshadowing the pain I knew he was in. "I'll be all right," he said, struggling to keep his voice steady. "The others, though. They're after them. You have to stop them." I nodded and stood, gazing into the shadows, listening for sounds of pursuit. "Where?"
He pointed down the street. "Last I saw, Jeb was leading part of the group in that direction. We split up when we heard them coming, to throw them off." His face darkened.
"They already have Ruth and Jake-you have to stop them from getting anyone else."
I grabbed him under the arms and, ignoring his protests and gasps of pain, dragged him off the road. "Stay here," I said, setting him down behind a clump of weeds, higher than our heads. "I don't want you getting caught again while I'm searching for the others. I'll be back as soon as I can. Don't move."
He nodded wearily. I retrieved my sword from where it lay on the sidewalk and sprinted down the road, looking for the people who had cast me out.
It didn't take long. I could hear the roar of bike engines, and the pop of distant gunfire over the tops of the buildings.
The boom of Jeb's shotgun echoed off the roofs, and I began to run. But the buildings masked the direction of the shots, and the streets wound confusingly through the small town, dead-ending or going nowhere.
I leaped over a moss-eaten wall just as two vans, armored and spiked like the previous one, roared past me, trailing plumes of smoke. Sprinting into the road, I watched them tear away, the hoots and laughter of the raiders echoing behind.
A face appeared in the back window, frightened and pale, pressed against the glass. Ruth's eyes met mine, terrified, before she was yanked back into the darkness, and the van screeched around a corner out of sight.
In the split second that I thought about pursuing them, headlights pierced the road at my back, and the roar of engines echoed down the street. I turned to see the rest of the gang, at least thirty or forty armed bikers, turn a corner and come swooping at me.
I dived behind a car as the gang passed, laughing and howling, some firing their weapons into the air. I gripped my sword, torn between attack and self-preservation. I could've leaped out and sliced down two or three raiders before the rest even knew what was happening. But then I'd be facing the rest of the gang, who would probably turn and spray me with bullets. And even though I was a vampire, I would not survive that, not from so many. My body was tough but not invincible.
So I waited and listened until the sounds of their voices disappeared, until the roar of engines and the pop of gunfire faded into the darkness, and silence settled over the town once more.
Just to be certain, I checked the surrounding area for sur-vivors. I found the spot behind a warehouse where an obvious battle had taken place; skid marks on the pavement, bullet holes in the walls, lining the sides of dead cars. Jeb's shotgun lay in a puddle next to an overturned truck, and a pair of raider corpses lay sprawled in the weeds close by, indicating the old man had not gone quietly. But others had not escaped the chaos, either. Dorothy sat crumpled against a cement ramp, two small holes seeping crimson below her collarbone, her puzzled eyes staring off into nothing.
I looked at her body, feeling hollow and numb. I hadn't known her long, and she had been a little on the crazy side, but even with her talk of angels and vampire-devils, Dorothy had been kind to me.