They weren’t far. I backtracked through the trees until I found the road again and saw Jackal leaning against a dead tree at the edge of the pavement. He raised an eyebrow as I came up, but didn’t move.
“Where’s Kanin?” I asked, gazing around for the Master vampire. Our blood tie allowed me to sense my sire’s general direction, and even that he wasn’t very far, but it didn’t let me know what he was doing. Jackal shrugged.
“You know as much as I do, sister. The old bastard is off that way—” he nodded over a rise on the other side of the road “—but of course he hasn’t told me what he’s doing. For all I know, he could be chasing squirrels to make a necklace from their little squirrel balls.” He looked content not to move from his position as I glared at him. “If you’re so curious, why don’t you go ask him?”
“Yeah. I’ll do that.”
Following our blood tie, I trekked over the rise and through the snow, weaving through trees and around a rotting cabin, until I found him. He stood with his back to me at the edge of the road where it curved around a bend, his tall, imposing form a featureless silhouette against the snow.
“Kanin.” I walked to his side, not expecting him to acknowledge me but knowing he knew I was there. As predicted, he didn’t turn, but continued to gaze down the road, his face unreadable. I peered into the darkness, saw nothing unusual, and glanced back. “What are you looking for?”
“I don’t know.” Kanin sounded suspicious, and I caught the barest note of frustration beneath his cool tone, a hint I would have never caught a month ago. The Master vampire stared down the winding pavement, and his eyes narrowed.
“I feel we are being watched.”
I frowned. The road and the forest surrounding it were empty. Nothing moved or made a sound in the shadows; no tracks lay in the snow except our own. “Rabids?” I asked.
“No.” Kanin shook his head. “Rabids would not simply watch from the woods. They would have attacked us by now.”
“Perhaps. Though I am uncertain as to why they would be stalking us. And I cannot sense, or smell, any humans nearby.”
I gave him a faint smile. “Is it possible you’re just being paranoid after last night?”
He finally looked at me, a hint of amusement crossing his face. “One does not live to be several centuries old without a little paranoia,” he said, the corner of his mouth curving just slightly. “But perhaps you are right. In any case, there is little we can do about it now. Let’s keep moving. Once we reach Old Chicago, I am sure we will find answers.”
Several hours later, the road widened and became a highway, and the buildings around us grew larger and more numerous as we approached the outskirts of the city. According to Jackal, we were still a day out from Old Chicago, though we’d left the wilderness behind and had entered the surrounding suburban districts. The tangle of trees and undergrowth now wrapped themselves around houses, stores and road signs, and the once-empty highway slowly grew choked with cars.
One side of it, anyway. The other side, the side leading toward Old Chicago, was completely barren. I’d seen this before: the endless stream of dead, crumpled vehicles, thousands of people trying to flee the cities all at once. I stared at the cars we passed, repressing a shiver. It must’ve been chaos, back then.
Vehicles lay smashed against each other, sometimes flipped to the side or all the way onto the roof. A skeleton lay half in, half out of a broken windshield, splayed across the hood in the snow. The blackened hulk of a van lay overturned in a ditch, one small bony arm reaching through the shattered window, as if trying to claw itself free.
Kanin and Jackal continued on, barely glancing at the silent vehicles and their grisly contents. I guessed that Kanin had been alive for so long, nothing surprised or disturbed him anymore. And Jackal certainly wouldn’t care about a bunch of dead meatsacks, as he would so elegantly put it. I wondered if that would ever happen to me, if I would eventually live so long, the sight of mass death and destruction wouldn’t faze me at all.
Ahead of us, the mouth of a tunnel loomed over the river of cars, a yawning black hole set into a rise. The tunnel was pitch-black, and though my vampire sight allowed me to see in utter darkness, I couldn’t glimpse the end of it.
However, something was coming out of that dark hole that made me stop in my tracks. Silent and unseen, but unmistakable. It roused my demon and caused the Hunger to stir restlessly, spreading a low ache across my insides.
The scent of blood. A lot of it. Freshly spilled, coming from somewhere within that looming blackness.
I hurried forward, joining Kanin and Jackal at the entrance. Both vampires were gazing into the mouth of the tunnel warily, though the smell was probably making them just as Hungry as I was.
“Huh,” Jackal remarked, arms crossed as he stared into the darkness. “That’s interesting. Last I checked, there wasn’t anyone living on this stretch of road. The minions killed off anyone in a twenty-mile radius of Chicago.”
I gazed into the tunnel, trying to ignore the familiar ache spreading through my insides. “Do you think someone is in there?”
“If they are, their guts are all over the pavement, judging from the smell.” Jackal sniffed, curling a lip in distaste.
“Nothing is going to be alive in there, sister. I wouldn’t get your hopes up.”
A scream rang out, somewhere in the darkness, and I snarled in return. “Someone’s in trouble,” I hissed at the other vampires, and drew my katana. “Screw it! I’m going in.”
Without waiting for a reply, I sprinted into the passageway.
The road through the tunnel was even more clogged with vehicles than the outside. Cars lay on both sides of the road, some knocked sideways or smashed into walls in their desire to escape. I wove through a maze of vehicles, sometimes having to scramble over hoods or roofs in order to navigate.
Once, I had to duck beneath an enormous rectangular truck— a semi, I remembered they were called—sitting at an angle and blocking both lanes. I heard Jackal and Kanin behind me, and Jackal’s comment that I was a pain in the ass reached me over the labyrinth of cars, but I concentrated on moving forward. In this dark, confined space, the scent of blood was overpowering, clinging to everything and making it impossible to sense anything else. The Hunger was raging inside, but I kept a tight hold on it, determined to stay in control.