“Yes.” Zeke’s voice was hollow again, his eyes distant.
“Better to feel nothing, to be numb, than to lose control. It’s the only way I know to deal with it.”
And…what about us ? I wanted to ask. Where do we stand, Zeke?
I knew it wasn’t the right time to ask. Being Turned against his will, the twisted mind games Sarren had played with him, the horror of everything he’d done while under the compulsion; he had so much to work out, to come to terms with, before he was anywhere near normal. He wasn’t ready to face anything between us.
And to be honest, I wasn’t either. I was afraid to ask, to hear what the answer could be. Afraid that my worst, secret fear would be confirmed: that Ezekiel Crosse truly had died on that table with Sarren, and the vampire walking beside me was a completely different person. One who couldn’t love me anymore.
I didn’t say anything else, lost to my own dark thoughts, and Zeke retreated behind his icy, blank wall. We continued the rest of the journey in silence.
“That took longer than I expected,” Jackal remarked when Zeke and I returned. Poking his head from under the hood, he smirked at us. “Did you two get lost, or did you decide to jump each other’s bones in the ditch?”
I wasn’t familiar with that terminology, though I could guess what Jackal was hinting at, and figured it was best to play ignorant. “Shut up, and here,” I said, setting the red plastic container on the ground beside him. “None of the cars would start, but there’s about a half gallon of fuel in there.
Did you get the van working?”
In answer, Jackal rose, pointed an imaginary shotgun beneath the hood, and “fired” point-blank at the engine. I grimaced. “I take it we’re walking, then.”
“Unless you can pull a working alternator from your tight little ass.” Jackal wiped his hands on his jeans and slammed the hood so hard the van bounced. “Otherwise, I think it’s safe to say we are S.O.L.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means,” Kanin broke in before Jackal could explain, “that we need to hurry. Without a working vehicle, Eden is still several days on foot.” The Master vampire gazed down the road, to where the pavement met the night sky, and his eyes narrowed. As if he could sense what lay beyond that point, what waited for us at the end of the road. “Let’s go,” he murmured, starting forward. “I fear we are nearly out of time.”
So we walked.
For three nights, we walked. Through snowy woods and deserted towns, Kanin leading, Zeke and I trailing behind, Jackal prowling his own path between us. With the exception of a certain loud-mouthed raider king, we didn’t speak much.
Kanin walked on, silent and steady, and Zeke continued to hide deep within himself, rarely talking, never showing any hint of emotion. He didn’t act angry or bitter or lost—that I could have dealt with. He never complained, or expressed any kind of sorrow or regret for being a monster. He was just…lifeless. Empty. Like nothing mattered to him anymore, not even his own life. Eventually, I started asking him questions about Eden, about Caleb and Bethany and the others who had made it, just to get him talking. To see if he remembered.
He did. And that was even worse. He remembered everything, everyone, but would answer my questions with the same numb detachment that he showed everything else. It made me sick with worry and despair. Zeke was with us, but he had either retreated so deep within himself that I couldn’t reach him, or Sarren had destroyed the human, and this cold, dispassionate vampire was all that was left.
One night, I climbed out of the hard, frozen earth beside the road to see Kanin leaning against the median with his arms and legs crossed, waiting for the rest of us. As far as I could see, Jackal wasn’t around, and Zeke, being the youngest of us, hadn’t woken yet. Shaking dirt from my clothes and hair, I stepped onto the pavement and walked over to where my sire waited, silent and motionless against the dark.
He acknowledged me with a faint nod, but otherwise didn’t move. I leaned against the railing with him, crossing my arms as well, and together we stared into the shadows, each lost to our own thoughts. Briefly, I wondered what was on Kanin’s mind; he’d been so quiet the past couple nights, not cold and shut down like Zeke, just…preoccupied. I doubted the Master vampire worried about the things I did, but then again, I rarely knew what my sire was thinking.
“Where’s Jackal?” I finally asked, not because I really wanted to know—or couldn’t find out for myself using the blood tie—but for something to say. My voice echoed weirdly in the stillness, almost out of place. The branches above us rustled, as if offended by human speech where there should be only ruins and wilderness.
Kanin stirred, nodding down the highway. “He went on ahead,” the Master vampire replied softly. “Said he spotted a couple cars in the road and wanted to see if he could hotwire any of them. I doubt he has much hope, but I also sense he is getting rather bored with the lot of us.”
I snorted. You mean, he’s not having any fun taunting Zeke, I thought, frowning. Jackal’s comments had been nonstop ever since we’d left Old Chicago, barbed, challenging remarks aimed at our newest vampire, but Zeke either ignored them or replied in the same flat, expressionless manner as he had everything else. Last night, Jackal had sneered that Zeke was about as fun as a dead cat and stalked off, shaking his head. I couldn’t tell if he was disgusted by Zeke’s passiveness or the fact that his comments had no effect on him.
Nothing did anymore, it seemed.
“How much farther to Eden?” I asked, looking up at Kanin.
The Master vampire sighed.
“I’m not entirely sure. A couple days, I should think. I have never been there, so I could not tell you for certain.” Kanin flicked a glance at me, dark eyes searching. “You and Ezekiel are the ones who have been to its gates,” he reminded me.
“Does any of this look familiar?”
“I…don’t know.” I gazed around helplessly, at the highway, at the choking woods on either side, and shrugged. “Maybe?
We were in a car the entire way from Old Chicago, so everything pretty much looks the same.”
Kanin didn’t admonish me for not remembering. He only raised his head and went back to staring at the horizon. The stillness fell once more, darkness and falling snow seeming to engulf everything, swallowing all sound. An owl hooted somewhere in the trees, and then the world was silent again “I’m worried about him, Kanin,” I admitted, almost a whisper. Kanin didn’t reply, and didn’t ask who I was talking about; there was no need. “What will happen when he gets to Eden? They’re going to know that he’s not the same.”