I was going to have to leave the city.

Glancing at the pale sky through the plastic-covered window, I grimaced. The morning was already gone. With afternoon fading rapidly, I'd have only a few hours to hunt for food once I was outside the Wall. If I didn't make it back before sundown, other things would start hunting. Once the light dropped from the sky, it was their time. The Masters.

The vampires.

I still have time, I thought, mentally calculating the hours in my head. It's a fairly clear day; I can slip under the Wall, search the ruins and be back before the sun goes down.

"Where are you going?" Stick asked as I opened the door and strode back down the hall, keeping a wary eye out for Rat. "Allie? Wait, where are you going? Take me with you.

I can help."

"No, Stick." I turned on him and shook my head. "I'm not hitting the regular spots this time. There are too many guards, and the pet is still out there making everyone twitchy." I sighed and shielded my eyes from the sun, gazing over the empty lot. "I'm going to have to try the ruins." He squeaked. "You're leaving the city?"

"I'll be back before sundown. Don't worry."

"If they catch you..."

"They won't." I leaned back and smirked at him. "When have they ever caught me? They don't even know those tunnels exist."

"You sound like Patrick and Geoffrey." I blinked, stung. "That's a bit harsh, don't you think?" He shrugged, and I crossed my arms. "If that's how you feel, maybe I won't bother sharing anything I bring back. Maybe you should hunt for your own food for a change."

"Sorry," he said quickly, giving me an apologetic smile.

"Sorry, Allie. I just worry about you, that's all. I get scared that you'll leave me here, alone. Promise you'll come back?"

"You know I will."

"Okay, then." He backed away into the hall, the shadows closing over his face. "Good luck."

Maybe it was just me, but his tone almost implied that he was hoping I'd run into trouble. That I would see how dangerous it really was out there, and that he'd been right all along. But that was silly, I told myself, sprinting across the empty lot, back toward the fence and the city streets. Stick needed me; I was his only friend. He wasn't so vindictive that he'd wish me harm just because he was pissed about Marc and Gracie.

Right?

I pushed the thought from my mind as I squeezed through the chain-link fence and slipped into the quiet city. I could worry about Stick some other time; my priority was finding food to keep us both alive.

The sun teetered directly above the skeletal buildings, bath-ing the streets in light. Just hang up there a little longer, I thought, glancing at the sky. Stay put, for a few more hours at least. Actually, feel free to stop moving, if you want.

Vindictively, it seemed to drop a little lower in the sky, taunting me as it slid behind a cloud. The shadows lengthened like grasping fingers, sliding over the ground. I shivered and hurried into the streets.

Chapter 2

People will tell you that it's impossible to leave New Covington, that the Outer Wall is impenetrable, that no one can get in or out of the city even if they want to.

People are wrong.

The Fringe is a massive concrete jungle; canyons of broken glass and rusting steel, skeletal giants choked by vines, rot and corrosion. Save for the very center of the city, where the looming vampire towers gleam with dark radiance, the surrounding structures look diseased, hollow and perilously close to collapse. Below the jagged skyline, with few humans to keep it in check, the wilderness outside creeps closer. Rusted shells of what were once cars are scattered about the streets, their rotted frames wrapped in vegetation. Trees, roots and vines push up through sidewalks and even rooftops, splitting pavement and steel, as nature slowly claims the city for its own. In recent years, a few of the looming skyscrapers finally succumbed to time and decay, tumbling to the ground in a roar of dust and cement and breaking glass, killing everyone unlucky enough to be around it when it happened. It was a fact of life anymore. Enter any building nowadays, and you could hear it creaking and groaning above your head, maybe decades away from collapse, or maybe only seconds.

The city is falling apart. Everyone in the Fringe knows it, but you can't think about that. No use in worrying about what you can't change.

What

I was worried about, more than anything, was avoiding the vamps, not getting caught, and getting enough to eat to survive one more day.

Sometimes, like today, that called for drastic measures.

What I was about to do was risky and dangerous as hell, but if I was worried about risk, I wouldn't be Unregistered, would I?

The Fringe was divided into several sections, sectors as they called them, all neatly fenced off to control the f low of food and people. Another device built "for our protection." Call it what you want; a cage is still a cage. As far as I knew, there were five or six sectors in a loose semicircle around the Inner City. We were Sector 4. If I had a tattoo that could be scanned, it would read something like: Allison Sekemoto, resident number 7229, Sector 4, New Covington. Property of Prince Salazar. Technically, the Prince owned every human in the city, but his officers had harems and thralls-bloodslaves-of their own, as well. Fringers, on the other hand-Registered Fringers anyway-were "communal property." Which meant any vampire could do anything they wanted to them.

No one in the Fringe seemed bothered by their tattoo.

Nate, one of the assistants at Hurley's trading post, was constantly trying to get me to Register, saying the tattooing didn't hurt very much and the whole giving blood part wasn't so bad once you got used to it. He couldn't understand why I was being so stubborn. I told him it wasn't the scanning or the giving blood that I hated the most.

It was the whole "Property of " bit that bothered me. I was no one's property. If the damn bloodsuckers wanted me, they'd have to catch me first. And I wasn't going to make it easy for them.

The barrier between sectors was simple: chain-link topped with barbed wire. The steel curtains ran for miles and weren't well patrolled. There were guards at the iron gates in each sector that let the food trucks in and out of the Inner City, but nowhere else. Really, the vamps didn't particularly care if some of their cattle slipped back and forth between sectors.

The majority of the deadly, lethal force was dedicated to protecting the Outer Wall every night.

You had to admit, the Outer Wall was pretty impressive.

Thirty feet high, six feet thick, the ugly monstrosity of iron, steel and concrete loomed over the perimeter of the Fringe, surrounding the entire city. There was only one gate to the outside, two doors of solid iron, barred from the inside with heavy steel girders that took three men to remove. It wasn't in my sector, but I'd seen it open once, while scavenging far from home. Spotlights had been placed along the Wall every fifty yards, scanning the ground like enormous eyes. Beyond the Wall was the "kill zone," a razed strip of ground littered with barbed-wire coils, trenches, spiked pits and mines, all designed to do one thing: keep rabids away from the Wall.

The Outer Wall was feared and hated throughout New Covington, reminding us that we were trapped here, like penned-in sheep, but it was greatly revered, as well. No one could survive the ruins beyond the city, especially when darkness fell. Even the vamps disliked going into the ruins. Beyond the Wall, the night belonged to the rabids. No sane person went over the Wall, and those who tried were either gunned down or blown to bits in the kill zone.

Which was why I planned to go beneath.

I pushed my way through the waist-high weeds that filled the ditch, keeping one hand on the cement wall as I maneuvered puddles and shattered glass. I hadn't been here in a while, and the weeds had covered all traces of previous passing. Circling the rock pile, ignoring the suspicious-looking bones scattered about the base, I counted a dozen steps from the edge of the rubble, stopped and knelt down in the grass.

I brushed away the weeds, careful not to disturb the surroundings too much. I didn't want anyone knowing this was here. If word got out-if the vampires heard rumors that there was a possible exit out of their city, they would have every square inch of the Fringe searched until it was found and sealed tighter than a pet's hold on the food warehouse key. Not that they were terribly concerned about people getting out; there was nothing beyond the Outer Wall except ruins, wilderness and rabids. But exits were also entrances, and every few years, a rabid would find its way into the city via the tunnels that ran beneath. And there would be chaos and panic and death until the rabid was killed and the entry-way found and blocked off. But they always missed this one.

The weeds parted, revealing a circle of black metal sunk into the ground. It was insanely heavy, but I kept a piece of rebar nearby to pry it up. Letting the cover thump into the grass, I gazed into a long, narrow hole. Rusty metal bars were set into the cement tube beneath the cover, leading down into the darkness.

I glanced around, making sure no one was watching, then started down the ladder. It always worried me, leaving the tunnel entrance wide open, but the cover was too heavy for me to slide back once inside the tube. But it was well hidden in the long grass, and no one had discovered it yet, not in all the years of me sneaking out of the city.

Still, I couldn't dawdle.

Dropping to the cement f loor, I gazed around, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. Putting a hand in my coat pocket, I closed it around my two most prized possessions: a lighter, still half full of f luid, and my pocket knife. The lighter I'd found on my previous trip into the ruins, and the knife I'd had for years. Both were extremely valuable, and I never went anywhere without them.

As usual, the tunnels beneath the city reeked. The old-timers, the ones who had been kids in the time before the plague, said that all of the city's waste was once carried away through the pipes under the streets, instead of in buckets emptied into covered holes. If that was true, then it certainly explained the smell. About a foot from where I stood, the ledge dropped away into sludgy black water, trickling lazily down the tunnel. A huge rat, nearly the size of some of the alley cats I glimpsed topside, scurried off into the shadows, reminding me why I was here.

With one last glance through the hole at the sky-still sunny and bright-I headed into the darkness.

People used to think rabids lurked underground, in caves or abandoned tunnels, where they slept during the daylight hours and came out at night. Actually, most everyone still thought that, but I'd never seen a rabid down here, not once.

Not even a sleeping one. That didn't mean anything, however.

No one topside had ever seen a mole man, but everyone knew the rumors of diseased, light-shy humans living beneath the city, who would grab your ankles from storm drains and drag you down to eat you. I hadn't seen a mole man, either, but there were hundreds, maybe thousands of tunnels I'd never explored and didn't plan to. My goal, whenever I ventured into this dark, eerie world, was to get past the Wall and back up to the sunlight as quickly as possible.

Luckily, I knew this stretch of tunnel, and it wasn't completely lightless. Sunlight filtered in from grates and storm drains, little bars of color in an otherwise gray world. There were places where it was pitch-black, and I had to use my lighter to continue, but the spaces were familiar, and I knew where I was going, so it wasn't terrible.


Tags: Julie Kagawa Blood of Eden Book Series
Source: www.StudyNovels.com
Articles you may like