Now she was gone. As were the others.
In a daze, I wandered back to the spot I'd left Zeke, almost fearful of what I would find. When I turned down the correct street, however, I saw a familiar form leaning against a stop sign, one hand clutching a machete while the other clung to the pole, trying to pull himself up. Or keep himself from falling. A speckled trail of blood followed him down the sidewalk.
"Zeke!" Sprinting over, I reached for his arm, but he jerked away with a hiss, raising his weapon. I saw anger and uncertainty f lash through his eyes before they glazed over with pain once more, and he slumped forward.
I took his weight again, trying not to breathe in his scent, the blood soaking his clothes. Fear and worry made my voice sharp as we hobbled down the sidewalk. "What are you doing, you idiot? You want to get yourself killed? I thought I told you to stay down."
"I heard...gunshots." Zeke panted, his face and hair damp with sweat. I could feel him shaking, his skin cold and clammy. Dammit, he couldn't keep going like this. I looked around for shelter and decided that house across the street would work just fine.
"I wanted to help," Zeke continued as we limped across the road. "I couldn't sit there and do nothing. I had to try.
To see...if anyone escaped." He clamped his lips together as I kicked the fence open and pulled him through the yard up the weed-eaten porch steps. "Did...anyone escape?" I ignored that question, nudging open the door and peering inside. This, at least, was somewhat familiar. The plaster walls were cracked and peeling, the f loor strewn with rubble and trash. There were a couple holes in the roof and broken shingles scattered throughout the living room, but the structure appeared fairly sound. Against the wall was a very moldy but remarkably intact yellow sofa, and I carefully steered Zeke across the uneven f loor until we reached it.
He collapsed on the sofa with a barely concealed groan, closing his eyes for just a moment before jerking them open again, as if he feared taking his gaze off me. I felt a prick of hurt as I stared down at him, lying helpless on the couch. He didn't trust me at all.
"You're bleeding again," I said, catching sight of fresh blood seeping through the makeshift bandage. He stiffened, and I had to stif le the urge to point out that if I'd wanted to bite him, I would've done it by now. "Wait here. I'll try to find something we can clean that up with." Turning away to hide my anger, I walked out of the room, going farther into the darkened building. Zeke didn't say anything, so I rummaged through the house in silence, looking for bandages, food or anything that could help us. The rooms, though filthy and covered in dust and mold, were remarkably intact, as though the owners had just left without taking anything. The kitchen held a scattered collection of broken plates and mugs, and inside the refrigerator I found what had to be a hundred-year-old milk carton sitting on the top shelf. The bedrooms were mostly empty, stripped of sheets and clothes, though by the stench of feces and urine, I suspected a fox or maybe a whole family of raccoons had made its home under the bed.
I ducked into the hall and found the bathroom. The mirror over the sink was shattered and broken, but inside the cabinet I found a box of gauze pads and a dusty bandage roll. Beneath them sat a small bottle of pills and a larger brown bottle half full of liquid. I squinted at the faded label, mentally thanking Kanin for insisting that I learn to read better: the brown bottle contained something desperately needed. Hydrogen peroxide-topical disinfectant for surface cuts and minor wounds.
A little wary of the white pills, I left them in the cabinet but took the gauze and the peroxide and grabbed a dusty towel from the rack nearby, bringing it all out to Zeke. He was sitting straighter on the couch, trying to unwrap the tourniquet from his leg. But by his set jaw and sweaty, furrowed forehead, it wasn't going well.
"Stop that," I ordered, crouching beside him, setting the items on the f loor. "You're going to make it worse. Let me do it."
He eyed me warily, but exhaustion and pain won out in the end, and he lay back down. I set to work on his leg again, cleaning the blood with the towel, then pouring the disinfectant liberally over the wound. Zeke hissed through his teeth as the clear liquid touched the gash, bubbling into white foam.
"Sorry," I muttered, and he blew out a short breath. Cleaning away the last of the blood, I pressed the bandage to his leg and started wrapping the gauze around it.
I didn't look up from my task, and my voice came out stiff and f lat. "What?"
Zeke hesitated, perhaps sensing my mood, then asked, very quietly, "The others? Did you...did anyone...?" I set my jaw, wishing he hadn't brought it up just yet. "No," I told him. "They're gone. Jackal's men took them all."
I considered lying, or at least glossing over the truth, but Zeke had always been honest with me. I had to tell him, even if I hated it. "Not everyone," I admitted. "Dorothy is dead." He didn't say anything to that. I finished wrapping his leg and looked up to find him with his head bowed and one hand over his eyes. I gathered the first-aid supplies and stood, watching uncomfortably as he struggled with his grief. But he didn't make any noise: no words, no short sobbing breaths, nothing. And when he dropped his hand, his eyes were clear, his voice hard.
"I'm going after them."
"Not alone, you're not," I said, putting the peroxide and bandages on a rotting table. "Unless you think you can take on forty raiders by yourself, wounded as you are. I'm coming with you."
He glared at me, blue eyes f lashing in the darkness and shadows, the cross glimmering on his chest. I could see the struggle within; I was a vampire, still the enemy and something that couldn't be trusted-but at the same time, I'd just saved his life, and I was his best hope of rescuing the others.
I remembered the scars across his back and shoulders, the beliefs that had, quite literally, been beaten into him and wondered how deep Jeb's indoctrination ran.
Finally, he nodded, a reluctant, painful gesture that seemed to take all his resolve. "All right," he muttered at last. "I'll take all the help I can get. But..." He sat up straighter, eyes narrowed into those cold blue slits I'd seen at the Archer compound. "If you try to bite me, or feed off any of the group, I swear I'll kill you."
I resisted the urge to bare my fangs. "So nice to know where we stand, especially after I just saved your life."
A shadow of guilt crossed his face, and his shoulders slumped. "Sorry," he muttered, raking a hand through his hair. "I just... Never mind. I'm grateful that you showed up when you did. Thank you."
The words were stiff, uncomfortable, and I shrugged them off. "It's fine." Not much of an apology, but at least he wasn't trying to put a machete through my neck. "On to the raiders, then. Do you know where they went?"
Zeke leaned back against the couch. "No," he said, his voice cracking just a tiny bit. It was clear he was trying to hold back his emotions. "I don't know where they are. Or where they took them. Or even why they took them. Jeb never said much about it, only that Jackal and his men were looking for him, and we had to find Eden before they caught up."
"So we don't even know what direction they've gone," I muttered, looking out the door. Zeke shook his head and slammed a fist into the armrest with a hollow thump. I looked out the door at the faint red glow over the rooftops, the remains of the church burning to the ground. The streets were silent now. Except for the dying f lames, there was nothing left to show they had come at all. Jackal's men had known what they were doing. The attack had been quick, efficient and deadly, with the marauders fading into the night without a trace.
Or, most of them had.
"Wait here," I told Zeke. "I'll be right back."
"Well, it's a good thing you were wearing a helmet, isn't it?" Pinned under his bike, the raider looked up at me, eyes wide with pain and fear. I heard his heart racing in his chest, smelled the blood that dripped somewhere beneath the motorcycle. He was tough for a human, I'd give him that. Given how hard he'd slammed into the wall that evening, I'd half expected to find a corpse with a broken neck lying here.
Which would've put a rather large dent in my plans.
I smiled at him, showing fangs. "Too bad your leg is broken, though. That's going to make things difficult for you, isn't it? I must admit, I'm a little sad it ended this way. The chase can be just as thrilling as the kill."
"Oh, shit." The raider panted, his face pale under a sheen of sweat. "What do you want, vampire?" How interesting. He was terrified of the vampire but not shocked or surprised to see one. "Well, here's the thing," I went on conversationally. "I've heard rumors that your boss isn't quite human. That he's a lot like me." I crouched down, smiling at him at eye level. "I want to know where he is, where his lair is located, what his territory is like. I don't meet many vampires wandering about outside the cities these days.
This 'raider king' has me curious. And you're going to tell me about him."
"Why?" the raider challenged, which took balls, I had to admit. "You lookin' to join the ranks, bloodsucker? Become queen to his king?"
"What if I am?"
"Jackal don't like to share."
"Well, that's not your problem now, is it?" I said and narrowed my eyes. "Where is he?"
"If I tell you, you won't kill me?"
"No." I smiled again, baring my fangs. "If you tell me, I won't use you as my personal canteen until we reach Jackal's territory. If you tell me, I won't snap both your arms and other leg like twigs, drag you around until you're a limp sack and dump you on the road for the rabids to find. If you tell me, the worst I'll do is leave you here to die as you please. Actually, I'm feeling kind of hungry now..."
"Old Chicago!" the raider burst out. "Jackal staked his territory in the ruins of Old Chicago." He pointed in a random direction. "Just keep following the highway east. The road ends at a city on the edge of a huge lake. You can't miss it."
"About a day if you're riding. I dunno how fast you vamps can walk, but you'll get there tomorrow by evening if you ride through the night."
"Thank you," I said, standing up. A quick glance at the raider's bike showed the left side crumpled and dinged up pretty bad, but otherwise it seemed fine. "Now, I just need you to show me one more thing."
Zeke had fallen asleep on the couch when I returned, lying on his back in an ungainly sprawl, one arm dangling off the side. In sleep, he looked younger than I remembered, the pain smoothed out of his face, his expression unguarded. It made me reluctant to wake him, but he stirred as soon as I entered the room, and his eyes shot open.
"I fell asleep?" he gasped and sat upright with a grimace, swinging his feet off the couch. "Why didn't you wake me?
How long was I out?"
"It's a little past midnight," I told him and tossed a backpack onto the couch, raising a cloud of dust. "That's yours.
There's food, drink, medicine and other supplies, enough for several days. How's the leg?"