The first thing I saw, coming out of the elevator, was sky.
Twenty feet from the doors, a wall of windows stretched away down the hall, showing the dark, gleaming, decayed glory of the city below. Much of the glass had blown out, and a sharp wind hissed through the frames, whipping at my hair, smelling of water and smoke.
The next thing I saw was a guard at the end of the corridor. He stood in front of the windows, gazing down at the streets, but turned as I stepped out of the elevator. He blinked, no doubt startled to see a vampire girl at the end of the hall.
Too bad for him. I lunged across the f loor and hit him hard, and he didn't make a sound as he slumped down the wall. Stepping around his body, I reached for the door.
Light spilled from beneath, and a faint, nearly inaudible hum came from beyond the wall. Hoping I wouldn't find a grinning raider king on the other side, I eased the door open and peered through the crack.
Searing light blinded me, and I f linched away. Shield-ing my eyes, I tried again, squinting through the haze. The room beyond was painfully bright; light came from every corner, every nook and cranny, leaving no shadows whatsoever. Countertops and shelves lined the walls, some holding books, some holding odd machines and glass tubes that re-f lected the light. How was it so bright? Not even a hundred torches or f lashlights could light up a room like this. I pushed the door open a little farther, scanning the room cautiously.
More oddities. Across the room, a strange green board hung on the wall, one half scrawled with white letters and numbers that meant nothing to me. A map had been taped to the other half, showing "The United States of America," as it was before the plague. It, too, had been marked up and scrawled on with red ink, things circled and crossed out in what looked like frustration.
Movement caught my attention. In the corner, opposite the wall of glass running the length of the room, sat a monstrous old desk. A blinking screen sat on one side, showing lists of words I couldn't make out. I stared at it, mystified.
A real computer, from an age where such technology could be found in every household. I'd never seen a working one before, though rumors in the Fringe had said they existed, if you had an external power source. Jackal had put a lot of thought and time into creating this place. What exactly did he expect to do here?
I continued to scan the room, moving my gaze along the far wall, and finally found what I was looking for.
A man stood at the window, silhouetted against the night sky, gazing down on the city. A faint glow f lickered over the sharp features of Jebbadiah Crosse, casting his face in red light.
And it might've been my imagination, but I thought I saw a glimmering wetness down one hollow cheek. The look on his face was one of devastation, of a man who had lost everything and had nothing left to live for.
I opened the door fully and stepped into the room. "Jebbadiah."
He turned, and for a moment surprise crossed his harsh features. "You," he said, frowning. "The vampire girl. How...
Why are you here?" He paused, gave a bitter smile. "Ah, yes.
You followed us, didn't you? You wouldn't just let us go. It makes sense now. Revenge comes so easily for your kind." His voice changed, becoming cold and steely, filled with hate.
"This is the perfect place for you. A lost city, filled with demons and sinners, ruled by a devil. Have you come to gloat, then? See the old man who has lost everything?"
"I'm not here to gloat," I said, moving toward him. "I came to get you out of here."
"Lies," Jeb said without emotion. "I wouldn't go anywhere with you, devil, even if I could. But it doesn't matter now." He turned back to the window, watching the smoke rising on the wind. "They're gone now. They're free of this world. I will join them soon."
"They're not dead." I stepped up behind him. "Zeke and I got them out. They're waiting for us outside the city, but we have to go now before Jackal finds us."
"Are you afraid of death, vampire?" Jeb asked quietly, still gazing out the window. "You should know that there is nothing more dangerous than a man who is not afraid to die. I have lost everything, but that frees me. The vampire king will never use me to achieve his goals. And you-you will not threaten anyone again."
"Jeb." I moved closer, reaching for his arm. "Jackal might be here any second. We have to get out of here, no-"
Jeb turned, stepped forward and very calmly stabbed me in the gut.
I gasped and jerked, hunching over, as pain shot through my stomach, a blinding, crippling f lood. Snarling, fangs bared, I staggered away from Jebbadiah, who watched impassively with his fingers smeared bright red.
My hands went to my stomach, feeling the weapon still jammed into my f lesh, sharp-edged and torturous. Blood pooled around the object, making it slick, but I grasped the end and drew it out, clenching my teeth to keep from screaming. A glass shard, nearly six inches long, slid out of my gut in a blaze of agony, and I dropped it with a gasping cry, before my legs gave out and I crumpled to my knees.
Jebbadiah stepped across my field of vision, moving away toward one of the many shelves, his face expressionless. I was healing, the wound knitting together, but not quickly enough.
"Jeb," I gritted out, trying to get to my feet, sinking back with a grimace, "I swear...I came here to get you out. The others are alive, waiting for you-"
He opened a drawer, drew out a scalpel and walked back with it gleaming in his hand, his eyes hard as stone. He didn't seem to have heard me. "Let this be my final penance," he murmured, almost in a daze, as I desperately struggled to my feet, grabbing a counter to pull myself up. "Eden is lost.
Ezekiel is lost. The cure for the human race is lost. I failed, but at least I will bring one devil back to hell with me. I can still do that much."
I staggered away from him, holding my stomach. The urge to draw my sword was overpowering, but I forced myself to face the old man. "Cure?" I said, putting a counter between us. "What cure?" He didn't answer, following me calmly around the obstacle, scalpel held in front of him. "So, Jackal was right," I guessed. "You do know the cure for Rabidism.
You've been keeping it from everyone all this time."
"Do not speak of matters you do not understand, vampire," Jeb shot back, with a little more emotion than he'd previously shown. "There is no cure, not yet. All that exists are fragments, pieces of information, results of failed experiments from decades ago."
"You knew about the vampire experiments," I guessed.
Jeb stared at me over the glass and the beakers, hands at his side. "How? Were you there? Did you live in New Covington before it became vampire territory? You're not that old."
"My grandfather was part of the team searching for the cure," Jebbadiah said f latly. "He was the head scientist, a brilliant man of his field. It was he who discovered vampire blood might be the key to finding the cure for Red Lung. It was he who decided they needed live specimens to experiment on. And it was he who finally convinced the others to let a vampire help them with the project." I leaned against the counter, the pain in my middle slowly ebbing away. But the Hunger was growing strong now. I needed blood, and there was no one around but Jeb. I clutched the edges of the counter, trying to concentrate on what the old man was saying, not the pounding of his heart.
"That decision destroyed them," Jeb continued in that same f lat voice, his eyes blank and mirrorlike. "Because of one man's pride, the rabids were born. Because one man consorted with a demon. Nothing good can come out of pure evil, and it came back to haunt them in the end. The demons they created escaped, killed everyone and the lab burned to the ground. But, before he died, the head scientist made sure to copy all his research, everything they had learned, and pass it on to his son."
"Your father. Who passed it on to you." I suddenly remembered Kanin, sifting through the ruins of the old hospital, searching for something he would never find. Jeb didn't answer, which spoke volumes, and I nodded slowly. "That's the real reason you want to find Eden. You want a place to study that research, to find the cure."
"If I died, it would have gone to Ezekiel," Jeb murmured, a pained expression brief ly crossing his face. "But he is gone, and there is no one left. And so, it will die with me. I will not allow it to fall into the hands of a devil."
"Jeb, Zeke is still alive. They all are!" Frustrated, I glared at him, wishing I could pound the truth into his skull by force.
"Listen to me! Zeke and I followed Jackal's men here together.
We rescued the others and set a building on fire for a distraction. By now, they're probably out of the city. You can still get to Eden, if you stop being so damned stubborn and pay attention to what I'm telling you!"
Jeb blinked, his glassy expression cracking just a little.
"Ezekiel is...alive?" he murmured, then shook his head almost desperately. "No. No, you lie, demon. Ezekiel was my son, though he was not my blood. He would never consort with the likes of you. I taught him better than that." My anger boiled over, and with it, the Hunger that had been building as my wound slowly knit itself closed. "Zeke cared more about his people than you ever did, preacher!" I snarled at Jebbadiah, whose face tightened at the sight of my fangs. "He would do anything to save them, anything! Even get himself killed trying to rescue them. Even team up with a vampire who, I have to point out, is still trying to save your stubborn ass! I might be a demon, but Zeke is far more human than you or me or anyone, and if you can't see that, then you don't know him as well as you should." Jebbadiah stared at me a moment longer, then slowly shook his head, closing his eyes. "How can I trust it?" he whispered, and he wasn't speaking to me. "Should I believe what it tells me, that my son is alive, that the others have been spared?" He opened his eyes, his face tormented by indecision. "I am too old to turn from my path," he said, staring at something I could not see. "I cannot believe a demon has a soul, that it can be saved. This I will not believe. I will be lost if I begin to doubt..." His gaze f licked to mine, still anguished, and he finally spoke directly to me. "Why have you come, vampire?
Why do you hesitate? I know you wish to kill me, I can see it in your eyes. What is stopping you?" I paused a moment to control myself, so my voice would be steady when I answered. "I promised Zeke I would find you. Believe what you want, but that's the truth." Carefully, I stepped around the counter, keeping a wary eye on the hand that still held the blade. "I said I would bring you back safe, and I will. If you won't do this for me, do it for Zeke and Caleb and Bethany. They deserve better than this, don't you think?" I gestured out the window, then turned back to him, glaring. "But you can't stop now. You can't let them down.
Get that damned cure to Eden, so they can have some kind of future. Do that for them, at least."
The color drained from Jeb's face. The scalpel suddenly dropped from his hand, clattering to the f loor.
"You shame me, vampire," he whispered in a voice almost too soft to hear. "All this time, I was so concerned about getting my people to Eden, I forgot my duty to protect them on the journey. I let Ezekiel handle what I should have from the beginning. And now, look where we are." He turned from me, gazing out the window. "I killed Dorothy," he murmured, "and Darren. And all the others. I brought us here.