We buried Ruth just before dawn, on a small strip of farm-land about an hour outside the city. She was conscious up until the end, surrounded by her family, cradled gently in Zeke's arms the whole time. I concentrated on driving the van, trying to ignore the smell of blood soaking everything, and the soft, hopeless sobs coming from the back. Sometime near the end, I heard her whisper to Zeke that she loved him, and I listened to her heartbeat as it grew softer and softer, and finally stopped altogether.

"Allison," Zeke called a few minutes later, over Caleb's hysterical sobbing and pleas for his sister to wake up, "it'll be dawn soon. Look for a place to stop." I pulled to a stop in front of an abandoned farmhouse, and even though dawn was close, I helped Zeke dig the grave in the hard clay outside the building. And with everyone gathered silently, Zeke said a few words for everyone we'd lost: Ruth and Dorothy, Darren and Jeb. His voice broke a few times, but he remained calm and matter-of-fact, even with the tears streaming down his face.

I couldn't stay for the whole thing. With the sun threatening to peek over the horizon, I met Zeke's eyes over the mound of earth, and he nodded. Drawing away from the much smaller group, I found a bare patch of soil behind the farmhouse and sank into the earth as Zeke's quiet, grief-stricken voice followed me down into the darkness.

Chapter 25

Blissfully, my sleep was free of nightmares this time. But that didn't quell my sense of urgency as I pushed myself free of the earth the next night, shaking dust from my hair and clothes.

Kanin was still out there, somewhere. In trouble. Maybe he couldn't be saved. Maybe the eerie silence in my dreams meant he was already dead. But I couldn't leave him. I had to try to find him, at least.

Soon.

Picking a clump of clay from my hair, I turned and found Caleb staring up at me.

His eyes were red and swollen, his face dirty and streaked with old tears, smudges where he'd wiped at his face. But he stood there, watching me with dry, hooded eyes, solemn and unafraid.

"They put Ruth in the ground," he said at last, as a faint growl of thunder echoed somewhere in the distance. Behind him, lightning f lickered, showing a storm was on its way.

I nodded, wondering what he was getting at.

"But you came out," Caleb said, his gaze f licking to the disturbed earth behind me. He padded up, staring into my face, his eyes hopeful. "You came out, so maybe...Ruth will come back, too? We could wait. We could wait until she comes back, just like you."

"No, Caleb." I shook my head sadly. "I'm different. I'm a vampire." I paused, to see if that frightened him. It didn't.

Kneeling, I took his hand, staring at the grubby fingers.

"Ruth was human," I whispered. "Just like you. And Zeke.

And everyone. She isn't coming back." Caleb's lip trembled. Without warning, he lunged at me, striking me with his small fists, beating on my shoulders.

"Then make her a vampire!" he sobbed, as tears began well-ing in his eyes again. I f linched, more startled than anything, not knowing what to do. "Make her come back!" he screamed at me. "Bring her back right now!"

"Hey, hey! Caleb!" And Zeke was there, grabbing the boy's wrist, swinging him into his arms. Caleb wailed and buried his face in Zeke's shoulder, still pounding his chest weakly.

Zeke held him until the tantrum quieted, then lowered his head and murmured something in his ear. Caleb sniff led.

"I'm not hungry," he mumbled.

"You should go eat something," Zeke insisted, brushing back Caleb's hair. His own eyes were red, and dark circles crouched beneath them, as if he hadn't slept at all. Caleb sniff led and shook his head, sticking out his bottom lip. "No?" Zeke asked, smiling faintly. "You know, Teresa found apple jelly in the basement. And peach jam. It's really sweet." A tiny gleam of interest from Caleb. "What's apple jelly?"

"Go ask her to give you some," Zeke said, putting him down. "Everyone is in the kitchen. Better hurry, or Matthew might eat it all."

Caleb padded off, sullen, but at least his outburst seemed to have run its course. Zeke watched until he vanished around the corner, then sighed, rubbing a hand over his eyes.

"Have you slept at all?" I asked.

"Maybe an hour." Zeke lowered his arm, not looking at me, gazing over the tangled, choked fields beyond the fence.

"Found some fuel in the garage," he said, "and there's about a dozen cans of preserves in the cellar, so we should be good for another night." He sighed, bowing his head. "You told Caleb that Ruth wasn't coming back?"

I stiffened, then nodded. "He needed to hear it. I didn't want to give him false hope, that his sister could still be alive.

That would just be cruel."

"I know." Zeke finally turned, and the bleakness on his face shocked me. He looked years older, lines and circles around his eyes and mouth that weren't there before. "I was trying to tell him earlier, but..." He shrugged. "I guess he needed to hear it from you."

"You know this wasn't your fault."

"Everyone keeps telling me that." Zeke hunched his shoulders against the rising wind. "I wish I could believe it." He raked his hair out of his face, shaking his head. "I wish I could believe...that we're going to make it. That Eden is still out there, waiting, after all this time. That there's anywhere on this godforsaken earth that is safe." He turned and kicked a bottle lying in the weeds, sending it smashing into the side of the house. Green shards exploded, f lying everywhere, and I blinked, watching him sadly.

Zeke tilted his head back, glaring up at the clouds. "Give me a sign," he whispered, closing his eyes. "A hint. Anything. Anything to tell me I'm doing the right thing. That I shouldn't give up and stop looking for the impossible, before everyone around me is dead!"

As expected, there was no answer except the wind and the approaching storm. Zeke sighed, dropping his head, and turned to me with eyes that had gone completely blank.

"Let's go," he muttered, starting forward. "We should get on the road before the storm hits."

I glanced back at the wall of clouds rolling in off the lake.

Something glimmered against the black, a brief f lash of movement, and I squinted, waiting for it to reappear. "Zeke," I whispered, gazing over the fence. "Look." He turned, narrowing his eyes. For a moment, we stood there, the wind rising around us, forks of lightning slashing across the horizon. Thunder growled threateningly, and the first drops of rain began to fall.

Then, far in the distance, a beacon cut through the darkness, a beam of light, scuttling across the clouds. It vanished momentarily, only to reappear again a few seconds later, a spotlight turned toward the sky.

Zeke blinked. "What is that?"

"I don't know," I murmured, stepping up behind him.

"But-and I could be wrong-it looks like it's coming from the east."

"Where Eden is supposed to be," Zeke finished in a near whisper and took off, jogging around the side of the house without looking back. I heard him calling for the others and joined them, feeling the excitement and nervousness as everyone scrambled to leave. And I hoped, desperately, that at the end of this road, they would find what they were looking for.

We followed the lake edge, keeping our eyes on the faint beam of light over the trees. No one spoke, but the excitement from several rapidly beating hearts was easy to hear.

Rain pounded the windows, and Zeke squinted through the glass, his gaze focused and intent. Though it was difficult to see through the storm, the light never stopped, a sliver of hope glimmering through the rain, urging us on.

The road narrowed, weaving its way through overgrown forest and woods, sometimes vanishing altogether as grass, dirt and brush crowded the edges and broke through the pavement. Dead vehicles began appearing through the trees, scattered on the side of the road or abandoned in the ditch. Uneasiness stirred, and my instincts jangled a warning. It seemed to me that these cars could have belonged to others drawn to that light, following the same promises of hope and safety.

Only, they never made it. Something had stopped them before they reached their Eden. Something that was probably waiting for us, as well.

Rabids are always drawn to places that have lots of people. Kanin's voice echoed in my head. That's why the ruins just outside vampire cities are so dangerous. Because the rabids have discovered where their prey is, and though they can't get over the walls, they never stop trying. Of course, they're not intelligent enough to set up complex traps, but they have been known to ambush people or even vehicles, if they know where their prey is going.

Zeke suddenly slammed on the brakes. Caleb and Bethany cried out as the van skidded a few feet in the road, then came to a lurching halt, still in the center of the pavement. Peering through the glass, my blood ran cold.

A tree lay across the road, huge and thick and gnarled, much too big to go around, over or through. From the storm and the amount of rain and wind, it might've fallen on its own. It might've been uprooted and had crashed from entirely natural causes.

And yet...I knew it had not.

Zeke looked at me, his face pale. "They're out there, aren't they?"

I

nodded.

"How long until sunrise?"

I checked my internal clock. "It's not even midnight." He swallowed. "If we sit here..."

"They'll tear the van apart, trying to get at us." I looked down the road, searching for the light. It shone above the branches, tantalizingly close. "We're going to have to make a run for it."

Zeke closed his eyes. I could see he was shaking. Opening them, he stole a quick glance at the back, at Caleb and Bethany, Silas, Teresa, Matthew and Jake. The last of our party. The only ones left. Leaning in close, he lowered his voice. "They'll never make it," he whispered. "Teresa has a bad leg, and the kids...they can't outrun those things. I can't leave them."

I glanced out the window. Beyond the headlights was only rain and darkness, but I knew they were out there, watching us. Leave them, my survival instincts whispered. They're lost.

Get Zeke out of there and forget the others; there's no saving them, not this time.

I growled, deep in my throat. We had come this far. We just had to go a little farther. "Don't worry about the rabids," I muttered, grabbing the door handle. "Just concentrate on the others. Get them to safety as quickly as you can and don't look back."

"Allison-"

I put my hand over his, feeling him tremble under my fingers. "Trust me."

He met my gaze. Then, not caring of our audience or the gasps that echoed from the back, he leaned forward and pressed his lips to mine. It was a desperate kiss, full of longing and sorrow, as if he was saying goodbye. "Be careful," he whispered, pulling away. And I suddenly wished we could've had more time, that the world didn't consume every bit of light and goodness it found, that people like Zeke and I could somehow find our Eden.

I turned, opened the car door and stepped out into the rain.

Hopping the tree, I drew my sword, seeing my shadow stretch out before me in the headlights. All right, monsters, I thought, walking forward. I know you're there. Let's get on with it.


Tags: Julie Kagawa Blood of Eden Book Series
Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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