With a little shock, I realized that I really missed Kanin. I hadn't allowed myself to think of him much; beyond the knowledge that we had to find him and get him away from Sarren, I had tried not to imagine what my sire was going through. But I remembered his deep voice, his lessons about feeding and fighting and vampire culture, the annoyed look he gave me when I was being stubborn. I desperately hoped he was all right, or at least still alive and sane. The Master vampire had been cold, stern, and sometimes harsh, but his teachings had basically saved my life. If not for him, I really would be dead, or worse, a soulless predator consumed with her own bloodlust, who didn't know she could be anything but a monster.
Zeke struggled with this a moment longer. I could see him thinking, trying to come to terms with the fact that we were venturing into the Inner City to rescue not a human, but another vampire. "You don't have to come with us," I told him quietly. "You don't know Kanin, and you don't have any reason to be here. I won't hold it against you if you leave."
But Zeke immediately shook his head. "No," he murmured, as if that was the end of it. "No, I went through too much to find you. And the refugees are counting on me to help them. I'm not leaving now."
There was something more to that and I wanted to ask what it was, but Zeke quickly changed the subject. "This Kanin," he began, looking thoughtful. "You told me why you want to help him, and that makes sense, but why is Jackal here? He led a whole raider army and controlled an entire city, and he gave all of that up? Why is he so interested in one vampire? Who is Kanin to him?"
I stifled a groan. "Why do you have to ask such hard questions?" I muttered. Zeke's expression didn't change, and I sighed. "Kanin," I began slowly, hoping he wouldn't instantly jump to conclusions, "is Jackal's sire, too. He Turned him a long time ago, before I was even born. Which makes us, at least in vampire society..."
"Siblings," Zeke finished softly. "Jackal is...your brother."
I nodded. "My blood brother," I confirmed, watching to see how Zeke was taking this. No expression showed on his face, which I found disconcerting-I used to be able to read him so easily. "That doesn't mean I like him, or that I've forgotten what he's done," I added, facing Zeke's blank stare. "I fully expect him to turn on me as soon as he gets what he wants. But Kanin is our sire, and we're the only ones I know of who have a chance of finding him."
"Because..." I paused, preparing to explain another piece of vampire history I didn't want to reveal. "Sometimes, we can...sense those who share our bloodline, members of our particular family. We can feel where they are, what they're experiencing, usually in times of intense emotion or pain. Our blood ties us together. There's a stronger pull toward our sire, but the offspring of a Master vampire are always aware of each other, once they know the other exists. That's why a Prince's coven is usually made up of his own offspring- it's harder for them to turn on him if he always knows where they are."
Zeke's brow furrowed. "So, you can sense where Jackal is? Right now?"
"I couldn't give you detailed directions," I said, not liking this sudden interest. "It's more like I know he's that way-" I gestured toward a wall. "But I don't know exactly where. And I'd have to make a conscious effort to concentrate on him before I could sense anything. Not like Kanin. Kanin... is in pain right now. And he's calling for us."
Zeke was silent, but his eyes narrowed as he stared in the direction I'd pointed, his face hard. I shifted uneasily. "Zeke," I began, hating to ask him but knowing I had to. "You're not going to go looking for Jackal, are you? He'll be expecting it, and he probably didn't lie about waking up in the middle of the day. Some of the stronger vampires are able to do that. Promise you won't go after him."
He glared at me, definitely angry now. "Do you really have to ask me that?" he demanded, his voice harsh. "Do you really think so little of me, that I would murder someone while they're asleep?" He shook his head in disgust. "No, when I kill that vampire-and I will, Allison, make no mistake about that-I want him to be fully aware of it. I want him to see my face. I want him to know exactly who killed him, and why." He tore his gaze from me and stared down the tunnel, a flicker of torment crossing his face. "Jeb deserves it," he said in a softer voice. "So do Darren, and Ruth, and Dorothy. And everyone else he's murdered for his entertainment. Who knows how many he's killed, how many have suffered because of him?" He glanced back at me, and his eyes were hard again. "So, no, I'm not going to stab your brother while he's asleep. I'll wait until we rescue your sire and make sure the refugees are safe, and who knows how long that will be? But when this is over, I'm going to kill that vampire, Allison. For my family, for those back in Eden, I'm not going to leave him alive. The only question is..." He looked me right in the eye, a shadow of uncertainty crossing his face. "Will I have to fight you, as well as Jackal?"
I bit my lip, feeling pulled in two impossible directions. Jackal had been the enemy, once. As far as I knew, he still was. But, we had traveled together, fought side by side. He hadn't left me to the rabid horde in the Old D.C. tunnels. And, as much as I hated to admit it, he was my brother. We might not be siblings in the human sense, but in vampire society, we were family. Turning on Jackal once I had what I needed sounded like something he would do, and I wasn't like him. Unless he attacked me first, I could not accept his help today and then try to kill him tomorrow.
But I could no more fight Zeke than stab my brother in the back. He was the one thing I would try desperately to save, no matter the cost. Even from myself, the demon that still Hungered for his blood. That was urging me, even now, to pounce on him and drive my fangs into his throat. If Zeke went for Jackal with the full intent to kill, I really didn't know what I would do, but it would probably involve trying to stop them both.
"I don't know," I said at last, and watched Zeke's face go from hopeful to devastated before shutting down completely. It sent a pang through my stomach; in his eyes, I'd just chosen Jackal over him, but I would not lie and say I'd help him kill my brother. Even if Jackal deserved it. "Let's hope it never comes to that."
Zeke turned away and stared into the darkness, his expression closed off. I wanted to keep talking, to explain that I wasn't turning my back on humans in favor of vampires. But dawn was closer now, and as I drew back to look for a place to sleep, I couldn't help but think that maybe it was better this way. It was better that Zeke hated me. He was one of those "dangerous attachments" Kanin had warned me about. The most dangerous attachment, if I was being honest with myself. What we'd had before, what we'd shared, that was just a fantasy and a deadly one at that. There was no way a vampire and a human could be together, and my inner demon laughed at the thought. It would just take one slip on my part, one tiny error of judgment, and I would kill him. Better that he think me a monster now, just like Jackal, and keep his distance. It was best for both of us.
With a heavy heart, I walked toward a side tunnel, wondering when I had made all these impossible connections. Making decisions had been so much easier when I was just Allie the Fringer, when my only concern was keeping myself and Stick fed, when basic survival was all I cared about.
At the mouth of the tunnel, I stopped and glanced back at Zeke. He was leaning against the wall beneath the metal grate, head bowed and eyes closed. Rainwater dripped into his bright hair, making it shimmer as he stood outlined in hazy light. He looked...very alone then, a single human in a monster-infested world, a fading bright spot surrounded by shadow. And despite my best intentions, my determination not to be a monster, I was part of the world that he feared. Part of the darkness that would drag him down and tear him apart.
"I'm sorry, Zeke," I told him, and stepped into the shadows before he could reply.
I am ravenous, starving, dangerously close to losing control. My mind is a jumble of fractured, barely coherent thoughts and pure, savage Hunger. It has been too long, far too long. My body burns, my entire being consumed with wanting food. The demon overtaking my mind roars and fights the chains at my wrists, straining them, needing to break free, to hunt and kill and feed. It senses movement on the other side of the bars, and screams in frustration, in defiance, the howl echoing off the empty stones.
And still, through the constant agony and raging Hunger, part of me realizes how close to the edge I am, a mere step from falling into madness, where the Hunger finally shatters the mind and turns the host into a vicious, irredeemable beast. A madness that, once crossed, cannot be reversed. I know of only one vampire who clawed his way up from the pit of insanity, but the creature who returned from that utter darkness was not the same.
I have to hang on, just a little longer. They are close, I can feel them. They will be my salvation, if I can cling to sanity long enough for them to reach me. I just hope that, when she finally comes, there will be more than a mindless, savage beast waiting behind these iron bars.
Allison. Hurry. We're both running out of time.
I woke up terrified...and Hungry.
Shivering, I pushed myself upright, bumping my head against the ceiling of the cement culvert I'd taken shelter in. Kanin. Kanin was slipping, the Hunger pushing him closer to the edge of madness. The torment he felt, the agony consuming him from the inside, the horrible drive to feed still lingered in my mind, like an oily taint. I couldn't imagine his suffering-no relief, no end in sight. It would've driven me crazy long ago.
Dammit. I will not let that happen. I'm still coming, Kanin, just hang in there.
We were out of time. We had to get to Kanin, now. But as I shook the last vestiges of sleep from my head, a new sensation hit me like a blow to the face. Blood. A lot of it.
I scrambled out of the pipe and hit a body sprawled in the mud at the entrance. A mole man's glazed, unseeing eyes stared up at me, a bullet hole clean through his heart. Another lay nearby, also shot through the chest, one hand clutching a rusty blade. My stomach clenched. The knife smelled of blood, his blood.
More bodies littered the tunnel, pale and skinny, most of them shot through the chest or the head. Clean, efficient kill shots. But at least a couple bled from deep, gaping slashes caused by a blade. Most had weapons: knives or lead pipes or nails driven through wooden boards. Crude yet still deadly. Worry twisted my dead heart, and I hurried onward.
Voices rang out ahead, and I felt my lips curl back from my fangs. Rounding a bend, I saw Zeke, pressed into the space between the corner wall and another huge pipe, protecting his back. He held the machete in one hand, raised in front of him, and his gun in the other. In the shadows, his eyes were hooded, and blood spattered his face and arms, making him look dangerous. Three mole men hovered at the entrance, hissing and waving their weapons, but reluctant to step forward into that narrow space and the machete that waited for them.
"Don't do this," Zeke pleaded, his voice low and harsh, echoing off the pipes. "You don't have to die today, and no one else has to be hurt. Go home."