Figures appeared in the doorways of the buildings, dozens of them, a huge ragged swarm. Bleeding, wailing, reeking of blood and pain, they burst through frames and windows and came shrieking at us, catching us in the center of the field.

Snarling, I drew my sword as the roar of Zeke's pistol joined the screeching chaos closing in from all sides. Spinning toward him, I saw him shoot two more bleeders, draw his machete as one came leaping at him and slash it across the human's throat. The man gurgled a wild laugh and pitched forward into the weeds, still clawing at him. Zeke stepped away, nearly bumping into me as I lunged in to help, and I spun around to guard his back.

A woman sprang at me, shrieking something about burning her laundry, swinging a chair leg at my face. I cut the weapon in two and plunged my sword between her br**sts, yanking it out as she laughed at me and fell. A man with a bloody hole where his nose had been grabbed for my arm, insisting I give him a kiss as he raised a knife in the other hand. A flash of my katana, and his head toppled into the weeds.

"Keep going!" Kanin's roar rose above the shouts and laughter of the mob. Through a split-second break in the mob, I saw him and Jackal, fighting side by side. Kanin had his thin, short blade in hand, and he moved so quickly he was a blur: quick, lethal strikes that wasted no motion or effort. Every single cut or stab was a fatal blow, and he would move on to the next attacker before the previous one even knew they were dead.

At his side, Jackal bared his fangs in an evil smile as his attackers rushed forward, swinging his steel ax with lethal force. His blows knocked the humans off their feet, and they didn't get up again. One time, a human lunged in, grappling for the weapon, and Jackal simply drove his other fist into the man's chest, snapping bones as his hand vanished into the body and emerged wet to the forearm.

"Allison," Kanin called to me. "This way! The sewer entrance is about a hundred yards straight ahead!"

I slashed a bleeder through the ribs, ducked a wrench swung at my skull and cut the legs out from under him. "Got it! Zeke!" I glanced at him, my blood going cold as a bleeder rushed him from the side, slamming into him. Clinging to Zeke's arm, it howled in his ear and sank its teeth into his shoulder, growling like an enraged dog. I started forward, but Zeke planted his feet, shoved the man away and raised his gun as the human sprang at him again. His pistol barked, catching the bleeder right between the eyes, and it collapsed without a sound.

"Zeke!" I cut my way through two more humans to get to him, grabbing his arm as he retreated, his gun still raised and firing into the mob. "You all right?"

"I'm fine." Blood seeped through the collar of his shirt where the human had bitten him, two red splotches right below his neck. His jaw was set, eyes grim as he fired twice more, emptying the clip, and swung his blade up in front of him. "Get going, I'll be right behind you."

The bleeders screamed at us, insane and senseless. Slowly, we fought our way through the crowd to where Jackal and Kanin stood in the center of the lot. A square cement tube lay open at Kanin's feet, metal doors folded back, rusty ladder descending into darkness, but the bleeders, pressing in from all sides, prevented us from going down.

Jackal snarled, bashing the ax hilt into a woman's face, sending her reeling back with a wail. "Bloody persistent bastards," he growled, swiping at another who instantly crowded in, knocking it aside. "We move now, they're just going to follow us down."

"No, they won't," Zeke muttered, and pulled something from his vest. It was a green, cylindrical-shaped object with a handle and a metal ring attached to the top. I had no idea what it was, but Jackal looked back at it and swore.

"You've been carrying around grenades all this time?" He blocked a bleeder's stab to the head and back-fisted the ax across its face. "That would've been nice to know."

"This is the last one." Zeke looked at Kanin, standing at the edge of the sewer entrance. "Flashbang. We only get one shot at this." The vampire gave a short nod.

"Everyone, get down there, now," he ordered, pointing at me. "Jackal, Allison, move!"

Jackal responded instantly. Grabbing a human, he hurled it back into the crowd, turned and dropped through the hole, vanishing into darkness. Cursing, I slashed through one more bleeder and followed, landing on hard cement and instantly looking back for Kanin and Zeke.

Through the hole, I saw Zeke fend off a human, kicking it away, then draw back his arm and throw something into the crowd. Kanin snapped at him to go, and Zeke ducked into the opening, scrambling down the ladder and joining us at the bottom.

"What about Kanin?" I asked as soon as Zeke hit the ground and immediately backed away from the ladder. "How-"

A blinding flash of light, and a monstrous boom rocked the ground up top. The explosion echoed down the tunnel and caused dirt to rain from the ceiling, showering us with filth and bits of ice. I swore and looked desperately back for Kanin, but the Master vampire was already descending the ladder, closing the metal doors behind him.

"That should keep them distracted for a goodly while," he murmured, looking back up the ladder. He glanced at Zeke, a hint of approval crossing his impassive face. "You can keep your head in a fight," he said. "Well done. Are you injured?"

Zeke's hand went to his neck, his face tightening. "It's nothing," he said, dropping his arm. "I'm all right. We should get going."

Kanin nodded and turned away without a word, and we slipped into the darkness of the tunnels.

Chapter 17

Zeke began coughing a few hours later.

The first time it happened, no one really noticed. The sewers, while they were mostly dry and frozen over, not having been used for decades, were still sewers. I didn't have to take a breath to know it reeked down here of mold and fungi and rot and...other things. And the tunnels were filled with rodents and insects, crawling over everything, leaving things behind. So when Zeke first started coughing, I blamed it on the cold and damp and nasty odors, and kept going.

The second time was worse.

We were traveling through a narrow stretch of pipe, the two taller vampires having to duck to clear the low ceiling, when Zeke's harsh explosions caused ice to form in my stomach. I turned to see him bent over, one hand against the wall to steady himself, his whole frame racked with shuddering coughs. Panting, he straightened, dropping the hand covering his mouth, and I saw a splash of blood between his fingers.

"Zeke," I whispered, staring at him in growing fear as I finally realized what was happening. No. Not him. Please.

"I'm fine." He met my gaze, and his eyes were dull. Seeing my face, he offered a tired, resigned smile. "It's all right. There's nothing you can do, Allie. Let's keep moving."

Ahead of us, Jackal gave a soft curse, staring at Zeke with a dangerous expression. "Yeah, you say that now," he said, and his fangs glinted in the shadows, "but don't expect me to hold back when you start clawing your eyes out."

"If that happens..." Zeke kept his gaze on me, steady and composed. "You know what to do, right? Don't...don't let me suffer, or become a danger to anyone else. Just...make it quick."

I resisted the urge to snarl at him. It was too much. I couldn't pretend any longer. All Kanin's warnings about getting too close, all of my own sensibilities, keeping my distance, hardening my feelings-all collapsed beneath the undeniable truth: I cared for Zeke, it was useless to tell myself otherwise. I cared for him more than I'd cared for anyone in my life save my mom. It would destroy me if I lost him now.

"You don't ask for much, do you, Ezekiel?" I asked, my voice breaking a little. He had started forward but now paused, staring at me in surprise. "First you make me promise to let you die, now you're asking me to kill you? Do you think I'm just some soulless machine, that it would be so easy, just because I'm a vampire? It's not enough that Kanin is dying, now you want me to kill you, too?"

"Allison." Kanin's voice was weary, disapproving. Both Zeke and Jackal straightened, glancing at the older vampire in shock. I ignored their surprise, clenching my fists in sudden rage. I didn't know where this was coming from, but I was tired of losing people. I'd lost so many in my short life, even before I became a vampire. The cynical street rat in me sneered in disgust. Loss was just a part of life, I knew that. Nothing lasted in this world. The harder you held on to something, the more it would kill you when it was gone, so it was best not to get attached to anything.

But, dammit, I wanted to try. I wanted to fight to keep what was important to me. Who was important to me. And it pissed me off that they weren't willing to do the same.

"We are not giving up," I said, glaring at them all. There was a stinging sensation in the corner of my eyes, but I forced it back. "The rest of you can be fine and accepting and fatalistic if you want, but I refuse to let this thing win. I plan on tracking Sarren down and beating a cure out of him if I have to. And I'm sure as hell not giving up until I am certain, beyond a shred of doubt, that there is no hope left. So you-" I pointed at Zeke "-can stop asking me to kill you, and you-" I whirled on Kanin "-can stop hiding from the rest of us the fact that you're dying. We're fighting this thing together, and I am not going to lose anyone else."

For a few seconds after my rant, there was silence. I could sense they were all a little stunned; even Kanin appeared to have been left speechless. That, or he was too annoyed to say anything. I didn't care. He could be angry with me all he wanted, as long as he was still alive.

"Well," Jackal remarked, "that was quite the speech. Almost as good as the one you delivered on my tower that night with the old man. You do have a certain flare for the dramatic, don't you, sister?"

I scowled at him, but before I could say anything, he turned on Kanin with a dangerous glare. "You never told us you were dying, old man," he said softly, narrowing his eyes. "Let me guess-Salazar wanted to make sure you wouldn't leave the city, so he made sure you couldn't run out on him. Cunning old bastard. How long?"

"Does it matter?" Kanin's voice was emotionless. "Would it change anything?"

"See, that's the funny thing," Jackal shot back. "If it were anyone else, it should! Any sane vampire would be looking for Sarren right now, not trying to save a bunch of worthless meatsacks who are probably already dead. But that's always been your problem, hasn't it? You always sided with the humans. And now look where it's gotten you."

I stared at him. I'd never seen Jackal like this, not truly, seriously angry. His irritation always took the form of some obnoxious comment or jab to get under a person's skin. He looked furious now, glaring at Kanin in utter contempt, lips curled in a silent snarl. I couldn't tell if he was angry at Kanin for wanting to save a bunch of humans, or because Kanin was dying and hadn't told him.

"What do you think is going to happen when we find Sarren?" Jackal demanded of Kanin, who watched him calmly. "You think you can take him now, falling apart like you are? Your compassion for these worthless humans is going to get us all killed!"

"I've made my choice," Kanin said, unruffled as always. "You don't have to stand with it."

Tags: Julie Kagawa Blood of Eden Book Series
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