“Yeah, well…” The barest hint of a smile tugged at one corner of my lips, even through the crushing guilt. “I had a pretty good teacher.”
Kanin’s voice returned to normal. “Regardless of the circumstances, you walked to the very edge tonight, looked into the darkness, and turned away. You did not take that final step to become a true monster. That’s not to say that it won’t happen again, sometime in the future. It will. You will always be fighting it, because we are never far from that edge, and it is a very thin line between human and demon. One day you might eventually go over, but until then, be very certain. Is this truly the path you want?”
“Yes,” I said immediately. “It is.”
This time, there was no doubt. No hesitation. Even if it hurt. Even though remembering Zeke ripped my heart into a million tiny pieces, I would not let this thing win. And if that meant fighting the monster until the end of time, that’s what I was going to do.
I felt a brief, light touch on my shoulder before Kanin stepped away. “I expected nothing less,” he said, nearly inaudible. “And, knowing you, perhaps you will be the very first to pull it off.
“Come,” he continued, walking away from the house and its residents, all still alive and unaware of how narrowly they’d avoided death this evening. “It will take us the rest of the night to return to our original trail. And Sarren has extended his lead even farther now. If we are going to have any hope of stopping him, we need to pick up the pace.”
I nodded and hurried after him, and together we walked across the snowy yard, toward the field and the tangled woods beyond. Back toward the road, and the trail that would take us to Eden.
“I can’t believe you’ve gone all bleeding heart on me again.”
“Shut up, Jackal.”
We were back on the road again, and the forest had finally thinned out. Though it still wrapped its barren claws around everything it could touch, we were seeing more houses and buildings huddled in the snow through the trees, stubbornly clinging to existence. Rusty hulks of cars were sprinkled about the road, though usually on the other side, heading away from us. In my experience, that meant we were nearing a city, but all the nights had sort of blended together, and I had no idea how close to Eden we were. If we were close at all.
“So, all those fun plans we made—finding the cure, undead army, our own vampire city—all that’s gone right out the window, hasn’t it?”
“Yes. I told you before, I don’t want any of those things.”
“Typical.” He snorted. “Silly me, thinking you actually had potential. I thought, Final y, she’s realized she’s a vampire .
Now we’re getting somewhere. But now you’re just a big fluffy bunny with sharp teeth.”
“Shut up, Jackal!”
“If you two do not stop,” Kanin said without turning around, “I am going to find another road to Eden without you. James, it has been two days. Let it go.”
“Whatever you say, old man,” Jackal said, holding his hands up. “Though I don’t know why you’re complaining. You got your little spawn back. You must be so proud.”
“What’s the matter, James?” I couldn’t keep the grin from my face as he turned on me. “Don’t tell me you’re jealous.”
He snorted. “Of you? Don’t make me laugh, sister. If I feel anything right now, it’s pity. I…wait a second.” He stopped in the middle of the road, gazing around, making Kanin and me stop, too. His gold eyes swept over an ancient road sign, most of it eaten by rust, the words unreadable. “I recognize this town,” he muttered, as Kanin and I watched cautiously. “I know where we are. These are the outskirts of Old Chicago.”
I stared at him. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, sister. I think I know my own territory.” Jackal grinned, eyes shining eagerly as he gazed down the road. “No question. Follow this road for another two days, and you’ll hit Chicago, right in the heart of Raidertown.”
“How nice for you,” I said, though the thought of being close to another vampire’s territory, especially this vampire’s territory, made me nervous. “You can finally go home. I’m sure your murderous raider friends will be thrilled to see you again.”
“Oh, I’m sure they couldn’t care less,” Jackal returned, waving an airy hand. At my surprised look, he chuckled.
“Please, sister. I might be an egotistical bastard, but I’m not blind. The minions follow me because I promise them power, freedom and all the carnage they can stomach. And because I’ll tear the head off anyone who challenges me. If I never come back, it’s no loss to them. They’ll do what they’ve always done. So, yeah…” He shrugged. “I don’t have any illusions of them showering me with flowers and puppies when I return. However, it’s a good place to grab a snack, a place to sleep that’s not completely disgusting, and maybe a couple bikes for the road. We can shave a lot of time off getting to Eden if we’re not on foot.”
He had a point. Chasing Sarren would be easier if we had a working vehicle. And, I wouldn’t lie, the thought of riding a motorcycle again was tempting. I’d “borrowed” one from the raiders the last time I was in Old Chicago, and had discovered the thrill of flying down an empty highway at top speed. Nothing compared, really.
Kanin narrowed his eyes, looking troubled. “And what if Sarren has gotten there before us?” he asked.
Jackal snorted. “Then he’s either crazier than I thought or completely suicidal. Even Sarren can’t take out a whole city of armed, bloodthirsty minions.” He curled a lip in disgust.
“And if he can, then you’ll have to excuse me, because at that point I’m going to say the hell with you both, you can chase after Sarren without me. Though I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. The minions are stupid and savage, but they have one thing that makes them semi-useful—there’s a whole f**king lot of them.” He smirked, crossing his arms. “If Sarren wants to take out my city, he’s welcome to try. The minions aren’t a bunch of cowering little meatsacks, and four hundred raiders with automatic weapons are a match for any bloodsucker, crazy or not. Trespassers always get the same reception—a bunch of lead through the brain.”
“And what about me?” I asked, frowning at him. “I’m pretty sure your army hasn’t forgotten what happened when I was in Old Chicago. The last time I went through, they were trying to kill me.”