Keep going to Eden. Find Sarren, stop the plague. That’s always been your objective. I understand.” I swallowed hard as he continued to stare at me, unblinking. “But I’m going back for Jackal.” And Zeke.

Kanin cocked his head at me, appraising. “Is it worth it?”

he asked, making me frown. “Two lives for the rest of the world?” he continued. “Are you willing to sacrifice everything to save one and destroy another?”

“What do you—”

“Answer the question, Allison,” Kanin continued in a quiet but ruthless voice. “I want you to understand exactly what you are deciding, right now. If we return to the city for Jackal and Ezekiel, Sarren could reach Eden, complete whatever he is planning, and unleash a virus that could destroy everything.

And if that happens, everything we’ve done here will be for nothing. Do you understand that?”

I blinked at him. “We?”

Kanin sighed. “I cannot take Sarren alone,” he said in a matter-of-fact voice. “If we are to have any hope of stopping him, we must face him together. But, regardless of that, I refuse to leave one of us behind, even one as volatile as him. I created him. I am responsible for his life. So, you will not be going into the city after James, Allison. I will.”

I blinked in shock. He peered down, dark gaze boring into me. “I just want you to understand the potential consequences of tonight,” he went on. “If we are killed, if we cannot get to Sarren in time, everything could die. It will be like it was sixty years ago. You aren’t old enough to remember the days Before, but when Red Lung was at its peak, the entire world was madness and chaos. And when the rabids appeared, it became hell on earth.” Kanin paused, brows drawing together as he gazed at the ruined city around us. “It is…a very heavy weight to carry, Allison, the damnation of a world. I want you to be very certain, before we go any further. Is it worth it? Is he worth it?”

His words chilled me, but I already knew my answer. It was selfish, it was unreasonable, and I knew it was the wrong choice. But I looked up at Kanin, into his impassive face, and whispered, “Yes.”

“You are willing to let others die for this. To let Sarren win.”

“He won’t win,” I said. “You and Jackal will get to him in time, I know you will. But…I have to do this, Kanin.” Turning, I gazed over the dark lake, feeling Jackal’s faint glimmer of life, and the ugly yawning decision that awaited me with Zeke. “I won’t leave Zeke like that. He’s suffering, even if he doesn’t realize it. If it were me, you’d do the same.”

“And how do you expect to fight him?” Kanin asked softly.

“Your weapon is gone.”

“I don’t know,” I muttered, feeling a sharp pang of loss at the reminder. I missed my sword; without the familiar weight across my back I felt oddly naked and incomplete. “I’ll find something, I guess. A pipe, a broken bottle. The end of a stick, it doesn’t matter.”

Kanin sighed. Without a word, he stepped close, took my wrist, and placed the sheath of his thin, razor-sharp dagger into my palm. I blinked as he wrapped my fingers around it, the blade light and lethal in my hand, and looked up at him.

“Kanin, I can’t—”

“Take it, Allison.” Kanin pulled his arm back, leaving the blade and sheath gripped loosely in my fingers. “You will need something to defend yourself with, as I am not coming with you. If you insist upon facing Ezekiel alone, I will not send you into battle empty-handed.”

I swallowed the lump in my throat. “I’ll return it, Kanin.

I swear.”

Kanin raised a hand. “Just listen a moment, Allison. Before we take another step, I want you to be very sure of what you’re about to do.” He gazed down at me, his eyes and face dark, his mouth pulled into a grim line. “We have done exactly what Sarren wanted, what he planned for us, every step of the way. It was never random chance that you found Ezekiel. He was put here to stop us—his orders were likely to kill us all, keep us from reaching Eden. But Sarren specifically left him behind for you, Allison. And Ezekiel will be his most dangerous creation, because he knows you so well.”

Kanin’s gaze narrowed. “No matter what he says, no matter what you tell yourself, you must remember that your human is gone. And the thing Sarren left behind is just a twisted mockery of Ezekiel Crosse.”

I bit my lip to stop the stinging in my eyes, struggled to keep my voice from cracking. “I know,” I almost snarled. “I know he’s gone. Why are you telling me this now?”

“Because I want your eyes to be fully open,” my sire replied. “You must know what you are walking into. You cannot let your feelings for Ezekiel cloud your judgment. He will try to kill you, Allison. And he will succeed if you are not fully prepared to end his life.” His gaze sharpened, cutting into me. “Are you absolutely certain you can do this?”

No, I thought in despair. But I won’t leave him…like that.

“Yes,” I told Kanin, and my voice was almost steady. The Master vampire regarded me a moment longer, then nodded.

“Then this is where we will part,” he stated, turning toward the lake. A cold wind hissed across the water, tugging at our hair and clothes, as Kanin’s dark gaze swept over the vastness before us. “I am unsure where Jackal is,” he murmured.

“I simply know that our blood tie will lead me to him. But I don’t know what state he will be in when I find him, if he is in hibernation, severely wounded, or close to Blood Frenzy. It might take me a while to locate his body, and even longer to help him. We might be separated for a good length of time.”

I didn’t like the idea of splitting up, but there was no better choice. Jackal had to be found, and I had to face Zeke.

Better that Kanin find the raider king and get them both out of Old Chicago. That way, if I died—if Zeke killed me—at least they would still have a chance of stopping Sarren. And even that seemed like a long shot now. Time was slipping away from us; Sarren might’ve already gotten to Eden and destroyed the only hope left for the rest of the world. We might already be too late.

“Where will you go from here?” Kanin asked, turning back to me. I shrugged.

“Back to the city, I guess. Unless you think Zeke is riding around with the patrols?”

“No.” Kanin shook his head. “If I know Sarren’s mind, Ezekiel will be waiting for you to come to him. Probably in a place that has significance to you both. I do not know where that will be, but…” His brow furrowed. “I’m certain you will find it, and him, fairly soon.”

Tags: Julie Kagawa Blood of Eden Book Series
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