The Pit loomed before me at the end of the walk, the old theater where Zeke and I had first seen Jackal, several months ago. Back then, it had been a crumbling but still majestic brick building, its neon-red CHI AGO sign blazing against the night. That was before we’d rescued our group and set the Pit on fire. Now, the old building was blackened and charred, the roof had partially collapsed, and steel beams poked into the sky like the skeleton of an ancient beast. The CHI AGO sign had gone dark, never to be lit again.
I strode up the walkway and ducked through the window above the submerged front door…and stepped into the Pit.
The place was a mess. What was once the foyer was now a tangle of charred, broken beams, rubble, dangling wires and blackened walls. The walkways circumventing the room had collapsed and were now poking out of the water at odd angles. I picked my way over downed pillars, piles of brick, and scattered shingles, searching for a way into the grand hall. The stairwells leading to the upper levels had been destroyed or completely blocked off, so I followed the wall until I found a section I could climb. Ducking under a fallen beam, I stepped through the door frame and looked around in grim amazement.
I barely recognized the place. Before, this had been an enormous circular room filled with folding seats and aisles where raiders had gathered. I stood on the second-floor balcony, though most of it had collapsed to the flooded ground level, and chairs lay twisted and molding beneath the surface of the water. At the front of the room, a floating stage had once sat beneath an enormous red curtain—the spot where I’d seen my blood brother for the first time. The place where Jackal had stood and promised his raiders he’d find a way to make them immortal.
Now, it looked ravaged. The stage and curtain were gone, burned to nothing, and the once-majestic ceiling was charred and black. From where I stood, I could see that the rows of folding seats were now reduced to black metal frames. Part of the roof had fallen in, creating a giant crater in the center of the room, and water lapped sluggishly over the uneven floor.
Far overhead, past jagged beams and collapsed floors, I could see the sky. A faint blue glow filtered down through the hole, creating a hazy light in the center of the room and making me shiver. Dawn was close. Whatever I did, I had to do it fast.
Drawing my sword, I stepped onto the balcony, walked down the aisle of charred seats, and dropped to the first floor.
Water sloshed against my boots, soaking the hem of my coat as I made my way into the room, and got deeper the farther I went. By the time I reached the middle of the floor and the circle of hazy light in the center, it was up past my knees.
I paused, gazing around the darkness, searching for him.
It was quiet, the only sounds being the rhythmic lapping of water and the faint groans of the building above me. Nothing moved in the shadows. But I knew he was here. I could feel him, watching me.
“I’m here, Zeke,” I said quietly, knowing he would hear my voice, that he was close. I hoped that he could not sense the anguish stabbing me through the heart. “Let’s get this over with.”
There was a faint rustle behind me, and I turned just as Zeke dropped from somewhere overhead, landing with a splash several feet away. His machete was already in hand as he rose, his expression a vacant mask, the hazy light falling around him and making him glow. Meeting my gaze, he smiled, and the light caught the gleam of his fangs as he stepped forward.
I backed away, raising my katana, and Zeke gave an empty chuckle that made my skin crawl.
“Too easy, vampire girl,” he said. He shook his head and gave me a mock-sorrowful look. “You shouldn’t have come back. You should’ve left the city, gone after Sarren, and left me here. But you couldn’t do that, could you, Allie? Because you couldn’t bear the thought of leaving me like this.”
I swallowed hard, gripping the hilt of my sword, keeping the deadly blade between us. “I don’t want to do this, Zeke.”
He cocked his head, smirking. “You could always let me kill you,” he suggested. “Make it easy for both of us.”
“That’s not going to happen, either.”
“No? Why not?” The grin faded, and he turned serious.
“I would think it’s the least you could do, Allie. After all, I’m dead…because of you.”
It felt like he had punched me. I staggered away from him, ice spreading through my veins, and my voice came out choked. “That’s…that’s not true,” I protested weakly. “You don’t mean that, Zeke.”
“Don’t I?” Zeke sneered at me, his face hard. “Think about it. Everything that’s happened—from New Covington, to Eden, to here—is your fault, vampire girl. Jebbadiah is dead, because you couldn’t save him. Kanin was tortured and nearly killed, because you had to see if Stick was all right, and he betrayed you both to the Prince. Everyone in Eden is going to die, because you let Sarren get away.” His eyes glittered with hate. “And I…I’m dead, because you came into my life, and I was stupid enough to fall in love with a monster. You killed me, Allie. Not Sarren. I’m a vampire now, because of you.”
Every word, every accusation, hit like a knife, slicing me open. But the last nearly dropped me to my knees. Tears blurred my vision, and I turned from Zeke, slumping against a section of roof that had fallen in. My fault. Jackal had been right. It was my fault that Zeke was dead, my fault for everything.
“You should have died,” Zeke went on in that cold, ruthless voice, stepping forward. I looked up, blinking through tears, to face that accusing glare. “If you had only refused Kanin’s offer, if you had just let yourself die as a human, instead of becoming a monster, none of this would have happened.” He raised his machete, the light gleaming down the deadly blade, and pointed it at me, narrowing his eyes. “You owe me, vampire girl. Let me end it, tonight. No more pain, no more grief, no more senseless, bloody deaths. I promise, you won’t feel a thing. And you can take your evil from the world for good.”
I blinked, shaken from my paralyzing indecision, as Zeke’s voice came back to me. Something he’d told me once, not very long ago, before he’d died and become this twisted monstrosity.
You’re not evil. No one who fights so hard to do the right thing is evil.
I backed away. This wasn’t Zeke, I reminded myself. Zeke, my Zeke, was dead. This was a vampire who’d been sired by my worst enemy, who knew exactly what to say to throw me off, make me question everything. He could get to me because he knew me, or he had when he was human. He knew my secret fears and worst nightmares. The difference was, the real Zeke would never use them against me.