Back on the highway, Kanin turned the van east once more, weaving through cars and dead vehicles clogging the road, until we reached the outskirts of the city and the lanes opened up. As we picked up speed, the broken skyline of Old Chicago faded into the darkness, until it vanished from sight, and only the road was left, stretching on to Eden.
That first part of the night, the ride was hushed. Kanin drove, and Jackal rode beside him with the seat back and his hands behind his head. I sat with Zeke on the floor of the van, watching his still form and wishing I could reach out to him, somehow. He seemed to have retreated deep within himself, and my few attempts to talk to him were met with polite but vague one-word answers. He didn’t want to talk, or he wasn’t ready to talk, and the more I prodded, the further he withdrew. Eventually, I gave up and sat next to him in silence, just letting him know I was there. When he was ready, he would come around. Until then, I would let him sort everything out in peace.
The van lumbered on, the only sounds being the sickly whine and cough of the engine, and the occasional thump of tires rolling over debris. Sometimes, the road was clear. Other times, Kanin had to slow the van to a near crawl, weaving through clusters of abandoned, overturned vehicles or trees that had fallen into the road. Once, when he drove carefully around a rock slide that covered most of the pavement, the engine sputtered and died, and it took several tries to get it started again. I was relieved when it finally coughed and turned over, albeit very reluctantly. Ancient and unreliable as the van was, we were still covering ground much faster than had we been on foot.
“Oh, my, it’s awfully quiet back there,” Jackal remarked after several miles had passed and nothing had happened. Of course, my blood brother took personal offense to peace and quiet, and I could practically hear the grin in his voice. “Are you two making out?”
“Shut up, Jackal.”
He snickered. Kanin drove on in silence, determined, I suspected, to ignore us all and the annoyances that were looming. I shifted closer to Zeke, just so that my arm brushed his, and waited for Jackal’s next comment.
“So, little bloodsucker,” the raider king went on, confirming my suspicions. “How’s life as a vampire these nights? Not that I care, mind you, but we are chasing your crazy-as-shit sire. If he has something nasty waiting for us in Eden, I’d kinda like to know about it. Any hints as to what your psycho daddy is up to?”
“No,” Zeke answered simply. “I haven’t seen him since he left Old Chicago, a few days before you showed up.”
“Well, that’s unfortunate.” Jackal crossed his arms, his voice contemplative. “Haven’t seen the psychopath at all, huh?” He gazed up at the roof. “If only there was some sort of link that would let you know exactly where he is.”
I jerked up. The blood tie. Of course, how could I forget? Zeke was Sarren’s offspring, disturbing as that was, so he should be able to sense where the crazy vamp was through their shared bloodline. I wondered if we could somehow track Sarren down without alerting him to Zeke’s presence. I also wondered how I could tactfully suggest that to Zeke without completely freaking him out.
But Kanin shook his head.
“No,” the Master vampire stated, the first thing he’d said since leaving Chicago. “It’s too soon. The blood tie takes time to develop, depending how strong the new vampire is.
Sometimes it takes months. If neither sire nor offspring is a Master, it can take even longer. Often, it is triggered by intense emotion or pain; when one member subconsciously calls for help, it is felt by the whole bloodline. But I fear it is too soon for Ezekiel to have developed the link to his maker, at least not one that he can feel. The tie usually emerges after the offspring has been a vampire for a while.”
“Huh.” Jackal didn’t seem pleased with this, but I was relieved. Zeke certainly didn’t need that kind of burden, having to feel Sarren’s presence, like an evil taint, lingering in his consciousness. A constant reminder that he was still out there, waiting. The thought made me shudder.
Jackal shifted against the seat, making it groan loudly.
“Guess you got lucky there, bloodbag,” he muttered, and I wondered if even Jackal found the thought of being tied to Sarren disturbing. “Any hints as to what he’s doing, then?
Plans? Ideas? Creepy riddles?” He turned and peered back at us, raising a pointed eyebrow. “A message scrawled on a bathroom door in the blood of the innocent?”
“He didn’t tell me anything,” Zeke said, with a dangerous undertone that warned not to keep pushing him down this path. Jackal, of course, didn’t get the hint or, most likely, didn’t care.
“Well, you’re just all kinds of useless, aren’t you?” He shifted back, settling against the seat with his arms behind his head again. But he wasn’t done, yet. “Come on, Ezekiel, you’re the progeny of the Insane One himself. Sure you can’t scrape something out of that screwed-up head to give us the jump on Sarren? I’m sure if you dig hard enough, you’ll find his special brand of crazy right where you need it.”
I slid forward and kicked the back of his seat, making him turn to glare at me. “Will you shut up? Leave him alone. How is this helping anything?”
“Hey, pardon me for wanting to be prepared,” Jackal drawled. “We can’t all be like you, sister, charging in blind and hoping your sword hits something as you flail about. You got lucky this time. That’s not going to work with Sarren.”
“Why don’t you tell us what he’s up to?” I challenged. “You worked with him back in New Covington. I’m sure the pair of you had plenty of chances to bond.”
“You’d think so, but not really.” Jackal didn’t miss a beat.
“Turns out, crazy psychotic vampires are really difficult to pal around with. They tend to be irrationally paranoid, and his poetry was about to drive me up a wall. So I’m afraid I didn’t get any useful information out of Sarren because I was busy…oh, what was it again? I forgot why I was there.” Jackal mock frowned, then snapped his fingers. “Oh, yeah! I was saving your skin.”
“Funny, I was going to say setting us up.”
“You’re never going to let that go, are you?”
“If the two of you would like to walk to Eden,” Kanin said at last, not taking his eyes from the road, “I can stop anytime.” I fell silent, and Jackal gave a disgusted snort and turned to face the windshield again. Kanin sighed. “James, we will come up with a plan for dealing with Sarren when we have more information,” he said, glancing at Jackal. “But antagonizing Ezekiel will not help, so I suggest you cease before your sister runs a sword through the back of your chair.”