No, Al ison. Don’t lie to yourself. The truth emerged, making me feel cold. You didn’t lose control to the demon—you welcomed it this time. You gave in, wil ingly. And Kanin knows it.

“How injured are you?” My sire’s voice was grave, disapproving. I clenched my fists against the metal, pushing back the shame and the last of the Hunger, and rose to face him.

“I’ll live.” I flicked blood from my katana, then sheathed it calmly, keeping my own voice neutral. I refused to feel guilty, refused to let Kanin shame me for what I’d almost done. I’d been badly hurt, and Blood Frenzy was a fact of life for vampires. Sooner or later, we all lost control.

“I was careless,” I muttered, turning away from my sire and seeing Jackal at the edge of the road. It was easier to face Jackal than Kanin; my blood brother stood with his arms crossed, smirking at me, but that was more bearable than the disappointed stare of a Master vampire. “It won’t happen again.”

“It will,” Kanin said and walked past me, heading down the road, but in a different direction than before. I blinked after him.

“Where are you going?”

“We’re breaking trail,” Kanin said matter-of-factly. “Sarren will have to wait. We must go hunting before one of us falls to Blood Frenzy.” That pretty much meant me, I guessed.

“No,” I growled, and stalked after my sire, making him turn. “Kanin, I’m fine. We don’t have to do this.”

“Allison.” Kanin’s eyes narrowed. “Of the three of us, you are closest to the edge. You are making no effort to control yourself, and the monster is very close to the surface. Having you so close to frenzy is dangerous for us all. As it is, I am not certain you can restrain yourself in the presence of humans.

I am less certain that you will even try.”

It wasn’t the muted disapproval in his voice that got to me; it was the sorrow, the regret. As if he had failed. As if he had been proud of me, once, but now had second thoughts about bringing me into this world, making me a vampire.

And suddenly, I was angry. I was angry that he could make me feel shame for what I knew was my base nature. I was angry that no matter what I told myself otherwise, how hard I tried to deny it, I wanted to make him proud. I was angry that he expected more from me, that he held me up to some ridiculous standard that I could never reach.

I raised my head and stared him down. “Maybe I won’t,”

I said carelessly. “Why should that bother you?”

Anguish flickered across his impassive face before it became calmly aloof once more. “This is not what I taught you, Allison,” he said in a voice meant only for me. “You are stronger than this.”

I shrugged. “Maybe I realized it’s futile, and I don’t want to fight my nature for the rest of eternity. Maybe I realized Jackal was right all along.”

“No.” Kanin’s voice was suddenly hard, terrifying. “You are simply using your demon to hide from what you really feel. Because you are afraid of what that means, that it might be painful. It is far easier to be a monster than to confront the truth.”

I snarled back, baring my fangs. “So what?” I demanded, wanting Kanin to react, to show some kind of emotion, but he didn’t even blink. “I tried, Kanin. I really did. But you know what I discovered?” I curled my lip into a sneer. “We are monsters. No matter how long I fight it, I’m always going to want to hunt and kill and destroy. You taught me that, remember? What happened with—” my mind recoiled from his name “—with that human—that was stupid and wrong and eventually, I would’ve killed him. It was…better…that he died.” I nearly choked on the words, but forced myself to continue, to believe it. “He would’ve only been used against me. Now there’s nothing holding me back.”

“Very well.” Kanin’s voice sounded hollow. “Then the next time you are teetering on the edge, I will not pull you back from it. But be warned, Allison.” His gaze sharpened, cutting into me. “There is a difference between killing while in the throes of Hunger or Blood Frenzy, and giving in to the monster. Once you fall, once you willingly cross that line, it changes you. Forever.”

We glared at each other, two monsters facing off in the tangle of cars and dead rabids, the snow falling softly around us. Kanin’s gaze was icy, but I sensed no anger from him, only weary acceptance, regret and the faintest hint of sorrow. He understood, I realized. He knew, better than most, the lure of the monster, how hard it was to deny our base nature. He was disappointed that he had lost another to the demon, but he understood. I wondered if Kanin, in his long, long existence, had ever fallen to his own darkness, if it was even possible to hold out forever.

I decided that I didn’t care. Let Kanin do and think what he wished; I was still a monster, and that would never change.

“So, anyway.” Jackal’s impatient voice broke through our cold standoff. “Not to interrupt this riveting family drama, but are we going to go hunting anytime soon, or are you two going to glare at each other until the sun comes up?”

We took the road due north, a direction that pointed away from Eden and Sarren. I didn’t want to postpone the chase, to let our quarry pull farther ahead. But Kanin insisted, and when Kanin insisted, there was nothing else to do. For the rest of the night, we walked, passing forests and plains and the broken remnants of civilization, well hidden in the snow and overgrown forest.

Kanin ignored me, walking silently ahead without looking back. Not that his behavior was any different than on most nights, but now it had this icy, untouchable feel to it. He had washed his hands of me, it seemed. I told myself I didn’t care.

Kanin’s values were no longer my own. And he was wrong about me. I wasn’t burying the pain left over from that night in New Covington, or using the monster to shield myself from hurt. I’d simply accepted what I was. What I should have accepted from the beginning.

“So, sister,” Jackal said at length, dropping beside me with his ever-present grin. “Looks like we’re in the same boat now. How does it feel, being one of Kanin’s many disappointments?”

“Shut up, Jackal,” I said, mostly out of habit. Knowing he wouldn’t.

“Oh, it’s not so bad,” Jackal went on, with a nod in Kanin’s direction. “Now you don’t have to hear him go on and on about his stupid bloodbags and ‘controlling the monster.’ It gets so tedious after a few months.” He gave me a wicked smile. “Isn’t it easier down here, sister? Now that you’ve fallen from his ridiculously high expectations? You can finally start living the way a vampire should.”

Tags: Julie Kagawa Blood of Eden Book Series
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