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The Immortal Rules

Julie Kagawa

Chapter 17


  We stared at each other, frozen in time. As our eyes met, I became aware of the small things happening around us: the drip of rabid drool hitting the ground, the lines of blood smeared across my cheek.

  Then Ruth stepped back and took a breath.


  The cry echoed off the woodshed, carrying over the rain, as Ruth turned to f lee. Behind me, the rabid shrieked in response, and my vampire nature surged up with a roar. I lunged forward on instinct. Before the girl could take a single step, I was in front of her, slamming her back into the wall, fangs bared to their fullest. Ruth screamed.

  "Shut up!" I snarled, even as I caught myself from lunging forward, from driving my fangs into her slender throat.

  The vampire within howled a protest, urging me to bite, to kill. Shaking from holding myself back, I glared at her, curling my lips from my teeth. "That was you by my room last night, wasn't it?" I demanded. "I thought I heard someone on the stairs. You've been snooping around me all this time, just waiting for something to happen. "

  "I knew it," Ruth panted, shrinking back from me, her expression caught between defiance and terror. "I knew there was something wrong about you. No one believed me, but I knew. Zeke will put your heart on a platter when he finds out, vampire bitch. "

  I hissed, leaning close, baring my fangs in her face. "You're awfully smug for someone who's about to die. " She turned white. "You can't!"

  I smiled, showing teeth, unsure if I was serious or not.

  "Why not?"

  "Zeke will know!" Ruth cringed, panicked now, throwing up her arms to protect herself. "And so will Jeb! You can't kill me. "



  vampire! " I snarled, on the verge of losing it. "Why wouldn't I?"


  I froze, feeling the world stop for a fraction of a second. In that heartbeat, a torrent of emotion rushed through me, almost too fast to recognize. Horror, anger, guilt, regret. What was I doing? What the hell had come over me? I looked at Ruth in a daze, dismay and revulsion spreading through me.

  Another second, and I might have killed her.

  But worst of all. . .

  Dropping my hands, I turned slowly. . . to face Zeke standing a few yards away. His gun was drawn, angled at my heart.

  We stared at each other, silent in the falling rain. For another surreal moment, I felt a stab of deja vu, f lashing back to our first meeting in the abandoned town. But unlike that first time, Zeke's eyes were stony, his mouth pulled into a grim line. This time, he was serious.

  "Let her go, vampire. "

  My insides cringed, hearing that word from him, cold, hard and unyielding. "Why should I?" I challenged. "You'll shoot me as soon as she's clear. "

  He didn't deny it, just continued to watch me, eyes glittering through the rain. I waited a moment longer, then slumped in resignation.

  "Get out of here," I told Ruth without looking at her, and she didn't pause. Scrambling away from the woodshed, she f led to Zeke's side, glaring back at me with wide, hate-filled eyes.

  "Go get Jeb," Zeke ordered in a calm voice, never taking his gaze off me. "Alert the rest of the house, but don't come back to help, Ruth. Stay inside, keep the kids close, and lock the doors, understand?"

  She nodded and f led back toward the house, already screaming. I tensed as her shrill voice echoed over the rain. In a few minutes, every male in the compound would be rushing at me with axes and pitchforks and firearms. I had to get out of here, but first, I had to deal with Zeke.

  I drew my sword, and he stiffened, pulling his machete as well, still keeping the pistol trained unwaveringly at my center. I gazed at him and fought the despair threatening to crush me. I was going to have to fight him. Zeke wasn't going to let me go, not after what I'd done to Ruth. I'm sorry, I wanted to tell him, knowing he wouldn't care. I'm sorry it ended this way. But you're not going to let me walk out, and I'm not going to stand here and die, even for you.

  "That's not going to stop me," I told him, shifting to a better stance, so I could lunge out of the way if needed. "I'm much faster than you. Even if you empty that clip into my heart, it's not going to kill me. I'm already dead. "

  "It'll slow you down," Zeke replied, twirling his machete in a graceful arc, the razor edges glinting in the darkness, "and that's all the time I need. " He eased to the side, a slow, cautious movement, and I stepped with him, moving off line. We circled one another, weapons held at the ready, eyes trained on each other, while the rabid hissed and growled from its cage.

  "How many?" Zeke demanded, his face hard. I frowned in confusion. "How many of us did you bite?" he elaborated in a cold voice. "Who did you feed from? Caleb? Darren? Should I be worried they're going to turn into rabids or vampires?"

  "I never bit any of you," I shot back, angry that he would think that, knowing I had no right to be. Of course, what else would he believe? "I never fed off anyone," I said in a more reasonable voice. "And it doesn't work that way. I would have to kill someone to turn them into a rabid. "


  Joe. "

  My stomach clenched, but I tried keeping my voice and expression neutral. "I. . . I didn't mean for that to happen," I said, willing him to believe me. "And it might not have mattered. He could've already been infected by the boar. " But it was a weak excuse, one I didn't really believe, and I knew Zeke didn't, either. In his mind, I had Turned that rabid all on my own.

  Zeke shook his head. "You were just using us," he muttered, as if it pained him to say it. "This whole time. It makes sense now-you never believed in Eden, you never believed in any of this. All you wanted was an easy food source. And I fell for it. " He clenched his jaw. "God, I left Caleb and Bethany alone with a vampire. "

  My heart sank, even as betrayal burned hot and fierce in my chest. This Zeke was different, the student of Jebbadiah Crosse, the boy who had been trained his whole life to hate vampires and everything about them. His eyes were cold, his expression closed off, unyielding. I was no longer Allison to him but a nameless demon, the enemy, a creature that needed to be slain.

  So this is it. I tightened my grip on my weapon, and I saw him do the same. We circled slowly, each looking for an opening. He had range with that gun, but I was betting Zeke didn't know how quickly a real vampire could move. Getting shot was going to hurt, but after the first round I could close the distance and. . .

  My steps faltered. And. . . what? Kill him? Cut him down, like I did with the raiders or the rabid boar? I could already feel the bloodlust, humming in my veins, eager for violence.

  Even if I disarmed him, I couldn't trust myself, my demon, not to pounce on him and tear him apart.

  Zeke's eyes followed me, never wavering. I could almost see his finger tightening on the gun, when I straightened and slid my weapon back in its sheath. His brow furrowed, confusion crossing his face, as I shook my head.

  "I can't do this. " Facing him fully, I raised my empty hands, before letting them drop to my sides. "Shoot me if you have to, but I'm not fighting you, Zeke. "

  He didn't move, a war of different emotions raging in his eyes, though the gun didn't waver. In the distance, toward the house, shouts echoed over the rain, the sound of footsteps sloshing through the mud.

  I eased back a step, away from him, toward the outer wall and the forest that lay beyond. "I'm leaving now," I said quietly, and Zeke raised the pistol a fraction of an inch, pressing his lips together. "You won't see me again, and I won't talk to anyone on my way out. Feel free to put a bullet in my back, but one way or another, I'm walking out of here. " I half turned then, bracing myself, waiting for the pop of gunfire, for the explosion of pain across my shoulders. Zeke stood with the gun trained on me a moment longer, then dropped his arm with a sigh.

  "Just go," he whispered, not looking at me. "Get out of here, and don't come back. I don't want to see you again, ever. "

  I didn't answe
r. I turned my back on him fully and crossed the final steps to the wall, gazing up at the rim.

  "Allison. "

  I turned. Zeke stood in the same spot with his back to me, the gun still dangling at his side. "We're even now," he murmured. "But. . . this is the last favor I'll grant. If I see you again, I'll kill you. "

  I faced the wall again, not wanting to reveal how much that hurt, or how much I wanted to spin around, knock him over and let him see how much of a demon I really was. My throat burned, but I swallowed the tears and the anger, burying it under cold indifference. I'd known, eventually, it would come to this.

  Crouching slightly, I leaped for the top of the wall, finding cracks and handholds to scale the fifteen feet of rusty metal and iron. Landing on the other side, I jumped as gunshots rang out behind me, four in rapid succession, from Zeke's pistol.

  I whirled to see a handful of bullet holes in a square of sheet metal, several yards from where I stood. Zeke hadn't been aiming for me, only making sure Jeb knew he drove me off.

  That he hadn't let the vampire go without a fight.

  The fields stretched out before me, and beyond them, the dark woods beckoned. Behind me, I heard Zeke pause for a long moment, then his footsteps walked away, back to Jebbadiah and his family, where he belonged.

  I began walking as well, away from the fence and the humans and the safe haven that was only a lie. I imagined myself and Zeke, the gap between us widening as we drew farther and farther away, each of us vanishing into our own world where the other could not survive. By the time I neared the edge of the woods, where the rabids and the demons and the other horrors waited, the chasm had become so vast I couldn't see the other side anymore.

  Part IV Wanderer