The Immortal Rules, Page 19Julie Kagawa
I jerked awake in the darkness and immediately knew something was wrong. Everything was completely black, but I could hear muff led booms topside, feel vibrations through the earth, like being underwater while something raged overhead.
I clawed my way through the dirt, breaking through the cemetery grounds, and a wave of heat blasted my face, making me snarl and cringe back.
The church was on fire. Red and orange f lames leaped out of the windows and slithered up the walls. The cross on the roof burned, wreathed in fire like a man with outstretched arms, welcoming the agony as it consumed him.
The vampire in me recoiled, hissing, wanting to run, to burrow back into the earth where the f lames could not touch me. I fought the urge and scrambled upright, scanning the grounds frantically for Zeke or any sign of the others.
The roar of engines echoed over the f lames, and gunfire exploded somewhere down the street, four shots in rapid succession. I took off, leaping over tombstones, drawing my sword as I passed the doomed church and sprinted into an alley. As I followed it around a corner, something f lashed by the mouth of the corridor; something that roared and coughed smoke and glinted metallic in the dim red light. Bikes, men and guns.
Raiders. My stomach contracted into a tight knot.
Jackal's gang was here.
I shot out of the alley, sword and fangs bared, to see another raider bearing down on me, the roar of his bike pounding off the buildings. He gave a shout as I leaped aside, barely clearing the tires, and brought my sword across the handlebars as he passed. The raider swerved aside, the blade missing him by inches, and careened into a wall. I heard the crunch of metal and bones, and the raider crumpled to the pavement with the bike on top of him.
A shout rang out behind me, and I spun. Through a maze of dead cars, a trio of humans looked up from the center of the lot, eyes widening as they saw me. Two of them were struggling with a body they had slammed across the hood of a car, arms pinned behind him, binding his wrists with rough cord. His pale hair gleamed in the darkness, his face tight with pain as they pressed it to the metal.
"Zeke!" I cried, starting forward, and the two raiders scrambled into action. One grabbed the assault rif le that lay on the car roof and the other dragged the prisoner behind a van and out of sight.
I roared, baring fangs, and went for the raider with the gun. Without hesitation, he raised the long muzzle to shoot at me, though his eyes were wide with shock and fear; he knew what I was and didn't pause as he sighted down the barrel and pulled the trigger.
The gun chattered on full automatic, sending out a hail of bullets, striking the rusty cars around me and sparking off the metal. Windows shattered as I ducked and wove around cars, the roar of gunfire and breaking glass nearly deafening. But I could sense my prey, smell his fear and desperation. Crouched behind a vehicle, I waited until the stream of gunfire paused, heard a frantic curse from the raider as he fumbled to reload.
I leaped atop the car, bounding over the roofs, and the human's eyes went wide with terror. He raised his gun, fired three wild shots, and then I was on him, slamming him against a door, breaking the window. Something bright f lashed in his hand as he plunged a knife into my neck, right above the collarbone, and pain shot through me like a bullet.
I screamed, wrenched his head down to my level, and sank my fangs into his throat.
My neck burned, I could feel my own blood running down my collar into my shirt. The Hunger was a gaping hole inside, dark and ravenous. Blood filled my mouth, f looding my senses. This time, I didn't hold back.
The raider shuddered and eventually went limp in my arms. Dropping the body, letting it slump to the cement, I gazed around the lot for Zeke and the other raider. They couldn't have gone far, especially if Zeke was resisting. I caught a glimpse of two bodies vanishing between buildings, the smaller one being shoved into the alley with a gun at his back, and leaped after them.
Coming out of the alley, I spotted the raider dragging Zeke toward a gray van parked on the sidewalk, doors open and engine running. The van had been modified into a lethal weapon. Metal spikes bristled from the doors and hood, and iron slats ran across the windows. Even the hubcaps were sharp and pointed.
The raider turned and spotted me coming for him. His face went pale. Zeke was still struggling with his captor, trying to yank out of his grasp. I bared my fangs and roared, and the raider made a decision. Turning, he shoved his captive toward me, but as Zeke stumbled forward, he raised his gun and pointed it at Zeke's unprotected back.
Two gunshots rang out. Zeke fell, striking his head on the pavement. I gasped and rushed toward him as the raider leaped into the van, slammed the door and screeched off.
Flinging myself down beside him, I ripped the cord from his wrists and rolled him onto his side. His skin was pale, blood trickling from his nose and mouth, and his eyes were closed. I shook him, feeling sick as his head f lopped limply, then I forced myself to be still and listen. For a heartbeat, a pulse, anything. Relief coursed through me. It was there, loud and frantic. He was alive.
"Zeke. " I touched his face, and this time he stirred, opening his eyes with a gasp. Pain-filled blue eyes f licked up to mine.
"You!" he gasped through clenched teeth and jerked away from me. "What are you doing here? How-" He gasped again, curling into himself, his expression tight with agony.
"Lie still," I told him. "You've been shot. We have to get you out of here. "
"No," Zeke rasped, trying to get up. "The others. Get away from me! I have to help them. " His leg buckled, and he crumpled to the pavement again.
"Lie still, idiot, or you're going to bleed to death, and then you won't be able to help anyone!" I glared fiercely, and he finally relented. "Where are you hit?" He winced. "My leg," he panted, gritting his teeth.
There was a nasty chunk taken out of Zeke's calf, which was bleeding all over the place, but thankfully, the bone seemed intact. Still, the amount of blood oozing from the gash both tempted and worried me. I bandaged him up as best I could, using strips from my coat to make a tourniquet, trying to ignore the smell and feel of the blood on my hands, on his skin.
Zeke set his jaw and didn't make a sound through the first part of the process, but a few minutes in, he reached out and stopped my hand.
"I can do the rest," he panted. "Go help the others. " He hesitated a moment, then added: "Please. " I met his gaze. Desperation and worry shone from his eyes, overshadowing the pain I knew he was in. "I'll be all right," he said, struggling to keep his voice steady. "The others, though. They're after them. You have to stop them. " I nodded and stood, gazing into the shadows, listening for sounds of pursuit. "Where?"
He pointed down the street. "Last I saw, Jeb was leading part of the group in that direction. We split up when we heard them coming, to throw them off. " His face darkened.
"They already have Ruth and Jake-you have to stop them from getting anyone else. "
I grabbed him under the arms and, ignoring his protests and gasps of pain, dragged him off the road. "Stay here," I said, setting him down behind a clump of weeds, higher than our heads. "I don't want you getting caught again while I'm searching for the others. I'll be back as soon as I can. Don't move. "
He nodded wearily. I retrieved my sword from where it lay on the sidewalk and sprinted down the road, looking for the people who had cast me out.
It didn't take long. I could hear the roar of bike engines, and the pop of distant gunfire over the tops of the buildings.
The boom of Jeb's shotgun echoed off the roofs, and I began to run. But the buildings masked the direction of the shots, and the streets wound confusingly through the small town, dead-ending or going nowhere.
I leaped over a moss-eaten wall just as two vans, armored and spiked like the previous one, roared past me, trailing plumes of smoke. Sprinting into the road, I watched them tear away, the hoots and laughte
r of the raiders echoing behind.
A face appeared in the back window, frightened and pale, pressed against the glass. Ruth's eyes met mine, terrified, before she was yanked back into the darkness, and the van screeched around a corner out of sight.
In the split second that I thought about pursuing them, headlights pierced the road at my back, and the roar of engines echoed down the street. I turned to see the rest of the gang, at least thirty or forty armed bikers, turn a corner and come swooping at me.
I dived behind a car as the gang passed, laughing and howling, some firing their weapons into the air. I gripped my sword, torn between attack and self-preservation. I could've leaped out and sliced down two or three raiders before the rest even knew what was happening. But then I'd be facing the rest of the gang, who would probably turn and spray me with bullets. And even though I was a vampire, I would not survive that, not from so many. My body was tough but not invincible.
So I waited and listened until the sounds of their voices disappeared, until the roar of engines and the pop of gunfire faded into the darkness, and silence settled over the town once more.
Just to be certain, I checked the surrounding area for sur-vivors. I found the spot behind a warehouse where an obvious battle had taken place; skid marks on the pavement, bullet holes in the walls, lining the sides of dead cars. Jeb's shotgun lay in a puddle next to an overturned truck, and a pair of raider corpses lay sprawled in the weeds close by, indicating the old man had not gone quietly. But others had not escaped the chaos, either. Dorothy sat crumpled against a cement ramp, two small holes seeping crimson below her collarbone, her puzzled eyes staring off into nothing.
I looked at her body, feeling hollow and numb. I hadn't known her long, and she had been a little on the crazy side, but even with her talk of angels and vampire-devils, Dorothy had been kind to me.
Now she was gone. As were the others.
In a daze, I wandered back to the spot I'd left Zeke, almost fearful of what I would find. When I turned down the correct street, however, I saw a familiar form leaning against a stop sign, one hand clutching a machete while the other clung to the pole, trying to pull himself up. Or keep himself from falling. A speckled trail of blood followed him down the sidewalk.
"Zeke!" Sprinting over, I reached for his arm, but he jerked away with a hiss, raising his weapon. I saw anger and uncertainty f lash through his eyes before they glazed over with pain once more, and he slumped forward.
I took his weight again, trying not to breathe in his scent, the blood soaking his clothes. Fear and worry made my voice sharp as we hobbled down the sidewalk. "What are you doing, you idiot? You want to get yourself killed? I thought I told you to stay down. "
"I heard. . . gunshots. " Zeke panted, his face and hair damp with sweat. I could feel him shaking, his skin cold and clammy. Dammit, he couldn't keep going like this. I looked around for shelter and decided that house across the street would work just fine.
"I wanted to help," Zeke continued as we limped across the road. "I couldn't sit there and do nothing. I had to try.
To see. . . if anyone escaped. " He clamped his lips together as I kicked the fence open and pulled him through the yard up the weed-eaten porch steps. "Did. . . anyone escape?" I ignored that question, nudging open the door and peering inside. This, at least, was somewhat familiar. The plaster walls were cracked and peeling, the f loor strewn with rubble and trash. There were a couple holes in the roof and broken shingles scattered throughout the living room, but the structure appeared fairly sound. Against the wall was a very moldy but remarkably intact yellow sofa, and I carefully steered Zeke across the uneven f loor until we reached it.
He collapsed on the sofa with a barely concealed groan, closing his eyes for just a moment before jerking them open again, as if he feared taking his gaze off me. I felt a prick of hurt as I stared down at him, lying helpless on the couch. He didn't trust me at all.
"You're bleeding again," I said, catching sight of fresh blood seeping through the makeshift bandage. He stiffened, and I had to stif le the urge to point out that if I'd wanted to bite him, I would've done it by now. "Wait here. I'll try to find something we can clean that up with. " Turning away to hide my anger, I walked out of the room, going farther into the darkened building. Zeke didn't say anything, so I rummaged through the house in silence, looking for bandages, food or anything that could help us. The rooms, though filthy and covered in dust and mold, were remarkably intact, as though the owners had just left without taking anything. The kitchen held a scattered collection of broken plates and mugs, and inside the refrigerator I found what had to be a hundred-year-old milk carton sitting on the top shelf. The bedrooms were mostly empty, stripped of sheets and clothes, though by the stench of feces and urine, I suspected a fox or maybe a whole family of raccoons had made its home under the bed.
I ducked into the hall and found the bathroom. The mirror over the sink was shattered and broken, but inside the cabinet I found a box of gauze pads and a dusty bandage roll. Beneath them sat a small bottle of pills and a larger brown bottle half full of liquid. I squinted at the faded label, mentally thanking Kanin for insisting that I learn to read better: the brown bottle contained something desperately needed. Hydrogen peroxide-topical disinfectant for surface cuts and minor wounds.
A little wary of the white pills, I left them in the cabinet but took the gauze and the peroxide and grabbed a dusty towel from the rack nearby, bringing it all out to Zeke. He was sitting straighter on the couch, trying to unwrap the tourniquet from his leg. But by his set jaw and sweaty, furrowed forehead, it wasn't going well.
"Stop that," I ordered, crouching beside him, setting the items on the f loor. "You're going to make it worse. Let me do it. "
He eyed me warily, but exhaustion and pain won out in the end, and he lay back down. I set to work on his leg again, cleaning the blood with the towel, then pouring the disinfectant liberally over the wound. Zeke hissed through his teeth as the clear liquid touched the gash, bubbling into white foam.
"Sorry," I muttered, and he blew out a short breath. Cleaning away the last of the blood, I pressed the bandage to his leg and started wrapping the gauze around it.
I didn't look up from my task, and my voice came out stiff and f lat. "What?"
Zeke hesitated, perhaps sensing my mood, then asked, very quietly, "The others? Did you. . . did anyone. . . ?" I set my jaw, wishing he hadn't brought it up just yet. "No," I told him. "They're gone. Jackal's men took them all. "
I considered lying, or at least glossing over the truth, but Zeke had always been honest with me. I had to tell him, even if I hated it. "Not everyone," I admitted. "Dorothy is dead. " He didn't say anything to that. I finished wrapping his leg and looked up to find him with his head bowed and one hand over his eyes. I gathered the first-aid supplies and stood, watching uncomfortably as he struggled with his grief. But he didn't make any noise: no words, no short sobbing breaths, nothing. And when he dropped his hand, his eyes were clear, his voice hard.
"I'm going after them. "
"Not alone, you're not," I said, putting the peroxide and bandages on a rotting table. "Unless you think you can take on forty raiders by yourself, wounded as you are. I'm coming with you. "
He glared at me, blue eyes f lashing in the darkness and shadows, the cross glimmering on his chest. I could see the struggle within; I was a vampire, still the enemy and something that couldn't be trusted-but at the same time, I'd just saved his life, and I was his best hope of rescuing the others.
I remembered the scars across his back and shoulders, the beliefs that had, quite literally, been beaten into him and wondered how deep Jeb's indoctrination ran.
Finally, he nodded, a reluctant, painful gesture that seemed to take all his resolve. "All right," he muttered at last. "I'll take all the help I can get. But. . . " He sat up straighter, eyes narrowed into those cold bl
ue slits I'd seen at the Archer compound. "If you try to bite me, or feed off any of the group, I swear I'll kill you. "
I resisted the urge to bare my fangs. "So nice to know where we stand, especially after I just saved your life. "
A shadow of guilt crossed his face, and his shoulders slumped. "Sorry," he muttered, raking a hand through his hair. "I just. . . Never mind. I'm grateful that you showed up when you did. Thank you. "
The words were stiff, uncomfortable, and I shrugged them off. "It's fine. " Not much of an apology, but at least he wasn't trying to put a machete through my neck. "On to the raiders, then. Do you know where they went?"
Zeke leaned back against the couch. "No," he said, his voice cracking just a tiny bit. It was clear he was trying to hold back his emotions. "I don't know where they are. Or where they took them. Or even why they took them. Jeb never said much about it, only that Jackal and his men were looking for him, and we had to find Eden before they caught up. "
"So we don't even know what direction they've gone," I muttered, looking out the door. Zeke shook his head and slammed a fist into the armrest with a hollow thump. I looked out the door at the faint red glow over the rooftops, the remains of the church burning to the ground. The streets were silent now. Except for the dying f lames, there was nothing left to show they had come at all. Jackal's men had known what they were doing. The attack had been quick, efficient and deadly, with the marauders fading into the night without a trace.
Or, most of them had.
"Wait here," I told Zeke. "I'll be right back. "