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The Immortal Rules, Page 23

Julie Kagawa

Chapter 23


  "Well, well," Jackal purred, smiling as he came into the room, shutting the door behind him. "What do we have here? Another vampire has snuck into my little kingdom, I see. I thought I felt something odd tonight. Suddenly, all the craziness outside makes sense. " He tsked at me and shook his head. "Did you burn down my theater? That wasn't very civilized of you. Now I'm going to have to find another spot to hold the ritual dismemberments. "

  He stopped, folding his arms and watching me with a patronizing look, maybe because I had drawn my sword and had sunk into a ready stance, waiting for him to make the first move. That weird feeling of familiarity, of deja vu, crept up again.

  "Well, this is awkward," Jackal continued, not looking the slightest bit concerned with the appearance of weapons. "It seems we have different ideas of what's going to happen tonight. You see, I don't want to fight you. I don't get many of my kin through here, especially the beautiful, sword-wielding variety. But I must have pissed you off in the past, because I feel I know you from somewhere, I just can't remember where or how. "

  "I don't want a fight, either," I said and nodded to Jeb. "I'm just here for him. Let him go, and we'll get out of your city right now. "

  "Ah, well, that's going to be a problem. " Jackal sighed, rubbing his chin. "See, I've been looking for the old man for quite some time now, ever since I heard about the scientists and their project. I need him to develop the cure. He says the information is incomplete, so I've given him everything he needs to finish it. I'm doing a good thing here. " The raider king smiled, charming and handsome. "All I want is to end the curse of Rabidism. That's not such a horrible thing, is it?

  Wouldn't you do the same, if given the opportunity?" I didn't trust him. That couldn't be the whole reason. "Where did you hear about the cure?" I asked. Jackal shrugged.

  "My sire told me about it. "

  "Sire?" I suddenly felt weak. No, it couldn't be. That feeling of recognition, the instant connection, the sudden knowledge that he wasn't just a random vampire. I knew, beyond a doubt, what he was going to say next, and wanted to scream at him to stop.

  "Creator? Father figure?" Jackal made an off hand gesture.

  "The one who Turned me. He found me in the desert, dying of exposure after bandits killed my family, and made me what I am. I'll always be grateful to the stuck-up prick, but we never saw eye to eye on a lot of things. A few months after he Turned me you could say we. . . parted ways. He called himself-"

  "Kanin," I whispered.

  Jackal narrowed his eyes.

  "How did you. . . " He paused, staring at me, as if seeing me for the first time. Then he threw back his head and laughed.

  "Oh, of course! That's the connection! I knew I knew you from somewhere. Kanin, you lying bastard. What happened to that vow that you wouldn't Turn anyone after me?" I stared at Jackal, trying to process it. Kanin was our sire.

  He'd Turned Jackal, same as me, so that meant we were. . .

  siblings? Was he my brother? I didn't know how this worked in vampire society. This was the one thing Kanin had ne-glected to teach me.

  "What a shock, huh, sister?" Jackal grinned, utterly delighted. I started, unused to hearing that word. Sister implied we were related. Family. "Well, this is too perfect, isn't it? You can't turn on me now, right? Not your dear older brother. "

  "You are not my brother," I growled, coming to a decision.

  Jackal raised his eyebrows in mock surprise. "I want nothing to do with you, not after what you've done. " I remembered Darren, pleading and frightened, right before the rabid pulled him down. I remembered Dorothy's sightless gaze, staring up at the sky. "You killed my friends, and I will not forgive you for that. "

  "Friends?" The raider king snorted, crossing his arms. "Humans aren't friends, sister. Humans are pets. Food. Minions.

  Not friends. " He gave me an easy smile. "Oh, they have their uses, I suppose. They're entertaining sometimes. But even they realize that we vampires are the superior race. That's why, deep down, they all want to be like us. Take the minions out there. " He jerked his thumb at the window. "I give them freedom, let them come and go and kill as they please, but do they stay away?" He shook his head. "No. They always come back, because they hope that someday, if the curse is lifted, I will reward their service and make them just like me. "

  "And that is why you want the cure, demon," Jebbadiah said, his body a coiled wire as he faced the vampire lord. "You want to turn your own people into vampires, to make more like yourself. An army of demons, with you at the head. "

  "I might have offered my people immortality. " Jackal shrugged, still talking to me. "What of it? It's a gift I would offer gladly. Our race has lost just as much as theirs, perhaps more. " He raised his empty hands and took a step toward me, ignoring Jeb. "Come on, sister, why are you so concerned about one human? They're food, bloodbags. We were meant to rule over the human race, that's why we're superior in every way. Stop fighting your instincts. If Kanin truly sired you, then you have the potential to be a Master, same as me.

  And I'm not above sharing everything with you. I don't tolerate other vamps in my kingdom, but for you, I'd make an exception. " His voice became low, soothing. "Think of what we could create, the two of us. We could have our own little paradise, with our armies and servants and human cattle. We could offer our faithful the gift of immortality, and we would rule this world till the end of time. Our own vampire Eden. "

  "Never!" Jeb cried and snatched the scalpel from the f loor.

  "Never!" he said again, his face wild. "Blasphemy! I will die before I let that happen!" And he f lew at the raider king with the scalpel held high.

  Jackal turned as the human lunged, easily grabbing Jeb's wrist and wrenching the blade from his grasp. "Now, now," he growled, baring his fangs as he lifted Jeb off his feet. "You can't die yet. I need you to finish that cure. However, I have no qualms about torturing you a bit to get it. " He f lung Jeb backward, and the human crashed into the counter, smashing vials and beakers on his way down. He collapsed amid a rain of glass, and the sweet scent of blood rose up like a geyser.

  The Hunger roared. I hurried over to Jeb, who was struggling upright amid the sea of glass, not knowing for sure whether I would help him or attack. Blood trickled down his arms and face, running into his eyes, and he slumped against the counter, his head falling limply to his chest.

  "Jeb. " I crouched in front of him, desperately trying to ignore the pulse pounding in his throat, the crimson spreading over his shirt. He reached one hand inside his torn coat. Off to the side, I could see Jackal in the same spot, arms folded to his chest, watching us with a smirk on his face.

  "Vampire," Jeb whispered through gritted teeth and shoved his hand at me. I caught it, and something small, a tiny strip of dark plastic, dropped from his palm into my hand. I stared at it, frowning. It was about the length of my middle finger, and about as wide.

  "For Ezekiel," Jeb murmured, dropping his arm weakly.

  "Tell him. . . to take care of our people. "


  "Well, that was entertaining," Jackal said, dusting off his hands. "But I believe I've run out of patience for the night.

  So now, my dear sister, I need an answer from you. Will you join me? Will you help me find the cure and populate our world again? Think of what the vampire lords would give us for this information. We could rule them all, if we wanted.

  What do you say?"

  I looked at Jeb, slumped against the counter. I could smell his blood, hear his heart in his chest, feel his cold eyes on me.

  Judging, hating. Even now, I was still a demon. He would never see me as anything else.

  I faced Jackal again. "No," I said, and his eyebrows shot up. I walked around the counter and stood between him and the human, raising my sword. "I'm taking Jeb out of here, whether you like it or not. So get out of my way. " Jackal shook his head sadly. "Pity," he muttered. "We could'v
e had something extraordinary, you know. Two siblings, united by fate, join forces to change their world. What can I say-I'm a romantic at heart, though this story wasn't meant to be. " He took a breath and gave a dramatic sigh, smiling at me. "I'm going to have to kill you now. "

  "Then stop talking," I challenged, sinking into a ready stance, "and get on with it. The sun is going to be up soon. " Jackal bared his fangs, and his golden eyes f lashed. "Oh, trust me, sister. This won't take long at all. " Reaching into his duster, he drew forth a long wooden stick, one end coming to a deadly point. My stomach twisted in raw, primal fear, and I stumbled back.

  "I thought you might appreciate this," he said, smiling evilly as he stalked forward. "Kanin was the one who taught me, you know. To master my fear, to use it to my advan-tage. " He twirled the stake between his fingers, grinning.

  "What's the matter, sister? Didn't he teach you the same? Or was your education cut short by our kin who want his head on a platter? How much practice did you get with dear old Kanin, anyway? I'm guessing less than me. I've known our sire a long time. "

  "Did he teach you how to bore your opponents to sleep?

  Because I think I missed that lesson. " Jackal roared with laughter. "Oh, I like her," he mused, shaking his head. "It's going to be such a shame to kill you.

  Are you certain you won't reconsider? These humans can get so dull sometimes. "

  "No. " I glared at him, shaking my head. "I won't let you hurt anyone else. "

  "Very well. " The vampire king shrugged, f lipping the stake in his hand. "I gave you the chance. Are you ready, then, sister? Here I come!"

  He lunged forward, covering the room in a blink, moving faster than I could see. I slashed at him wildly, but Jackal ducked and stepped into my guard. His hand shot out, grabbing my throat, lifting me off my feet. Before I could react, he slammed me hard onto the counter. Glass f lew everywhere again, like a crystal blizzard, and the back of my skull struck the marble edge. Stunned, I lay there for a half second, before Jackal raised his fist and slammed the wooden stake through my stomach.

  I arched up, screaming. My sword fell from my hand, clattering to the f loor. The pain was unlike anything I had felt before; waves of fire shooting through my body, centered on that point where the wood entered my f lesh. I could feel the stake inside me, like a fist clenching my intestines, twisting and squeezing. I went to yank it out, but Jackal grabbed my wrist, slamming it back onto the counter, pinning me down.

  "Hurts, doesn't it?" he whispered, bending over me, yellow eyes gleaming. "Incredible that a piece of wood shoved through your gut could hurt so bad. I'd rather have a hot poker jammed through my eye into my brain. " My body con-vulsed, and I clenched my jaw to keep back another scream.

  Jackal continued to hold me down, smiling. "Oh, and if you're wondering why it's getting hard to move, let me enlighten you. Your body is going into shock-it's shutting down, trying to repair itself. A few minutes of this, and you'll be begging me to cut off your head and end it. " I struggled, but my limbs felt sluggish. Jackal had one arm pinned, and though the other was free, the blinding agony in my middle made it impossible to shove him off. I was literally staked to the counter, speared like an animal. Jackal grinned down at me and sadistically twisted the wooden spike in deeper, and this time I couldn't hold back a shriek.

  "Bet you wish you'd taken my offer now, huh, sister?" I could barely focus on what he was saying. "Such a pity. I was imagining all the things we could've done, together. But you had to side with the bloodbags, didn't you? Just like Kanin.

  And now look where he is-captured and tortured by that psychotic freak, Sarren. You must be so proud to have followed the same road as our sire. "

  I reached back with my free hand, desperately searching for something, anything, to free myself. I forced myself to talk, to keep him distracted. "H-how. . . did you. . . "

  "Know about Kanin?" Jackal twisted the stake again, and I arched in helpless agony. "You've been having the same dreams, right? Intense emotion can sometimes be carried to those who share our blood. So Kanin might even be experiencing your pain right now. Isn't that an interesting thought?" He leaned in, smiling. "Hey, Kanin, can you hear me? Do you see what I'm doing to your newest little spawn? What's that?" He tilted his head to one side. "Give her another chance, you say? Don't kill her, like you did your brothers? What an interesting thought. Do you think if I offered again, she would agree?"

  My groping fingers found the edge of a beaker, miraculously unbroken, and curled around the neck. With Jackal still leaning in, I brought it forward with all my strength, smashing it against the side of his face. The glass shattered, knocking his head to the side, and Jackal roared.

  Spinning back, he yanked me off the counter and swung me over his head. The next thing I knew, I was hurling through the air, and had a split-second glance of the windows, rushing at me, before I struck the glass with a splintering cacophony.

  Cold Chicago wind hit my face as I hovered in empty air for a moment, then started to plummet.

  I twisted desperately, lashing out with both hands, seeking anything solid. My fingers scraped against the wall, and I hit the side of the building, one hand clinging to the ledge below the windows.

  I looked up. Jackal loomed above me, the side of his face webbed in crimson, yellow eyes blazing as he glared down.

  But he was still grinning, his own blood trickling into his mouth, turning his fangs red.

  "That," he said in a conversational tone completely differ-ent from his expression, "wasn't very smart. Ballsy, but not smart. And after I just offered you a way out, too. Any real vampire would have jumped at the chance. But not you. No, you're still hung up on the humans. "

  It was difficult to listen to him. The stake was still lodged in my stomach, a constant, throbbing agony, making my limbs weak and unresponsive. My fingers slipped, and I clawed frantically at the ledge.

  Jackal reached down and grabbed a large chunk of broken concrete, nearly the size of a human skull, and tossed it easily in one hand. "If you're so fond of these walking bloodbags," he smiled, raising the stone over his head, "then you can join them in hell. "

  I braced myself, knowing I was about to die. But then, I heard footsteps behind Jackal an instant before Jebbadiah Crosse slammed into the raider king from behind. Howling, Jackal toppled over my head, thrashing and f lailing, with the old human clinging doggedly to his back. They both sailed into open air, one screaming and one grimly silent, and dropped away into the darkness.

  Stunned, I dangled on the ledge, barely coherent, my mind reeling. In a daze, I reached down and grabbed the stake, yanking it free with a scream. It tumbled from my limp fingers and spun end over end, clinking off the building, until it was lost to the dark waters far below.

  Trembling, I was able to pull myself into the building again before my limbs gave out, and I sprawled on the tile in front of the smashed window, staring at the ceiling.

  I couldn't move. Pain and Hunger raged within, but I felt hollow, completely drained of life. I was tapped out, done.

  There was nothing left to repair the damage done to my body, and I could feel myself fading, wanting to slip into the blackness of hibernation, away from the pain.

  I wasn't sure how long I lay there. Somewhere deep within, my body knew it had to move, find shelter. Dawn was coming, and it wouldn't be long before the first rays of the sun peeled the skin from my bones and turned me into a bonfire. I tried to crawl away, to make my limbs respond, but they were so heavy, and I was so tired. Angry now, I struggled to stay awake, raging against the darkness pulling me under, fighting to move. But as the sun crept closer, it seemed inevitable that my time was finally up.

  I slumped, exhausted. This was it. I had nothing left. Dawn was less than an hour away, and it would find me here in the open, helpless to resist. Fitting that I should burn as I left this world for good.

  "Allison. "

  The voice came out
of nowhere, cutting through the layers of darkness. I stirred weakly, not quite believing. Maybe I was dreaming. Maybe I was already dead. Then someone knelt beside me and pulled me into their lap, cradling me gently. I wanted to pull away, to struggle, but my body simply wasn't listening anymore, and I gave up trying to fight it.

  "Oh, God," whispered the voice, familiar and tormented, and I felt something brush the gaping hole in my middle.

  "Allison, can you hear me? Wake up. Come on, we have to get out of here. "

  Zeke? I thought, dazed. No, that couldn't be right. Zeke was gone; I'd told him to get out of the city with the others.

  He should be far away by now. But it was his voice, urging me to get up, to open my eyes. I wanted to, but hibernation was pulling at me, drawing me under, and his voice was growing faint. I couldn't answer him. He shifted me in his arms, and I heard a hiss of pain, as the hot scent of blood suddenly filled the air.

  "Please let this work," he whispered and pressed something to my mouth.

  Warm liquid trickled past my lips. Instinctively, I bit down hard and heard a gasp somewhere above me. I barely noticed it, nor did I care. This was life, and I snatched at it greedily, feeling strength returning to my body, shaking off the sluggishness. The Hunger surged up with a roar, as if realizing how close to death we had come, and I bit down savagely, driving my fangs in deep. There was a stif led cry, and the f lesh and muscles against my mouth tightened. It drove me crazy with desire. The blood wasn't f lowing fast enough; I wanted to rip and tear the veins open, releasing it in a hot f lood. I could feel the pulse at the wrist, throbbing in time with a heartbeat, and wanted to drink and drink until they both faltered and finally stopped.

  With a roar, I released the arm and lunged up to the prey's throat, where the blood pumped the hardest and life f lowed just below the surface. Baring my fangs, I was about to sink them into his neck, to release that glorious surge of heat and power, when the body went rigid against mine. I heard a heartbeat quicken, thudding loudly in his chest, and I realized.

  Zeke! No, I can't do this. Trembling with need and Hunger, I paused, a breath away from his throat, so close I could feel the heat radiating from his skin. Zeke was frozen, his breath coming in gasps, his whole body tense with anticipation and fear. A tiny part of me wanted to draw back, but I couldn't make myself move. Not with his pulse f luttering an inch from my lips, and the sweet, heady scent of blood filling every part of my senses. I leaned closer, and my lips brushed his skin, a soft, featherlight touch, and Zeke gasped.

  And then, as I knelt there shaking, trying to find the willpower to pull away, Zeke moved. Just a fraction, a tiny shift that might've gone unnoticed. Except he shivered, took a deep breath and tilted his head back, exposing his throat. Offering it to me. And I couldn't stop myself.

  I lunged, sinking my fangs into his neck, driving them deep. Stif ling a cry, Zeke stiffened and gripped my arms, arching his back. His blood coursed hot and sweet into my mouth, spreading through me, a slow-moving fire. It tasted of earth and smoke, of heat and passion and strength, of all things Zeke. He breathed my name, a sigh of benediction and longing, and I couldn't get close enough, never close enough. His heartbeat roared in my ears, pounding out a savage rhythm, and I lost myself in the moment, cocooned in ecstasy, feeling the essence of this remarkable human swirl through me.

  No! Through the Hunger and bloodlust, a tiny, sane part of me emerged, gasping in horror. This is Zeke! it cried out.

  This is Zeke you're feeding from, Zeke's heartbeat you're listening to. His blood is saving your life, and you're going to kill him if you don't stop now!

  The Hunger roared; it wasn't satisfied, not nearly sated enough. I had nearly been killed and needed more blood to heal completely. But I could not take any more without risking Zeke's life. Zeke was in no position to push me off; I had to control myself. Stop, I told myself firmly, clamping down on my Hunger once more. No more. That is enough!

  With a monumental effort, I pulled away, forcing my fangs to retract. I felt Zeke shudder as my fangs slid from his throat, felt his whole body slump against mine.

  For a moment, neither of us moved, and I looked down in horror. Under my assault, Zeke had fallen back and was now resting on his elbows, breathing hard, with me straddling his waist. Blood still oozed from two tiny holes in his neck. He still wore a dazed expression, but when he finally raised his head and looked at me, his eyes were clear.

  I froze. He had seen. He had seen me at my worst, a vampire in a snarling, foaming blood frenzy. A monster who had almost killed him on instinct. Until now, even though he'd known what I was, I had at least appeared more or less human.

  I could only imagine what he thought of me now.

  Zeke stared at me, and under his intense gaze I wanted to crawl into a deep hole, but also to pounce on him again, to drive him back to the f loor and finish what I'd started. I could feel him shaking underneath me, his heart thudding against my palms.

  "Zeke. . . I. . . " I didn't know what to say. What could I say? Sorry I almost killed you? That I couldn't control the demon? That I wanted to keep drinking until you were an empty, lifeless husk? I didn't want you to see me like this, I thought de-spairingly, closing my eyes. Out of everyone, I didn't want you to see the monster.

  "Just. . . " Zeke paused, letting out a breath, as if his body had seized up, and he could just now breathe again. "Just answer me this one question," he said in a shaky voice. "Does this mean. . . will I. . . this doesn't mean I'm going to Turn, does it?" I immediately shook my head. "No," I whispered, glad for something to say. "The process is different. You would have to take some of my blood to become a vampire. " I would also have to nearly kill you.

  He sighed, and some of the tension left his body. "Then. . . I'm glad I came back. "

  I rose, scrambling away from him, and Zeke rolled upright and faced me, pale from cold and pain and blood loss. I turned away, staring at the shattered windows, watching embers from the fires dance on the wind. I felt his gaze on my back, and shame burned through me like the hottest fire.

  "Why did you come back?" I whispered. "I told you to keep going. You shouldn't have. . . "

  "I couldn't leave you," Zeke said. "Not after everything you did for us. For me. I had to come back. " I heard his footsteps, felt him step up beside me. From the corner of my eye, I watched him gaze at the city, watching the f lames. "The others are safe," he announced. "They're at the edge of the city, waiting for us. We should go. I guess. . . " And his voice faltered, suspiciously close to breaking, and he swallowed hard. "I guess Jeb won't be coming back with us. " Jeb. I felt a blinding stab of guilt. And a hollow emptiness, knowing I had failed them both. "Zeke," I said, finally turning to face him. "Jeb is. . . "

  "I saw," he whispered, gesturing to the broken glass, his face tight. "I saw. . . what he did, when you were beneath the window. I was coming up to the building when the bodies. . . fell. "

  My stomach felt cold. "Did. . . did Jeb. . . "

  "No. " He shook his head and closed his eyes, as if trying to squeeze out the memory. "There was nothing I could do for him. "

  "I'm so sorry. " Words were inadequate. I looked at his trembling shoulders, the fists clenched at his sides, and wished I dared to pull him close for just a moment. "I tried. "

  "Not your fault. " His voice broke at the end, and he took a deep breath. "It was his decision. He chose to end it that way, even if it meant saving a. . . " He paused, raked a hand through his hair. "You must've done something to make an impression," he finished softly. "I knew him for fourteen years, and he never once changed his mind. "

  You're wrong, I thought. It wasn't me he was thinking of tonight, it was you. Reaching into my pocket, I drew out the small plastic strip Jebbadiah had given me. "He wanted you to have this," I said, and Zeke turned. "He said you would know what to do with it. "

  He took it gently, almost reverently, staring as he held it up. "Do you know what it is?" I
asked after a moment.

  "Yes. " Looking around the room, he hurried over to the desk in the opposite corner and shoved the plastic strip into a slot on the side of the computer. I was amazed that he knew how to use it, even more so when he fiddled around with the keyboard and pulled up several files on the screen.

  "Yes," Zeke muttered, blue eyes f lickering across the screen.

  "This is all their research. All the information they had on the plague and the rabids and the virus. It lists everything-their methods, the tests they ran on the vampires, everything. If we can get this to Eden, there might be a real chance of finding a cure. " He sighed and yanked the strip out of the computer, raking a hand through his hair again. "If we can ever find it.

  We still have no idea where it is. "

  I looked at the green board, the one with the dusty white letters scrawled across its surface, and the map on the other side. Frowning, I walked up and ripped the map from the board, narrowing my eyes. Cities had been circled and crossed out, notes scrawled along the edges in what was probably Jackal's handwriting. But one place stood out, one area had been circled several times, a question mark hovering beside it.

  "I think we do. "