Home > The Immortal Rules (Blood of Eden #1)(5)

The Immortal Rules (Blood of Eden #1)(5)
Julie Kagawa

The Outer Wall was feared and hated throughout New Covington, reminding us that we were trapped here, like penned-in sheep, but it was greatly revered, as well. No one could survive the ruins beyond the city, especially when darkness fell. Even the vamps disliked going into the ruins. Beyond the Wall, the night belonged to the rabids. No sane person went over the Wall, and those who tried were either gunned down or blown to bits in the kill zone.

Which was why I planned to go beneath.

I pushed my way through the waist-high weeds that filled the ditch, keeping one hand on the cement wall as I maneuvered puddles and shattered glass. I hadn't been here in a while, and the weeds had covered all traces of previous passing. Circling the rock pile, ignoring the suspicious-looking bones scattered about the base, I counted a dozen steps from the edge of the rubble, stopped and knelt down in the grass.

I brushed away the weeds, careful not to disturb the surroundings too much. I didn't want anyone knowing this was here. If word got out-if the vampires heard rumors that there was a possible exit out of their city, they would have every square inch of the Fringe searched until it was found and sealed tighter than a pet's hold on the food warehouse key. Not that they were terribly concerned about people getting out; there was nothing beyond the Outer Wall except ruins, wilderness and rabids. But exits were also entrances, and every few years, a rabid would find its way into the city via the tunnels that ran beneath. And there would be chaos and panic and death until the rabid was killed and the entry-way found and blocked off. But they always missed this one.

The weeds parted, revealing a circle of black metal sunk into the ground. It was insanely heavy, but I kept a piece of rebar nearby to pry it up. Letting the cover thump into the grass, I gazed into a long, narrow hole. Rusty metal bars were set into the cement tube beneath the cover, leading down into the darkness.

I glanced around, making sure no one was watching, then started down the ladder. It always worried me, leaving the tunnel entrance wide open, but the cover was too heavy for me to slide back once inside the tube. But it was well hidden in the long grass, and no one had discovered it yet, not in all the years of me sneaking out of the city.

Still, I couldn't dawdle.

Dropping to the cement f loor, I gazed around, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. Putting a hand in my coat pocket, I closed it around my two most prized possessions: a lighter, still half full of f luid, and my pocket knife. The lighter I'd found on my previous trip into the ruins, and the knife I'd had for years. Both were extremely valuable, and I never went anywhere without them.

As usual, the tunnels beneath the city reeked. The old-timers, the ones who had been kids in the time before the plague, said that all of the city's waste was once carried away through the pipes under the streets, instead of in buckets emptied into covered holes. If that was true, then it certainly explained the smell. About a foot from where I stood, the ledge dropped away into sludgy black water, trickling lazily down the tunnel. A huge rat, nearly the size of some of the alley cats I glimpsed topside, scurried off into the shadows, reminding me why I was here.

With one last glance through the hole at the sky-still sunny and bright-I headed into the darkness.

People used to think rabids lurked underground, in caves or abandoned tunnels, where they slept during the daylight hours and came out at night. Actually, most everyone still thought that, but I'd never seen a rabid down here, not once.

Not even a sleeping one. That didn't mean anything, however.

No one topside had ever seen a mole man, but everyone knew the rumors of diseased, light-shy humans living beneath the city, who would grab your ankles from storm drains and drag you down to eat you. I hadn't seen a mole man, either, but there were hundreds, maybe thousands of tunnels I'd never explored and didn't plan to. My goal, whenever I ventured into this dark, eerie world, was to get past the Wall and back up to the sunlight as quickly as possible.

Luckily, I knew this stretch of tunnel, and it wasn't completely lightless. Sunlight filtered in from grates and storm drains, little bars of color in an otherwise gray world. There were places where it was pitch-black, and I had to use my lighter to continue, but the spaces were familiar, and I knew where I was going, so it wasn't terrible.

Eventually, I wiggled my way out of a large cement tube that emptied into a weed-choked ditch, almost sliding on my stomach to get through the pipe. Sometimes there were perks to being very skinny. Wringing nasty warm water from my clothes, I stood up and gazed around.

Over the rows of dilapidated roofs, past the barren, razed field of the kill zone, I could see the Outer Wall rising up in its dark, deadly glory. For some reason, it always looked strange from this side. The sun hovered between the towers in the center of the city, gleaming off their mirrored walls.

There were still a few good hours left to hunt, but I needed to work fast.

Past the kill zone, sprawled out like a gray-green, suburban carpet, the remains of the old suburbs waited for me in the fading afternoon light. I vaulted up the bank and slipped into the ruins of a dead civilization.

Scavenging the ruins was tricky. They say there used to be massive stores that had rows and rows of food, clothes and all kinds of other things. They were enormous and easily iden-tified by their wide, sprawling parking lots. But you didn't want to look there, because they were the first to be picked clean when everything went bad. Nearly sixty years after the plague, the only things left behind were gutted-out walls and empty shelves. The same was true of smaller food marts and gas stations. Nothing was left. I'd wasted many hours searching through those buildings to come up empty-handed every time, so now I didn't bother.

But the normal residences, the rows of rotting, dilapidated houses along the crumbling streets, were a different story.

Because here's something interesting I've learned about the human race: we like to hoard. Call it stockpiling, call it paranoia, call it preparing for the worst-the houses were far more likely to have food stashed away in cellars or buried deep in closets. You just had to ferret it out.

The f loorboards creaked as I eased through the door of my fifth or sixth hopeful-a two-story house surrounded by a warped chain-link fence and nearly swallowed up by ivy, windows broken, porch strangled under vines and weeds. The roof and part of the upper f loor had fallen in, and faint rays of light filtered through the rotten beams. The air was thick with the smell of mold, dust and vegetation, and the house seemed to hold its breath as I stepped inside.

I searched the kitchen first, rummaging through cupboards, opening drawers, even checking the ancient refrigerator in the corner. Nothing. A few rusty forks, an empty tin can, a broken mug. All stuff I'd seen before. In one bedroom, the closets were empty, the dresser overturned, a large oval mirror shattered on the f loor. The blankets and sheets had been stripped from the bed, and a suspicious dark blot stained one side of the mattress. I didn't wonder what it might be. You don't wonder about things like that. You just move on.

In the second bedroom, which was not quite as ravaged as the first, an old crib stood in the corner, filmy and covered in cobwebs. I eased around it, deliberately not looking inside the peeling bars, to the once-white shelves on the wall.

A shattered lamp stood on one shelf, but beneath it, I saw a familiar, dust-covered rectangle.

Picking it up, I wiped away the film and cobwebs, scanning the title at the top. Goodnight, Moon, it read, and I smiled ruefully. I wasn't here for books, and I needed to remember that. If I brought this home instead of say, food, Lucas would be furious, and we'd probably fight about it, again.

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