Home > The Immortal Rules (Blood of Eden #1)(8)

The Immortal Rules (Blood of Eden #1)(8)
Julie Kagawa

Four men blocked the exit of the tunnel, thin and ragged, in filthy clothes and unkempt hair. They stood slightly hunched over, their shoulders bent and crooked, as if they spent all their lives in small cramped spaces and weren't used to standing up straight. They clutched jagged, rusty blades in their hands and grinned maniacally at a lone figure in the center of the tunnel, their eyes gleaming with anticipation and something darker.

I ducked behind the corner again, heart pounding. You've got to be kidding, I mused, sinking farther into the concealing shadows, hoping they didn't hear me. This just isn't my night.

Deer, rabids, and now freaking mole men in the tunnels. No one is going to believe this. I shook my head and huddled lower, clutching the handle of my knife. Now all I need is a vampire to come sauntering through and it'll be perfect.

The mole men chuckled, and I heard them ease forward, probably surrounding the poor bastard who'd walked into their ambush. Run, you idiot, I thought, wondering what he thought he was doing, why I didn't hear footsteps pounding frantically away. Don't you know what they'll do to you? If you don't want to be on a stick over the fire, you'd better run.

"I want no trouble," said a low voice, calm and collected.

And even though I couldn't see him, didn't dare peek around the corner again, it sent shivers up my spine. "Let me pass, and I'll be on my way. You don't want to do this."

"Oh," one mole man purred, and I imagined him sidling forward, grinning, "I think we d-"

His voice abruptly changed to a startled gurgle, followed by a wet splat, and the faint, coppery stench of blood filled the air. Enraged cries rang out, the sound of a scuff le, blades cutting through f lesh, agonized screams. I crouched in my shadowy corner and held my breath, until the final shriek died away, until the last body fell and silence crept into the tunnels once more.

I counted thirty seconds of quiet. Sixty seconds. A minute and a half. Two. The tunnel remained silent. No footsteps, no shifting movements, no breathing. It was as still as the dead.

Warily, I peered around the corner and bit my lip.

The four mole men lay in heaps, weapons scattered about, the f lashlight shining weakly against a wall. Its beam pointed to a vivid splash of red, trickling down the cement to a motionless body. I scanned the tunnel again, looking for a fifth heap, but there were only the mole men, lying dead in the pale f lashlight beam. The dark stranger had disappeared.

I sidled closer. I didn't want to touch the bodies, but the f lashlight was a valuable find. One that would keep me fed for several days if I could find the right trader. Edging around a pale, dirty arm, I snatched my trophy and rose-

-shining the light right into the face of the stranger. Who didn't wince. Didn't even blink. I scrambled back, nearly tripping over the arm I'd stepped around, bringing my knife up before me. The stranger remained where he was, though his eyes, blacker than pitch, followed me as I retreated. I kept both the blade and the f lashlight pointed in his direction until I reached the edge and tensed to bolt into the shadows.

"If you run, you'll be dead before you take three steps." I stopped, heart pounding. I believed him. Gripping my knife, I turned around, staring at him over the bodies of the dead, waiting for his next move.

There was no doubt in my mind. I knew what I faced, what stared at me across the tunnel, so still he might've been a statue. I was down here, alone, with a vampire. And there was no one who could help me.

"What do you want?" My voice came out shakier than I'd wanted, but I planted my feet and glared defiantly. Show no fear. Vampires could sense fear, at least that's what everybody said. If you ever ran into a hungry bloodsucker alone at night, not looking like prey might give you an edge in surviving the encounter.

I didn't believe that, of course. A vampire would bite you whether you were scared of him or not. But I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction, either.

The vamp tilted his head, a tiny movement that would've gone unnoticed, save the rest of him was so very, very still.

"I am trying to decide," he said in that same low, cool voice,

"if you are a simple scavenger, eavesdropping on the conversation, or if you are about to scuttle off to tell the rest of your clan I am here."

"Do I look like one of them?"

"Then...you are a scavenger. Waiting until your prey is dead to feed, instead of killing it yourself." His tone hadn't changed. It was the same, cool and detached, but I felt myself bristle through my fear. Anger, hate and resentment bubbled to the surface, making me stupid, making me want to hurt it. Who did this murdering, soulless bloodsucker think he was, lecturing me? "Yeah, well, that's what happens when you let the cattle starve," I snapped, narrowing my eyes. "They start turning on each other, or didn't you know that?" I gestured to the dead mole men, scattered at my feet, and curled a lip. "But I'm not one of them. And I sure as hell don't eat people. That's your thing, remember?" The vampire just looked at me. Long enough for me to regret taunting him, which was a stupid thing to do from the start. I almost didn't care. I wouldn't grovel and beg, if that's what he was looking for. Vampires had no souls, no emotions and no empathy to appeal to. If the bloodsucker wanted to drain me dry and leave me here to rot, there wasn't anything I could say that would stop him.

But I'd give him one hell of a fight.

"Interesting," the vamp finally mused, almost to himself.

"I forget, sometimes, the complexities of the human race.

We've reduced so many of you to animals-savage, cowardly, so willing to turn on each other to survive. And yet, in the darkest places, I can still find those who are still, more or less, human."

He wasn't making any sense, and I was tired of talking, of waiting for him to make his move. "What do you want, vampire?" I challenged again. "Why are we still talking? If you're going to bite me, just get on with it already." Though don't expect me to lie down and take it. You'll have a pocketknife shoved through your eye socket before I'm done, I swear.

Amazingly, the vampire smiled. Just a slight curl of pale lips, but in that granite face, he might as well have beamed from ear to ear. "I have already fed tonight," he stated calmly, and took one step backward, into the shadows. "And you, little wildcat, I suspect you have claws you wouldn't hesitate to use. I find I am in no mood for another fight, so consider yourself lucky. You met a heartless, soulless bloodsucker and lived. Next time, it might be very different." And just like that, he turned on his heel and walked away into the darkness. His final words drifted out of the black as he disappeared. "Thank you for the conversation." And he was gone.

I frowned, utterly confused. What kind of vampire killed four people, had a cryptic conversation with a street rat, thanked the street rat for talking with him, and then walked off ? I swept the f lashlight around the tunnel, wondering if it was a trick to get me to lower my guard, and the bloodsucker was lying in ambush just ahead, laughing to himself. That seemed like something a vampire would do. But the tunnel was empty and silent in the f lashlight beam, and after a moment, I picked my way over the still-bleeding corpses, hurried to the ladder and scaled the tube as fast as I could.

Aboveground, the city was silent. Nothing moved on the streets; the crumbling stores and houses and apartments lay quiet and dark. Overhead, looming above everything, the vampire towers glittered in the night, cold and impassive like their masters. It was still the predator's time, this silent hour before dawn, and everyone was off the street, huddled in their beds with their doors and windows barred. But at least on this side of the Wall, the darkness didn't conceal savage, mindless horrors that had once been human. Here, the predators were more complex, though just as dangerous.

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