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The Craving (Chapter 28)

The three of us tore out of the chapel. As soon as we left the Richards' estate grounds we were plunging through woods. Saplings stung our legs as we pitched downhill through the wet night, and tall pines blocked whatever moonlight might have slipped between the clouds. If we had been human, our feet would have surely skidded on the forest floor of decaying leaves. Unable to see more than a yard or so in front of us we would have crashed into the giant trunk of a tree.

Instead, we moved like predators, coursing through the night like vampires had for hundreds of years: streaking through the wilds to the next village of potential victims, chasing down someone who had foolishly separated from the herd and decided to travel at night by himself.

It felt good to be racing this way, with a few ounces of human blood zinging through my veins. I was almost able to lose myself in the flight, forgetting about what it was we were fleeing from.

Then there was a noise.

It started out like the beginning of a long roll of thunder, climbed into a crescendo of inhuman groaning, and ended in a screech of despair. The noise was everywhere, filling our ears, the valley we were descending into, the sky above us.

The three of us stopped, startled by the sound.

"Well, I guess the vampire is free," Damon huffed.

"Margaret – " I began.

"Trust me, she's fine. Did you see what she did to him?" Damon pointed out.

"What is she, though?" I asked.

"A witch."

"Like Emily?" I wondered, my theory confirmed. Was the world simply full of witches, vampires, demons, and who knows what else, most of which were invisible to human eyes?

"I had a feeling there was something different about her when I couldn't compel her…" Damon explained. "So I asked. And she answered. Pretty straightforward, that one."

"So she…"

"Cast a protective spell around herself and her family, and was burning his brain meats with some mental ability or other to buy us a little time. Emphasis on the word little," he added. "Hope that protective spell is still up."

There was another roar.

"Keep moving," Lexi ordered, and we began again.

The woods grew blacker as if nature herself dreaded his approach, and we could feel the earth tremble with his every footstep.

Damon and I leaped over a giant log, and for one fleeting moment our motions were perfectly synchronized. But then the three of us came to skidding halt at the edge of a cliff that looked out over all of upper Manhattan.

"Huh," my brother said doubtfully, peering over its edge.

"We'll have to find some other way down," I said, starting to look back the way we came. "A path, or…"

With a cry, Lexi hurled herself over the edge of the cliff.

I watched her, wide-eyed with horror.

"Find another way down?" Damon said, shaking his head disappointedly at me. "Still thinking like a human, brother." And he dove after her.

I swore under my breath, watching him disappear into the branches below. Then I followed.

As frightening as that fall was, there was something very freeing about it. I was weightless, swimming through the air. The world whistled through my outstretched fingers and hair. It almost felt as though I were flying.

I smashed down through thick leafy canopy and rolled into a ball, eventually coming right side up with a twisted ankle that reset itself almost before I noticed it.

Damon and Lexi were standing still. She had her head cocked, listening to the strange quiet we suddenly found ourselves in.

"He lost us," Damon said, triumphantly. "He didn't realize we went down the cliff! He's…"

"He's in front of us," Lexi breathed, eyes widening. The silence to the south was in fact complete, as if every living thing had quieted or died. We waited, unsure what to do, though it was hard to say for what.

Then came the sound of a single blade of grass bending and breaking.

"RUN!" Lexi screamed.

We took off. I made the mistake of looking behind me. What I saw and what I heard didn't match up; on the one hand, it briefly appeared that an older man was following me with surprising swiftness. But the shadow cast by the moonlight was of something far bigger and inhumanly shaped. Bushes and trees fell and crashed out of his way before he even touched them.

I doubled my pace.

We had no choice but to head south. The woods thinned and civilization began to rear its ugly head: a lonely, last farm, a cluster of abandoned holdings, a large estate, a hotel, dirt roads to paved avenues still crowded with horses and carriages and cabs and people even in the middle of this night.

And behind us, gaining power from every shadow through which he passed, was the old one.

We turned a corner around a fruit stand, knocking down baskets, and the stench of decay that issued from his raggedy breathing mouth was hot on my neck. We dashed through a slum, avoiding clotheslines and open pits of raw sewage, and he was there, throwing aside things and people to get to us. When we thought we had pulled ahead, twisting through narrow alleys and confusing side streets, we could still feel his Power, his frustration vibrating through the night.

Lexi led us, and whether it was her own Power or a familiarity with the city, she managed to find just the right fire escapes to leap to, just the right piles of garbage to roll over. Perhaps this was not the first time she had fled from a demon of this stature.

"The seaport," she hissed. "It's our only chance."

Damon nodded, for once having no trouble taking orders from someone else. We made our way to the west, to the avenues bordering the mighty Hudson.

Lexi's eyes suddenly narrowed and she pointed. A clipper ship, a pretty shiny blue vessel just pulling away from the dock, filled with all sorts of New York goods to sell overseas.

With a mighty leap Lexi cleared the water between the dock and its deck, arms poised in the air like a cat leaping upon its prey. Damon and I followed suit, silently landing on the dark deck. By the time we recovered ourselves she was already compelling a shocked sailor who had seen the manner of our arrival.

"We're on the manifest. My brothers and I have a berth below. We did not just leap aboard…."

Damon surveyed the ship with interest, pleased with his new locale.

I looked back toward shore. There stood a single, innocuous-seeming man leaning against the rail of the wharf, pale as if he had sucked all the moonlight into himself. He stood casually, like he was just there to watch the ships come and go.

But the look in his eyes was deadly and eternal – and unforgiving.

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