“You came into Mishmar for me?”
Curran hugged me to him, cradling me like I was a child. “Of course I did.”
I loved him so much. “You’re a fucking idiot.” My voice was hoarse. “What the hell did you do that for?”
“Because I love you. Give her more broth. She’s coming around.”
“We have to get out of here,” I said. “Hugh checks up on me in my dreams.”
Curran’s eyes went gold. “Let him come.”
“A vampire!” Andrea shouted.
The window above and to the left of us broke. Shards of glass and wood cascaded to the floor. A vampire fell into the room, its mind a hot spark in front of me. It landed on all fours, old, gaunt, and inhuman. A sharp bone crest protruded from its back. Another ancient one.
The vamp shot forward and then stopped abruptly.
“I’m still . . . a Master of the Dead,” Ghastek said from a blanket on the floor. “Kill it before I lose consciousness.”
I OPENED MY eyes. I lay on a blanket, wrapped in several layers of clothing.
I couldn’t see Curran. He’d been holding me for what felt like hours. Every time I woke up, he was there, but not now. Anxiety spiked.
Okay, I had to snap out of it. He wasn’t going to evaporate. He wasn’t a hallucination. He was here . . . somewhere.
Above me small hateful points of magic moved back and forth. Vampires. One, two . . . Nine. I pushed back the blankets. The room was mostly empty. Christopher napped, leaning against the wall. To my left Ghastek lay on his blankets. Robert, the alpha rat, sat next to him. No Curran or Jim. I also thought I saw Andrea, but that couldn’t be right. Andrea couldn’t be here. She was pregnant. She wouldn’t risk the baby.
A brown-eyed woman knelt by me. She was my age, with dark hair, a full mouth, and brown skin. She wore a black loose abaya, an Islamic-style robe, and a matching hijab, a wide scarf, draped over her head. She looked Arabic to me. I’d seen her before among Doolittle’s staff.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Nasrin.” She gently touched my face, examining my eyes. “I’m here to heal you.”
“He’s checking the barricade,” Nasrin said. “Jim and others are standing guard there. How do you feel?”
What barricade? “The room isn’t blurry anymore.”
She smiled. “That’s good. We’ve had a short magic wave, and I’ve worked on you a little.”
“I think I remember.”
I had passed out at some point, but Curran woke me up every five minutes to eat. At first it was broth, which I vomited once or twice. I vaguely remembered Andrea passing me a wet rag to clean my face and Nasrin murmuring something and holding a canteen to my lips. Whatever I’d drunk had made me feel better. Then I was given some mysterious concoction Doolittle had made up and sent with them especially in case we had been starved. I asked what was in it, and Christopher very seriously told me, “Forty-two percent dried skimmed milk, thirty-two percent edible oil, and twenty-five percent honey.” I was afraid to ask about the other one percent and I had trouble keeping it down. Then a magic wave came and someone chanted over me, and suddenly I was ravenous. I had gone through two quart containers of the stuff and my stomach wanted more, but I had passed out. It seemed like that whole sequence happened more than once, but I couldn’t be sure.
“What was in the bottle you gave me?” I asked.
She smiled. She didn’t look a thing like Doolittle, but something about her communicated that same soothing confidence. “The water of Zamzam.”
“The blessed water from Mecca?”
“Yes.” She nodded with a small smile and held a bottle to my lips. “Drink now.”
I took a sip.
“When Prophet Ibrahim cast Hajar and their infant son, Ismail, out into the barren wilderness of Makkah, he left them there with only a bag of dates and a leather bag of water.” Nasrin touched my forehead. “No fever. That is good. When all the water was gone, Ismail cried for he was thirsty, and Hajar began to search for water. She climbed the mountains and walked the valleys, but the land was barren. Any dizziness?”
“That’s good also. Finally at Mount al-Marwah Hajar thought she heard a voice and called out to it, begging for help. Angel Jibril descended to the ground, brushed it with his wing, and the spring of Zamzam poured forth. Its water satisfies both thirst and hunger.” Nasrin smiled again. “We brought some of it home with us when my family went on a holy pilgrimage. My medmagic encourages the body to heal itself by making it metabolize food at an accelerated rate. You had no wounds, so as your body absorbed the nutrients, they all went directly to where they were supposed to go and the water sped up the process even further. If we can keep this up, you’ll be walking soon. Not too bad for thirty-six hours of treatment, and it looks like we might have avoided refeeding syndrome. Without magic, restoring your strength would take a few weeks.”
I glanced at Ghastek.
“He’s recovering slower,” Nasrin said. “But you were in better shape to begin with and you had more reserves than he did. Don’t worry. I’ll get you back to fighting weight. That’s my specialty. I’m the head of the Keep’s recovery unit. We suspected you might become malnourished, so Dr. Doolittle and I agreed that I would be the most effective.”
I tried to lift my head up. “You said there was a barricade. Where is it?”
“It’s at both ends of the hallway.” Nasrin looked up. “The floor above us is infested with feral vampires. Ghastek tried to count them at some point and mentioned four once and six two hours later. We killed a couple, but they’re warped. This place isn’t healthy for vampires either.”
There were nine vampires now. They could sense us somehow, and they’d keep aggregating. We had to nuke them or move.
“They’re feeding on each other,” Ghastek said. He turned to lie on his side, facing me. His eyes had sunk in their sockets. He looked like a ghost of himself.
“I’ve never heard of undead doing that,” I said.
“There have been cases,” he said. “It involves severe starvation or controlled feeding. I’ve been able to reproduce it before in a laboratory environment. There are”—he yawned—“many variables. A vampire who feeds on other undead undergoes morphological changes. It must be done very carefully, or the vampire may die. Some undead . . .” He yawned again. “A consistent diet of other vampires over time . . . What was I saying?”