I was eager to leave the hospital, with its dank rooms and claustrophobic hallways. I grew more restless with every passing night. The thought of hunting sent a thrill through me, but I was also scared that I would turn into that snarling, hungry creature from the night with the Blood Angels. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to control myself, and I would end up killing someone.
And, deep down, a part of me didn't care. That was the scariest thing of all.
We went up the elevator shaft and moved quickly through the neighborhoods, wary and suspicious of roaming vampires or guards. Several times, Kanin turned off the street and pulled us into an alley or abandoned building, blending into a dark corner. A trio of guards passed us once, so close that I could see the pockmarks marring one guard's cheek. If he'd turned his head and pointed his f lashlight into the alleyway, he would've spotted us. Another time, a pet surrounded by two well-armed soldiers stopped and stared at the doorway we had ducked into seconds before. I could see his eyes narrow, trying to pierce the darkness, listening for any sound of movement. But, one thing about being a vampire, I discovered, was that you could go perfectly still and remain that way for as long as you needed. Kanin even had me practice this little talent back in the hospital. I would stand in a corner for hours, never moving, never breathing, having no need to shift or cough or blink. Even when he started lobbing his dagger at me, thunking it in the wall inches from my head, I wasn't supposed to twitch an eyelash.
After a couple close calls, Kanin led me onto the roof of a building, over the chain-link fence separating the districts, and into a familiar neighborhood. I recognized these streets, the shape of the buildings crumbling on the sidewalks. I saw old Hurley's Trading Shop, the scraggly, weed-choked park with its rusty, sharp playground that nobody went near, the lot between the warehouses where they'd hung the three Unregistereds what felt like ages ago. And I knew if we took that shortcut through the alley and crawled through a rusty chain-link fence, we'd find ourselves at the edge of a cracked, deserted lot with an empty, abandoned school in the distance.
This was Sector Four. I was home.
I didn't mention this to Kanin. If he knew where we were, he might make us leave, and I wanted to see my old neighborhood again, in case I ever needed to come back. So I followed him silently through familiar streets, past familiar buildings and landmarks, feeling the school lot get farther and farther away. I wondered if my room was still intact, if any of my old possessions were still there. My mom's book came to mind; was it still safely hidden in its crate? Or had the school been claimed by another, all my stuff stolen or traded away?
Kanin finally led me toward an empty-looking warehouse on the outskirts of the neighborhood, an ancient brick building with smashed windows and a roof that had partially fallen in. I knew this place; it was Kyle's turf, the rivals of my old crew. We'd competed for food, shelter and territory, but in a mostly friendly way, one group of scavengers to another.
There was an unspoken truce among the Unregistereds; life was hard enough without violence and fighting and blood-shed. On the streets, we acknowledged one another with a nod or quick word, and occasionally warned each other about guard sweeps and patrols, but for the most part we left the other groups alone.
"Why are we here?" I asked Kanin as we crept along the crumbling walls, stepping between glass and nails and other things that could clink and give us away. "Why don't we just head into Blood Angel or Red Skull territory and take out another gang?"
"Because," Kanin said without looking back, "word spreads on the streets. Because we left those men alive, other gangs will be on the lookout for a young girl and a lone male who happen to be vampires. They will be wary, but more important, the Prince's guards will be watching gang territory closely now. There are always consequences for your actions.
Also-" he paused and turned to me, eyes narrowing "-how did you know where we are?" A moment of silence, and he nodded. "You've been here before, haven't you?" Damn. The vampire was way too perceptive. "This was my sector," I confessed, and Kanin frowned. "I lived not very far from here, at the old school." With my friends, I added in my head. Lucas and Rat and Stick, all gone now, all dead. A lump caught in my throat. I hadn't thought of them much before this, willing myself to bury the pain, the guilt that still clawed at me. What would've happened if I had never found that basement of food, if I'd never insisted we go after it? Would they still be alive? Would I still be alive?
"Stop it," Kanin said, and I blinked at him. His face and expression were cold. "That part of your life is gone," he continued. "Put it behind you. Do not make me regret giving you this new life, when all you can do is cling to the old one."
I glared at him. "I wasn't clinging," I snapped, meeting his steely gaze. "I was remembering. It's this thing people do when they're reminded of the past."
"You were clinging," Kanin insisted, and his voice dropped several degrees. "You were thinking of your old life, your old friends, and wondering what you could've done to save them.
That sort of remembering is useless. There was nothing you could have done."
"There was," I whispered, and my throat unexpectedly closed up. I swallowed hard, using anger to mask the other emotion, the one that made me want to cry. "I led them there.
I told them about that basement. They're dead because of me." My eyes stung, which was a complete shock. I didn't think vampires could cry. Angrily, I swiped at my eyes, and my fingers came away smeared with red. I cried blood. Fabulous.
"Go on, then," I growled at Kanin, feeling my fangs come out. "Tell me I'm being stupid. Tell me I'm still 'clinging to the past,' because every time I close my eyes, I can see their faces. Tell me why I'm still alive, and they're all dead." More tears threatened at the corners of my eyes, bloody and hot. I whispered a curse and turned away, digging my nails into my palms, willing them back. I hadn't cried in years, not since the day my mom died. My vision tinted red, and I blinked, hard. When I opened my eyes again, my sight was clear, though my chest still felt as if it had been squeezed in a vise.
Kanin was silent, watching me as I composed myself, a motionless statue with empty, blank eyes. Only when I looked up at him again did he move.
"Are you finished?" His voice was f lat, his eyes a depthless black.
I nodded stonily.
"Good. Because the next time you throw a tantrum like that, I will leave. It is no one's fault that your friends are dead.
And if you keep holding on to that guilt, it will destroy you, and my work here will be for nothing. Do you understand?"
"Perfectly," I replied, matching my tone to his. He ignored my coldness and nodded to the building, gesturing through a shattered window.
"A group of Unregistereds live here, though I suspect you already know that," he continued. "As to your previous question, I chose this spot because Unregistereds are off the system and no one will notice if one or two go missing." True, I thought, trailing him through the weeds. No one ever misses us, because we don't exist. No one cares if we disappear, or cries for us when we're gone.
We slipped through one of the many broken windows, vanishing into the darkness of the room. Rubble had piled everywhere in large drifts, creating a small valley of open space in the center of the building.
A fire f lickered in an open pit, and wisps of greasy smoke rose from burning wood and plastic, settling hazily over the room. There were more of them than I had expected. Card-board boxes, cloth tents and lean-tos had been hastily constructed and were scattered around the fire like a miniature village. I could see dark shapes huddled within, ignorant of the predators watching them sleep from just a few yards away.
I could smell their breath and the hot blood pumping beneath their skin.
I growled and eased forward, but Kanin put a warning hand on my arm. "Quietly," he said, a whisper in the dark.
"Not all feedings have to be violent and bloody. If you are careful, you can feed from a sleeping victim without rousing them. The old Masters used this technique a lot, which was why strings of garlic around the bed and on the windowsills were so popular in certain regions, futile as they were. But you must be careful, and very patient-if your victim wakes up before you bite them, things can get ugly."
"Before I bite them? Won't they wake up when they feel...
I don't know...a couple long teeth in their neck?"
"No. The bite of a vampire has a tranquilizing effect on humans when they're asleep. At best, they'll remember it as a vivid dream."
"How does that work?"
"It just does." Kanin sounded exasperated again. "Now, are you going to do this or should we go somewhere else?"
"No," I muttered, staring down at the camp. "I think I can do this."
Kanin released my arm but then pressed a small package into my hands, wrapped in greasy paper. "When you are finished, leave this where your prey will find it." I frowned, lifting a corner of the paper, finding a pair of shoes inside, fairly new and sturdy. "What's this?"
"An exchange," Kanin replied and turned away as I continued to stare at him. "For the harm our actions will bring them tonight."
I blinked. "Why bother? They won't even know we were here."
"Don't question it, Allison," Kanin said, sounding weary.
"All right." I shrugged. "If you say so." Tucking the package under one arm, I started toward my sleeping prey.
I was maybe halfway to the cluster of lean-tos, the scent of blood and sweat and human grime getting stronger each time I breathed in, when I caught movement from the other side of the room. I ducked behind a corroded metal beam as two ragged figures slowly picked their way toward the camp, murmuring back and forth. With a start, I recognized one of the boys, Kyle, the leader of our rival gang. Snippets of their conversation drifted to me over the rubble pile, talk of food and patrols and how they were going to have to scavenge in other territories soon. It filled me with an odd sense of deja vu, hearing pieces of my old life played back to me.
When they reached the camp, however, one of them gave a shout and lunged forward, reaching into a box and dragging something out by the ankle. The figure pulled out of his shelter gave a feeble cry and tried crawling back into the box but was yanked into the open by the other two.
"You again! Dammit, kid! I told you, this is my box! Find your own!"
"Look at that," said the other boy, peering into the box, scowling, "he went through your food bag, too, Kyle."
"Son of a bitch." Kyle loomed over the cringing boy, still sprawled out at his feet, and gave him a vicious kick to the ribs. "You miserable little shit!" Another blow, and the cringing boy cried out, curling into a fetal position. "I swear, pull another stunt like that, and I won't just throw you out, I'll kill you. You got that?" One last solid kick, eliciting another cry of pain, and the larger boy shoved him aside with his foot.
"Go crawl away and die already," he muttered and ducked into his shelter, pulling the curtain shut.