In the wake of the outburst, the rest of the camp was stirring, faces squinting out of their shelters with bleary, confused frowns. I remained motionless behind the beam, but after gauging what had happened, the rest of the camp lost interest and vanished back into their individual homes. I heard disgruntled murmurs and complaints, most of them directed at the boy lying on the ground, but no one went forward to help him. I shook my head, pitying the boy but not blam-ing the others for being angry. In a gang like this, you pulled your own weight and contributed to the rest of the community or you were considered dead weight. Stealing, sneaking around and using other people's things was the quickest way to getting a beating or worse, being shunned and exiled from the gang. I had been a loner in my old gang, but I had always pulled my own weight. And I'd never stolen from the others.
Then the boy stood up, brushing at his clothes, and I nearly fell over in shock.
"Stick," I whispered, unable to believe my eyes. He blinked, gazing around the camp, sniff ling, and I blinked hard to make sure it was really him. It was. Thin, ragged and dirty, but alive. "You got out. You made it back, after all." I started toward him, unthinking, but something clamped my arm in a viselike grip and pulled me back, into the shadows.
"Ow! Dammit, Kanin," I said in a snarling whisper. "What are you doing? Let go!" I tried yanking back, but he was much too strong.
"We're leaving," he said in an icy voice, continuing to pull me away. "Now. Let's go."
Planting my feet didn't work. Neither did jerking my arm back; his fingers just tightened painfully on my arm. With a hiss, I gave up and let him drag me through the room and out another window. Only when we were several yards from the warehouse did he finally stop and let me go.
wrong with you?" I snarled, biting the words off through my fangs, which had sprouted again. "I'm getting a little tired of being dragged, cut, hit, yanked and ordered around whenever you please. I'm not a damn pet."
"You knew that boy, didn't you?"
I curled a lip defiantly. "What if I did?"
"You were going to show yourself to him, weren't you?" I should've been afraid, especially when his eyes went all dark and glassy again, but I was just pissed now. "He was my friend, " I spat, glaring up at him. "I know that's impossible for you to understand, seeing as you don't have any, but I knew him years before you came along."
"And what," Kanin asked in his cold, cold voice, "were you intending to do once he saw you? Go back to your old gang? Join this new one? A vampire among the sheep? How long do you think you would last without killing them all?"
"I just wanted to talk to him, dammit! See if he's doing all right without me!" The rage was fading now, and I slumped against a wall. "I left him alone," I muttered, crossing my arms and looking away. "I left him, and he was never good at taking care of himself. I just wanted to see if he was doing all right."
"Allison." Kanin's voice was still hard, but it had lost its frosty edge, at least. "This is why I told you to forget your human life. Those people you knew before you were turned, they will continue living, surviving, without you. You are a monster to them now, and they will never take you back, they will never accept you for what you were. And eventually, whether from age or starvation or sickness or their fellow man, they will all die. And you will continue to live, assuming you don't decide to meet the sun or get your head torn off by another vampire." He gazed down at me, his face softening just a touch, almost pitying. "Immortality is a lonely road," he murmured, "and it will only be made worse if you don't release your attachments to your old life. To that boy, you are the enemy now, the unseen monster that haunts his nightmares. You are the creature he fears the most. And nothing in your previous life, not friendship or loyalty or love, will ever change that."
You're wrong, I wanted to tell him. I had looked after Stick almost half my life. He was the closest thing I had to family now that everyone else was dead. But I knew arguing with Kanin was useless, so I shrugged and turned away.
Kanin was not pleased. "Don't go after that boy, Allison," he warned. "No matter what you think you've left behind.
Forget about him and your old life. Do you understand?"
"Yeah," I growled. "I hear you."
He stared at me. "Let's go," he said at last, walking away.
"We'll have to find somewhere else to feed tonight." I gave the warehouse one last look and turned away. But before trailing after Kanin, I unwrapped the shoes and placed them on the ground in plain sight, hoping that Stick would stumble upon them the next morning. We left Sector Four, wandered back into gang territory and were eventually set upon by two Red Skulls who apparently didn't get the note about rogue vampires. They then proceeded to have a very bad night. We returned to the hospital with full stomachs, though Kanin and I didn't speak to each other for the rest of the evening. Mister Broody Vampire vanished into his office, and I wandered back to the reception area to swing my katana at imaginary enemies with Kanin's face.
At least he didn't ask me about the shoes. And I never told him.
For the next few nights, everything was normal. I continued my lessons, suffering through math and English and vampire history before moving on to training. As I got better with my katana, Kanin would give me various patterns to work on and then leave me alone to practice. He never told me where he went, but I suspected he'd searched everything on this f loor and had moved to the lowest f loor of the building, past a large red door at the bottom of a stairwell.
The one marked with the faded sign that read, Danger! Em-ployees Only. I'd stumbled across it one night, wandering the hospital in a rare moment of leisure. But I'd left it alone when Kanin called me back.
I was curious, of course. I wanted to know what was on the other side of that door, what Kanin was really looking for.
The one time I followed him down the stairwell, the metal door was shut, and I didn't want to risk going inside and having him find me. Ever since that night in Sector Four, there was a wall between us. Kanin never said anything about it and never went out of his way to check up on me, but we were cooler toward each other now and didn't speak much beyond training. He probably wouldn't care if I ventured down to the lowest f loor, but I wanted to lie low for a few days, let things smooth over.
I didn't want to give him any reason to suspect that I was planning to do something stupid.
One night I woke up, alone as usual, and wandered down the hall to Kanin's office, only to find him gone. A note sat in the middle of the desk in neat, spidery handwriting: Down on the lowest floor. Practice patterns 1-6 on your own. You've learned all I can teach you about vampire society.-K.
A strange f lutter went through my stomach. This was it.
Kanin was absent, and tonight I could do what I wanted. I wouldn't get a better chance.
I left the office and walked to the reception area with my katana, as the note instructed me to do. But I didn't stop there. Without pausing to think, I hurried to the elevator shaft, grasped the cables and pulled myself up the tube as fast as I could go.
On the surface, the sun had just set over the jagged horizon, and the sky was dark blue with bloodred clouds. It had been a long time since I'd seen anything but darkness and night, and for a brief moment I stared at the splashes of color across the sky, marveling at how quickly I'd forgotten what a sunset looked like.
So you're going to stand there gaping at some pretty clouds like a moron until Kanin finds you outside, then? With an annoyed mental slap, I wrenched my gaze from the horizon and hurried away from the hospital, not daring to look back.
I felt a strange thrill, creeping through the shadows and alley ways on my own, the same feeling I'd gotten while exploring beyond the wall: excited and terrified at the same time. I wasn't supposed to be out here. There was no doubt in my mind that Kanin was going to be pissed, but it was too late to worry about that now. I'd been planning this moment for days, and I needed to discover some things for myself. Besides, he couldn't keep me in that old hospital forever, like some sort of prison guard. Before we'd met, I went where I wanted when I wanted, and no one could stop me. I wasn't going to start submitting now, just because some moody, evasive vampire told me I had to forget.
I slipped through the sectors, remembering the paths Kanin had used but also my own knowledge from when I was a Fringer. It was much easier, now that I was dead, to move like a ghost through the darkness, to be able to leap onto the roof of a two-story building to avoid the guards, to freeze and become part of the stones and shadows. Unseen and unheard, I crept through the streets, weaving around buildings, until I reached a familiar chain-link fence. Slipping under the links, I crossed the empty lot quickly and walked into the shadowy halls of my old home.
It seemed much emptier than before, silent and deserted.
I found my old locker, opened it with a creak and sighed.
Empty, as I'd feared. The scavengers had already found this place.
Half heartedly, I walked toward my old room, knowing I'd probably find it stripped clean. It never took long for scavengers to move in; I only hoped that maybe they'd left a certain crate alone, having no use for something that could get them killed.
I turned the knob, swung open the door and stepped inside, not realizing until too late that someone was already there.
A body looked up from where it crouched in the corner, leaning against the wall. I started, automatically going for my sword, thinking for one terrifying moment that it was Kanin.
It wasn't, but it was another vampire, a lean, bony male with white skin and a head as bald as an egg. He smiled, showing perfect teeth, and the moonlight shining through the broken windows fell across his pale features and the vivid web of scars slashed across his face.
"Evening, little bird." His voice, soft, raspy and somehow very, very wrong, made me shiver. "Out for a midnight f light, on wings of blood and pain? Like razor blades across the moon, they cut the night and make the sky bleed red." He chuckled, sending chills down my back. I drew away, and the stranger cocked his head at me. "Oh, don't mind me, love.
I get a little poetic sometimes. The moonlight does that to me." He shook himself, as if shaking off the crazy, and rose to his feet.
I noticed the book in his long, bony hands, then, and stepped forward. "Hey! What are you doing with that? Those are mine."
"Are they?" The vamp moved, coming away from the wall.
I tensed, but he only crossed the room to set the book gently on a shelf. "Then perhaps you should have taken better care of them, love," he purred, staring at me with soulless black eyes. "The rats here were using them to keep their skinny hides warm."
He nodded to the corner. I looked over and saw a pair of human bodies sprawled out on my old mattress, pinched and ragged-looking-the scavengers that had moved in. From their unnatural stillness and the scent of old blood, they were obviously dead. I looked closer and saw their throats were gone, the skin around them dark and stained, as if they'd been torn out. Horror crept over me, and I nearly f led the room, away from the vampire who was truly a monster.