Screams of "Vampire" echoed through the warehouse as the small group of Unregistereds scattered to every corner of the room, diving through windows and shoving each other aside to escape. Stick gave one last cry and f led into the darkness, out of sight.
The noise from the panicked Unregistereds was almost deafening, stirring something primal within, something that urged me to give chase, to slip into the crowd and start tearing out throats. For just a moment, I watched the humans scramble to escape a predator they didn't even see, who could kill them before they knew it was there. I could sense the terror, smell the hot blood and sweat and fear, and it took all my willpower to turn away, to draw back into the shadows and leave them alone. They f led before me, but in the mass confusion, I slipped through a window, and I didn't look back until the howls and screams of terror had faded into the night.
He was sitting at the office desk when I crept back down the elevator shaft into the hospital. I didn't see him in the reception area or the halls, and thought I was home free as I tiptoed back to my room. But then I passed his office door.
"Did you enjoy your time with your friend?" I winced, freezing midstep. Kanin sat behind the desk with a stack of files, scanning another document. He didn't look up as I slipped warily into the room.
"I had to," I told him softly. "I had to know if he was all right."
"And how did that work out for you?"
I swallowed hard, and Kanin finally put down the paper, watching me with unreadable black eyes.
"Did he scream?" he asked calmly. "Did he curse you and f lee in terror? Or was he 'understanding' and promised nothing would change, only you could see how terrified he was?" I didn't answer, and Kanin's mouth twitched in a humorless smirk. "I'm guessing there was screaming and running."
"You knew," I accused. "You knew I would go after him."
"You aren't the most pliable student in the world." Kanin didn't sound amused or angry or resigned. He just stated it as a fact. "Yes, I knew, eventually, you would seek out the last remnants of your old life. Everyone does. You aren't one to listen to advice you don't agree with-you had to see it for yourself. That said..." His voice went cold, and his eyes glittered in that blank, terrifying stare. "Our time together is drawing to a close. If you disobey me again, I will take that as a sign that you don't need a teacher any longer. Is that un-derstood?"
I nodded, and Kanin's expression softened, even if his voice did not. "What did the boy say?" he asked. "After you showed him?"
"Nothing," I said miserably. "He just screamed 'vampire'
and ran. After everything I did for the ungrateful little..." I stumbled to a halt, not wanting to think about it, but Kanin raised his eyebrows, silently telling me to go on. "I knew him for years," I growled. "I shared my food with him, looked out for him, stood up for him when he would've gotten his ass kicked-" My chest felt tight, and I crossed my arms. "And after all that..." I paused, not knowing if I wanted to cry or rip a door off its hinges and f ling it through the wall. "After all that..." I tried again.
"He still saw you as nothing more than a monster," Kanin finished.
With a cry, I turned and drove my fist through the wall.
The plaster f lew inward, leaving a six-inch hole behind.
"Dammit!" I slugged the wall again, feeling it give way with a satisfying crunch. "I was his friend. I was the only thing that kept him alive, all those years of picking up his slack, all those years of going hungry so he wouldn't starve!" I slammed a fist into the wall once more, then leaned into it, feeling chalky plaster against my forehead. My eyes burned, and I squeezed them shut, willing the pain to go away. "He should've known better," I whispered through clenched teeth. "He should've known me better."
Kanin hadn't moved, letting me rip apart his wall without comment. Finally, he rose, coming to stand just behind me.
"Did you tell him where we were?" he asked in a low voice.
"No." I shook my head against the wall and finally pulled back. "I didn't...wait. Yes, I might've...mentioned the hospital. But he doesn't know where it is." I half turned, looking up at Kanin, who watched me gravely. "He wouldn't come looking for it, anyway," I said, hearing the bitterness in my voice. "He's too scared to leave the hideout most of the time, much less the sector."
"You're still being naive." Kanin rubbed a hand over his eyes, stepping back. "Stay here. Don't leave the hospital. I'll be back soon."
"Where are you going?" I said, suddenly on edge. A thought entered my mind, and my stomach went cold. "You're not...going after him, are you?"
"No," Kanin said, pausing in the doorway, and I sagged in relief. "But I need to set up alarms around the area. The few already in place won't be enough, I fear."
"For what?" Frowning, I followed him down the hall. He didn't answer, and I gaped at him as I realized. "You think Stick will tell someone," I guessed, hurrying to keep pace with his long strides. "That's not going to happen. I'm telling you, Kanin, you don't have to worry about that. He's too much of a coward to go to anyone."
"Perhaps." Kanin strode into the reception area and stopped me at the desk. "And perhaps he will surprise you. Wait here. Practice your sword techniques. Don't leave the hospital grounds, understand? After tonight, you won't be able to go anywhere without triggering an alarm unless I'm with you."
"I still think this is pointless, Kanin."
The look he gave me was pitying. "Maybe it will be as you say. Maybe this boy will surprise me. But I've lived far too long to leave anything to chance, particularly when it comes to human betrayal. If there is nothing to lose, and even very little to gain, you can almost count on it. Now, give me your word that you won't try to leave."
"What if I need to go outside?"
"Either stay here or leave now and don't come back. Your choice."
"Fine." I glared at him. "I won't try to leave."
"Forgive me if I don't take your immediate word," Kanin deadpanned in a cold voice. "I want your promise. Do you swear?"
"Yes!" I bared my fangs at him. "I swear." He nodded curtly and turned away. I watched him shimmy up the elevator tube, trying to work my way through a jumble of swirling emotions: anger, frustration, disappointment, hurt.
One second I hated Stick, and the next I could almost understand his instant terror. I despised it and thought it sucked, especially after all I'd done for him, but I could understand.
After all, he'd reacted to a vampire appearing suddenly in his home. If he'd suddenly disappeared and shown up as a bloodsucker, I might have reacted the same way. Or I might have attempted to see through my knee-jerk reaction and actually tried to talk to him, for friendship's sake. I didn't know. I did think Kanin was overreacting, setting up alarms and forbidding me to leave the hospital when there was no need.
Only when he was gone did I remember the strange vampire I'd met in my old room earlier, the one with the dead eyes and terrible smile. I considered climbing the shaft and hurrying after Kanin to warn him, but I'd just promised him I wouldn't leave the hospital. Besides, Kanin was a big, capable vampire. He could take care of himself.
I practiced my sword drills, thought of Stick and what I could have done differently, and wandered the halls, waiting for my mentor to come back.
But Kanin did not return that night.
I jerked awake, hissing and baring my fangs, the nightmare ebbing away into reality. I'd been dreaming, for the first time since I'd become a vampire, about dark tunnels and twisting corridors and something terrible lurking within them, stalking me. I remembered the cold fear, sensing the unknown evil drawing closer, and then a blinding f lare of pain as the creature finally pounced, though I never saw its face. It was enough to wake me up, and upon ref lection, I thought it was very strange. How did the dead dream, exactly? I'd have to ask Kanin about that.
Kanin. Rising, I grabbed my sword and hurried to his office, hoping I would see his calm, efficient form sitting behind the desk with a stack of documents, as always.
The office was empty. Nor was there any note on the desk, telling me my assignments for the night. I prowled the halls, peering into every room, every corner I might've overlooked.
Nothing. No sign of him anywhere. He was truly gone.
For a moment, I wondered if he had left on purpose, if last night, he'd had no intention of coming back. Had he gotten tired of his stubborn, moody, impossible student and decided it was time to be free of her? I shook my head. No, Kanin wasn't like that. He was cold, unsympathetic, jaded and sometimes scary as hell, but he was not a liar. If he wasn't here, then he was out there, somewhere. Was he hurt? Captured?
Stop that, I told myself. Just because Kanin wasn't in the hospital was no reason to panic. Maybe he was in the tunnels, setting up traps or alarms. Or maybe he was somewhere in the hospital still, in a room I hadn't checked or...
was one more place I could look.
At the bottom of the stairs, the red metal door groaned and swung open reluctantly as I pushed on it, revealing a long corridor. I caught a glimpse of a broken security cam-era mounted above the red door and another at the end of the hall. As I slipped into the hallway, the door groaned shut behind me, closing with a bang and plunging the narrow space into darkness.
My new vampire sight let me see even in pitch-blackness, however, and I made my way to the end of the hall, where another door was set firmly into the wall. It was stainless steel, barred from the outside and heavy enough to stop a train. It didn't have a normal handle or doorknob but a wheel set in the very center, rusty with age.
What were they keeping back here? I wondered, turning the wheel to the right. It spun reluctantly, then with a faint hiss, the door swung outward.
Past the frame, I stepped into yet another dark, claustrophobic hallway. Only this time, large windows ran along the wall, looking into isolated rooms. Though some of the windows were smashed and broken, the glass was extremely thick, and more than a few were still intact. I looked closer, and a chill skittered down my spine.
Thick steel bars ran vertically across the windows, like cages. The doors on the rooms were the same thick, heavy metal, and they all locked from the outside. Within each room, the walls were white and crumbling, but I saw gouges in the tile, as if something had clawed at it, all the way down to the metal beneath.
"What the hell is this place?" I whispered.
My voice slithered into the room, unnaturally loud in the silence. The darkness seemed to reach for me, trying to draw me in. I could smell blood and pain and death, worked into the very walls, seeping from the cracks in the f loor. Movement f lickered at the corners of my eyes, faces peering out of the glass, ghostly images of things not there.
My skin crawled. Whatever had happened here, whatever secrets lay beyond those doors, it was something I didn't want to uncover.
There was a thump on the stairwell, soft footsteps padding into the corridor.
I shivered with relief. "Kanin," I called, striding up to the thick metal door. It was halfway shut, and I pushed it open.