"Okay. Fine." I swallowed and kept my voice calm. "You want us to find Sarren and bring him back. He's the only one who might know of a cure. He's also completely insane, and he's already taken apart four vampires and nearly succeeded in killing us all. Besides that, we don't know where he's gone, and the more time we spend chasing him, the worse New Covington will get." I paused to gauge Salazar's reaction to this. His expression was cold, unimpressed, but he wasn't arguing with me or ordering his guards to kill us. That was something, at least.
"The one who knows Sarren," I went on, praying this would work, "the only one who might be able to tell us where he is, what his next move will be, is Kanin. And if we do run into Psycho Vamp again, Kanin is the only one who might be able to stop him. You want Sarren?" I took my last gamble. "Let Kanin go. He's your best chance to save this city."
Salazar's jaw tightened. The idea infuriated him, to have Kanin right where he wanted him, only to have him slip through his fingers. But his hatred for Sarren was stronger now. "Very well," he said with great dignity. "I will release the damned one to you, on the condition that he will help you bring Sarren to me. However, if he tries to escape, or if you attempt to flee New Covington, I will hunt you both down myself. And if that happens, you will wish I had chosen to leave Kanin chained to a wall."
I tried to contain my relief. Kanin was free. I would finally rescue my sire. If-and my stomach curled-if there was still anything left of him in that mind shattered from Hunger and torture.
Salazar seemed to read my mind. "Of course," he added, looking faintly pleased now, "let us hope that Kanin is sane enough to help you. We might go down to his cell and find nothing remains but a Lost One."
And that would just make your night, wouldn't it? I swallowed the anger and bit my tongue, stopping the words that would get me into trouble. You'd love to see Kanin reduced to that. But it's not going to help you in the end, because if Kanin is gone, I'm not going to bring Sarren back. I'm going to kill him.
"About time." Forgotten beside me, Jackal suddenly stirred and pulled himself to his feet, gritting his teeth. His fangs were out, and his eyes gleamed a little too brightly as he straightened. "Don't anyone get up, I wouldn't want my near death to inconvenience you." He eyed the cooler, still sitting on the floor, then stared at the remaining human guard standing beside it. His lips curled, making him look as if he was barely holding himself back, and the human gulped. "You gonna eat that, Prince, or should I find someone else?"
Salazar made a dismissive gesture. The guard quickly opened the cooler, pulled out a blood bag, and tossed it to Jackal, who caught it and, even though he was starving, took a moment to give the Prince a mocking salute before biting through the plastic. Blood spurted, ran through his fingers and dripped to the floor, and I saw Zeke look away.
"Maybe you should stay here," I told Jackal, who ignored me in favor of savaging the blood bag. Uneasiness flickered. I knew that one bag wouldn't completely heal him, and I didn't want another half-starved vampire at my back when I went down to see Kanin. Plus, according to Jackal, he and Kanin hadn't parted on the best of terms. Our sire wasn't in the clearest state of mind right now; seeing Jackal might send him over the edge into violence. I couldn't afford that. "Wait up here," I told Jackal again. "I'll be back with Kanin as soon as I can."
He tossed the empty bag to the floor and grinned at me through a wet smear of red. "You do that," he said, licking blood off his bottom lip. Turning to the guard still beside the cooler, he snapped fingers at him, and the human pulled out another bag. Jackal caught it with a grimace. "You go ahead and play with Kanin," he told me. "I'll be here. Oh, and the little bloodbag should probably wait this one out, too. If Kanin is that starved, one whiff of human will make him absolutely nuts."
Dammit, I hadn't thought of that. I did not want to leave Zeke with a bunch of hungry, sadistic vampires. I especially didn't want to leave him here with Jackal. But Jackal was right. It was hard enough to resist biting a human when I was a little hungry. I couldn't imagine the depth of torment Kanin was feeling, but I knew that the mere sight or scent of a human would probably drive him completely insane. Zeke couldn't be there.
Zeke crossed the room, coming to stand beside me. His voice was low and calm as he leaned in. "What do you need me to do, Allie?"
I swallowed. "Jackal is right." I looked up into his solemn blue eyes, hoping he would understand. "I need you to stay here."
He nodded. "I don't like it, but...I trust you know what you're doing." He squeezed my hand, and I looked away. "Just promise me you'll be careful. I know we need him, and that he's important to you, but don't get yourself killed, okay?" He stepped closer, his voice dropping to a near whisper as he leaned in. "You're important to me, too, so remember that when you're down there."
"Zeke." I caught his gaze as he pulled back. His face was sincere, unguarded, no shadow of mistrust or suspicion lingering in his eyes. And something else in that open gaze made my stomach clench. I'd seen that look before, right before he had kissed me. I remembered his lips on mine, the warmth of his touch, the feelings he stirred. They were still there, rising up from the darkness, the part of me that refused to submit to the monster and the Hunger raging inside. The part that was still human.
I also caught Stick watching us from across the room, his mouth pulled into a thin line, his expression hooded and dark.
"If you are quite ready." Salazar's voice was coldly exasperated, and he turned hollow black eyes on me. "Wait for me in the hall. I must take care of a few things here, and then I will show you to the dungeon."
I stood next to Salazar and two of his vampire guards on the long elevator ride down, trying hard not to fidget and glance at the numbers every half second. Every so often, the box would shudder or hit some kind of snag, making me clench my fists. I told myself that we were fine, that Salazar wouldn't use the elevator if it wasn't safe. Of course, Salazar had taken a crossbow dart right to the chest and survived, so a hundred-foot fall in a tiny metal box probably didn't worry him too much. He had changed into a new suit jacket, and he looked as pristine and perfectly groomed as ever. He had also warned me, in no uncertain terms, never to speak of the events in the office, and left Stick in charge of "cleaning up" when we left. I had no doubt that, when and if we returned, all traces of the carnage Sarren had left behind would be gone. Except maybe the broken window.
Where was Sarren now? I wondered. Was he still out there somewhere, lurking in the city? Or had he already left New Covington, which would make finding him and bringing him back next to impossible?
I couldn't think about that. Kanin was my priority right now. One thing at a time. We'd worry about Sarren once I'd dealt with my sire.
Zeke and Jackal had been taken to separate rooms upstairs, so at least for now, they were safe. That was my only comfort as the lift shuddered and groaned, making me grit my teeth and wish, yet again, that there was another way down. Screw ancient technology or whatever old power made these things work-what was wrong with taking the stairs?
Finally, finally, the elevator squealed to a grinding, clanking halt and the doors swished open with an obscenely cheerful ding. I forced myself to walk out calmly and not leap through the doors as soon as they moved. Salazar and the guards followed, stepping into a narrow, dim hallway. The Prince's shoes echoed briskly against the tiled floor as he led us down the corridor to the door at the end. A guard stood beside the frame and straightened quickly as the Prince strode up.
"Sir!" He bowed, and the Prince nodded absently, gazing through the small square window in the door.
"Is Dr. Emerson inside?"
"Yes, sir. He's been with the patients all night."
The guard shook his head. "We had to put a couple down this evening. The screaming was getting to be too much. Sir."
"I see." No change in Salazar's expression, but his voice dropped several degrees. "Open the door."
We swept through the door into a stark white room that reeked of blood and chemicals. Curtained sections with individual beds lined one wall, and every one of them held a body, some covered with a thin sheet. Low cries and moans of anguish drifted through the air as the bodies thrashed weakly, held to their beds by thick leather straps. Several pale figures in white coats moved among the cots, checking on and tending to patients, which seemed odd to me. A hospital in the bowels of a vampire tower? Vampires taking care of human patients? Something was definitely wrong with this picture. Or were they experimenting on them, like the patients in the D.C. lab? My stomach churned at the thought.
Another vampire broke away from one of the cots and walked toward us, staring at a clipboard and shaking his head. He had been a young man at the time of his Turning, with short brown hair and a handsome, beardless face. But his dark eyes held a clinical impassiveness that belied his youthful appearance. Leafing through his clipboard, he didn't seem to notice us until he was just a few yards from the Prince and one of the guards cleared his throat.
"I know you're there," the vampire said without looking up. And though his voice was young, he sounded like an exasperated grandfather being prodded by a relentless family member. "No need to grunt and growl at me until I make eye contact."
The guards stiffened as if offended by this, but the Prince remained unruffled. "Dr. Emerson," Salazar greeted in his cool, low voice. "I hope we are not disturbing you."
"Not at all. At this point, I'm so disturbed that anything else will seem tame compared to the week I've had." The vampire finally lowered his clipboard and faced Salazar, his eyes dull and exhausted. "What can I do for you, my Prince?"
"What is the status of those infected?"
"At this point?" Dr. Emerson shook his head. "They're f**ked. Sorry to put it so bluntly, but that's how it is. I'm probably going to need a whole new batch to study by the end of the week. I might start shooting this group in the head to get them to stop screeching and babbling at me nonstop."
I was suddenly glad that Zeke wasn't here. Salazar didn't seem amused, either. "I will not risk sending my people out into the Fringe to retrieve more test subjects for you, Dr. Emerson. You will have to make do with these." He stared hard at the other vampire, who dropped his gaze. "Have you made any progress at all?"
Emerson started to reply, but suddenly noticed me, waiting rather impatiently behind the Prince and trying not to say anything. I didn't know why we had stopped, and I really didn't care. I was only here for Kanin.
"Who's this?" Emerson asked in a tone that suggested I might get in his way or knock over something important. I narrowed my eyes and scowled back. "Are you sure it's wise to bring civilians down here, my Prince? If she forgets herself and bites one of the patients-"
"That will be my concern, not yours," Salazar interrupted. "And we are not staying long."