My throat felt tight. "I killed him," I whispered, voicing the dread I couldn't allow myself to face a few minutes ago. "He's going to die in there."
"You don't know that," Kanin said. "You're not giving him enough credit. He's fighting it, Allison. At this stage, he should be insensible, mad from the sickness. That he still retains his sense of self is little short of amazing. He might be able to stave it off a little longer."
"Enough to get him the cure?"
"If Sarren has one." Kanin sounded weary. "Though I find that difficult to believe-he's never been one to undo what he has started."
Despair rose up, threatening to crush me. "Why are we doing this, then?"
"Because we must." Kanin's voice and expression remained the same. "Because there is nothing else we can do. Because there is no one else." His voice dropped, becoming nearly inaudible. "I will put my trust in hope once more, and perhaps this time, it will be enough."
Hope. Hope that Sarren had a cure. That it would be enough to save Kanin, Zeke and New Covington. Allie the Fringer would've seen it as foolish-hope was a luxury that could very easily get you killed. But that was what had kept Kanin going all this time, wasn't it? The hope for an end to Rabidism, that he could undo what he had helped cause. It was what had kept Zeke and the others searching for Eden, too. They'd made it only on the strength of their beliefs. And... it was what I held on to with Zeke. The hope that a vampire and a human could defy every instinct and fear, to fight the monster and the bloodlust and the desire to kill, and find a way to be together.
All right, then. I wouldn't give up. I would see this through to the end. For Zeke and Kanin and the city that had been my home for seventeen years, I would also put my trust in that tiny sliver of hope, and cling to it until I was certain everything was lost.
Kanin suddenly stopped at the edge of the street, then quickly backed behind a corner. Wary, I edged up beside him and peeked past the brick.
I recognized the lot across the street, the surrounding buildings, the weed-choked field with its skeletal trees and cement blocks poking out of the grass. The last I'd seen of this place, I'd been fleeing the Prince's coven with Kanin, trying to get out of the city before we were both killed. I couldn't see the ruined, blackened remains of the building across the street, through the grass and twisted old trees, but I knew it was there.
The old hospital. The hidden lab. We'd made it.
"It's too quiet," I remarked as we stood at the edge of the lot, peering across frozen grass, weeds and the leftovers of old buildings. "Do you think Sarren is really here?"
"We'll know soon enough," Kanin muttered.
His voice was tight. I looked at him and tried not to let my worry get the best of me, but it was hard. The entire length of one arm was cracked and peeling, and a hint of bone glimmered through the wasted flesh of one cheek. I knew he was in pain, that just walking was agony for him, no matter how stoic he tried to appear.
"Can you do this?" I whispered. The thought of facing Sarren was terrifying, even more so that I might have to do it alone. I thought of Zeke, dying in the van, alone in a snowy parking lot. It was killing me that I had to leave him behind, but Kanin had been right: Sarren would use him against us. He would do the same to Kanin if he could.
"You should stay here," I told Kanin when he didn't answer. "I can find Sarren alone, Kanin. You don't have to come."
My sire looked at me, and I gave him a brave smile. If I had to face Psycho Vamp by myself to save Zeke and Kanin, I'd do it. It scared the crap out of me, but I would do it.
An almost affectionate look entered his eyes. "No," Kanin murmured, turning to the lot. "Sarren and I... We've been at this for a long time. This war ends tonight. I will not let you face him alone."
"Are you sure?"
His smile turned dangerous, and his dark eyes gleamed. And for a moment, I was reminded that Kanin was a Master vampire, that he was far stronger than I, and that he still had that terrifying demon inside him.
"Let's go," Kanin said quietly, and together we started across the lot toward the distant hospital ruins, walking side by side. Just the two of us, me and my sire, against the most frightening vampire I'd ever known. Whatever came of this night would determine the fate of everything.
As we approached the first of the skeletal buildings, my skin prickled a warning. I could hear movement, shuffling footsteps to either side of us in the dark, the low murmur of voices. Something giggled softly, just as I caught a glint of metal in the weeds that hadn't been there before, and stopped.
Cages. There were cages surrounding the old hospital building, wire kennels built for dogs. Except, these were filled with humans. Humans that bled from self-inflicted wounds, who muttered and giggled to themselves, heedless of the snow falling on them.
Looked like Sarren was here...and expecting us. "Can we sneak around?" I whispered to Kanin. But, at that moment, whether from a timed latch or some kind of wire that I couldn't see, all the cage doors opened with a bang, and the bleeders leaped up, howling. Lurching into the open, one man spotted us over the grass and gave a scream that alerted the whole pack.
So much for sneaking in.
With shrieks and wails, the bleeders flung themselves across the snowy ground, rushing us in a chaotic swarm. I roared my hatred, for them, for Sarren, for this whole stupid mess, and lunged forward with Kanin right beside me.
The first human didn't know what hit him, as my sword passed through his middle in a crimson spray and out the other side. I ripped the blade free and slashed at the pair of attackers filling my vision, carving through one and into another. Tendrils of blood filled the air, and I kept my mouth shut in case any hit me in the face. A huge man with one eye swung a rusty chair at me with both hands. I rolled beneath it, cutting at his leg as I passed, hearing him crash to the ground behind me.
Kanin stepped in front of me as I was lunging to my feet, blocking a club with his arm. The wood splintered against his forearm, and he roared with pain, driving his blade beneath the man's chin. A woman wielding a steel bar leaped at his back, coming from nowhere, and met my katana slashing down between them, splitting her open.
Another bleeder rushed me, screaming. I snarled and started to meet him, raising my katana to take his head off, but Kanin spun, grabbed my collar and yanked me backward. As I was jerked away, a flash and a sudden boom erupted at the human's feet, the stench of explosives, smoke and charred flesh searing the air.
"Watch out for mines," Kanin warned, setting me beside him. "Sarren likely has this whole place trapped." Another explosion rang out ahead of us, accompanied by a painful screech.
Wary now, I pressed close to Kanin as we faced the last of the bleeders, rushing us from different sides. I dodged the coil of chain whipped at my head and plunged my sword between the man's ribs, while Kanin simply grabbed the face of the human trying to stab him, lifted him off his feet and calmly slit his throat.
As the last of the bleeders crumpled into the snow, I gazed around the trampled, blood-laced field, now eerily silent once more. "Think Sarren knows we're here?" I asked Kanin.
He snorted. "Let's be careful."
Very cautiously, we made our way through the lot, wary of mines, traps, trip wires and other nasty things Sarren might have planted. I trailed behind Kanin, who had an uncanny sense of knowing where hidden dangers lurked in the snow and long grass, sidestepping them with ease. I literally followed in his footsteps, matching my strides to his, stepping where he stepped, until we were past the field and had ducked into the charred, crumbling remains of the old hospital.
Still wary of traps and mines, we picked our way through the ruins. Near a collapsed wall, a yawning, narrow hole plunged straight down into darkness, bringing with it a storm of memories. Me and Kanin, our lessons that had taken place down that dark tube, our hasty retreat from New Covington. I met Kanin's eyes over the gap and wondered if he was thinking of the same.
Or was his mind solely on what waited for us, deep in the bowels of the hospital?
"I'll go first," he said softly. "Stay here. Wait for my signal to come down."
I nodded. Kanin stepped up to the edge and, without hesitation, dropped into the black.
I crossed my arms and listened, trying not to be impatient, trying not to imagine all the things that could happen to Kanin when I wasn't there. Sarren might be lying in ambush. He could've placed mines at the bottom of the elevator shaft. He could have another wave of bleeders waiting in the hospital foyer, ready to attack. I fidgeted and shuffled my feet, stifling the impulse to leap down after him, until Kanin's voice drifted up from the darkness again.
I dropped into the shaft, not bothering to grab the cables, falling maybe thirty feet to the ground floor. I landed with a grunt and a cloud of plaster dust, and Kanin turned with a look warning me be to be quiet. Ducking a beam, I stepped into a familiar room.
It seemed everything was as we'd left it the night that we fled New Covington. There was the huge desk on the back wall, its tarnished gold letters hanging skewed on the wood. The space in front of the desk where Kanin had taught me to use my katana was clear-no rubble, no debris. The room had a hollow, desiccated feel, the air here not having been disturbed in years.
But, somewhere in this dark, empty tomb, our enemy waited for us.
Kanin jerked his head at me, and we began walking, gliding, across the tiles, making no sound as we moved, two vampires on the hunt for their prey. We didn't bother with the countless rooms down the narrow hallways, Kanin's office and my old room, where I'd slept on the lumpy cot in the corner. Sarren wouldn't be in any of them. There was only one place he would be.
The room past the red door at the end of the stairs.
And once we reached the top of the stairs, it became grimly apparent that Sarren was waiting for us.
Blood coated the steps down to the red door, smeared in thick swaths over the walls, wet and black. Hands and feet had been strung by wire to the ceiling, and a severed head seemed to float in the air among them, lips pulled back in a crazy grin. Above the red door, written in large bloody letters, was: Revelations 21.
"Ready for this?" Kanin asked softly.
Reaching over my shoulder, I pulled my katana, gripping the hilt tightly. "As ready as I'll ever be, I guess." The severed head suddenly dropped from the ceiling, landing with a wet thump that made me flinch. "Let's get this over with."
We descended the stairwell, stepping over discarded limbs and congealing puddles of blood, making our way to the red door. It was unlocked, the handle turning easily in my palm, the door swinging back with a creak. Beyond the frame, the hall was smeared with more red, the word Revelations written over and over again with different numbers beside it. Kanin put a hand on my shoulder and nodded to the top corner. The broken security camera blinked a tiny red light at us, the lens trained on me like a staring black eye. I shivered, knowing Sarren could be on the other end, watching us right now.
The round door at the end of this hall was also slightly open. Exceedingly wary of traps and ambushes, I edged forward and pushed it back. It groaned as it swung open, and we stepped through the opening, into the room where, six decades ago, monsters were born.