But something still nagged at my brain as I crawled atop the sheets of the huge bed, drawing the curtains against the light. Something dark and ominous, making it hard to relax, even in a place like this.
It hit me, then. Sarren. Sarren was still out there, somewhere in the dark. Where was he now? I wondered, lying back against the sheets. Had he left New Covington? Or was he still hanging around, waiting for us, eager for revenge?
The thought was troubling, but I put it from my mind as sleep began to draw me under. Even if Sarren was still in the city, he couldn't get into the Prince's tower, not without alerting every human and vampire in the place. This was the most secure place in all New Covington. Not even Sarren could take on an entire army. As long as we stayed in the tower, we were safe from crazy vampires and their plans for revenge. And between me, Zeke and Kanin, Sarren would have his work cut out for him if we faced him together.
Let him try something, I thought as my eyes closed and I slipped further into the darkness. I had already taken his eye, his arm, and Kanin and Zeke were alive and well. I wasn't afraid of him anymore.
I awoke the next night right at sundown, changed into my old clothes-which had been washed and laid out for me as promised-and waited for Kanin and Zeke.
After several minutes, my uneasiness grew. They weren't here yet. Where were they? Had the Prince reneged on his promise, and Kanin was down in the dungeon again, being tortured and starved? Had Jackal discovered the plan to leave him behind and decided to take matters into his own hands? I tried not to fidget, to imagine the worst possible outcomes, but as the minutes ticked by, my apprehension and anger grew more and more.
"Screw it," I finally muttered after nearly a half hour had passed and neither of them had showed. "I'm not waiting around here. I'll find them myself."
Making sure I had everything-my sword and my mom's book-I stalked across the room, threw the door open and nearly ran into Kanin on the other side.
"Dammit, Kanin!" I staggered back, glaring at him. "Where were you? I was just about to go looking for..."
I trailed off at the look on his face. "Come with me," he said in a low, strained voice, and immediately started walking away. I scrambled to catch up.
"Kanin? Where are we going? What's going on?" I frowned up at him. "Where's Zeke, and Jackal?" He didn't answer, and I jogged to keep pace with him. "Hey, you're kind of scaring me."
"I'm sorry," Kanin almost whispered, and a cold fist grabbed my insides. "I can't say more, Allison. You'll see when we get there."
Numb with terror, I followed him into the elevators, watching the numbers descend, one by one, until we hit the basement.
Prince Salazar glared at me as we entered the hospital, his dark eyes glittering with anger. Not for Kanin this time. Me. I ignored the Prince, though, when I saw Jackal, Dr. Emerson and several guards surrounding a single cot in the middle of the room. A body lay atop it, lean and tall, though I couldn't see it clearly through the crowd. The sheets beneath it were soaked in blood, and my mind started screaming a protest.
No! No, it can't be him! Dammit, it cannot be him!
"He was found outside the towers, early this morning," Salazar said, his voice tight with bridled rage. "We brought him in, but there is nothing more to be done. It is a miracle he has survived this long. He has been asking for you, Kanin's daughter."
No, I moaned silently, incapable of speech right then. But Salazar stepped aside, as did Emerson and the guards, and I saw who lay atop the bed.
Stick's glassy, pain-filled eyes met mine across the room, and widened when they saw me. "Allie?" he whispered, and my relief that it wasn't Zeke quickly turned to horror as I studied him. Blood soaked his middle, stained through his business suit, and his skin was the color of chalk. His expression was filled with pain and fear, and all the bitterness, rage and hurt toward him melted away as he held out a pale, blood-spattered hand. "Allie..."
I took it, stepping to his side. "What happened?" I whispered, looking over his wounds in despair. I'd seen this before. Stabbed through the gut, a wound that was painful and lingering. He didn't have long. "Who did this to you?"
"I'm sorry," Stick whispered, his voice choked. "I'm sorry, Allie. I didn't know. I'm sorry."
"Sorry for what?" I murmured as he shuddered and began coughing. Blood ran from his mouth, streaming down his neck, and I glared over the cot at Salazar. "Do something!" I snapped at the Prince. "You have a doctor here! Don't just stand there and watch!"
The Prince's eyes narrowed. "I do not make a habit of aiding those who betray me," he said, and I stared at him in utter confusion.
"What? Betrayed you? How?"
"Allie," Stick whispered again, clutching at my arm. "S-Sarren," he gasped. "It was Sarren. He came back."
My blood turned to ice. "Sarren did this to you? How? When?"
"I...led him there," Stick went on. "I led him to Sarren. He was waiting for us. Promised to...take him away. Didn't know...he would stab me. I'm...so sorry, Allie."
Took him away? "Who?" I whispered, but Stick gasped and his hand dropped from my arm, his eyes rolling back. "Stick!" I growled, grasping him by the collar, my entire insides twisting like sharpened wire. "Who? Who did Sarren take? Who did you lead outside? Who?"
"Zeke," Stick whispered, and my world shattered around me. "It was Zeke. Sarren...has him now."
"Son of a bitch," someone growled behind me, Jackal perhaps, but I wasn't thinking straight anymore. I stared at this...thing below me, this creature who I thought had been human, once.
"He said...you would know...where to find them." I was barely listening, now. Sarren had Zeke. Zeke had been with him, all night. "He said...they would be in the place where you left him...in pieces."
The hospital. Sarren would be at the old hospital. And Zeke would be there, as well. Alive. He had to be alive.
"I just...wanted to get you to see me," the thing continued, pleading. "I...wanted you to know...that I wasn't useless. That I...could be strong, like you. I wanted you to see me, that's all. Just...me."
"I do." Numb, I slid off the bed. "I see you now."
"Go to hell, Stick," I whispered, and turned away. He made a choking sound, clutching at my arm, but I ripped it out of his grasp. I kept walking until Kanin stopped me at the door, his face grave, and I glanced over my shoulder. The body had fallen back against the pillows, watery blue eyes gazing sightlessly at the ceiling. One pale hand dangled over the edge.
I felt nothing. The body didn't register as a friend, or even an acquaintance. It was a stranger. Turning away, I walked past Kanin and swept through the doors, leaving behind the corpse of someone I used to know.
Kanin's booming voice jerked me to a halt just before I hit the elevator doors. My sire almost never raised his voice, but when he did, it could either knock you over or freeze you in place. I turned, watching him stride up, his face impassive.
"You cannot rush off to confront him alone," he said in a low voice, joining me at the elevators. "If you wait, Jackal and I will come with you."
"Wait?" I snarled, glaring at the numbered lights above the metal doors, cursing them to move faster. "There's no time to wait! We have to find them, now!
The elevator dinged, and I started forward, but Kanin grabbed both my shoulders, holding me back.
"Listen to me," he said, giving me a little shake. "You need to hear this. Ezekiel has been with Sarren for hours. Alone. He knows where Eden is. He knows the scientists are working on a cure, and Sarren will want that information. Allison..." Kanin squeezed my shoulders. "You have to prepare yourself for what we may find. You can't let it destroy you."
I shook my head frantically. "No. No, Zeke will be there. He'll be all right."
"This is Sarren," Kanin reminded me, his voice uncharacteristically gentle. "You saw what he did to me. You know what he's capable of. Your human is strong. But...he's only human. And Sarren is the best at what he does." His voice softened even more. "This is our world, Allison. It's pain and blood and death, and this is the reason I wanted you to keep your distance. To not get attached." He let me go and straightened, though his dark eyes still bored into me. "Whatever we find," he said quietly. "Whatever you see or hear, you must be prepared, because it will be worse than you could ever imagine. Do you understand?"
"Yes," I hissed, hot tears stinging my eyes. Because he was, as always, right. He was right about Sarren, and he was right about his very first rule of vampirism. But it was far too late now. I was attached. And if Zeke was gone, I didn't know what I would do.
"Well," Jackal muttered, finally joining us at the doors. "I guess saying 'I told you so' is kind of pointless now. I knew I should've ripped that skinny bastard's head off when I had the chance. Back to the Fringe again, huh?" He groaned and gave me an almost pitying look. "Fine. Let's go see if there's anything left to rescue."
The hospital grounds were quiet as we slipped across the field: no bleeders, no mobs of infected humans, nothing. It was snowing heavily, and the flakes had covered up all traces of previous passings, ours and Sarren's. There was no blood, and no sign of a struggle at the entrance to the hospital or in the ruined foyer. I didn't know if that was a good or bad sign, but I was hopeful.
But then, we opened the door to the last room, and that all changed.
The scent of Zeke's blood was everywhere, slamming me in the face as soon as the door swung back. My stomach turned, and my legs nearly gave out, but I forced myself into the room, gazing around in terror. Where was he? Had Sarren locked him in a cell? Strung his body up? Where...? And then, I saw.
The table where I had lain the night before, the bed with the straps and thick leather cuffs, sat in the center of the room, a spotlight trained on it. It was covered in blood, as were the tools on the cart beside it, and the floor surrounding it was streaked with red. There was no body. The straps were empty, and the surface was clear, except for a strange flat square in the very center of the bed. Something glimmered in the light, something small and shiny, and vaguely familiar.
Numbly, I walked to the table, staring down at what lay in the middle. One of those strange, portable computers from the time before the plague. But it wasn't the ancient computer that caught my attention, but what lay on top of it.
Zeke's silver cross, covered in blood.
I picked it up in a daze, not really acknowledging what it meant. It was his; his scent clung to it, reminding me of him. He'd been wearing it the last time I saw him. He'd been fine, then, just last night. Alive, smiling, kissing me.
My hand moved on its own, seeming to belong to someone else, reaching out to push up the lid on the computer. As the screen rose, there was a soft click, and a faint whirring sound from within.
"Hello, little bird," came Sarren's faint, disembodied voice, small and tinny sounding, under the screen. "The camera on this computer is shot to hell, I'm afraid, so we'll just have to be content with audio. Pity. I really wanted to show you what I've been doing. But, perhaps a song is worth a thousand pictures, hmm? Show her what I mean, Ezekiel. Sing for us."