There was a crash, a feeling of weightlessness for a few seconds, and then we began to fall.
When I opened my eyes, the world was silent. Voices had disappeared, gunshots and screams and cries of pain had vanished from existence. It was dark, and I lay on my back on the hard cement, staring up at a low, bare ceiling. There were no windows that I could see, and no light filtered in from outside.
I shifted on the floor and winced as my chest throbbed, a dull ache that went all the way through my body. Gritting my teeth, I struggled to sit upright, finally slumping back against the wall to ease some of the pain.
What…happened? I felt sluggish and heavy, my thoughts a hazy, tangled mess. Something hovered at the back of my mind, dark and terrible, and my thoughts kept shying away from it. Where was I? I didn’t remember coming here.
Kanin’s voice echoed somewhere close, soft with relief. A piece of shadow melted off the wall as the Master vampire rose from where he’d been sitting in the far corner. His head nearly brushed the ceiling as he approached and knelt beside me, the dark gaze searching and intense.
I blinked. Up close, his face was lined with worry, his expression grave. That ominous memory stirred again, brushing my consciousness, but it slipped away before I could grasp it.
“Kanin,” I gritted out, my voice strangely hoarse and raspy.
“Where are we? What happened? I—” My chest throbbed, and I winced. Kanin put a hand on my arm.
“Easy. Don’t move around just yet. It will be a couple hours, now that you’re awake, for your body to heal completely after the damage it sustained. Here, this will help. Try to drink it slowly.” He handed me a cracked bowl, filled with something that smelled hot and thick, and the Hunger flared up with a roar. I downed the blood, not knowing where Kanin had gotten it and not caring, and warmth seeped through my veins. The ache eased somewhat, though not completely.
“What’s wrong with me?” I asked, shifting against the wall. It sent a tiny jolt through my center, and I clenched my teeth, almost angry at the pain. “Why haven’t I healed yet?”
“Allison.” Kanin turned a dark, agonized gaze on me. “It’s been two days. You went into hibernation for a little while.”
He paused, letting the gravity of that statement sink in before continuing. “I’ve been working to bring you out of it, but until now, I wasn’t certain you would revive. It’s extremely lucky that such a young vampire would wake up at all, after being staked right through the heart.”
“Staked?” Gingerly, I prodded my chest at the point where the ache originated. It was sore, but there was no indication I’d had a long piece of wood shoved through me. “What happened?” I asked again. “I don’t remember… .”
“Jackal’s tower,” Kanin said softly. “We went there to find Sarren.”
Jackal’s tower. Fragments of that night came back to me.
The silent walkways. The journey underwater to reach the building. Fighting raiders and being separated from Jackal and Kanin. The long flight of stairs, leading to the top floor of the tower and…
My hand went to my mouth as the darkest piece of the night emerged from my subconscious, horrific and terrifying.
“Zeke,” I whispered. “He’s…he’s a vampire. Sarren Turned him. And…”
And he tried to kill me. He nearly succeeded, too. God, what happened to him? Why would he turn on us? It was like he was a completely different person.
“I’m sorry, Allison.” Kanin’s voice was grim. “I underestimated Sarren. I didn’t expect him to Turn Ezekiel like that.” He sighed, briefly closing his eyes. “I should have predicted this.”
I was numb with misery, from remembering that fight, where Zeke had come after me with pure, ruthless intent, his eyes hard. So Kanin’s words took a moment to register.
“What do you mean?” I choked out. “That Sarren would Turn Zeke?”
“Yes,” Kanin said slowly, “but it is more than that. Sarren did not simply Turn Ezekiel, as I did you. No, he went further. He made him a childer.”
“I don’t know what that is, Kanin.”
“It’s when a vampire—and only a Master can do this— creates a spawn in his own image. He wipes his mind clean, destroys all memories of his life before, and shapes a new personality based on what he wants that childer to be. Sometimes he will force a mind compulsion on the childer—think of it as a stronger version of the blood bond we share—to make certain his offspring does what he wants. In ancient times, many old Masters created their covens this way, making sure their childer would not rise up or betray them. But it is such an invasive, barbaric practice, it is frowned upon by nearly all our kind and used only in rare, extreme cases.”
“So, that…really wasn’t Zeke?” I snatched at the only ray of hope I could find in this horrible situation. “He didn’t act like that because he wanted to?”
“Yes and no.” Kanin sighed. “It depends on his state of mind, and how strong the compulsion is. It could be that Ezekiel’s memories have been repressed, that he is fighting the compulsion. That somewhere deep inside, he still retains a sense of who he is. Or…” Kanin paused, then went on in a grim voice. “Or it could be that Sarren shattered his mind completely, drove him to madness, and remade him into the vampire you saw in the tower. If that is the case, then you won’t be able to reach him, because there is nothing left of the boy you once knew.”
I squeezed my eyes shut as stupid bloody tears stung the corners and leaked from under my lids. “But…there could be a chance, right?” I whispered, looking back up at Kanin, who regarded me with pity and not much hope. I didn’t care. I refused to believe Zeke was gone. “I won’t leave him like that, Kanin,” I said stubbornly. “Now that I know he’s alive…”
“What would you do, even if you could reach him?” the Master vampire asked gently. “Ezekiel never wanted to be a vampire. He would have rather died than Turn. Even if his mind is still intact and you somehow manage to break the compulsion, what then? Do you think he could live as one of us, feeding on humans, preying on those around him? It would destroy him, Allison. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself.” His voice softened even more, though I hated him for saying it, knowing he was right. “If you do face Ezekiel again, I think you know what you have to do.”