Curran flew across the room. Ahead of us a wall loomed, with a wide stone staircase leading upward. The steps were flower-free. Nasrin was already there, waving.
The stalks sprouted fat black bulbs.
Undead magic smeared my mind. I glanced back over Curran’s shoulder. Andrea had locked Christopher’s arm in a death grip and was pulling him across the floor. Behind them a vampire fell through the hole in the ceiling and charged after us.
Curran leaped and landed on the stairs. Jim with Ghastek was only a step behind.
The flowers opened, releasing a dense corona of thin filaments glowing with pale purple, as if someone had taken the fringes from several passionflowers and strung them together on the same stem.
Andrea reached the stairs, dragged Christopher a few steps up, and let him go. He collapsed.
The vampire glided among the blossoms, silent and quick.
“Don’t kill it,” Ghastek murmured. “I need a ride.”
The flowers shivered. A cream-colored shimmering mist rose from their petals. The vampire stumbled, reared back in complete silence, and collapsed.
“Damn it,” Ghastek swore.
The stalks rustled. Black hairy roots stretched over to the bloodsucker’s body.
“Beautiful,” Christopher whispered. “Mortem germinabit.”
“Come on, Christopher. We have to go.” Andrea hauled him upright and we climbed the stairs.
“I know we’ve been following our own scent trail, but I don’t remember any of this,” Jim said.
“That’s because we didn’t come this way,” Robert said.
“But I remember the two holes we climbed out of on the way up,” Andrea said. “I smelled us. This lobby or whatever it is wasn’t supposed to be here. This should have been a hallway. Are you saying the room moved?”
“We don’t know,” Thomas said.
The stairs ended in another door. Robert eased it open. A typical hotel hallway rolled out before us, complete with long red carpet and numbers on the doors.
“So we have no idea where we’re going?” Nasrin asked.
“We’re going down,” Curran told her. “Unless this place develops its own gravity, the direction shouldn’t be that hard.”
I wouldn’t bet on that.
• • •
FOUR FLOORS LATER the section of Mishmar that was lifted from a hotel ended. We took the stairs, squeezed through a gap in the wall and suddenly the carpeted hotel hallway was gone, replaced by the hardwood floors and open plan of a modern apartment. The walls changed from beige to polished glossy red, rich like the color of arterial blood. The dark gray furniture stood intact, the couch and chairs arranged as if waiting for a party to begin. Even the pots still hung from a baker’s rack above the range. Now how did my father manage that? How does one pick a chunk of a building and set it on top of other buildings without the furniture sliding around? Maybe someone put it all back together after it became a part of Mishmar?
I tried not to think about the sheer power required to sever several floors of a building and lift them hundreds of feet in the air without disturbing the contents. It broke my mind.
We tiptoed across the hardwood. Modern art hung on the walls, a collection of strategically placed streaks of red and white. An open suitcase, half filled with men’s shirts, lay in the middle of the floor, just by where the door should be. A long brown streak stretched across the polished wood toward the missing door. Dried blood.
The wererats checked the hallway beyond, slinking forward.
“Clear,” Thomas called.
“Not exactly,” Ghastek murmured.
I felt them too, behind us, above us, to the right . . . More than twenty now. The vampire horde kept growing, like a snowball as it rolled down a snowy hill. I didn’t know if these were new vampires or if the ones we left behind somehow found a way around the deadly flowers. I didn’t even care. I just wanted out of Mishmar.
We pushed on into the hallway. Fatigue was slowing me down and I dragged myself forward, each step an effort as if an anchor was chained to my legs. I wanted to lie down, but taking a nap wasn’t an option.
“An elevator shaft would be nice right about now,” Jim said.
“Keep dreaming,” Curran told him.
A wide gap severed the floor of the hallway. Robert dropped to all fours and stuck his head into it, bending down so much that half of his body disappeared. By all rights, he should’ve tipped over. “I don’t see anything moving.”
“Any undead?” Curran asked Ghastek.
The Master of the Dead looked at him. “Pick a direction, I’ll tell you how many.”
“Is there a direction in which there aren’t vampires?” Andrea asked.
Curran glanced at me.
“Down is as good as any,” I said, and pulled my saber out. It didn’t feel like Slayer, probably because it wasn’t Slayer. Slayer lay broken in Curran’s pack.
“Down it is.”
The two wererats dropped into the gap, and Curran followed. I jumped after him, and he leaped up to meet me, caught me in the air, and landed on soft feet.
“Fancy,” I told him, scanning one end of the room, while he peered at the other. This floor appeared to be a high-end gym, filled with rows of ellipticals and treadmills.
“Trying to impress, baby.” Curran set me on my feet, caught Ghastek, and handed him off to Jim none too gently. We started moving. The machines stood in a single row to the left and in another two rows with a path between them to the right. Above them flat screens, now dull and dusty, mourned the passing of the tech age on their swivel mounts.
The multiple points of undead magic shifted, streaming toward us.
“Incoming,” Ghastek said. “Moving fast. They probably found a point of entry to this floor.”
We backed away.
A gaunt, skeletal shape squeezed through a crack in the wall near the ceiling and sat there, fastened to the wall with huge talons, the two red eyes like burning coals.
“Above and to the right,” I murmured.
“I see him,” Curran answered.
Another undead squeezed out of the gap and crawled next to the first one. This one was clearly older. The ridge of bony protrusions along his spine rose at least three inches, and his jaws looked like a bear trap. Across from us a third vampire crawled out of a dark crack in the other wall. This one felt old, too. A long ragged scar marked its face, trailing down over its chest past the point I could see. A cannibal vampire. The two words didn’t even go together. What’s next, zombie pirate Viking ghosts?