Urban legends, of course, but who was I to say they weren't true? That was why venturing out of familiar territory was a bad idea at best, suicidal at worst. I knew which parts of the Fringe were gang turf and had avoided them like the plague.
And now we were walking right into their territory.
I eyed the vampire at my side. "You know they're going to kill us for being here."
He nodded. "I'm counting on it."
"You know that they eat people, right?" Kanin stopped, turning to me with intense black eyes.
"So do I," he said evenly. "And now, so do you." I felt slightly sick. Oh, yeah.
The smell of blood was getting stronger, and now I could hear the familiar sounds of a fight: cursing, shouting, the smacks of fists and shoes on f lesh. We turned a corner and entered the back lot between several buildings, surrounded by chain-link, broken glass and rusting cars. Graffiti covered the crumbling bricks and metal walls, and several steel drums burned around the perimeter, billowing a thick, choking smoke.
In the center of the arena, a group of ragged, similarly dressed thugs clustered around a crumpled form on the pavement. The body was curled into a fetal position, covering its head, while two or three thugs broke away from the circle to punch or kick at it. Another body lay nearby, disturbingly still, its face smashed beyond recognition. My gut twisted at the sight of the broken nose and staring eyes. But then the scent of blood came to me, stronger than ever, and I growled low in my throat before I realized I'd made a sound.
The gang members were laughing too loud to hear and were too focused on their sport to notice us, but Kanin kept walking forward. Calmly, as if out for a late-night stroll, he approached the ring of humans, making no sound whatsoever.
We could've sauntered right past them and continued into the night, but as we neared the circle of thugs, who still hadn't noticed us, he deliberately kicked a broken bottle, sending it clinking and tumbling over the pavement.
And the Blood Angels looked up.
"Good evening," Kanin said, nodding cordially. He continued to walk past them, moving at a slower pace, I noted.
I followed silently, trying to be invisible, hoping the gang would just let us go without a challenge.
But part of me, the strange, alien, hungry part, watched the humans eagerly and hoped they would try to stop us.
It got its wish. With muff led curses, the whole group moved to block our path. Kanin stopped and watched impassively as a thug with a scar over one pale eye stepped forward, shaking his head.
"Look at this," he said, grinning at Kanin, then me. "Lucky night for us, ain't it, boys?"
Kanin didn't say anything. I wondered if he was afraid speaking to them would clue them in to what he was; he didn't want to scare away our food.
"Look at him-so scared he can't even talk." Derisive laughter all around. "Shoulda thought of that before you came through our turf, pet." Scar-face stepped forward, the jeers and insults of his gang backing him up. "Gonna drop your pants so we can kiss your shiny ass, is that what you want, pet? " He spat the word, before his gaze f licked to me, and his leer turned ugly. "Or maybe I'll just save it for that sweet little Asian doll. We don't get many whores through here, do we, boys?"
I snarled, feeling my lips curl back. "Bring your cesspit mouth anywhere near me and I'll tear it off," I spat at him.
The gang hooted and edged closer.
"Ooh, she's a feisty one, ain't she?" Scar-face grinned. "I hope there's enough of that to go around. You don't mind sharing, do you, pet?"
"Be my guest," Kanin said and stepped away from me. I gaped at him as Scar-face and his gang exploded with eager, taunting laughter.
"Pet's so scared, he pissed his pants!"
"That's a real man, hiding behind a girl!"
"Hey, thanks, pet," Scar-face called, his mouth split into a truly evil grin. "I'm so touched, I'm gonna let you go this time. Thanks for the Asian doll! We'll try not to break her, too quickly."
"What are you doing?" I hissed, betrayed. The thugs stalked forward, grinning, and I backed up, keeping them in my sights while glaring at the vampire. "What about all that talk of 'teaching' and 'preparing' me and all that crap? What, you're just going to throw me to the wolves now?"
"Your sense of predator and prey is backward," the vampire said in a low voice, so that only I could hear. I wanted to throw something at him, but the approaching gang members were more of a problem. The raw lust in their eyes made me feel sick, and I felt a snarl rising in my throat. "This will show you exactly where you stand on the food chain."
"Kanin! Dammit, what am I supposed to do?" Kanin shrugged and leaned against a wall. "Try not to kill anyone."
The thugs rushed me. I tensed as one grabbed me around the waist, trying to lift me off my feet and push me to the ground. I hissed as his arms touched me, planted my feet, and shoved him away as hard as I could.
He f lew backward as if he weighed nothing at all, crashing onto the hood of a car twenty feet away. I blinked in astonishment, but the next thug came rushing up with a howl, swinging a fist at my face.
Instinctively, I raised a hand and felt the meaty fist smack into my palm, surprising us both. He tried pulling back, but I squeezed hard, feeling bones crunch and grind together, and gave it a sharp twist. His wrist snapped with a popping sound, and the thug screamed.
Two more Blood Angels came at me from different directions. They moved slowly, like they were running through water, at least that's how it looked to me. I easily sidestepped the first lunge and kicked the thug in the knee, feeling it snap under my ankle. He jerked sideways and smashed to the ground. His friend swung at me with a lead pipe; I grabbed it, wrenched it from his grasp, and backhanded him across the face with it.
The scent of blood from the gang member's cheek misted on the air, and something inside me responded. I pounced on him with a roar, feeling my teeth burst through my gums.
The bark of gunfire shattered the night and something small whipped past my head. I felt the wind from its passing rip at my hair, and I spun into a crouch, hissing and baring my fangs. Scar-face's eyes went wide, a string of swearwords falling from his lips as he pointed a smoking pistol at me.
"Vampire!" he shrieked, amid a f lurry of cussing. "Oh, shit! Shit! Get away from me! Get away-!" He took aim, and I tensed to f ling myself across the pavement, to pounce on my prey and drive my fangs deep into his throat. But suddenly, his eyes went wide, and he was lifted off his feet, kicking helplessly as Kanin picked him up as easily as a cat, wrenched the gun away, and threw him into a wall.
The crack of the Blood Angel's head against the brick pierced my wild, foaming rage and brought everything into focus again. I shook free of the bloodlust, the consuming Hunger, and gazed around in both horror and amazement.
Five bodies lay on the ground, moaning, broken and bleeding.
By my hand. I looked at Kanin, who tossed the gun almost disdainfully and raised an eyebrow as I approached.
"You knew," I said softly, glancing at one dazed Blood Angel. "You knew what I would do-that's why you let them attack me." He didn't answer, and I realized I wasn't shaking with fear or adrenaline or anything. My heart was still and cold. I glared up at Kanin, furious at his manipulation.
"I could have killed them all."
"How many times must I tell you?" Kanin said, peering down at me. "You are a vampire now. You are no longer human. You are a wolf to their sheep-stronger, faster, more savage than they could ever be. They are food, Allison Sekemoto. And deep down, your demon will always see them as such."
I looked at Scar-face lying in a heap beside the wall.
Though his forehead was cut open and a large purple bruise had already begun to form, he groaned and tried to get up, only to slump back again, dazed. "Then why didn't you kill him?" I asked.
Kanin's stare went cold. Turning, he walked stiff ly over to the gang leader, grabbed him by the scruff and dragged him back to me, throwing him at my feet.
"Drink," he ordered in a steely voice. "But remember, take too much, and you will kill the host. Take too little, and you will have to feed again very soon. Find the balance, if you care whether you drain them or not. Usually five or six swallows will suffice."
I looked down at the gang leader and recoiled. Chomping through a blood bag was one thing, but biting the neck of a living, breathing person? I had been so eager to do it a moment ago, when my Hunger and fury were raging, but now I felt nauseated.
Kanin continued to stare at me. "You will do this, or you will starve yourself to the point of frenzy and kill someone," he said in a f lat voice. "This is what being a vampire is about, our most basic, primal need. Now..." With one hand, he hauled the thug up and grabbed his hair with the other, wrenching his head back and exposing his throat. "Drink."
Reluctantly, I stepped forward. The human moaned and tried fending me off, but I easily slapped his arms away and bent close to the hollow at the base of his throat. My fangs lengthened as I inhaled and sensed the warm blood coursing just below the surface of the skin. The scent of life was overwhelmingly strong in my nose and mouth. Before I could even think about what I was doing, I lunged forward and bit down hard.
The Blood Angel gasped and jerked, twitching weakly.
Warm thickness f lowed into my mouth, rich and hot and strong. I growled and bit down harder, eliciting a strangled cry from my prey. I felt heat spreading through my body, filling me with strength, with power. It was intoxicating. It was...I couldn't describe it. It was bliss, pure and simple. I let my eyes slip shut, almost in a trance, consumed with wanting more, more...
Someone took my hair, pulling me back from my prey, breaking the connection. I snarled and tried to lunge forward again, but an arm barred my way, moving me back. The thug's body collapsed bonelessly to the ground. I snarled again and tried to reach it, fighting the arm that held me back.
"Enough!" Kanin's voice rang with authority, and he shook me, hard. My head snapped back like a rag doll's, making me dizzy for a moment. "Allison, enough," he repeated as my vision slowly cleared. "Any more and you'll kill him." I blinked and backed off a step, the Hunger slowly ebbing away into something that wasn't frantic and raging. Horrified, I stared at the Blood Angel crumpled on the pavement. He was pale, barely breathing, two dark puncture wounds oozing crimson from his throat. I'd almost killed him. Again. If Kanin hadn't stopped me, I would've drained him dry. Self-loathing curled my stomach. For all my hatred of vampires, all my resolve not to be like them, I was no better than the worst bloodsucker to stalk the streets.
"Seal the wound," Kanin ordered, pointing to the gang leader. His voice was cool, unsympathetic. "Finish what you started."
I wanted to ask how, but suddenly I knew. Bending down, I pressed my tongue against the two small punctures and felt them close. Even then, I could sense the blood slowly pumping beneath the skin, and it took all my willpower not to bite him a second time.
Standing up, I turned to Kanin, who nodded his head once, watching me. "Now," he said, his voice dark and unyielding,