"We," he replied, stepping back for me to take in my surroundings, "are in the basement storage of the city's old museum."
I gazed around in wonder. We were standing at the edge of the largest room I'd ever seen in my life, a warehouse of cement and steel that stretched farther than even my vampire vision reached. Rusting metal shelves created a labyrinth of aisles, hundreds of narrow corridors that vanished into the back of the room. The contents of those shelves were covered in sheets or stored in wooden boxes, wrapped in a thick film of spiderwebs and dust. If I took in a breath I could smell the choking stench of mold and fungi, growing everywhere, but surprisingly, the shelves seemed fairly intact.
"I can't believe this place is so...unbroken," I said, as we started down one of the narrow aisles. Under a filthy sheet, I caught a glimpse of yellow bone and lifted the corner to reveal the skeleton of some kind of enormous cat, frozen in a crouch. I stared at it, amazed, wondering why anyone would want to keep the dead bones of an animal. It was kind of creepy, seeing it like that, without skin and fur. "What the heck is this place anyway?"
"Before the plague, museums were places of history," Kanin explained as I hurried away from the cat to catch up. His voice echoed in the vastness. "Places of collected knowledge, places where they stored all the items, memories and artifacts of other cultures."
I paused, catching sight of a mannequin dressed in furs and animal hide. Feathers poked out of its hair, and it held some kind of stone ax. "Why?"
"To remember the past, to not let it fade away. The cus-toms, histories, religions and governments of a thousand cultures are stored here. There are other places like this one all around the world, hidden and forgotten by man. Places that still hold their secrets, waiting to be discovered again."
"I can't believe the vamps haven't burned this place to the ground."
"They tried," Kanin replied. "The building above us has been destroyed, no trace of it remains. But the city vampires are mostly concerned with what happens on the surface-they rarely venture down into the tunnels and the secrets below the earth. If they knew about this place, you can be sure they would have burned it to ashes."
I scowled, hating the vampires again. "And humans will never know about it, will they?" I muttered, following Kanin down an aisle, feeling morose. "All this knowledge, right under their feet, and they'll never know."
"Maybe not today." Kanin stopped at a shelf holding a long, narrow wooden box. Faded red letters were printed on the side, below all the cobwebs and dust, but it was difficult to read. "But there will come a time when man is no longer concerned only with survival, when he will once more be curious as to who came before him, what life was like a thousand years ago, and he will seek out answers to these questions. Maybe it won't happen for a hundred years or so, but humans' curiosity has always driven them to find answers.
Even our race cannot keep them in the dark forever." He broke the box open and rummaged through the contents. I heard the clink and scrape of metal, and then he pulled something out.
It was a sword, a long, double-edged blade with a black metal hilt that looked like a cross. Kanin held it in one hand, but the blade itself was huge, probably close to five feet. With the hilt, it was a few inches taller than me.
"Two-handed German greatsword," he said, giving me, and it, a scrutinizing look, sizing us up. "Probably too big for you."
He replaced it and opened another box from the shelf overhead, this time pulling out a large, spiked ball on a chain. It looked extremely nasty, and I was intrigued, but he let it drop with barely a second glance.
"Hey, what was that?" Easing forward, I tried peering into the box on tiptoe, but he shouldered me away. "Oh, come on. I want to see the big-spiky-ball thing."
not need a f lail." Kanin scowled, as though imagining what I could do with it. I tried peeking into the box again, and he gave me an exasperated look, warning me back.
I glared at him.
"Fine. Then tell me, oh, great one. What are we looking for? What do I need?"
He pulled out another weapon, a spear with a long metal tip, and put it back with a shake of his head. "I'm not sure." I peeked under another cloth, where a stuffed-dog- looking thing stared back sightlessly. "Why are we looking for ancient weapons, anyway?" I muttered, dropping the cloth. "Wouldn't it be easier to use, oh, I don't know...a gun?"
"Guns require ammunition," Kanin replied without looking up. "Ammunition is difficult to find, even if the Prince did not have a stranglehold on the automatic weapon distribution in the city. And an empty gun is about as useful as a large paperweight. Besides, guns are impractical for dealing with our kind. Unless you can somehow tear off our head, bullets will only slow us down at best. To adequately protect yourself from a vampire, you're going to need a blade. Now..."
He moved to the next box, tearing off the lid, nails and all.
"Why don't you make yourself useful and look through a few of these yourself ? See if anything jumps out at you. Remember, you're looking for a blade. Not a mace or a maul or a huge spiked chain that you'd probably hurt yourself with trying to learn."
"Fine." I wandered down the aisle, looking at random ar-ticles. "But I still say the f lail looked like it could bash in a vamp's head pretty efficiently."
"I'm going, I'm going."
More wooden boxes lined the aisle to either side, covered in dust. I brushed back a film of cobwebs and grime to read the words on the side of the nearest carton. Longswords: Medi-eval Europe, 12th century. The rest was lost to time and age.
Another read: Musketeer Rapie... something or other. Another apparently had a full suit of gladiator armor, whatever a gladiator was.
A clang from Kanin's direction showed him holding up a large, double-bladed ax, before he laid it aside and moved on to another shelf.
One box caught my attention. It was long and narrow, like the other boxes, but instead of words, it had strange symbols printed down the side. Curious, I wrenched off the lid and reached in, shifting through layers of plastic and foam, until my fingers closed around something long and smooth.
I pulled it out. The long, slightly curved sheath was black and shiny, and a hilt poked out of the end, marked with dia-mond pattern in black and red. I grasped that hilt and pulled the blade free, sending a metallic shiver through the air and down my spine.
As soon as I drew it, I knew I had found what Kanin wanted.
The blade gleamed in the darkness, long and slender, like a silver ribbon. I could sense the razor sharpness of the edge without even touching it. The sword itself was light and graceful, and fit perfectly into my palm, as if it had been made for me. I swept it in a wide arc, feeling it slice through the air, and imagined this was a blade that could pass through a snarling rabid without even slowing down.
A chuckle interrupted me. Kanin stood a few yards away, arms crossed, shaking his head. His mouth was pulled into a resigned grin.
"I should have known," he said, coming forward. "I should have known you would be drawn to that. It's very fitting, actually."
"It's perfect," I said, holding up the sword. "What is it, anyway?"
Kanin regarded me in amusement. "What you're holding is called a katana. Long ago, a race of warriors known as the samurai carried them. The sword was more than a weapon-
to the samurai, their blades were an extension of their souls.
It was the symbol of their culture and their most prized possession."
I didn't really need the history lesson, but it was pretty cool to think that there was an entire race of people who'd carried these once. "What happened to them?" I asked, sheath-ing the sword carefully. "Did they all die out?"
Kanin's grin grew wider, as if he was enjoying his own private joke. "No, Allison Sekemoto. I would say not." I frowned, waiting for him to explain, but he stepped back and motioned me to follow. "If you're going to carry that blade," he said as we headed back through the maze of aisles and shelves, "you'll have to learn how to use it. It is not a pocketknife you can just swing in circles and hope it hits the target. It is an elegant weapon and deserves better than that."
"I don't know, swinging it in a circle sounds like a pretty good trick to me."
He gave me another of his exasperated looks. "Having a weapon you do not know how to use is better than not having one at all, but not by much," he said, ducking through the door and entering the narrow hallway. "Especially when dealing with vampires. Especially when dealing with older vampires who already know how to fight-they're the most dangerous. They'll cut off your head with your own blade, if you're not careful."
We came to the metal grate he'd pulled up earlier, and Kanin dropped out of sight, back into the sewers. I clutched my new prize to my chest and followed.
"So, are you going to teach me, then?" I asked as I hit the ground.
"Oh, I'm afraid he won't be teaching you anything, girl," a cool voice said from the darkness. "Except, perhaps, how to die a horrid and painful death."
I froze, and in that second, two figures melted out of the darkness of the tunnel, smiling as they came to stand before us. I knew instantly that they were vampires; pale skin and hollow eyes aside, I could sense, in a strange, unexplainable way, that they were just like me. In the dead, bloodsucking sense, at least. The woman's dark, curly hair tumbled elegantly down her back; she wore heels and a business suit that hugged her body like snakeskin. The man was lean and pale, all sharp points and angles, but he still managed to fill out his suit jacket. And he stood over six feet tall.
Kanin went rigid. A tiny movement, and the knife appeared in his hand.
"You've got some nerve to show your face here, Kanin," the female vampire said in a conversational tone, smiling and showing perfectly white teeth. "The Prince knows you're here, and he wants your head on a platter. We've been sent to oblige him." She stepped toward us, oozing forward like a snake. Her bloodred lips parted in a smile, showing fangs, and she turned her predatory gaze on me. "But who's this little chick, Kanin? Your newest protege? How charming, continuing your cursed bloodline. Does she know who you really are?"
"She's no one," Kanin said f latly. "She doesn't matter-the only thing you need to worry about is me." The vampiress's grin grew savage. "Oh, I don't think so, Kanin. After we remove your head, we'll drag your little spawn back to the Prince and watch him take her apart, piece by piece. Isn't that right, Richards?" The male vampire still didn't say anything, but he smiled, showing his fangs.
"How does that sound, chicky?" the female vamp said, still smirking at me. "Don't you feel special? You can have your heart removed and eaten by the Prince of the city himself."
"He can try," I shot back and felt my own fangs lengthen as I bared them in a snarl. Both vampires laughed.
"Oh, she is a firebrand, isn't she?" The female vamp gave me a patronizing look. "One of those disgusting Fringers, I take it? I simply love your affection for hopeless cases. But then, that's what got you into this mess in the first place, isn't it?"