"Where the hell have you been?"
And the vampire with the terrible smile grinned down at me.
"Hello, love," the vampire purred, smiling as I backed away, drawing my blade as he eased into the room. "What a surprise to run into you again. Some little birdie has been lying to me."
I kept my blade between me and the vampire, circling with him as he prowled the edges of the room. His eyes weren't on me, however, but rather staring blankly at the walls and glass windows lining the hall. "What are you doing here?" I growled, trying to control my fear. "How did you find this place?"
"Ahhhh..." the vampire breathed, the air rasping through a windpipe that hadn't been used in years. "That is a fine question, little bird." He reached out and put one pale claw against the glass, pressing his cheek against it. I noticed a splash of old, dry blood on his neck, as if something had slashed at him recently. "Did you know these walls will talk to you? If you ask them. They'll tell you their secrets, though sometimes you have to beat it out of them, yes. Sometimes it was necessary." He straightened and turned to me, his eyes empty black holes in his smiling face. "Where's Kanin?" he asked in a patient, understanding voice. "Tell me now, and save me the trouble of pulling off your fingers."
"He's not here," I said. The vampire didn't look surprised.
"Not back yet then? I must've hit him harder than I thought. Very well, we can wait for him. I have all the time in the world."
"What did you do to him?" I snarled.
He chewed a fingernail, ran a tongue along his thin lips, and smiled at me. "Have you ever filleted a fish?"
"What?" God, this freak was creeping me out. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"No? It's quite easy." There was a f lash of metal, and the vampire was suddenly holding a thin, bright blade. I jumped; he was so quick I hadn't even seen his hand move. "The trick is to start skinning them as soon as you pull them out of the water, before they have a chance to die. You just slip the knife beneath the f lesh and pull..." He demonstrated with the blade, making a long, slow cut in the air, "and the skin peels right off." He looked me in the eye, and his grin stretched wider, showing fangs. "That's what I did to Kanin's last little fish.
He screamed, oh, did he scream. It was glorious." He waggled the knife at me. "I wonder if you will be so obliging?" My arms shook, making the sword tremble, and I squeezed the hilt to stop them. I could barely move, frozen with a terror unlike any I'd known before. An image came to mind before I could stop it: a body hanging from the ceiling, raw muscles exposed to the air as it writhed and screamed in agony.
I slammed that thought away before I was sick.
"Why...why do you hate him so much?" I asked, mostly to keep him talking, to buy myself some time. My voice wavered, making me furious with myself. Dammit, I could not show fear in front of this psycho. I bit my cheek, tasting blood, and that was enough to rouse the demon inside. My next words were stronger. "Why do you want to kill him?"
"I don't want to kill him," the vampire explained, sounding surprised. "That would be too good for Kanin. Surely he's told you. What he is? What he's done? No?" He chuckled, shaking his bald head. "Always keeping your spawn in the dark, hmm, old friend? They don't even know why they must suffer for you." He moved toward me, and I jerked backward, muscles tightening, but the vampire only crossed the room, running his fingers down one of the metal doors.
He was no longer smiling, his face as empty as a blank sheet, making him a thousand times more terrible.
"I remember," he mused, his voice a cold whisper in the darkness. "I can't ever get it out of my head. The screams.
The blood on the walls. Watching everyone around me turn into those things. " He shivered, curling his lips back, and suddenly his resemblance to the creatures in the ruins was unmistakable. "They stuck me with the same needles, pumped the same sickness into me. But I never turned. I've always wondered about that. Why I never turned." My eyes f lickered to the exit, judging the distance between me and the heavy metal door. Not enough time. Psycho vamp was probably just as fast as Kanin, which meant he was much faster than me. I'd have to buy myself more time, a few seconds at least.
Keeping one hand on the sword, I slowly reached down, into my jeans, and closed my fingers around the familiar handle of my knife. Pulling it out slowly, f licking open the tiny blade, I cupped it in my palm, hiding it from view.
"But I know now." Psycho vamp turned, and that awful grin was back on his face. "I know why I was spared. To punish the one responsible for our pain. Every scream, every drop of blood, every strip of f lesh and shattered bone, I will revisit upon him tenfold. He will know the pain, and fear and despair of every life within these walls. I will scour the earth of his blood, I will raze his lineage from existence. And only when his screams and the screams of his offspring replace the ones in my mind, when I can no longer see their faces and hear their cries of anguish, only then will I grant him leave of this world."
"You're a freaking psychopath," I said, but he only chuckled.
"I don't expect you to understand, little bird." He turned toward me fully, fingering his blade and smiling. "I expect you only to sing. Sing for me, sing for Kanin, and make it a glorious song."
He lunged at me, coming in fast and catching me off guard, even though I was expecting it. I swung the katana at him one-handed, aiming for his neck, but he slithered aside, stepped within my guard and slammed me into the wall. My head struck the glass, and I felt something crack beneath me, either my head or the glass itself. Before I could react, a cold, dead hand clamped around my sword arm, threatening to snap it, and the point of a blade pierced my jaw.
"Now, little bird," psycho vamp whispered, pressing his lean body against mine. I tried throwing him off, but it was like steel cables, pinning me to the wall. "Sing for me." I bared my fangs in his face. "Sing yourself," I hissed and thrust my free hand up, jamming the pocket knife into one crazy black eye.
Psycho vamp screamed and reeled away, clutching his face.
I sprang from the wall and rushed for the door, but I hadn't taken three steps when the vampire's scream turned into a chilling roar of fury that made my hair stand on end. Fear made me quick. I reached the exit and lunged through the opening, dropping my blade and spinning around to push it shut. I saw psycho vamp racing toward me, his face a mask of rage, fangs bared, eyes bloody and murderous, and shoved hard on the door. It groaned as it swung shut, and I wrenched the wheel to the left, sealing it tight as a thunderous boom echoed from the other side.
My arms shook as I grabbed my katana and backed away from the door. It was strange; I felt my heart should be pounding a mile a minute, my breath coming in short, panicked gasps. But of course, there was none of that. Only the slight tremble in my arms and legs showed how very close I had come to death again.
Another hollow boom against the steel door made me wince. How long would it be before psycho vamp got out?
Could he get out? If he did, he would be coming for me, no question about it. I had to put as much distance between me and murderous psycho vamp as I could.
I took another step back, turned to f lee, and ran into a body in the hallway.
"Kanin!" I nearly fainted with relief, putting out my arms to steady him. Kanin staggered back a step, leaning heavily against the wall. He looked even paler than usual, and his shirt was stained with dried blood. His own. "You're hurt!"
"I'm all right." He waved me off. "It's old. I've already fed, so don't worry about me." His eyes scanned the hallway, narrowing to slits. "Did Sarren come down here?"
"Sarren? You mean psycho vamp with the messed-up face?
Yeah. Yeah, he did." I jerked my thumb toward the steel door, just as another thud echoed down the hallway, followed by a desperate screech. "Friend of yours, Kanin? He seemed very interested in peeling my skin off."
"You're lucky to be alive," Kanin muttered, shaking his head, and I thought I heard the faintest note of admiration in his voice. "He surprised me last night. I didn't think he would find me here so soon."
"Are you all right?"
He shook himself, pushing off the wall. "We have to get out of here," he continued, staggering away. "Hurry. There's not much time."
"You think Smiley can get out of there?" I glanced back at the door. "Really? It's like two feet of solid steel."
"No, Allison." Kanin looked back at me, his face darken-ing. "Your friend went to the authorities this evening. He told them that two unauthorized vampires are hanging around the old hospital grounds. The Prince's men are coming. We have to move now."
I stared at him in horror, hardly believing what I'd just heard. "No," I said as he turned away, walked back down the hall. "You're wrong. Stick wouldn't do that to me. That's the one rule everyone understands-we don't sell each other out to the bloodsuckers."
are a bloodsucker now." Kanin's voice echoed back, dull and weary. "And it doesn't matter. Someone tipped them off, and they're on their way. If they catch us here, they'll kill us. We have to get out of the city."
"We're leaving?" I hurried after him, feeling my stomach twist. "Where are we going?"
"I don't know." Kanin suddenly slammed a fist into the wall, making me jump. "Dammit," he growled, bowing his head. "Dammit, I was so close. If I only had a little more time..." He smashed his fist into the wall again, leaving a gaping hole, and I shifted uncomfortably. It occurred to me that whatever he'd been looking for, whatever he had been researching all this time, was lost. Either he hadn't found it, or it wasn't here in the first place. Weeks of searching, reading endless files and documents, all for nothing in the end.
And then everything-the research, the hospital rooms, the crazy vampire with a vendetta against Kanin-clicked into place. And I felt like an idiot for not realizing it sooner.
"It was you." I stared at the hunched figure against the wall. And I couldn't be sure, but I thought I saw his shoulders f linch, just a little, at the words. "You were the vampire, the Master, that sold out the other vampires for a cure to Red Lung. You were the one working with the scientists. And this place-" I glanced back at the steel door "-this was where it all happened. That was what Smiley was talking about. The experiments, the screaming. You're the one responsible for the rabids!"
Kanin straightened, though he didn't look at me. "That vampire is gone," he said in the coldest voice I'd ever heard.
"He was foolish and idealistic, and his faith in mankind was horrendously misplaced. It would've been better had he let the virus run its course-some humans would have survived, they always survive. And if our kind had starved, if vampires all went extinct, maybe that would have been preferable to this."
I was silent, not knowing what to say. I thought I would hate him; this was the vampire whose actions had created something horrible, who was responsible for the spread of the rabids, who had inadvertently caused the enslavement of the entire human race. But even in my darkest, angriest moments, I could not match the depth of loathing I heard in Kanin's voice, the absolute hatred for the vampire who had doomed both species, and the desperate need to make things right.