"Let's go," he finally said, starting forward again. "We have to keep moving. Take nothing you don't need, we'll want to travel light, and we have only a few hours to clear the wall and get out of the ruins."
"I'm good to go," I said, holding up my sword. "I don't have anything except this." It was kind of sad, really. That I'd lived in a place for seventeen years and had nothing to show for it but a sword and the clothes on my back. And they weren't even mine. For a second, I wished I had some keep-sake of my mom's, something to remember her by, but the vampires had taken even that.
And then it really hit me. I was leaving. I was leaving the only place I'd ever known, the place that had been home my entire life. What lay beyond the Wall, beyond the ruins, I had no idea. From what Kanin told me, I knew there were other vampire cities, scattered about the wilderness, but I had no idea where any of them were located. Kanin always seemed reluctant to talk about his travels, about the world outside, so it rarely came up. Were there humans out there, scorning vampire protection, living free? Or was the world beyond a wasteland of dead buildings and forests teeming with rabids and other horrors?
I guessed I would find out, because Kanin was giving me no time to consider. "Hurry," he snapped as we jogged to the elevator shaft. This would be the last time we used it. "Get up there now. They're probably almost here." I scurried up the dark tube and came out in the hospital ruins, stepping aside so Kanin could follow me up. Around us, the blackened remains stood silent, but across the empty lot, slithering like the wind through the grass, I could hear footsteps. Lots of footsteps. Coming this way.
And then, over the tops of the grass and weeds, I saw them.
Vampires. A whole lot of them, their skin pale under the glowing moon, moving in tandem over the lot. Surrounding and f lanking them were several human guards carrying very large weapons-assault rif les. The vampires looked unarmed, but the sheer number of them, gliding noiselessly through the weeds like an army of corpses, made me bite my lip until I tasted blood.
Kanin gripped my shoulder, and I glanced up at him, trying to hide my fear. He pressed a finger to his lips and pointed silently into the city. We slipped away into the darkness, as voices and the steady march of footsteps drew closer to our location.
I'd never run so fast in my life, or death, for that matter.
Kanin was relentless, leading me through the city, down side streets, into alleyways, under and through old buildings on the verge of collapse. It was a good thing I never got winded or tired anymore, running along behind Kanin as we f led the army at our backs. Frighteningly, our pursuers didn't get tired, either, and had apparently called in reinforce-ments once they discovered we were on the run. Vehicles and armored trucks scoured the once empty streets, bright spotlights piercing the darkness, armed guards ready to open fire at anything that moved. All humans had wisely moved indoors; not even the gangs were roaming the alleyways tonight. A citywide manhunt, where even the vampires were out in the open, in large numbers, was cause enough for the bravest thug to stay off the street.
The streets rapidly became too dangerous for us to cross, but Kanin wasn't planning on staying aboveground for long and took us into the undercity as quickly as he could. Prying up a manhole cover, he motioned me down the hole, and I dropped into the belly of the city without hesitation.
"We can't slow down," Kanin cautioned after he'd landed noiselessly beside me. "They'll be searching the tunnels, as well. Perhaps even more extensively than the streets. But at least down here we'll be out of the open, away from the trucks."
I nodded. "Where to now?"
"We head for the ruins. Past the edge of the city, they probably won't follow us."
I felt my stomach clench at the thought of going into the ruins, and the rabids that waited there, in the place that I'd died. But I squashed down my fear. It was either face the threat of rabids, who might kill us, or stay here and wait for the Prince's men, who definitely would. Between the two, I'd rather have a fighting chance.
"Not much night left, Kanin," I said, feeling the hours slip away from us. He gave a curt nod.
"Then we'll have to pick up the pace." We did, running madly through the tunnels, hearing the echo of voices around and above us.
They were waiting for us at the edge of the old city.
The ruins were crawling with soldiers and guards, more than I'd seen before in my life. Whether through testament to Kanin's infamy or Prince Salazar's hatred, we had barely come out of the tunnels when there was a shout in the darkness and machine-gun fire ricocheted around us, sparking off the pavement and walls. We f led, ducking through overgrown lots and between buildings, but the alert was sounded, and they all knew we were here. Gunfire and shouts echoed from all directions. A trio of snarling dogs came at us and Kanin had to cut them down before we could move on.
"This way," Kanin hissed, ducking around an old brick building half covered in vines. "We're not far from the city limits now. See those trees?" He pointed over the rooftops to where a blanket of leaves crowded the horizon. "If we can get into the forest, we'll be able to lose-" A roar of gunfire erupted from a line of cars in front of us, making little explosions of blood erupt from Kanin's chest, and he jerked back with a painful hiss. I cried out in terror.
Staggering away, Kanin turned and dived through the window of the old building, shattering the glass and dropping from sight. Ducking bullets, I scrambled through after him.
The interior of the building smelled of oil, grease and rust, and the skeletons of several cars sat on the cement f loor as I rolled to my feet, glancing around wildly. The vampire lay a few feet from the window, surrounded by broken chips of glass, and I dropped beside him as he pushed himself to his knees. He was grimacing, teeth clenched tightly together, his fangs smeared with blood. Blood also spattered his clothes, fresh stains against the old ones, and pooled from holes in his chest and stomach, the gunshot wounds he had taken head-on.
As I watched, horrified and fascinated at the same time, he dug his thumb and two fingers into the holes, clenching his jaw, and pulled out three lead slugs, dropping them to the pavement with a clink. The gaping wounds sealed, though the blood on his shirt, chest and hands remained.
Kanin shuddered, slumping against the wall. Voices echoed around us, men shouting, calling for backup. Through the window, the sky against the horizon was a dark blue, and a faint orange glow signaled the approach of the sun.
"Allison." Kanin's voice was soft; I barely heard it against the backdrop of shouting and gunfire. "Our time together has come to an end. This is where we have to part."
"What? Are you crazy?" I stared at him wide-eyed. "Screw that! I'm not leaving you."
"I've brought you as far as I can." Kanin's eyes were glassy; I realized he was probably starving, after taking those shots to the chest. But he still tried to speak calmly. "You know almost everything you need to survive. There's just one more thing I have to tell you." A bullet ricocheted off a car, sparking in the shadows, and I f linched. Kanin didn't seem to notice. "One last skill every vampire should know," he went on in a near whisper. "When you're caught outside with no shelter, you can burrow deep into the earth to escape the sun. It's something we do instinctively. It's also how the rabids sleep during the day, so be careful, because they're known for appearing right under your feet. You have to find a strip of natural earth, not rock or cement, and you must cover yourself completely.
Do you understand? You might need it very, very soon." I shook my head, barely listening to him, as the shouts and wild barking drew even closer. "Kanin," I began, feeling my eyes start to burn, "I can't! I can't leave you here to die."
"Don't underestimate me, girl," Kanin replied with the faintest of smiles. "I've lived a long, long time. You think this is the worst situation I've encountered?" The smile got bigger, more evil, before he became serious again. "You, however. You will not survive this. Not now, not as you are. So you go out there, and you live, and get stronger. And someday down the road, we might meet again." A howl of discovery, and a hail of gunfire peppered the wall, as we ducked down even farther. Kanin snarled, fangs springing to light, the glassy look in his eyes getting brighter.
He looked at me and curled his lip. "Go! Head for the forest.
I'll keep them busy for a while yet." A bullet hit the wall, spraying us with grit, and he growled, "Go! Leave me."
He roared, his face turning demonic, the first real glimpse of what he could become, and I shrank back in terror. "Go!
Or so help me, I will tear your heart out myself!" I bit back a sob. Turning, I crawled across the f loor and slipped through a broken window on the far wall, half expecting a bullet in the spine at any second. I didn't look back.
Kanin's howl rose into the air, a chilling sound of defiance and rage, followed by a frantic burst of gunfire and a desperate scream.
Reaching the edge of the lot, I f led into the ruins, hot bloody tears streaming down my face, blinding me. I ran until the sounds of battle faded behind me, until I left the ruins and entered the forest, until the lightening sky forced my limbs to a sluggish crawl.
Finally, I collapsed, snarling and crying, at the roots of several old trees. Dawn was seconds away from touching the earth and turning me into a fiery inferno. Half blinded by red tears, I buried my fingers in the cool, damp ground, scraping away dirt and leaves, wondering if I could really burrow fast enough to escape the sun. It was hot, so very hot. I scraped faster, frantic, wondering if smoke really was rising from my skin.
The earth rippled and seemed to melt beneath me, swallowing me up. I dropped into a black hole, cold dirt settling around me like a cocoon, and the heat vanished immediately.
Cool, blessed darkness f looded in, and then there was nothing.
When I woke again, the world was quiet, and I was alone.
Shaking free the dirt that clung to my hair and clothes, I gazed around, listening for gunfire, for any signs of life in the darkness. Nothing moved except the leaves, rustling in the trees above me. Through the branches, the sky blazed with stars.
Kanin was gone. I searched the area half heartedly, back-tracking toward the edge of the ruins, but I knew finding him was impossible. If he was dead, there would be nothing left behind but ash. I did stumble across a couple of human corpses, torn apart and savaged by what looked like a vicious beast. One of them still clutched an assault rif le in one bloody hand. I examined it, but the gun was empty, the rounds spent, and it was too useless and awkward to take with me.
Only when I was certain I was truly alone did I wonder what I would do next.
Damn you, Kanin, I thought, trying to stif le the fear, the uncertainty, threatening to smother me. Where could I go now? What was I going to do? I didn't dare go back to the city; the Prince would certainly have me killed for my association with the vampire world's Most Wanted. But whatever lay beyond the ruins was a mystery. What was out there, really? Another vampire city, perhaps. But maybe not. Maybe it was all wilderness, as far as the eye could see. Maybe nothing existed out there but rabids, crawling over everything, killing any human they came across.