"Now," he continued, turning away from Zeke, dismissing him easily. I gave him an apologetic look, and he crossed his arms, looking grim. "Kanin's daughter," Salazar said, drawing my attention. "We are wasting time. Are you going to speak to your sire, or shall I send someone in there to drag him out?"
Biting my lip, I stepped forward, between the guards, and placed a hand on the cold metal of the doorknob. A pause, then I quickly turned the handle and stepped through, shutting the door behind me.
The small room was dark, the only light coming from the sliver that filtered beneath the door and the tiny window in its center. Everything else was shadowy gray to my vampire sight, washed out and colorless. For a second, I wondered if I should maybe flip the switch beside the door frame. I knew the room had power, same as the rest of the floor. But that seemed rude and intrusive and even cruel, to force my sire into the light. For as long as I'd known him, Kanin had preferred the darkness.
I could see him now, sitting in a chair in the far corner, fingers laced together beneath his chin. Already, he looked better. His skin was still pale, but not the chalky, wasted flesh of the previous night. He was dressed in black, his usual color, and, except for his face and powerful arms, he was a featureless shadow sitting against the wall. He didn't look at me at first, staring intently at the floor, deep in thought. But as the door clicked shut, plunging the room into darkness, he raised piercing black eyes and met my gaze across the room.
The soft, deep voice shivered into me. His tone wasn't welcoming or angry or relieved or anything. It was just my name, giving away nothing, no hint to his thoughts or feelings. And, quite suddenly, I didn't know what to say. I hadn't really imagined getting this far, this point where I finally stood before my sire, face-to-face, and I was a completely different person than the one he saw last.
I opted for the safe, noncommittal response. "Hey."
Nothing. No eye twitch, no movement, nothing to show he had heard. I swallowed and stayed where I was. "I'm... uh...glad you're okay."
Kanin bowed his head. "Yes," he murmured, and his voice now sounded faintly uncomfortable. "Although..."
He lowered his hands and rose, startling me with the sudden, smooth motion. I didn't move as he crossed the room, coming to stand before me. He was still immensely powerful, his presence overwhelming. I had to tilt my head up to meet his gaze, which was dark and searching, flickers of pain showing through his calm mask as he stared at me.
Slowly, his hand rose, brushing the hair off my shoulder, his movements deliberate yet gentle. I shivered as his fingers took my collar and eased it aside, away from my neck, revealing the scar he'd left behind.
His eyes closed, and now the pain and guilt on his face was unmistakable.
"It wasn't you," I told him softly, my voice nearly lost between us. "I don't blame you, Kanin. You weren't yourself."
"No," he agreed, his voice choked. "But it does not excuse what I did. You haven't been a vampire long enough to understand. To think that I..." He released me and turned away, hunching his broad shoulders. I again remembered his words to me in the hospital, explaining vampire history and customs. Vampires do not feed from each other. It's one of the most violent, intrusive acts we can commit on another kindred, and is viewed as barbaric and needlessly cruel by most.
"And yet, you're still here." His voice was a little stronger now, and he straightened, though he still didn't look at me. "You found your way. I hardly dared to hope."
"Of course I did." I frowned at him, stung. "Kanin, I wouldn't leave you like that. Not with Psycho Vamp. Not after everything you did for me. What, did you think I could just ignore the dreams, knowing what Sarren was doing? You think I'd just abandon you?"
"You would not be the first," Kanin said, and finally turned. His eyes, so dark, hooded and full of shadows, met mine and did not shy away. "I don't find myself in this position very often," he admitted with a hint of his old confidence. "But...thank you. Out of all my offspring, you are the only one with which I have no regrets."
I couldn't handle that piercing gaze, the way he was staring at me. Embarrassed, needing to break the tension, I half smiled. "Don't go soft on me," I told him, and Kanin's eyebrows rose, making me smile wider. "We're not out of here yet," I said, watching his face. "We still need you to help us find Sarren."
"Sarren." He narrowed his eyes, probably remembering those long, awful nights where Sarren had tortured him ruthlessly. His voice was dangerously calm as he ordered, "Tell me everything that's happened."
So, I did, beginning with those first dreams, following his trail to Old D.C., finding Jackal instead, discovering the other lab and finally tracking him to New Covington, where Sarren had revealed his treachery in a spectacular bloodbath and fled. "We don't even know if he's still in the city," I finished, making a helpless gesture. "But we're supposed to find him and either beat a cure from him or bring him back for the Prince to deal with."
"He hasn't left yet," Kanin said. I blinked, and the vampire shook his head, frowning. "Whatever he's planned, he'll want to stay to see how it ends. That's how his mind works. He won't leave without knowing the final results, not when he's gone through all the trouble of setting this up." Kanin looked at the door. "He's in the city, somewhere."
"Excellent," said a new voice as the door creaked and Prince Salazar came into the room. "That will make it easier for you, won't it? As it is, you do not have a lot of time."
I spun around, placing myself between Kanin and the Prince, and very deliberately on Kanin's side of the room. I imagined the temperature dropped several degrees as the two Master vampires stared at each other, fury and hatred smoothly hidden beneath their icy facades.
"You should be quite proud of your protege, Kanin." Salazar's voice was a thin veneer of calm over his utter loathing. "No one else would have done what she has, the effort she put forth to save you, when all others would have let you rot down here. I would have let you rot down here." His lip twitched, his eyes cold and cruel. "Of course, that might still be an option."
"What have you done to me?" Kanin's voice was calm, but something in Salazar's triumphant gaze made my stomach clench in fear. "You wouldn't just let me go, not without a safeguard. What's to stop me from leaving New Covington and never coming back?"
He wouldn't, and I knew he wouldn't. Kanin wasn't like that. The question pandered to Salazar's way of thinking, and by the slow, evil smile spreading across the Prince's face, I suddenly knew, and my blood turned to ice. Kanin had felt sick when he'd woken this evening. I should've known not to trust the Prince, who hated Kanin and wanted to see him suffer, even if he was free.
A dark, coiling thing inside me, spreading through my veins.
"You bastard," I whispered, glaring at Salazar, and the Prince arched an eyebrow at me. "You gave him infected blood last night!"
Salazar regarded me without remorse. "Are you surprised, Kanin's daughter?" he asked mildly. "I promised I would set him free, but I needed something to insure you would all go after Sarren and not vanish into the night." He smiled again, showing fangs. "This will give you that motivation."
I thought of the dying vampire, the flesh peeling from its bones, turning black and rancid while its eyes pleaded for me to end its life. Enraged and suddenly terrified, I bared my fangs at the Prince of the city and snarled, "Damn you, Salazar! There was no need! You knew we would go after Sarren, regardless!"
"Allison." Kanin's cool voice stopped me from doing something monumentally stupid, something that probably would have gotten my head torn off. I almost didn't care. Salazar knew Kanin wouldn't try to leave the city. He knew that we were invested in stopping Sarren and finding a cure. Hell, how could we not be, with a plague that threatened both species? This was just cruel, evil spite. I had come so far to rescue him; I had watched Kanin drag himself out of madness, endured the awful dreams and visions of torture, and now...now he would probably...
"How long do I have?" Kanin asked, his voice still unnaturally calm. The Prince, watching me with cold, dangerous eyes, turned his attention back to the other vampire.
"About seventy-two hours," he replied casually, "from the time the first symptoms appear. Give or take a few. After that, the virus reaches the brain and begins to shut it down. Of course, by that time, your body might be too damaged to continue sustaining itself."
Three days. Three days to find Sarren, discover a cure- if one even existed-and make it back to the Prince, before the virus ravaging Kanin's body destroyed him. "That's not enough time!" I protested, and the Prince turned a pitiless glare on me.
"It will have to be enough time. You do not have another choice."
No, we didn't. Numbly, I listened as Kanin and Salazar discussed the situation in the Fringe, what we could expect when we left the tower, and our plans to get through the Inner City. Like it was a perfectly normal conversation. Like one of them wasn't dying from the treachery and betrayal of the other.
"Where do you intend to search first?" Salazar asked.
"The Fringe," Kanin replied immediately. The vampire Prince raised an eyebrow.
"You don't believe Sarren is in the Inner City anymore? You think he is hiding among the infected, unable to feed himself?"
Kanin smiled coldly. "It won't matter where he is now. He will come to us. Because I know where all his research is. I know where he went to unleash this madness."
"Do you?" Salazar said mildly as I stared at Kanin, frowning. Did he? I sure didn't, and I had followed Sarren all the way from Old D.C., from the ruined city and the tunnels and the hidden lab...
Oh. Oh, of course. Kanin did know where Sarren had created the virus. I did, too. It was so obvious-why hadn't I thought of that before? I'd been there. I'd spent my first weeks as a vampire there.
The laboratory beneath the old hospital, where Kanin had taught me how to be an immortal.
"Very well. Then you leave tonight." Salazar gave me a brief glance as he opened the door. "When you are prepared, I'll have my guards escort you to the gates." A faint smile crossed his face as the door began to swing shut. "I truly hope I see you again."
And we were alone.
I seethed at the closed door for a moment, then turned to the vampire behind me. "Kanin, I had no idea. I didn't think Salazar would-"
He cut me off with a gesture. "It's fine, Allison. It's done." For just a moment, his face grew dark, and I saw regret pass through his eyes before he shook it off. "We have work to do. Let's find Sarren and try to stop this insanity in the time I have left."
Salazar wasn't in the hall when we emerged, which was a good thing, because I still burned with fury toward the vampire Prince and might've said or done something that would've gotten me in trouble if he was there. Zeke and Jackal were, however, one leaning casually against the wall, the other standing a few feet away with his arms crossed, wary blue eyes taking everything in. They both straightened when the door opened and I stepped into the hall, followed by Kanin.