We drew two more vials of Zeke's blood, injecting me with one and giving the other to Kanin, just in case something happened to us on the way back. Zeke offered more, but I didn't want to take too much and weaken him for the trip back, especially after he'd just recovered from Sarren's virus. Jackal complained when he didn't get one, and I told him that the only way he would get any of Zeke's blood was over my dead body. Shockingly, he didn't follow up with the obvious threat, and we made our way back to the foyer and the elevator shaft. Back topside and to the Fringe. Back to the Prince.
"Don't tell Salazar how we got the cure," Kanin warned us as we all converged aboveground again. The snow had stopped, and overhead the moon was a huge silver disk in the sky. "If he asks, we found the blood in the lab. If he discovers the source of the cure, Ezekiel will never be allowed to leave the city. Is that clear?"
He looked at Jackal as he said this, but I felt cold at the thought of Zeke being taken away, down to the vampire hospital, where they'd probably drain every drop of blood from his veins. Or keep him imprisoned forever, in case there was another outbreak.
"Don't have to glare at me, old man," Jackal said. "I wouldn't allow anything to happen to our dear Ezekiel now."
He sounded serious, which made me very nervous in turn. I could tell Zeke didn't like it, either, but he didn't say anything as we followed Kanin across the trampled field, being careful to step only where he stepped. Was it because Jackal had started to respect Zeke as a human and an individual? I nearly snorted out loud at the thought. Or, as I suspected, was it because Zeke's blood was one step closer to the larger cure we all sought? The end to Rabidism?
We had one more run-in with bleeders, a small group on the outskirts between sectors, before we could drop into the Undercity. I tried not to kill them, knowing that, if we could just get to Salazar in time, they might be saved. But it was hard, since they ignored pain and refused to stay down, and I ended up cutting through several in self-defense. I wanted to help, but I wasn't going to die for them.
Finally, hours later, Kanin led us up a ladder, pushed back a manhole cover, and the gleaming trio of vampire towers rose before us into the sky. We walked down the center of the road until we met a patrol, who immediately took us into the tower, up the elevator-I still hated it-and to the Prince.
Salazar met us in a different office this time, probably because his old one was still demolished. As we walked up to the doors, they opened, and Stick emerged with his everpresent bodyguards. His eyes went wide as he saw us, mouth dropping open, before his face darkened and he gave me a look of pure loathing. I held his gaze as we passed, wondering if he would try to stop us, to give me an excuse to drive a fist into his sullen mouth once and for all. But he stepped aside, though I felt his glare on my back even after the door had closed.
Kanin swept into the office without preamble or explanation, the rest of us trailing behind. The Prince of New Covington stood at the back window, gazing out at the city when we came in, and turned as Kanin approached, raising an eyebrow. Kanin stopped, and something glinted in the dim light as it arced toward the Prince, who caught it easily.
"There's your cure," Kanin said as Salazar glanced at the syringe in his hand, brows drawing together. "I trust you have ways to synthesize it for the rest of the population."
The Prince looked up at Kanin, his gaze searching. I saw him putting the pieces together. Kanin, terminally sick when we left the Inner City. Who should be dead by now, or at least, a rotted corpse. "And you are certain this will work on both human and vampire?" he asked.
"Yes," Kanin said without hesitation.
"And Sar ren?"
"Gone." Kanin didn't give any explanation. "The old hospital in Sector Two is where he made his lair, and the virus. If you care to search it, that is. Now..." He narrowed his gaze, staring the Prince down. "We've done what you asked, and found a cure for your city. Will you honor your end of the bargain and let us go?"
Salazar didn't answer right away. Walking to his desk, he scribbled a quick note on a piece of paper, then pressed a buzzer on the surface of the wood. A few moments later a guard entered the room and hurried to his side.
"Take this to Dr. Emerson in the subhospital," Salazar said, handing the note and the syringe full of blood to the guard. "Tell him it is vitally important that he start work on this right away. That it takes precedence over every one of his other projects. And if that somehow becomes lost between this office and the basement, you will spend the rest of your short life wishing you were never born."
The guard paled. Clutching the syringe and the note in a death grip, he jerked a hasty bow and immediately left the room. Salazar watched the door click behind him, and turned back to us.
"Kanin." The look the Prince gave the other Master was not friendly. "This will not atone for your crimes. Nothing you do will ever erase what you have caused. I should kill you where you stand, and make your offspring watch, so that she will fully appreciate the depth of your treachery."
I tensed, my hand itching to draw my weapon. Kanin didn't move, so I forced myself to relax. But if Salazar decided to double-cross us again, I hoped he was prepared for a fight. I was certainly not going to stand there and watch Kanin be killed in front of me. What Sarren did to Salazar's last office would be nothing compared to what I would do to this one.
The Prince and Kanin stared at each other for another long, brittle moment, before Salazar turned away with a sigh. "However," he said, as though the very word was poison to him, "I am a man of my word, and you have done what I have requested. Therefore, I will honor my agreement. You are free to go...as soon as I am certain the cure will work."
"And when will that be?" Kanin asked softly.
"Soon." The Prince made a vague gesture. "Tomorrow night, if we are lucky. Until then, you will remain here as my guests. If you need anything, my pets will attend you. Now, if you'll excuse me." The Prince turned his back on us in blatant dismissal, walking to the window again. "I have a city to put back together."
"Well," I ventured as we left Salazar's office, stepping back into the long hallway. I glanced over at Kanin, Zeke and Jackal, and shrugged. "What now?"
Jackal rolled his eyes and stepped away from us. "What now is that I am going to relax for a few hours without listening to the lot of you whine at me. 'Ohhh, don't hurt the humans, ohhh, we have to save refugees from mole men, ohhh, Kanin is dying.' Ugh." He made a disgusted gesture with both hands. "It's enough to make me puke. I am going to the bar to get this taste out of my mouth. You all can do whatever you want."
And with that, the former raider king spun on a heel and marched off down the hall. Kanin watched him leave and shook his head.
"Kanin? What about you?"
My sire gave me a tired smile. "I will be in my room, taking advantage of the Prince's hospitality, behind a locked door."
"Avoiding the other vampires, you mean."
"Precisely. And I would encourage the both of you to do the same. The Prince might have granted us amnesty, but the other vampires will not look kindly on your association with me. It is best that we lie low until we can leave New Covington for good."
Leave New Covington. Where would we go now? I wondered as the three of us wandered back down to the guest floor. I hadn't really thought about it until now. Before, my whole focus had been on finding Kanin, and then the whole mess with Sarren. Now that I'd found him, where did we go from here?
"Ezekiel," Kanin said, surprising me. We'd stopped in front of a door much like the one to my guest suite; this room was either Kanin's or Zeke's, I guessed. Zeke glanced back at the vampire, questioning, and Kanin lowered his voice.
"May I speak with you a moment? Alone?"
Zeke blinked, frowning a bit. "Uh, sure. Allie?" He looked at me. "Do you mind?"
Stung, I glanced at Kanin. Why would he want to talk to Zeke and not me? Wasn't I his "offspring"? Wasn't I the one who'd come all this way to find him? "Why?" I challenged. "Are you two going to talk about me, is that it?"
"Allison." Kanin had reverted to his annoyed-mentor voice, which only made me bristle.
"Fine." I stepped back, glaring at them both. Hurt and irritation made me want to stubbornly stay put, but I knew it was useless with Kanin. "You two have fun with your boy talk. I'll be in my room."
"Allie," Zeke said, but I turned and walked down the hall, and didn't stop until I'd reached my door.
Inside the suite, a middle-aged human woman was stocking the fridge with fresh blood bags from a cooler. She jerked up when I came in. "Oh, excuse me, ma'am!" she exclaimed, grabbing the cooler and hurrying out of the kitchen. "I've restocked your fridge, per the Prince's orders, and if you leave any dirty clothes on the floor, I'll be sure to wash and return them before tomorrow evening. There are extra outfits in the closet and the dresser by the bed."
"Um...thank you," I replied warily, and she bobbed as she backed toward the exit, keeping her gaze on the floor. More perks of living in a vampire tower, I supposed. I bet it was pretty easy to get used to this, if you didn't mind keeping slaves and ruling through fear. And that your hired help got eaten once in a while.
"Oh, and Mr. Stephen said to make sure you got your book," the human said in the door frame, making me jerk around, narrowing my eyes. She pointed to the nightstand by the bed. "He said to tell you not to forget it."
I strode to the nightstand, ignoring the human as she quickly shut the door. My mom's book sat beneath the lamp, the simple children's story she'd read to me countless times. Why would Stick leave it here? He hated me. I saw a slip of paper sticking out of the top and pulled it out, recognizing Stick's thin, loopy handwriting immediately.
This is yours. I was going to burn it, but I want you to have it instead, because if it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be here now.
I crumpled the note in my fist, tossing it to the floor. I knew Stick well enough to know that he hadn't left this here to be nice or to apologize for the way things had turned out. It was just another jab in this stupid, imaginary war he thought we were in. He was able to become the Prince's aide because he could read. Because I had taught him.
Whatever. I wasn't going to let him ruin the memory of my mom. And I would be gone from this place soon enough, never to see him again. Shrugging off my coat, I folded it and placed it and the book on the dresser so I wouldn't forget them. Stripping out of my torn, dirty shirt and jeans, I headed into the bathroom.
After a long shower, I left my filthy clothes in a heap on the floor, changed into the dark pants and shirt in the closet- did every vampire in this place wear black?-and poured a bag of cold blood into a mug on the counter. There was probably a way the city vamps warmed up their blood-surely the Prince didn't drink it cold every night-but I had no idea how they did it, so I forced it down as it was. I wasn't worried about it being poisoned this time. With Zeke's blood, I was effectively vaccinated against Sarren's plague.
I sobered a little, thinking of Zeke. What were he and Kanin discussing? Why the big secret? There had to be a reason Kanin didn't want me to hear what they were talking about. Maybe it was about me. Maybe he was trying to convince Zeke of the foolishness of being with a vampire, since he'd written me off as a stubborn lost cause who didn't listen or follow his rules.