Fear shot through me. I gave a frantic leap for the edge of the tunnel, just as the catwalk snapped and plummeted into the hordes below. I hit the wall a few inches from the edge and clawed desperately for a handhold, my fingers scrabbling against the smooth wall as I slid toward the wailing sea of death below.
Something clamped around my wrist, jerking me to a stop. Wide-eyed, I looked up to see Jackal on his stomach, one hand around my arm, his jaw clenched. His face was tight with concentration as he started to pull me up.
A reeking, skeletal body landed on my back, sinking claws into my shoulders, screaming in my ear. I snarled in pain, ducking my head as the rabid tore at my collar, trying to bite my neck. I couldn't do anything, but Jackal reached down with his other hand, drew the katana from its sheath on my back, and plunged it into the rabid. The weight clinging to me dropped away as the rabid screeched and fell back into the mob below, and Jackal yanked me into the tunnel.
I collapsed against the wall, staring at him as he glared down at the rabids. He...had just saved my life. Stunned, I watched him approach and hold the katana hilt out to me.
"So." His gold eyes shone as he gazed into mine. "I think I'm entitled to a smart comment or two now, don't you think?"
I took the sword numbly. "Yeah," I muttered as his smug look faded into something that wasn't completely obnoxious. "Thanks."
"No problem, little sister." The leer returned, making him look normal again. "Comment number one-how much do you weigh to snap the bridge like that? I thought you Asians were supposed to be petite and dainty."
Okay, moment over. I sheathed my blade and glared at him. "And here I almost thought you weren't a complete bastard."
"Well, that's your mistake, not mine." Jackal dusted his hands and gave the edge of the tunnel a rueful look. "Shall we continue? Before our friends start climbing each other to get to us? If that's the nest, the lab should be around here somewhere."
A clang from the pit below drew my attention. Walking to the edge, I peered out, just as a rabid landed on the tunnel rim with a snarl. As I snarled back and kicked the thing in the chest, sending it toppling back into the hole, I saw that the catwalk had fallen against the wall of the pit, and that rabids were scrambling up to leap into the tunnel. I drew my katana, slashing another out of the air as it flew at me, howling, but Jackal grabbed the back of my coat, yanking me away.
"No time for that! The whole nest will be up here in a second. Come on!"
The wails and shrieks intensified as more rabids entered the tunnel, snarling and baring their fangs. I spun, shrugging free of Jackal's grip, and we bolted down the passage, the screams of the monsters close behind.
A few miles from the nest, we didn't seem to be any closer to the hidden lab.
"You're just guessing now, aren't you?" I snapped at Jackal, who shot me an annoyed look over his shoulder as we ran.
"Sorry, I didn't see the big X with the words Top Secret Government Laboratory on the map, did you?"
A rabid dropped down from a breach overhead, hissing as it landing in front of us. Jackal whirled his ax, striking it under the jaw and smashing it aside, and we continued without slowing down. I could still hear the horde in pursuit, their screams echoing all around us, reverberating from everywhere. We had definitely poked a stick into a wasp nest, stirring them into a frenzy. We were in their world now, and they were closing in.
I snarled at the vampire's retreating back. "Yeah, well maybe you'd like to get that map out so we know where the hell we're going!"
We ducked through a door frame into yet another narrow cement corridor, rusted beams and pipes lining the walls and ceiling, dripping water on us from above. Jackal yanked the map from his coat and shook it open with a rustle of paper, scowling as the shrieks of the rabids echoed behind us.
"All right, where the hell are we?" he muttered, squinting at the map in the darkness, eyes narrowed in concentration. I glanced nervously at the hall we'd just come through, hearing the rabids draw closer, their claws skittering over the cement. Jackal began walking down the corridor, weaving around fallen beams and pipes, and I followed.
"You know they're right on our tail."
"First you want me to look at the map, now you're rushing me along. Make up your mind, sister." He walked by a tall square pillar that jutted out of the wall; two sliding doors stood half-open in the front, and a cold breeze wafted out of the crack. "Okay, there's the subway tunnels," Jackal muttered, walking a little faster now, holding the map close to see it in the dark. "And there's the entrance we came in... wait a second."
He stopped and half turned in the corridor, looking back the way we'd come. I followed his gaze, but saw nothing except empty hallway and rusty pipes, though I could still hear the rabids, getting closer.
"Um, where are you going?" I asked as Jackal began walking again, back toward the approaching horde. "Hey, wrong direction! In case you didn't know, we usually want to move away from certain death."
Jackal stopped at the long, square pillar jutting from the wall. "Yeah, I thought so," I heard him mutter. "This isn't on the map, and there shouldn't be anything down there. Get over here and look at this."
Against my better judgment, I jogged over to where Jackal stood, staring at the doors. Cold, dry air billowed out of a gap that ran down the center, and Jackal gave a snort.
"He's been here."
"No, the boogeyman. Look." Jackal pointed to the sliding doors. The metal was crumpled along the edges, as if something had slipped ironlike fingers into the seam and pried them open.
I peered through the gap, following the narrow shaft as it plunged into the dark. It was a long, long way down.
A howl rang out behind us, and rabids spilled into the corridor, a pale, hissing flood. They screamed as they spotted us and charged, hurtling themselves over beams and around pipes, their claws sparking against the metal.
"Move, sister!" Jackal's voice boomed through the shaft, making my ears pound, and something shoved me through the opening. I leaped forward, grabbing thick cables as I dropped into the tube, catching myself with a grimace. Jackal squeezed through the doors and, instead of grabbing for the metal ropes, swung himself onto a rusty ladder on one side of the wall. He glanced over his shoulder and grinned at me.
"I'll meet you down there."
"You're lucky I can't reach you right now."
Jackal only laughed, but at that moment a rabid slammed into the door frame, hissing and gnashing its fangs across the gap separating us. With a shriek, it sprang forward, soaring through the air, grabbing the cables next to mine. Claws slashed at me, and I yelled, kicking at it as it we hung there, the metal ropes shaking wildly. Curved talons sparked off the cables, and I swung myself around the ropes, out of its reach.
The rabid shimmied through the cables like a grotesque monkey, lunging at my face with fangs bared. With a snarl, I threw up my arm, letting jagged teeth sink into my coat and skin, and then yanked it to the side, ripping the monster off the cables into empty air. It snatched desperately for another rope, missed and plummeted down the shaft, screaming. It was a long time before I heard the faint thud at the bottom.
More rabids crowded the door frame, their empty, dead eyes locked on me, but these seemed reluctant to take that leap. I looked around and saw Jackal already several yards below me, descending the ladder at shocking speed. Muttering dark promises under my breath, I began climbing down into the darkness.
The shaft went down at least a couple hundred feet, a pitch-black, claustrophobic tube that seemed to descend into the center of the earth. Even with my vampire sight, which turned complete darkness into shades of gray, I couldn't see the bottom or the top. It made me feel like I was dangling over a bottomless pit. I was relieved when I finally heard Jackal hit the bottom, sending a metallic thump up the shaft.
I slid down the remaining length of rope, landing on a square metal platform that swayed slightly under my weight. Gazing around, I discovered the platform wasn't attached to the walls of the tube; it appeared to be a large metal box at the bottom of the cables. A pale, broken body lay in the crack between the wall and the box, its skull smashed open on the corner.
Jackal stepped up, smirking, and I fought the urge to kick him in the shin. "Looks like we're on the right trail," he stated, pointing to a hatch in the center of the box that had already been pulled open. "After you."
Pulling my sword, I dropped through the hatch, landing inside the rectangular box, finding these doors shoved open, as well. Beyond the opening, a long hallway ended at two thick metal doors.
Jackal hit the floor beside me, his duster settling around him, and straightened, giving the entrance a shrewd look. "All right, you bastard," he muttered, walking forward. "What were you looking for down here?"
We went through the doors together, pushing them back, and stepped into a dark, chilling room. At first, it reminded me of the old hospital where Kanin and I had stayed in New Covington. Beds on wheels sat against the wall, sectioned off by rotted curtains, or lay tipped over on the ground. Shelves of strange instruments were scattered about, and bulky machines sprawled in the middle of the floor or in corners, knocked down and broken. Glass clinked under our feet as we maneuvered the maze of rubble and sharp objects, I looked closer and saw that most of the beds had leather straps dangling from the sides, thick cuffs to restrain wrists and ankles. Pushing aside a moldy curtain, I jumped as a skeleton grinned at me from a bed, rotten leather restraints hanging on bony wrists. My stomach turned as I stared at the nak*d bones. What had happened here?
Jackal had already moved on, searching the hidden corners of the room, so I continued along a wall until I found another door. Unlike the others, this one didn't swing open at my touch. Why was it locked when none of the other doors had been? I braced myself and then lashed out with a kick, aiming for just beside the doorknob. There was a sharp, splintering crack, and the door crashed open.
It was an office, at least, it looked like one from the shelves and metal cabinets and large wooden desk in the corner. Unlike the rest of the lab, this one looked fairly clean and intact; nothing looked broken, and the furniture, though old and covered in dust, was still standing.
Except, there was a suspicious-looking dark spatter on the wall behind the desk and, when I walked around, I discovered a skeleton slumped in the corner, the threads of a long, once-white coat still clinging to him. One bony hand clutched a pistol.
Wrinkling my nose, I turned around and noticed a single book lying in the middle of the desk. Curious, I walked over and picked it up, examining the cover. It didn't have a title, and when I flipped it open, messy, handwritten pages sprang to light, instead of neat rows of typing.
Day 36 of the Human-Vampire experiment, the top line read. All power is being redirected to keeping the lab up and running, so I am writing down my findings here, in case we lose it all. Then, if something happens to me, perhaps the project can continue from the notes I will leave behind.
We continue to lose patients at an alarming rate. Early tests with the samples from the New Covington lab have been disastrous, with our human subjects dying outright. We have not had a single patient survive the infusion of vampire blood. I hope the team in New Covington can send us samples we can actually work with.