We slipped into the lab, following Zeke down endless narrow hallways, through white sterile rooms filled with counters, computers and strange machinery. Nothing looked broken or out of place. There were no bodies, no blood, no hints that anything was out of the ordinary. Except for the emptiness and eerie stillness, you wouldn’t guess that anything was wrong.
And yet, the lab still made my skin crawl. It was too clean.
Everything was overly white and gleaming and polished, smelling faintly of chemicals and disinfectant. Not only sterilized, but lifeless. My world—the world outside—was broken and falling apart, full of rust and rubble and decay. But, despite that, it was still alive. This place was almost offensively pristine and undamaged, too perfect to be real. It felt like a hospital, cold and antiseptic and dispassionate, as if terrible things had happened here but were quickly scrubbed away and forgotten.
Somehow, it was even more disturbing than if we’d opened that door to find blood-drenched walls and mutilated corpses.
I expected that of Sarren. Carnage, not cold, polished rooms and silence. He was changing the rules on me, and I didn’t like it.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who thought so.
“Huh,” Jackal remarked, his voice echoing weirdly down the empty hall. “Well, that’s kind of disappointing. We come all this way to kill Sarren, and he can’t even be bothered to leave a few traps or bleeders wandering around? I’m almost offended.”
“Maybe he didn’t have time,” I mused hopefully. “Or maybe he’s not here after all.”
Kanin shook his head.
“No.” The Master vampire gazed around the silent lab, narrowing his eyes. “Do not be deceived by this tranquility.
Whatever Sarren was planning here, he needed to ensure that he was not interrupted. That’s why he set the rabids loose on Eden. With all the chaos outside, he could work in peace, unchallenged and undisturbed. He has had plenty of time to prepare for our arrival. I expect we will discover what he has in store for us anytime now.”
“Let’s hope so, old man,” Jackal said, and casually knocked a case of vials to the floor, where they shattered on impact, scattering bits of glass across the tiles. I tensed, half expecting the room to erupt into chaos with the sudden noise, but everything remained as still as ever. Zeke shot him a look of annoyance, and Jackal grinned. “I didn’t get all dressed up for nothing.”
We came to the elevators and found they still worked, though both Kanin and Zeke were leery of going into a small, enclosed metal box with nowhere to escape to. It would be the perfect spot for a trap, an explosive, or another nasty surprise. It would be, Zeke pointed out, the spot where he would set up a trap for vampires; a mine on the underside of the box would be lethal in such a tight, cramped space. Or if they decided to climb down the shaft, one spark in a metal tube filled with hydrogen would produce a firestorm that would turn even a group of vampires to ash instantaneously.
That pretty much convinced us to take the stairs. Though we were still extremely cautious as we made our way down, remembering that the last time we’d been in a tight stairwell looking for Sarren, it had exploded. But nothing happened, no explosions, no traps, nothing. We came to a door, opened it easily, and stepped into a labyrinth of dark, empty hallways.
The silence was deafening here, and Jackal turned to Zeke.
“Are you sure you have the right lab, puppy?”
Zeke nodded, leading us forward. “I’m sure.”
The door shut behind us with a hiss, plunging the corridors into absolute darkness. My vampire sight shifted to compensate, and we trailed Zeke through the long, narrow halls that crisscrossed each other and angled around corners, passing swinging doors and pitch-black rooms, until I was completely lost.
“Getting tired of this, puppy,” Jackal muttered as we turned down another hallway, identical to all the others. “Do the bloodbags here have some sort of complex, or do they like living like rats in a maze? Feels like we’re walking in circles.”
“I know where I’m going,” Zeke replied coolly.
“Good to know. Maybe there’ll be a piece of cheese waiting for you at the end.”
“Did you hear that?” I whispered into the stillness.
Everyone froze. Silence descended, throbbing in my ears.
But just ahead, around the next corner, I heard the faintest swish of a door closing.
My skin prickled. Weapons out, we edged up to the corner, Kanin leading this time, and peered down the hall. A simple gray door sat at the end of the corridor, swinging slowly into place. We weren’t alone down here.
Kanin motioned us to stay put, glided silently to the door, and pushed it open to look through the crack. I gripped the hilt of my sword as he peered into the darkness, waiting for something to explode through the frame or yank him through the door. After a moment, Kanin glanced back and motioned us forward. Behind me, Jackal let out a sigh.
“Aw,” he said, walking forward. “That’s disappointing. I was so hoping something would jump out and go ‘boo.’ I’d sell my city to see the old man shriek like a little—”
Something slammed into Jackal with a scream.
Jackal hit the ground and instantly rolled, trying to get to his feet, as whatever had jumped him screamed again and tore savagely at his back. It was a rabid, blank-eyed and mindless, and the stench of rot, decay and blood suddenly filled the corridor. I yelled and brought my katana down, aiming for the spindly body, but the rabid dodged and leaped back with shocking speed, faster than I’d seen one move before. Raising its head, it bared jagged fangs and hissed at me, and my stomach twisted in horror.
It’s eyes were gone. The white, pupil-less orbs had been clawed to ragged holes, along with the rest of its face. Deep gouges, bloody and black, ran down its cheeks, jaw, forehead, and eyeholes, and its chest had been scratched to ribbons. It screamed and leaped at me, raking bloody talons at my face and neck, and I slashed at it almost desperately. The katana met a bony forearm and sheared it off at the elbow, but the rabid didn’t even flinch. Zeke lunged forward and swung his machete, sinking it deep into the monster’s neck, nearly severing it. The rabid whirled like a snake and darted forward, snapping and flailing, and Zeke had to scramble back to avoid the claws. One talon struck his face, laying his cheek open, and I roared.
Leaping at its back, I raised my weapon and brought it down with my all my strength, aiming for the rabid’s spine.
The katana edge sliced through bone, flesh and muscle before striking the floor, and the rabid collapsed in a spatter of blood, severed from the waist down.