The immortal rules, p.6
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       The Immortal Rules, p.6

         Part #1 of Blood of Eden series by Julie Kagawa
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Chapter 6

 

  When I awoke next, I was alone, lying on a dusty cot in one of the old hospital rooms. It was night once more, and I knew the sun had set about an hour ago. Kanin had kept me out last night until it was nearly dawn, explaining that, as a vampire, I needed to know when the sun approached and how much time I had to seek shelter. Despite the legends, he explained, we wouldn't immediately burst into f lames, but our body chemistry had changed now that we were, technically, dead.

  He likened it to a human disease called porphyria, where toxic substances in the skin caused it to blacken and rupture when exposed to ultraviolet sunlight. Caught outside with no shelter, the direct rays of the sun would burn our exposed skin until it did, eventually, catch fire. It was a messy and extremely painful way to die, he said to my horrified expression, and something you wanted to avoid at all costs.

  Despite this, we almost didn't make it back. I remembered approaching the ruined hospital, growing more sleepy as the sky went from pitch-black to navy blue. But even through the lethargy, I had felt a growing panic and desperation, urging me on to find shelter. As I'd fought desperately against the sluggishness weighing me down, Kanin had scooped me up, holding me close as he strode through the grass and weeds, and I had drifted off against his chest.

  The events of the previous night came back to me, and I shivered. It still felt unreal, as if everything I'd been through had happened to someone else. Experimentally, I tried growing my fangs and felt them lengthen immediately, pushing through my gums, sharp and lethal. I wasn't hungry, though, which was both a relief and a disappointment. I wondered how often I would have to. . . feed. How soon before I could plunge my fangs into someone's throat and have that rush of heat and power f low into me-

  I shook myself, furious and disgusted. One night as a vampire, and I was already slipping, giving in to the demon.

  "I'm not like them," I seethed to the darkness, to the coiling thing inside me. "Dammit, I will beat this. Somehow. I will not become a soulless monster, I swear it. " Pushing myself off the bed, I ducked into the dark, narrow hallway in search of Kanin.

  He was sitting at the desk in the office, sifting through a large stack of papers. His eyes f licked to me as I came in, then he continued to read.

  "Um. " I perched on one of the overturned cabinets.

  "Thanks. For not letting me burn this morning. I suppose that's what would happen if I get stuck outside in the sun, right?"

  "It's something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy," Kanin replied without looking up. I watched him, remembering how he'd carried me inside, and frowned.

  "So, why were you able to stay awake when I fell asleep?"

  "Practice. " Kanin turned over one sheet and started on another. "All vampires must sleep in the daytime," he went on, still not looking at me. "We are nocturnal creatures, like owls and bats, and something in our body makeup makes us lethargic and tired when the sun is high overhead. With practice and a great deal of willpower, we can fight off the need to sleep for a little while. It just grows more difficult the longer we stay awake. "

  "Well. . . thank you. " I stared at the top of his head and wrinkled my nose. "I guess I'm glad you're extremely stubborn, then. "

  He finally looked up, raising an eyebrow. "You are welcome," he said, sounding amused. "How are you feeling now?"

  "Okay, I guess. " I picked at a sheet of paper on the cabinet. No one ever asked me how I was feeling, not since I was young. "I'm not hungry, anyway. "

  "That's normal," Kanin explained as he started on a new stack of paper. "Typically, barring wounds and overexertion, one needs to take blood every fortnight to remain fed and sated. "

  "Fortnight?"

  "Every two weeks. "

  "Oh. "

  "Though it is not unusual for a vampire, if he has the means, to feed every night. The Prince of the city and his council, you can be sure, indulge far more often than that.

  But two weeks is the safest amount of time one can go without human blood. After that, you will get hungrier and hungrier, and nothing will satisfy you until you feed again. "

  "Yeah, you might've mentioned that once or twice. " He eyed me over his paper and set it down, coming around the desk to lean against the front. "Do you want me to continue teaching you?" he asked. "Or would you like me to leave so you may figure everything out yourself ?"

  "Sorry," I muttered, looking away. "Still getting used to this whole being-dead thing, I guess. " A thought came to me, and I looked back, frowning. "So, what am I supposed to do, once this 'training' is over?"

  "I suspect you will continue to live as a vampire. "

  "That's not what I mean, and you know it, Kanin. " I gestured vaguely at the ceiling. "Will I be allowed into the Inner City? Will the other vampires let me past the gates now that I'm one of them?"

  Now that I'm one of them. That was a disgusting thought.

  I'll never be one of them, I promised myself. Not completely. I'm not like them. I won't sink to their level, won't think of humans as nothing more than animals.

  "Unfortunately," Kanin said, "there is more to it than that. " It sounded as if he was going to give another lecture, so I dropped into the chair from the night before, resting my chin in my hands. Kanin paused, watching me a moment, before he continued. "You're a vampire now, so, yes, you'll be allowed past the gates into the Inner City. That is, if you do not bring up your association with me. But you need to understand the politics of your undead brethren before you can strike out on your own. There is a hierarchy among city vampires, a chain of rank and command, that you must be aware of if you hope to fit in. "

  "Fit in," I repeated and snorted. "I've been a street rat and a Fringer my whole life. I don't think I'll be cozying up to the vampires of the Inner City anytime soon. "

  "Regardless. " Kanin's voice didn't change. "This is something you need to know. Not all vampires are created equal.

  Are you aware of the differences between the Prince of this city and his followers?"

  I frowned. To me, all bloodsuckers were the same; they had fangs, they were dead, they drank blood. But Kanin wouldn't accept that for an answer, and I really didn't want him to leave yet, so. . . "I know the city has a Prince," I replied. "Salazar.

  And all the other vamps listen to him. "

  "Yes. " Kanin nodded approval. "Within every city, there is a Prince, a Master Vampire, the strongest and most powerful of them all. He, or she, heads the council, commands the lesser vampires, and makes most of the decisions within the Inner City. That's how most vampire cities work, though there are a few that are set up differently. I've heard of territories where only one vampire rules over everything, though that type of city is extremely rare and usually doesn't last long.

  The Prince would have to be very strong, to keep his city from falling to other vampires or even his own humans. "

  "How many vampire cities are there?"

  "Worldwide?" Kanin shrugged. "No one really knows.

  It's constantly in f lux, you see, especially within the smaller regions. Cities rising and falling, attempts to take over another's territory, disease or rabids wiping out whole popula-tions. But the largest vampire cities, like New Covington, have survived since the plague, and there are perhaps a few dozen, worldwide. "

  "All ruled by a Master. "

  "Usually. Like I said before, there are exceptions, but, yes, most cities are ruled by a Master. "

  That meant there were several very strong, probably very old, vampires out there. That was something to keep in mind, though it sounded as if most of them stayed in their cities, like Salazar, and never ventured beyond the Wall.

  "Beneath the Prince," Kanin continued, "are the Type-2s, the vampires who have been sired by a Master. They are not as powerful as the Prince, but they are formidable in their own right, and usually make up the council, the elite guard and the Prince's trusted seconds. Are you following so far?"

  "Type-2
s?" I bit down a smirk. "I was expecting something a little more. . . exotic, and vampirey-sounding. Type-2

  sounds like the symptoms of a disease. " Kanin shot me an exasperated look. "The bloodlines of certain old families are extremely long and complex," he explained in a sharper voice. "It would be pointless to explain them to a new vampire, so I am giving you the simplified version. "

  "Sorry. Go on. "

  "Beneath them," Kanin continued, "are the Type-3s, the mongrels, and these are the most common and least powerful in the hierarchy. They have been sired by either a Type-2 or another mongrel, and they are the type of vampire you will most likely encounter wandering the streets. Mongrels make up the vast majority of the population, and they're the weakest of us all, though still stronger and faster than any human.

  "So, the stronger the vamp who sired you, the stronger you're likely to be?"

  "To a point. " Kanin leaned back, resting his palms on the desk. "Before the virus, vampires were spread across the world, hidden from mankind, blending into society. Most of them were mongrels, Type-3s, and if they occasionally sired another vampire, they would always create a mongrel.

  The Masters and their covens were few and far between, se-cluded from the rest of the world, until the Red Lung virus hit. When the humans began to die from the virus, our food source disappeared, and we were in danger of starving or going mad.

  "Then rabids started to appear, and things grew even more chaotic. At that time, we didn't know whether the rabids were the final effect of the Red Lung virus or if they were something new, but there was mass panic for both humans and vampires. Eventually a few ingenious Masters devised a way to keep the few remaining, noninfected humans close, creating a never-ending food supply in exchange for protection from outside threats. And so the vampire cities were born.

  But there are so few Masters now. " He paused and looked away. "And that means fewer vampires every year. It's only a matter of time before our race disappears completely. " He didn't sound sad about it. More. . . resigned. I blinked.

  "What do you mean?" I asked. "I thought you said mongrels or Type-2s or whatevers could create other vampires. What do you mean, you're dying out?"

  He was silent, his eyes dark and far away. Finally, he looked up, staring right at me. "Do you know how the rabids were created?" he asked in a soft voice. "Do you know what they are?"

  I swallowed. "You mean, besides the obvious?"

  "They're vampires," Kanin continued, as if I hadn't said anything. "Originally, rabids were vampires. In the early stages of the plague, a group of scientists discovered that vampires were immune to the virus that was killing the human race. Up until that point, our race was virtually unknown, hidden and scattered throughout the world. We were happy to remain the monsters of Halloween and horror films. It was better that way. "

  "So what happened?"

  Kanin made a disgusted sound in the back of his throat.

  "A fool of a Master vampire went to the scientists himself, exposing our kind, wanting to 'save the human race. ' Apparently, he thought-and rightly so-that if mankind went extinct, vampires would soon follow. The scientists told him that vampire blood was the key to finding a cure, that they could beat the Red Lung virus if they only had live samples to work with. So, the Master tracked down and captured other vampires for the scientists to experiment on, betraying his own kind for a cure that would save the world. " Kanin shook his head. "Unfortunately, what they created, what they turned those vampires into, was far worse than anything anyone had anticipated. "

  "The rabids," I guessed.

  He nodded. "They should have destroyed them all when they had the chance. Instead, the rabids escaped, carrying inside them the mutated Red Lung virus that had killed most of humanity. Those same pathogens spread rapidly across the world, infecting both human and vampire. Only now, instead of dying from Red Lung, the infected humans changed.

  They became like the original rabids themselves: vicious and mindless, craving blood, unable to come out in the daytime.

  Over five billion people succumbed to the mutated virus and went rabid. And whenever a vampire came into contact with someone who carried the virus, he became infected as well.

  Most of us didn't turn, but the virus spread through our ranks just as quickly as the humans'. And now, over the course of six generations, all vampires have become carriers of Rabidism.

  Unlike humans with Red Lung, our bodies adapted more quickly to the virus, and we were able to fight it off. But our race is still in decline. "

  "Why?"

  "Because the virus prevents the creation of new vampires," Kanin said gravely. "Masters can still sire Type-2s, and on the very, very rare occasion, other Masters. But for every new vampire he creates, there is the chance he won't sire a vampire at all, but a rabid. Type-2s sire rabids more than ninety percent of the time, and mongrels?" Kanin shook his head.

  "Mongrels will always create a rabid. They cannot sire anything else. Most Masters have sworn not to create new offspring. The risk of Rabidism inside the city is too great, and they are very protective of their remaining food supply. " I thought of the sick deer, f lailing blindly about, the absolute viciousness of the rabids themselves, and shuddered.

  If this was the world outside the city walls, it was a wonder anyone could survive out there. "So," I mused, looking up at Kanin, "I suppose I'm a carrier now, too, right?"

  "That is correct. "

  "So, why didn't I turn into a rabid?" He shook his head. "Think about it," he said quietly.

  "Think about what I told you. You're bright enough to figure it out. "

  I thought about it. "I didn't turn into a rabid," I said slowly,

  "because. . . you're a Master vampire. " He gave me a humorless smile, and I looked at him with new eyes. Kanin was a Master vampire; he could be a Prince. "But, if you're a Master, why don't you have a city of your own? I thought-"

  "Enough talking. " He pushed himself off the desk. "We have somewhere to be tonight, and it is a long way through the undercity. I suggest we get moving. " I blinked at his sudden change of mood. "Where are we going this time?"

  Kanin spun so gracefully I didn't even know he'd moved until he had me pinned against the wall, the long, curved blade of his dagger pressed against my throat. I froze, but a split second later the pressure on my neck was gone and the knife disappeared into the folds of his black coat. Kanin gave me a faint, tight smile, and stepped away.

  "If I was an enemy, you'd be dead now," he said, walking down the hall again like nothing had happened. I clutched my chest, knowing that if I'd still had a heartbeat, it would have been pounding through my ribs. "The city can be a dangerous place. You're going to need something bigger than that two-inch blade you keep in your pocket to defend yourself. " As a street rat, I'd had the underground tunnels below the city as my turf, my secret passageways, the hidden road that let me slip through the districts unseen. I'd been proud of my knowledge of the city's underworld. But my vampire mentor either had a near-perfect memory, or he'd been through the dark, twisty underground many, many times before. I followed him through passageways I'd never seen, never known existed. Kanin never slowed down or appeared to be lost, so keeping up with him was a challenge sometimes.

  "Allison. " There was a hint of exasperation in his voice as he turned, pausing to wait for me. "The night is waning, and we still have a good ways to cover before we reach our destination. Would you kindly get a move on? This is the third time I've had to wait for you. "

  "You know, you could slow down a little. " I leaped down from a dead subway car and jogged back to him, ducking a pipe that dangled above the tracks. "In case you haven't noticed, short people have short legs. I have to take three steps to one of yours, so stop griping. "

  He shook his head and continued down the cement tunnel, walking a bit slower now, so it was a small victory. I hurried to keep pace. "I had no idea there was another railway system down here,"
I said, gazing at the hulk of a rusty car, overturned on the tracks. "I knew the one that ran below the third and fourth districts, but it was blocked when a building collapsed above it. Where does this one go?"

  "This one," Kanin said, his voice echoing down the dark tunnel, "runs straight through the heart of the Inner City, right between the towers themselves. The station that leads down to it has long been closed off, and the tunnels have been sealed, but we're not going all the way to the towers. "

  "We're below the Inner City?" I glanced up at the ceiling as if I could see the looming vampire buildings through the concrete and cement. I wondered what it was like up there; glass towers and sparkling lights, well-dressed humans, and even vehicles that still worked. A far cry from the dirty, hopeless, starving existence of the Fringe.

  "Don't be too enamored," Kanin warned, as if reading my thoughts. "The humans of the Inner City might be better dressed and better fed, but only because they are useful. And what do you think will happen to them, once their master grows bored or displeased?"

  "I'm guessing they don't have a retirement plan. " Kanin

  snorted.

  "And you want me to eventually live up there?" He glanced down at me, his expression softening. "Allison, how you live your life is up to you. I can only give you the skills you need to survive. But eventually, you will have to make your own decisions, come to your own terms about what you are. You are Vampire, but what kind of monster you become is out of my hands. "

  "What if I don't want to live up there?" I gave him a sideways look, then focused on the tracks at my feet, watching them glimmer as we passed. "What if I wanted to. . . go with you?"

  "No. " Kanin's voice was sharp, booming down the tunnel, making me wince. "No," he said again, softer this time. "I would not suffer anyone to endure the path I walk. My road must always be traveled alone. "

  And that was the end of it.

  The subway went on, but Kanin took me down another, narrower tunnel, through a dozen more twists and turns, until I was completely lost. We passed under storm drains and metal grates, where I could look up and finally see the city above, gleaming and bright. But the streets seemed empty, abandoned. I'd been expecting crowds of people out walking the streets, unafraid of the night and the predators surrounding them. Maybe I would even catch a glimpse of a vampire, surrounded by his pets and thralls, strolling down the sidewalk. A vehicle passed overhead, making a manhole cover clink, filling the quiet with the growl of its engine. I gaped at the sight of a real, working car, but other than that, the city was as silent as the Fringe.

  And, as we continued under the quiet streets, the lights revealed other things, too.

  You didn't notice it at first, being dazzled by the lights and the tall buildings, but the Inner City was just as broken and damaged as the worst parts of the Fringe. There were no rows of gleaming mansions, no buildings overf lowing with food and clothes and everything you'd need, no cars for every family. There were a lot of broken, half-decayed buildings that looked slightly more taken care of than the rest of the city. There were f lickering streetlamps and rusty cars and weeds growing through walls and concrete. Except for the trio of gleaming vampire towers in the distance, the Inner City looked like a brighter, well-lit version of the Fringe.

  "Not what you expected, is it?" Kanin mused, as we ducked into another cement tube and the lights faded above us. I followed, not knowing if I was vindicated or disappointed.

  "Where are all the people?" I wondered. "And the vampires?"

  "The humans who are awake are all working," Kanin said.

  "Keeping the electrical grid up and running, managing the remains of the sewer systems, repairing broken machinery.

  That's why the vampires look for those who are talented or knowledgeable or skilled and take them into the city- they need them to keep it running. They also have humans to man their factories, clean and repair their buildings, and grow the food needed for the rest of the population. The rest of them, guards, thralls, pets and concubines, serve them in other ways. "

  "But. . . everyone can't be working. "

  "True," Kanin agreed. "Everyone else is behind closed, locked doors, keeping off the streets and out of sight as much as they can. They are much closer to the monsters than the people of the Fringe, and they have just as much reason to be afraid. "

  "Wow," I muttered, shaking my head. "Wouldn't everyone back home be surprised to learn how it really is up there. " Kanin didn't say anything to that, and we traveled in silence for a while.

  He finally stopped at a steel ladder that went up to a metal grate on the ceiling. Pushing it aside with the ease of vampire strength, he climbed through the hole and beckoned me to follow.

  "Where are we now?" I asked, trailing him down another long cement hallway. At the end of this one, we hit a rusty metal door, locked, of course, but Kanin put his shoulder to the metal and bashed it open.

  "We," he replied, stepping back for me to take in my surroundings, "are in the basement storage of the city's old museum. "

  I gazed around in wonder. We were standing at the edge of the largest room I'd ever seen in my life, a warehouse of cement and steel that stretched farther than even my vampire vision reached. Rusting metal shelves created a labyrinth of aisles, hundreds of narrow corridors that vanished into the back of the room. The contents of those shelves were covered in sheets or stored in wooden boxes, wrapped in a thick film of spiderwebs and dust. If I took in a breath I could smell the choking stench of mold and fungi, growing everywhere, but surprisingly, the shelves seemed fairly intact.

  "I can't believe this place is so. . . unbroken," I said, as we started down one of the narrow aisles. Under a filthy sheet, I caught a glimpse of yellow bone and lifted the corner to reveal the skeleton of some kind of enormous cat, frozen in a crouch. I stared at it, amazed, wondering why anyone would want to keep the dead bones of an animal. It was kind of creepy, seeing it like that, without skin and fur. "What the heck is this place anyway?"

  "Before the plague, museums were places of history," Kanin explained as I hurried away from the cat to catch up. His voice echoed in the vastness. "Places of collected knowledge, places where they stored all the items, memories and artifacts of other cultures. "

  I paused, catching sight of a mannequin dressed in furs and animal hide. Feathers poked out of its hair, and it held some kind of stone ax. "Why?"

  "To remember the past, to not let it fade away. The cus-toms, histories, religions and governments of a thousand cultures are stored here. There are other places like this one all around the world, hidden and forgotten by man. Places that still hold their secrets, waiting to be discovered again. "

  "I can't believe the vamps haven't burned this place to the ground. "

  "They tried," Kanin replied. "The building above us has been destroyed, no trace of it remains. But the city vampires are mostly concerned with what happens on the surface-they rarely venture down into the tunnels and the secrets below the earth. If they knew about this place, you can be sure they would have burned it to ashes. "

  I scowled, hating the vampires again. "And humans will never know about it, will they?" I muttered, following Kanin down an aisle, feeling morose. "All this knowledge, right under their feet, and they'll never know. "

  "Maybe not today. " Kanin stopped at a shelf holding a long, narrow wooden box. Faded red letters were printed on the side, below all the cobwebs and dust, but it was difficult to read. "But there will come a time when man is no longer concerned only with survival, when he will once more be curious as to who came before him, what life was like a thousand years ago, and he will seek out answers to these questions. Maybe it won't happen for a hundred years or so, but humans' curiosity has always driven them to find answers.

  Even our race cannot keep them in the dark forever. " He broke the box open and rummaged through the contents. I heard the clink and scrape of metal, and then he pulled something out.

 
It was a sword, a long, double-edged blade with a black metal hilt that looked like a cross. Kanin held it in one hand, but the blade itself was huge, probably close to five feet. With the hilt, it was a few inches taller than me.

  "Two-handed German greatsword," he said, giving me, and it, a scrutinizing look, sizing us up. "Probably too big for you. "

  "You

  think?"

  He replaced it and opened another box from the shelf overhead, this time pulling out a large, spiked ball on a chain. It looked extremely nasty, and I was intrigued, but he let it drop with barely a second glance.

  "Hey, what was that?" Easing forward, I tried peering into the box on tiptoe, but he shouldered me away. "Oh, come on. I want to see the big-spiky-ball thing. "

  "You

  do

  not need a f lail. " Kanin scowled, as though imagining what I could do with it. I tried peeking into the box again, and he gave me an exasperated look, warning me back.

  I glared at him.

  "Fine. Then tell me, oh, great one. What are we looking for? What do I need?"

  He pulled out another weapon, a spear with a long metal tip, and put it back with a shake of his head. "I'm not sure. " I peeked under another cloth, where a stuffed-dog- looking thing stared back sightlessly. "Why are we looking for ancient weapons, anyway?" I muttered, dropping the cloth. "Wouldn't it be easier to use, oh, I don't know. . . a gun?"

  "Guns require ammunition," Kanin replied without looking up. "Ammunition is difficult to find, even if the Prince did not have a stranglehold on the automatic weapon distribution in the city. And an empty gun is about as useful as a large paperweight. Besides, guns are impractical for dealing with our kind. Unless you can somehow tear off our head, bullets will only slow us down at best. To adequately protect yourself from a vampire, you're going to need a blade. Now. . . "

  He moved to the next box, tearing off the lid, nails and all.

  "Why don't you make yourself useful and look through a few of these yourself ? See if anything jumps out at you. Remember, you're looking for a blade. Not a mace or a maul or a huge spiked chain that you'd probably hurt yourself with trying to learn. "

  "Fine. " I wandered down the aisle, looking at random ar-ticles. "But I still say the f lail looked like it could bash in a vamp's head pretty efficiently. "

  "Allison-"

  "I'm going, I'm going. "

  More wooden boxes lined the aisle to either side, covered in dust. I brushed back a film of cobwebs and grime to read the words on the side of the nearest carton. Longswords: Medi-eval Europe, 12th century. The rest was lost to time and age.

  Another read: Musketeer Rapie. . . something or other. Another apparently had a full suit of gladiator armor, whatever a gladiator was.

  A clang from Kanin's direction showed him holding up a large, double-bladed ax, before he laid it aside and moved on to another shelf.

  One box caught my attention. It was long and narrow, like the other boxes, but instead of words, it had strange symbols printed down the side. Curious, I wrenched off the lid and reached in, shifting through layers of plastic and foam, until my fingers closed around something long and smooth.

  I pulled it out. The long, slightly curved sheath was black and shiny, and a hilt poked out of the end, marked with dia-mond pattern in black and red. I grasped that hilt and pulled the blade free, sending a metallic shiver through the air and down my spine.

  As soon as I drew it, I knew I had found what Kanin wanted.

  The blade gleamed in the darkness, long and slender, like a silver ribbon. I could sense the razor sharpness of the edge without even touching it. The sword itself was light and graceful, and fit perfectly into my palm, as if it had been made for me. I swept it in a wide arc, feeling it slice through the air, and imagined this was a blade that could pass through a snarling rabid without even slowing down.

  A chuckle interrupted me. Kanin stood a few yards away, arms crossed, shaking his head. His mouth was pulled into a resigned grin.

  "I should have known," he said, coming forward. "I should have known you would be drawn to that. It's very fitting, actually. "

  "It's perfect," I said, holding up the sword. "What is it, anyway?"

  Kanin regarded me in amusement. "What you're holding is called a katana. Long ago, a race of warriors known as the samurai carried them. The sword was more than a weapon-

  to the samurai, their blades were an extension of their souls.

  It was the symbol of their culture and their most prized possession. "

  I didn't really need the history lesson, but it was pretty cool to think that there was an entire race of people who'd carried these once. "What happened to them?" I asked, sheath-ing the sword carefully. "Did they all die out?"

  Kanin's grin grew wider, as if he was enjoying his own private joke. "No, Allison Sekemoto. I would say not. " I frowned, waiting for him to explain, but he stepped back and motioned me to follow. "If you're going to carry that blade," he said as we headed back through the maze of aisles and shelves, "you'll have to learn how to use it. It is not a pocketknife you can just swing in circles and hope it hits the target. It is an elegant weapon and deserves better than that. "

  "I don't know, swinging it in a circle sounds like a pretty good trick to me. "

  He gave me another of his exasperated looks. "Having a weapon you do not know how to use is better than not having one at all, but not by much," he said, ducking through the door and entering the narrow hallway. "Especially when dealing with vampires. Especially when dealing with older vampires who already know how to fight-they're the most dangerous. They'll cut off your head with your own blade, if you're not careful. "

  We came to the metal grate he'd pulled up earlier, and Kanin dropped out of sight, back into the sewers. I clutched my new prize to my chest and followed.

  "So, are you going to teach me, then?" I asked as I hit the ground.

  "Oh, I'm afraid he won't be teaching you anything, girl," a cool voice said from the darkness. "Except, perhaps, how to die a horrid and painful death. "

  I froze, and in that second, two figures melted out of the darkness of the tunnel, smiling as they came to stand before us. I knew instantly that they were vampires; pale skin and hollow eyes aside, I could sense, in a strange, unexplainable way, that they were just like me. In the dead, bloodsucking sense, at least. The woman's dark, curly hair tumbled elegantly down her back; she wore heels and a business suit that hugged her body like snakeskin. The man was lean and pale, all sharp points and angles, but he still managed to fill out his suit jacket. And he stood over six feet tall.

  Kanin went rigid. A tiny movement, and the knife appeared in his hand.

  "You've got some nerve to show your face here, Kanin," the female vampire said in a conversational tone, smiling and showing perfectly white teeth. "The Prince knows you're here, and he wants your head on a platter. We've been sent to oblige him. " She stepped toward us, oozing forward like a snake. Her bloodred lips parted in a smile, showing fangs, and she turned her predatory gaze on me. "But who's this little chick, Kanin? Your newest protege? How charming, continuing your cursed bloodline. Does she know who you really are?"

  "She's no one," Kanin said f latly. "She doesn't matter-the only thing you need to worry about is me. " The vampiress's grin grew savage. "Oh, I don't think so, Kanin. After we remove your head, we'll drag your little spawn back to the Prince and watch him take her apart, piece by piece. Isn't that right, Richards?" The male vampire still didn't say anything, but he smiled, showing his fangs.

  "How does that sound, chicky?" the female vamp said, still smirking at me. "Don't you feel special? You can have your heart removed and eaten by the Prince of the city himself. "

  "He can try," I shot back and felt my own fangs lengthen as I bared them in a snarl. Both vampires laughed.

  "Oh, she is a firebrand, isn't she?" The female vamp gave me a patronizing look. "One of those disg
usting Fringers, I take it? I simply love your affection for hopeless cases. But then, that's what got you into this mess in the first place, isn't it?"

  Her companion reached into his suit jacket and pulled out a thin, foot-long blade. It was a delicate weapon, slender and razor sharp, made for precision. Somehow, it seemed more frightening than if the vampire had drawn an ax or even a gun.

  "Allison," Kanin muttered, stepping in front of me, "stay back. Don't engage them. Don't try to help me, understand?" I growled, gripping the sheath of my katana. "I'm not afraid of them. I can help. "

  "Promise me," Kanin said in a low, tense voice. "Promise me you will not get involved. "

  "But-"

  He turned, pinning me with a cold, frightening glare. His eyes had darkened to pure black, hollow and depthless, with no light behind them. "Your word," he almost whispered. I swallowed.

  "All right. " I looked down, unable to meet that unnerving gaze. "I promise. "

  He reached down and grasped the hilt of my katana, drawing it in one smooth motion as he turned to face his attackers.

  "Go," he told me, and I backed away, retreating behind a cement pillar as Kanin gave the katana a wicked f lourish and stepped forward.

  The female vamp hissed and sank into a crouch, stretching the fabric of her suit. I saw her nails then, very long and red and sharp, like giant talons, digging into the pavement.

  She hissed again, looking more like a beast than anything re-motely human, and sprang forward.

  Kanin met her in the center of the room, the katana whirling through the air. They moved faster than I could follow, slashing, whirling, leaping back and lunging forward again.

  The female vamp moved like some kind of mutant cat, springing at Kanin on all fours, even in high heels, raking at him with her claws. She was insanely fast, ducking the sword, leaping over it, teeth f lashing as she shrieked and screamed and danced around him. Watching them fight, a cold feeling spread through my gut. I'd seen brawls before, even partici-pated in a few. This wasn't a brawl; this was a brutal, screaming free-for-all between two monsters. I couldn't have beaten her, I realized with a sick feeling in my gut. Kanin was doing fine, fending off her attacks and striking back, vicious blows that barely missed the snarling whirlwind of death, but she would've torn me apart.

  I was so focused on the female vamp, I didn't see the other vampire until he was behind Kanin, that thin, sharp blade moving to take off his head. I started to yell a warning, cursing myself for not seeing him sooner: the female was a colorful, lethal distraction while her partner moved in silently for the kill. But before I could say two words, Kanin's hand shot out, grabbed the female by the hair as she shrieked and clawed at his face, and threw her into her partner. They hit each other with a sickening crack. The male vampire stum-bled backward, wincing, while the female vampire crumpled to the ground.

  I thought that was it for her. The force Kanin had generated could've put a hole through a brick wall. But a half second later, the vampiress stirred and rose to her feet, shaking her head. She didn't even look dazed.

  Now I was scared. I was certain the fight had been half over, but both enemy vamps approached Kanin again, smiling.

  Kanin waited patiently, the sword at his side. Blood streamed down the side of his face where the vampiress had clawed him, but he didn't seem to notice it. As they got closer, they split off, circling him from different directions. He raised the sword, circling with them, but he couldn't watch them both at the same time.

  As expected, the vampiress attacked first, bounding in with a growl, and Kanin spun toward her. But halfway there, she stopped, leaping away, and the male vampire lunged at Kanin's open back.

  Faster than thought, Kanin whirled, slashing at the second attacker, a blow that was vicious and powerful, but also left his back unprotected again. The male vampire ducked away, grinning, as the vampiress turned on a heel and f lew at Kanin once more, silent and deadly. I saw the triumph in her eyes as she leaped at him, fangs bared, claws slashing down at his neck.

  Kanin didn't move. But I saw the point of the blade turn as he spun it around and stabbed backward, passing it against his ribs, and the vampiress's lunge carried her right onto the tip, which went out through her back.

  The vampiress screamed, equal parts fury and pain, and ripped at Kanin's shoulders. He stepped forward and in one quick motion, drew his other blade, yanked the sword out of the vamp's stomach and spun, cutting off her head.

  The head bounced twice, then rolled toward me and stopped a few feet away, glaring up with a frozen snarl. I shuddered and looked back toward the fight, where Kanin was still facing the remaining vampire. It roared, fangs bared, and lunged at him with the knife stabbing at his chest. Kanin took one step back, sweeping both arms forward in a scissoring motion as the vampire came within reach, cutting through its head and chest. The head fell away and the body split open, and the vampire crumpled to the pavement, nearly cut in two.

  I bit my cheek, pressing my face against the pillar to avoid being sick. I didn't have much time to recover, as Kanin swept up and hauled me away, thrusting the sword back into my arms.

  "Hurry," he ordered, and I didn't need encouragement this time. We raced back to the hospital, where Kanin told me to stay put and not leave the underground until I heard from him again.

  "Wait. Where are you going?" I asked.

  "I have to go back and dump the bodies," he replied.

  "Somewhere on the surface, to lead the Prince away from the tunnels. Also, I'm going to have to feed before the night is out. Stay here. I'll be back before dawn. " He leaped up the elevator shaft, vanishing into the darkness, leaving me alone. I drew my sword, staring at the blood marring the once-pristine blade, and wondered what demons Kanin was running from.

 
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