The Immortal Rules, Page 7Julie Kagawa
In the weeks that followed, my nights settled into a routine. I would wake up at sundown, grab my sword and find Kanin in the office. For a few hours, he would lecture me on vampire society, history, feeding habits, strengths and weaknesses. He would ask me questions, testing my knowledge of things I'd learned the night before, pleased when I remembered what I was supposed to. He also insisted on teaching me math, writing down simple and then more complex equations for me to solve, patiently explaining them when I couldn't. He made up logic puzzles for me to struggle through and gave me complex documents to read, asking me what they meant when I was done. And though I hated this, I forced myself to concentrate. This was knowledge, something I might be able to use against the vampires someday. Besides, Mom would've wanted me to learn, though I wasn't sure when long division would ever come in handy.
While I worked, Kanin read, shuff ling through documents, sometimes bringing in more boxes of papers to sift through.
Sometimes, he would read an entire stack of paper, carefully setting each aside when he was done. Sometimes he would only glance at a pile of documents before crumpling them impatiently and shoving them away. As the days passed, he grew more impatient and agitated with every sheet he crumpled in his fist, every wad he threw across the room. When I got up the nerve, once, to ask him what he was looking for, I received an annoyed glare and a terse command to keep working. I wondered why he hadn't left the city yet; the vampires were obviously out there, looking for him. What was so important that he would risk staying down here in this dark little ruin, going through endless files and half-burned documents? But Kanin kept me so busy with learning everything he thought was important-vampire history and reading and math-that I didn't have the time or brain capacity to wonder about other things.
And really, I could respect that. He had his secrets, and I had mine. I wasn't about to go poking around his private life, especially when he didn't ask me anything about my past, either. It was sort of an unspoken truce between us; I wouldn't pry, and he would keep teaching me how to be a vampire.
Anything that didn't have to do with survival wasn't that important.
After midnight was my favorite time. After several hours of straining my brain, getting bored and irritated and feeling as if my head was about to explode, Kanin would finally announce that I could stop for the night. After that, we would make our way to our f loor's reception area, which he had cleared of debris and chairs and broken furniture, and he would teach me something different.
"Keep your head up," he stated as I lunged at him, swinging my sword at his chest. At first, I was a little worried, fighting him with a live blade. It shocked me, how quickly I could move, so fast that sometimes the room blurred around me, the sword weighing next to nothing in my hands. But Kanin made it clear that he was in no danger, after the first lesson left me crumpled in my bed for the rest of the night, bruised and aching, freaky vampire healing or not.
Stepping aside, Kanin rapped me on the back of the head with a sawed-off mop handle, not lightly. My skull throbbed, and I turned on him with a snarl.
"You're dead," Kanin announced, waggling the dowel at me. I bared my fangs, but he wasn't impressed. "Stop using the blade like an ax," he ordered, as we circled each other again. "You're not a lumberjack trying to hack down a tree.
You're a dancer, and the sword is an extension of your arm.
Move with the blade and keep your eyes on your enemy's upper body, not their weapon. "
"I don't know what a lumberjack is," I growled at him. He gave me an annoyed look and motioned me forward again.
I gripped the hilt, relaxing my muscles. Don't fight the sword, Kanin had told me on countless occasions. The sword already knows how to cut, how to kill. If you're tense, if you only use brute strength, your strikes will be slow and awkward. Relax and move with the blade, not against it.
This time, when I attacked, I let the blade lead me there, darting forward in a silver blur. Kanin stepped aside, swatting at my head with the dowel again, but I half turned, catching the stick with my weapon, knocking it aside. Pushing forward, I let the sword slide up toward Kanin's neck, and he instantly fell backward to avoid being cut in the throat.
I froze as he rolled to his feet, looking mildly surprised.
I blinked at him, just as shocked as he was. Everything had gone by so fast; I hadn't even had time to think about my actions before they were done.
"Good!" Kanin nodded approval. "You can feel the difference now, can't you? Let your strikes be smooth and f lowing-you don't have to hack at something to kill it. " I nodded, looking at my blade and feeling, for the first time, that we had worked together, that I wasn't just swinging a random piece of metal around the room.
Kanin tossed the dowel into a corner. "And, on that note, we should stop for the night," he announced, and I frowned.
"Now? I was just getting the hang of this, and it's still early.
Why stop?" I grinned and brandished the sword, shooting him a challenge down the bright metal. "Are you scared that I'm getting too good? Is the student finally surpassing the master?"
He raised an eyebrow, but other than that, his expression remained the same. I wondered if he had ever laughed, really laughed, in his entire unlife. "No," he continued, motioning me out of the room. "Tonight we're going hunting. " I slipped the katana into its sheath on my back and hurried after, excitement and uneasiness fighting within me. Ever since the encounter with the vampires, over three weeks ago, we hadn't left the hospital grounds. It was too dangerous to roam the tunnels now, too risky to venture up top, where anyone could see us. I had fed about two weeks ago, when Kanin had given me a thermos half filled with cooling blood when I woke up. He hadn't said where he'd gotten it, but the blood tasted thin and grimy and somehow reeked of mole men.
I was eager to leave the hospital, with its dank rooms and claustrophobic hallways. I grew more restless with every passing night. The thought of hunting sent a thrill through me, but I was also scared that I would turn into that snarling, hungry creature from the night with the Blood Angels. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to control myself, and I would end up killing someone.
And, deep down, a part of me didn't care. That was the scariest thing of all.
We went up the elevator shaft and moved quickly through the neighborhoods, wary and suspicious of roaming vampires or guards. Several times, Kanin turned off the street and pulled us into an alley or abandoned building, blending into a dark corner. A trio of guards passed us once, so close that I could see the pockmarks marring one guard's cheek. If he'd turned his head and pointed his f lashlight into the alleyway, he would've spotted us. Another time, a pet surrounded by two well-armed soldiers stopped and stared at the doorway we had ducked into seconds before. I could see his eyes narrow, trying to pierce the darkness, listening for any sound of movement. But, one thing about being a vampire, I discovered, was that you could go perfectly still and remain that way for as long as you needed. Kanin even had me practice this little talent back in the hospital. I would stand in a corner for hours, never moving, never breathing, having no need to shift or cough or blink. Even when he started lobbing his dagger at me, thunking it in the wall inches from my head, I wasn't supposed to twitch an eyelash.
After a couple close calls, Kanin led me onto the roof of a building, over the chain-link fence separating the districts, and into a familiar neighborhood. I recognized these streets, the shape of the buildings crumbling on the sidewalks. I saw old Hurley's Trading Shop, the scraggly, weed-choked park with its rusty, sharp playground that nobody went near, the lot between the warehouses where they'd hung the three Unregistereds what felt like ages ago. And I knew if we took that shortcut through the alley and crawled through a rusty chain-link fence, we'd find ourselves at the edge of a cracked, deserted lot with an empty, abandoned school in the distance.
This was Sector Four. I was home.
t mention this to Kanin. If he knew where we were, he might make us leave, and I wanted to see my old neighborhood again, in case I ever needed to come back. So I followed him silently through familiar streets, past familiar buildings and landmarks, feeling the school lot get farther and farther away. I wondered if my room was still intact, if any of my old possessions were still there. My mom's book came to mind; was it still safely hidden in its crate? Or had the school been claimed by another, all my stuff stolen or traded away?
Kanin finally led me toward an empty-looking warehouse on the outskirts of the neighborhood, an ancient brick building with smashed windows and a roof that had partially fallen in. I knew this place; it was Kyle's turf, the rivals of my old crew. We'd competed for food, shelter and territory, but in a mostly friendly way, one group of scavengers to another.
There was an unspoken truce among the Unregistereds; life was hard enough without violence and fighting and blood-shed. On the streets, we acknowledged one another with a nod or quick word, and occasionally warned each other about guard sweeps and patrols, but for the most part we left the other groups alone.
"Why are we here?" I asked Kanin as we crept along the crumbling walls, stepping between glass and nails and other things that could clink and give us away. "Why don't we just head into Blood Angel or Red Skull territory and take out another gang?"
"Because," Kanin said without looking back, "word spreads on the streets. Because we left those men alive, other gangs will be on the lookout for a young girl and a lone male who happen to be vampires. They will be wary, but more important, the Prince's guards will be watching gang territory closely now. There are always consequences for your actions.
Also-" he paused and turned to me, eyes narrowing "-how did you know where we are?" A moment of silence, and he nodded. "You've been here before, haven't you?" Damn. The vampire was way too perceptive. "This was my sector," I confessed, and Kanin frowned. "I lived not very far from here, at the old school. " With my friends, I added in my head. Lucas and Rat and Stick, all gone now, all dead. A lump caught in my throat. I hadn't thought of them much before this, willing myself to bury the pain, the guilt that still clawed at me. What would've happened if I had never found that basement of food, if I'd never insisted we go after it? Would they still be alive? Would I still be alive?
"Stop it," Kanin said, and I blinked at him. His face and expression were cold. "That part of your life is gone," he continued. "Put it behind you. Do not make me regret giving you this new life, when all you can do is cling to the old one. "
I glared at him. "I wasn't clinging," I snapped, meeting his steely gaze. "I was remembering. It's this thing people do when they're reminded of the past. "
"You were clinging," Kanin insisted, and his voice dropped several degrees. "You were thinking of your old life, your old friends, and wondering what you could've done to save them.
That sort of remembering is useless. There was nothing you could have done. "
"There was," I whispered, and my throat unexpectedly closed up. I swallowed hard, using anger to mask the other emotion, the one that made me want to cry. "I led them there.
I told them about that basement. They're dead because of me. " My eyes stung, which was a complete shock. I didn't think vampires could cry. Angrily, I swiped at my eyes, and my fingers came away smeared with red. I cried blood. Fabulous.
"Go on, then," I growled at Kanin, feeling my fangs come out. "Tell me I'm being stupid. Tell me I'm still 'clinging to the past,' because every time I close my eyes, I can see their faces. Tell me why I'm still alive, and they're all dead. " More tears threatened at the corners of my eyes, bloody and hot. I whispered a curse and turned away, digging my nails into my palms, willing them back. I hadn't cried in years, not since the day my mom died. My vision tinted red, and I blinked, hard. When I opened my eyes again, my sight was clear, though my chest still felt as if it had been squeezed in a vise.
Kanin was silent, watching me as I composed myself, a motionless statue with empty, blank eyes. Only when I looked up at him again did he move.
"Are you finished?" His voice was f lat, his eyes a depthless black.
I nodded stonily.
"Good. Because the next time you throw a tantrum like that, I will leave. It is no one's fault that your friends are dead.
And if you keep holding on to that guilt, it will destroy you, and my work here will be for nothing. Do you understand?"
"Perfectly," I replied, matching my tone to his. He ignored my coldness and nodded to the building, gesturing through a shattered window.
"A group of Unregistereds live here, though I suspect you already know that," he continued. "As to your previous question, I chose this spot because Unregistereds are off the system and no one will notice if one or two go missing. " True, I thought, trailing him through the weeds. No one ever misses us, because we don't exist. No one cares if we disappear, or cries for us when we're gone.
We slipped through one of the many broken windows, vanishing into the darkness of the room. Rubble had piled everywhere in large drifts, creating a small valley of open space in the center of the building.
A fire f lickered in an open pit, and wisps of greasy smoke rose from burning wood and plastic, settling hazily over the room. There were more of them than I had expected. Card-board boxes, cloth tents and lean-tos had been hastily constructed and were scattered around the fire like a miniature village. I could see dark shapes huddled within, ignorant of the predators watching them sleep from just a few yards away.
I could smell their breath and the hot blood pumping beneath their skin.
I growled and eased forward, but Kanin put a warning hand on my arm. "Quietly," he said, a whisper in the dark.
"Not all feedings have to be violent and bloody. If you are careful, you can feed from a sleeping victim without rousing them. The old Masters used this technique a lot, which was why strings of garlic around the bed and on the windowsills were so popular in certain regions, futile as they were. But you must be careful, and very patient-if your victim wakes up before you bite them, things can get ugly. "
"Before I bite them? Won't they wake up when they feel. . .
I don't know. . . a couple long teeth in their neck?"
"No. The bite of a vampire has a tranquilizing effect on humans when they're asleep. At best, they'll remember it as a vivid dream. "
"How does that work?"
"It just does. " Kanin sounded exasperated again. "Now, are you going to do this or should we go somewhere else?"
"No," I muttered, staring down at the camp. "I think I can do this. "
Kanin released my arm but then pressed a small package into my hands, wrapped in greasy paper. "When you are finished, leave this where your prey will find it. " I frowned, lifting a corner of the paper, finding a pair of shoes inside, fairly new and sturdy. "What's this?"
"An exchange," Kanin replied and turned away as I continued to stare at him. "For the harm our actions will bring them tonight. "
I blinked. "Why bother? They won't even know we were here. "
"I'll know. "
"Don't question it, Allison," Kanin said, sounding weary.
"Just go. "
"All right. " I shrugged. "If you say so. " Tucking the package under one arm, I started toward my sleeping prey.
I was maybe halfway to the cluster of lean-tos, the scent of blood and sweat and human grime getting stronger each time I breathed in, when I caught movement from the other side of the room. I ducked behind a corroded metal beam as two ragged figures slowly picked their way toward the camp, murmuring back and forth. With a start, I recognized one of the boys, Kyle, the leader of our rival gang. Snippets of their conversation drifted to me over the rubble pile, talk of food and patrols and how they were going to have to scavenge in other territories soon. It filled me with an odd sense of deja vu, hearing pieces of my old life played back to me.
bsp; When they reached the camp, however, one of them gave a shout and lunged forward, reaching into a box and dragging something out by the ankle. The figure pulled out of his shelter gave a feeble cry and tried crawling back into the box but was yanked into the open by the other two.
"You again! Dammit, kid! I told you, this is my box! Find your own!"
"Look at that," said the other boy, peering into the box, scowling, "he went through your food bag, too, Kyle. "
"Son of a bitch. " Kyle loomed over the cringing boy, still sprawled out at his feet, and gave him a vicious kick to the ribs. "You miserable little shit!" Another blow, and the cringing boy cried out, curling into a fetal position. "I swear, pull another stunt like that, and I won't just throw you out, I'll kill you. You got that?" One last solid kick, eliciting another cry of pain, and the larger boy shoved him aside with his foot.
"Go crawl away and die already," he muttered and ducked into his shelter, pulling the curtain shut.
In the wake of the outburst, the rest of the camp was stirring, faces squinting out of their shelters with bleary, confused frowns. I remained motionless behind the beam, but after gauging what had happened, the rest of the camp lost interest and vanished back into their individual homes. I heard disgruntled murmurs and complaints, most of them directed at the boy lying on the ground, but no one went forward to help him. I shook my head, pitying the boy but not blam-ing the others for being angry. In a gang like this, you pulled your own weight and contributed to the rest of the community or you were considered dead weight. Stealing, sneaking around and using other people's things was the quickest way to getting a beating or worse, being shunned and exiled from the gang. I had been a loner in my old gang, but I had always pulled my own weight. And I'd never stolen from the others.
Then the boy stood up, brushing at his clothes, and I nearly fell over in shock.
"Stick," I whispered, unable to believe my eyes. He blinked, gazing around the camp, sniff ling, and I blinked hard to make sure it was really him. It was. Thin, ragged and dirty, but alive. "You got out. You made it back, after all. " I started toward him, unthinking, but something clamped my arm in a viselike grip and pulled me back, into the shadows.
"Ow! Dammit, Kanin," I said in a snarling whisper. "What are you doing? Let go!" I tried yanking back, but he was much too strong.
"We're leaving," he said in an icy voice, continuing to pull me away. "Now. Let's go. "
Planting my feet didn't work. Neither did jerking my arm back; his fingers just tightened painfully on my arm. With a hiss, I gave up and let him drag me through the room and out another window. Only when we were several yards from the warehouse did he finally stop and let me go.
wrong with you?" I snarled, biting the words off through my fangs, which had sprouted again. "I'm getting a little tired of being dragged, cut, hit, yanked and ordered around whenever you please. I'm not a damn pet. "
"You knew that boy, didn't you?"
I curled a lip defiantly. "What if I did?"
"You were going to show yourself to him, weren't you?" I should've been afraid, especially when his eyes went all dark and glassy again, but I was just pissed now. "He was my friend, " I spat, glaring up at him. "I know that's impossible for you to understand, seeing as you don't have any, but I knew him years before you came along. "
"And what," Kanin asked in his cold, cold voice, "were you intending to do once he saw you? Go back to your old gang? Join this new one? A vampire among the sheep? How long do you think you would last without killing them all?"
"I just wanted to talk to him, dammit! See if he's doing all right without me!" The rage was fading now, and I slumped against a wall. "I left him alone," I muttered, crossing my arms and looking away. "I left him, and he was never good at taking care of himself. I just wanted to see if he was doing all right. "
"Allison. " Kanin's voice was still hard, but it had lost its frosty edge, at least. "This is why I told you to forget your human life. Those people you knew before you were turned, they will continue living, surviving, without you. You are a monster to them now, and they will never take you back, they will never accept you for what you were. And eventually, whether from age or starvation or sickness or their fellow man, they will all die. And you will continue to live, assuming you don't decide to meet the sun or get your head torn off by another vampire. " He gazed down at me, his face softening just a touch, almost pitying. "Immortality is a lonely road," he murmured, "and it will only be made worse if you don't release your attachments to your old life. To that boy, you are the enemy now, the unseen monster that haunts his nightmares. You are the creature he fears the most. And nothing in your previous life, not friendship or loyalty or love, will ever change that. "
You're wrong, I wanted to tell him. I had looked after Stick almost half my life. He was the closest thing I had to family now that everyone else was dead. But I knew arguing with Kanin was useless, so I shrugged and turned away.
Kanin was not pleased. "Don't go after that boy, Allison," he warned. "No matter what you think you've left behind.
Forget about him and your old life. Do you understand?"
"Yeah," I growled. "I hear you. "
He stared at me. "Let's go," he said at last, walking away.
"We'll have to find somewhere else to feed tonight. " I gave the warehouse one last look and turned away. But before trailing after Kanin, I unwrapped the shoes and placed them on the ground in plain sight, hoping that Stick would stumble upon them the next morning. We left Sector Four, wandered back into gang territory and were eventually set upon by two Red Skulls who apparently didn't get the note about rogue vampires. They then proceeded to have a very bad night. We returned to the hospital with full stomachs, though Kanin and I didn't speak to each other for the rest of the evening. Mister Broody Vampire vanished into his office, and I wandered back to the reception area to swing my katana at imaginary enemies with Kanin's face.
At least he didn't ask me about the shoes. And I never told him.
For the next few nights, everything was normal. I continued my lessons, suffering through math and English and vampire history before moving on to training. As I got better with my katana, Kanin would give me various patterns to work on and then leave me alone to practice. He never told me where he went, but I suspected he'd searched everything on this f loor and had moved to the lowest f loor of the building, past a large red door at the bottom of a stairwell.
The one marked with the faded sign that read, Danger! Em-ployees Only. I'd stumbled across it one night, wandering the hospital in a rare moment of leisure. But I'd left it alone when Kanin called me back.
I was curious, of course. I wanted to know what was on the other side of that door, what Kanin was really looking for.
The one time I followed him down the stairwell, the metal door was shut, and I didn't want to risk going inside and having him find me. Ever since that night in Sector Four, there was a wall between us. Kanin never said anything about it and never went out of his way to check up on me, but we were cooler toward each other now and didn't speak much beyond training. He probably wouldn't care if I ventured down to the lowest f loor, but I wanted to lie low for a few days, let things smooth over.
I didn't want to give him any reason to suspect that I was planning to do something stupid.